Sunday, 8 March 2015

Reviewing My Rawcliffe Research

I was prompted to write this post after reading Casmob (Pauleen's) September contribution on The three R's of Genealogy Research:  Revisit, Record and Revise.   [Thank you, Pauleen for the use of your logo].   

My  great grandmother Maria Rawcliffe (right) is at the heart of my family history story.  She married James Danson of Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire and I have written extensively on my personal blog Family History Fun  about the Danson family  who I have traced back to 1736.   

However following the Rawcliffe line has proved more problematical. Research revealed a story of eight daughters, (five surviving infancy),   the early death of their mother,  a step mother with  three illegitimate children, and the birth of four half-brothers and sisters - so plenty of material to ponder over in the life of my great great grandfather Robert Rawcliffe, Maria's father. 

The Issue
This was my first major research project undertaken in  the days before  computerized records when I relied on  old fashioned donkey  work of trawling through census returns on microfilm, and the IGI on microfiche.  But  I have had increasing concern that some of my early  research may not be correct and needed reviewing.  Some of the information on the public trees on adds to this confusion, notably  regarding Robert's parents. An added factor was  the popularity of the Rawcliffe surname in the Fylde part of Lancashire around the seaside resort of Blackpool.

My  Research Journey  
  • The initial research was straightforward, working back from the marriage entry for James Danson and Maria Rawcliffe   in the family bible, through census returns, marriage and birth certificate to establish that my great grandmother Maria was born in the  village of Hambleton in 1859 - her parents Robert Rawliffe and Jane Carr,  and sisters   Anne, Jane, Alice, and Jennet, with Margaret, Peggy and Martha not surviving infancy.  
  •  I was very grateful for  information supplied to me  in good faith by fellow members of the Lancashire Family History & Heraldry Society - that mother Jane died in 1865 at the age of 46 and Robert was the son of William Rawcliffe and Anne (Nanny) Moon.   Bu I  never thought  to double check the facts beyond the then contributed entries on Family Search
  • I sent away for the  Marriage Certificate of Robert and Jane  who wed on   14th November 1846  at Hambleton, Lancashire, both of full age with Robert described as a husbandman, father William, a labourer  and Jane's father also William, a labourer.  
  • I then acquired the Marriage Certificate  for  Robert's second marriage to Elizabeth Brekle/Brekall  in 1875  - to find that here Robert's father's name was given as John - the same Christian name as his wife's father.   I am confident that this is the correct record for "my" Robert as census returns before and after the marriage confirm the information on ages and birthplace of both parties,   Elizabeth was single with three illegitimate children   - one,  Joseph Brekall  who my mother spoke about as "granny's step brother". 
  • For many years  I was accepting that the name of John as Robert's father on the second certificate was  a mistake,  with the clerk copying the name of Elizabeth's father - but then the same could be said of Robert's first marriage certificate where William was given as the name of both fathers
So here is the conundrum.  Who was Robert's  father - William or John?  

In reviewing the earlier research, I have benefited by the fact that so many digitized records now appear on Ancestry, not just census returns, but also parish records and I have looked at these in some detail. 

So What is the Evidence? 
  • All the census returns (1851-1901) consistently gave Robert's birthplace as Marton, Lancashire and his estimated date of birth as c. 1821.  This birth year was also confirmed by his age on death in 1904.
  • In the Register of St. Paul's,  Marton, there is an entry for the baptism of a Robert Rawcliffe, son of William (labourer)  and Nanny Rawcliffe on 22  April 1821.  The maiden name of his mother  was not given.  
  • But also in the St. Paul's Register, was a Robert Rawcliffe, baptized  10 September 1820, son of John (shopkeeper)  and Catherine Rawcliffe
    I also found:

 I also found
  • At St. Chad's Church, Poulton-le-Fylde on 22 April 1821, the baptism was recorded of a Robert Rawcliffe  son of William (labourer of Great Marton)  and Anne Rawcliffe.
  • Also at St. Chad's Church,Poulton was the baptism recorded on 10 September 1820 of Robert Rawfliife, son of John and Catherine Rawcliffe.   

Here was the second puzzle - where was "my" Robert born/baptized - Marton or Poulton? 

Was it too much of a coincidence that both  Robert Rawcliffes were baptized  on  the same date in both Poulton and Marton?  

It was time to explore church history. 

I discovered that the parish of St. Chad's Church, Poulton had at one time included eight surrounding villages  including Marton, whose residents had to travel five miles to worship.  In 1804 the Church of St. Paul's was built in Marton,    but was designated a "Township-Chapeltry in Poulton Parish". It was not until 1892 that it became separated from St. Chad's.

This raised the question:  was the same baptism, marriage and burial. recorded in registers at both Poulton and Marton?   It certainly seems to be the case, as was found with other searches - namely the death of Nanny Rawcliffe (Robert's mother?), recorded at both Poulton and Marton, but with the entry assuming she was buried at each respective church.  No monumental inscription has been traced to confirm which church.  

I also took a close look at  Christian names within the two families of William/Nanny, and John/Catherine: 

  • Surely one of Robert's eight daughters would have been called after his mother, if his parents had been John and Catherine Rawcliffe.  His eldest daughter was named Anne  with Robert's mother' name of Nanny a well known  diminutive.
  • Robert had two sons with his second wife - named Robert and John - so this  fact does not lead anywhere near a conclusion, as John was also the name of his wife's father - as confirmed in earlier census returns for the Brekall family.
  • Research also established that Robert had a sister, Grace born in 1814  to William and Nanny.    In the 1851 census, William was living  with Grace, now married with a family.   And Robert named a daughter of his second marriage  Grace.  
  • John Rawcliffe too had a  large family of 15 children, with several dying in infancy. Daughters names included Anne, Jenny, Alice and Margaret. names of also of Robert's daughters - so no help with this information.    
  • A death entry for 1859 was found for a Robert Rawcliffe, born 1820 aged 38, son of John Rawcliffe.  But given the proliferation of Rawcliffes in this area, it is impossible to say if that is the correct Robert and John. 

    This fact has not stopped someone on Ancestry showing this death but also linking Robert with the two wives Jane Carr and Elizabeth Brekall, despite the dates clearly not tallying.

So I have Revisited the information I held, checked the Records - and  no I have not Revised any of my early findings.   My conclusions:
  • I am inclined to go along with the consistent census returns, confirmed with a baptism entry,  that Marton was Robert Rawcliff'e's birth place not Poulton-le-~Fylde.
  • Who was Robert's  father remains  a mystery  - William or John?  My gut feeling says William, but then as family historians we know we should rely on evidence.    Efforts to trace more information on both men have come to naught,
Nevertheless,  this has proved a very well worthwhile exercise that has helped clarify my thoughts - I recommend it! 

Copyright © 2015 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved


  1. How people can say they have done their family history baffles me. You have demonstrated that we must be ever so careful and Revisit, Record and Revise.

    1. Many, thanks, Jilll, for taking the time to comment

  2. Love the graphic. Says it all.

    Great post ScotSue.

  3. How I agree, Carol. A very good motto for our research.


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