Vivi­enne Luke, of Hobart, Tas­ma­nia, could find no de­tails of her great grand­fa­ther John Kempthorne prior to 1881. It was a sig­na­ture that was the key to his true iden­tity, she tells Claire Vaughan

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Vivi­enne Luke broke down a brick wall when she dis­cov­ered that an an­ces­tor’s sig­na­ture was the key to his true iden­tity

How long have you been do­ing your fam­ily his­tory?

I be­gan my fam­ily his­tory in my late 20s af­ter ask­ing my par­ents about their an­ces­tors in Corn­wall and Devon, and be­ing sur­prised by how lit­tle they knew. We moved to Aus­tralia when I was a child, so I had lit­tle con­tact with ex­tended fam­ily and wanted to find out more.

What had you un­cov­ered be­fore hit­ting your brick wall?

My re­search on my great grand­fa­ther, John Kempthorne, be­gan af­ter ob­tain­ing his mar­riage cer­tifi­cate. He mar­ried An­nie Bickle (née El­la­cott) at St Stephens by Sal­tash, Corn­wall, in 1884. There were no de­tails of his par­ents on the cer­tifi­cate, but his res­i­dence was given as ‘New­land Heath’. Un­cov­er­ing the de­tails of his life prior to 1881 be­came a 20-year quest.

At first, it seemed sim­ple. I found him in the 1881 census, aged 38, and liv­ing and work­ing at Stoke­ton Farm quite close to where his fu­ture bride was liv­ing at Not­ter Bridge. His birth­place was given as Cam­borne. Many years of re­search, false trails and mis­taken lin­eages fol­lowed. On later cen­suses he named New­lyn East as his birth­place – could New­land Heath have been a mis­hear­ing of this? He was Thomas John Kempthorne on his son’s 1917 mar­riage cer­tifi­cate. He died in 1925 in Tor­point, Corn­wall, as John Thomas Kempthorne on the death cer­tifi­cate.

What was stop­ping you from pro­gress­ing your re­search?

I sim­ply could not find John, John Thomas or Thomas John in any pre­vi­ous cen­suses, birth records or parish records. No one seemed to even come close.

How had you tried to solve it pre­vi­ously?

I had searched what records I could from Aus­tralia, en­gaged a re­searcher in Corn­wall, sent queries to the Corn­wall Records Of­fice, Corn­wall Fam­ily His­tory So­ci­ety and On­line Parish Clerks. All tried to help but with­out suc­cess. RootsChat and the WDYTYA? Mag­a­zi­nee fo­rum were help­ful, too. I even sent the prob­lem to the mag­a­zine’s Q& A pages and read­ers made some use­ful sug­ges­tions. My cousin Joyce Salak in the United States had also been search­ing un­suc­cess­fully.

I de­cided to check New­lyn East for Kempthornes. I found that there was only one Kempthorne fam­ily in the area that could pos­si­bly be his: that of Mark and El­iz­a­beth (née Tip­pett). How­ever, though they had five sons, none was called John. One was named Thomas and was close to the right age. Af­ter much search­ing, I dis­cov­ered he had em­i­grated to New Zealand and died there.

I checked out Thomas’s other male sib­lings – Charles, Wil­liam Henry, James and Mark. Charles died in 1880 as the re­sult of an ac­ci­dent. Wil­liam Henry em­i­grated to New Zealand and died there in 1917. James em­i­grated to Queens­land, dy­ing there in 1914. The only one who was un­ac­counted for was Mark, for whom I could find no mar­riage or death. In the 1861 census, he was at Phillack as a gen­eral ser­vant. By 1871, he had joined the Royal Marines and was on the Re­sis­tance, off Birken­head. Then the trail goes cold. I had a hunch this was my great grand­fa­ther, but I could find no ev­i­dence to prove it.

Search­ing on­line for Mark Kempthorne, I came across a link to The Na­tional Ar­chives that named him in its Royal Marine col­lec­tion – his full record was avail­able. With both ex­cite­ment and trep­i­da­tion, I or­dered it and waited. Some weeks later, it ar­rived. He had a less-thansalu­bri­ous record with the Marines and dur­ing his 12 years had not ad­vanced be­yond Pri­vate. He’d lost good con­duct medals be­cause of drink­ing bouts while on shore leave, fight­ing and be­ing ab­sent with­out per­mis­sion. He left the Marines in Ply­mouth in 1879 and dis­ap­peared. As Ply­mouth is so close to Stoke­ton Farm, St Ger­mans, Corn­wall, where John ap­peared in 1881, I

John had a less-thansalu­bri­ous record with the Marines over 12 years

bbe­came more sus­pi­ciousii thath theyh were one and the same per­son.

What’s your ‘eureka mo­ment’?

Luck­ily for me, his Royal Marines ser­vice record con­tained his En­list­ment Pa­pers and At­tes­ta­tion Pa­pers, which in­cluded his sig­na­ture. In ad­di­tion, the parish record for John and An­nie’s mar­riage also con­tained John’s sig­na­ture. Com­par­ing his sig­na­tures from his en­list­ment with the mar­riage sig­na­ture, I was amazed by the sim­i­lar­ity. How could I prove that they were the same per­son though?

HowHow did­did it solve the prob­lem?

Joyce in Amer­ica con­tacted Kather­ine Kop­pen­haver of Joppa, Mary­land, a cer­ti­fied foren­sic doc­u­ment ex­am­iner and hand­writ­ing ex­pert and sub­mit­ted the sig­na­tures to her. Her anal­y­sis was quite clear: “There are suf­fi­cient sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween the sig­na­tures to make an iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. There are no sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences.” So, the sig­na­tures were by the same per­son – as she said di­rectly in an email – proof that John Kempthorne was born Mark Kempthorne.

How did you feel when you dis­cov­ered the so­lu­tion?

Elated! I was an­noyed with him for chang­ing his name, but very happy to have found the truth. I rang Joyce to share the good news and we cel­e­brated to­gether across the miles.

Did you dis­cover any­thing else in­ter­est­ing along the way?

We found that Mark had two mi­nor crim­i­nal con­vic­tions. The first in 1863, with his brother Thomas, was for as­sault­ing a po­lice­man in Truro. The se­cond, in 1876 at Southamp­ton, was for smug­gling one-and-ahalf pounds of to­bacco. Nei­ther case in­volved a cus­to­dial sen­tence.

Many of Mark’s fam­ily em­i­grated, and, by the time he left the Marines, both his par­ents were dead and there was lit­tle to draw him bbackk to NNew­lynl EEast. AAs to whyh hhe changedh d his name – we’ll never know the real rea­son. Maybe he wanted to hide his past and start a new life.

Mark’s pa­ter­nal grand­fa­ther was Wil­liam Den­nis, il­le­git­i­mately born, we be­lieve, to Ann Den­nis in St Bre­ward in 1774. When he mar­ried Char­ity Ni­cholls in 1796 he used the name Wil­liam Kempthorne Den­nis and my great great grand­fa­ther, also Mark, was bap­tised Mark Den­nis, alias Kempthorne. He and his de­scen­dants be­gan to use the name Kempthorne. So there are some more rid­dles to solve there, I think.

What would your ad­vice be to other fam­ily his­to­ri­ans who hit an ob­sta­cle on their fam­ily tree?

Never give up! I nearly did so many times, but I’m very glad now that I didn’t. Think lat­er­ally and con­sult those re­sources, both writ­ten and hu­man, that are avail­able. There are many peo­ple in chat rooms who are very knowl­edge­able and help­ful. If your county has On­line Parish Clerks, do use them, they know their sub­ject back to front.

A com­par­i­son of the sig­na­tures of Mark Kempthorne (top) and John Kempthorne sug­gest that it is the same man

John Kempthorne was orig­i­nally born Mark Kempthorne but changed his name

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