Some researchers are lucky enough to have had the Family Bible handed down to them, and therefore have a head start in their genealogy.
I don’t have a Family Bible as such – what I do have is two pages from a Family Bible which appear to have been complied about 1853. These purport to show the children of Maria Frost (1813 – 1893) and her husband Thomas Westwood (1806 – 1852).
The pages of the Bible do contain one very interesting piece of information – at the top of one page is an entry which reads ‘1850 – working for Master Benjamin Burgess Kingswinford’. I assume that this is Thomas’s handwriting: and as in the 1851 census his occupation is shown as ‘Labourer’, this entry has enabled me to find out more about what he actually did.
The remaining pages appear to show the exact dates of birth of the children of Thomas and Maria (some of whom were born before the advent of Civil Registration in 1837) and should, therefore, be very useful indeed. However, what the pages do not reveal is that Thomas and Maria were not married until 1841; that the children born before the marriage were baptised (and indeed during the period 1837 – 1841 were registered) with Maria’s maiden name – ie Frost and not Westwood; and indeed that the purported dates of birth are in fact dates of baptism. To add to the confusion, after the marriage in 1841 all of Maria’s children used the surname Westwood and their marriage certificates show Thomas Westwood as the father. The 1841 census was of no help here, because Maria and Thomas were not married until October 1841, and the census was taken in April. I eventually found Maria with her maternal grandmother (so a different surname) and one of Maria’s children, who was not mentioned in the Family Bible at all. And of course the 1841 census does not indicate any relationships whatsoever.
So – here I have a document which almost all researchers would regard as primary evidence, compiled by the person who apparently had first-hand knowledge of the facts: and it is completely unreliable. And I can’t be the only person in the world who has such a misleading document.
The moral of this story – if there is one – is that you just can’t believe anything. Check your sources; check all other available sources (in this case, parish registers and BMD certificates) and note down any discrepancies. Check, double-check and then check again.
Somehow, though, I just can’t help admiring Maria and her blatant attempt at respectability….
Footnote: Thomas died, as stated above, in 1852. Maria was, at the time, pregnant with her last child, Eve, who therefore grew up without having ever known her father. I can find no record of Maria ever having received any Poor Law relief, and she appears to have escaped the workhouse. Not an easy life for the poor woman.