Archive for August 2021

DNA finally knocks down my brick wall

Category: DNA

I recently made some headway with a family history brick wall. For many years I'd been stuck on my 2 x great-grandfather, Henry Ridley. I was even beginning to wonder whether he was in fact my biological ancestor as I couldn't find any suitable DNA matches amongst my family's DNA kits.

All I had to go on was the 1871 census where he appeared alongside my 2 x great-grandmother, Hannah Maria Cotterill who, at the time, was specified as Ann Ridley but they were never actually married. She, too, was a brick wall of mine for quite some time but I managed to make some progress on her a few years ago.

The Family of Henry Ridley & Hannah Cotterill
The Family of Henry Ridley & Hannah Cotterill

Anyway, the census implied that Henry was born in about 1841. Mind you, his age was very difficult to read so I wasn't exactly sure. It also stated he was born in Birmingham which didn't give me a lot to go on as Birmingham was quite a reasonable size, even back then, having a population of 183,000. Further investigation showed there were a number of Henry Ridleys to choose from so I wasn't really sure where to begin.

Some time ago, as an exercise, in order to try and untangle the many Ridley families, I began making a list of Ridley references from the Birmingham parish and census records. After doing this, I was still none the wiser. For instance, I discovered there were two Joseph and Mary Ridleys living in adjacent streets, both having children at the same time. Thank goodness they had different occupations. I hypothesised that one of these couples might have been Henry's parents as there was a baptism of a Henry, in 1840 with parents with these names. Nevertheless there were other Henry Ridleys born around those few years and, remember, I couldn't be absolutely certain of his age. In addition, I couldn't find a suitable birth record, so I was well and truly stumped.

Then, out of the blue I was checking my dads DNA matches the other day when I discovered a new match with dad and another person who is also descended from Henry, making three Ridley descendants sharing DNA with each other. Bingo! The good news was that this new match linked into our Ridley line a generation above Henry and so I was finally able to ascertain who Henry's parents were. It turned out they were indeed one of the Joseph and Mary Ridley couples. In fact, Henry had a middle name. His full name was Henry Frederick Ridley. I'd seen this before in my searches but was hesitant to make the assumption that this was my Henry as Frederick hadn't previously appeared on any other record that I could link him with. I eventually found an entry in the birth indexes whereby he was just named Frederick, without the Henry, believe it or not! As it turns out, this is a very complicated family to research.

The new DNA match is descended from another Joseph Ridley, Henry's brother, who was born in 1835. This particular Joseph also appears to have had a slightly complicated life. I found two probable marriages for him to the same woman. He married Eliza Goodman in 1855 and then again in 1871, it seems. They had five children but sadly four of them died, all before the age of five. Joseph was in the army and was posted to Calcutta. In November 1871 their youngest child, Samuel, was buried whilst the family were abroad. Why did they marry twice? Did Joseph and Eliza go through a second wedding because they'd lost their first marriage certificate and needed to prove to the army they were married before travelling abroad? This is purely speculation, the answer will doubtless never surface.

The Family of Joseph Ridley & Eliza Goodman
The Family of Joseph Ridley & Eliza Goodman

Back to Henry. Now that I had his middle name, I was able to confirm what had been my suspicions for a while. I wasn't certain what had become of him after he and Hannah had parted company but there was a marriage to an Anne Elizabeth Shipman in Sheffield in 1873 and their marriage certificate confirmed that Henry's father was Joseph Ridley, a metal mixer, which was conducive to his known occupation as a caster. The sad fact is this wedding took place less than 18 months after my great-grandmother, Alice, was born, so it's quite possible that she never knew her father. Indeed she gave the occupation of her stepfather when she got married in 1895 and stated that her father was deceased which wasn't the case at all.

The Family of Henry Ridley & Anne Elizabeth Shipman
The Family of Henry Ridley & Anne Elizabeth Shipman

Henry was a blacksmith and appears to have been itinerant. After the five children he'd had with Hannah, he went on to have six with Anne, who was known by her middle name, Elizabeth. All of these six children were born in different places and, all but the two youngest, died in infancy. The last surviving daughter, Jane, lived until 1971 but I wasn't able to discover any children she might have had with her husband, David Kimpton.

The youngest child, Joseph Henry, born in 1890, died in the First World War in April 1915 and his name appears on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres. His service record stated that his personal property and medals were to go to a Samuel Drury of 62 Ryton Terrace, North Anston, Sheffield, described as the 'soldier's guardian'. It seems he'd lost touch with his sister, Jane, and I believe both Henry and Elizabeth must have died by then but I haven't been able to find out where or when. It's quite sad as Samuel Drury stated, "No knowledge of relatives - came to ask to be taken in, for a home, we did so. He lived with us some seven years before the war". Mrs Drury was his landlady and his sister was understood to be living in the Sheffield locality but it wasn't known exactly where. Nevertheless, they may have caught up with her eventually, as there is a faint note on the record stating, "Sister notified".

I discovered one final snippet of information about Henry. When he was 17 years old, he was sentenced to six months in prison for breaking into a house and stealing clothes and other articles. Henry's father had died when he was only seven years old and I wasn't able to find him in the 1851 census at all. His mother, who'd remarried, had his younger sister with her, but where was 11 year old Henry? I can't help wondering whether he was living hand-to-mouth from an early age and maybe this is why he'd turned to crime. We shall probably never know the truth but who am I to judge? I suspect his life would have been disparate and chaotic. He was probably very poor and had to go wherever he could find work. Unfortunately, this would have been all too common in the inner cities of Victorian Britain and I, for one, am very glad I wasn't around then.

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