What I knew from the 1888 marriage certificate was that the family lived in Somers Town in London, which was a poor area. It was, in fact, an area populated with poor catholic families and the more recent Browns were certainly brought up as Catholics. For family historians, Catholicism can be a problem as catholic church records are not always publicly available and those that are have not usually been indexed or added to internet web sites. Finding relevant records can, therefore, be a very long winded exercise, if not an impossible one.

The only certain knowledge that I had in trying to push further back in time was that my great grandfather was a John Brown who was probably born in the St Pancras area in about 1860 or 1861; his father was an Edward Brown who was a 'carman'. A 'carman' was what we would call a delivery driver today, though he would have been using a horse and cart rather than a lorry or 'white van'. The 1881 census recorded not a single John Brown of even roughly the right age and with a father named Edward who was a carman; this was not terribly surprising as many young men of 20 or so would have left home and short life expectancy meant that many had lost at least one parent by that age. Nonetheless, there were simply no relevant records. There was, however, a John Brown who was aged 20 and employed as a labourer, living with his widowed mother, named Ann and who was aged 53 and born in Limerick, at 24 Little George Street, Somers Town, exactly the right area. There was nothing to indicate that this might be the right family until I discovered that an Edward Brown had been admitted to the 'Central London Sick Asylum' from the same address in September 1879, his next of kin being named as his wife, Ann. Asylum records showed that this Edward had died of tuberculosis in the asylum in January 1880, and his death certificate stated that he was aged 45 and had been employed as a carman; the coincidences were beginning to appear. I now had Somers Town, Edward, carman, Irish and John, all coming together.

Going back to the 1871 census, I looked for a combination that had Edward, a carman, Ann, his wife born in Ireland, and John, a son aged 10 and born in St Pancras; there was no precise grouping. However, there was a family with most of the right characteristics; an Edward Brown, aged 38, born in Cambridgeshire and working as a carman, was living with a wife named Ann who was aged 41 and from Limerick; this couple were living in Great Titchfield Street, Marylebone, and had a son named John, aged 10, and daughter Mary, aged 4, both shown as being born in London. This was a close match although the ages of Edward and Ann were an obvious issue, and no one had ever suggested that the Edward in my tree was from Cambridgeshire. However, there were no other possible matches. Later research would also show that my great grandfather did, indeed, have a sister named Mary but who was simply never spoken of by anyone in my side of the family.

Next stop was the 1861 census, where I found what looked like a good possibility for the same family, then living in New Street, St James Westminster. This time Edward was a carman aged 27 and from Cambridgeshire, Ann was aged 29 and from Ireland, and the couple had 2 children, Edward aged 4 and John aged 6 months, both having been born in Marylebone; there was nothing to prove that this was the same family as was recorded in 1871 but I could also find nothing to disprove such a supposition. The ages recorded for Edward and Ann in this census were also at odds with those recorded in 1871 and 1881 though ages do not seem to have had the same importance at that time as they do today. This was the best, and only, likely family.

Unfortunately, neither the 2 children recorded in 1861 nor the additional one recorded in 1871 appear to have had their births registered and there are also no baptismal records to be found in the available C of E parish registers. Although registration of births had been a legal requirement since 1837, responsibility rested on the local registrar until 1875 when that duty was passed over to the parents on penalty of a fine for non-compliance. In the crowded parts of major cities such as London it was inevitable that many births were missed by the registrar and, anyway, some people still saw baptism as a legitimate alternative; the absence of either a registration or an Anglican baptism suggests that this may well have been a nonconformist family, a definition that would have included the possibility of Catholicism. If that was the case, then the children would almost certainly have been baptised but finding out where would be a challenge. This is a challenge that has yet to be met.

Some further evidence that this is the correct line comes from family connections identified between 1888 and 1905. A child was born to Mary and Thomas Keys at 25 Little Clarendon Street a few weeks after John and Margaret's first child was born at that address in March 1888. A Maria Keys was godmother to another child of John and Margaret's when he was baptised at St Aloysius RC church in Somers Town in May 1890, and a Joannus (Latin for John) Brown was godfather to another child of Thomas and Maria Keys in July 1898 at the same church. This latter record also stated that Maria's maiden name had been Brown and the godmother of the child was a Louisa Field, sister of John's wife, Margaret. Records of the St Pancras Board of Guardians also make it clear that Mary Keys had been born Mary Brown. Sadly for Mary Keys, her partner Thomas (whom she never actually married) died in 1898 and Mary and her children all found themselves in the workhouse shortly afterwards, together with Mary's mother, named as Ann Brown; Ann was identified as being a Roman Catholic, was Irish and aged about 65. The Board of Guardians records show that members of the family were repeatedly admitted and discharged from the workhouse, Ann spending most of the last 7 years of her life there. When she died in November 1905, the workhouse records named her as Ann Brown although her death certificate gave her forename as Honora, her age as 71 and stated that she was the widow of Edward Brown, a carman; her death was registered by her son, John Brown, then living at Albert Road, West Kilburn. Although no other records of this address for John and his family have been found, it is known that they lived in Denmark Road, which ran parallel and only a few yards away. Given Ann's Irish origin, that her true name was Honora is unsurprising but may well explain the occurrence of the same name as part of the names of children of both John Brown and Mary Keys; John named one of his daughters as Hanora Mary while Mary named one of hers as Ann Norah, not quite Honora but close enough. In fact, Ann Norah was named as Honora in some Guardians records. All of this seems to point to the parents of John Brown, and his sister, being the Edward and Ann Brown recorded living together in both 1861 and 1871.

I would say 'so far so good' as the line back to 1861 seems reasonably sound; trying to extend it further backwards has proved more problematic. Given the ages recorded for Edward at the time of his death and in the 1861 and 1871 censuses, it seems likely that he was born around 1833 to 1835, but this is before civil registration was introduced and makes identifying him in earlier records problematic. There is an interesting marriage registration for an Edward Brown and Ann Shanahan in St Pancras in January 1856, when the groom was described as 'Edward Brown jnr.' and his occupation was 'carman'; his father was named as Edward Brown, a farmer, but no ages were recorded and the witnesses names are little help. The only additional information for Ann was that her father was a Lawrence Shannahan (sic), a labourer, although one of the witnesses, a Bridget Burk, may possibly point to Ann having been living in Liverpool in 1851 when 2 people named as Ann Shannon and Bridget Burke were recorded living at the same address.

Going back to the 1851 census, there were only 4 individuals named Edward Brown who were both born in Cambridgeshire and born between 1831 and 1839. Of these, one was living in the village of Balsham where he'd been baptised in 1834 and later evidence suggests that he spent his whole life there. A second was aged 13 and living in another village, Fordham, though his age seems a little too young; this Edward does not seem to appear in any later UK records and neither do any other members of his family, suggesting that they may have emigrated. A third possibility was an Edward George Brown who was born in Cambridge in 1836 but quite probably died in 1855, aged 18. This leaves only one genuine possibility, an Edward Brown who was baptised in the village of Chippenham in July 1835; this is the line I believe to be the right one but all efforts to prove it have, so far, proved fruitless.

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Researched and written by John Michael Brown. This research and the associated narrative are the copyright of the author. Anyone wishing to copy all or any parts should seek permission from the author before proceeding.
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