Monday, 29 October 2012

Discovering my Convict Ancestor in Old Bailey and Prisoner records


All I really knew about my ggg grandfather, Charles Clifford, was that he was a saddler, who lived in the Old Kent Road, and that he had four children (Charles, Edward, James and Charlotte).  Much of this I had learnt from distant cousins whom I met through the Lost Cousins family history website, after tracing my own family back to our mutual ancestor, his son, Edward Clifford, my gg grandfather, whom I wrote about in an earlier post.  Subsequent research led to finding Charles' wife Ann (neé Chalkwright or Chalkred), whom he married in 1791 at Christ Church Newgate Street (also known as Christ Church Greyfriars), Middlesex and the baptisms of their four children between 1793 and 1805 in the Parish of St George the Martyr.

The same cousins also told me about a family story that "Charles Clifford was a caterer in the King's Bench prison" but I didn't really understand what this meant at the time, or indeed where the information could have come from.  I knew that the King's Bench prison was one of the Debtor's prison, but I didn't understand why a saddler would be working as a caterer.

Finding Charles in the Death Duty Records at TNA 

I was pretty sure that Charles died before 1841 as he was nowhere to be found in the 1841 census, and I found the death of his widow, Ann, on 21 January 1841 in St George's Workhouse, Southwark.  I managed to find Charles Clifford's death confirmed in the Death Duty records at the UK National Archives.  The death duty record was dated August 1841 and gave a date of death of 21 April 1840.  I knew this was the correct entry because the death duty record mentioned the next of kin as his daughter Charlotte Rafter (neé Clifford), with the address tying up with where she and her family were living on the 1841 census.

I then searched the GRO Death indices for a relevant entry for a Charles Clifford who died April-June 1840.  There was only one suitable entry for that quarter, a John Charles Clifford, whose death was recorded in Greenwich.  Thinking that this didn't sound very plausible, with a different first name and dying in Greenwich (none of my Clifford family had lived in that part of London), I let it go.  After all, I now had Charles' date of death from the death duty register - and was enough evidence for me.  How short-sighted a decision that turned out to be.

Death Certificate 

A few years passed, but earlier this year, I decided to splash out on  "killing off" some of my own ancestors.  After all, this is a practice that I teach all my clients, as I have always believed it to be of great importance in helping to complete the family history story, and avoiding mistaken identities.  So I sent off for a few GRO death certificates and decided to include John Charles Clifford for luck.

When it arrived, at first I thought it was yet another "wasted" certificate, but when I looked into a bit more closely, I realised it that was indeed my ancestor, Charles Clifford.  Not only did I now have his actual death confirmed, but the certificate told me that Charles was a convict who died on the "Unité prison hospital ship". I was suddenly faced with a criminal in my past who died on a prison hulk!
The "Defence" hulk and the "Unité" convict hospital ship, off Woolwich

Prison Hulk Records on Ancestry 

Armed with the information that Charles Clifford was also known as John Charles Clifford, I then searched for him in the recently added UK Prison Hulk Registers and Record books, 1802-1849, on Ancestry.  Here I found a "James Chas Clifford", on board the hulk ship Ganymede in June 1839, the year before he died.  This looked promising as the record showed that he was a 72 year old harness maker with a wife and four children, all of which sounded too close to my own "Charles Clifford", to be a coincidence.  The prison hulk record showed that this James Charles Clifford had been convicted at the Old Bailey Central Criminal Court (not a minor crime then!), that his crime was perjury, and that he was convicted on 8 April 1839 and sentenced to one month and 7 years.  I also found Charles James Clifford in the England & Wales Criminal Registers, 1791-1892, also on Ancestry, confirming both the crime and the sentence. But what had Charles actually done to be found guilty of Perjury? I knew he had been in the King's Bench, which was the debtors' prison, but this crime was now sounding much more serious!

Old Bailey Records Online 

I turned to the Old Bailey records to find out more.  Here I found the full description of the Court Case relating to James Charles Clifford.  It seems that he was accused of deception during a previous court case, referred to as Clifford vs Parker.  This involved a dispute between James Charles Clifford and a Lady Fanny Parker regarding money bills paid to him for employment as her cook, while they were both in the Kings Bench prison.  It sounded as if James Charles Clifford lied about the amount of money that had been due from Lady Fanny Parker, in order to extract more money from her.

I was still suffering from disbelief that this was indeed my own ggg grandfather, father of my gg grandfather, Edward Clifford, the Mathematician, when I came across the name John Rafter, who was also implicated in this web of deception (with another previous case, Rafter vs Parker, referred to).  John Rafter was Charles Clifford's son-in-law, who had married his daughter, Charlotte, in 1824, and whose descendants I had already traced.  Although the plot was thickening, I knew this had to be my ancestor.

James Charles was found guilty of Perjury by the jury, and was sentenced to one month in Newgate prison and 7 years' transportation.  In fact he was never transported, as he died on board the Unité prison hulk ship two years after he was sentenced.

Criminal Petitions at TNA 

I thought there was a chance that Charles' transportation sentence might have been commuted down to a prison sentence, by a lenient judge, following a petition from his family. I had already come across cases of death commuted to transportation. So last week, on a visit to the National Archives, I decided to carry out some further research into their records for Criminal Transportees.  Here I found James Charles Clifford listed in the Indexes to Criminal Petitions for 1838 - 9  (HO19/8), from which I was able to identify the location of the actual petition (s) (HO17/91).  

Petition for clemency by James Charles Clifford
Here I found just one sheet of paper (unlike some of the other petition files which were large bundles).  It was a petition written by the prisoner himself, asking for clemency given his age (72 years) and declining health.  He asks for his sentence of "transportation" to be commuted to "imprisonment in the penitentiary or such other manner".  It was signed my ancestor, J C Clifford, but the document refers to his name as James Charles Clifford.  So I now I also know that this must be his correct name and the death certificate, stating his name as John Charles Clifford, is incorrect, possibly because he had always known as Charles, or J Charles, Clifford.

Somewhat surprisingly there were no petitions from his wife or any of his four children.  I do wonder why, but I will probably never know.

What next?

On the death certificate for John Charles Clifford, the cause of death was given as natural causes and the informant is the Coroner for Greenwich, Kent.  This suggests that there was possibly an inquest, and if I could find a surviving record of the inquest (not all survive), this may lead to further information about his family.  But the combination of the death certificate and the prison records have already given me new information to go on, as I now have a more precise name for Charles Clifford, i.e. James Charles Clifford. I also have a better idea of his date of birth, as in 1838 he claims to be 72 years old.  He was therefore likely to have been born c. 1766.  Of course, I still have no better idea of where he was born, but I do know from the Clifford Association, of which I am a member, that there were a large number of Clifford's who originated in the area of south east London and Kent.  I shall carry on looking for clues.
However, the lesson of this story is that it always pays to send off for death certificates, even if you think you know the date of death from other records.  There is often more to learn.

Rosemary Morgan
London Roots Research

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Have you found Dickens connections in your family tree?

As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens' birthday today, 7th February 2012, I am reminded of the period of his lifetime, 1812-1870, when my own ancestors were living in London and have been pondering how their own lives must have been during this period.  Did any of them brush up against this famous author, I wonder, or even provide inspiration for some of his characters?

I certainly have ancestors who had links to St George the Martyr, Southwark (shown opposite), often referred to as Little Dorrit's church because Dickens set several scenes from the novel Little Dorrit in the area around the church. (see my earlier post about the church and parish of St George the Martyr)

My own gg grandfather Edward Clifford, whom I wrote about in an earlier post, was baptised at St George the Martyr in 1799, along with his sister Charlotte.  Charlotte also went on to marry her husband John Rafter in 1824 in the same church.  These baptism and marriage records can be found either at the London Metropolitan Archives or online on Ancestry's specialist LMA parish register collection.

According to newspaper reports, I  also have various ancestors who seem to have been in and out of the debtors' prisons of south and east London, including the Marshalsea, where Charles' father, John and the rest of the family found themselves living for a period in 1824.  So did they met there I wonder?

In 1828 / 29, Dickens worked as a reporter for Doctors' Commons, in Knightrider Street.  Doctors Commons, also called the College of Civilians, was a group of lawyers practising civil law in London. It was also the home of the ecclesiastical and admiralty courts which had jurisdiction over marriage licences, divorces and registration of wills, until it was replaced by the Court of Probate Act in 1857.  The building was then demolished in 1867, and these days its original location is marked by a blue plaque, which can be found on the Faraday Building, on the north side of Queen Victoria Street.

My own ancestors, Charlotte and John Rafter, registered the death of her late father, Charles Clifford, for death duty purposes, in 1841, giving her address as 21 1/2 Lambeth Hill, Doctors Commons, London.  So this is another link between Dickens and my Clifford family.

I am still researching my own and my husband's London ancestors, looking for links to Charles Dickens, either in his writing or to places where he lived.  I'm pretty sure I have ancestors who lived not far from Dickens, and have been checking him  out on the censuses as follows:

Photograph of the author, c. 1850
  • In 1841 Charles Dickens is found living at Devonshire Terrace, St Marylebone, Middlesex with his wife Catherine and their four eldest children: Charles, Mary, Catherine and Walter;
  • In 1851, Charles is found living at 34, Keppel Street, Saint George Bloomsbury, Finsbury, Middlesex, with his widowed mother and siblings Alfred and Augustus;
  • In 1861 Charles is found living at 3 Hanover Terrace, St Marylebone, Middlesex, with three of his children and his wife's sister, Georgina Hogarth who was his housekeeper.

I am now off to see how close my Londoners lived to these addresses - I must admit they all sound very familiar!  

Have you found any connections to Charles Dickens in your family tree?

Rosemary Morgan
London Roots Research

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Review of 2011 and my Genealogy Goals for 2012

I've been a bit slow sorting out my New Year goals this year. I don't really have an excuse, except that I've been busy catching up on various genealogy bits and pieces, which I'd put to one side during November and December, while I worked on a non-genealogy work project (good for the bank balance!).

I also checked back to my Top 10 Genealogy Resolutions for 2011, and although not all of them have been achieved, I was pleased to see how many of them I did indeed achieve. The biggest one, for me, was definitely obtaining my PG Diploma in Genealogical Studies at the University of Strathclyde.  Although it was a huge amount of work, I found it a most satisfying experience. The PG Dip took up much of my energy in 2011 until August, but it is now serving me well in my genealogy client work.

Interestingly, I note that this time last year, I did not even mention "developing client work" as one of my resolutions, and I indeed I have not directly sought out these clients.  But "word of mouth" is a wonderful thing, and since completing my PG Dip, I've been lucky enough to have a continual source of client work on the go. This has lead me to rethink my goals for 2012, as I am really enjoying the research I am doing for others, either building their family trees from scratch, or helping them to break down their brick walls, especially in and around London.

So.......for 2012, my Genealogy goals are as follows:
  1. Join at least one professional genealogy association such as APG and / or AGRA (since I started writing this list I've actually now joined APG so I've already achieved this one).
  2. Blog more regularly. I have a long list of possible topics to write about, but don't seem to get around to completing them.  I am very aware that my latest blog post dates back to last September, which I am rather ashamed about.  My only excuse is my late summer holiday combined with taking on that non-genealogy work.
  3. Attend all three days at WDYTYA Live - actually this is something that is already well on the way to being organised.  I am helping out on the SoG Ask an Expert Stand as well as the main SoG stand.  I have also offered to help my local family history society, the West Surrey Family History stand, so I may spend some time there as well. This brings me to my next goal, which is to:
  4. Get more involved with my local family history society (WSFHS) and my local archives (Surrey History Centre). Sometimes genealogy work can be a lonely business and getting out of the house and sharing experiences with others, is good for the soul.
  5. Make more regular visits to the London archives.  The archives which I am aiming to visit more regularly include London Metropolitan ArchivesSociety of GenealogistsLambeth ArchivesSouthwark ArchivesWestminster Archives, and of course The National Archives in Kew.
  6. Write up my own and my husband's family histories - obviously the feasibility of achieving this will depend upon having some spare time to do this! But as I write up my own family history I am sure I will learn more aspects that will help me with future client work.
  7. Explore the possibility of writing a family history related book.  I already have an idea for a book, about a particularly interesting character in my family, but I need to progress this by writing a plan, gaining approval from the rest of the family and exploring publication options.
  8. Develop a London Roots Research website. This was one of the goals from 2011 that I didn't achieve last year, but that I would very much like tackle this year.
  9. Continue to develop my client work in and around London, building family trees, finding new ways of presenting them, and helping others to break down their brick walls in and around London. I find I learn so much from each new client that I take on, and gain tremendous satisfaction from helping them.
Well that should keep me busy!  I doubt I will achieve all of them but I do find it useful to set them out as a start to the year ahead.

I wish all of my readers a very happy and healthy New Year and hope you enjoy sharing my progress along the way in 2012. 

Rosemary Morgan
London Roots Research