#1 What Happened to Hannah?

This is the first of a series of pages outlining my family history brick-walls; mysteries involving my direct ancestors which have resisted resolution for many years, in most cases for 35 years or more. I don’t really expect these posts to be of much, if any, interest to anyone but myself, but they do have a purpose: preparing them will force me to re-examine every facet of the problems. It is so easy to forget exactly where one has, and where one hasn’t, looked. It is so easy to forget what assumptions were made. It is so easy to miss the obvious. I’m hoping that examining all the records, old and new, in detail, and familiarising myself once again with all the characters and issues involved, will lead to new insights, and might even knock a few bricks out of those brick-walls.

The first mystery is of a type very common to family historians – a relative who disappears without trace as if they’d been kidnapped by aliens. The person in question here is Hannah BROWN née JORDAN, my great-great-great grandmother, and the mystery is what happened to her after her husband, Thomas BROWN, died on September 13th 1843?

The Principal Characters.

Hannah JORDAN was born at Townfield near Hunstanworth and was baptised at St James’ Church in the village on Christmas day 1819. She was the fourth of nine children born to farmer, Joseph JORDAN, and his wife Ann née BELL, though only five of the children survived their childhood.

Joseph and Ann had married at St Mary’s Parish Church, Blanchland on June 8th 1809 and set up home near Hunstanworth where Joseph worked as a lead miner, almost certainly at the Nookton Mine. Their early residences included Ellers Hill and Smithy Cleugh which were close to the mine, but by 1819, when Hannah was baptised, we find the family had moved 2 miles or so to the hamlet of Townfield, and Joseph was describing himself as a “Farmer”.

By 1826 Joseph, had become a “Carrier”. At that time the family was still living at Townfield, but by 1833 they’d moved four miles south to Brandon Walls in the village of Rookhope. There, in 1837, Joseph’s wife Ann died at the age of only 56. So by the end of the 1830s we find widower Joseph, a carrier, living at Brandon Walls, Rookhope. All five of his surviving children, John, Sarah, Hannah, Mary and Ann, were unmarried at this time, though the eldest three were to marry in the next few years. It is not known how many of them were still living at home, but it is likely that the girls would be “in service” with nearby families. So the scene was set for Hannah to meet her future husband.

Thomas BROWN was born Thomas PEARS, the illegitimate son of Jane PEARS of Greendikes, Allendale. When Jane found herself pregnant, she took the man responsible, Thomas BROWN (senior) of Rookhope, to court at the earliest opportunity, the 1817 Midsummer Quarter Sessions at Hexham Court House. On July 17th 1817 the court issued a Bastardy Order against Thomas (snr) with recognizances of £120 (£60 from Thomas (snr), £60 from his father), the equivalent of £80,000 today. Under the order Thomas (snr) had to return to the court in a year’s time “to answer Jane Pears on a charge of Bastardy”. If Thomas (snr) failed to turn up the £120 would be forfeit, if he did turn up he would be ordered to maintain the child. The year’s delay ensured that the child was born alive, and it also gave the father time to do the one thing which would allow him to avoid having to pay anything at all – he could marry the child’s mother.

The child was duly born and was baptised at Stanhope Parish Church as Thomas PEARS, illegitimate son of Jane PEARS, on October 25th 1817. On July 11th 1818, with just days to go before the July 17th deadline, Thomas BROWN (snr) married Jane PEARS at Allendale Parish Church. On their marriage, their illegitimate son, Thomas, became known as Thomas BROWN, and, despite its inauspicious start, the marriage was to last more than 50 years and produce another seven children, Jane, Esther, James, Mary, John, Joseph and Matthew.

After living in several properties around Rookhope village, Boltsburn and Lintzgarth, by the end of the 1840s the BROWN family was living at Broaddale House on the fells above Rookhope, with all the children except Thomas, the eldest, still living at home. Thomas, was living at Boltsburn, possibly in a house partly owned by his father, Thomas (snr), as explained below.

Marriage of Thomas and Hannah.

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(Click to enlarge – click enlargement for full size. Use the ‘Back” button to return here.)

Thomas and Hannah married at the parish church of St Thomas, Stanhope, Co Durham on Wednesday April 15th 1840. Both were described as being “Of full age” – ie 21 or over – and both gave their residences as “Boltsburn”, an area of the village of Rookhope, Co Durham. Thomas described himself as a “Miner”, presumably a lead-ore miner at the nearby Boltsburn Mine.

Thomas signed his own name, but Hannah could only put her mark. The witnesses, Hall MADDISON and Ann WAGGOT lived at Stanhope rather than Rookhope, and, as far as can be ascertained, they were not family members. They may well just be church officials or employees who acted as witnesses because Thomas and Hannah hadn’t provided any witnesses themselves. This was quite a common occurrence in the nineteenth century.

1841 Census.

1841 Census – Class HO107 Piece 308 Book 15 Folio 7 Page 9

Boltsburn Jennings Forster 30 Grocer Y
Elizabeth 40 Y
John 15 Y
Robert 14 Y
Elizabeth 9 Y
Jane 3 Y
Mary 2 Y
Jennings 1m Y
do Thomas Brown 25 Lead Miner Y
Hannah 20 Y
do William Golightly 55 Lead Miner Y
Isabella 55 Y
James Brown 45 Lead Miner Y
William Watson 55 do Y

(Columns headed M and F give the ages of males and females, but adult ages are rounded down to a multiple of 5 years. Column BN is Y for Yes and N for No in answer to the question “Whether Born in same County” – the this case Co Durham. “do” is the abbreviation used for “ditto” – i.e. same as above.)

On June 6th 1841, just over a year after their marriage, we find Thomas and Hannah listed on the 1841 census returns. Their residence is given as “Boltsburn” and Thomas’s occupation is “Lead Miner”. No problems there, but there is a discrepancy in the age column for Thomas. The instructions for this census required adult (15 and over) ages to be rounded down to the next multiple of 5, so those aged 15-19 should put 15, those 20-24 should put 20, those 25-29 should put 25 and so on. Children’s ages were to be given exactly.

On census day Hannah was 22 or 23 years of age, so her age is correctly shown on the census return as 20. Thomas was definitely 23 years old, so his age too should be shown as 20, but it’s not, it’s given as 25! This sort of discrepancy is quite common; apparently men often added a year or two to their own age on the census, or reduced their wife’s age, because men liked to be thought of as older than their wives, rather than the same age or, even worse, younger.

The sequence of entries on a census generally reflects the sequence of houses visited by the census enumerator, so adjacent households on the census are usually, but not always, next-door neighbours. So Thomas and Hannah probably had grocer, Jennings FORSTER, and family living on one side – perhaps his shop was part of his house – and on the other side was lead miner, William GOLIGHTLY and his wife together with two other men, presumably lodgers, both of whom were lead miners. One of these men was a James BROWN with a recorded age of 45 years, which, on the 1841 census, meant 45-49 years. This was probably Thomas’s uncle James, who was then 48 years of age and unmarried.

When Thomas BROWN (snr) died in 1872 he left considerable property to his family, including an “equal half part or share in all those three Dwelling Houses situate at Boltsburn”. I don’t know when Thomas (snr) acquired them, but the fact that there were BROWN family members in adjacent houses at Boltsburn in 1841 might suggest that these were two of the three houses in question, and they were already in the possession of the BROWN family.

Birth of their Daughter, Jane Ann.

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(Click to enlarge – click enlargement for full size. Use the ‘Back” button to return here.)

The next record to feature our two subjects is for the birth of their daughter, Jane Ann. This seems very straightforward. Her birth certificate gives the date and place of birth as “Fourteenth of July 1842 at Boltsburn Parish of Stanhope”, her name as “Jane Ann”, her father as “Thomas Brown” “Miner”, her mother as “Hannah Brown formerly Jordan”, the person who registered the birth was “Thomas Brown Father Boltsburn” and the registration of the birth was on “Twenty first August 1842″ by “John Benson Registrar”. The only point of note is that, somewhat unusually, the father registered the birth rather than the mother.

Baptism of Jane Ann.

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I don’t yet have a facsimile of Jane Ann’s baptismal record, but above is a copy provided in 1971 by the then Rector of Stanhope. It shows that Jane Ann, daughter of Thomas, a miner, and Hannah BROWN of Boltsburn, was baptised at Stanhope, St Thomas the Apostle on October 16th 1842. The child would then be 3 months of age. Nothing unexpected here, but, as we’ll see, this record turns out to be the latest record found which mentions Hannah.

Death of Thomas.


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When Jane Ann was 1 year old, her father died of Scrofulous Abscess with Bronchitis. Scrofulous Abscess is characterised by a large painless swelling at the side of the neck near the angle of the jaw, and in earlier centuries it was better known as “The King’s Evil” because it was then commonly believed that a king’s touch could provide a cure. It is now known that in the vast majority of cases in adults, the condition is Tuberculous Cervical Lymphadenitis which is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis infecting lymph nodes in the neck, and it commonly accompanies Pulmonary Tuberculosis, better known as Tuberculosis of the Lung, or Consumption. In view of this, the secondary cause of death, which was recorded as Bronchitis, was probably a misdiagnosis of consumption.

The person who registered the death was James Brown of Boltsburn who was “in attendance” when Thomas died. Presumably this was Thomas’s next-door neighbour who was almost certainly also his uncle.

Burial of Thomas.

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I don’t yet have a photographic copy of Thomas’s burial record, but the above transcript of the burial register of St Thomas the Apostle, Stanhope for the period 1813 to 1854, which I made at Stanhope Rectory in 1971, adds little to what we already know. It shows that Thomas BROWN of Rookhope, aged 26 years, was buried at that church on September 15th 1843. This was only two days after he died, very quick by today’s standards, but not at all uncommon in the 19th century.

Where was Hannah?

So what became of Hannah and the child. Well that’s the problem. As far as Hannah is concerned I simply don’t know because, as far as I can see, she doesn’t appear in any later census, she doesn’t appear in death records, and she doesn’t appear in later marriage records. Even after some quite painstaking searches I couldn’t find Hannah anywhere. After the mention on the record of Jane Ann’s baptism on October 16th 1842, Hannah just vanishes from the public record.

What about her daughter, Jane Ann? She appears in many records. It seems she was raised by her grandparents, Thomas (snr) and Jane BROWN, at Broaddale House and she appears there in the 1851 and 1861 censuses. She also features as a witness on her uncle John’s marriage record, on the birth and baptism records of her three children, on her own marriage record, and on her own death and burial records when she died tragically young of smallpox at Leadgate near Consett in 1870. No shortage of records of Hannah’s daughter, but of Hannah herself, not a single one.

So where should she have appeared? We’d expect to see widow Hannah BROWN on the 1851 and later censuses – unless, of course, she’d died or remarried. All three possibilities could be consistent with the fact that her child was raised by her parents-in-law, as parents did sometimes take on grandchildren who’d been orphaned, or who’d lost one parent so the surviving parent could make a fresh start with a new partner, or so he or she could more easily earn a living.

That’s the conclusion I’d reached in 1971 and I set about searching for those events. Back then the only available censuses were those of 1841, 51 and 61 and accessing them entailed a visit to the Public Record Office premises in Portugal Street, Holborn in London. Moreover, there were no name indexes, so searching an area for specific people was extremely time-consuming. Similarly accessing the death and marriage records entailed a visit to St Catherine’s House, also in London, and an exhausting trawl through numerous very large and very heavy index books, each covering only a Quarter (3 months).

I spent many hours in both repositories and satisfied myself that our Hannah BROWN was not on the census, nor was she listed in the death or marriage registers, but, and here’s the rub, I did not make a note of exactly what I’d searched or what criteria I’d employed. Did I search the 1851 and 1861 censuses, or just the 1851? Did I just look for deaths and marriages in the Weardale Registration District – where Rookhope events would be registered – or did I cover a wider area? What specific criteria was I using to distinguish “our” Hannah from others? I do not know the answers to any of these questions.

Now searches in censuses and in death or marriage indexes can be done very quickly online at several websites, so repeating my earlier research will be very much easier than first time around. Of course, this time I won’t make the same mistakes as before. This time I will ensure that all the parameters employed are carefully chosen and meticulously recorded.

The Search Criteria – Who?

Of course it is necessary to decide on a number of search parameters. We’ve established that we will look for a possible remarriage or death, but who do we search for? What periods do we conducts our searches over. What areas do we search? Obviously we search for “Hannah BROWN”, but let us also search for “Hannah JORDAN” just in case she reverted to her maiden name on Thomas’s death. The spelling of “BROWN” is usually quite consistent, but we’ll need to be very careful with “JORDAN” as this appears in numerous guises such as “JOURDAN”, “JORDON” or “JORDAIN”, to name but three of the variants.

Rather than search for each variant separately, it is possible in some search environments to use “wildcards” to represent variable letters. Without going into detail, the search string “J*RD*N” can often be used to represent “JORDAN”, all the variants listed above, and many more.

The Search Criteria – When?

If Hannah wasn’t on the 1851 census as Hannah BROWN or Hannah JORDAN, that implies that she’d died or remarried before March 30th 1851 when that census was taken. So perhaps our searches should extend up to March 29th 1851 – that was what I did when I first looked for Hannah in the 1970s. However, this time, just to be on the safe side, in case Hannah’s 1851 census entry was omitted, misfiled, misindexed or destroyed, let us extend our searches forwards to the 1861 census (taken on Apr 7th 1861) as the chances of anyone existing but not appearing in two successive censuses are rather small. So let us terminate our searches at April 6th 1861, the day before the 1861 census.

What dates do we search from? Hannah could have remarried at any time after her husband’s death on September 13th 1843. Obviously there would have to be a delay for Banns to be read or a Licence obtained, and probably an even longer wait for the sake of appearances, but let’s not worry about the niceties and plump for the day after Thomas’s death, September 14th 1843. It really couldn’t have been that early, but this way we’ll be sure to catch any possible remarriage.

When I first did these searches, I looked for a possible death of Hannah from the same date as for a remarriage, September 14th, 1843, but I now realise that this was not right. We don’t actually know that Hannah was alive after her daughter’s birth on July 14th 1842, she may have even died at the birth. True, Hannah appears on her daughter’s birth record which was created on July 21st 1842 and on her daughter’s baptism record created October 16th 1842, but they both merely confirm that Hannah was the child’s mother, not that she was alive when those records were created. So the period to search for the possible death would have to begin on July 14th 1842, the last day we actually know Hannah was alive.

So the periods to search should be September 14th 1843 to April 6th 1861 for a possible remarriage, and July 14th 1842 to April 6th 1861 for a possible death. We cannot actually be that precise as the indexes cover 3 month periods – ie Quarter 1 (Q1) or March Quarter, covering January, February and March; Quarter 2 (Q2) or June Quarter, covering April, May and June; Quarter 3 (Q3) or September Quarter, covering July, August and September; and Quarter 4 (Q4) or December Quarter, covering October, November and December. So the nearest we can specify which includes our chosen periods is Q3 1843 to Q2 1861 for a remarriage, and Q3 1842 to Q2 1861 for a death.

The Search Criteria – Where?

What about the area to search? This is more difficult, as technically she could have gone anywhere in the country or the island, or even the world. But where would a widowed lady with a baby be likely to go. Probably with or near family, but where were they? Hannah had lived in Rookhope for 10 or more years, and in Hunstanworth before that, but, as far as I can ascertain, when her husband died she had no family remaining in either place. Hannah’s father seems to have died by 1841, and of Hannah’s four surviving siblings, the eldest, John, was married (to Mary Young) and living at Brancepeth, and the next eldest, Sarah, was married (to John Waugh) and living at Slaley in Northumberland. The younger siblings, teenagers Mary and Ann, seem to have been in service at Crawleyside and Plawsworth respectively. Hannah’s husband’s siblings were all in the immediately vicinity of Rookhope, as were her parents in law.

So the places to look for records of Hannah would have to include Rookhope, Slaley and Brancepeth at least. Of course, she may have found work herself anywhere, so we cannot restrict the searches to those places, but we have to be practical and apply some limits. The marriage, death and census records were arranged by the Registration District in which the event occurred  or in which the person resided. Rookhope was in the Weardale Registration District, so I arbitrarily decided to search Weardale Registration District and all the adjacent Registration Districts, namely the Hexham, Alston, Teesdale, Auckland and Durham Districts. This includes Brancepeth and Slaley and almost all places within a 25 mile (40 km) radius of Rookhope.

The Searches.

The three searches will be described in detail on separate pages. On each the possible candidates are listed together with the reason to eliminate (or not) that candidate and the source of the evidence.

The first search is of the 1851 and 1861 Censuses to see if there are any possible candidates to be our missing Hannah BROWN née JORDAN:

Is Hannah on the 1851 or 1861 Census?

Next we look at each of the marriage index entries to see if any of them could relate to the re-marriage of Hannah:

Did Hannah Remarry?

 And finally we look at the death index entries to see if any could be Hannah:

Did Hannah Die?

These investigations have produced two possible candidates who could be Hannah BROWN née JORDAN, one who appears on the 1851 and 1861 censuses and one who died at Shotley Bridge in 1858. Both are the right age and neither can be completely eliminated as candidates, though both have their problems.

The first appears on the 1851 and 1861 censuses with her illegitimate son, Robert, who was born around 1850. She gives her birthplace as “Stanhope” which is the parish our Hannah was raised in. On each census Hannah describes herself as “unmarried”, whereas, if she was really our Hannah, she would have been a widow. She could have lied, of course, but why should she? After all, a widow with a child appears far more respectable than a single woman with child. Surely she wouldn’t tell a lie which stigmatises herself. Of course we cannot be sure – so we must regard this lady as a possibility.

The second candidate was the lady who died at Shotley Bridge (Benfieldside) in 1858 while in the service of John NICHOLSON, a former lead mine owner, and his wife, Hannah, who was born in Weardale. The problem here is that this lady lived until 1858 so should be recorded on the 1851 census, and the only possible match there is  a lady who was employed at Framwellgate by the WILLIAMS family – and she’d been with the same employer in 1841 and could not, therefore, be our Hannah.  Again we cannot be sure the 1858 housekeeper was the 1851 washerwoman from Framwellgate, so we must still regard this lady as a possibility.

So have we knocked down the brick wall and found what happened to Hannah after her husband died? Decidedly not. All we’ve done is to identify two potential but unlikely candidates who could, at a stretch, be our missing Hannah. What we need is some means of definitively confirming or refuting the two candidates, but at present I cannot think how this might be achieved. Any suggestions gratefully received.

One thought on “#1 What Happened to Hannah?

  1. Interesting; thank you I am writing a novel set in Weardale and trawling for information, while there is nothing specific for me to use, the background you set out gives me food for thought.
    Possibly your detective work could include chapel records of the methodist churches; I have reason to believe they kept seperate records.
    Good luck and many thanks


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