‘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
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