A first wife, an unknown father and yet more questions!

Well, the marriage certificate I ordered at the end of my last post arrived and has created even more questions! Take a look…

Richard Howard and Sophia Stevens’ marriage certificate – please click to enlarge

Firstly, Sophia Stevens has no father listed. This is the first time I’ve come across an ancestor with an unknown father – I imagine it may be difficult to track her ancestral line further back, but I’m keen to have a go! Interestingly, it seems Sophia was literate as she has signed her name at the bottom of the certificate, while Richard has made a mark.

Initially, I thought Richard’s father was recorded as ‘Janus Howard’ on the far right of the certificate. However, I’ve been unable to find any Janus Howards in any census so I suspect that part of the writing may be missing, making the name look different. Take a look at the image I’ve doctored below – if a line is added between what I originally thought was an ‘n’ and a ‘u’, the name looks like it should be James Howard.

Richard Howard’s father’s name

Finally, the marriage certificate revealed that Richard was a widower when he married Sophia. This is very useful information and has helped me find Richard Howard in the 1861 census.

In 1871, Richard was living in Buntingford, Hertfordshire with his ‘wife’ Sophia (I now know they weren’t actually married at this point) and children, Jesse and Mercy. Before now, the 1861 census had stumped me as the only likely record I could find was this one:

Richard Howard in the 1861 census – please click to enlarge

Here, Richard is listed with a different wife (Mary Howard) and two children with a different surname (Salt) living in Biggleswade, Bedfordshire. Now that I know Richard was a widower when he married Sophia in 1875, I could presume that Mary was his first wife and that perhaps her surname had been Salt.

I searched the marriage records for Richard Howard marrying someone with the surname Salt and found this marriage record:

Richard Howard and Mercy Salt’s marriage record

It seems Richard’s first wife’s name was not Mary, but Mercy Salt. He married Mercy in Biggleswade, Bedfordshire in 1859. Sure enough, I found a listing in the death records for Mercy Howard in 1864:

Mercy Howard’s death record

I was quite touched when I discovered that Richard’s first wife was called Mercy. My great-great-grandmother (Richard’s daughter by his second wife) was also given this name, a lovely tribute to his first wife.

9 Responses to “A first wife, an unknown father and yet more questions!”

  1. Jean Abbs Says:

    i have a similar story dad first wife just found marriage record after 20 years searching now trying to find my half brother and sister
    cannot find death records for his first wife

    • Amy Says:

      It just hadn’t even crossed my mind that he might have been married before – will definitely be looking out for that in the future! Good luck with your research, Jean!

  2. Carolyn Durkin Says:

    Please check again the copy of the marriage details of Richard and Sophia. Am I right in thinking this is part typed and part facsimile? The actual entry looks like a copy of the original. The writing is typically flowery Victorian and every detail, including Sophia’s name is written in the same hand. This may cast doubt on Sophia being able to write her own name.
    Looking at the 1861 census I note that Mercy must have been about 15/16 years old when she became a mother. Poor soul, she was well named. Good luck with your research.

    • Amy Says:

      Hi Carolyn,

      I think you may be right about the marriage cert. If it has been copied though, surely the fact that Sophia’s name has been written rather than her mark suggests she was able to sign the original? What do you think?

  3. Cathy Says:

    All GRO certificates are copied. The original or original copy is at the local Register Office. In a case like this it would be wise to get a copy of the local certificate. I prefer to see the Parish Register whenever possible. In this case you need the Register Office register so you probably need the certificate from Hertfordshire. See http://www.hertsdirect.org/your-community/register/online/copycert/.
    It’s easier to get a GRO certificate as they’re indexed online and elsewhere than to get a local registration district certificate although more counties are putting up their own indexes. You generally need to know the date and place of the event to get a local certificate rather than the GRO index information.

  4. Jean Abbs Says:

    could be James not Janus have u tried this

  5. Revelations in The British Newspaper Archive « Amy: Finding My Past Says:

    […] Amy: Finding My Past « A first wife, an unknown father and yet more questions! […]

  6. Newspaper article reveals Mercy Howard’s cause of death | Amy: Finding My Past Says:

    […] already know that Richard was a widower when he married my great-great-great-grandmother and that his first wife […]

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