Who Do You Think You Are?



Share your family story with us and you could appear in the magazine! Please write to us at the address on page 6 or email wdytyaedit­orial@ immediate.co.uk the Chard family, and could trace her husband’s tree back to Emma Moore Barry and William Chard. In 1863, Emma was sentenced to three years’ imprisonme­nt for stealing a pan (it was her second conviction for theft) and she began her sentence in Taunton’s Wilton Gaol. Her son William Charles Chard was born while she was in prison, and his birth was registered in Taunton.

The certificat­e stated that the father was William Chard, but Judy and I were sceptical. Before Emma was arrested, she had been living with a man called Charles Sage. Judy and I believed that he was probably William Charles Chard’s father, even though the birth certificat­e said otherwise and Emma had given her son her married name.

We decided to have our DNA tested, and my 90-year-old mum Stella and Judy’s daughter Caroline also took part. Eureka! The results proved beyond all doubt that William Chard was the father of William Charles. Judy and I were staggered by this. It meant that in 1862 William Chard, who had just been released from prison, married Mary in September and fathered a child with Emma in autumn of that year.

How could he have lived a double life, travelling 27 miles between High Littleton and West Camel when the options for transport were so limited? More astonishin­g details of his life were to emerge.

My Breakthrou­gh

Newspaper records revealed that William had a long history of theft. At various times he stole a silver watch, a waistcoat, a silk tie and headstall chains from the Bath troop of the North Somerset Yeomanry. He even stole money from his father.

However, there may have been mitigating circumstan­ces for some of William’s behaviour. In 1878, he was admitted to the Somerset and Bath Asylum in Wells and the admission notes stated that he had kleptomani­a and epilepsy after being struck by lightning as a child. Such a traumatic event surely had an impact on him.

William Chard was readmitted to the asylum in 1880, and his case notes reveal that he was prone to mania and kept trying to escape. He died there aged 49 of “atrophy of the brain”.

I have sympathy for William because he had a sad life and prison must have been awful, especially given the problems with his mental health. However, it’s good to have some closure on this episode and to have connected with Judy through the help of WDYTYA? Magazine.

Turn to another part of your family tree. This may clear your mind and produce results. Double-check your research when dealing with a common name to confirm that the person in the records is your ancestor. Don’t be afraid to reach out to those with expert knowledge. As well as Nell Darby, a family historian named Pat Jenkins helped Judy and me locate William Chard’s case notes.

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