17 Sep 2011

Part 5: A family divided

Thomas Swinfield, the errant Chartist, had left his family and moved to Calverton by 1839. What became of his three “sons”, Richard, William and Joseph, who had survived their childhood, and his wife, Sarah?

1861 census of High Street, Earl Shilton 

In 1861, Sarah Swinfield was still living in the High Street, Earl Shilton. Her partner of the last twenty years, Thomas Brown, was the head of the household. Was he the real father of my great-grandfather, William, and of his illegitimate brother, Joseph, born in 1841 and 1843 respectively? He was then a 52 year-old unmarried framework knitter, who would also have struggled to “make ends meet” in that arduous and depressed trade during the 1840s and 1850s. Sarah, unlike in 1851, was recorded as a married woman of 56. Did she know where her husband lived? With them were Thomas’s daughter and grandson, who both had the surname of Swinfield. Sarah’s son, Joseph, then aged 19, a carter and servant, was living nearby in Church Street. My great-grandfather, William, who had joined the army in 1859, was a private in Winchester Barracks, Hampshire, by 1861.
Where was Richard at that time? He had been a coal miner at the time of the 1851 census. He was nowhere to be found, indexed as Swinfield, and did not seem to have married or died by the age of 27! Perhaps he had given up on his family and fled these shores. I had certainly given up hope of finding him.
1861 census of Ecclesfield, Yorkshire  
Imagine my delight when just two months ago I was contacted through Genes Reunited by Helen Warburton. She had been seeking the origins of her great-great-grandfather, who had been born in Earl Shilton about 1834 and was working as a coal miner in Ecclesfield, Sheffield, in 1861. She had searched unsuccessfully for his origins in the records of that parish and had then come across a Richard Swinfield on my online tree. Her ancestor was calling himself Richard Brown! Indeed, at his marriage in Norton Canes, Staffordshire, in 1854, he recorded his father as Thomas Brown, miner. Did he know something that I didn’t about his paternity? Had his parents separated even earlier than the parish registers suggested? Richard Brown died in 1869 at Darfield, Yorkshire, of typhoid, aged only 35. It seemed that the fate of my great-great-uncle had been determined at last. 

Sarah Swinfield died on 25th February 1862 at Earl Shilton and was registered, according to the handwritten copy which was issued in 1980, by Elizabeth “Bown”. She recorded the deceased as “wife of Thomas Swinfield a stocking maker”. Was he still alive and where was he? 
1881 census of Wood Street, Earl Shilton

Thomas Brown continued to live with his Swinfield “children” and “grandchildren” at Earl Shilton until his death in 1893, when he aged 84.

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