As you may have read in my previous post, I recently received the results of a DNA test, so my mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) has now had its haplogroup identified, the relatively rare J1b1 (subclade J1b1a1b) - or if you want to be a bit more romantic about it, the daughters of 'Jasmine'. This reignited my interest in looking at my maternal line to see if I could get back any further than Susanna - maiden name unknown and a 'brick wall' in my research. I think I have, but it's a puzzle, so I'm going to use this article to set out the facts, sort out my thoughts, and show a bit of process along the way.
Susanna's daughter, my three-times great grandmother, was Mary Harrison, born in 1813 in Radmore Lane, Gnosall, Staffordshire. In 1831 she married John Ecclestone in near-by Norbury and they had 13 children over the next twenty years or so. Mary's parents, according to her baptism record, were Joseph and Susanna Harrison (sometimes recorded as Harris) and, while I found six children for them, I could not find their marriage, and therefore had no idea of Susanna's family name.
Often a clue to the parent's antecedents can be found in their children's names, which in the case of Jospeh and Susanna were Benjamin, Joseph, Gregory, Samuel, Mary and Thomas - all born in Gnosall between 1799 and 1815. Presuming Benjamin was indeed the first child, I'd likely be looking for a marriage in the years closely preceding his birth, so perhaps 1797 or 1798, and probably in the local area - the main parishes being Gnosall, Norbury and Forton. Of course none of this is definite - Joseph and Susanna could have migrated into the area from Cornwall, had a previous six children - records now lost, and changed their names to escape a forbidding father-in-law. Going from experience, that would be an extreme rarity - the vast majority of my ancestors in that period married and had children in the same local area their parents came from.
Searching for a Staffordshire marriage with the names of Joseph Harris/on and Susanna within a fairly wide timeframe turned up only one result - Joseph Harrison, a shoemaker, marrying a widow, Susanna Hall, in Stafford in December 1819. Although it's perfectly conceivable they could have had all their children in Gnosall and then moved the seven miles to Stafford to marry, a search for children for this couple turned up five, all born in Stafford, starting with a Benjamin in 1820 - baptised three months after the marriage.
One thing to be wary of when searching old records is that you're relying on searching an index that has been transcribed from original documents by people who may have had trouble reading the unfamiliar and variable handwriting of the 17/1800s. This has led to one of my ancestors recorded as Thinford when the original document reads Winifred, the family of Morrisroe being transcribed as Morrison, Mudie as Micdie, Balle as Bailie, and the Youngs as the Trurys, to name a handful. There are mistakes in original documents as well of course - it took me years to find my Higson family in the 1841 census until I searched without the family name and concentrated on the fairly unique grouping of their first names and ages to discover them recorded as Jackson.
To tackle this you can search with more open terms. While many genealogy sites have algorithms that will return known variants (eg. a search for Ann will also return Anne, Annie, Nancy or Hannah) you can also use wildcards, for instance using H*k*n* for Hodgkins to account for archaic and alternative spellings such as Hoskins, Hodgkinson and Hodkins, etc.
Dropping the surname and searching within the expected timeframe for a Jos* marrying a Sus*an* in Staffordshire returns 100 results, rather a lot to examine in detail, but manageable enough to see if anything in the list stands out, for instance an obviously mistranscribed surname or something in the expected locality. While there were a couple within the wider local area (eg. Joseph Howl marrying Susannah Clever in Eccleshall in 1796), there was one in the exact area I'm interested in - Joseph Addison marrying Susannah Rodes at Forton in 1798.
It's not inconceivable that Addison could be a mistranscription of Harrison, so I needed to see an image of the original document, but that did not turn up with the results, just the text transcription from the more general 'England Marriages 1538-1973' database. But I know there is excellent coverage of Staffordshire images at findmypast, and opening the search more widely revealed the Banns record for 'Joseph Addisson' and 'Shusanah Roden' at All Saints Church, Forton. Looking at the image reveals one dashed hope and one raised hope: there's no doubt the name is written as 'Addison', not Harrison ... but one of the witnesses is a Benjamin Harrison - enough to intrigue and warrant further investigation.
Immediately a number of questions are thrown up which point the way to further research. If these are my ancestors, why would an Addison become a Harrison and name his children Harrison? Was he adopted by Harrisons? Was there a debt of gratitude owed to the Harrison family? Did Joseph Addison want to leave his past behind? Was Susanna Rhodes related to influential Harrisons?
A search for other Staffordshire Harrison/Addison relationships turned up nothing (a single marriage in 1873). But then a surprising result - I searched my own family file for any mentions I'd recorded of the name Addison and found that my ggg-grandmother, Mary Harrison (Joseph and Susanna's daughter), had her Will proved in 1890 by her son, Henry, and one Samuel Thomas Addison. The trail just got a little warmer.
There were now four families to research and see if any link would emerge: those of Joseph Addison, Samuel Thomas Addison, Susanna Rhodes, and Benjamin Harrison. I did have burial dates and ages for Joseph and Susanna Harrison (under the name Harris, residents of Sutton), showing - if accurate - that my Joseph was likely born around 1768, and his wife was likely born around 1782.
No obvious birth for Joseph Addison could be found - one in London, one in Norfolk, one in Cumberland and one in Westmorland - not impossible candidates, but unlikely. Next I tried searches for a Joseph Harrison born in the same period in Staffordshire - returning 18 possibilities with one who stood out, born in 1767 to a Gregory and Sarah Harrison in Church Eaton. Church Eaton is just a couple of miles from Gnosall, and my Joseph and Susanna named their third son Gregory - a relatively rare name for the period (between 1780 and 1820, in Staffordshire, just over 2000 boys were named Gregory, compared to roughly 580,000 Johns, 460,000 Thomases, 280,000 Josephs, 172,000 Samuels, and 75,000 Benjamins). Not much else stood out with the Church Eaton Harrisons - I could identify six children in all, but no other names chimed any bells - no Benjamin, for instance.
As for Samuel Thomas Addison, he was a farmer* who lived in the close neighbourhood of Mary and her Ecclestone family. I'd already established there was no local Joseph Addison in the records, but Samuel's family did hail from Gnosall and, it seems, Eccleshall before that. His father was George and his grandfather was Samuel Addison - Joseph and Susanna Harrison named their fourth son Samuel, so that is another point of interest, though it's not as unusual as Gregory.
Looking at Susanna Rhodes, a few more lights go on. Firstly she was born in 1782 which fits perfectly with Susanna Harris's age at death. Her parents were Samuel Rhodes and Mary Bellingham - both first names that were also used for Harrison children. A more detailed examination of her siblings is where things start to get a little more interesting. The Rhodes children were all born in Norbury and married in the local communities of Norbury, Gnosall and Forton. Susanna's immediate older sister was called Frances, and in 1797 Frances Rhodes married one Benjamin Harrison, so this explains his presence as a witness on the Addison/Rhodes marriage - he was Susanna's brother-in-law. Frances died in 1816 at just 39 years old, and it's interesting that three of the Joseph/Susanna Harrison children (Benjamin, Gregory and Mary) all named daughters Frances (aka Fanny).
Of the four other Rhodes siblings, all had their children baptised in Gnosall or Forton, but if you look more closely at the original records - all those born after 1812 (which, thanks to the Rose Act, recorded more detail), whether Gnosall or Forton, show Radmore Lane as the parents' residence. They had children in the same place and during the same timeframe as Joseph and Susanna Harrison. The youngest brother, Edward Rhodes, even named one of his children Joseph, born nine months after the death of Joseph Harrison (though that may have been his father-in-law's name too).
This could all be coincidence! But there are a couple more interesting pieces to place. At first I was not able to positively identify a birth or baptism for the Addison/Rhodes marriage witness, Benjamin Harrison. However, though his first wife died in 1816, he seems to have remarried the following year and can be found on both the 1841 and 1851 census still living at Coton. The 1851 census gives his birth place as Church Eaton - and that takes us back to Gregory and Sarah Harrison who had a son, Joseph Harrison in 1767, and who are, in fact, the only Harrison family having children in Church Eaton between 1740 and 1780. Opening up the search a bit I eventually found Benjamin - transcribed as Benjamin Hornson, but a closer look at the original image reveals it is in fact Benjamin Harrison, son of Greg and Sarah and baptised in April 1765. And for that extra little push, three of the Joseph/Susanna children (Benjamin, Gregory and Thomas) all named daughters Sarah.
Before the conclusion, let's just add in one more little fact. Joseph Addison and Susanna Rhodes published their first marriage banns on October 14th 1798. Eight months later saw the baptism of my four-times great uncle, Benjamin Harrison, first recorded child of Joseph and Susanna Harrison.
My conclusion from all this is that the marriage of Joseph Addison and Susannah Rhodes in 1798 is indeed the marriage of my gggg-grandparents, Joseph and Susanna Harrison. As every good genealogist should, I tried to disprove my theory but couldn't conclusively do that - I can say there were no children born to a Joseph and Susanna Addison (at least not until a couple with the same names had children in the 1840s and 50s in Norfolk) and there are no matching local burials that fit either.
The fact that the married Rhodes children largely lived together in Radmore Lane or very close by, the family names of Gregory, Mary, Samuel, Frances and Sarah, the matching birth years for Joseph and Susannah with their Harrison and Rhodes counterparts, and the Church Eaton connection, with two Harrison brothers (Joseph and Benjamin) marrying two Rhodes sisters (Susanna and Frances) - all little things that, together, hold a fair bit of weight.
In the light of all that, I now believe the name Samuel Thomas Addison on Mary Harrison's Will is a coincidence. In which case, the question remains - why the Addison name on the marriage? I do have a theory, though it's not a strong one ... if you look at the original document image above you see the Banns is written in a different hand to the entry for the marriage below it. The Banns handwriting is less confident and more scrawling than the marriage entry - indeed Susanna's name is written 'Shusanah Rodse'. Perhaps the Banns was written in by the church warden, whereas the curate (Rev. Richard Wingfield) recorded the actual marriage, copying the warden's interpretation of Addison, but correctly reproducing the witness's surname at the time of the ceremony. That's just a theory, I don't know. Perhaps Joseph had a really bad cold on the day of the Banns!
There will always be a part of me that would like something more substantial than all these little jigsaw pieces, because it doesn't add up to a complete picture (but does genealogy ever do that?), and I will continue to try and verify this hypothesis. DNA may help - either in finding Harrison, Wenlock, Rhodes** or Bellingham connections through autosomal results, or through a less likely encounter with a mtDNA match from the maternal line. But, overall, I feel fairly confident that I can now take my mtDNA line a bit further back with a couple more Ms to add in ...
Margaret > May > Minnie > Mira > Mary > Susanna > Mary > Mary ... and my new brick wall: Frances.
Update: * It turns out that Samuel Thomas Addison was a local worthy, and Mary Harrison/Ecclestone was probably a tenant on one of his farms - which could explain his presence on the Will. ** I have since found DNA matches with the Harrison/Rhodes family and further back with the Wenlock line, plus I eventually found the Will of Samuel Rhodes in which he names his daughters, Susanna and Frances Harris.