Thursday, 28 April 2011

X is for X Marks the Spot

Where eXactly was Martha Burrows born?

Let's start with an easier question:  who was Martha Burrows?  She was my sweetie's great-great-grandmother.  We think that she was Martha Perry before marrying James Burrows.  She was born around 1825 and had at least seven children:  Alfred, Samuel, Mary, Emma, James, Ellen and Ann.  She died in 1907.

But where did she come from?  All I can confidently say is that she was born in Somerset, England.  Here's what the census records tell us that she was born:
  • about 1824 in Bathaelton, Somerset, according to the 1851 and 1861 Censuses of England, when the information was presumably given by her husband James as head of the household.
  • about 1826 in Milverton, Somerset, according to the 1871 Census of England, when she would have given the information as head of the household (she was widowed by then).
  • about 1825 in Hurstone, Somerset, according to the 1881 Census of England, information again from herself.
  • about 1825 in Wiviliscombe, Somerset, according to the 1891 Census of England, where this time the information as likely given by her son-in-law Henry Cottrell.
  • and finally about 1825 in Ashbrittle, Somerset, according to the 1901 Census of England, where the information would likely have been provided by her widowed daughter Emma Parsons.
That's five different birthplaces in six census returns.  When I first started tracing her, I wasn't even sure all these Martha Burrows were one woman, but I believe that they are.

Eventually, I looked at a map.  Hurstone was tough to find.  It doesn't appear to be a village or hamlet but a house or school near Waterrow, not far from town of Wiviliscombe.  The rest are villages and civil parishes forming a crescent moon shape in the far east of Somerset county, England very close to Devon.  All are now part of the Taunton Deane District but were formerly in the Wellington Rural District of Somerset.

I've noticed my West Cork relatives giving a variety of places of birth.  Having been born on a farm in a small townland, they gave the name of a nearby town when asked their birthplace.  I know to expect Bantry, Durrus, Schull and Ballydehob from the Moynihans.  I can imagine that if Martha was born in the country she may have done something similar, giving the name of any of the neighbouring villages.

It is frustrating to know that I may never track down where exactly she was born.  It was before civil records.  I did once find a possible Martha Perry on an index of Wellington District baptismal records.  I'll have to track that down, once I am more certain Perry was her maiden name.

TIP:  Consider the source.

I should take this opportunity to note that genealogists are frequently faced with conflicting information.  When a birthplace is given in a census record, it is considered a primary source when the information is provided by someone who would have first hand knowledge of the individual's birth, such as the person's parents.  Otherwise, it is generally a secondary source.  A spouse, child, in-law or employer may or may not know the correct information about an individual's birth.  Even the individual herself may not know her own birthplace if her family moved when she was very young.  Looking at Martha's six census records, I would tend to put the most weight on the information given when Martha herself was the head of household.  Yet Hurstone (near Waterrow) and Milverton are as far apart as any of her reported birthplaces get.

So, I must confess, X does not mark the spot.  I've spent hours researching and don't yet know eXactly where Martha was born.

Do you know?

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