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When is a Wilthew not a Wilthew? (1: Anthony Charlton Wilthew)

October 31, 2012

Having mined all the English, Welsh and Scottish BMD registers, and the census from the United Kingdom and the United States for Wilthews, there are a number of individual entries who don’t seem to match up with any other records. Some of these disappear for a variety of reasons… migration, marriage leading to a change of name, mis-transcription in the indexes. But others it isn’t so clear. Why did Neville Wilthew Wilthew have his own surname as a middle name, and why doesn’t this name appear in the birth indexes? Is the William H(or J) Wilthew found in Australian registers (and newspaper reports in New Zealand) from the United Kingdom, and if so, which of those who disappear after the 1851 census is he? And I have already mentioned my initial confusion with Spanish/Mexican naming conventions.

I was recently contacted about an Anthony Charlton Bell, which prompted me to catch up with recording some of my research on my public tree on Ancestry which I have failed to do since becoming a father a few months ago. Anthony Charlton Bell I had initially found in the 1841 census, listed as Anthony C Wilthew with his parents John Shaftoe Wilthew and mother Susanna Wilthew, and his brothers and sisters.

1841 census return: Anthony C Wilthew

Class: HO107; Piece: 302; Book: 13; Civil Parish: Whickham; County: Durham; Enumeration District: 5; Folio: 18; Page: 30; Line: 17; GSU roll: 241349.

Having identified this Anthony Charlton Wilthew in 1841, and knowing he was born prior to the start of civil registration in 1837, I also failed to identify him in any subsequent census, or any marriage or death index. Had his death not been registered? Had he emigrated, died at sea or overseas?

As it happened, no. Additionally, having approached his history from a starting point of recording him as a ‘Wilthew’ gave me the information needed to find and confirm future events in his life which had proved much more difficult trying to search for him as ‘Anthony Charlton Bell’, which obviously those chasing their ‘Bell’ ancestors would be doing.

Having investigated this family, I had identified the fact that both Anthony Charlton Wilthew and Barbara Wilthew were in fact not the children of John Shaftoe Wilthew and Susannah Charlton, but in fact the children of Susannah’s previous marriage to a William Bell, a sail-maker, as reported in the Newcastle Courant on the 17th December 1831.

“On the 11th inst. at Whickham, Mr. John Wilthew of Dunston, to Mrs. Susannah Bell, widow of Mr William Bell, of this town, sail-maker”

Knowing this, I was able to identify Anthony Charlton Bell‘s birth in the Bishop’s Transcripts – matching the information from the newspaper article I had identified.

August 3rd 1828 Anthony Charlton Bell baptism

August 3rd 1828 Anthony Charlton Bell baptism ( > Durham Bishop’s Transcripts > Northumberland > Newcastle All Saints > 1823-1830 > Image 501 of 713)

Obviously, if having found this record from the point of view of looking for an Anthony Charlton Bell and not knowing the Wilthew connection, he was thus invisible in the 1841 census, as were his parents and any brothers or sisters identified. Coming from the Wilthew direction, this was so much simpler. A useful lesson learned, and a reminder how much luck can play when searching handwritten copies of records originally taken down from oral data.

Knowing therefore he could appear under two possible names in subsequent records, and having been unable to identify him under the name ‘Wilthew’ I decided to track him down in any case (even though he wasn’t technically a ‘Wilthew’ and may simply have been recorded as such in 1841 in error, rather than actually having assumed his stepfather’s surname).

In the 1851 census he is easily locateable under the name Anthony Charlton Bell – which of course was how he had been found by the researcher who contacted me. Of course, if I had not discovered the newspaper report from 1831, this entry would likely have been invisible to me as I had no other connection to the surname ‘Bell’. In the 1851 census, I have an Anthony Charlton Bell (born c. 1829 in Newcastle, employed as an Anchor Smith) living with a wife Betsey (assume Elizabeth, born c.1829 in Winlaton) and two children, William (c.1849, Swalwell) and Anthony E (c.1850, Sunderland) at 9 Hill Field.

1851 census Anthony Charlton Wilthew

Class: HO107; Piece: 2395; Folio: 455; Page: 35; GSU roll: 87073.

So, from this I know he married sometime between 1841 and 1851… and going by his age and the age of his children, most likely between 1846 and 1849. I also know he had not taken on his step-father’s name – or perhaps had not gotten on with his step father and had since re-adopted his own father’s surname.

At this point, it is also worth noting that Anthony Charlton’s biological sister, Barbara Bell, had adopted her step-fathers surname… and kept using it. I am very confident that the Barbara Wilthew who married a George Forster in 1847 is the same person. I say this having failed to identify any other possible Barbara Wilthew in the parish records or bishops transcripts, in the 1841 census… and having then compared the ages, places of birth etc of Barbara in the census of 1851 and later. So, had there been a falling out between step-father and step-son?

Looking for the marriage, being able to explore the research of another researcher on ancestry proved decisive – as there was no ‘Anthony Charlton Bell’ listed, and several under the name ‘Anthony Bell’. ‘Makem948’ had already identified several of Anthony and Betsey’s children, and had posted the details from their birth certificates identifying the mother as ‘Elizabeth Parker’ (and confirming the father by occupation and name). Searching for an Elizabeth Parker identified a marriage on 28th October 1848 to an Anthony Charlton… who’s father was a deceased William Charlton, a sail-maker (I’d already identified Anthony Charlton Bell‘s father as a William Bell, a sail-maker). Obviously the name isn’t quite correct, but could be down to error, but there is other evidence making the link more likely:

  • In the certificate detail posted by Makem948, one of the witnesses is a Barbara Forster – Anthony’s sister?
  • Anthony and Elizabeth’s first daughter was named Susanna – named after his mother?
  • The age (a minor – in 1848 he would still have been below the age of 21), occupation (Black-smith) matching the 1851 census and children’s birth certificates, and location (Newcastle upon Tyne).

‘Makem948’ and others however had been unable to locate Anthony Charlton Bell in the 1861 census, nor identify when he died (there are various deaths listed for Anthony Bell – but which one? Several people seem to have linked him to an 1856 death… but this ignores the birth of children in which he is listed as the father in 1858 and 1864). His wife and children do appear in the 1861 census, in Thornaby, North Yorkshire… and Elizabeth is not listed as a widow (the census is clearly the same family when comparing the children’s names and ages, and Elizabeth’s age and place of birth with other records… and the fact that their last two children were born in Stockton and Thornaby respectively according to the birth certificates).

Where was Anthony in 1861, two years after his step-father been hanged after murdering his mother? And why did he not seem to appear in the civil registration index of deaths?

Well, as it happens I have also been unable to identify him in the 1861 census. Perhaps he simply was not recorded? Or perhaps he was recorded under another name. However, having been unable to identify him in the death indexes I tried other sources… starting with newspapers.

I’d love to say I used a complex combination of keywords, exploring possible names, proximity connectors and truncation tools to pick out alternative spellings or ways the name could be written… but actually, my first search for the phrase “Anthony Charlton Bell” was enough (I used Gale Cengage’s newspaper archive, but the same articles can be found via the British Library’s ‘The British Newspaper Archive” site – and in fact there are a few I have identified on there which I have not yet looked at which look like a possible arrest in 1863)

How much the murder of his mother impacted on Anthony Charlton Bell’s life and might explain his absence in 1861, and the events recorded in the newspaper articles of 1865 is unclear, but from two articles I found it is clear his relationship with his wife,Elizabeth Parker, had broken down following the birth of their son Mark in 1864, if not before.

  • Newcastle Courant, September 29th 1865, Issue 9952
  • Dundee Courier & Argus, Thurs September 28th 1865, Issue 3787

The two articles report the findings of a coroner’s inquest – into the suicide of Anthony Charlton Bell on Tuesday 26th September 1865 in the Emery buildings (or Emery Court), Silver Street, Newcastle upon Tyne (this isn’t the Silver Street in current existence, but a Silver Street which used to run next to All Saint’s Churchyard down to the Quayside).

Silver Street in the late nineteenth century

Silver Street in the late nineteenth century (from Newcastle City Libraries “Tyneside Life and Times” collection.

They describe him as a labourer (an iron cleaner in Elswick) aged 36, married with 6 children who had previously been living in Middlesborough – all of which matches the information found in the birth certificates discussed above. However, at the time of his death he was living with an Eliza Waters and had deserted his wife several months earlier…

“[having] disagreed with his wife on consequence of her drunkenness”

Eliza was also married, but her husband had abandoned her some 6 years earlier it seems, and left for India. It appears that, having deserted his wife, Anthony was twice picked up by the authorities and sent back to his family … but he had again returned to Newcastle.

Then, on the Monday night, some hours before he took his life, his wife turned up on his doorstep intoxicated (and we can infer looking for a confrontation) with two of their children. Having had to take the children, and then having to put Elizabeth Bell to sleep in their small upstairs flat, Anthony had commented that “if she annoyed him any more he would do away with himself”. Later that night, in what was recorded by the coroner as during a “fit of temporary insanity” Anthony followed through with his promise, and hanged himself in the building he was living with his new partner.

“The first intimation of the deceased having committed suicide had been made to her [Eliza Waters] on Tuesday morning, when she sent one of the deceased’s sons, a little boy, upstairs to the attic to see where his father was. The child screaming, ran down stairs, and brought a police officer, by whom he was cut down.”

A tragic death, of a man not much older than myself who had only a few years earlier had his mother murdered by the step-father he seems to have already disliked (and indeed, a step-father who was reported to be known for his drunkenness, the same reason Anthony had also allegedly left his wife for). It also further identifies the reach of the shadow John Shaftoe Wilthew left on his family and step-family.

With the precise date of his death confirmed, it proved much easier to identify a likely record for his death in the death indexes… registered under then name ‘Anthony Charles Bell’ (Jul-Sep 1865, Newcastle, North’d, 10b, 39), the certificate from which may shed some further details, such as who registered the death, for his descendants.

So, my original identification of an Anthony Charlton Wilthew turned out to not be a Wilthew at all, but did following my further investigations help rule him out from my one-name study (in terms of any continuing search for records under the name Wilthew which did not exist) and help identify him of ‘Bell’ researchers who did not have the information I had been able to uncover coming from the problem from a different direction.

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