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  • Writer's pictureWendy Percival

Another "out-of-wedlock" story

There's been no breakthrough so far in finding the birth record of my 2x great-grandmother Emma Shelley (see last week’s Illegitimacy & Mystery). The idea that she may have been born before her parents married proved to be a false dawn when the PDF of the birth certificate I ordered for an Emma born to an unmarried mother called Holland (my 3x great-grandmother’s maiden name) became available to view.

The mother of this Emma Holland was an Ann, not an Elizabeth or Bessie. Currently, the only two Ann Hollands on my tree are either too old or too young to be this person, though she may be a relative. I’ll need to dig further to confirm.

Married? Not married?

Oddly, though, I found Ann and her daughter Emma two years later on the 1841 census apparently married to James with several other children, so it seems strange that she was recorded as being unmarried. Was there another Ann Holland with a daughter Emma in the same area? Was it a transcription error? A recording error? Further investigation needed!

But that’s for another day and I shall instead turn to this week's wedding anniversary on 29th November 1896, of my great-grandparents pictured below - Jane Hick and, the subject of last week’s blog post, Emma’s illegitimate son, George Shelley. It's possible these photographs were taken at the time of their marriage.

Elusive Jane

When I researched Jane years ago it took a while to track down her birth details because, coincidentally, she was also born illegitimate and registered under her mother’s surname, Williams.

Her mother, Eleanor, married James Hick a few months after Jane was born and Jane subsequently took his surname. Unlike Emma’s spouse (see last week’s blog post), Eleanor’s new husband was clearly happy to take on his new wife's baby daughter. Though I’ve often wondered if James was actually Jane’s biological father, as the 1861 census, taken when Jane was 2 months old, shows he was the lodger. Perhaps one day DNA might confirm the story!



Wendy Percival
Wendy Percival
Nov 28, 2020

What a lovely story, Tracey. So pleased you finally cracked the puzzle! It’s fascinating how connected we feel to our ancestors, isn’t it? I guess it’s also tied up with the effort we invest in the search and the disappointments along the way, so it means so much when we finally achieve our goal, especially if it’s been a long time in coming! I’ve not gone down the DNA route yet but I’m sure there’ll come a time. I love the idea of names down the generations. My mum’s sister gave her daughter my mum’s name as a middle name and my mum reciprocated by giving me her sister’s name as a middle name so some nice symmetry there!


Nov 27, 2020

I had these same situation with one of my 2x great grandmothers. When she married my 2x great grandfather, she used the surname Smith and listed her father as William Smith. On the census records I had for her (post marriage) she listed her birthplace as Cerne Abbas in Dorset. I spent years searching the records for her birth, baptism or census records pre marriage and could also never work out how they came to marry on Isle of Wight in Hampshire.

One night a few months ago I had a lightbulb moment to do a search for all of my DNA matches with Smiths from Dorset in their trees (a method I now regularly use when I’m stuck). I…

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