Thousands are getting hooked! On what, exactly? Tracing their family history. Once the domain of the titled upper classes, who took a pride in recording their family history and passing the knowledge on to future generations, it is now possible for almost everyone to compile their own family tree, and more and more of us are doing so…
Just a decade ago, researching family history would have entailed visits to the central records office, parish churches and local archives, with many hours spent perusing the handwritten records and manuscripts. Now, many of us have a personal computer and access to the internet, and a phenomenal amount of historical information is available online, together with websites specifically designed to assist the amateur genealogist. So, researching family history can be done at a time to suit the individual and from the comfort of one’s own home.
Most people confine their interest and research to their own family, and this would probably have been so in my case, except that I came into possession of a King James version of the Bible which lists the births and deaths of Job and Mary Bradshaw and their thirteen children, twelve sons and one daughter, spanning a total period of 143 years. The Bible is quite small (width 8cm x length 14cm x breadth 4cm). I think that in all likelihood the details were copied from a larger family Bible, possibly by the only daughter, Mary Elizabeth who, born in 1854, was also the youngest child.
The Bible was entrusted to me in 2004 by Hilda, the daughter of Leonard Key, who for over 30 years had been a faithful man servant to Mary Elizabeth and her brother William when they resided at Carisbrooke House, Cavendish Crescent, The Park, Nottingham. One of Leonard’s duties was to read the daily newspaper to William when his eyesight began to fail. Mary lived to be 93 and became quite frail. Leonard would assist her nurses by carrying Mary upstairs and downstairs as required. His loyal service was acknowledged when he was bequeathed £550 in William’s will in 1920 and £3,000 in Mary’s will. Leonard evidently brought the Bible home as a personal keepsake after Mary’s death in 1947, when his services were no longer required.
Perusing the handwritten jottings on the blank sheets at the front and back of the Bible, I became increasingly fascinated by this large Victorian family, who for the most part lived in Nottingham all their lives. One of the twelve sons was stillborn and never named. Three others died in infancy, an occurrence which was not uncommon during the 1800s. (Please refer to the attached chart for details of names, dates of birth and death etc).
One particular comment recorded alongside the birth of Albert Septimus Bradshaw at 10:30am on Monday, 4 December 1843 truly fired my imagination. It states:
“N.B. On the said 4th December, Her Majesty Queen Victoria and H.R.H. Prince Albert passed thro’ Nottm on their way to Belvoir Castle”.
Albert Septimus is later recorded as having died aged 70 years and 7 months on July 14, 1914 at the Waldorf Hotel, London.
My thoughts turned to how much having this Bible might mean to a direct descendant of Albert Septimus or one of the other brothers, and I promised Hilda that I would make every effort to trace direct descendants of the surviving eight brothers, so that I could pass the Bible on to one of them. I thought this would be a relatively straightforward task, as knowing the dates of their births and deaths gave me a distinct advantage. I also assumed most of the brothers would marry and have large families, which was customary among the middle classes in Victorian times. (Queen Victoria, our present Queen’s great great grandmother, had nine children, 4 boys and 5 girls). However, I soon learned that, in genealogical research, it is a mistake to make assumptions, as successive census records revealed.
A census was taken every 10 years. Job Bradshaw, an attorney, and his wife Mary, first appear on the 1841 census residing at St James Street, Nottingham. They have by this time had six children, but only three have survived, John Mills (6), William (5) and Henry (3). Their eldest son, George Mills, died at the age of 4 years and 6 months; his brother, also George, died at 6 months and his death was followed by the birth of a stillborn son who was never named. Sadly, rates of infant mortality were high in Victorian times, even amongst the middle classes. Interestingly, the 1841 census reveals the total population of England and Wales at that time to be 15,914,000.
Fast forwarding to the 1871 census, the family are resident at Standard Hill, situate within the boundaries of The Park estate, Nottingham. Job, now 66, states his occupation as solicitor. Mary is now 62. The population of England and Wales has increased to 22,723,000, and Job and Mary have certainly contributed to that as they have nine surviving children. Also listed at this address are John Mills (36), MA without cure of souls; William (34), master printer employing 27 men and 9 boys; Henry (33), hosiery salesman; George Mills (28), lace salesman; Albert Septimus (27), master printer; Alfred (26), commercial clerk; Mary Elizabeth (17), no stated occupation. All are listed as being unmarried. Charles (23) is omitted, and the census lists him as boarding in Lyonshall, Herefordshire. His occupation is given as Attorney/Solicitor. Frederick Frank (19) is not traceable on the 1871 census, but on the 1881 census he is once again living at home and still single.
It strikes me as strange that none of the brothers have married by this time, particularly as three of them are over 30 years of age. Adult children reluctant to fly the nest is considered a phenomenon common to our times, but here we see the ageing Job and Mary still have seven of their eight adult sons at home. Fortunately, they retain three servants; a housemaid, a cook and an under housemaid, all of whom are no doubt kept extremely busy.
In the decade before the 1881 census, Job and Mary die; Job in 1877 aged 73 and Mary in 1873 aged 64. Their names are inscribed on a York stone flag outside the main entrance to St Nicholas’ Church on Maid Marian Way in Nottingham city centre. Most of the children were christened at this church, and the family also have a burial vault here, where both Job and Mary are laid to rest.
The 1881 census shows the family still resident at Standard Hill, but now William (44) is listed as the Head of the family, his stated occupation being newspaper proprietor. Job Bradshaw had acquired the Nottingham Journal newspaper in 1841 and, over the years, several of his sons were employed in its production in one capacity or another.
Charles, now 33, is still unmarried and lodging at an address at Hanger Hill, Nottingham. Sadly, in just 6 years’ time in 1886, he is to die a premature death at the age of 39 years. The cause stated on his death certificate is “Syncope from cardiac failure caused by debility”. It seems in all likelihood Charles did not marry or father any children before his death, so another dead end.
John Mills (46) is also omitted, and I later learn, by application to the Nottingham Archives, that on 21 June 1871 at the age of 37, he was admitted to The Coppice Hospital, Nottingham, suffering from mania. He is described as “wild and excited” with “strange and irrational” behaviour and “believes his family are conspiring against him.” Prior to the onset of this illness, he is “described as being of steady, studious, temperate and industrious habits,” but “overworked in his occupation as Schoolmaster”. The prognosis is “Bad”, and indeed John Mills Bradshaw remains a patient at The Coppice Hospital for almost 52 years until his death on 29 September 1922. At 87 years of age, he was the eldest surviving brother and outlives all the other brothers, but sadly spent well over half his life in a mental institution. It is a chilling reminder that, in those times, people with mental health problems often remained shut away for the rest of their lives and were never reintroduced back into the community.
By the 1891 census, the Bradshaw family have suffered several other untimely deaths. Alfred dies in 1883 aged 39; Henry dies in 1888 aged 50 and Frederick Frank dies in 1890 aged 38. However, there is some good news! In 1881, Albert Septimus Bradshaw marries an authoress, Annie Bradshaw nee Cropper, also from Nottingham. Even better news from a genealogist’s viewpoint, Albert Septimus and his wife Annie are blessed with the birth of a son in 1883, who they name Vernon Albert Mills Bradshaw.
You can imagine my excitement at finding that there has been an addition to the family at long last! Hopefully, Vernon Albert Mills will carry on the Bradshaw line of descent, which will ultimately lead me to someone living at present who I can gift the Bible to.
Interestingly, Mary Elizabeth also makes a late union. In 1898 she marries a widower with five children. The 1901 census shows her, at 47, to be the wife of Joseph Littlewood (65), a surgeon. The couple live at 11 Ropewalk, Nottingham, along with a cook/ domestic and under housemaid domestic. However, Mary Elizabeth, probably due to the lateness of her marriage, does not have any children, but becomes step-mother to Joseph’s three daughters and two sons from a previous marriage.
By the 1901 census, Albert Septimus and Annie Bradshaw are living in the civil parish of St Marylebone, London. Their son Vernon is by this time 17 years of age and his occupation is Apprentice to the Sea. Less than four years later, in 1904, Vernon Albert Mills Bradshaw marries Henrietta Annie Foot. Vernon is 21 years of age and Henrietta is 22. It seems that the entire survival of this branch of the Bradshaw family is in their hands.
I went to work immediately to try to trace the birth of any children, but experienced a setback. Bradshaw is not an uncommon name, and until 1911/12 the mother’s maiden name is not recorded on the birth indexes, so it is impossible to establish a link between mother and child without sending for a copy of the birth certificate. If I were to send for all the birth certificates for children born with the surname of Bradshaw from 1904 – 1911, this would incur a cost of £7 for each certificate ordered, and could run into a total cost of hundreds of pounds, depending on the geographical area covered in the search. There was no way I could justify that level of expense, so I decided that I had no alternative but to wait until the publication of the 1911 census, which would surely reveal where Vernon and Henrietta were living and whether they had so far been blessed with any children. I was delighted to learn that the 1911 census would be released earlier than usual, in 2009 instead of 2011. However, disappointment was to follow, as searches made for both Vernon and Henrietta have so far drawn a complete blank.
Vernon comes into the picture again several times over the years. He saw some action in the First World War. His medal card states the following:-
Campaign British Expeditionary Force 1914
Bradshaw VAM Motor Ambulance Unit No. 3 Volunteer Motor Driver T/Major
Yet, it seems to end on a sour note, as the following words are also written on the medal card:-
“… all medals forfeited Min 10 NW 5/10525 and name placed on suspense list.”
Upon the death of his uncle William in 1920, Vernon inherited a sum of £120,000, equivalent to £2,545,200 today. Did this signal an upturn in his fortunes? In 1924, Vernon became a director of Motor Purchases Limited and Park Ward and Co. Limited and invested heavily in those two companies. He is on the passenger list of a vessel which departed from Genoa and docked in Southampton on 4 December 1926, described as a ‘motor agent’. However, shortly afterwards Vernon is declared bankrupt. The Times newspaper dated 24 March 1927 reports that Vernon has been examined by the Official Receiver and has “admitted that the failure was partly due to extravagance” whilst claiming that “the chief cause, however, was the losses on his company and other investments.”
The last mention of Vernon is in 1943, when his death certificate confirms he died from carcinoma of the tongue at 59 years of age. He is described as a storekeeper (Motor Engineers), his address at the time being Abercorn Road, Coventry. The informant on the death certificate is his maternal aunt, Alice Gertrude de Hersant, which would be an indication that Vernon did, in all probability, die without a son and heir. What happened to his wife Henrietta remains, for the present, a mystery.
It seems such a disappointing end to my search, and I am sorry not to have been able to fulfil my promise to Hilda that I would pass the Bible on to a direct descendant of the Bradshaw brothers. In particular, I find it hard to accept that Mary Bradshaw gave birth to thirteen children, yet only had one grandchild and as far as is known to date, no great grandchildren. I feel that at least the family’s memory lives on to some extent through my interest in them.
Perhaps this article will spur you on to discover more about your own family history and make a record for posterity. It would certainly be of help to your descendants if you did this, as genealogical research could become harder for future generations due to the increase in divorce and re-marriage and the fact that people move around a lot more now geographically. There has even been talk of plans to no longer have a 10 yearly census.
From admittedly limited experience, my three top tips to the fledgling genealogist would be:-
- Never assume anything - or you may be taken off on a tangent which leads to a dead end!
- Expect the unexpected - that way you’ll keep an open mind and avoid disappointments.
- Know when to stop - because it can become an addiction!
(Click on "Read this Article" link at the top of the page to see a chart of the Bradshaw family)