Thursday, April 26, 2018

Were James and William Beales brothers?

Here's the next family history "mystery" that I've yet to solve.

Robert Beales, born about 1785, was the great grandfather of my great grandfather, William James Beales. Robert and his wife Hannah (surname uncertain, but possibly May) had a number of children baptised in the church of St Peter and St Paul at St Osyth in Essex, or in nearby St Andrews, Weeley, between 1810 and 1827. Their names can be found in the baptism records on the search site*. Their eldest son, James, who is my direct ancestor, was born about 1816.

In the 1841 UK census the only Robert Beales of the right age living in the St Osyth area was married to Mary Ann, and they had an adult son, William, living with them. The same is true in 1851. What I'm still trying to discover is whether this Robert Beales is James Beales' father, or part of another family. And was William a brother to James, a cousin or half-brother, or unrelated?

It's quite possible that by 1841 Robert had remarried. Hannah's last two children were twins, Elizabeth and Benjamin, who lived only a few weeks after their birth in 1827. Perhaps she died in childbirth or soon after, though I can't find any record of her death.

The site has a marriage between a Robert Beales, widower, and "Merab" Farthing in St Osyth in July 1833. Could the strange first name be a poorly written "Mary Ann"? The date would be consistent with Hannah dying sometime soon after 1827.

According to the 1851 census William was born in St Osyth about 1819, which would fit in the gap between the birth of James and his next sibling Eliza, born about August 1820. The difficulty with adding William Beales to the list of Hannah's children is that his name doesn't appear among the baptisms recorded in the St Osyth area.

Was he perhaps born somewhere well beyond St Osyth? I can't find a baptism for any William Beales with a father named Robert anywhere in Essex, or the next county, Suffolk, between 1815 and 1825, even allowing for the various misspellings of Beales. Perhaps he was simply left unbaptised for some reason - some crisis in the family, or a period of dire poverty, for instance.

Nothing in William's own story gives any clues as to who his parents were. He enlisted in the 21st foot regiment in 1839, but was discharged a few months later after he lost the sight in  both eyes due to complications from smallpox, which is probably why he was still living with his father and mother (or step mother) as an adult. In 1852 he married Mary Ann Dale. (Sorry about the confusing repetition of first names!) He found employment as a broom maker. His army records don't name his parents, and his marriage certificate would only name his father, which doesn't help.

One detail that makes me think that William's father Robert may not be the same man as James' father is that William's father is described as a carpenter on the census records of 1841 and 1851. On most of the baptism records for Robert and Hannah's children Robert's occupation is given as labourer. Carpentry was a skilled trade that most people followed for a lifetime after being an apprentice. It would be unusual (though obviously not impossible) for a labourer to become a carpenter late in life.

For now, that's as far as I can go with solving this one. It doesn't affect my direct family line, but it would be nice to know where poor blind William fits in.

*For the record, the children of Robert and Hannah that I've been able to find are:
Hannah Beales 1810–
James Beales 1814–1887
Eliza Beales 1820–
Rebecca Beales 1825–
Elizabeth Beales 1827–1827
Benjamin Beales 1827–1827

Images: 1. Church of St Peter and St Paul, St Osyth, by Peter Stack
2. The chancel of St Peter and St Paul by John Salmon


  1. I have included your blog in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at
    Thank you, Chris