08 October 2015

Who was Mary Ann Williams?

Mary Ann Williams was my great great grandmother. I know she was from Bristol, Gloucestershire, England, married John Wilkey in Bristol, and then they emigrated to Australia, where they had nine children.

Mary Ann Wilkey née Williams, undated.
Photo courtesy of Margaret Robinson, used with permission.

Who were her parents? According to her marriage record, her father's name was George Williams, and he was a labourer. According to her immigration records, her father was Joseph and her mother was Ann. Slightly contradictory!

Where was she born? I can only assume it was Bristol, Gloucestershire, as this is noted on her immigration records and also her death certificate. There is a baptism record which is potentially hers at St Philip and St Jacob's, Bristol, on 9 June 1844, with the parents listed as George and Ann (there is no baptism record in Gloucestershire with parents Joseph and Ann in the right timeframe). Unfortunately I have only been able to view a transcript of this record - I'd love to see if there was further information on the original parish record. There are many other Mary Ann Williams born around this time in Bristol, but the above record is the only one with a father named George, in the correct time period. Interestingly though, there is no obvious matching birth record for this baptism in the English Births Marriages and Deaths records.

Where did Mary live? On her marriage record in 1863 Mary Ann Williams' residence at the time of the marriage was Newfoundland Gardens. As they married only two years after the 1861 English Census, I checked the census records for any Mary Ann Williams living in Newfoundland St. Unfortunately the only Mary Williams living in Newfoundland St was 50 years old.

So we must therefore assume that Mary Ann Williams had moved residence between the 1861 Census and her wedding. There is no record for a Mary (Ann) Williams of the correct age living with a father George and/or mother Ann in Bristol in either the 1851 or 1861 Census. Was she orphaned? Did she have to go out and work from a young age? Or did she move away for a time?

There is a Mary Ann Williams of the right age living in New St in both the 1851 and 1861 Census, with James and Martha Vowles. Mary Ann is listed as their grandchild. It is just a coincidence that New St and Newfoundland Gardens are similar? If she was my Mary Ann Williams, this would mean that it was her mother who was James and Martha's child. However, I was unable to find a marriage record for an Ann Vowles and a George Williams anywhere. Similarly there was no marriage record for an Ann Vowles and a Joseph Williams.

Searching back to the 1841 Census, I realised that although I wouldn't find Mary Ann because she wasn't born yet, I might find James and Martha Vowles. And there the plot thickened... Listed in New Street were the following living in a single house:

James Vowles, aged 40, Labourer, born in Gloucestershire
Martha Vowles, aged 40, born in Gloucestershire
Mary Weaver, aged 75, born in Gloucestershire
John Vowles, 14 (born c1827), born in Gloucestershire
James Vowles, 10 (born c1831), born in Gloucestershire
Eliz Vowles, 4 (born c1837), born in Gloucestershire
Mary Vowles, 3mths (born 1841), born in Gloucestershire
Ann Williams, 17 (born c1824), born in Gloucestershire
Louisa Williams, 11 (born c1830), born in Gloucestershire

It seemed very interesting that there were two girls with the surname of Williams tacked on at the end there. Particularly one called Ann. So perhaps they were daughters of Martha, from a previous marriage. But then the eldest Vowles son, John, was born between Ann and Louisa Williams.... so perhaps John Vowles was the product of a previous marriage for James Vowles. Did we have an early version of the Brady Bunch here?

Further research revealed James Vowles married Martha Williams on 30 January 1836 at St James, Bristol, and James' marital status was married (though perhaps it should have been widowed?) This suggests that John and James (jnr) were sons of James Vowles senior from a previous marriage, and Ann and Louisa were daughters of Martha Williams from a previous marriage.

So if Ann's maiden name was Williams, and her daughter Mary Ann's surname was also Williams, this suggests that Mary Ann was born out of wedlock. I wonder what Mary Ann's father George's surname was? I'd have to pin down a definite birth record to be able to find out, but Mary Ann's illegitimacy may be why it is hard to find - maybe Ann was sent away to have her baby and thus it was registered elsewhere. And what happened to Ann - why was Mary Ann living with her grandparents rather than her mother in the 1851 and 1861 censuses? Perhaps Ann died, or maybe she married and her new husband didn't want her illegitimate daughter living with them.

Mary Ann's wedding
On 6 April 1863 Mary Ann Williams married John Wilkey at St Paul's Bristol, by banns.

Both Mary Ann and John were listed as of full age but this was incorrect for both - John was 18 years old and Mary Ann was 19. It would seem that there were a few white lies on the marriage record: Mary Ann's father was listed as George Williams, however from the research detailed above it is unlikely that George's surname was Williams, though it was Mary Ann's mother's surname. Did their parents attend the wedding? Mary Ann's mother was possibly dead, and one wonders if she had any contact with her father. Both of John's parents were still alive, but they certainly didn't sign the register as witnesses. In fact, the witnesses were both employed by the parish of St Pauls - William White was the parish clerk, and Mary White, his wife, was the sextoness of the parish.

Emigration to Australia
Just over half a year after they were married, on December 15, 1863, John and Mary Ann Wilkey left  Liverpool, England for Australia on the Montrose. The Montrose arrived in Sydney, on March 27, 1864. The immigration records show that Mary Ann Wilkie (sic) was 19 years old, the wife of John Wilkie (sic), from Bristol, Gloucestershire, England, her parents names were Ann and Joseph, with her father dead and her mother living in Bristol, and it also noted that Mary Ann could read and write (interesting considering she signed the marriage register with her mark!) 

So if we have established that it was more likely that George was her father, where did this Joseph fit in? Had Ann married someone called Joseph? There is a marriage record for an Ann Williams, single, marrying a Joseph Cross on 11 May 1845, at St Paul's Bristol. The bride's father's name was James Williams. This all fits. And so it would seem that Joseph Cross didn't really want his new wife's daughter Mary Ann living with them, so she was sent to live with her maternal grandparents. 

Mary Ann clearly knew that Joseph Cross was not her father because he was not named as her father on her marriage record, and Mary Ann had retained Williams as her surname. Perhaps it was just easier to put Joseph down as her father on the immigration records. Unhelpfully, I can't find a definite death record for either Ann or Joseph, nor can I find Ann in the 1861 Census, where she should be if she were still alive a few years later according to her daughter's immigration records. Maybe she remarried, though I can't find anything that confirms this.

So, most of this is completely circumstantial, but it does all seem to fit together. And I'm not sure that there is any easy way to confirm any of this, though I will keep trying!

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