This is the second post of a series where I try to trace my great grandfather, James Saunders. In this post, I reflect on a possible match. I’ve reviewed what I know about James so far in part 1, here.
The earliest census record that I have been able to find for James was 1871, after his marriage to Esther Johnson. Where did he grow up? He can’t have just dropped into Kensal Green from outer space. Various documents record his place of birth as Chelsea, Kensal Town and Kensal Green and his address as Kensal Green, Willesden, Harlesden and Kensington.
Looking at the 1851 Middlesex jurisdictions map, Kensal Green is bordered by Willesden, Paddington and Notting Hill. Kensington and Chelsea are further south, nearer the Thames.
The National Gazetteer, 1868 says “KENSALL GREEN, a district parish in the parish of Willesden and Kensington division of the hundred of Ossulstone, county Middlesex, 3 miles from Hyde Park corner, and 5 N.W. of St. Paul’s, London.”
The 1851 census return1 for Kensal New Town gives a possible candidate for my James (photo at top of page). Lydia Saunders, a laundress, born in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, was living in 4 Wellington Cottages with her daughters Sarah Ann (14) and Elizabeth (8) and her sons William (12) and James (4). Could this be my James or is it just wishful thinking? Two things stand out:
1. Lydia’s marital status says “husband left her”. If her husband was James, then maybe this is my family.
2. John Saunders was living at 1 Wellington Cottages and Francis Saunders was living at Number 6. Are these three families related?
As is always the case with family history, there isn’t a neat answer as to whether this is the right family. Here’s what I know.
John Saunders married Lydia Beales on 2 October 1827 at St Luke’s, Chelsea. They had six children:
– John (b. 1829)
– Lydia (b. 1831)
– Frederick (b. 1833)
– Mary (b. 1835)
– Sarah Ann (b. 1837)
– William Francis (b. 1839)
William’s baptism record gives Harrow Road, Middlesex as their address. Wellington Cottages was off Harrow Road, near Kensal Green Cemetery. John’s occupation was a brick layer.
John died on 21 February 1840 in Kensal Green of apoplexy. The informant was Francis Saunders. Lydia appears in the 1841 census2, living at Wellington Cottages with her sons Frederick and William and daughters Sarah and Lydia. She was living by independent means.
One final clue was found in the 1857 will of John Saunders (living in 1 Wellington Cottages in 1851). Among the bequests were:
“To Lydia Saunders, widow of my late son John Saunders, £10. To Lydia and Sarah Anne Saunders, daughters of my said late son John Saunders, £50 each…
To my grandson, Frederick Saunders, son of my late son John Saunders, my watch…”
The will confirmed that John owned 1-6 Wellington Cottages. Numbers 1 and 2 were to be held in trust for Frederick Saunders until he reached the age of 21. Similarly, numbers 3 and 4 were to be held in trust for William Saunders (“son of my late son John Saunders”). If both died before they reached 21 without an heir, the proceeds were to be split between Sarah Anne and Lydia. Numbers 5 & 6 were gifted to “my said son Francis“. John senior also owned 9 properties in Saunders Row, which were bequeathed to his sons and daughters.
This shows there was a connection between the families. It also indicates that James and Elizabeth Saunders, although living with Lydia in the 1850s and listed as her son & daughter, didn’t inherit anything from John. It seems likely that they were illegitimate. Why else did Lydia state that her husband had run away in 1851 when in reality he died?
Lydia Saunders lived at 2 Wellington Cottages for another 30 years. She died of senectus (old age) on 8 July 1888 at Chelsea Workhouse Infirmary.
Is this my James?
While there isn’t one document that points to this James being my great grandfather, there is a lot of circumstantial evidence.
1. He was living in the right location, though this might a case of wrong person, right place, right time.
2. James’ 1st marriage certificate says his father was a brick layer. John Saunders’ occupation was a brick layer.
3. Frederick is a recurring Saunders name. James’ brother, son and grandson were called Frederick.
My gut instinct tells me that this is my family. I just need some proof.
I may never get to the bottom of this, but I’m willing to have a go. In future parts of this series, I will re-do my research to see if I can find that link between Lydia Saunders of Wellington Cottages and my great grandfather.
Wish me luck!
1. 1851 census: Chelsea PN1474 FL511 ED13 p2
2. 1841 census: St Luke’s Chelsea PN687 FL64 ED12 p1