Monday, 7 April 2014

George (Ford) Wilks from East Meon 1851-1897

All we had to go on was the place name East Meon from George Ford's Navy enlistment papers. He had grown up in the agricultural area; George Ford who joined the Navy lived a very different life from many of his farming Ford forebears. What was George’s story? Who were his parents and why were there no records for a George Ford in East Meon?

East Meon became the lunch stop and we found it a charming place.

East Meon is a village in East Hampshire set in the Meon Valley. It is just 7.1 km west of Petersfield and 31 km north of Portsmouth our eventual destination that day of our visit. This ancient and quaint village with its peaceful air hooked us in when we called in to explore the town.

What did we know?   Brother William was taking charge of his brother who was four years younger George Ford appeared on no census and wasn’t recorded in the parish records of the All Saints Church. Who and where George's parents and why were no records found?
Here’s how we unraveled the mystery.

Don’t believe everything you read on a certificate:
William made out he had legal custody of his brother when he signed him up as Ford. It turned out his real name was George Wilks. George's marriage certificate had given William Ford as his father but it was considered a possibility that he answered "William" to the father's name question and the clerk just assumed the rest.
What caused the confusion? William was illegitimate and his name was William Ford.

Work backwards from the facts:    Working backwards we find William Ford aged 4 and his brother Charles Ford aged 14 living with their mother Harriet in the 1851 Census. Harriet was also in the 1841 census with her mother and Charles.

Study the lives of the siblings:
Eventually it panned out that William had joined the infantry, Charles worked in another farm. Neither was with their mother.

Get a feel for the lives of the ancestors:
Harriet Ford born 1816 comes from a long line of Fords whose records of births deaths and marriages have been kept in the registers of the ancient All Saints Church at East Meon for hundreds of years. To date we have confirmed her family back five generations to the 1660s through marriages of Fords with the Philip, Greest, Norman, Webb, Coll and Sylvester families. Various church records show the Ford ancestors as paupers. Given the surrounds, presumably they were working as agricultural labourers in the nearby farms or around the ancient mills such as Frogmore and Drayton’s. From the notations in the various church records it looks like they and many others were literally poor as the proverbial church mice. Hence the need for an Alms House in town.

Keep looking:  Originally we consulted only the local Church records. Reference to the site Dustydocs and FreeBMD helped enormously. Marriages registered in Portsea began to crop up and here we found by 1851 Harriett had married William Wilks an East Meon man who was working as an Agricultural labourer at Frogmore. Their marriage is recorded at Portsea Island in June quarter 1850.

Think laterally: It seems our George came along and around April 1851 just after the census was taken finally Harriet could take a legitimate baby along to the local church. George was christened George Wilkes and a birth is registered. We thought we were Fords but we might just be the Wilkes of East Meon!

George's birth certificate held the answer

And this is how it panned out….
It seems that the family must have moved from Frogmore during the next 10 years. In September quarter 1859 Harriet Wilkes died aged 43 with the Parish records recording her abode as Ripplington (farm).  By 1861 the two step sons have moved on. Charles at 22 is lodging as an agricultural labourer at Soberton Village and William in at 14 is a servant at a nearby farm.
George at 10 is living with William Wilks and has been put to work as a Carter at Drayton cottages. He appears with his father in the 1861 census.
1861 census
 In January 1868 brother William is back in East Meon vouching for his brother who is enlisting in Her Majesty's Navy. George who signs with his mark “X" commences his engagement in 1870 as George Ford.

The conversation may have gone something like "I'm his brother William Ford. Me mam’s died and I’m bringing my brother George to sign up for the Navy."
"Okay. Father's name?"
"Right then George (Ford)  your brother has vouched for you. Welcome to the Navy"

Think of the times- Records were poor, education was minimal:
George was a farm labourer at nine and had probably skimped on his education. William had got
George’s age wrong by about a year but neither has noticed the incorrect surname. George signed with an x. From then on Harriet's son George Wilkes is George Ford Seaman and the Ford name carries on.

Born in harsh times George  may have lived a life of a pauper. George's decision to join the Navy set a whole other train of career paths for the Fords to come. When he signed up George was a boy of only 5 foot 2 1/4  inches tall. When he re-signed this ruddy faced farm labourer had grown three inches  and this blue eyed brown haired gentleman had begun a whole other story away from the quiet life of East Meon and its farming community....
Family History Tips :
  • Consider what facts you  know
  • Don’t believe everything you read on a certificate
  • Work backwards from the facts
  • Study the lives of the siblings
  • Get a feel for the lives of the ancestors
  • Review frequently and Keep looking
  • Think laterally
  • Think of the times- Records were poor, education was minimal, mistakes can be made.

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