Finding James (part 1)

This is the first post of a series where I try to find my great grandfather, James Saunders.

When I started researching my family more than 20 years ago, I had no information. My father never talked about his family. I knew that his father was called George and his mother was Sarah and that they lived in Bermondsey but otherwise I had nothing. Over time, I’ve built up a good picture of George’s life. I found baptism records in the London Metropolitan Archives for all his children, including two of my father’s sisters who died before he was born. I found George’s WW1 service record. That was an incredible find because it looks like it was literally pulled out of the fire that destroyed so many other records. I found his birth and marriage certificates, giving his father’s name as James Saunders. I even managed to trace him through various census records. Not bad for 20 years work!

But then I hit a brick wall. Who was my great grandfather, James Saunders? When was he born? When did he die?

James’ marriage record (pictured above) is the earliest record I have been able to find. James married Esther Johnson on 29 March 1869. The record gives his father’s name – James Saunders, deceased, a bricklayer. In theory I should be able to find a birth record or at least an earlier census. (I’ll come back to this later!)

In 1871, James was living with Esther in Alfred Cottage, Kilburn Lane, London with his 2 sons, James and Frederick. His age was given as 23 and he was born in Chelsea, Middx.

Ten years later, James had moved to 8 Admiral Place, Kensington with his growing family. He now had 5 sons: James, Frederick, William, my grandfather George and Frank.

Esther died 12 April 1883, after the birth of their only daughter, Harriet.

The family appear in the 1891 census, living at 17 Acklam Road, Kensington.

It took me a long time to find James’ 2nd wife, Ediserbert. It was only when I kept saying her name out loud that I realised it was Elizabeth! I’m sure this is their marriage record. James’ signature is almost identical on both records. Just goes to show how important it is to look at the actual registers and not just transcripts.

James died from asthma in Kensington Infirmary on 30th January 1914. His daughter, Harriet was the informant.

That just leaves James’ birth. Census records give his year of birth between 1845 – 1849 and the place of birth as Kensington, Hendon or Chelsea. I searched between 1840 – 1850 and there were two possibilities:

Although both had James Saunders named as the father, when I traced the family through subsequent census records, neither were correct.

My brother’s Y DNA test shows no Saunders in his shared matches. The nearest (genetic distance 2) is an Anderson. My current hypothesis is that James Saunders was illegitimate. I know my grandfather, George Saunders, is correct. George’s birth took place 7 years into the marriage of James and Esther. Its possible James wasn’t his father but not probable. My DNA test has a shared match with a descendent of Frank Saunders, one of George’s brothers. It seems more likely that James was illegitimate.

In part 2, I’ll explore a possible candidate for James.

2 thoughts on “Finding James (part 1)

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