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  • Writer's pictureJessica Feinstein

Getting it wrong: the case of Mary Ford

Updated: Apr 24, 2022

What do we do when the facts don’t fit our story? Sometimes we just give up at that point in our tree, deciding that it’s too complicated to go back further – there are too many people with the same name and we can’t work out which one is ours.

Sometimes, we decide to ignore little inconsistencies – we know that people didn’t always give the correct age or place of birth, and mistakes were made when details were recorded. This is a case where I chose to ignore the inconsistencies, and writing this blog entry has revealed the truth.

I thought that Mary Ford (Ari’s 4x great-grandmother) was born on 13 February 1857 in the Derbyshire village of Yeaveley, near Ashbourne. Mary was baptised on 24 February at Holy Trinity church in the village, and the register records that her parents were Walter and Sarah Jane. Mary was the seventh of their eight children. Walter was a farmer in Hales Green. Mary’s birth certificate tells us that her mother’s maiden name was Bladon. Mary’s mother, Sarah Jane, had died of consumption, aged just 30. A newspaper report of her death in May 1859 says “At Hales Green, Yeaveley, on the 9th instant, Sarah Jane, wife of Mr. Walter Ford, aged 30, leaving seven children to lament their loss. Her end was peace.” The youngest child, Mary’s little sister Eliza Ann, had died in April at three months old, and her burial is recorded just before her mother’s in the burial register.

Today I discovered that this Mary Ford is not the one that is Ari’s ancestor.

Looking at the census records after the ‘real’ Mary’s marriage to John Murfin in 1877, I notice that every single one gives her place of birth as Kirk Ireton, not Yeaveley. Kirk Ireton is ten miles from Yeaveley, so something is wrong here. I need to unpick all of this and start again, working out where I’ve gone wrong. This always brings mixed feelings; embarrassment and annoyance that I have got it wrong, remembering visits to churchyards that are now no longer ancestral resting places and blog entries written for people who weren’t Ari’s ancestors after all (now deleted!). But with this comes the satisfaction of working out the pieces to a new puzzle, discovering new ancestors and their stories, and of course learning from my mistakes.

I knew that on 27 August 1877, Mary had married John Murfin at St Alkmund’s church in Duffield, Derbyshire. The marriage certificate gives the name of Mary’s deceased father as William (this was one of the inconsistencies I had put to one side as a clerical error). The residence of both John and Mary at the time of marriage was given as Windley.

The couple went to live in the village of Weston Underwood, where John worked as an agricultural labourer.

So now I need to look for another Mary Ford. There is an 1871 census record showing a Mary Ford, aged 11, as the niece of a coachman, John Ward and his wife Harriet, in Hemp Yard, Kirk Ireton. This looks promising, and I find a marriage of Harriet Ford to John Ward in 1855, so Harriet must be Mary’s aunt, and I add her to my revised tree.

In 1861, Harriet and John had a widow, Ann Ford, living with them. She was described as 71 and a retired lace runner from Ashleyhay, and is listed as Grandmother (but presumably Harriet’s rather than John’s).

Harriet’s mother was Mary Ford, and her marriage certificate just says ‘illegitimate’ in the place where the father’s name should be. In 1841, Harriet was 5 and living with a 70-year-old pauper, Mary Johnson.

I looked for Mary in 1861 and found a likely candidate: a one-year-old living as a boarder with Francis and Hannah Stafford, who were next-door to James and Hannah Ward ten years later.

But I still don’t know who Mary’s mother is. I checked the possible births for Mary registered in Ashbourne, and found three candidates:

(The 1857 one is the one I originally had, which I know is wrong.) Another inconsistency I had ignored was Mary’s birth date given on the 1939 Register, which is 3 May 1859. I order the birth certificate showing Mary as Mary Ford Johnson Ford, update my tree, and delete all the ancestors of the wrong Mary.

We can now continue with the story of ‘our’ Mary. The 1911 census shows that she and John had had six children, all living. There were three girls (Elizabeth Ann, Mary Ellen, and Alice Hilda) and three boys (Henry, Edward and John).

The 1921 census shows John and Mary living at Weston Underwood. Mary’s entry gives her place of birth as Kirk Ireton and her occupation as home duties. John is an estate workman for the Marquis of Kedleston and Kedleston Hall.

Mary’s granddaughter, Martha Ellen Murfin (daughter of Mary Ellen) is living with them, aged 14, and they have a boarder, Fred Adams, who is a stud groom for farmer and breeder J. W. Burnett at Park View Shire Stud in Weston Underwood.

Mary died on 22 May 1947 at 14 West Green Ave, Allenton. The Derby Daily Telegraph recorded this two days later, giving details of her funeral:

Derby Daily Telegraph, 24 May 1947. Image © Reach PLC

The cause of death was pulmonary oedema and myocardial degeneration, and the informant was Mary’s daughter Alice Hilda, who had married Isaac Ride and lived at that address.

One of the questions I am often asked is “How do you know that you’ve got the right person?” and of course the answer, most of the time, is that you don’t. But we should always aim to research as thoroughly as possible, noting (but not ignoring) any inconsistencies and trying to explain them, and working hard to rule people in or out rather than just assuming we’ve got it right. Sometimes we will be told we’ve got it wrong by other researchers, and this is a good thing and should be welcomed, although we need to know what they are basing their information on. DNA matches can also help to confirm theories. It really does help to slow down and focus on one person at a time, so that you look more closely at what the records are telling you (in this case shouting at you!), and that is partly why I am writing this blog.

Ari, this is how you are related to Mary:

I have identified a couple of possible candidates for Mary’s mother but am waiting for the birth certificate to arrive. Watch this space!

Mary's birth certificate arrived today (23 April 2022), showing her name as Mary Ford Johnson Ford. Her mother was Ann Ford. No father.

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