‘A pri­vate mem­ber tree solved my mys­tery’

Sally Meek’s an­ces­tor Ed­mund Parfitt ‘dis­ap­peared’ from the cen­suses. With­out an­other re­searcher’s help, she would still be faced with a brick wall, says Gail Dixon

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - MY EUREKA MOMENT -

How long have you been do­ing your fam­ily his­tory?

I be­came in­ter­ested in fam­ily his­tory 10 years ago and mapped out a ba­sic tree from my own knowl­edge. Both my par­ents had passed away and sud­denly I re­alised that I knew next to noth­ing about my fam­ily be­yond the names of aun­ties, un­cles and three grand­par­ents. I bought the very first is­sue of WDYTYA?

Mag­a­zi­nee and was in­stantly hooked.

What had you un­cov­ered be­fore hit­ting your brick wall?

Us­ing the in­ter­net and Winch­ester Record Of­fice, I was able to map out my mother’s pa­ter­nal Parfitt line back to Hamp­shire in the 1830s. I fleshed out the tree with aunts and un­cles, in­clud­ing my 3x great un­cle Ed­mund Parfitt, who was born in 1850 in Thrux­ton near An­dover. He was the el­dest of 13 chil­dren born to Henry Parfitt and his wife Emma Smith.

In the 1851 census, Ed­mund was liv­ing with his par­ents in Thrux­ton and by 1861 the fam­ily had moved to Mot­combe in Dorset. How­ever, from 1861, I couldn’t find any men­tion of Ed­mund un­til the 1891 census. This recorded him as liv­ing at 7 Brom­field Street, Cardiff, with his wife Sylvia E, born in Torquay in 1862, and work­ing as a labourer in the ship­yard.

In 1901, Ed­mund ap­peared to be lodg­ing with the Davis fam­ily at Zeals in Wilt­shire but there was no sign of Sylvia. Fi­nally, in 1911, they were back to­gether and liv­ing in An­dover. Sylvia was recorded as Sylvia Emma and her birth­place was given as Ply­mouth. They had been mar­ried for 26 years.

What was stop­ping you pro­gress­ing your re­search?

I couldn’t find the mar­riage record or an en­try in the 1871 and 1881 census re­turns for Ed­mund. It was as though he’d dis­ap­peared.

How had you pre­vi­ously tried to solve the prob­lem?

As this was among my ear­li­est re­search, I hadn’t looked at it for sev­eral years. I’d cre­ated a book of our ge­neal­ogy for my brother and con­cen­trated on my grand­fa­ther and great grand­fa­ther’s ser­vice records in the world wars. I’d looked for a mar­riage be­tween Ed­mund and Sylvia Emma, dis­re­gard­ing their sur­names, and searched the 1871 and 1881 census records, us­ing com­bi­na­tions of Ed­mund’s name, year of birth and place of birth. Wild­card searches on ances­try.co.uk and find­my­past.co.uk re­vealed ab­so­lutely noth­ing.

What’s your ‘eureka mo­ment’?

This year I was con­tacted by a per­son who was com­pil­ing mag­a­zine ar­ti­cles about the sol­diers listed on the war me­mo­rial in An­dover for the First World War. My great grand­fa­ther Fran­cis Ed­ward Parfitt and Ed­mund’s youngest brother Harry were on there. In con­tribut­ing to their bi­ogra­phies, I re­vis­ited my Parfitt fam­ily.

Ed­mund is one of the lines I hadn’t com­pleted and I hate be­ing beaten. I de­cided to try re­search­ing from his wife’s an­gle. The census records gave me her name, Sylvia Emma, her year of birth as 1862, and two pos­si­bil­i­ties for her birth­place, Torquay and Ply­mouth. I put th­ese de­tails into Ances­try.

I bought the first is­sue of WDYTYA?

Mag­a­zine and was in­stantly hooked

Up came Sylvia El­iz­a­beth Rees, born 1862, and reg­is­tered in Stoke Damerel, Ply­mouth.

I then put Sylvia E Rees, 1862, into Ances­try and up came a pri­vate mem­ber’s fam­ily tree with Sylvia Emma Rees and Wil­liam Ed­ward Parfitt in 1884. I con­tacted the tree owner and she was happy to share her in­for­ma­tion with me.

How did it solve the prob­lem?

Af­ter this one lit­tle break­through ev­ery­thing be­gan to fall into place. The mar­riage cer­tifi­cate read “20th July, 1884, Wil­liam Ed­ward Parfitt, 28 years, bach­e­lor, Gun­ner Royal Ar­tillery, of Gun­wharf Bar­racks.”

His father was listed as Henry Parfitt (eureka!) and the bride was Sylvia Emma Rees, aged 24 years. I checked

freebmd.org for a birth record for Wil­liam Ed­ward Parfitt but couldn’t find one. Could this be my Ed­mund Parfitt?

The tree owner also gave me in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing the 1871 and 1881 census records. In 1871, a Pri­vate Wil­liam Parfitt of the Scot­tish Fusiliers Foot Guard was sta­tioned at Farn­bor­ough, Hamp­shire.

In 1881, Wil­liam Ed­mund Parfitt was sta­tioned at the Royal Ar­tillery Bar­racks in Wool­wich, Lon­don. The line was com­plete – or so I thought.

On recheck­ing my re­search I re­alised that the Wil­liam in 1871 was not the same man as the Wil­liam Ed­mund Parfitt in 1881.

I had made the mis­take of as­sum­ing that, be­cause it fit­ted the story, it was cor­rect. How­ever, all was not doom and gloom. I man­aged to find Ed­mund on the 1871 census recorded as Ed­ward and liv­ing with his grand­mother.

The mar­riage cer­tifi­cate and the ser­vice records of Wil­liam Ed­mund both list his father as Henry and Henry’s ad­dress as An­dover, Hamp­shire. Ed­mund was liv­ing with Sylvia Emma in 1891 and 1911. So de­spite the dif­fer­ent name, I am sure that the Wil­liam Ed­ward/Ed­mund Parfitt who served in the Royal Ar­tillery was my 3x great un­cle Ed­mund.

How did you feel when you dis­cov­ered the so­lu­tion?

I felt im­mensely sat­is­fied, but, of course, it posed yet more ques­tions. Why did he change his name? Was he an ex-con­vict? Had he al­ready joined up and gone awol? Was he run­ning away from a mar­riage? It re­mains a mys­tery and I wish that I could speak to my an­ces­tors and ask them ques­tions. What tales they would tell.

Did you dis­cover any­thing else in­ter­est­ing on the way?

My great great grand­fa­ther Al­fred Parfitt (Ed­mund’s brother) was a let­ter car­rier for the postal ser­vice. In 1879, he was con­victed of lar­ceny and sen­tenced to five years of pe­nal servi­tude. While in Pen­tonville prison he was found to have a tu­mour on his wrist, which was re­moved in hos­pi­tal.

How­ever, he had to have his hand am­pu­tated later at Mill­bank Prison. His wrist was in­jured when he was a child (it may have been bro­ken and never set). Af­ter the op­er­a­tion, Al­fred lost a lot of weight. He pe­ti­tioned for early re­lease and was suc­cess­ful, leav­ing prison in 1881. Al­fred lived to the age of 87, pass­ing away in 1942.

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

Think out­side the box. I started with Ed­mund and Sylvia Emma, but had to search through Ed­ward, Wil­liam Ed­mund, Wil­liam Ed­ward and Sylvia El­iz­a­beth be­fore I solved the mys­tery.

Play around with the in­for­ma­tion that you have and use the wild card search. Many mis­takes have been made by enu­mer­a­tors and tran­scribers that ‘ hide’ de­tail, so try some al­ter­na­tive spellings.

The 1911 census en­try for Ed­mund Parfitt and his wife Sylvia Emma Parfitt in An­dover, Hamp­shire

Ed­mund Parfitt, pic­tured cen­tre, in An­dover

Who Do You Think You Are?

Wil­liam Ed­mund Parfitt’s at­tes­ta­tion shows that he served with the Royal Ar­tillery

A mugshot of Al­fred Parfitt who served five years in prison for com­mit­ting lar­ceny

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