Twins, or a multiple baptism?

Having twins in the family always adds an interesting footnote to one’s own family history. My great-grandfather (on my English side) was a twin – although his twin sister died aged only a few months- and my Italian great-grandmother was herself a twin, one of (wait for it!) twelve brothers and sisters, which included three sets of twins!

But both of my great-grandparents were born in a time when the existence of civil registration meant that present-day researchers like me can know on what exact date (and even at what exact time) our ancestors were born. But what of pre-civil registration? How can one prove when someone was born, if no document actually and explicitly states the person’s date of birth?

This is exactly the problem that I am faced with when analysing the family of my English great-great-great-grandfather Frederick Vickress. Frederick was the third child, and second-born son, of his parents’ twelve children. If the baptism entries in the parish books are to be taken as approximate dates of birth, then each child was born roughly within a one/two year gap of each other (the first being born in 1811 – and civil registration was introduced in England in 1837). But unlike my ancestors from traditionally Catholic Spain, where infants were usually christened within 24 hours of birth, English Protestants could take weeks or even months before having their children baptised. The quick rate at which William and Elizabeth Vickress christened their babies leads me to believe they chose to have their babies baptised fairly soon after birth.

In 1825 the couple baptised their 7th child and then, after a seemingly childless five-year gap, they baptised two children at the same time: Henry Edward and Diana, who received the sacrament on 10th October 1830. But the entry in the parish book does not specify if they were twins or not. I suppose 42 year-old Elizabeth could well have given birth to twins; she was obviously in good health, since she would go on to have a further two children and lived to the ripe old age of 87! But is there any way of knowing, from later documentation, whether Henry Edward and Diana were twins?

Entry for the baptism of Henry Edward and Diana Vickress – perhaps not coincidentally, Henry Edward is listed first: was he the older of the two siblings?

It was not until recently that I noticed that the two were listed separately on the 1841 census: Henry Edward lived at home with his parents, and was listed as being 12 years old, while Diana, who suffered from ill health for a great part of her life, was recorded as an 11 year-old patient in the Hereford Infirmary. So the first clue seems to indicate that Diana was around a year younger than Henry Edward.

Ten years later, in 1851, the census records both siblings living at home, and again Henry Edward appears to be somewhat older, only this time he is 21 while Diana is only 18. Clearly there is a slight discrepancy here, particularly as Diana’s age would indicate she was born in 1832/1833 (which we know to be impossible since she was baptised in October 1830) but is certainly looks like Henry Edward and Diana were not of the same age, and therefore they certainly were brother and sister, but not twins. But wait, there’s more.

Sadly, this was to be Diana’s last entry in the census books, as she died three months after the above. For a time, she had been suffering from consumption, but her death certificate states that she was 21 years old! Wait, I thought she was only 18? While she may well have had a birthday between the time the census was taken (30th March 1851) and her death (8th June 1851), this would not explain a full two-year discrepancy! Maybe her eldest brother, who registered the death, got his sister’s age mixed up?

Newspaper cutting announcing the death of Diana Vickress.

But what of Henry Edward? We can find him in two further census: in 1861 he claimed to be 29 (so, born circa 1832) and in 1871 he was purportedly 40 (so, born circa 1831): again, two impossible years. Then, in 1875, he died after a long and slow decline, and his death was recorded as being 45 (so, born circa 1830).

With all the inconsistencies in the census and the sources mentioned, I think it is highly unlikely we will ever know when Henry Edward and Diana were actually born, but I certainly see no indication (other than they were baptised on the same day) that there were twins – in fact, I’m inclined to think they were not twins, with Henry Edward being born around a year before his sister Diana. But based on the information I just mentioned, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

This entry was posted in 1841 Census, 1851 Census, 1861 Census, 1871 Census, Birth, Civil Registration, Death, England, Genealogy, Herefordshire, Hope-under-Dinmore. Bookmark the permalink.

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