The mysterious origins of Auntie Ivy

When I first began researching the English side of my family tree, I would occasionally ask my relatives to name my great-grandmother’s siblings as I’d try to figure out who was who among the mound of aunts and uncles that seemed to be coming out of the woodwork. Invariably, someone would end up adding “oh, and there was Auntie Ivy too… but she was adopted”.

Author’s private collection.

It took me a long time to include Auntie Ivy on the family tree, perched as she was on the same branch as my great-grandmother and her other (biological) siblings. This was not due to any sort of aversion towards any adoptees on my family tree, nor any attempt on my part to erase this mysterious Auntie Ivy from my family’s history. The reason, I’m ashamed to admit, is much closer to home: there is no shortage of family relationships in my family tree where there is an emotional, religious and even legal link between relatives who are not necessarily a person’s parents or children. By not including Auntie Ivy as my great-grandmother’s sister – this was reasoning at the time – I was being truly faithful to my family tree’s biological history. And then I stopped, reconsidered, and realised that what I was actually doing, albeit unconsciously, was obliterating Auntie Ivy from my family’s real history!

For years thereafter, Auntie Ivy hung from the same branch as my great-grandmother. Not long ago, I decided it was high time to look for her own origins, and see if by establishing her parentage I could figure out why and how she came to be adopted by my great-great-grandparents, Samuel and Elizabeth Morris.

There were two vital clues I knew about Auntie Ivy’s life, other than the fact that as an adult she lived up in Ludlow, Shropshire. One was her married name, Nash, and the second was that she came from (of all places) Worthing, the well-known Sussex seaside town which is, for all its merits, wholly unconnected with my own lot, who seemed quite content to live in the rural valleys of Herefordshire for centuries on end.

Searching on FreeBMD for a marriage between a Mr Nash and someone called Ivy, at some point between 1890 (when my own great-grandmother would have been a young girl) and 1960 (when my own relatives knew Ivy as an elderly lady) seemed a good starting point. As soon as I pressed the search button, limiting my search area to Herefordshire, I came up with a very likely candidate: the marriage of Lancelot Nash and Ivy Thornton in Ludlow registration district in 1917 – that definitely sounded right! Lancelot was a name that definitely rang bells with my own family, so on I went searching for an Ivy Thornton living in Herefordshire before 1917, the year she was married.

Of course, it wasn’t hard to find Ivy living with my own relatives, the Morrises. It was with them that she appears to have made her first appearance on the census in 1901: Ivy Thornton; 9 years of age; relationship to head of the household: “adopted daughter”; birthplace: Sussex Worthing. This not only confirmed the family story that Ivy came from Worthing, but also gave me an additional clue: an approximate year of birth: 1892.

Off I went, expecting to find Ivy’s birth just as easily as I’d found her marriage to Lancelot Nash. Surely there can’t have been that many Ivy Thorntons born at the right time in Sussex, could there? Well, two results do not qualify as many by any stretch of the imagination, but one was born in East Preston in the September quarter of 1891 and the other in Brighton in the December quarter of the same year – and that was enough to throw my investigation into chaos. This was going to be a case of prove or disprove. So on I went.

Source: FreeBMD.

I decided to first try my luck with the girl from Brighton, who was actually registered as Ivy Maud Thornton. No death came up between 1891 (when she was born) and 1901 (when I know my Ivy was already living with her adoptive family in Herefordshire) so chances were that if this Ivy Maud wasn’t my relative, she’d probably be lurking elsewhere on the 1901 census.

Aha! I must have exclaimed in my head, when I found Ivy Thornton, aged 9, born in Brighton but living in Deptford (London) with her father and an older brother. This girl is clearly not my Auntie Ivy because Auntie Ivy was already in Herefordshire at the time. Can I track Brighton Ivy on the 1911 census, to be doubly sure of my conclusion? But of course, there she is, Ivy Maud Thornton – full name and all! – aged 20, born in Brighton and now living in Greenwich with another brother and his family. So we’re clear: Auntie Ivy was not Ivy Maud Thornton – she must therefore be the other Ivy Thornton, whose birth was registered, as I would have expected, in East Preston, which of course includes the town of Worthing.

The fact that Ivy’s birth was registered just after the 1891 census was taken means her name will not appear on it. Rotten luck! But surely a quick look on the GRO Index, which now provides the mother’s maiden name, can tell me more about Ivy’s parents?

Insert the details I know for Ivy’s birth, and bingo! Thornton, Ivy, mother’s maiden name: Pearce. Not a family name I can claim a connection to – beyond my great-great-great-great-aunt Sarah Mound, who had married a Henry Pearce in 1854, but that’s too far-fetched to make an immediate connection. But hey, at least I can try to find Ivy’s parents’ name and marriage – and more importantly, what became of them and what made them give Ivy away for adoption.

Finding the right marriage between a Mr Thornton and a Ms Pearce in the right period would not be an easy task, particularly as none seem to have taken place anywhere near Worthing: Gateshead, Islington, Bradford… Hang on! Ludlow! Surely not… Could Ivy’s parents have married in the very place where she would end up many years later? Worth checking, anyway!

Richard Thornton and Elizabeth Pearce married in early 1880. On to the census again: if they are indeed Ivy’s biological parents, chances are they at least made it to the 1881 and 1891 census, when Ivy would have been on the way! On to Ancestry, and up pops Richard Thornton, a groom, from the village of Richard’s Castle on the Herefordshire-Shropshire border. His wife Elizabeth is even more interesting, because she too came from Herefordshire, only she is from Aymestrey, a place I’ve come across in my earlier genealogical research. This is turning into a very productive research!

By 1881 Richard and Elizabeth had a daughter called Margaret (registered as Margaret Jessie); living with them was a boarder called Benjamin Pearce – surely a relative of Elizabeth’s. Can I now find them on the 1891 census?

Ten years on, and here are Richard and Elizabeth, and their growing brood of children: Margaret Jessie (10), Sarah Ellen (8), Thomas Henry (7) and Elizabeth Annie (5). Obviously Ivy isn’t on the census because Elizabeth would have been pregnant with her at the time. By then the family were living at the stables on New Street, Worthing, where the younger children had been born – slowly, a picture of a tight-knit family moving from their native Herefordshire to Worthing, following the father’s profession as a groom/domestic coachman, starts to appear in my head.

With these connections to Herefordshire, it seems likely that, for whatever reason, Ivy was sent early on to live with acquaintances of her parents in their native Herefordshire. All very well, but that still doesn’t tell me why she ended up being adopted by my great-great-grandparents!

Rather unsurprisingly, Richard Thornton fails to appear on the 1901 census, but if Ivy had been adopted by then – as I know she had -, maybe she’d been fostered away after her father’s untimely death? Happily, her mother appears to be alive and well, still living in Worthing with her four eldest children, and now earning her way in life as a lodging housekeeper. Ivy, who we know was with her adopted parents by then, is obviously not living under the same roof.

Photo credit: Worthing History.

The temptation of learning about Richard Thornton’s early demise is too tempting to resist, and I have such a penchant for death certificates, that I sent for Richard’s own, expecting to learn more about the circumstances that led him to an early grave. At that point someone in the family told me that they seemed to remember Auntie Ivy’s father had died in a fire in the stables where he worked… Could this unfortunate coachman have died in the same stables on Worthing’s New Street? Alas, no. His death certificate, dated 1892, clearly states that he actually died of blood poisoning caused by meningitis, an illness which can still be fatal even today.

So it seems that Ivy lost her dad when she was not quite a year old. Perhaps her mother was unable to care for herself and her five children, and so decided to send her youngest away – though how she was able to dispense of her child’s company so soon after the loss of her husband is lost to the pages of history.

Ivy’s mother Elizabeth Thornton (née Pearce) certainly seems to have lived a longer life than her husband – dying in Worthing in 1927. I felt like her story was yet to be told, so I decided to dig a bit deeper before closing Ivy’s chapter. And wasn’t my curiosity rewarded…!

Elizabeth Pearce had been born in around 1861 in Aymestrey, Herefordshire. It was fairly easy to locate her baptism, which of course gave me her parents’ names: Henry and Sarah Pearce.

Hang on. Surely… Henry and Sarah? The same Henry Pearce who married my 4x-great-aunt Sarah Mound in 1854??? I quickly turn to the GRO index and look for Elizabeth’s birth. Mother’s maiden name: Mound. All of a sudden, the pieces fell into place. I had to shout out EUREKA!!! Sarah Mound was my great-great-great-grandmother Ellen’s younger sister. Ellen married into the Morris family, while Sarah married Henry Pearce. So, in other words, this meant that Ellen’s son Samuel Morris, who adopted Ivy in the 1890s, was actually Elizabeth’s first cousin!

Of course, it all made sense now: following the death of her husband, Elizabeth probably thought it wiser to send her infant daughter to be raised by her own family back home in Herefordshire – where, incidentally, her own mother Sarah was still living. This also means that my great-grandmother and her adopted younger sister were actually second cousins, a relationship they surely would have been fully aware of! Then why was such a close family link not spoken of a mere two generations later? I suppose we’ll never know… But if anything, this story was proven to me that sometimes it pays off to just persevere a little longer – am I right?



This entry was posted in 1881 Census, 1891 Census, 1901 Census, 1911 Census, Adoption, Genealogy, Herefordshire, Shropshire. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The mysterious origins of Auntie Ivy

  1. What brilliant and satisfying research! So glad you found Auntie Ivy’s true story.

  2. loganealogy says:

    Well written. An interesting story/find. You’ve inspired me.

  3. PJS says:

    Loved the story, and extremely well told! The only addition I would have made is, when you first mention Worthing, to make a reference to Ernest in the Oscar Wilde play, who was found as a baby at Victoria Station in “A HANDBAG!” by a gentleman who happened to have a ticket to Worthing in his pocket. Very proud of you and your exploits!

  4. I’ve really enjoyed reading about your detective work. I love it when the pieces finally fit together!

  5. Marian Pierre-Louis says:

    Great story and research!

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