Dear Cousin, Will You Marry Me?

Like any genealogist, I get a strange thrill when I find two cousins in my family tree who married each other. I suspect it is because it feels like finding two missing links in one stroke, like two pieces of the same puzzle matching together perfectly. Moreover, it makes the history of those two particular branches seem more interesting, confirming two relatives were on more than intimate terms.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you will remember how excited I was when I found out that my Colwallian great-great-grandmother Ann’s maiden surname was Rodway. The name was very familiar, and no wonder, since my great-grandfather’s cousin (Ann Rodway’s grandson) had married a Rodway – who turned out to be his second cousin.

Overall, my research into my English family history has yielded few cousin marriages. You will understand my excitement, therefore, when I found not one but four cousin marriages in one single day!

My first find came when trying to find out what had become of my great-grandfather’s first cousin May Myrtle Allen. She was one of several brothers and sisters, and like them, she grew up in Colwall (Herefordshire) in the late 1800’s. Most of her brothers had married and settled in the area, but the daughters were proving harder to find. In my ignorance, given the lack of references, I assumed that May Myrtle had died a spinster at some point during the 20th century. But then I had something of an epiphany: if I could track her down on the 1911 census, I may have some inkling as to where she may have ended up. Sure enough, there she was, working as an elementary school teacher in Birmingham, where she shared a flat with another young woman and fellow teacher.

I then turned my attention to records in Birmingham, supposing that it was there that May Myrtle had lived after 1911. I searched on for possible marriages and deaths of a May M Allen in Birmingham, and instantly seemed to hit upon something. According to FreeBMD, in the last quarter of 1911 May M Allen was married to a Frederick Hooper or to a William A Smith. Well, my prayers so that it would not be the latter (how many Smiths could there be in Birmingham in the 1910s?) were answered when I found something rather promising, this time on the 1939 Register, which I was able to access on FindMyPast. There they were, Frederick Hooper and May Myrtle Hooper, birth year 1882, living in Cardiff. OK, so Birmingham was only temporary.

While I was busy churning out records about May Myrtle, something began to click in my mind. Her husband’s surname, Hooper, seemed rather familiar, and little wonder, as I knew that one of Allen relatives (my great-great-grandfather’s sister Sarah, to be precise) had married a local farmer called Hooper. The couple had only had one son, but he in turn had four children whose destinies (like that of May Myrtle and some of her siblings) were a mystery. My mind raced as I jumped up a few generations and back down again, only to have my theory confirmed: May Myrtle Allen and Frederick Hooper, were not just husband and wife, but second cousins through their shared descent from my Allen ancestors. Frederick Hooper, turns out to have been a tourist agent (a fact confirmed by the 1911 census and the 1939 Register). He died in Wales in 1943, but his widow still have twenty years of life ahead of her, and so she duly married a Albert E. Thompson in 1945. No children seem to have been born from either union, and May Myrtle passed away in 1963.

As already mentioned, it was one of May Myrtle’s brothers, Henry William Allen, who had married a second cousin on the Rodway side. Seeing as May Myrtle had also looked among her family tree from a partner, could any of their other brothers or sisters have followed suit and married a distant relative?

I knew that one of their brothers, Wilfred Allen, had married a schoolteacher (a profession which seems to have been somewhat recurrent among female members of my family on that part of the tree!) called Beatrice Martin. Beatrice was herself the daughter of a labourer from Uley, in Gloucestershire. I had little reason to suspect there may be any blood connections on that side; but her mother’s family seemed to be a bit more interesting.

Beatrice’s mother was a Christiana Wilkins, a wonderfully unusual name which should make researching her story relatively straightforward. If only! Christiana appeared to have been born in about 1834 in Malvern Wells, just over the other side of the Malvern Hills, but I could find nothing about her birth or baptism, in or around the correct year. Her surname, however, once again sounded familiar, and I soon found myself looking at the family of Charlotte Rodway (the sister of my ancestor Anne Rodway, later Allen), who married a Richard Wilkins in Worcester in 1819. Could they have been the parents of Christiana Wilkins? Alas, no hard proof has been found to corroborate beyond a show of a doubt that Christiana was Richard and Charlotte’s daughter, but circumstantial evidence certainly points in the right direction. Firstly, the fact that a daughter Hannah appears to be living with the couple in the 1841 census – and we all know how mangled some names can become on the census! Secondly, Richard and Charlotte were still churning out children in the early 1830’s, when Christiana would have been born – and even more fittingly, Christiana’s marriage entry confirms her father was called Richard. These are far too many coincidences to ignore, surely. I am 99% certain that Christiana’s daughter Beatrice married a second cousin on the Rodway side.

But that’s not all that these Martins, Wikinses, Rodways and Allens had to hide. Beatrice’s brother Walter had a very prolific marriage (13 children in all). One of them died young, and another died in the Great War, but the remaining did live relatively long lives. Interestingly, one of them, Cyril Gordon Martin, married Ivy Veronica Rodway in 1937 – they being third cousins through their common descent from James Rodway, who lived in the late 1700’s.

This union was forged likely not on the basis of the couple’s known relationship as distant relatives, but because they were, at the same time, brother and sister-in-law. In 1926 Cyril’s sister Irene Agnes Martin had married George Henry Rodway, thus establishing a new bond between descendants of the first Rodways of Colwall.

The Rodways seem to have been keen on marriages between relations, or at least between people who already shared a common family link. Anne Wilkins (1825-1909), herself a Rodway on her mother’s side, had married a Mr Henry Tomkins, and had an impressive twelve sons and daughters. Curiously, their son William Tomkins married Jane Baldwin, while their daughter Sophia married Charles Baldwin (yes, you go it – her sister-in-law’s brother).

I very much suspect, however, that the more I delve into the tree on this side of the family, the more connections between relatives I will discover. I suppose that, as a genealogist my fascination with the Rodways is more than justified, am I right?

Charles Darwin was the son of Susannah Wedgwood, of the famous pottery family. In 1839 he married his first cousin, Emma Wedgwood.

This entry was posted in 1911 Census, 1939 UK Register, Colwall, Genealogy, Marriage. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Dear Cousin, Will You Marry Me?

  1. Sarah Bradford says:

    I am the granddaughter of Cyril and Ivy Martin.

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