Monday, January 22, 2018

Richard Ward - born twice?

Church door, St Leonard's
Walton le Dale
One of the most long-standing mysteries in my family history research is the date of birth of Richard Ward, my paternal great great grandfather. I know from several sources that he was the son of Thomas and Frances Ward, and that he was born in Walton le Dale, in Lancashire.

The problem with determining his date of birth is that two baptism records exist for Richard Ward in the Walton le Dale registers. Both say Richard's parents were Thomas and Frances (or Fanny) Ward. But one says he was born in 1809, and the other gives a date of 1813.

The most obvious solution would be that Thomas and Fanny had a son named Richard in 1809, who died in infancy. They then used the same name when they baptised another son in 1813. That was a common practice at the time. But I can't find any record of a burial for a child name Richard Ward between 1809 and 1813.

Besides that, most of the census records for Richard suggest that he was born in 1809 or 1810. Only in the 1851 census does his recorded age suggest a later date. At his death in December 1881 he was said to be 72 years old, which again gives a date of birth around 1809.

Images of the originals of the two baptism records are available online on the Ancestry website, so it's not a case of a transcription error causing confusion. The first record comes from the Parish Registers of Walton le Dale from 1698 to 1812. Among the christenings for 1809 is this one:
"Richard, son of Thomas and Frances Ward. Born Aug 17, baptised Oct 1." 
The names and dates are quite clear.

The same details appear in the Bishop's Transcripts, the local bishop's copy of the records for all the parishes in his diocese.

The second baptism record is from the Parish register of the Parochial Chapel of Walton le Dale, 1813-1887. Again the record is quite clear and unambiguous.
"Richard, son of Thomas and Fanny Ward" . His date of birth is recorded as 27 April, and his baptism 20 June 1813.

Another Thomas and Fanny

One possible explanation of the two baptism records is that the Richard born in 1813 belonged to another couple named Thomas and Fanny, and the minister at the time, E.S. Radcliffe, has recorded the wrong surname for some reason.

Only one other child-bearing couple named Thomas and Fanny lived in Walton le Dale at this time. Thomas Marsden married Fanny Bushby (or possibly Buskey) in 1805. They had three children baptised in Walton le Dale - Elizabeth in July 1808, John in April 1810 and Sarah in September 1811. Sadly all three, plus an older child named Mary, died in infancy and were buried in Walton le Dale.

The graveyard at St Leonard's Parish Church
Walton le Dale.
Their mother, Fanny Marsden, died in 1813 at the age of 30, and was buried on 25 April*. Is it too far fetched to suggest that she might have died giving birth to the Richard who was said to have been born on 27 April 1813? Obviously there is an awkward discrepancy of a couple of days between her burial and his reported date of birth. But given that the child wasn't baptised until two months later, perhaps the date of birth could be in error by a few days. It's easy to imagine a grieving husband mixing up the dates.

To give this theory a bit more weight, a Richard Marsden, born about 1812 in Walton le Dale, appears in the 1851 and 1861 census in Leyland, Lancashire. In the 1841 census his place of birth isn't recorded, but he was living in Leyland with a Thomas Marsden, with no other relatives listed. That would be consistent with Thomas being widowed and Richard being the only surviving child.

Since he was born in Walton le Dale, we might expect that Richard would have been baptised there, but I can't find any record of a baptism for a Richard Marsden in the Walton le Dale registers within 10 years of 1812. Could that be because his baptism in 1813 was recorded as Richard Ward?

Against this theory is the fact that the 1813 baptism record describes Thomas Ward's occupation as "joiner" (ie a carpenter). This was, in fact, his occupation according to other records. Thomas Marsden's occupation was a "cotton operative" when his wife was buried, and an agricultural labourer in 1841. For my theory to hold water, I'd have to explain why the minister not only wrote "Ward" instead of "Marsden", but also inscribed the occupation of Thomas Ward rather than Thomas Marsden. Any suggestions?

In the meantime, I'm leaning towards the earlier date of birth being the correct one for Richard Ward, though I'll keep the other one recorded as an alternative.

(*Burials, Parish register for 1813-1819, p 8, entry 58. Reference Number: Pr 2948/1/17)


  1. That's a tricky one. Please let us know if further info comes to light.

  2. I too have run across this exact same dilemma, more than once. One explanation is that the child was sickly, and was baptized a second time.
    I also have one where the only plausible explanation is that the father's given name was entered incorrectly.
    I have also run across an entry in a parish register that said someone was 'buried in the night, but not by a minister'.
    I also have a death that says the child was buried on the family farm.
    I am researching Wards and Marsdens in Blackburn parish, who in the early 1800s went to the Wesleyan church.
    I have also seen children baptized a second time when they go to a new church.
    I have baptism dates before a birth date.
    So, you are not the only one!
    Good luck.

    1. Thanks for your encouragement. Yes, there are many possible explanations, probably some that I haven't even thought of yet. Good luck with your own research.