What’s in a (Maiden) Name?

Many years ago I received the birth certificate for my great-grandfather James Thomas, born in Medomsley, County Durham, England in 1862.   I knew his parents to be William and Susan Thomas, but I had not been able to find Susan’s maiden name.   I eagerly opened the envelope anticipating the beautifully written maiden name of my great great grandmother.  It was not to be.  The handwriting, while not the worst I have ever seen, was not that easily read:

james-thomas-birth
James Thomas, 29 January 1862, birth certificate.

From James’ birth record I was able to make out that Susan was formerly BASH-something.  It looked like it could be BASHLON, BASHLOW, or BASHTON.  I noticed too that Susan was not able to sign her name and instead had added her mark  (x).

Using James as a starting point I was able to find the family on the 1871 U.K. census.  This gave me the names of some of James’ siblings, specifically of his older brother, William Henry Thomas.  I sent off for William Henry’s birth certificate, hoping for better handwriting that would confirm his mother Susan’s maiden name.

While waiting for the birth certificate to arrive from London I began a search to see if I could locate a marriage record between William Thomas and Susan BASH-(something).   I was fairly confident that the maiden name began with ‘Bash’ as those were the 4 letters I could easily read.  No luck!

Six weeks later I had my hands on William Henry Thomas’ birth certificate.   The handwriting was better and there was Susan’s maiden name …. BASTON.   Not what I was expecting to find.

williamhenry-birth
William Henry Thomas, 28 September 1859, birth certificate.

What I had thought was BASH-(something) was now BASTON.  The 1871 U.K. census had shown that William Henry Thomas had been born in Cardiganshire, Wales but that he had an older sister, Mary Ann Thomas who had been born in St. Agnes, Cornwall circa 1857.   Hoping that Mary Ann Thomas was their first child, I began a new search for a marriage record for William Thomas and Susan BASTON, in Cornwall in the years before 1857.  The search was negative again.  Using FreeBMD I was able to search for all marriages between 1850 and 1857 (when Mary Ann was born), with William Thomas and Susan (leaving out any last name) as parents, and across all districts and all counties in the U.K.  I received 44 results.  I searched through each one looking at the maiden name of the bride.  The only record which came close was a marriage between William Thomas and a Susan BOSTON, in Aberystwyth, Wales in 1854.   Could they have met and married in Wales, moved back to Cornwall and had Mary Ann Thomas there in 1857, and returned to Wales where William Henry Thomas was born in 1859?

freebmd
Image from FreeBMD, http://www.freebmd.org.uk/

Working backwards from the 1871 census to the 1861 and 1851 U.K.censuses I was able to track the family’s movements and noted that in 1851 William Thomas, aged 17,  was living with his parents in the village of Goginan, Melindwr, Cardiganshire, Wales which is within the Aberystwyth registration district.   The FreeBMD marriage index I had previously found seemed to be the right one.

So far my search for Susan’s maiden name had resulted in:

1854:  Marriage of William Thomas and Susan BOSTON
1859:  Birth of son William Henry Thomas – mother’s maiden name BASTON
1862:  Birth of son James Thomas – mother’s maiden name BASH-(lon, ton, low, tow)

The recent launch of birth, marriage and death indexes at the General Register Office in England has given genealogists the opportunity to search for births with a maiden name, which was not possible before (only available now for births before 1911).    I began to search for each of William and Susan’s children with the following results:

1857:  Birth of Mary Ann Thomas (mother’s maiden name is BACTIAN)
1859:  Birth of William Henry Thomas (mother’s maiden name is BASTON)
1862:  Birth of James Thomas (mother’s maiden name is BASHTON)
1864:  Birth of Emma Thomas (mother’s maiden name is BASHTON)
1867:  Birth of Matilda Thomas (mother’s maiden name is BASHTON)
1869:  Birth of Elizabeth Thomas (mother’s maiden name is BUSHTON)
1879:  Birth of Joseph Thomas (mother’s maiden name is BASHTON)

This is certainly a great way to get a first look at information before ordering a certificate.

You would think that with BASHTON being the most commonly occurring name in all the records so far that I would be fairly confident in thinking that to be Susan’s maiden name.  The other variations of the name can be ascribed to the fact that it’s probable neither Susan or her husband William were able to write their names (they always used their mark ‘x’ in place of a signature) and BASHTON can easily sound like BASTON or BOSTON or BUSHTON to the person they were reporting the birth to.  Right?

Wrong!  Using her ages given on the various census to come up with an approximate birth year, my searches for a birth record for a Susan BASHTON born about 1837 in Chacewater, Cornwall were all negative.   However, an 1851 Welsh census record for a family with a daughter named Susannah, born about 1837 in ‘Chesswater, Cornwall’ caught my eye.  This family was living in Melindwr, Cardiganshire, putting them in the same place as William Thomas and his family, at the same time.  And the last name of the family was       BASTIAN.

1851snip
1851 Wales Census for Melindwr, Cardiganshire; Ancestry.com, http://www.ancestry.com, citing Susannah Bastian.

A quick look back at the birth of Mary Ann Thomas (first child of William and Susan Thomas) revealed that the maiden name of the mother was BACTIAN, only a slight variation from BASTIAN.  Unfortunately, despite searching through parish records, page by page, and surrounding parishes to Chacewater, Cornwall,  I have not been able to find Susan BASTIAN’s birth or christening record.

My confidence in Susan’s maiden name as BASTIAN comes from:

  • Susan’s parents and siblings are recorded as BASTIAN on the 1841 and 1851 census.
  • In 1841 Susan and her family are living in Kerley Downs, Kea, Cornwall.  Kerley Downs is described as a very small moorland to the southeast of Chacewater.  There are 7 very large BASTIAN families living there.
  • The christening records for all of Susan’s younger siblings show BASTIAN as the last name.
  • The marriage record for Susan’s parents, John and Susanna Evans, shows the last name as BASTIAN.
  • Susan’s father, John was christened in 1805 as ‘John, son of Henry BASTIAN’

It is an interesting lesson in not always believing the first record you find.  Had I not gone any further than the first 2 birth certificates ordered I would today have in my records a great great grandmother with the incorrect maiden name of Bashton. And while the General Register Office search facility is extremely helpful in being able to provide results coupled with a maiden name, those results must always be corroborated with further proof.   This is the emphasis of the third point of the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) – all information, sources, and evidence must be analyzed and conflicting evidence resolved, resulting in a credible conclusion.   And of course, all of this rests on the first point of the GPS, reasonably exhaustive research.   My search therefore continues to find Susan’s birth record and confirm that Susan’s maiden name was in fact BASTIAN.

 

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