My relative James Peace’s first wife Alice Jackson died in 1869 after 31 years of marriage. On 15 Mar 1871 he married again, to a woman named Martha Smith, at High Street Chapel in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, a Methodist New Connexion church. (The New Connexion Methodists split from the Wesleyan Methodists in 1797, believing that Wesleyan ministers had been given too much authority over the laity.)
Normally in this period both the church and civil marriage records would provide the same significant information about the bride and groom, including their marital status and the names and professions of their fathers. I don’t know what the civil record for this marriage looks like as I would have to order it and pay several pounds for it, but this is what the church record looks like:
The marriage of James Peace and Martha Smith, found on Ancestry.com.
I have never seen a more incomplete record of this type, and we learn only that Martha was then living “near Holmfirth.” Of course the surname Smith is also unfortunately very common. So how can we find Martha’s family of origin? Her birth name would be Smith if she had never married before, but we don’t even know whether she was a spinster or a widow in 1871. However using the many resources on Findmypast.com and Ancestry.com this kind of problem can sometimes be solved fairly quickly.
Fulstone from Acre Lane. Photo by Humphrey Bolton.
We do know more about Martha from her appearances in the 1871 and 1881 censuses as the wife of James Peace: Both records say she was born about 1820 in Fulstone, Yorkshire. One very helpful thing about the census of England and Wales beginning in 1851 is that it usually provides a fairly specific place of birth.
Googling it we find that Fulstone is very near Holmfirth mentioned above, and is within the parish of Kirkburton. If Martha had been baptized as an infant the record would likely be in the parish church, Kirkburton All Hallows, or at a nearby Non-Conformist chapel. Since many girls named Martha were baptized within the parish of Kirkburton between 1819 and 1821, this information will not be helpful yet.
We can guess that Martha’s surname may have been Smith for some time, either since she was born or since a first or later marriage. Looking for Martha Smiths born about 1820 in Fulstone in the 1851 and 1861 censuses we find only one, the wife of John Smith, a cordwainer or shoemaker. This couple lives in Fulstone and the eldest child living with them in 1851 is a son George born about 1840, meaning they likely married about 1839.
Looking for John Smiths who married women named Martha in the West Riding of Yorkshire within a couple of years of 1839 we find cordwainer John Smith marrying Martha Whitwham 26 May 1839 at St. John the Baptist, the parish church in Kirkheaton. (Kirkheaton adjoins Kirkburton on its northern edge, and the record says that both John and Martha were then living in the village of Dalton within the parish of Kirkheaton.)
Never having seen the name Whitwham and wondering if this could be a mistake, I turned to A Dictionary of Yorkshire Surnames to find that this is in fact a real name, and that the earliest known bearer was a Richard Whitwham who lived in North Yorkshire in 1412.
This book is well worth the investment if you have Yorkshire ancestors.
Martha was a spinster and a minor at the time of this marriage, and her father was a clothier named George Whitwham. John Smith’s father was listed as John Firth Smith, and this will turn out to be his son’s full name as well.
Looking for Martha Whitwhams baptized around 1820 in the Kirkburton area we find one born 8 Jun and baptized 18 Jun 1821 at Kirkburton All Hallows, parents George and Amelia, father’s occupation clothier, address “Lane End, Fulston[e]”. This birth date makes Martha only 17 at her first marriage, so she would have been a minor as the record indicates. And when we look at the baptism of George Smith, the firstborn of “John Firth and Martha Smith,” we find that his full name is actually George Whitwham Smith, so he was named for Martha’s father.
Looking for the death of a John Firth Smith between the 1861 census and the 1871 marriage of his widow Martha to James Peace, we find him in the National Burial Index available on Findmypast.com. He died age 52 (so born about 1818) and was buried 21 Oct 1870 at Christ Church, New Mill. (New Mill is a village very near Fulstone.) Martha lived until 1891 and is buried at Cumberworth St. Nicholas with her second husband James Peace.
I feel confident that the Martha Whitwham who was born at Fulstone in 1821 was the same person who married both John Firth Smith and James Peace, but I will look for further corroborating evidence.