Finding Edward and Alice Sheepwash


When I first began my family history research about 15 years ago one of the main sources  available was the 1881 census. I bought a set of the CDs and went about finding as many of my ancestors as I could, and I was relatively successful.

One person that puzzled me, though, was my great grandfather, Edward Neville Sheepwash.  He appears on the 1881 census living at Fitts Rents, Nuthall Street, Shoreditch with his widowed mother, Mary Ann Sheepwash, three of his siblings and his uncle, William Harding.

The odd thing was that Edward had married Alice Miles in 1879, yet here he was listed as “unmarried” and there was no sign of Alice anywhere.  Over the years I have thought about  this oddity  from time to time, searching the various online resources as they became available,  but I had no luck finding Alice.

Then a couple of weeks ago I decided to try to tidy up some of the loose ends in my research.  I posted a question on Rootschat, asking whether anyone could help me find Alice.

Within an hour or two, three researchers were on the case and by the following day they had found Alice with Edward, enumerated in the census at 40 Great James Street Hoxton.  This street was just across the main road from Nuthall Street.  Both roads were very close to the Shoreditch workhouse which had been completed in 1866.

Edward and Alice Sheepwash

Edward and Alice Sheepwash

Edward Nevill    26 – walking stick maker
Alice Nevill    20 – wife
Louisa Baker    5 – visitor

I have no idea why they couple were listed under the surname Nevill – was it an error or a deliberate deception? At the moment I don’t know who Louise Baker was or her connection with the family. That’s research for another day. But for now the mystery is solved,  thanks to Rootschat and especially the three members who helped me find Edward and Alice.


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Happy New Year!

Not related to my family history, but here are two New Year cards from my collection of old postcards.  A very happy New Year to everyone!

This lovely card was sent to an address in North Strand, Dublin in 1912.

This lovely card was sent to an address in North Strand, Dublin in 1912. It is a Raphael Tuck “New Year” series card, No.N5603

This image of Dunolly Castle was sent to an address in Larne, Co.Antrim in 1921

This image of Dunolly Castle was sent to an address in Larne, Co.Antrim in 1921.  It’s one of the Raphael Tuck “Scottish Castles” series, No.  7181

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Rebecca Couling: a Death Certificate, and a conviction for stealing beer

The GRO’s PDF pilot phase 1 ordering service for birth and death certificates has now come to an end but I managed to get an order in just before the deadline.  The PDF arrived within the stated time despite the warning that there could be a delay due to “high volumes of demand”.   I hope this becomes the standard service from the GRO – it must be much more efficient and cost effective.

Here is what I received – the death certificate of my 3x  great grandmother Rebecca Couling (nee Billing / Billings):

couling-death-certI haven’t actually gleaned much more information about Rebecca from this but I do now know that John, my 3x great grandfather died between 1851 and 1860 which should help me to locate his death.

Rebecca’s death comes just two years  after she appears to have been convicted of feloniously receiving stolen beer “well knowing it to be stolen”, as described in this report from the Reading Mercury on 23rd October 1858.

rebecca-couling-convictionThe sentence was one month’s imprisonment with the last week being solitary confinement.  I wonder if Rebecca regretted  receiving the beer which was presumably shared with one of the other accused, one Esther Smith ” a prostitute”.

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Billings and Coulings in Oxford


I returned to my BRITTAIN ancestors recently to see whether any new information had become available online. One of my searches over several years has been for the marriage of my 3x great grandparents, John COULING and Rebecca BILLING.

Ancestry has the following record:

par217_1_r3_4_024So – at last, even though Rebecca’s surname is shown as Billings, I seem to have found them marrying in 1824 at Oxford St Thomas. The witnesses are Charles DAY and Ann BILLINGS, so of course I needed to check whether Ann was related to Rebecca. After a bit of searching I found the following, all in the Oxfordshire Family History Society records on Ancestry:

Oxford, St Peter le Bailey

Ann Billing baptised 1802

Thomas Billing baptised 1803

Rebeka Billing baptised 1805


The parents are given as John and Elizabeth BILLING. Have I managed to get back another generation? Another quick search revealed that a John Billing married Elizabeth GREEN in Great Haseley, Oxfordshire in 1797.

Even more interestingly, a name jumped out at me from the same page as Rebeka’s entry. A John COULING was baptised at Oxford, St Peter le Bailey in 1804, the son of Thomas and Margaret Couling. Probably a coincidence but worth following up!

The witnesses to John and Rebecca / Rebeka’s marriage, Ann BILLING and Charles DAY appear to have married at Oxford St Thomas the following year, 1825.

Most of this is all conjecture – but if you are connected to any of these people and can confirm or disprove any of the links I’ve made – please get in touch!

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More details from 1939: my great grandparents (Mason and Saunders)

I was fairly sure that I knew where  to find my great grandparents on the 1939 register.  On my father’s side, my great grandparents Herbert and Georgina Mason (née Briancourt) had lived round the corner from us when I was a child in the 1960s and I knew they had been there for ages.  They were living at  45 The Fairway in Palmers Green, London N13.,-0.085654,-146h,5p,1z

Herbert was described as a “heavy motor driver mechanic”.  With them were two sons, Ivor, who was born in 1912 and was a “warehouse packer” and George a “motor driver mechanic” born in 1915.  Thus I discovered that the person I had on my tree as “Ron” Mason was actually George Ronald: I had never bothered to check out his details.  There is also one closed record for someone at the same address, possibly the youngest child, Joyce, who was born in 1921.

Only one other great grandparent was alive in 1939 – Emily Saunders, née Ferry, who died in 1946.  I have her death certificate which confirms that she died at 36 Colchester Road, Walthamstow on 9th May 1946.  A quick check of this address in 1939 shows that the occupants were John W Saunders, his wife Elsie and their daughter , also Elsie, born in 1926.  No sign of my great grandmother, though.


Entering her details into the search brought up a number of possibilities but I can’t be sure whether any of them is my great grandmother.  The most likely seems to be an Emily Saunders living in Glenwood Road, Tottenham. She’s more or less the right age with a birth date of 9th August 1874,  and widowed, but at the moment I have no way of proving that this  is actually my great grandmother. I’ve never found a birth certifcate for her, although she was baptised on    The other person in the household is a French Polisher , Albert Weedon,  whose record states that he is married and was born on 10th January 1883.

Some more investigation is needed before I can conclude that I’ve found Emily in 1939.

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Some thoughts on writing this blog

Anyone who’s checked out this blog recently will note that it’s been a while since I posted.  I haven’t done much genealogy research though the summer , and I admit to feeling a little bit disheartened by the whole project.   Exactly why am I investigating my family history, and why bother to write it up on the blog?

I’ve made  some superb connections with other researchers who have been so generous with their time and information.  I’m so grateful to everyone who has taken the time and trouble to contact me and contribute in any way to my research. What I’ve found difficult to understand are those people who are keen to take the information I’ve found, but appear to be reluctant to share anything of their own.

When I began my research I didn’t have much to go on.    My parents, who divorced in 1972, both died in the 1990s and I have very few photographs of my ancestors.  I believe that quite a lot of my mother’s family “stuff” was destroyed in the Blitz. My uncle on my father’s side was very helpful, sharing a few photos of the Mason and Brittain families,  and for that I’m really grateful.   Almost all my “visual” family history evidence  starts in about 1930, so somewhere there are probably photographs which could help me to fill in the details about my heritage.  Most of my ancestors live only as names and extracts from the records and certificates – it would be so good to see them “in person”.

Complete strangers have been really kind enough to share their very detailed research, especially about the Sheepwash and Ferry families, but I’ve received help from others too as you can see from the comments made on the blog.   I really feel that this has helped me to gain an understanding of my family background which I knew very little about until I began researching 15  years ago.

I do wonder why some people who’ve made contact either via the blog or through various online sites and forums have then suddenly stopped responding, even when we have met in person to share information?  Perhaps you were unhappy about aspects of the research? Or maybe you’re worried that I will publish your research or photographs online without your permission?    If that’s the case then please rest assured that I will never do that.  Several researchers have given me information but are concerned about the use of public family trees on Ancestry and other sites; my tree on Ancestry is private (although I accept that there may  still  be data protection issues with that). I will only publish full details of any research if the records are now available online and therefore accessible to anyone.  If you have spent many years in record offices, poring over old documents,  then I certainly won’t put your information in the public domain with asking you.

Having written this, I think I’m beginning to be a bit clearer about the direction in which I will try to take this blog.   The information needs to be presented more clearly so that other researchers can find the connections more easily.  I need to find more images which help to locate the people firmly in their environment , especially as I don’t have photographs of many of the characters about whom I’m writing.   As time allows I will set up some additional pages with more information about each family so that it’s easier to follow.

If you’ve read this far, thank you.  If you are connected in any way to any of my ancestral lines,  or have any suggestions about how I can develop this blog,  then please get in touch.




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A First Look at the 1939 Register – my grandparents

Now that the 1939 Register is included in the FindMyPast 12 Month World Subscription I have started looking up my ancestors who were alive at that time.  At the moment the records of my parents, Roy and Doris Brittain (nee Neville) are closed because they were born in the late 1920s and died after 1993. I have no idea where they were in September 1939 – presumably evacuated somewhere, so I can’t get the records unlocked.
My maternal grandparents Frederick and Esther Neville (nee Saunders) were easily found living at 53 Lawrence Avenue, Walthamstow.  Frederick’s occupation is given as a woodwork stock keeper .  Living with them were two of my grandma’s siblings: my great uncle Francis F Saunders, a cabinet fitter and my great aunt, Doris Saunders who was a “laundry calendar hand“.  I had no idea what this meant until I looked it up and  discovered that a “calendar machine” is a type of rolling ironing machine for ironing of large flat items such as sheets. 

One of the great things about the 1939 Register is that the full date of birth is given, so I can now add the details of my great aunt Doris (“aunty Doll”) to my tree. She was born on 5th July 1916, just a couple of days before her father, John William Saunders enlisted in the Kings Royal Rifle Regiment.

On my paternal side, my grandparents Ernest  and Rosalind Brittain (nee Mason) were living at 52 Boyton Road, Wood Green.  My grandfather’s occupation was “Railway Porter LNE Railway“.  With them was Kate E Mason, who was my 2x great aunt.  She is described as “incapacitated” but the next two words aren’t clear – it looks as though it might say “little assistance” but I’m not really sure.

Kate Mason was my great grandfather’s unmarried half sister, the daughter of John Thomas Mason and Catherine Sarah (nee Eade).  I was aware that she had been close to members of my family, as my uncle remembered her quite well, but I was surprised to find her living with my grandparents.

Now to find the whereabouts of my  great grandparents…………




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About the Pike family: St Pancras

During the past week I’ve been reviewing my notes about my 3x great grandfather, William PIKE. For some time I’ve been unable to find out much about his origins  but I now think I’ve managed to locate him firmly in the St Pancras area of  north London.

He was probably born in 1830, the son of another William PIKE and his wife Mary Ann (née WEBB). They had married in 1825 at St Pancras.

If I have the right family, in 1841  he was with his family in Parkers Place, St Pancras; his mother Mary, aged 40, is listed as a washerwoman with 5 children:
Eliza, 16,
Jane, 4
Matilda, 2
John, 14
William, 11

Ten years later, William, aged 20, was still living in Parkers Place but he was now the head of the household – he appears to be living on his own. His occupation was Mason’s Labourer and with him was a visitor named Daniel Byron, a 60 year old shoemaker who was born in Ireland.
In April 1853 William married Jane BUNKER at Trinity Church St Marylebone, and about 9 months later, in February 1854, the couple had a daughter whom they named Jane. They were living at Church Way, Somerstown; William had progressed to being a stone polisher.

31280_194717-00045Sadly, tragedy was to strike the young family. On 24th January 1856 Jane Pike, aged just 21, died as a result of “loss of blood caused by a fall”. Little Jane, my great great grandmother, was not yet 2 years old.
It would be interesting to find out more about the cause of Jane’s death but so far I’ve been unable to trace any coroner’s records or a newspaper report.

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More about the Miles family – basket makers of Shoreditch

A couple of things really strike me about my Miles ancestors which makes them different from most of my other family lines. This  probably explains why I haven’t bothered to research them very much up to now: so much of the initial  information was easy to find even before the censuses and other records appeared online. Firstly, they’re at the same address at the 1841, 1851, 1861 and 1871 censuses; we can see the family  growing throughout the 1850s and 1860s and then dwindling as the children marry and move away.  The other notable thing is how consistent they are with their ages : in 1841 the ages are given exactly, not rounded up or down, and everyone gains 10 years between censuses unlike some of my other ancestors who seem to gain or lose a few years depending on their mood on census day!

To date I haven’t been able to find out much about John and Elizabeth, who were 29 and 23 respectively in 1841.  Their marriage certificate gives their fathers’ names as Richard Miles , a basket maker (deceased) and Joseph Ram, a labourer.

John’s birthplace is still unknown: in 1851 it’s given as “St George’s, Surrey”, then in 1861 it’s Shoreditch and in 1871 it was stated as “Southwark, Surrey”.  I’m inclined to think that he was born in Southwark (which was then in Surrey) rather than in Shoreditch, but so far I haven’t been able to find a possible birth.

Having trawled the records for a number of years, the most likely record I can find for Elizabeth’s birth is that she   was born on 4th October 1818 and baptised at St Leonard’s,  Shoreditch on 9th November 1818. Her parents are given as Joseph and Mary Ann Ramm of Basing House Court, and Joseph’s occupation is “dustman”.

31281_A101307-00149The spelling of the surname is different but I wonder whether they would have made  a distinction between “Ram” and “Ramm”. Something to explore next!


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The Miles family – basket makers of Shoreditch

Autumn has arrived here in the UK. For me this marks the start of the “family history” season; it’s time to return to my research. On checking through the blog posts I’ve written in the past, I’ve noticed that I haven’t included much about my Miles ancestors.
My great grandmother, Alice Miles, was born on 6th March 1861 at 5 White Hart Court, Shoreditch, London and was baptised at St Leonards Church in Shoreditch on 31st March 1861.
Alice’s parents were John Miles and Elizabeth Ram, who married at St Mary’s Church, Lambeth on 26th July 1841. They appear in the 1841 census, living at White Hart Court with 4 daughters, Elizabeth, Mary, Jane and Sarah aged between 6 years and 2 months. Although they didn’t marry until July 1841, John and Elizabeth must have been living together for several years. Elizabeth was only 17 when her first child was born. I have wondered whether this was John’s second marriage – this is something I need to check as there are some public trees on Ancestry which give Elizabeth’s surname as Shepherd. John was a basket weaver / basket maker.
By 1851 another 4 children had arrived: the family was still in White Hart Court living in what must have been quite crowded conditions. One daughter, Mary, doesn’t appear on the 1851 census so maybe she had died.
My great grandmother ,Alice, made her first census appearance in 1861 as the census was taken on 7th April one month after her birth.
The family was still at White Hart Court in 1871 although several of the children were no longer living at home. Some had probably married, others had moved away or perhaps died.
Children of John and Elizabeth Miles (dates based on their ages as given in the census) :
1. Elizabeth Esther born 1835
2. Mary Ann born 1836
3. Jane born 1839
4. Sarah born 1841
5. John born 1843
6. Emma born 1847
7. Elinor born 1848
8. Ephraim born 1850
9. Martha born 1851
10. Harriet born 1853
11. Abraham born 1855
12. Alice born 1861

I’m now wondering what happened to all of them…finding out will be my task for the next few days!

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