Clear as Mud
My great-great grandfather, James Griffiths, was born about 1822 in Higher Wych, Cheshire. His father was William Griffiths, a cordwainer, and he married my great-great grandmother, Ann Williamson, in 1856. He…
No – hang on – this won’t do. The problem is, I’m not sure how much of that first paragraph is true – I know those two people were my great-great grandparents; I’m as happy with the date as any family historian ever is; and I believe that his name was James. The rest of it? I don’t know – and that includes his surname!
Let’s alter the usual way and look at my investigations first.
I was working backwards, as we are supposed to do, from the known to the unknown. I’d got my great-grandparents, John Griffiths and Elizabeth Purcell, in the 1901 census, their 1892 marriage certificate and then John’s birth certificate from 1868, saying that his parents were James Griffiths and Ann Williamson. Then I’d got John and Ann’s marriage certificate in Wolstanton, Staffordshire, in 1856. In the censuses, I’d got Ann, now widowed, and her son Samuel in the 1891 census – but not John and his younger brother, James junior. I’d got the family in the 1881 census – but then nothing in the 1871 or 1861 – nothing, in fact, until the unmarried Ann – but not John – in the 1851 census.
I’d tried looking through the names in the index to the 1871 census for Cheshire several times, so I decided that it was likely that their name had been copied out wrongly. Fortunately, the three sons were each born in the Poole area of Cheshire in the years 1868 to 1874 / 75, so it seemed sensible to start with the pages for Poole and just look through them, one at a time.
As it turned out, they were the third household in Poole – James, from Higher Wych, Ann from Wrenbury, and their two-year old son, John. The ages for the parents matched – so why hadn’t I found them before? Because the surname on their entry was not Griffiths – but Maddocks. How was I certain it was them? Well, Wrenbury is fairly small and Higher Wych tiny, so two such names pretty much had to be them, but this was not the only reason. You see, what I realised in an instant, was that I had heard the name of Maddocks before. There was a family legend that John had a half-brother by the name of George Maddocks, so I had vaguely expected that his father, James, might have had an affair with a woman of that name before his marriage – yet here was his family, including his wife, going under that name. And yes, the trick worked for the 1891 census as well, for John and his younger brother, James junior, were on a farm at Church Minshull, Cheshire, under the Maddocks name.
Was it possible to find out any more about the Maddocks name? As it happens, yes. Come forward to an evening in Haslington, shortly after the end of the First World War. John Griffiths is sitting in a pub there, perhaps with his son, my grandfather, also John, when the door opens and a stranger walks in. Except that to many there he doesn’t look like a stranger – instead he looks the image of the elder John Griffiths. It is, in fact, John’s half-brother, George Maddocks.
According to the family story, George was older than John, being in his 70s by then, and had walked from somewhere either in the Potteries or close – Kidsgrove is one suggestion. Now whether or not George had walked all that way, or taken a bus or train and walked the last bit doesn’t actually matter. What it means is that we can start looking for someone named George Maddocks (or Maddock or Maddox), born about 1850, whose father was named James, and who lived in, or towards, the Potteries about 1918.
If we look in the 1901 census, there are just two people in the North Staffordshire area of the right name and age – and one of them is actually in Wolverhampton, rather than the Potteries. Just in case George moved, I checked in South Cheshire, where there were five people of the right name and age. I followed four of them back through the earlier censuses, and they all had fathers of the wrong name. One did have a father named James Maddocks. Was this our James Maddocks? No, because this James is in the 1871 census, living in Woodchurch, when our James Griffiths / Maddocks is in the same census, living in Poole, near Nantwich. So none of the South Cheshire George Maddocks can be the one who walked into Haslington that night, and only one of the North Staffordshire ones looks possible – the same one who Philip Griffiths had also suggested.
Then I tried it from the other direction, because George might have been missed from the 1901 census for some reason. What about earlier ones? You can use the Ancestry.com censuses and ask them “Find all people named George Maddocks (or similar), born about 1850, whose father is named James.” I tried the 1851, 1861 and 1871 censuses like this. Once I discarded those born in places like Devon and Derbyshire as being unlikely, then I ended up with two possibilities. One was the same George whose father was in Woodchurch, so could be discarded. The other? He was the same person that Philip and I had identified from the 1901 census – George Maddocks, born in Madeley, Staffordshire, about 1850. In the 1851 census, his father, James Maddocks, is only recorded as born in Cheshire – no town or village is recorded – and James’ year of birth is about 1822, which does match my James, whose year of birth is about 1823. So, I could then go on to find the story of George Maddocks of Madeley, get his birth certificate and other details, and start to write something closer to the proper story of my great-great grandfather James.
It has to be admitted, that the following story is not 100% cast-iron proven – but it does fit together very well and satisfies me.