Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Whose Medals Are They?



I got an excited call from my distant relative, Kevin the other night. Thanks to an Ancestry hint regarding an attached  war record on my tree he had put “two and two together”.

The hint referred to my 2nd great grandfather William Strelley’s 90th Foot Regiment Crimean war records. (William Strelley b 1824-1898 was the subject of a blog back in November "Everybody is Called William" )
William signed up to the Militia to 90th Regiment Light Infantry on 2 August 1845. He was there when  the 90th Regiment went to join the military conflict on the Crimean Peninsula being fought between 1853 and 1856 when it sailed to Balaklava in December 1854 and saw action in Sevastopol in the winter of 1854. The Regiment return to England in 1856 but then headed for India in February 1857 to help suppress the Indian rebellion. His record shows he was wounded  on 17 November 1857 at the Relief of Lucknow.
Finally on 26th May 1868 after receiving his fifth Good Conduct Award Private William Strelley left the military. According to the UK Royal Hospital Chelsea pensioner service soldiers records he had served abroad in Crimea for 1 year 8 months and in India for over 10 years for a total service of 23 years 267 days.  He holds five good conduct badges. He has been awarded the Crimea Medal, Clasp for Sebastopol, Turkish Medal, some Indian clasps and a long service medal. Private Strelley was discharged of his own accord in May 1868 aged 40 years 8 months.

Front and back of the three medals 
Kevin had inherited Crimean and  Turkish War and Indian Mutiny medals which seemed to match the battles Strelley had fought in.

We had discussed these Crimean war medals  back in 2014. Although not directly related to my William the medals had been inherited by Kevin's father from the Strelley/ Harris side of the family. (It’s a long story).

The background is that Kevin comes from a large Western Australian branch of the Strelley/Harris family.  The last man standing in this pioneering family was William Edward Strelley Harris (1818 to 1901) who was married briefly to Kevin's great grandmother Emily who later remarried and had another family (Kevin's line). 
The reality is that Australian Harrises had been rather isolated from the Strelleys in Derbyshire England and Edinburgh Scotland. It is known that William Edward Strelley Harris had returned to Derby in England to finalise some outstanding Strelley money matters in the early 1890s returning in 1897 with his new young wife. Had he somehow acquired them on that trip?
Back in 2014 we investigated the possibility that these metals had belonged to William’s father, himself, his brothers, his brother-in-law or even just a friend or worker from Western Australia. Timelines and other historical data precluded most theories. Unlike modern World War I medals there is no name engraved on any of them and there is no documentation or even hear say about their ownership.



Kevin has taken a lot of trouble with medals and has had them mounted into a presentation frame. The blank space in the presentation frame shows that these are medals from an unknown person who fought in the Crimean war and India. Based on the records shown below there won’t many of them. There were a lot of casualties. Of course we’d love the back story and providence and it would be all too easy to try and make my William Strelley story fit like a glove by making two and two equal four. Given the number who died in the various Crimean and Indian battles the cards are really pointing in the direction of Strelley.

Crimean Medal Roll


Indian Medal roll


It’s the most unlikely story but some things make it viable. This Scottish lad had visited the home town of Derby with his parents in 1830s. He was therefore likely to have understood the story of the Strelley background and money.  By the time of his death William, the Army pensioner was dirt poor. He may have needed the money from the sale of the medals and Derby was a likely place to seek out a buyer. Secondly, he did serve the same places during his 23 year career. Three, his return from the war was just after his father had died. He may have visited the old family home in Derbyshire even though it was his stated intention to live in Glasgow.

A few things  don’t tie in. There is no mention of Derby in his discharge papers or even Edinburgh where he had grown up.  Secondly he had two sons to inherit (eventually). Thirdly the fact that he signed his discharge papers with an “x”  shows that he is illiterate and therefore probably didn’t maintain a letter writing relationship with his mother, father or sisters during his time in the military and is much less likely to have written to the Derbyshire lot or the Australian cousins.
I got my thrill that cold Sunday afternoon when Kevin called to tell me of his discovery. It’s great to see collection of metals that my great great  grandfather may have so proudly worn or displayed. The Crimean War medals were instituted in 1854 for award to the British who took part in the campaign against the Russians on the Crimean Peninsula. By Thursday we’ve accessed the Records of the 90th Regiment, (Perthshire LightInfantry) by Delavoye, Alexander Marin, 1845-1917 . These records tell of the day William was injured during the Regiment's participation in the Siege of Lucknow within the city of Lucknow during the Indian Rebellian of 1857. The Indian Medal was awarded for this defence of the City.

  
Old regimental records have been Digitised

I feel that the jury is still out but Kevin, the optimist says “ There are a few unaccounted discrepancies with the medals and information we now know about WS.  The 90th served in only one Crimean War battle -Sebastopol.  The medal I have has bars (clasps) for Balaklava and Alma as well.  Also there are no clasps for the Indian Service Medal whereas his Discharge Papers indicated he got two.  I still think the medals are certainly his, but I can’t explain the differences.”

90th regiment on Parade 1866
I’m happy that collection of medals didn’t come through William’s direct family as I’m way down in the pecking order but I’m grateful that this set have been preserved and curated  because at least I’ve had a chance to see them or a roughly equivalent set of medals to those received by my great, great grand father. During the journey I’ve been able to find out more of the story of the 90th Foot, about the day he was injured and to obtain more medal records that didn’t seem to be available years ago.

Hint of the day: 

Always Search your relative’s Regiment or Battalion on Ancestry or independent sites to  see what can be gleaned. You might come across some infantry diaries, letter, accounts etc. These day-to-day accounts tie-in with the injury/death/victories/photographs of your relatives well. Wikipedia and many general sites give background and dates but there is more to be found by clicking links and references etc. In this case I found the digitised printed record of the infantry history in book form plus an old photo circa 1868 in India -all copyright free because of their age.


Sarah Fanny Gadsby enrols to vote -1902



Some family history files had become corrupted so I was redoing a search for my great great uncle and aunt’s records.  Sarah and Henry Gadsby lived in an inner city area of Sydney after marrying in 1881.  Normally I don’t bother too much with Electoral rolls but this time I was checking an address. 
Sarah Fanny Gadsby’s electoral roll for the Federal seat of Phillip 1903-4 
Sarah Fanny Gadsby’s electoral roll for the Federal seat of Phillip 1903-4  seemed to be missing her husband Henry Gadsby.  I did a double check and found all the names listed were female.  When did women get the vote in Australia? It seems this was a momentous roll for females of this Sydney electorate for in April  1902 The Franchise  Act was passed. 

There was an unusual degree of animation in the vicinity of the Senate Chamber this afternoon. The Franchise Bill, which proposes to give a uniform adult suffrage throughout the Commonwealth for all elections for the Federal Parliament, was down for the second reading and attracted a large number of ladies, who thronged the galleries. Sydney Morning Herald, 10 April 1902, p.7 

All the usual doom that accompanies social change was predicted in Parliament.    

The old question of extending the franchise to women was under discussion, and the familiar platitudes about "invading the sanctity of the home", "the rupture of family life", "the dulling of the gloss of gentle womanhood" and other rotund phrases  The Age, 10 April 1902, p. 5 

Ten years after their NZ counterparts and 16 years earlier than their UK relatives, Australian women over 21 were allowed to  vote in Federal Elections and Referendums.  It would be some years later that women could sit in Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council seats. The first female to be elected in the NSW Legislative Assembly occurred in 1925.

Another look at the record points to a battle to be fought  nearly 80 years later. Nearly every female on the list had the occupation “domestic duties” having  given up their employment upon marriage.
A common occupation was "domestic duties"

Friday, 6 July 2018

From Dungannon, Tyrone to Chicago via Glasgow and Other Distractions








Two weeks ago I began the almost futile search for some or any Irish records of my relatives.  I started with my Murphy side. 

I initially found two of the seven children’s baptisms. Yay.. we come from Gortgonnis, Dungannan, Tyrone. It is described in Irish parish records as being in the Diocese of Armagh. Dungannan is in the south East of County Tyrone in Northern Ireland.  It had a population of 3800 in the 1840s and was known for its agriculture and linen production. Dungannon comes from the Irish Dun Geanainn meaning Geannann’s stronghold.  2/3 of the population was catholic. Gortgannis town is 1.44  km square. 

Dungannon in Northern Ireland
This is quite a breakthrough finding the family cross matched with the name McConville (Convill in all its forms). We also know the deceased father James Murphy is a farmer.  I can't find him listed as the main tenant on the Griffith valuations. It is highly likely they were some of the Irish emigrants who came to Glasgow during aftermath of the potato famine.  A pretty miserable time as the great Irish famine- Gorta Mor -was a period of mass starvation. Ireland was a place of evictions, starvation and harsh living conditions.  It's a period of Irish history where the population of Ireland fell by 25% with families either dying of starvation or taking any way out of there.

Based on matching the family with various residential records we know that the Murphys came to Glasgow before 1851. Quite possibly their father James died before they arrived in Glasgow. Their widowed mother is Hannah McConville and she with daughter (possibly step daughter) Elizabeth and sons Michael, John, Joseph, James, Patrick are living in a crowded tenement in 53 Greater Hamilton St in the 1851 census. It is important to note that these are illiterate agricultural people originally - the dates of birth are all over the place. 
Hannah and family in 1851 Scottish census
The family continues to make their new life finding work in Glasgow, marrying, starting families etc. Michael the older son married Catherine Sorley and later Elizabeth McNamara. His family line has been documented in my great grandmother Mary Ann Murphy’s story. http://robynandthegenies.blogspot.com/search/label/Murphy%20Family%20history Basically a few years after coming to Glasgow he had married, had a child Hannah with Catherine and 8 children with Elizabeth McNamara. Several died in infancy, some are traced and the rest are a work in progress (everyone is called Murphy!!)

I had already managed to flesh out the trees of brother James who married Ann Dunion. He was the rag trader and metal broker with nine children. His family has been quite well researched and details can be easily cross referenced to prove his mother is Hannah and brother was Michael.

John another brother married Elizabeth Moffitt in 1872 and the couple had two children – Lizzie(step daughter) and John Francis. He was an iron molder and later a spirit merchant. Research shows him living with his mother in the 1861 and 1871 census and witness at his brother’s second marriage to Elizabeth McNamara.

A few Ancestry hints sent me off to investigate Elizabeth who may have married Patrick McDevitt and had five children. DNA may prove this one day. Her marriage record appears to be missing so this is still under speculation. There are 4 Elizabeth Murphys in this story!

Patrick and his life in Glasgow is still to be found. I had no leads on Joseph until a relative made contact via Ancestry. This distracts me from my Irish research.

This quirky Chicago relative, Susie, reached out for some insight into the daughter of Joseph Murphy or rather the German son-in-law. She’d seen I had made some progress on the Murphy tree. I got waylaid with the German side of her story. However she kindly provided me with details of Joseph’s marriage to Elizabeth McCauley and there was a resulting three children Catherine, John and Joseph. I do admit I got I did get a little side tracked when one of the sons, James turned up as an army deserter from the 1st Lanark corps in 4/3/1878. Some kind people on a Genealogy Facebook page supplied me with the necessary document and a description of the lad.

I went exploring the German/ Scottish marriage of Joseph’s daughter Catherine to Theodore Bloch AKA Block and their subsequent immigration to Chicago. Catherine a mill worker had married a recently emigrated German cabinetmaker possibly from Berlin or Baumberg. Theodore had anglicised his name to Block. They married on 29 December 1876 in Cathcart not in a Catholic or Lutheran Church but in the United Presbyterian Church. Many Irish families at the time tried to hide their Catholic backgrounds and blended in with Scottish protestant churches.

Catherine Murphy marries Theodore Block 1876
What was Block doing in Glasgow and what was his background?  I threw a few questions around Strictly Scottish Genealogy Facebook page and speculation about Theodore and his parents was rife that he may have indeed have had a Jewish or Polish background based on his mother’s name of Blasinski. What was he doing in Scotland??? After their marriage Catherine and Theodore had two children Alena Elizabeth b 1877 and Catherine b 1881 in  Scotland before heading off to Chicago in 1883. Being able to link the family to Ireland, Germany, Scotland and then USA was gold.  So often unknown details of immigration and/or place of origin is the brick wall for completing many trees.

Many emails later I extracted more details from Susie. They ended up in Illinois where Alice was born in 1883 followed by Josephine 1885, William Theodore 1888, Minnie 1892, John 1893, Charles 1894 and George in 1897.

Drawing a blank with Susie’s request for more information on the husband’s German birth I promise to put the details on my online tree and watch for hints. Ever curious I wondered why the Blocks chose to go to Chicago in the 1880s. A google search discovered that Scottish and German migrants to Chicago were plentiful in the late 1800s.  The 2000 Census showed 15.8% of people in the Chicago surrounds had German Ancestry. In fact Germans are the largest ethnic group in 80% of Chicago's suburbs. Research also showed that a large percentage of the German immigrants were Catholic with Protestant and Jewish numbers being much smaller. So possibly Theodore wasn't of Jewish background. 

As to the Scottish immigration it seems transatlantic crossings were possible because of the regular services by ships between Scotland and USA. at the time they left Scotland , Chicago is a flourishing economy seeking skilled workers in high paying jobs in housing and new industries. There should have been plenty of work for Theodore with his carpentry skills. 

Most immigrants located to the north east of Illinois on the south west shores of Lake Michigan. The early censuses show new towns and neighbourhoods populated with the immigrants and the ancestry records show many intermarriages between German families. Some of them Anglicised their names. Interestingly the Blocks are sometimes known as Bloch and the Catherines have changed their name from a “C” to a “K”.




To add a new disruption into the mix I was fiddling with my DNA matches while I got my head around these “Murphys”. High up on my list is a girl named Sharon who had a 100 centremorgan with six segments DNA match. I had previously discounted her as her smallish tree only had German names which didn’t fit with my mostly Irish, Scottish and English. This time I saw that her small tree featured the name Bloch. What previously seemed too hard now seemed like I could be close. She was from one of the Block daughters born in Scotland. She was a second cousin of Susie into the bargain. I found she had some knowledge of the Murphy background but she admitted she was unsure of how to put a tree together.

Distracted, preoccupied or engrossed- call it what you will- I decided to do it myself. Clearly limited by the UK plus ancestry package I subscribe to I made notes about what USA records to follow up using the free Ancestry Worldwide subscription at my Council library. Too many notes later I gave up and researched how much would cost me to upgrade to Worldwide membership. Having negotiated a good price I start to work on this now American Block family.

I discovered lots about the family with a whirl through the very detailed census documents the USA has taken over the years. Often they were found living with a sibling or the extended family. This is particularly so as two of the daughters became widowed and lived with their single brothers. As usual the “cookies” tracking my research began throwing up hints. Catherine and Theodore  died in the 1924. I am able to find records for marriages, births, deaths for children and grandchildren.

Theodore Block and Family in US 1910 census

A few things that pop up in the hints are the World War I and ll Draft documents. Then I’m distracted again- Susie had told me about William. You already know I’m interested in vaudeville and the stage because it’s the Block’s second cousins who have been involved in Music Hall in England and Scotland. Also I had been told that William Block suffered from dwarfism. So when I found a World War I and II draft registration document for him I was intrigued as to whether he was signing up ( only to be discharged because of his disability), being assigned for special duties or if he  was an entertainer for the troops. I knew he had been in the circus and I was intrigued to see how someone with dwarfism fared in the early part of the century. The WWI record just shows he was of short stature single and a performer. He declares he has no disability.  Go William! He does however show his employer and place of employment.

 
William T Block WWI draft  
I did a little side research…. His employer was quite a powerful person in the entertainment industry. William worked for Marcus Loew in the Putman Building in New York. He had founded Loew's Theatrical Enterprises, New York City, 1910, and acquired Metro Pictures Corporation, Hollywood in1919 later opening the 3500-seat flagship Loew's State Theater in Times Square, New York City in 1921. He later acquired and merged Goldwyn Pictures Corporation, Louis B. Mayer Productions and Metro to create Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). So in appears William was working for a huge entertainment company which grew from a New York City theatre circuit presenting vaudeville and early moving pictures into one of Hollywood's most successful integrated film corporations.


William had married and divorced and he was living with his brother in the 1930s -occupation actor. Apparently though when the depression began a period of out of work actors began. This would have been tough times for a person with dwarfism. As a follower of Keynesian economics I liked what came next.

The World War II draft card  gives his physical statistics and shows him working for The Works Projects Administration (WPA) which was established by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 as part of the New Deal attempt to combat the Depression. This included the Federal Theatre Project (FTP) which is noted on William’s form. This Project was an attempt to offer work to theatrical professionals and to boost the economy. Over a thousand theatre productions took place in twenty-two different states. Many of these were given free in schools and community centres. Although performers were only paid $22.73 a week, the FWP employed some of America's most talented artists. Arthur Miller explained in his autobiography, Timebends - A Life (1987): "To join the WPA Theatre Project it was necessary to get on the welfare rolls first, in effect to be homeless and all but penniless... and conniving to get myself a twenty-three-dollar-a-week job." William obviously qualified by 1939.
William T Block -WWII draft

After this his story dries up. A death record certificate shows him dying in 1962 in Massachusetts. I presume he had been on the road again with his acting and performing. Hopefully this blog will “bait” a little bit of information a photos or a bit of film.  I’m most intrigued by WT as it is his cousins the McBride who I have previously written about.

Yes, this journey takes me from country to country, through American  entertainment history, American immigration and connects me through DNA. It’s been a collective effort and Susie has given me a run for my money- checking and querying research. She’s found a Chicago cousin or two. But it’s quite journey. As I explained to Susie at the outset, Americans often find it difficult to connect back to British and Scottish roots. Often we have little chance to find the immigration patterns of our Scottish, Irish or English relatives to a vast country like America or Canada. If you are an Aussie like me you also need big maps. There’s still unanswered questions but the answers may come with collaboration, more research and those delicious “cookies”. I love to share what I know and appreciate the collaboration and assistance given by specialist Facebook groups. Space precludes me from giving all the details of the Murphy and Block families but here’s a link to my online tree .    Contact me if you have more to add.   

Hint of the week:
Doing genealogy research you never know how knowledgeable you’ll be by the end of the journey. I started in Ireland and discovered the Murphy roots. Disappointingly there is little to go on to go back any further. I move to Scotland and I discovered the Scottish German journey to Chicago and a place I knew little about. My knowledge of immigration patterns is improving. Moving on I get to follow the story of the Blocks and in the process discover another music hall actor/ Performer for my collection. Distraction at its best.

You may think I am my father‘s daughter but “by prevailing over the obstacles and distractions one may unfailingly arrive at his chosen goal or destination” – Christopher Columbus



Achieved:

ü   ONE “extremely high confidence” DNA match to a fourth cousin



ü   Expanded Murphy tree with links to America



ü   Found the birthplace of the Murphys back in Ireland- I’ll go to Dungannon on the next holiday

ü   One more vaudeville actor performer

 The rest is as always a work in progress.........

If you are interested here are previous blogs on the Scottish vaudeville relatives http://robynandthegenies.blogspot.com.au/2015/11/treading-boards-scottish-music-hall-and.html part 1


http://robynandthegenies.blogspot.com.au/search/label/Scottish%20Music%20Hall part 4

Saturday, 9 June 2018

TWO BROTHERS FROM NUNEATON- The Story of John and William Gadsby



If they lived in Warwickshire today, brothers Billy and John Gadsby would have played football for the "the Nuns" or  "Boro" and would have been well known around the small towns of Nuneaton or Attleborough. This episode traces back to the earliest known stories about the Gadsbys in Nuneaton.  John (b1770) and William Gadsby (b1773) were the 8th and 9th children of the Gadsby family from  Attleborough in the county of Warwickshire.


Lets face it, John Gadsby senior (b1720) had enough children to form his own footy team! John my 4x Great grandfather had outlived his first wife Elizabeth Cope who died after producing his first 7 children. On 26/6/1770 after the reading of Banns at the Chilvers Coton Church the fifty year old John married for a second time to Martha Lingard who went on to produce at least 7 more children.




John was a road worker on the Attleborough/Nuneaton Road. Being poorly paid plus having a sizeable family saw the Gadsbys scrapping together and living in relative poverty. Nevertheless John Gadsby lived to the ripe old age of 96, dying in 1816 in Abbey Street Nuneaton.  He had fathered 14 children and outlived Martha by 8 years.

Amazingly, for a poor road worker many details of his life and the antics of his young family are known. It seems his youngest daughter Nancy was critical in providing information which was documented in a Memoir written by his grandson John (Son of William) upon the occasion of William’s death. Then aged about 60 and still living in the Nuneaton area, Nancy was able to provide information to William’s son about the family, children and  Attleborough in the early years.  This is the story of two brothers and the Memoir provided a starting point. 

John, their father, is said to have been a quiet man were as his wife Martha their mother was to have a reputation of being much louder as most mothers of seven children would be.   Presumably there were children still at home from John's first marriage to Elizabeth. (Eleanor, Elizabeth and Sarah plus 4 others)  Martha produced three boys John, William and Thomas (names which will be duplicated several times in future Gadsby generations) and a string of girls Anne, Fanny, Elizabeth and Nancy. Thomas the third son lived only a couple of months as was often the case in those times. 

John Gadsby born late 1770 is the ancestor/patriarch of our line. His christening records show him as John GADGBY baptised on 20/1/1771.   Gadgby is the provincial pronunciation of the name. His brother William Gadgby was baptised three years later on 17/1/1773.

As is often the case in large families, the boys were feeding and nursing babies as soon as they were able to sit up themselves. Their parents were so poor, education was out of the question.  The children were left to run about the village bare footed and in ragged clothes until they were old enough to work. It is known William received a meagre education -learning to read but not write at the Nuneaton Church School. Attendance was for perhaps 2-3 days per week.

The townships of Nuneaton and Attleborough were well known for their cottage industry of ribbon weaving the industry which was  introduced by French Protestant refugees. Weaving was mainly done in the homes of the workers.  Most probably Martha was supplementing the family income by operating a loom from home. While the children ran around the streets the people of Nuneaton worked on their looms beside long windows in the upper story of their homes. This allowed for maximum light and a good view of the children in the streets below.
A sketch from Ramsbottom's book of the Gadsby's Attleborough Home

Having plenty of time on their hands the two brothers Billy and John repeatedly got up to all sorts of mischief and pranks.  On a later visit to the village William told how they often they plagued  the life out of two prim and elderly ladies who lived in a cottage nearby. Eventually the ladies got their own back by drenching William with a bucket of water.


There is one story documented in the memoir about the two boys. It was during the time of the Nuneaton Fair around 1890. "We'll cut across this field to miss the crowds,” said John who was about 20 years old about this time. When they reached Attleborough he suggested that they call into the Three Crowns Public house to partake of some "Queen's cordial".  This is apparently no drink for the faint hearted. The recipe goes "take six quarts of Cherry Brandy, 2 quarts of sherry 3 pints of brandy, rum etc”. To this is added various herbs and spices.  Curious to try it young William bought 3 half pennies worth. Basically they did what brothers do and got horribly drunk together. By the end of the night William was begging the landlady for a bed. "No" she said, "I'll not have some drunken fellows here!" William never forgot that night. Apparently William did not drink liqueur very much forever more. He was so mortified he prayed all night for God's pardon.

About that same time John enlisted in the Warwickshire Militia and served in the regiment for nearly 28 years. The Militia had been established in 1757 as a type of home guard during the years of the Napoleonic Wars. As insufficient volunteers would come forward, a form of conscription was introduced in which each parish would make lists of adult males in the parish and hold ballots to choose men for “compulsory” service. All men in the parish aged 18-45 were included in the lists. “Drawn men” who were unwilling to serve in the militia had to find substitutes to serve instead of them.

It is unknown whether John was a willing volunteer, a drawn man or a willing substitute but Military service was probably seen as a stable income for a man from such a large and poor family.   The Warwickshire Militia was therefore a type of reserve army. At the time John enlisted (1889) most men only served for 5 years. There was widespread dissatisfaction with the balloting of young men. John served for a total of 25 years- his long service shows he clearly enjoyed the benefits of being a Militia man. John rose through the ranks of Private after nearly 9 years to Corporal for just over 4 years and to Sergeant for a further 11 years.


John Gadsby's militia service
In tracing the history of the militia it seems most likely that men lived at home during peacetime and that they would have spent time away from home only when on training camp.  During the Napoleonic War 1813-14 however men were placed on permanent duty. At this time his Militia records indicate he was a “Sargeant”. Military websites indicate Militia men did not serve overseas. However parish records show that while men were on permanent duty wives and families were paid allowances.  

Therefore John was a Militia man when he married his first wife Elizabeth Smith on 20/11/1897. The marriage lasted a short 6 years as Elizabeth died in 1803. There are no records of offspring from this marriage in the surrounding Nuneaton parishes. A little over a year later when he had been promoted to Sargent he married Mary Brown in December 1804.  This may have involved being involved in training of younger recruits or even relocation with Mary to another Parish. His longer absences away from home may explain the lack of children recorded in the local Nuneaton Parish records.



By 1814 John had left the Militia as a consequence of age and infirmity to return solely to his trade of ribbon weaver. At the time of his discharge his Militia papers describe him as grey haired with grey eyes and sallow complexion. He was a reasonably tall man at 5 feet 9 ¾ inches. 



The only recorded offspring of his marriage to Mary was Damaris who was born some while later in 1817. Unfortunately the life of Mary Brown came to an end 5 months after the birth of her daughter. In what seems to be a bit of a tradition with Johns in the Gadsby family he married again.  Within 6 months the banns were being read for the marriage of 24 year old Elizabeth Harris and John Gadsby. In June 1818 they were married. John was still ribbon-weaving most likely from a room in his home. At the height of demand for these highly decorative ribbons, ribbon weaving was the town’s main industry and weavers could earn good money.  


John and Elizabeth went on to have 5 children, four of whom (2 x Rebecca, William and Martha) died in infancy. The only surviving child was our John who was born in 1826. He is first recorded in official documents in the 1841 census as “Jno” living in Hall Row with his half sister Damaris and her family.  He was working in the family trade of ribbon weaving.


John and Damaris’ father, John the Militia man had died in 1833 when John was seven. His mother Elizabeth appears to have married a widower from the nearby Chilvers Coton, a hamlet of Attleborough. She and Thomas Clews had a couple of short years together. They married in 1836 and the 1841 census shows her living by herself as a ribbon weaver in Freer’s Row, Nuneaton not far from where John and Damaris were living. Freer’s Row was a narrow and very short street. Her neighbours were the Freer family a family of ribbon-weavers after whom the street was named. Her death is recorded as 1842.
John lives with Damaris and family in 1841 while his mother lives in a nearby street.

So John, the thrice-married Militia man,  and ribbon weaver lived to approximately 63 years old. What became of his only brother William? Why did his son see fit to write about William and the Gadsbys in a memoir which has survived until this time?

Life must have been hard for the growing Gadsby family. Plenty of time on their hands, little education meant they could get up to mischief but this was matched by a weekly dose of wrath and condemnation from the local clergy. William had serious thoughts about sins and God while still at school. Racked with guilt about stealing turnips from the field or his swearing and pranks , he would be regularly determined to reform and to be a good boy.  On one occasion he decided to run away from home. Feeling sorry for himself he disguised himself by stuffing old rags and straw down his back to look like a hunchback. An anxious John and Martha dismissed the sightings of a hunchback boy of similar age saying “O No, that could not be our boy.” 

As soon as children were old enough they began working on looms. At the age of 13, William was apprenticed for 5 years as a ribbon weaver to a Mr Copson. He was allowed to keep half of what he would earn from weaving.  Even then he still got up to all manner of sin and folly and it bothered his conscience. However, Ramsbottom in his book on William Gadsby, 2003, describes him as “a born leader, friendly, humorous and popular”. In the workshop he would hold forth for an hour at a time on an old tub to fellow workers making them roar with laughter. Once when he tried to leave the employment of Mr Copson his fellow workers complained so bitterly that he returned to work there.

He attended the Independent Church with his parents and later he attended a church at Bedworth.  He spent so much time trudging backwards and forwards to Bedworth that he and his mother Martha quarrelled. “O Billy, “she would say “You’re off again!” It wasn’t the fact that he was off to church so much as he only had one pair of shoes and his mother worried that unless he went barefoot his shoes would get worn out.  “Never mind, mother” he would say, “I shall be able to keep you yet.”

He eventually joined the Baptists at Coventry and was baptised in late 1893. Mr Aston who baptised him said “he could see something in the young man, although so illiterate and uncouth, that seemed blessedly to prove that he would some time or other be made useful to God’s dear family.” He trudged 8 miles each way to attend the Sunday services. It was during this walk that he composed the “8 Mile Hymn” one of his many. The experience of the drunken night with his brother John and witnessing a hanging of three young men in Coventry had profound effects on William when he would eventually become a preacher.

After meeting a girl named Elizabeth Marvin she persuaded him to give up ribbon weaving and take up stocking weaving in the nearby town of Hinkley.  They married on 16th May 1896 when he was twenty-three and she was twenty-five.  Having set up home in Hinkley the first of his children Rachael, Sarah and Phoebe were born. Here he became a preacher using the old barn at Hinkley and then building the Hinkley Chapel.
Church built by Gadsby  at Hinckley c 1803

Later he moved his young family to Manchester where his other children Ebenezer, John and William were born.


Here, he was a Minister for 38 years, widely known and respected as a remarkable and passionate preacher who had “a gracious effect in the hearts of men and women.” He championed the cause of the poor, especially over the Corn Laws. He is well known for the many hymns that he wrote some of which are still in use today.  His influence also came from his publication of the Gospel Standard magazine that he set up and which is still published today. He was the founder of  many churches, which spawned the term “Gadsbyites” in the 1820s.  A.C.Underwood in the “History of the English Baptists” described him as “a pulpit genius” and his great friend J.C.Philpot  said of him “he spoke with such power and authority that it seemed almost as if he had been in the third heaven.”

William Gadsby (npg.org.uk)

This great son, father, husband and preacher did not return to Nuneaton very often due to his commitments to his many Churches in Manchester and surrounds. It is known that he took the funeral sermon at Attleborough for his mother who died in 1808. When his father John died at the age of 96, he penned a poem of 15 verses “On the Death of the Author’s Father” (Nazarene’s Songs No 175) in hope that all was well with him in the hereafter. 

It is documented that he was always a little stretched for funds for his preaching and good works but that the Lord always provided. He was used to being poor and with his family of 6 children he had many providential difficulties as his income did not support his family let alone other projects.  Gadsby always believed that “My every need He richly will supply.”  Later when he received funds in praising God he would preach  “He has heard my prayer and helped me, and I will trust Him as long as I live.”

William's son John documented his life in"A Memoir of the Late Mr William Gadsby" 1844 
William died in 1844 in Manchester. His wife, Elizabeth died  in 1851 having suffered from debilitating mental afflictions for over 30 years.  His children Phoebe and William immigrated to the USA. Sarah, Rachael and Ebenezer married and stayed around Manchester having 17 children between them. John in (what appears to be a trend amongst Johns) married three times and continued his father’s good works by editing, authoring and publishing religious works. He wrote the “Memoir of William Gadsby” upon his father’s death in 1844 and as a result of this we have been able to  picture our Attleborough roots .   

A treasured copy of Gadsby's Hymns 

One little lasting memory of our relationship with the famous preacher occurred when Thomas our great grandfather came to Australia in 1912. His brother John gave him a Gadsby Hymn book when he was leaving- a lasting reminder of our Nuneaton history. Thomas who told the story of bringing it to Australia to his children and grandchildren treasured this hymnbook and reminder of home. He, having little else to give passed it on to his oldest grand-daughter, Betty for safe keeping and our heritage has been in her safe hands ever since.    
I like to think this street in Nuneaton is named for us all.

There are two streets in Nuneaton visible from the train. William Street and Gadsby Street both named in honour of their famous ex-resident, William the preacher. I like to think that William Gadsby shares the honour with those who lived there too and the generations who came after  – the humble, honest townsfolk who went about their business worked  hard and  served their country. They also bore the “famous” Gadsby name.

Acknowledgement:
I have received much help from complete strangers in researching this part of the history of our family. BA Ramsbottom’s book was invaluable and he has tried to put me in touch with others researching Gadsby relatives. He is still heavily involved with the Gospel Standard originally set up by William. Some of the pictures have been supplied by him.

Peter Lee from the North Warwickshire Family  History Society has also been of assistance. He lives in Attleborough and has volunteered to take me on a tour of the town hopefully sooner rather than later. His family developed some properties on the famous Gadsby Street.  Peter provided me with the first article on William the preacher when  I enquired about Gadsbys living in Nuneaton in 2010.
We have befriended Chet Gadsby in the USA who has numerous records of Gadsby births, deaths and marriages- he claims their purchase of them as religious tax deductions! Thanks Chet.
My partner in crime , Leane Lawrence has been a great  little researcher sifting  through Parish records and keeping me posted on her many finds in the family tree.  

For more information on Gadsby’s hymn’s there are  free copies  in e- book format  or PDF on the internet. John Gadsby’s Memoirs of William Gadsby and  some of his own writings are also available  as PDF or e- book for free.

If you search William Gadsby on Youtube you will get a couple of his famous hymns set to modern music. Here's one  Gadsby Hymn

At first glance we thought we had nothing to go on except a hope that we might find someone famous in our tree and that we might be related to this preacher whose hymn book we had and who had the same name.

So in answering   “Who do you think you are?”  I think we came from pretty hard working and honest working class people- something to aim for.

Should you find any more information or if you have any questions please email me 

#52 Ancestors "Going to the Chapel"