74 EUREKA MOMENT
How Claire Brown resolved a tricky surname problem in her family tree
How long have you been doing your family history?
I have been researching my family history for more than 15 years. Recently, I’ve concentrated on the more unusual surnames on my tree, such as Wines and Craddock, both of which have revealed some fascinating histories and the occasional tragic story. The Brown name, although fairly common, presented me with one of the biggest brick walls that I had to break down.
What had you uncovered before you hit your brick wall?
I’d traced my great great grandfather, Edley Brown, born in 1853 in Bilsby, Lincolnshire. His father was William Brown, and his mother was Sarah née Baxter. I sent off for their marriage certificate, and this is where the mystery began. On it, my 3x great grandfather gave his name as William Brown Dunham, and his father’s name as John Dunham. Where did Dunham come from?
What was stopping you from progressing your research?
Finding a record of William’s birth was difficult. Looking for John Dunham in the census didn’t help, as although I could find John Dunham in Lincolnshire, there was no listing there for any child named William Dunham. Was John Dunham his father after all? I did some research and came across a baptism for William Brown in 1826 in Swarby, Lincolnshire – his parents were John and Elizabeth Brown. However, I couldn’t prove that this was the right baptism.
How had you tried to solve it previously?
I used many online sources without any luck. I had already registered with the WDYTYA? Magazine forum, and after seeing the helpful responses people had received, I decided to try it for myself. I posted some information on William and within a short space of time had a reply suggesting that the Swarby baptism was irrelevant, and that it was worth looking at another baptism, for which a link to a website was given. I clicked on that link and found a baptism entry for William Dunham, son of Elizabeth Brown, single woman, on 13 October 1826, Bilsby, Lincolnshire. I was pretty sure this was my 3x great grandfather, born to a woman who was clearly telling the world who the father of her baby was by recording his surname in the baptism register.
What’s your ‘eureka moment’?
I wanted to identify if Elizabeth eventually married the father of her baby. This indeed proved to the case. In 1828, two years after William’s birth, Elizabeth Brown married John Dunham in Bilsby. Therefore I had identified my 4x great grandparents, and the mystery of the name Dunham on William’s marriage certificate was solved.
How did it solve the problem?
It proved that when William got married in 1846, his father named on the marriage certificate was in fact his biological father, and that William was using the Dunham Brown name in everyday life. In later census records, he is recorded as William D Brown, the D being for Dunham.
What did you feel when you discovered the solution?
It was wonderful to finally find that missing piece of the jigsaw – to discover that William,
although born out of wedlock, had parents who did eventually marry, and this meant I’d gone back another generation, and confirmed who my 4x great grandparents were.
Did you discover anything else interesting along the way?
Finding William’s parents was just the start. Having confirmed who his parents were, I went back to census records and discovered that Elizabeth and John subsequently had 12 more children! I was also sent some newspaper reports via the WDYTYA? Magazine forum about William Dunham Brown, and this revealed more than I could have hoped for.
In 1846, William married Sarah Baxter. Their first two children were Fanny (b1847) and Betsy (b1848). Both were baptised in Gayton le Marsh and given the surname Dunham.
On the baptism entry for each, it states that they were the ‘daughter of William and Sarah Dunham’. But all their subsequent children were baptised with the surname Brown, including my great great grandfather Edley Brown. It was a newspaper report that was sent to me via the WDYTYA? Magazine forum that would answer the question ‘why is my surname Brown not Brown Dunham?’.
In the Lincolnshire Chronicle on Friday 19 January 1849 there is a report from the Louth Petty Sessions that stated “an order was obtained for the removal of William Dunham Brown from the parish of Gayton le Marsh to the parish of Bilsby”. William was being thrown out of his village! What had he done to deserve this treatment? Further newspaper searches revealed William had a few brushes with the law. A newspaper report in 1845 reads: “William Dunham of Gayton le Marsh was summoned for the offence of riding on the shafts of his wagon in the parish of Tothil and discharged upon promising to pay the expenses in a month.” He was also charged with committing a burglary, though this was later dropped due to lack of evidence.
After leaving their home in Gayton le Marsh, the family settled in Bilsby. In 1852, William and Sarah had a son, Edley, my great great grandfather. They baptised him Edley Brown, however the curate wasn’t fooled and made a note in the register – “surname reads Brown commonly called Dunham.”
In 1854, William was in trouble again. Records show on 6 January, he was given a 12-month prison sentence for being “an incorrigible rogue”.
It would appear that running into trouble with the law wasn’t just confined to William – his brothers had their fair share of breaking the rules. Newspaper reports show that Levi Dunham absconded from the service of his employer; Austin Dunham was convicted for riding upon the shafts of his wagon whilst in a state of intoxication; Austin and two other men were found guilty of causing a disturbance; and John Dunham was committed to trial for attempting to break into the house of the local schoolmistress – he was later acquitted of this.
What’s your advice to other family historians who hit an obstacle on their family tree?
Never give up! Use the
WDYTYA? Magazine forum. I had so much help with William Dunham Brown, and since then I have had help with other questions. It is a brilliant tool and very easy to use. I would recommend anyone hitting a brick wall to leave a post. You never know what you’ll see after breaking down your brick wall.
My advice? Never give up! Use the WDYTYA? forum!
Two years after William’s birth, John Dunham married Elizabeth Brown in Bilsby, Lincs, in 1828
ClareCl h has b been researchinghi her family for the past 15 years
A newspaper report from 1845 when William Dunham was charged with burglary