It has always struck me how much harder it is to track the female lines in families. English and Australian marriage conventions have ‘dictated’ that women discard their birth surname in preference for that of their husbands…… subsequent baptisms and deaths, wills and probate documents often give no clue to the woman’s forebears as her birth surname has been erased from formal records.
In researching the history of my maternal grandmother, Dorothy Una Ophelia Richardson, I had always wondered about the middle names of her brothers: being Fairfax and Kirkby. I surmised that both these names may well have been the surnames of mothers, grandmothers or perhaps even great grandmothers.
Many hours of research over the years has indeed proved that both names are surnames of previous generations and had been diligently preserved as a family naming tradition – one that has been unfortunately lost in my own generation and those following as my family had no knowledge of this when our own children and grandchildren needed names.
I am quite aware that one shouldn’t “assume” when researching back through the generations but I used the “Fairfax” second naming pattern as a clue as to where to look, after all, its a much less common name in a naming pattern than perhaps something like William or John as the first born son’s name. It was an especially relevant pattern to follow when it popped up as a second name for females. Fairfax was the maiden surname of my 3X great grandmother, Mary (b. 1790). She named her eldest daughter and my 2x great grandmother, Dorothy Fairfax Welch (b 1814).
Dorothy’s children continued the naming pattern – David (b 1839) beginning his own tradition by naming his first born with the surname of his wife’s family. William Andrew (b.1852 & my g grandfather) named his eldest child, Roy Fairfax (b 1890) and Roy carried it through with one of his sons also named Roy Fairfax (b 1917). David’s granddaughter Ida (b 1904) also carried the Fairfax middle name.
Mary’s son, Andrew named one of his daughters Henrietta Fairfax (b abt 1866) but he also began his own family naming tradition using his wife’s surname as a middle name for three of his children.
Others of Mary’s children weren’t so rigorous. It took two generations for the descendants of Mary’s daughter, Mary before the Fairfax name was resurrected – but her g grandson Harry (b 1877) bears the Fairfax middle name.
Using this clue as a search criteria has helped to reconstruct the broader family and has helped to work out where all the various generations fit. To make things a little more ‘interesting’, there was the odd second marriage thrown in to complicate things.
Chasing back the Kirkby connection was a little more fraught. I reasoned that Kirkby must have been a female forebear at some time but there was not the same naming pattern showing up. My Gran’s brother was the only one I had found that had this middle name. Fairfax had been carried down mainly through one branch of the family – perhaps Kirkby came from the other side?
Paying close attention to Mary Fairfax (b 1790) and establishing her parentage led to the first Kirkby – her mother, Dorothy (b 1766). Another girl popped up around this time but she was married into the Richardson side of the family, Frances (Fanny) Hanna (b 1784). At first glance there didn’t seem to be any connection. Complicating things even further, it seemed that Mary’s father Benjamin Fairfax (b 1758) had been married at least twice – and each time it had been to a Kirkby girl.
Finding the will of Samuel Kirkby – the father of Dorothy, Mary and also Frances Hanna – solved the puzzle. His will runs to quite a number of pages and is quite detailed in the bequests and names of his children, both living and deceased, grandchildren, sons-in-law, and his wife. In naming his deceased daughter Dorothy as the “late wife” of Benjamin and Mary as the “now wife” of Benjamin Fairfax, some of the complexities were unraveled.
To discover that Fanny Kirkby (b 1784) [named as Hanna Richardson in the will], wife of James Richardson (b 1780), was also a part of this Kirkby family came as quite a surprise. The Richardson family was based in Wapping, Middlesex and the Kirkby family was from Hertfordshire – didn’t seem like they should have crossed paths but they did! James’ son David married Dorothy Fairfax Welsh.
Am I confused still? A little – Samuel Kirkby and Elizabeth Deverill are my GGGG Grandparents through two separate branches of my ancestors. I think.
Focused searching using clues like unusual surname-like middle names can reveal a great deal!