Trying to fill a southern gap
QI am trying to fill a gap in my great-grandfather’s history. His name was Jabez Wood, and he was born in Finedon, Northamptonshire, in 1839. He appears on the census for 1841 and 1851 as living in Finedon with his parents Thomas and Mary. I can then find no record of him until he marries my great-grandmother in 1878, when the marriage certificate shows him to be a widower. His sister Hannah’s baptism is recorded on the Nonconformist register, so it may be that the family was Methodist, and therefore Jabez’s first marriage may not have been in a church (his second was in the register office in Chichester, West Sussex). We had thought he went to Kent, but we cannot find any records to support that piece of family folklore. Any help in piecing together the missing 30 years would be appreciated. KATHRYN MANOUCH, VIA EMAIL
AWhen encountering a gap in a male ancestor’s life, my initial thought is to check for a period of service in the army. The first place to look for this is in the Discharge to Pension records of the Royal Hospital Chelsea held at The National Archives. These have been digitised and are online at www.ancestry.co.uk and www.findmypast.co.uk (Ancestry has only the indexes not the actual images, these having been transferred to its sister site www.fold3.com – for which you will need a separate subscription.) The National Archives Research Guide British Army soldiers up to 1913 ( www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/researchguides/british-army-soldiers-up-to-1913/) is helpful in showing other places to search and takes you direct to Findmypast’s British Army service records search page.
As always when searching online databases, it is best to start with as little information in the search boxes as possible, and so in this case, I entered only ‘Jabez Wood’. Scanning through the search results, I found one for a Northamptonshire-born Jabez Wood, whose year of birth was given as 1859! Despite this, I checked it out and looked at the images of the whole file – not at just the transcript. Jabez Wood, born in Finedon parish, signed up for the 24th Regiment of Foot on 3 December 1856, giving his age as 22 years and his occupation as a tailor. This would make his year of birth around 1834 which conflicts with the age given at discharge on 8 January 1878 of 39 years and six months (making his year of birth 1838). It seems likely that the Jabez Wood who signed up for the army in 1856 was in fact under the age of 18 at the time. If he subsequently owned up, perhaps he fudged his birth year a little earlier in order to retain service credit or pay at the full rate for the year(s) he was actually under age?
There is a GRO birth index entry for a Jabes [sic] Wood in the December quarter of 1839 (volume 15 page 424) in the Wellingborough registration district, which includes the parish of Finedon. The new GRO index search pages at www.gro.gov.uk give the mother’s name as Law. Is it his? Does it correlate with the 1878 marriage in Chichester in terms of the name and occupation of his father? Furthermore, what age does he give at his marriage in 1878? Does this tie in with the age at discharge from the Army or with a birth year of 1839? If he was born in the December quarter of 1839, he would have been aged 17 at enlistment in 1856.
Lance Sergeant Wood may not, of course, be your ancestor. The fact that he was discharged at Chichester and your ancestor married there later that year is very suggestive, but you will need to investigate and eliminate other Jabez Wood baptisms/births in Finedon to be absolutely sure. The Finedon parish registers are still held by the parish church, although photocopies exist at the Northampton Record Office (see http:// nro.adlibhosting.com/Details/archive/110000509). Bishops’ Transcripts exist from 1706-1890 and can be accessed there (where there is also a paper transcript for 1813-1858), or digitally at www.ancestry.co.uk, or at a LDS Family History Centre ( https:// familysearch.org/wiki/en/Introduction_to_LDS_Family_History_Centers). Another option is to use the Northamptonshire Family History Society’s Search Services – you can check their Personal Names Database for a small fee ( www.northants-fhs.org). You may, of course, have already consulted the Nonconformist register for him with no success, but you may also need to check locallyheld Nonconformist registers for 1837 onwards.
However, the service record of Jabez Wood on Findmypast is an interesting one. Originally signing up for the 24th Regiment of Foot in 1856, he subsequently volunteered for the 35th in 1861 and was rapidly promoted to Sergeant. There are, though, two Courts Martial in his record, and he was reduced to Private twice, only to work his way up again to Lance Sergeant by 1878.
The first part of his service (10 years and 8 months) was in India, so it may be that his first marriage took place there. In this case, you need to look for a marriage and the baptisms and burials of any children or the burial of his wife in the British India Ecclesiastical Returns on Findmypast ( http://search.findmypast. co.uk/search-world-Records/ british-india-office-marriages) and also in the General Register Office Overseas registers ( http://search.findmypast. co.uk/ historical-records?SearchedRecordsetName=overseas&Region=World).
He seems to have returned to England around 1868 – first to Portsmouth, then Aldershot, and finally Chichester from 1872 - so it may be that you will find an entry for the death of his first wife in the relevant death indexes for these areas. I appreciate that with the surname Wood this could raise a large number of possible entries, so I would recommend trying the India records first.
Soldiers of the 24th Regiment of Foot in the 19th century