It becomes terribly frustrating when you are researching an individual whose surname is entirely baffling! One often expects to be puzzling over unknown maiden names but there are so many reasons a surname can be a mystery. I’ve discussed the confusion of the French-Canadian “dit” name, and the anglo-sizing of German names in my family in previous posts but what about the bazaar and unexplained which cause shifts in surnames?
I have been chasing a brick wall ancestor for some time in my husband’s tree with little success. James Enoch Butler Bryant was my husband’s 2nd Great Grandfather. Assuming his last name was indeed Bryant and that his father was Joseph Barnett Bryant–the father with which he lived after arriving in Canada–I spent countless hours in search of this Bryant family in England. But what happens when the Bryant I am in search of turns out to be a Butler?
After fruitless searching I decided that James Enoch Butler Bryant was a terribly unusual name. It seemed a double surname, Butler and Bryant. Of course, my first instinct was that perhaps Butler was the maiden name of his mother, or even of a grandmother; Often such names are carried through the generations in this way. I started to search for James and his mother Hannah as Butlers rather than Bryants in the England Census. It took some crazy further searching but I found a James Enoch Butler living with his mother Hannah Butler, grandmother, Alice Sheldon, and his uncle Edwin Sheldon in West Bromwich, Staffordshire, England. Well, it was a lead so I ran with it!
It is funny how the more genealogical research one does the more instinctual it becomes. I sometimes imagine it is the hand of an ancestor pulling us along, curling a pointer finger in a come hither motion, visible only to one’s psyche. Regardless of what triggers that sense of correct direction, it’s there! It is this instinct which aids us to pick up signs, clues, and cues in tracking down the individual or individuals we are hunting. I felt this lead tugging me onward. The 1881 England Census indicated that Hannah Butler was married and because she was the daughter of the “head of household” Alice Sheldon I knew the likelihood was her maiden name had been Sheldon but where was her husband? Beyond having the common last name Butler I had no idea who he was. There were many Butlers in West Bromwich, as well can be imagined, and I could not find a marriage nor a birth record to indicate the Butler-Sheldon connection so a brick wall was soon laid, each resultless search adding one more solid brick.
It is never futile to try searching various sites in a variety of ways. I finally did find a marriage record for Hannah Sheldon and a John Thomas James Butler in Neighbouring Dudley, Staffordshire, England in 1876 (James Enoch was born the following year in 1877). Knowing now I likely had the correct family, I found Hannah Butler’s second marriage in Woodstock, Ontario, Canada to Joseph Barnett Bryant in 1882. Most poingiant is the fact that, like Hannah, Joseph was also a single parent of a young boy about the same age as James Enoch. Both were from West Bromwich originally so, while they married in North America, it is likely they met in England. Five year old James Enoch Butler Bryant was obviously raised by Joseph Bryant as his own kin.
The mystery now is: What happened to John Thomas James Butler? Did he die between 1877, the year his son was born, and 1881, when he does not appear with his wife in the census? Did he desert his family? I have yet to track his death but this weekend’s free records access on Find My Past has produced one more document which both helps and complicates things further. I thank John Thomas James Butler’s parents for naming him so prolifically for I found a parish baptismal record for John Thomas James Butler born 23 May 1858 in Kinver, Staffordshire, England to
James and Jane (and yes, James was stricken out just as I have here). More name confusion! If Jane was his mother and no father was meant to be listed is Butler Jane’s maiden name or the father’s name? And although we know James was not meant to be written was that truly his father’s name but accidentally recorded or was it a complete error?
What I have learned is that John Thomas James Butler at the age of three can be found in the 1861 England Census in Kinver, Staffordshire living with 53 year old John Overton and his 52 year old wife Sarah. My first instinct is that these are his grandparents but ironically the relationship field for John Thomas James Butler was left blank! If these are truly John Thomas James Butler’s grandparents was his mother’s maiden name Overton? Or perhaps Overton was indeed his father’s last name. I think I must continue seeking the pieces to this puzzle! What else might I discover before the weekend comes to a close?