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Sarah Ann Mathews, generally called “Annie,” was born to Edward Isaac Mathews and Maria (Bray) Mathews of Limehouse in Greater London on 24 March 1864, the fourth of their five known children. Annie’s parents had been part of the story of the changing landscape of England: Her father had been born in the Bermondsey area of Surrey while her mother had been born in rural Devon. Annie’s mother had migrated to London, but exactly when is not clear, as the first London-area record in which I have found Maria is her marriage to Edward at St. Jude’s in Whitechapel in 1857. According to this blog post, St. Jude’s was just 9 years old when Maria and Edward married there, but by 1873 it would be neglected and abandoned. Taken over and rescued by the area reformers Samuel and Henrietta Barnett at that time, who had requested the assignment, St. Jude’s would one day be destroyed in the London Blitz.

According to their marriage record, Edward, a widower, was a carpenter living at what looks somewhat like “Alis Street,” and Maria was a spinster living at the “same place.” As with Edward’s first marriage, both witnesses were members of the Mathews family. While Maria gave the correct father’s name, the occupation is wildly wrong; whether she did not know the correct occupation of the father who had abandoned her family when she was a child or lied about it, there is no way to know. Either way, Maria was part of the early wave of people moving from rural England to urban areas. Was Maria one of the many who saw a move to the big city as a as a chance to consciously reinvent herself? Regardless of whether her reinvention was a conscious choice or not, Maria’s move dramatically improved her lot in life.

Edward had at least one surviving child, Mary Jane Mathews, born to his first wife, Elisabeth (Godwin) Mathews, and baptized at St. Peter’s in Walworth, Surrey. Edward and Maria stayed within the Tower Hamlets area, initially settling in Poplar, then moving to Limehouse between the 1861 census and Annie’s 1864 birth. At Limehouse the family lived within easy walking distance of one of the busiest waterfronts in London. The East India Company had docks very close by. The nearest Church of England church, St. Anne’s, had the highest church clock in London, and rang its bell every 15 minutes in a long tradition to help merchant mariners and Royal Navy seamen orient themselves as they neared the docks. It is estimated that 6,000 ships docked daily. There were also a large number of factories, warehouses, and other industrial buildings in the neighborhood. I imagine it must have been a noisy, bustling place to live. On the well-known Booth Poverty Maps of London, where the criteria used means that the ranking can change dramatically from block to block, their block was ranked fairly well-off. While the family was living in Limehouse, some buildings at the dead-end of their tiny Aston-street were knocked down and Aston-street was expanded.

By 1890 Annie’s father Edward had gained the right to vote through his residence at their 67 Aston-street home. He continued to appear on the voter rolls until 1897, the year after his death. In 1898 Annie’s widowed mother Maria appeared on the voter roll in his place. What happened to Maria after this is not yet known, but in her lifetime she had gone from working as a servant as a desperately poor young teen in rural England to being on the voter roll of London.

Maria’s family had been non-conformist when she was a child, so whether Maria and Edward’s children do not appear in the local Church of England baptismal registers as infants because they were non-conformists or because Maria and Edward did not baptize them anywhere is unclear so far. Annie chose adult baptism in the Church of England church St. Anthony’s at Stepney on 21 May 1884, with “(Adult baptism)” scrawled in large letters above the entry. The register lists her as still living at her family’s 67 Aston-street home in Limehouse, so it is interesting that she chose to be baptized at a church in Stepney.

On 17 February 1889, Annie married fellow local John Crowley, a clerk, at St. Matthew’s in Limehouse Fields. Both single, Annie and John were listed on the record as both living at 67 Aston-street at the time they married. Annie’s father and one of John’s relatives witnessed the marriage. Annie’s father remained a carpenter and her new husband’s father was an engineer. Maria had signed her marriage record in the childlike writing of someone who may have only known how to write their own name, while Annie signed her full name Sarah Ann Mathews in the confident hand of someone who was probably fully literate.

On the 1891 census Annie and John and their oldest child, a son named Victor John Edward Crowley, were living at 67 Aston-street, as were Annie’s parents; the address is divided into two separate households by the enumerator. Had John moved into the other half of 67 Aston-street and then literally married the girl next door? Or had he moved there because he already knew and liked Annie? These are the kinds of questions it is difficult to answer in the types of records typically left for posterity. Regardless, in 1891 John was still working as a clerk and Edward was still working as a carpenter.

In June 1896 the Crowleys’ oldest child Victor was listed in a register for school, part of a large group of children in the register for Garden-street Temporary School in Tower Hamlets. The family’s address was listed as “67 Ashton St.”

By 1901 Annie and John’s family had expanded, now with three living daughters in addition to their still-living oldest son: Gladys Annie Lizzie Crowley, Eva Rose Irene Crowley, and Hilda Iris Crowley. Their family was now listed first at 67 Aston-street while a single working woman was listed as the resident of the other half of the building. John was still working as a commercial clerk.

By 1911 the family had left both Aston-street and Limehouse behind. They had moved to Forest Gate in the West Ham area of County Essex. All four children I’ve mentioned in this post were still alive, but the enumeration says that Annie had a fifth child who had died. Annie and John had been married for 23 years. For the first time a record gives a more detailed glimpse of John’s working life than “commercial clerk”; he is listed as a Ledger Clerk in the industry “Oil, Gas, & Electric Heating Apparatus.” Their son Victor was enumerated as working as a Stockkeeper’s Clerk in the same industry, and their oldest daughter Gladys as a Vest Machinist in the industry “Gentleman’s Underwear and Vest Manufacturer.” Their two younger daughters were listed as still attending school.

Like millions of other mothers, Annie watched her son Victor go off to war in what would later come to be called World War I. Victor served in the Royal West Kent Regiment. Luckily for their family, Victor survived the war; he was discharged on 24 January 1919 after over 3 years of service, having enlisted on 23 November 1915. Someone scanned and posted a photo of Victor in his uniform, listing the year as 1914, and I am grateful they gave me the opportunity to see the photo.

Annie died on 23 February 1935 at Queen Marys Hospital in Stratford, Essex. Though she died in hospital, she was still living in Forest Gate in the West Ham area. While she was a widow when she died, I have yet to find the correct death record for her husband John. Annie did not leave a will, and her small estate was administered by her son Victor, who by then was working as a commercial traveller.

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A child, likely an infant, named Charles Evans was baptized in the parish church in Hartland, Devon, England, on 15 October 1826, his parents listed as John and Ann Evans. What happened to Charles?

Here are some possibilities:

  1. In 1845 a Charles Evans, who reported his birthplace as Hartland and his age as 16 years and 10 months, enlisted in the Army in Monmouthshire. He was discharged in 1850 due to health issues. His file is now in the Chelsea pensioners record set.
  2. In 1851 a Charles Evans, age 24, “Chelsea pensioner & Keeps a Night School,” is living with John K. Evans, Ann Evans, and Grenville Wakely in Hartland, Devon, England. Everyone in the household was reportedly born in Hartland.
  3. In 1871 a Charles and Catherine Evans, listed as a married couple, are living with William Evans, age 8, in Mile End Old Town, London. Charles is listed as age 44 and a “Military Tailor,” and Catherine as age 54 and with no occupation listed. William’s relationship to head-of-household is described as “Son.” Charles is listed as b. Hartland, Catherine as b. Bideford, Devon, England, and William as b. Scotland.
  4. In 1881 a Charles and Catherine Evans, listed as a married couple, are living in Islington, London. There is no son William but there is a boarder, Henry Ratcliffe. Charles is listed as age 54, born Hartland, and Catherine probably as age 64 (a mark over her age makes it difficult to read), born Bideford. Charles is listed as a “Tailor” and Catherine has no occupation listed.
  5. In 1891 a Charles and Catherine Evans, listed as a married couple, are living at 1A Geneva Place in Bideford, Devon. Charles is listed as age 64, b. Hartland, “Tailor,” and Catherine as age 76, b. Bideford, no occupation listed. They have two lodgers, George Cheveroll(?) and Catherine Hobbs.
  6. According to the FreeBMD index, a Charles Evans died in Bideford Registration District in the 1st Quarter of 1896 at age 69, and a Catherine Evans died in Bideford Registration District in the 2nd Quarter of 1899 at age 80.

Some things to keep in mind about summarizing research as in the list above are that it makes research seem fast and easy, leaves out the reasoning behind each step, and in this list, also leaves out negative results, which are key to keep in mind when doing research. So before going any further in the search for Charles Evans, let me explain some of the research steps I took to compile the above list and some of the reasoning behind those steps.

  • Charles Evans, son of John and Ann Evans, was not listed as living with them in 1841 yet had returned to living with them in 1851. What happened to Charles to make him absent in 1841? Using the “Chelsea pensioner” reference in 1851 as a clue, I searched the Chelsea pensioner record set and yielded a possible match; the birth place matches but the age is off. The age being off does not necessarily rule him out, as many people lied about their ages or simply did not know their correct age. Unfortunately Charles Evans’s Chelsea pensioner file does not include information on family members as many of those files do, so it doesn’t indicate one way or the other whether this is the same Charles Evans.
  • Charles is indexed on the National Archives catalog as having been discharged in 1850, but the original image in the Chelsea pensioner file says 23 Sep’t 185_ with the “_” probably being a “0” but possibly being a “1,” though if it was 1851, he would have spent 1 1/2 years being treated after leaving for England, as he “Embarked for England 25 January 1850,” according to the file. The surgeon also dated his opinion “Chatham Aug. 20 1850,” which would fit well with being discharged in Chatham about a month later. On the other hand, the final discharge also lists him as age 22, which would only match his stated age at enlistment if he was discharged in 1851, though being discharged at age 22 in 1850 would more closely match “my” Charles’s age than the stated enlistment age of 16 years, 10 months. However, according to the file his original enlistment paper has been transcribed into this file, so it is possible that it has been transcribed incorrectly; it is of course also possible that Charles deliberately or unknowingly gave an incorrect age. Regardless, the probable 1850 discharge of the Chelsea pensioner Charles Evans would have given John and Ann’s Charles time to be back in Hartland by 1851; however, even if the Charles Evans of the file was discharged in 1850, this does not necessarily mean it’s the same Charles as John and Ann’s son.
  • I also searched the National Archives [UK] catalog for anyone in the Chelsea pensioner record set who had the phrase “Hartland, Devonshire” (as the catalog puts it) in their file description. The search did not yield anyone else from an even marginally close time period with the surname Evans nor any variations on the surname. This does not necessarily mean that another Charles Evans of approximately the same age from Hartland is not among the Chelsea pensioner files, just that if he is, he didn’t report his birth place as Hartland, his birth place isn’t in the file, or his birth place and/or name isn’t/aren’t properly transcribed into the catalog. It is also possible that the file has not survived; according to My Ancestor Was in the British Army by Michael J. Watts and Christopher T. Watts, a number of discharge papers, especially for many Chelsea pensioners who were discharged overseas, have been lost. Indeed, a search of some other record sets in the National Archives catalog that were recommended in that book yield a good number of various Evanses (with a variety of given names/initials), including many with catalog descriptions saying that their discharge papers had been lost, but few of them have specific dates or birth places listed in the catalog. (Unfortunately, as I discovered upon contacting the National Archives, their staff will not copy these records for a copy fee even if the researcher provides the exact reference number, as they consider the task of looking them up to be research rather than copying.)
  • The 1845 enlistment date on the file does not explain where Charles would have been in 1841 even if he is the same Charles who has a Chelsea pensioner file. However, the possible enlistment provides a new clue; the Charles who enlisted reported his birth place as Hartland, Devon, yet enlisted in Monmouthshire, Wales, not in Devon. What was he doing in Monmouthshire? Could he have already been there in 1841? Unfortunately it can be difficult to find lone people on the 1841 England & Wales census, since the enumeration does not list exact birth places – only whether or not the person was born in the county in which they were residing, which I have not always found to be accurate – and enumerators were instructed to round off ages above approximately age 15. It can be particularly hard in 1841 to locate a lone person with a common name like Charles Evans. While there are not too many Evanses in North Devon, there are a tremendous number of them in Wales. So far no one has been located that seems very likely to be the Charles Evans who would enlist in 1845 nor the Charles Evans who was born to John and Ann Evans of Hartland.
  • Charles’s brother John and most of John’s family, including John’s adult children, left for Canada in the 1870’s, yet a Charles Evans was listed as a witness on the marriage in Bideford in 1887 of the one niece/nephew that research indicated remained in England. An obituary for one of Charles’s nephews/nieces in Canada also states that there was only one niece/nephew from Charles’s brother John’s line still living in England. Charles’s nephew Charles (presumably named after his uncle) had died in England before John’s family left for Canada – the death certificate confirmed it was the nephew – so the brother Charles could not have been the Charles Evans at the wedding. It is quite possible that the Charles Evans that attended the wedding was Uncle Charles. If this is correct, it means Uncle Charles was still alive in 1887 and was able to make it to Bideford for the wedding.
  • A search of 1861 England & Wales census enumeration transcriptions for a Charles Evans born in Hartland in approximately 1827 (factoring in that his birth date seemed to be later in the year than the census enumerations, causing his birth year to generally be estimated at 1827 in census indexes) yielded no results. A search of 1871 census enumeration transcriptions yielded the result that searching for someone by using a birth place on FindMyPast in 1871 does not work. So I jumped ahead to 1881 and did the same search, finding a Charles and Catherine Evans in Islington, London. Working backwards, I found them in 1871 in metropolitan London as well (Mile End Old Town in Tower Hamlets), this time living with someone described as a son to head-of-household. They were in metropolitan London both times, albeit different districts, and on both enumerations Charles is listed as a tailor. The birth place of reportedly 8-year-old William – Scotland – could explain why the family does not seem to appear on the 1861 England & Wales census – though that is certainly not the only possible explanation.
  • A search forward found Catherine and Charles Evans in Bideford on the 1891 census enumeration. Bideford was where Catherine had reported all along that she was born, so it seemed plausible that they would return to it later in their lives. Later, going over a timeline, I realized that if Charles and Catherine had moved there by 1887 it would make it very easy for them to attend his niece’s wedding in Bideford, or that if they had visited for the wedding perhaps that had sparked a desire to move back.
  • In these census searches it was also noted that there did not appear to be any other Charles Evanses living in England & Wales who reported a similar age and a birth place of Hartland.
  • No one that definitely appeared to be Catherine nor Charles was found on the 1901 census enumeration indexes on multiple sites; searching for them as a couple and separately did not yield any good hits.
  • I searched FreeBMD’s death indexes for Bideford District from Quarter 2 1891 to Quarter 2 1901 for deaths for Charles Evans and Catherine Evans. The searches yielded a good match for Charles’s known information and a possible match for Catherine’s known information. Catherine’s age fluctuated a bit more on censuses than Charles’s did, so the fact that the age was within the known age range for Catherine was taken into account. The theory that perhaps they both died between 1891 and 1901 was formed.
  • Since Charles and Catherine were both from the same region of Devon, I hypothesized that they had met and married before leaving Devon, and searched FreeBMD’s marriage indexes for Bideford District from Quarter 2 1851 to Quarter 2 1863 (the former being around the time of the 1851 census and the latter being William’s approximate birth) to see if a Charles Evans had married a Catherine (or variant) during this time period. There were no hits at all.

It is important to stress at this point that while the records and indexes I have found are relatively consistent with a single Charles Evans, born in Hartland, Devon, England, in approximately 1826, it does not necessarily mean that they are a single Charles Evans. Go back to the first list in this post and reread it. To me, the situations detailed in that list can be clustered into three groups:

  • The Charles Evans who was born to John and Ann Evans, was baptized in Hartland, and was living with them in 1851 when it was reported by an unknown informant (possibly Charles himself, but not necessarily) that he had been born in Hartland, was age 24, and was a Chelsea pensioner and kept a night school.
  • The Charles Evans who enlisted in the military in Monmouthshire in 1845, reporting his birth place as Hartland and his age in 1845 as 16 years and 10 months, and was discharged in 1850.
  • The Charles Evans who married Catherine ___, had a son named William, was a tailor, was reportedly born in Hartland in approximately 1827, and lived in Mile End Old Town in London, Islington in London, Bideford in Devon, and possibly Scotland (based on his son’s reported birth place, although it is possible that that is incorrect or that Charles was not with Catherine [or an unknown mother] when she gave birth). This Charles appears to have died in 1896 in Bideford Registration District, but the certificate has not yet been reviewed.

While it is certainly possible that these three groups are a single Charles Evans, right now they are dots in a child’s book of games – disparate and awaiting connection.

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One of the accidental benefits of my tendency to write part to most of a post and save it in a draft file to finish or polish later is that sometimes I get answers to some posed questions before I publish the post on my blog. Around the time I started this post, I sent away for the Bideford District death certificates that seemed to fit Charles and Catherine (___) Evans. Enough time has passed that I have received the certificates here in the States. They connected more dots than I had expected.

Charles Evans died on 11 March 1896 at a reported age of 69 in Bideford. He is listed as a “Tailor (Journeyman)” and Catherine Evans reported his death. Catherine is listed as his widow and as present at the death, and says that Charles died at 32 Albert Place, Bideford, the same address she gives as her own residence. It also lists that Charles died of “Phetrisis[?].” This certificate tells me some information but not too much – it strongly suggests that the Charles Evans on this death record is the same Charles Evans who was reportedly married to Catherine ___ and who was living in Islington and Mile End Old Town with Catherine. The fact that he was reportedly a journeyman tailor – a part of the story not on the census enumerations found for the family – also helps explain why the family was so mobile.

But Catherine’s death certificate tells a much more connecting story. Catherine is not a blood relative of mine, and it would seem that Catherine herself had no blood relatives of her own in her area by the time she died. She died on 23 May 1899 at a reported age of 80 at the “Alms Houses Bideford,” and her occupation is listed as “Widow of Charles Evans Tailor (Journeyman).” Jane Copp reported her death, listing herself as present at the death and her residence as 1 Tydenham Place, Bideford. My most recent blog post went into some detail about Jane Copp and her family and in-laws; I already know that Jane Copp was the sister of “my” Charles Evans, but even if I had not known before receiving this certificate, Jane is listed on it as Catherine’s sister-in-law.

While Catherine’s death certificate very clearly connected the dots between the Charles Evans who was born in Hartland, Devon, England, baptized there in 1826, and living with John and Ann Evans there in 1851, and the Charles Evans who was reportedly married to Catherine (__) Evans, lived in Greater London and Bideford, was a tailor, and apparently had a son named William, I still haven’t proven or disproved connections between these connected end dots and the dots that cluster in the long gaps between the bookends of Charles’s life. Once the  certificates arrived, I began working on the family again to try to figure out what had happened between 1826 and 1851 and between 1851 and 1871. Subsequent research has not only failed to definitively answer these questions, but has raised new questions. I will post more about it all in a second post on this family.

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