Friday, 8 September 2017

William Strelley Meets The McHardys ...It's a can of worms


I've been meaning to write about Lavinia McHardy aka Strelley (1843-1902) for some time. Last night I felt my great great grandmother niggling at me to “get on with it”. I think I first looked for her in 2011. First you’ve got to get over the variations in the spelling of Lavinia, Lavina, Livinia, Levinia and then to various spellings of McHardy and three variations of Strally, Strelley and Stralley.


Originally I was originally told her name was Robina Strelley. That could have made sense because my name is Robyn and she was my great great grandmother through the Strelley line.  First mistake -she wasn't Robina. Second mistake- it was presumed she had married William Strelley and that her son who was known as William Strelley was actually born as William Strelley jnr. The third difficulty was looking for William Strelley senior and junior ages unknown.

Let's say when I worked out my second great grandmother's name Lavinia  McHardy it was only just opening a can of worms.

Firstly it does not appear she ever married William Strelley, tanner, army pensioner, labourer-irregular marriage or otherwise. Although there is a string of evidence that he probably fathered five of her seven illegitimate children.

Lavinia McHardy was born in Edinburgh in about 1843. The 1861 census reveals a little more- Lavinia is 16 and is living with her parents, David and Elizabeth in Glasgow. He’s a cabinet maker and she a power loom weaver. Records show there are five McHardy children all up.  As its only Lavinia and her sister Elizabeth in the census it’s assumed the first and second are deceased. Elizabeth was born in 1846. A further sister, Barbara Fraser McHardy is born in 1862.        .

During the next decade Lavinia gives birth illegitimately to Janet Peoples McHardy in 1962 who died in 1863. There is a record of paternity attached to the birth record.

Then in 1867 she had baby David McHardy whose Birth Certificate is also altered to reflect the paternity of the child. From then on David is known as David Skinner.

I found Lavinia on page 2 of the record- 1871  census living with Strelley and her parents
William and Lavinia claim to be married by 1881 but not so in1871 when Lavinia and her parents were visitors to Strelley’s flat in Glasgow on the night of the 1871 census. It was a full house with David and Elizabeth McHardy, Lavinia, her children David skinner with little William and her sister Elizabeth all in the Strelley tenement. It might also have been noisy as William S McHardy is under one at this stage. Is there a relationship between Lavinia and Strelley at this stage- I think so. Little William is listed as William S McHardy. There is more in that can of worms.

William snr is shown as an army pensioner having been discharged in 1868 from the army after serving in for 20 years in India and the Crimea. He’s old enough to be her father and indeed the McHardys may well be old friends of Strelley’s from their birthplace in Edinburgh.

Ten years later when it comes to the 1881 census Lavinia and William are living together as man and wife with William now shown as son William Strelley and daughter Bertha Strelley (confirmed as Barbara Strelley McHardy- illegitimate). I just wonder why both of these children have been listed as illegitimate on their birth certificates.  
Lavinia and William "married with children" 1881 census

Today we might think that Lavinia was rorting the Centrelink system by claiming to be a single mother many times over. By now she has had four illegitimate children. She has taken the trouble to reflect the paternity of two of the children.

However I didn't know what to think when I discovered the births of not one but two more illegitimate children during the 1870s. They had subsequently died.  One is Thomas Gilchrist McHardy born 1873 (by then Elizabeth her sister had married Thomas Gilchrist). I don't really suspect surrogacy even though it appears that Thomas and Elizabeth remained childless. The second child bears the same name of my grandmother Lavinia Strelley McHardy which is a little spooky. She’s born 1875 and lives for only nine weeks after contracting whooping cough.

When 1891 comes around Lavinia and William are shown on the census as have a son Robert Strelley born 1886 entered on the census. Despite the fact that they are still maintaining they are married he is actually born Robert Strellie McHardy and is also “illegitimate”  

So only four years before the census Lavinia has had her 7th illegitimate child some bearing the Strelley name which points the finger at William. There is obviously a long-term relationship with Strelley.  They appear in two censuses together as a married couple, existing children have adopted his name in census 1881 and 1891. Lavinia at this time is about 41 and William is 63.
After the death of William and in bad health Lavinia falls on bad times

We only see Lavinia in one more census. Stating her age as 53 she is claiming to be a widow in 1901.  On this occasion she is amongst other widows plus single and married destitute women and children. She spends the night of the 1901 census as an inmate of a Night Asylum for the Homeless 69 - 73 Nth Frederick Street Blythewood.  By day she works as a charwoman.  William has died about eighteen months earlier of disease of the brain at the Old Man's Asylum in Glasgow.  It seems he’s still the committed bachelor as he’s listed as a single former labourer and army pensioner on his death certificate. Perhaps it was convenient to pretend he was single to get William treated for dementia.

Despite the fact that an irregular marriage might have been recognised and that the children would have been recognised as legitimate Lavinia appears to have never qualified as an army wife for any pension which might have come her way. Something was standing in their way. When she herself died in 1902 she is listed by her son William Strelley jnr as widow of William Strelley, tanner’s labourer. Perhaps he never knew any differently.

So Lavinia has had seven illegitimate children and the five in the course of time when she was living with William Strelley could easily have been attributed to him. They were all registered as illegitimate and subsequently the living ones adopted his name.  The first two were contested for paternity but nothing is mentioned on the later five births.

In this day and age Ancestry would make a motza on the DNA testing!  Problem solved for 5 kits at $149.

My quandary is that I descend from Lavinia and William Strelley and from William jnr. McHardy branches look a little stronger than the Stelleys. I’d really really like the Strelley ancestors to be mine as they are a good tale dating back to 1066. A genealogist will say there is a very weak link here and that I don't have the required pieces of evidence to show each step of my claim but the Strelley relatives have welcomed me and my research with open arms as have the maternal Johnstons.

"McHardy branches look a little stronger than the Stelleys. I’d really really like the Strelley ancestors to be mine as they are a good tale dating back to 1066."


No matter the outcome I'm still one of them in their books and I shudder at the thought of having to have thousands of people lopped off my tree including Princess Diana should the DNA ever prove me wrong. But records aren’t always available- pre the official registration of marriages it wasn’t necessary to marry in a church in Scotland but it was sufficient to be married in the eyes of people by “habit and repute” simply by presenting yourself in public as husband and wife. 12% of Scottish children were as a result of this kind of marriage.

Was there something preventing William and Lavinia from having a regular or irregular marriage? Was William previously married in the army? Something we may never know. William left the army after his father’s death. His father was from a fine and gentlemanly family in Derbyshire with a strong English history. Strelley, born in Edinburgh, rarely if ever visited that part of England so marrying outside the church should not be an issue.

My DNA may never be questioned as my great great grandparents Lavinia and William are likely to have given me only 12.5% of my DNA and I'm a gambling woman. It’s sad that Lavinia lost 4 of her 7 children and all so young. David jnr was fathered by Skinner. Consequently, there's not that many Strelley descendants with William jnr only having children who lived past childhood. There’s not too many around to test.

While the McHardy line is strong I need some further information.  Bother me some more Lavinia….. I might just get to the bottom of this mystery.

1 comment:

  1. In less than 10 minutes I found a census for Lavinia's granddaughter (my grandmother ) which had eluded me for 8 years.
    she was listed on the census with wrong spelling and under a different surname - she was illegitimate but it was her mother's name not her father's Strelley name. However the "S" was inserted.
    then a little later a member of a Scottish Genealogy site gave a perfectly good explanation of the illegitimate children. Probably Strelley was married elsewhere was unable to divorce, unable to marry and unable to register the kids under his name.
    More to come I think.... Robyn

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