06 May 2016

James Sheldon's ancestry

I love it when everything falls into place, after struggling to make sense of something!

A distant relative contacted me recently - a descendant of James Sheldon, who was married to Adelaide Catherine Gustavia Martha Weiss, the first child of Charles Nicholas and Benigna Catharina Weiss. James Sheldon was a Church Missionary Society missionary in Kurrachee, India (now Karachi, Pakistan). I've been able to find out a reasonable amount about him and his family in India, and then in England, after they returned from the mission field, but not much of his ancestry. Just that he was from Walsall, Staffordshire. So armed with a little bit more information from James' descendant, I went digging.

I collected so many bits of information from all over the place that I put it all into a timeline in a spreadsheet, to try and make sense of it all. I coloured-coded information about different people, to make it easier to note where the information about a certain person seemed to end (helps to target a timeframe for a death/burial notice).

We knew that James Sheldon was born in Walsall on 7 Oct 1828, and from his marriage record, that his father's name was also James Sheldon (henceforth "James Sheldon senior" here). We also suspected his mother's name was Ann Hannah Middleton. I had found him in the 1841 Census living with James and Ann Bullock, and his sister Mary, and brother Humphrey Jarvis. Humphrey was still living with James and Ann Bullock in the 1851 Census, and was named as their grandson. I also found information that suggested James Sheldon had a brother called John.

So we had to make sense of the surnames of Sheldon, Bullock and Middleton. On FreeReg I found baptism records for the four known Sheldon children, which confirmed that their father was James Sheldon, publican, their mother was Ann, and they lived in Park St during the period those children were born. The Sheldon family seemed to be involved in running pubs in Walsall (of which there were many), so I focused on that. I found information from historical directories - it turned out there were Middletons and Bullocks running pubs too - and put it all in my timeline. I also found info on a very helpful website about the historical pubs of Walsall (and other areas in Staffordshire). 

After I had found all the information I could about who ran which pub, I started searching in historical newspapers for any information on either Joseph Middleton (who apparently ran the Royal Oak before James Sheldon senior took it over), James Sheldon (senior), and James Bullock. And that was where I really struck gold. Advertisements about James Sheldon senior selling land, pubs, goods, going bankrupt, then dying "in the prime of life", and then Ann taking over the pub he was running before he died. Apparently James wasn't too good at running a business, and perhaps the stress of it killed him. 

Further research revealed an application for a marriage license for Ann Middleton, widow, to marry James Bullock. Ann Middleton was widowed... who was she previously married to? The penny dropped... Joseph Middleton? Had he already died by then? Yes! I searched for a marriage record... yes! Was the Ann who was married to James Sheldon senior actually Ann Middleton, daughter of Ann and Joseph Middleton? Yes! I haven't found any information on her having a middle name of Hannah, so we'll discount that middle name. I searched further and found marriage and birth records to corroborate what I suspected. I also found that James Sheldon senior's widow Ann remarried, to a Charles Holmes, and they went on to have children of their own. This helps to explain why her children with James weren't living with her in 1841, but instead with her mother and stepfather. I also discovered that the maiden name of Joseph Middleton's wife Ann was Jarvis. And she happened to have a brother called Humphrey - there's the answer to the mystery of the strange name of James Sheldon's brother "Humphrey Jarvis Sheldon".

Now I just have to work on James Sheldon senior's branch of the family tree. I suspect his father was John Sheldon, and his mother Margaret, but I haven't yet found proof.