Originally published in Your Family Tree Magazine issue 153, the picture below is the one that appeared with this article in the magazine.
I discovered my first family skeleton fairly early on in my research, although I could hardly believe it at the time, knowing my family as I do – or at least thought I did! My first hint that something had gone on was the 1901 Census of 3 Broad Street, Hoyland Nether (near Barnsley) showing my paternal grandfather’s father George Arthur Chambers as a 14 year old with his parents and siblings, and a 7 year old boy named Ernest, listed as ‘Grandson’.
I traced Ernest’s birth on FreeBMD, and ordered his birth certificate. When it arrived, it showed that his mother was Beatrice Chambers, and no father was given. Looking back now with more experienced eyes, it does not surprise me now to find an illegitimate birth in my family, but it was a great shock at the time – especially knowing that my paternal grandmother was a staunch Catholic!
As I had not found Beatrice in the 1901 with Ernest, I decided to look for her in the 1891, before Ernest’s birth, and found her as a 14yr old with her parents and siblings.
After much procrastinating, I e-mailed my grandmother, George Arthur’s daughter in law. To my astonishment, she told me that she already knew about Ernest, and informed me that he was alleged to be the product of an incestuous relationship between the underage Beatrice and her brother Joseph, and that their parents had banished Joseph to Canada and raised baby Ernest as their own… the mind boggles – did Paulina Sr. (Beatrice and Joseph’s mother – she also had another daughter called Paulina) pretend to the outside world that it was she who was expecting a new arrival?
I then decided to try to trace Beatrice after Ernest’s birth, completely ignoring Joseph – I took my grandmother at her word that he had been banished to Canada… little did I know how close I was to the truth, and yet how far away I was at the same time – but more of him later! I couldn’t find a Beatrice Chambers in the 1901 that matched what I knew of her, so I decided to look for a marriage, and found a possible match taking place in 1898 in Barnsley. I cross-referenced the marriage with the 1901 census, and discovered the 27yr old Benjamin Townsend with Beatrice aged 24 living at 26 St Helen’s Street in Hoyland Nether, with their one year old son, Joel.
Having only UK access to Ancestry, I had not bothered even beginning to research Joseph, until a ‘shaky leaf’ hint appeared, informing me that someone of his name was listed on a document mentioning Canadian soldiers of World War One. I mentioned this to a few Canadian members of RootsChat.com, a genealogical forum I occasionally frequent, and was informed that WWI attestation papers were available online. I found some papers for a Joseph William Chambers, dated 11 August 1915, whose date of birth fit with the registration I had turned up on FreeBMD, and whose occupation of Miner fit with my Joseph on the 1891 Census.
His next of kin was named as Isabella, and they were noted as living in Michel, British Columbia – so Grandma was at least partly right! I then searched the 1911 Census of Canada, and found Joseph, his 31 yr old wife Isabella, and their daughters Phyllis (10), Doris (5) and Gladys (3) in Fernie, British Columbia. I couldn’t find Isabella or Joseph in the Canadian 1901, so I searched the English 1901, not really expecting to find anything – but there they were in Rotherham, a few miles from the rest of the Chambers family: Joseph, Isabella and baby Phyllis!
I also found Ernest still with his widowed grandfather and some of his aunts and uncles – Ada, Albert and Mary -in the English 1911; Benjamin and Beatrice were still in Rotherham with 11 year old Joel and his three younger sisters, Paulina aged 9, Elsie (aged 7) and 1 yr old Lizzie. I would love to know what became of Ernest, but I suppose I have to wait until the 1921 Census is released, whenever that might be…