On 6 January 2022 I was one of many happy genealogists who logged into FindMyPast to start digging into the newly-released 1921 census. Although I do not have many ancestors who were alive at the time the census was taken on 19 June 1921, I was happy to try my luck and see if I could locate any other close relatives and see what they were up to that momentous day. Among them was my great-great-grandfather’s only surviving brother, Richard Morris.
Up to now, all I ever knew about Richard was that he was born in 1860 in the Herefordshire village of Kinnersley. Throughout the various censuses taken over the years right up to 1911, he appears to have lived his life as a bachelor, spending some of those years looking after his widowed mother. It was not until a few years ago ,when I ordered his death certificate (dated 1931), that I discovered he had married in 1912!
His wife’s name was Jane Birch, and it was her daughter, G. Annie Birch – presumably born from a previous marriage – who went to register Richard’s death in the local registry office. For a long time, this was the family scenario I believed Richard knew in his last years… until the 1921 census was released!
There, black on white, was Richard’s entry in the census, together with Jane, his wife of just under ten years, her daughter Gertrude Annie Birch… and their son Samuel, who was 6 years old at the time! Well, well, well. You think you know someone, don’t you, and then they turn up having kids right up under your nose!
You might ask yourselves: why didn’t you do a search for potential children born to Richard and Jane before? Well, there are a couple of explanations. First, Morris is a very common surname in Herefordshire. Secondly, Birch wasn’t Jane’s maiden name, and without that crucial piece of information, it was just impossible to narrow down results without going into the realms of pure guesswork.
Naturally my first instinct was to try and see if I could find out anything about little Samuel Morris. His mother, Jane, unfortunately died in early 1926, when he would have been about ten years of age, and his father Richard, as I already mentioned, passed away in 1931, when Samuel was about 16. Luckily, I suppose, Samuel still had some close family nearby – let us not forget that he had at least one sister called Gertrude Annie who, being slightly older, would surely have been in a position to look after him.
Gertrude Annie’s birth entry on the GRO index now gave me a birth year of 1908, which means she was about eight years older than her half-brother Samuel. By cross-referencing with Samuel’s own birth in 1915, I also discovered that her mother’s maiden name was Addis, a surname I have not come across before in this part of Herefordshire. Finding Jane Addis’s marriage to a man called Arthur Birch in 1890 was easy enough, and I was quite surprised to find out they actually had quite a lot of children: Lilian Elizabeth (1890), Edith Hannah (1892), Arthur (1895), Bertha Annie (1896), Benjamin Charles (1898) and Mary Jane (1901).
But then tragedy struck when Jane’s husband Arthur died in 1901… which begs the question, how on earth did he father another daughter, Gertrude Annie, in 1908? Quite obviously he didn’t, which leads me to conclude Jane, by now a widow, became pregnant by an unknown man (not her first husband, and almost certainly not Richard Morris either). There’s an interesting twist to the family’s story!
So, it is evident that Samuel Morris had no shortage of half-siblings who could have taken him under their wing when he was orphaned at the age of 16, and while he was probably already considered old enough to earn a living by himself, I would love to find some indication that he was not left exclusively to his own devices at such a young age.
You will, therefore, understand my surprise – and disappointment – when I found him as a passenger on a vessel in 1932, emigrating to Canada to work as a farmer in Ontario. Not just that, but his nearest relative back at home was given as the Rector of Pembridge, Herefordshire, who had been appointed his guardian. What of Samuel’s half-brothers and sisters?
There are still many mysteries surrounding Samuel Morris – not least, what happened to him upon landing in Halifax in 1932. Did he make it to Ontario? Did he remain in Canada? Did he ever return to England? What happened to his half-siblings, and what was his relationship with them? I wish I knew!