What happened to my Sussex ancestor?
QMy ancestor Jane B (possibly Betsy) Parks was born around 1874 to John Parks and Amelia (née Wood) in Lewes, Sussex. I can’t find Jane’s baptism, although her sister, also Amelia, was baptised on 24 January 1869 at St John the Baptist, Lewes. In 1881, Jane’s with her mother and four siblings, her father having died. By 1891, her mother was remarried, to William Newman, and only the youngest child is with them.
I think I’ve found Jane B in the 1891 census – as Elizabeth Jane, an ‘inmate’ in a Home for Female Penitents in Brighton. What happened to her? Angela Bunyan, by email
ALet’s re-examine the facts to see what leads they provide. The 1881 census is your main source of evidence. This shows her aged seven, living in South Street, Cliffe, Lewes, with her widowed mother Amelia Parks and three siblings: Amelia 11; John, nine; and James, five.
The databases available to Sussex Family History Group (SFHG) members show the baptism of Jane’s older brother John at St Thomas, Cliffe, in 1872; and younger brother James Edward at South Malling in 1876. So it’s likely that Jane, born around 1874, was baptised at one of these two churches. The SFHG indexes reveal the baptism on 7 June 1874 at South Malling of a daughter of John and Amelia Parks named ‘Sarah Betsy’. The year of birth and second forename agree with the census information, as do the parents’ names. The General Register Office (GRO;
gro.gov.uk) indexes show a birth registration in the same name in the second quarter of 1874 with the mother’s maiden surname of Wood. So it appears the enumerator of the 1881 Lewes census mistakenly recorded Sarah Betsy as ‘Jane B’.
Sarah (as I will call her from now on) lost her father in 1876 when he was 34. He was buried in the churchyard at South Malling, just north of Lewes. This sad event was followed just a few weeks later by the baptism of her younger brother James at the same church.
Her mother Amelia would have struggled to support four young children over the next five years, working as a charwoman at the time of the 1881 census. Later that year, everything changed when she remarried, to William Newnham. Sarah would have been 17 in 1891, but was no longer living with her mother. Her older sister Amelia had found work as a domestic servant in the Sussex seaside town of Seaford, later marrying George Finch in 1893.
A search of the databases available on Ancestry, Findmypast, TheGenealogist and FamilySearch failed to reveal anything about Sarah after 1881. William and Amelia Newnham were recorded in the 1901 and 1911 census for South Malling, but Sarah/ Jane was not living with them. There is no marriage or death recorded for her up to 1910.
The Elizabeth Jane Parks you found in the 1891 census at St Mary’s home for neglected girls in Brighton is a possibility, as she was born in Lewes c1874. There is no alternative birth, marriage or death for someone of this name registered up to 1910, so she can’t easily be eliminated from your enquiries.
What became of Sarah (or Jane) Betsy Parks remains a mystery. I recommend joining the SFHG ( sfhg.org.uk) to benefit from its journal, advice and online databases. Perhaps one of its members has researched this family and can point you in the right direction.
Amelia Parks, whose daughter Sarah was mis-recorded on the 1881 census
Research suggests ‘Jane B’ Parks (line 6) on the 1881 census should have read ‘Sarah’ Parks