Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Fearless Females - Catherine Briggs - Irish? Brick wall!

My brick wall is Catherine Briggs. She is a woman of mystery!

What do I know about her?

  • Was Catherine Briggs before becoming Catherine Wiseman (or Katherine according to the 1911 census)
  • Married Richard Wiseman on 10 January 1883 at St Peters Roman Catholic Church, South Bank, Normanby (Middlesbrough)
  • Had 5 children, 2 died before 1911, other 3 are William (b. 1884), Katherine (b. 1891) and Teresa (b. 1896)
  • Teresa is my great grandmother
  • On Teresa's birth certificate there is no father listed
  • On Teresa's marriage certificate her father is listed as Dick Wiseman
I looked into the church where she got married, and it was located in an area that served the Irish and Lithuanian immigrants who worked in the smelting works by the River Tees. Teresa lists her fathers occupation as steel worker on her marriage certificate, so is it possible either of them were Irish or Lithuanian?

My questions:
  • Is Richard / Catherine Irish? - How do I find this out? Are there passenger lists for ships into Middlesbrough?
  • What are the names of the other two children? - I have been through free BMD and found names born in Middlesbrough. Many of the Wiseman babies have two names suggesting they belong to one family. My best guess is John (b. 1887, d. 1887), but I don't know on the second missing child.
  • Why is she not on the 1901 census? - (Or any of the family for that matter)
  • Why is she not on the 1891 census? - (Or any of the family for that matter) 
  • Why is she not on the 1881 census?
  • Why is she not on the 1871 census? - (There is a theme!)
  • Why is Richard not on any censuses either?
  • Where was she born? - I have found a record from 1860 that matches James as her father, but it's in Middlesex... Could she have moved so far? The 1911 census states she was born in Middlesbrough, but it also spells her name with a K so I'm not convinced...

So there are a lot of questions! If anyone can offer any advice I would be very grateful!


  1. Hi Katelyn,

    I'll try and answer some of your questions:

    You probably won't find any passenger lists of someone emmigrating to England from Ireland. I'm pretty sure lists weren't kept for such short journeys. My grandparents came over from Ireland in 1937 but I only know that from family knowledge. If your ancestors were headed for Middlesborough, then chances are they would have sailed to Liverpool. Probably from Dublin or Queenstown (now Cobh, in Cork).

    I think I have found the 1911 census return you have. Is it the one at 5 Blake Street, Middlesborough? You'll notice that William has taken on the responsibility as head of household, even though he lists himself as "son" rather than "head". Maybe he just misspelt his mother's and sister's names with a K. You'll notice in the Nationality column, the words "British subject" can be made out. Perhaps you were correct about Catherine being Irish...

    I cannot find them in any other censuses - I even tried looking for them in the 1901 Irish census, but no luck there either. You won't be able to find them earlier on in Ireland, either, as all the censues pre-1901 were destroyed in the Irish Civil War.

    I found the three birth registrations for William, Catherine and Teresa. I would also hazard a guess that the John registered in 1887 is one of the two children that died, but there doesn't seem to be any other matching births with young deaths in Middlesborough.

    I found it odd that Catherine and Richard married in 1883, yet Teresa's birth certificate in 1896 lists no father. Catherine is widowed by 1911, but a theory I have is that she may have been widowed a while before the 1911 census, and that Teresa was in fact illegitimate and not Richard's daughter. The fact that she lists Dick Wiseman as her father on her marriage certificate is not surprising - I had an illegitimate ancestor who listed his stepfather's name as his father's on his marriage certificate, and even went as far as changing the surname to match his!

    A tricky one, this one...

  2. Given that they married in a Catholic church, it does seem fairly likely that one or both of them was Irish. Also, Teresa is vaguely Irish too, so I think this is your best bet. Might explain why you can't find them before 1881 - or indeed in the interim, they might have travelled back to Ireland at some point. But you really need to locate them on the census to get more info.

    It's unlikely they missed all those censuses, so possibly they're using some sort of alias - that happened to me, all my Geoghegans decided to add Hayes to the end of their name on the 1881 census, for no discernable reason! I only found them by checking some of the more unusual christian names and ages, and cross-referencing them til I identified one family with them all in it!(They were part-Irish too, maybe it makes them crafty!)

    Have you located birth records for William and Katherine and were they both born in Middlesbrough? This should give you an idea of whether you should be expecting to find them in Middlesbrough on the cenusus - esp Katherine, as she was born in the census year. You could also order the brith certificates for William and Katherine, and see what comes up, whether their father is listed, etc. Also might be worth doing a search for baptism records, if they're available online.

    To find your missing Wiseman children, you could eliminate other Wiseman children from different families against the census records - it might not fully answer your question, but would probably narrow the possibilities down a bit. Then you could cross-reference against death indexes perhaps?

    Do we have a birth year for Catherine and Richard?

    Also, the 1911 census was the first one that households actually filled out themselves, so it seems to me that it's likely to be more rather than less accurate. Suggests Catherine did spell her own name with a K, or her husband did at least! This also suggests she was born in Middlesbrough, unless she was deliberatly lying. It's not unheard of for someone not even to be sure where they were born anyway - she might have moved there at a very young age, for example. But then you should be able to find the Briggs family on the Middlesbrough census...

    Just a few thoughts there, hoep some of them help! L

  3. " theory I have is that she may have been widowed a while before the 1911 census, and that Teresa was in fact illegitimate and not Richard's daughter."

    This seems like a very good theory to me. Can we find a possible death for Richard?

    1. There are no deaths for a Richard Wiseman in Middlesborough between 1883 and 1911. There are few not too far away, but I don't know his age. Most deaths are fairly old or infants. I'm assuming he was of a similar age to Catherine.

    2. There's a possible 1891 census entry, but it has the spouse's name as John not Richard - an alias perhaps? If you search without him you should be able to find it. (I've emailed it to Katelyn already!)

    3. It puts his age at 33 in 1891, btw!

    4. Based on the marriage certificate I have Catherine born in ~1860 and Richard/John born ~1855 (1858 in 1891)

    5. Maybe he didn't die, maybe he just left her and she was covering it up by saying she was 'widowed'? Would fit with the illegitimate child theory, as I don't think they could put his name on the birth certificate without his permission, but the marriage they might have been able to get away with. Teresa's marriage certificate doesn't say he was deceased, does it? They quite often do if the father is dead, but not always!

    6. It says deceased on the marriage certificate and lists his occupation as steelworker, but that was 1926.

      The marriage certificate of 'Richard' and Catherine list their fathers Richard Wiseman and James Briggs as deceased as well.