A paper trail for Kate Ann Holmes – Dobney – or Phillips?

The continuing story of verifying the identity of a grandfather. To read the story from the beginning, click here.

One of the first things that should be checked in the search for a mother’s unmarried name in England from 1837 to 1917 is the GRO (General Records Office) index. It’s simply the fastest way to find out a maiden name. It can then be checked against other records. Because I didn’t do that in this case, it took us a while to figure out the connection between Kate Ann Holmes and the Tilbury family. (I say a while. Once it was suggested to me that I check the GRO, it was solved within minutes. Rookie error!)

Women’s maiden names can be problematic in genealogy. Fortunately, collections holding vital record sets for mid-to-late 19th century England are reasonably complete. Unfortunately I had made an assumption about Kate Ann Holmes based on a few census records. Due to this I had erroneously assigned her the maiden name “Dobney”.

Here she is in the 1881 census, listed as a grand-daughter of William Dobney, chimney cleaner:

And here she is in the 1871 census, also listed with the Dobneys:

As she was born around 1867, the 1871 census was the first one in which she was enumerated. One instance of a child staying with grandparents could simply mean that the child was a visitor to the house on census night. Two instances, a decade apart, implies that the arrangement is more permanent. Who were her parents and where were they?

The record of Kate Ann’s marriage to Thomas Jenkins Holmes in 1889 listed her father’s name as Henry Phillips. Based on the two census records shown above, I had assumed that Kate Ann’s mother’s maiden name was Dobney, and that Kate was living with her maternal grandparents. I did some research on Ann and William Dobney, but could not turn up anything about them.

Kate Ann’s baptismal registration confirmed again that Henry Phillips was her father and her mother was Sarah Phillips. With my fresh assumption in hand, I searched for any record of a Henry Phillips marrying a Sarah Dobney. Again, nothing. I simply could not identify the parents of Kate Ann Phillips.

One assumption can have a catastrophic run-on effect, sending the search off in all sorts of wrong directions. I wasn’t able to shift my analysis about Kate Ann’s grandparents until I consulted the GRO index.

A recent digitization project has made the index to historic births and deaths highly searchable. The project covers birth registrations from over 100 years ago and death registrations from over 50 years ago. Through a series of mandatory and non-mandatory fields, I was able to pull up a list of females by the name of Kate Phillips born around 1867. (The database allows a 5-year-window for searching by selecting a target year plus up to 2 years either side.) This search returned 35 possibilities.

As there is a search field to add a second forename, I added “Ann”. This time it returned only two results:

Birth index results on the GRO for Kate Ann Phillips

One of them had the mother’s maiden name as Tilbury. I knew this record was likely to be our Kate Ann Phillips as the registration district (Newington) matched her place of birth given in the 1871 census. Also, the district that she was enumerated in for the 1871 and 1881 censuses was the civil parish of St Saviour in the Parliamentary Borough of Southwark. A quick investigation showed that the registration district of Newington had been abolished in 1870 and merged with the district of St Saviour, Southwark. Just for good measure I checked that the registration district of Shaftesbury, the place of birth for the first girl on the list, is a good 100 miles or so away from this area of London.

So now it seemed as though the research was back on track. But if Kate Ann’s mother was Sarah Tilbury and not Sarah Dobney, I needed to identify her too.

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