Surely Eleanor won’t be hard to find!

In the course of family history research, we often get dead ends, when we just can’t identify our ancestor. This is more common with female ancestors when we may just have a first name to work with.

This is the case with my ancestor ‘Eleanor’.

When I first discovered the parents of my 4x gt Grandmother Dinah Dawson, were William and Eleanor Dawson, I was pleased, thinking that Eleanor would be a reasonably easy name to research. But the course of family history never runs smoothly.

Stradbroke All Saints Church

The detective investigation began with censuses which stated that Dinah was born in Stradbroke Suffolk. More historical information here Stradbroke Archives

Dinah was the wife of Henry Frost, and they had married in 1850 in Ipswich, but by 1861, they were living at St Mary Abbotts, Kensington, a very poor area of Notting Dale, where other family ancestors were also living.

(She was well documented, appearing in every census 1841 -1901).

The next step was to check the Stradbroke baptism records which gave her baptism date as 3rd April 1831, along with her sisters, Caroline 9th April 1826, and Frances 29 June 1828, and brothers Edgar 19 January 1834 and Edgar Brixton 15 November 1835. Their parents were William Dawson, workhouse master and wife Eleanor.

It was reasonably easy to check back into William’s ancestry, and that his family came from Stradbroke, where he was baptised in 1787. I have not chased this any further back at the moment, but it appears that this Dawson family were fairly well established in the Stradbroke area. Further researches revealed that William had been a professional soldier, and he had fought at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

So then we checked the 1841 census, to discover that Fanny aged 13, Edmund aged 11 and Dinah aged 9, were in the Hoxne Union Workhouse, and Caroline was working locally as a Female servant. At that point we were unsure whether this was because their father was the master, or if they were orphans. It appeared they were orphans, as there was no mention of their parents.

1841 Census entry for Dawson children

For years I thought that the workhouse enumerator had mistakenly included Edgar as Edmund, and given him the wrong age. But a recent search has revealed a very interesting connection.

In the household of a Louisa Musk aged ’30’ an Agricultural labourer widow, (living in Stradbroke, but not born in Suffolk), and her children, (who have common family names, Eleanor, William, Frederick, Edmund, Caroline and Elizabeth), was Edgar Dowson (Dawson) aged five.

Further searches, revealed that Louisa’s maiden name was Dawson, and that her husband Edmund Musk had been transported to Van Diemens Land (Tasmania), for seven years in 1832 for larceny. Was Louisa really a widow in 1841, and who was the father of the four younger children? Was Louisa another daughter of William and Eleanor?

William Dawson had died by 1841. A search for William’s death showed he died in Stradbroke, late 1837. This was a fortunate date for a researcher, as it meant he had a death certificate. (National registration began earlier in the year).

William Dawson Death certificate 1837

I applied for his death certificate which showed, he had died in Stradbroke on 8th August 1837 aged 50, his occupation was given as Soldier Pensioner. I was surprised that this was the occupation given, as he would probably be better known as the workhouse master in Stradbroke.

But where and who was Eleanor, there was apparently no record of her death, or a marriage.

If William had been a soldier, it meant he could have married anywhere in the country, or even the world for that matter. Searches were not bringing up any suitable marriages in Britain. There was one couple with the same names in the north of England, but they were obviously not the right couple, by occupation, children and death dates.

Even though I imagined Eleanor would be an easy name to research, she could also have been entered in the records as, – Ellen, Eleanora, Helen, Helena, or Nellie. Even Dawson, was occasionally entered as Dowson, to further complicate searches.

Wildcard searches, eventually bought up the births of three more children, two of them in London, but much earlier, Caroline, James, and Frederick. Caroline was baptised in Stradbroke as ‘Dowson’ on 25th April 1813. James was baptised at Marylebone on 5th June 1815 to William Dawson (a soldier) and Eleanor. Frederick was baptised at St Margaret Westminster on 13th January 1817, born on 10th December 1816, they were living at New Peter Street, with William described as Private in the 1st Guards.

William Dawson was discharged from the army in 1825, (Caroline was born the following year in Stradbroke), and presumably soon after this he would have taken up the post of workhouse master at Stradbroke. It seems this was a common occupation for ex military men. Presumably the settled life, led to the birth of their further four children.

William Dawson discharge with pension 1825.

Discharge date 2nd June, aged 38 years. He had served 19 years and 5 months in total with the First Foot Guards, now, Grenadier Guards. (He must have signed up in 1805/6), (5 yrs 1 month as a Sergeant: 9 years 4 months as a Corporal and 5 years 1 month as a Private) These figures were used to calculate his pension. He had to retire due ‘the diseased state of his ankle, and had previously been a labourer. Home village Stradbroke Suffolk. (5’8″ grey eyes, fair complexion, although this is difficult to read).

Whilst the information is available for William Dawson, the same cannot be said for his wife, the only information we have to date is as his wife, when children are baptised.

Two children were baptised with the name Edgar. The first, in January 1834, then, in November 1835, another, Edgar Brixton. We have to assume that the first Edgar died, but no record for that has been found. Records exist online for an Edgar ‘Britton’ Dawson, army discharge in 1879, so he appears to have followed in his fathers footsteps. I have been unable to follow this link as yet.

Could Brixton hold the clue. It seems to be a common occurrence following the death of one child, to give another the same name, and add the mothers maiden name. However searching for Eleanor Brixton, bought up no matches. I wondered if the second Edgar had been born in Brixton, but again no results. I had to leave research at that for a while. Then several years later, new information came online. I did a simple search again for a marriage of William Dawson to Eleanor, and hey presto, a result.

A record appeared for the marriage of William Dawson to Eleanor Briton on 18th September 1810, at St John the Evangelist, Smith Square Westminster. Witnesses appear to be Richard Letton and Elizabeth Briton. Lucky to have survived, the record looks as though it has been in a serious fire.

Marriage of William Dawson to Eleanor Briton

The surname of Eleanor, may not be ‘Brixton’, but it is not far off, and perhaps the vicar of Stradbroke Church misheard. The date would fit the birth of the older children. I haven’t found any children born between 1810 and 1813, but perhaps William was involved in army activities at this time. There is the Louisa ‘Musk’ Dawson, born 1811, according to the 1841 census.

A search for the birth of a suitable ‘Eleanor Briton’, reveals just one, although this search was done using only online records.

Eleanor Briton, born 6th and baptised 23rd December 1791 to William and Jane at St Mary Magdalene, Woolwich, Kent.

This is where the story will have to end for now, but hopefully as new information becomes available, we can take it further.

Line of descent

  • Angela Sanderson
  • Cynthia Harvey married David Sanderson
  • Winifred Tranter married Charles Harvey
  • Florence Frost married Frederick Tranter
  • Harry Frost married Caroline Lovell
  • Henry Frost married Dinah Dawson
  • William Dawson married Eleanor Briton
  • William Briton married Jane