I remember years ago when I first researched my great-great-grandfather’s eldest sister, Catherine Morris, that I didn’t find her story particularly interesting. She married, had children, and then died. At first it was all rather dull and straightforward – or so it seemed! It wasn’t util very recently that her story seemed to have been slightly more complicated, revealing what appeared to have been a very unusual and unconventional existence with a few unexpected twists along the away.
Catherine was born in Kinnersley, in rural Herefordshire, in 1849; she was baptised on 4 May that same year. She was the first child born to her parents, Samuel and Ellen (Mound) Morris, who soon thereafter moved to the nearby parish of Norton Cannon, where their next son, Samuel (my great-great-grandfather) would be born just days after the 1851 census was taken. According to the very same census, little Catherine was left behind to live with her paternal grandparents and her as-yet unmarried aunt Mary, a 31 year-old dressmaker.
The 1861 census shows ten year-old Catherine living with her parents, who had once again relocated back to Kinnersley. The family had grown considerably by this time, as two more children had joined the Morrises’ nursery, while a third brother had died in infancy.
Catherine’s whereabouts in 1871 remain something of a mystery. She may well be the Catherine Morris listed as a 26 year-old milliner lodging in the house of a Mr and Mrs Llewelyn in Ross-on-Wye, on the south-east of the county – but her age is slightly off, and perhaps more importantly, her place of birth is given as Fownhope, not Kinnersley (admittedly Fownhope and Kinnersley are next to each other). However, the theory that this is our Catherine might be supported by evidence found in the next census return.
For the first time, the 1881 census shows Catherine (by now Catherine Hodges) as a married woman. Her age and place of birth are consistent with the information previously mentioned. Delving into the copy of the Herefordshire marriages index I have on file, I discovered that on 17 June 1872 she had married a man called Henry Hodges. The wedding took place in the village of Linton, not far from Ross-on-Wye, and it was there that the couple began what later became a rather extensive family: George was born in 1873, but sadly died shortly afterwards; Ernest Henry was born in 1874, followed by Beatrice in 1877, Edith Mary in 1880 and Hetty (also known as Ethel Minnie), who was born in late 1889. An additional child must have been born to the couple at some point, given that in the 1911 census Henry and Catherine declared to have had six children in the course of their marriage, two of whom were no longer alive at the time.
Henry and Catherine Hodges lived in Linton for an unknown number of years. It appears that Henry’s work as an innkeeper of the Alma Inn in Linton did not go as well as expected, and an unexplained change in their circumstances seems to have precipitated their move to Henry’s native Woolhope, a village further north, about half way between Ledbury and Hereford. It is there that the family can be found on the 1891 census, with Henry’s profession given as a humble agricultural labourer.
The situation seems to have changed very little by the time the 1901 census was taken ten years later, and as their children gradually left home and founded families of their own, Henry and Catherine were left behind to enjoy their last years together. The 1911 census shows them living at Park View, in Woolhope, with their youngest surviving child, Ethel Minnie, who was about to marry a smallholder named John G. Ryland.
On the face of it, the end of Henry and Catherine’s story appears to be much like any other, in that it seems pretty uneventful: Henry passed away in 1916, at the advanced age of 76, having suffered from heart problems for some time, while his widow, my great-great-great-aunt Catherine, survived him by another twelve years, dying in 1928 in her mid-70s. As I have a penchant for causes of death, I sent for Catherine’s death certificate, which revealed a very sad outcome to what I had foolishly assumed had been a perfectly ordinary existence: Catherine died at the age of 76 due to “senile decay” in Burghill Mental Hospital, also known as St Mary’s Psychiatric Hospital, which was demolished in the 1990’s. She had been interned there for a very short period (I recently ordered a copy of her medical record from Herefordshire Records Office), and her last address is given as St Owen’s Cross, Hentland, Ross-on-Wye, which is a mere ten miles from Woolhope. Her end was certainly a far cry from that of her sister-in-law, my great-great-grandmother Elizabeth Morris, who was cared for by her children until she passed away.
My interest in the Hodges family seemed to be growing, and so I turned my attention to Catherine’s husband Henry and his pre-marital life – which, as we shall see, does not appear to have been as straightforward as it seemed.
On the face of it, Henry Hodges consistently states in every census following his marriage (1881-1911) to have been born in Woolhope. As noted previously, his profession changed from innkeeper in 1881 to agricultural labourer in subsequent entries, but is otherwise unremarkable. His age, however, is harder to make out. In 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911 he stated to have been 46, 53, 57 and 74 respectively, signifying a variation of no less than nine years on which he may have been born (1835, 1838, 1844 and 1837)!
Fortunately, there is a very limited number of men called Henry Hodges born in Woolhope during the right time period who could have been the man married to Catherine Morris in 1872. As the baptism records are not available online, I was left to do some very accurate guesswork in order to find out more about his family origins.
If we believe the information on most of the census returns, Henry would have been born in the mid-1830’s – in which case the only possible candidate who fits the bill is a Henry Hodges who makes his first appearance on the 1841 census: an eight-year-old boy living in Woolhope with his parents, farmers Michael and Rebecca Hodges. Ten years on, the same individual, now a young man in his late teens, can be traced on the census living in Dymock, Gloucestershire, an apprentice butcher living in the house of William Cummins. By 1861, 26-year-old Henry seems to have succeeded in becoming a butcher in his own right, and is listed as a slaughterman living in the house of a Mr Joseph Jarrett.
However, if we follow his tracks to the next (1871) census, we instantly stumble across a new clue. Henry – now claiming to be 40 and born in Woolhope, is listed as a beer retailer and living in a pub called (coincidentally?) The Butcher’s Arms (which still exists today). Even more surprisingly, Henry appears listed with his wife Louisa and their infant daughter Ellen.
Louisa’s existence was certainly news to me. I had not thought of the possibility of Henry having been married before he wedded Catherine Morris in 1872, but it’s not such an unusual occurrence to find our relatives having more than one spouse during their lifetime, is it? What’s strange about this is that in the next (1881) census Louisa Hodges is still very much alive – and not only that, but she appears to be living in Woolhope with Henry and their increasing brood of children! Hang on. This does not tally in with my previous findings, where I had located Henry Hodges on the 1881 census living in the village of Linton with his wife Catherine Morris and their children. So, could I have mixed up my Henrys and have mistakenly researched the wrong man?
It was time to revisit the pre-1881 census and try to find two Henrys born in Woolhope roughly at the same time, but it was to no avail, as every time I ended up locating the same Henry who appeared to have married a woman called Louisa sometime before 1871.
I then decided to get to the bottom of the mystery by looking up this “second” Henry Hodges and his wife Louisa in the 1891 census – and found nothing. It was only when searching for Louisa individually that I found what I can only describe as an uncanny coincidence – and I’m not even sure if it is a coincidence at all! Louisa Hodges, by then a widow, is listed living in Woolhope – literally next door to “my” Henry Hodges and his wife Catherine! What on earth is going on? Did the two Henry Hodges’ families end up living next to each other…? Or are we talking about one and the same man, maintaining two families who, amazingly, live cheek by jowl next to each other? Surely a death for a Henry Hodges registered between 1881 and 1891 would dispel my doubts, but alas, I can find no obvious reference to a death during that time frame which could confirm the death of the “second” Henry.
The fact that Henry’s profession fluctuates from butcher to innkeeper and then agricultural labourer (if we take him to be one and the same man), and the fact that as a publican he lived in an inn called The Butcher’s Arms, plus the fact there seems to have been only one Henry Hodges born during the 1830’s in Woolhope, seems to indicate we are indeed dealing with one individual who, somehow, managed to maintain appearances and paid for the upkeep of two large families at the same time!
I then tried to look at the situation from another angle, in a final attempt to clarify matters for good. Perhaps the marriage certificate for both unions (Henry Hodges and Louisa X, and Henry Hodges and Catherine Morris) would confirm not only the groom’s father’s name, but also the groom’s marital status at the time. I sent for a copy of Henry’s 1872 marriage entry to my relative Catherine Morris, and while I waited for the document, I was lucky enough to track down the marriage for Henry Hodges to Louisa Mailes on someone’s family tree on Ancestry.co.uk. Although their union took place in April 1865 in Newington, in distant Surrey, I know this is our couple not only because of the groom’s father’s name, Michael Hodges, a gentleman (no longer a farmer, as per the 1841 census) but also because the GRO Index confirms Louisa’s maiden name at every entry for their children’s births.
Before receiving the marriage certificate for Henry Hodges and Catherine Morris, I considered the possibility that Henry may have divorced Louisa Mailes. Divorce was not only rare in those days, but also looked upon as an attack on social norms, so it would not be unusual, in that day and age, if Louisa had wishes to pass off as a widow instead of a divorcee. And even if they had divorced, the relationship between Henry and his first wife may have been cordial, for the sake of their children, which might explain why they ended up living next door to each other as per the 1891 census.
The theory of the divorce, however, does not seem to hold if one looks at the children that Henry fathered over the years. Following his marriage to Louisa Mailes, Henry fathered no no less than seven children: Ellen Elizabeth (1866), Michael Henry (1868), Ada (1871), Annie (1873), William Richard (1876), Garrett (1879) and Tracey Allan Hodges (1881). All I can say is that, if the marriage did break down, then they seem to have had a very productive union beforehand.
But the divorce theory seems even less likely if one considers the fact that Henry Hodges and Catherine Morris were married in 1872 (at a time when he was supposed to father his fourth child by his first wife). Even more damming to my divorce theory is that, while Louisa Hodges was having children, Catherine had started having hers: George (1873), Ernest Henry (1874), Beatrice (1877), Edith Mary (1880) and Hetty/Ethel Minnie (1889).
Finally, the flap on my letterbox announced the arrival of Catherine’s marriage to the mysterious Henry Hodges. In the space of a few seconds I would discover whether Louisa Mailes and Catherine Morris had married the same man or two different men with the same name, whether he was a bachelor, and what his father’s name was.
Alas, circumstantial evidence and my own imagination had led me to bark up the wrong tree. What could have been the main plot to a very good detective story was nothing more than a seemingly remarkable coincidence. Catherine’s 1872 marriage certificate to Henry Hodges states that the groom was 30 (so, born circa 1842), a bachelor and (damaging my theory almost to the point of no return) the son of Thomas – not Michael – Hodges.
I had to hide my disappointment by trying to look at the evidence as coolly as I could. Let’s imagine for a second that Henry Hodges was indeed bigamous. Surely he would have wanted to cover his tracks, and deliberately gave false information about his marital status and his father’s name – but surely, would he not have tried to assume a new identity altogether, bigamy being a punishable offence? It is possible that he was indeed the son of Michael Hodges, and that he’d invented the identity of a false father so no one comparing the two marriage certificates could have thought it was the same individual. And if this is indeed what he did, then he must have been a very clever cookie. Whilst on the Newington marriage certificate in 1865 (for his marriage to Louisa Mailes) we see Henry’s rather elegant hand signing his name; on the Linton marriage certificate of 1872 he adds a simple cross instead of his name. Again, was he covering his tracks, avoiding to put pen to paper and leave a trace which might incriminate him as a bigamist? Or was the man marrying Catherine Morris in 1872 illiterate and unable to sign his own name?
Alas, much as I want to believe that Henry was married bigamously to Catherine Morris, I don’t actually think he did, considering children were being born to each marriage more or less simultaneously. It seems possible that my Henry Hodges was the son of a Thomas Hodges – I have found a Thomas Hodges living in Woolhope around the same time that Henry would have been born – admittedly he would have been a young father, but that is not necessarily a stumbling block to this new theory. This Thomas was in fact an older brother of the Henry Hodges who married Louisa Mailes in 1865, and would therefore have been an uncle to his namesake nephew who married Catherine Morris seven years later. An uncle and a nephew marrying within the same decade? Improbable, but by no means impossible! And a family connection could well explain why the uncle’s widow ended up living next door to the nephew’s family at the same time!
One final stab at trying to locate Henry Hodges in earlier censuses (pre-1881) may well have given me the answer to the mystery. A possible candidate, hereto unknown to me, seems to have been hiding in the census, and that is a Henery (sic) Hodges, an agricultural labourer who appears in the 1871 census with his widowed mother Mary, a farmer. Although Henry does not seem to be living with his mother ten years earlier, as per the 1861 census, she does appear to be living in the household of a Mr Thomas Hill, a 70 year-old widowed farmer. Ten years before (1851), Mary is again listed as Thomas Hill’s housekeeper and, perhaps tellingly, there are children living with them: Sarah Hodges (15), who I take to be Mary’s daughter, and two sons, Richard (14) and Henry Hill (11). This young Henry may well be the same Henry Hodges who has led me on this wild goose chase all along. His mother Mary was already living with Thomas Hill by 1841, but there is no sign of a Mrs Hill. Thomas Hill’s four children, the youngest being only 4) are listed in the census that year, as is Mary’s infant son (Thomas, aged 1).
It does not take a huge leap of the imagination to make an educated guess at what happened. In about 1840, Mary Hodges, whether a genuine widow or simply posing as one for decorum’s sake, went to live at the house of recently-widowed Thomas Hill, probably to look after his children. Whether she had children of her own by then or not is difficult to say without access to baptism records, but subsequent censuses seem to suggest that Mary Hodges and Thomas Hill may have had children together. Among them would have been “my” Henry Hodges, who thirty years later claimed that “Thomas Hodges” was his father. It seems likely that by mentioning a “legitimate” father on his marriage certificate, Henry was giving us a clue as to the true identity of his biological father, the man with whom after all his mother had lived for over forty years but who, for reasons unknown to us, never became her husband.
What remains now, to prove my theory, is to find a birth or a baptism record for the two Henry Hodges mentioned in this story, and see if their ages and parentage in any way match up the remaining evidence. Alas, Woolhope’s parish records are not available online, and as I am not biologically related to either of them, I think I will put off ordering the certificates until another time. Nevertheless, I am satisfied that my findings have led me to conclude that we are indeed dealing with two different men, and that one of them was very probably illegitimate (the fact that a Henry Michael Hodges was registered in 1843, with no maiden name given under the corresponding section for the mother, further supports my theory of the illegitimate father later covered up on the son’s marriage certificate).
After this roller coaster of a genealogical journey, I can’t feel but longing to meet a descendant of Catherine Morris and Henry Hodges. While there seem to be plenty of family trees online displaying the descendants of Henry Hodges and Louisa Mailes, I can find nothing on Catherine’s direct family. He eldest surviving son, Ernest Henry Hodges, became a domestic gardener, and died aged 68 in 1943, having had two sons: Ernest Andrew Hodges (1900-1900) and Richard Henry Hodges (1903-?). On the other hand, Catherine’s eldest daughter, Beatrice, married Harry Samuel Jones, of Leominster, by whom she too had two sons: Henry Morris Jones (1904-1979) and Eric Ernest Jones (1905-1983), but I haven’t found conclusive evidence yet to suggest either of them fathered any children. Unlike Beatrice, her sister Edith Mary had no children from her marriage to Harry Graham, whom she married in 1917. Her sister Hetty, on the other hand, did have a large family: in 1911 she married her first husband, John Gwilliam Ryland, by whom she had six children: three of them, Roland Graham Ryland, Trevor Garnet Ryland and Wallace J. Ryland, survived into adulthood and went on to marry, while three others (Douglas V. Ryland and twin girls Catherine and Ruby Ryland) died very shortly after birth. After becoming a widow, Hetty married her second husband, Rollings Creed, but the marriage remained childless. If there is anyone out there remotely related to any of these distant cousins of mine, I would love to hear from them.