Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Illegitimacy, illiteracy and all that.

I had a really hard time with the Turner family tree. Turners are a dime a dozen and it's a hard to narrow down allllll the "William Turners" in the records to be certain you have the right one. You'd think my Great Great Grandmother Turner would be the antidote to that with her very uncommon name - Harlettee Louisa Groombridge. But no.

For one thing, the spelling drifted. A cousin in Tasmania had a letter written by her brother in childhood that calls her "Arlette". Various different documents call her "Harlette", "Harlettie", "Harlettee" and even "Charlotte". Some Tasmania records have her down as "Louisa". Her birth certificate was no help - Unnamed Female Groombridge. I finally eventually saw her name in her own handwriting and it said "Harlettee" so that's the spelling I have eventually adopted.

Another problem. She just kept marrying! It took me years to find the certificate of marriage for William Turner and Harlettee Groombridge, because her name was transcribed on the microfiche as "Haslette Smith". Yes, Smith was a previous husband that I hadn't know about until that point. In fact, she was Harlettee Louisa Groombridge Williams Smith Turner Haward Rothery by the end. Even then, consistency would have helped, but no. She married Smith, then Turner, so when she married Turner she was a Smith BUT she married Haward, then Rothery, but when she married Rothery she was still going by Turner. Actually, there might be a reason for that. I notice that she shaved eight years off her age and about seven children out of her history when she married Robertson and then three years later she married someone else... without apparently pausing to divorce in between. Probably best for her to not mention that marriage at all.

Somehow I eventually pinned down Haslette Smith as Harlettee Groombridge and got the certificate, and I was very pleased to have it. Up until that point I had come to suspect that Harlettee and William Turner were never legally married. I even said as much to my Grandfather one day. Well, you see, they were his father's parents. I cautiously told him one day "Grandfather, I think your father may have been illegitimate." Grandfather bristled, and snapped "He didn't go to school all that long, but he could read and write!".

Grandfather actually wasn't all that worried once I managed to clear that little misunderstanding up. It was his opinion that a man couldn't be held responsible for the circumstances of his birth. Anyway, once that marriage certificate turned up it all became a moot point. He was clearly born within the bonds of holy matrimony - fresh ones too! Barely two weeks before he was born. I guess he was a little prem.

Actually, that marriage certificate may have answered one question, but it raised several others. After all, his first wife had been dead less than six months. So... shenanigans? I spoke to Grandfather's sister, my Great Aunt Joyce, a year or so back to see if she knew anything. Of course she knew very little. William Turner had been dead more than 30 years before she was even born, and by and large there doesn't seem to have been a huge amount of interest among my Grandfather's siblings in their family history. Joyce said that all she knew was that her Grandfather (William) had married his washerwoman (Harlettee) so she could get his Army pension. That's intriguing. So... are we actuallly descended from William Turner? Or was he just a kindly widower helping out his washer woman when she had gotten herself into a spot of trouble? We may never know.

Well, unless I get around to doing one of those family history DNA testing thingies that I keep seeing around the web. I find them fascinating! I would love to give it a go, and I'm sure I eventually will.


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