The problem

By way of setting out what is known and not known about Philip Robinson, my 5th great grandfather.

Philip died on 16th January 1820 aged 73 giving a likely birth year of 1746 (unless he was born in the first two weeks of 1747). He was married to Charlotte Erith on 18th October 1774 and they had 10 children between 1775 and 1794. He worked, I believe, in Chatham Dockyard until October 1883 when he was dismissed along with John Brooks for attempting to embezzle goods from HMS Success. Several entries in the pay books show that he was often in debt as his pay would be paid to a third party to relieve money owed.

So far so good. But still no sign of his birth or his parents.

Looking for birth entries in the parish registers for Chatham and surrounding areas shows a curious anomaly: There are a steady number of Robinsons born in the area, sometimes two or three a year, until 1742 when there are none born for seven years until 1749 when the rate picks up again. Of the few Robinson children born during the 1740s*, those to John and Rebecca include two before 1742 and one in 1749, suggesting that that family may have upped sticks to who knows where for seven years but eventually returned to the Medway area. Rebecca died in 1754 in Gillingham.
(*The other 1740s Robinson children include one in 1749 to John and Elizabeth – the first of several following in the 1750s, one to John and Ann in 1741, and one to the unmarried Rebecca Robinson in 1742).

Just as I haven’t been able to find Philip’s birth anywhere in the parish records, neither could I find a marriage for John and Rebecca until I stumbled across an entry in the London and Surrey Bonds and Allegations (1597-1921) – essentially a database of applications for marriage licenses – for the marriage of a John Robinson and Rebecca Bowen on 28th February 1741. The problem is that this marriage licence was for Dorking, Surrey the home of this John Robinson with Rebecca being from Ewell not far away. The second caveat is that the first child of John and Rebecca in Chatham was born only two months later. It is possible that they married quickly before moving to Kent to take up the opportunity of work in the royal dockyard but when initially searching the Surrey parish records for Robinsons, a stark warning bell is sounded: the first result that comes up is for the marriage of Stephen Robinson and Ann Greentree, once wrongly believed to be ancestors through a similar set of assumptions.

I need to find out what was happening during those missing seven years.


New family

Susannah Grace Cave 003

Susannah Grace Cave née Ellicott

It’s been an interesting few days, all prompted by an Ancestry photo hint, resulting in a new family branch and Canadian cousin. Susannah Grace Ellicott, or Grace as she was known, was the Ellicott sister we knew little about. Third of eight children, she became the second wife of William Tull Cave and ran a boarding house in Hastings before WW1. William died in 1914 and after the war Grace and her sons William and Norman went out to Canada to join her daughters Ethel and Edith who had emigrated there in 1912. Edith had worked at the Ellicott shop in Torquay (and also turns out to be the last unidentified person in the family photo). Grace became a seamstress at the hospital in Toronto. She died in 1950.


My new third cousin, Sharen, has lots of information and photos of her Canadian relatives but knew little of the Ellicott family back in England so it’s been great working to tie our families together as well as having the excitement of finding a new cousin.


Round up

As the end of 2015 approaches it’s time to round up where we are and what’s still to do.

The last couple of weeks have been spent helping Kate with the Edwards family, specifically trying to find census records for Elizabeth Hodder Edwards in 1841 and 1851 from which she appears to have gone missing. In return Kate has turned me on to an intriguing court case involving Joshua Henry Edwards and the “Bluebeard” husband of his sister Louisa, which I need to write up properly on his profile, so look out for that.

I still have to sort through the early Ellicott data to try and make some sensible connections. This family, having been elusive for so long, now holds the most promise for a full history going back as far as records can. If only we can find a baptism for the 1746 Philip Robinson we might have a similar hope there too. There have been a few minor updates in the Robinson tree but nothing more on the search for this Philip or indeed the ever elusive PJR. Hopefully 2016 will bring some fresh evidence to light. At least we end 2015 with more information than we started with, and that’s good.

It only remains to wish anyone reading this all the compliments of whatever season you follow, and a happy 2016.

Abraham and the two Rhoda Robinsons

This is by way of an update to this post of some time ago regarding my great uncle, Andrew Joseph Robinson, although he only plays a peripheral role in this tale. This is the story of his second wife Rhoda (née Wise), their two so far unnamed children and her relationship as quite literally ‘the younger model’ with Abraham van Jaarsveld.

It all started when I got back in touch with Nick to catch up and see if he’s made any progress. There was no news but it did prompt him to start looking for Rhoda’s two children, those she had had with Andrew in the early 1950s, mentioned in the divorce papers but not named. A day or so later an email from Nick drops into my inbox with a copy of an email from Jan van Jaarsveld with some detail about Rhoda Robinson and Abraham van Jaarsveld, but also, from an obscure reference in the Strydom family tree, listing Rhoda Robinson (born Wise) as de facto spouse to the same Abraham van Jaarsveld. It was clear quite quickly that either something was horribly wrong with one of these sources or there were two Rhoda Robinsons.

It turns out Abraham van Jaarsveld (b 1881) had previously been married (in 1902) to Leonora Strydom (b 1880) with whom he’d fathered five children; Leonora, Ernestus, Pieter, Abraham and Hermina. It is clear from the communication Nick has had with Jan that he later formed a relationship, possibly marriage, with Rhoda Robinson, 32 years his junior and with whom he fathered a further two, possibly three children; Ernst and Cecil, and possibly Johanna. This Rhoda Robinson was previously unknown to me but looks like she was the daughter of a Robert and Lucy Robinson born in 1913. Robert and Lucy also had a son, Cecil, a year later – fans no doubt of the infamous Cecil Rhodes, but not so far in my tree.

Anyway, Rhoda would have been 41 by the time her younger son Cecil Robinson van Jaarsveld was born in 1954 and one can only wonder how soon after this birth (if not before) the old man, now 72, took up with newly divorced Rhoda Wise/Robinson – 47 years his junior and 15 years younger than the first Rhoda Robinson. It must have been a very strange and distressing situation for Rhoda to have been replaced by what would probably have seemed like quite literally a younger version of herself.

The first Rhoda Robinson as well as Abraham’s first wife Leonora were both still very much alive when Rhoda Wise Robinson appeared on the scene, they died in 1974 and 1998 respectively. Abraham himself died in 1963 and Rhoda Wise Robinson and her children were not named in his will. While we are awaiting the paperwork on that, it seems that one of the Rhoda’s contested the Will before a couple of his children from his first marriage opposed that application. All very murky.

None of which has got us any closer to naming Andrew and Rhoda’s children!

Getting ready for Kew

National Archives building

It’s been a quiet few days treading water before the big trip to the national archives at Kew on Thursday. I’ve even got some prep done so I know what it is I want to look up while I’m there! I’m going to be looking for potential birth records in British East Africa, records of the Metropolitan Police, Court martial records for the Boer War, and potentially some Wills.

I wonder if it’ll be better or worse for everyone else being at WDYTYA Live starting on Thursday.

Tommy Currie

Tommie and Steve

That’s him on the left with one time partner Steve “Nobby” Smith. Tommy was a music hall artiste in the 1930s and 40s and ended up marrying fellow performer, singer Roma Ellis although she was known as Roma Currie long before they officially tied the knot. Although we know a fair amount about his private life, we have very little information about his career; just a couple of reviews mentioning him and Roma in the Smeddle Brothers’ “Blue Pencil Revue” of 1941. On which tour, incidentally, they had a lucky escape when playing the Alexandra Theatre in Hull, the show had not long finished when it got flattened by a German air raid.

There is a story that he toured German cabaret clubs in the 1930s but it might just be a story – there has been a sorry dearth of information so far. So this post is also something of an appeal; if you know anything, or know where we might find out more, please get in touch!

Who Do You Think You Are?

I suppose that at some point it behoves the family history blogger to pass comment on the BBC series “Who Do You Think You Are?”. Don’t get me wrong, I find it very entertaining (even the American version); we all enjoy rooting around in the past, most of the subjects have a good story to tell, and there’s always the chance to see a famous person cry. But I wish it would do more.

Telling our ancestor’s stories is most of why we do this (it’s obviously the reason behind this blog), and every now and then we hit a block or notice a gap in the data, and it is for these occasions I believe WDYTYA could be a little more helpful sometimes. It seems like an opportunity missed in that by the end of the current UK series there will have been 100 shows and yet very few of them have offered much practical help to the amateur genealogist. Even if a particular programme or subject has sparked an idea or two, I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking “how did they get that?” when a subject is handed an obscure record to read, falteringly, on camera – ears pricked hoping to hear how one might access this hitherto unheard of archive, but the moment passes and we’re off on the next leg of our stage-managed journey without so much as a subtitle to help us. (I also wonder whether the professionals they use are sometimes ill-served. They hand over research that may have taken days and hours often without so much as a hint that they trawled through several dusty volumes before they eventually found this small clue but that’s by the by).

Of course, genealogy is big business and the BBC and the WDYTYA production company can point to the website and magazine, shrug and say ‘what more do you want?’ but seriously, we have the Red Button and iPlayer; could we not have WDYTYA Extra with content related to each episode? After all, the first series had a short segment at the end of each programme where Adrian Chiles and researcher Nick Barratt offered basic tips – there’s no reason this could not be re-adopted and expanded for WDYTYA Extra. It could work much like the supplementary content we sometimes see on nature programmes (“how we got that shot of copulating snow leopards” or “what it was like camped out on an arctic ice floe filming polar bears”) so the rest of the audience can go on enjoying Brian Blessed’s workhouse ancestors while we can get help finding our own. Everyone is happy.

What do you think?