The elusive Mr Davis

My first real post about my family tree ought to be dedicated, I suppose, to my latest genealogical conundrum. A couple of weeks ago, my father ordered four certificates from the General Records Office in England. All four certificates correspond to the death of three of my ancestors plus my great-grandmother’s first cousin once removed, who was murdered in the late 1920’s. That much I knew. The real surprise came when I read the death certificate of John Davis, my great-grandfather’s maternal grandfather.

John Davis was my great-great-grandmother’s father. She being an only child, I have always presumed her line would prove relatively easy to research: no collateral lines to follow down, no relatives with whom my gr-gr-gran would be staying with as a child when the census was taken… Just plain sailing really. Well, turns out I couldn’t been more mistaken, it seems.

Colwall, where John Davis lived and possibly died on an unknown date.

From what I gather from the census records, John Davis was born in Colwall, a small village located in the East of Herefordshire but which falls under the postal administration of Worcestershire. All births, marriages and deaths which take place in Colwall are consequently recorded in the registry district of Ledbury, but many people there have links with the neighbouring county of Worcester. John was born sometime in the early 1800’s, as he is recorded being 46 years old in the 1851 census and 56 ten years later; therefore I am inclined to believe he was indeed born in or about 1805. In the 1841 census he is listed as a 35 year-old, which would seem to fit since ages for people over the age of 15 were rounded down to the nearest five years in the 1841 census. John would really have been 36 years old at the time, which would explain why his age was listed as being “35”. So far so good.

Regarding his profession, John Davis seems to have been a wood dealer. In 1841 and again in 1851 he is listed as a carpenter, but in 1861 he is down as a “wood dealer” (which sounds better anyway)… Then, some time later, he dies. Not only is absent from the 1871 census anymore, but by 1868 his widowed wife Maria decided to remarry. So John definitely died between 1861 and 1868, I assume in Colwall.

I go on the Free BMD webpage and check if all deaths which took place in Herefordshire have been transcribed, as seems to be the case. So I do a quick search to check for the 100th time how many John Davis died between the said dates. Assuming John died in Colwall, his death would have been registered in Ledbury. There are four possible candidates: one who died in the Spring of 1861 (who may just have made it to the 1861 census, which was taken on 7th April); another in 1864; another in 1866 (aged 62) and another one in the Summer of 1868 (aged 66). A fifth John Davis died in 1867 aged only seven, so I immediately discard him as my ancestor. The death certificate I ordered -and which has made me uneasy- is the death certificate for the John Davis who died in 1866 aged 62. I thought initially that ages were sometimes rather sloppily recorded in registry offices. This could well be my John Davis.

The thing is that the certificate does indeed belong to a John Davis who died aged 62 in Colwall (bingo!) on 27th April 1866. His given age would mean he was born circa 1804 (bordering on 1805, which would match the census as stated above) but… occupation: innkeeper! Hang on. An innkeeper? I thought we were dealing with a humble carpenter/wood dealer, so what’s this about being an innkeeper (or publican as they used to call them back in Victorian England)? Moreover, the informant doesn’t ring any bells (Mary Carless, present at death, of Ledbury). Something doesn’t quite match.

I am fortunate enough to have found a free page online with the transcription of baptisms, marriages and burials for Colwall in the 19th century. Sadly, burials are only covered until 1863, so I can’t really check if my John is on there… Well, not after 1863 anyway. I have a look at the men that died between the last census John was recorded in (the 1861 census) and the end of the transcription, just in case – to no avail. No name even remotely like John Davis’s is listed. So I look at baptisms, since John was born in Colwall and thus would, in all probability, have been christened there.

The baptism records offer some clues, I am glad to say: there is a John Davis baptised on 5th April 1807, son of John and Feby (sic) Davis. The date is a bit late, but I keep an eye on this one. I go back a few years and there is another John Davis that pops up on 26th June 1803, the illegitimate son of Mary Davis. A quick browse proves there are no more candidates born anywhere near the correct date of birth, so we have two Johns to consider, assuming they both survived infancy (sadly burial records only cover 1813-1863). Assuming that both Johns were christened shortly after birth, the first one (b.1803), would have been exactly 47 years and 9 months old when the 1851 census was taken… Not 46 as was stated in the census retusn I’ve seen. The other John, on the other hand, would have been only 43 when the 1851 census was taken and 54 when the 1861 was carried out (the censuses were taken on different dates).

Neither candidate christened in Colwall seems to match perfectly the age of the John recorded on the census records and, more importantly, who just happened to be my great-great-great-grandfather. There is a chance, of course, that a) my John was born but not christened in Colwall and thus I have yet to find his baptism record; b) he was either one of those two Johns and I haven’t managed to suss him out, but I don’t have his correct death certificate; or c) he was indeed either of them, I do have his correct death certificate and John just gave up being a carpenter and opened an inn before he died in 1866 and some completely unknown -to me- woman went to register the death in Ledbury. Only to make things more difficult for me. I think I will just have to set this one aside for a bit. Any ideas, clues… advice?

This entry was posted in England, Genealogy, Herefordshire. Bookmark the permalink.

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