I love the interplay of family relationships in family trees. I am sure we are all accustomed to the principle of what a simple family tree looks like. It is linear in it’s appearance and the principle of it is very straightforward. We begin with ourselves and progress in a straight line backwards in time branching out to the next generation.
Example of a simple family tree
However, in reality family trees are rarely this simple. People have multiple marriages, have children to different partners, cousins marry cousins and with all of that, those very linear looking branches suddenly look not quite so linear. In fact they can become very convoluted and for me that is where family history becomes really interesting. I love to see and try to get to grips with the intertwining of those branches and discover where connections between different sides of my tree are made and I find the complexity of relationships really fascinating in the unravelling. I have lots of examples of this in my tree but am posting today about the one I discovered just this week and I stumbled across this one quite by accident whilst going over some family lines to try and fill in some gaps on family members I hadn’t been able to find much on to date.
Ruth Norton was one of those people I was doing a review on. She was my 3rd Great Aunt, daughter to 3rd Great Grandparents Wright Norton and Sarah Marshall. She was the youngest of 5 children and I had successfully researched all of her siblings, tracing them right through to their deaths but so far I only had a picture in my mind of Ruth up to the age of 19 when she married and then I had lost all trail of her and couldn’t find out what had happened to her after her marriage and so what started out as a day of trying to find out what happened to her I discovered a whole lot more than I bargained for.
So Ruth, born in 1863 in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire, England married on 20 February 1882 in Stalybridge, Cheshire, England to James Brough who was also 19 and living in Dukinfield but was originally from Tupton Moor in Derbyshire.
Marriage Record for James Brough and Ruth Norton
I could not find either of these individuals on a census record living together as a married couple. I wondered if they had both met with an untimely accident and died very young but could not find a likely death record. I wondered if they had emigrated but all efforts to trace them just ended at a brick wall until my Ancestry hints threw up a record from the criminal registers for a James Brough tried in Cheshire in 1890. I decided to look at it as if this was my James Brough it would explain why if he was in prison I could not find him and Ruth on the 1891 Census together and this is what I found.
Court Record for James Brough (Click on image to enlarge)
As indicated in the record, I learned that this James Brough had been charged with bigamy and had pleaded guilty to that charge and had been sentenced to serve 15 months hard labour in Knutsford prison. The record was a match in age and occupation for my James Brough and stated that his first wife was named Ruth so I felt pretty certain at that point that this was my man but ordered the marriage certificate for his bigamous marriage to Elizabeth Monaghan which the record stated occurred on 5 September 1886.
Marriage Certificate for James Brough and Elizabeth Monaghan
That marriage certificate gave the same name and occupation for James Brough’s father that was given on his first marriage record so I knew we had a match but you can see on this record that James Brough was clearly giving false information by stating he was a Bachelor and had never been married before when he was still obviously very much married.
That discovery didn’t make searches for Ruth Norton any easier. I still have not found out what happened to her after this event and I may never. She could have remarried although it would have been unlikely given that divorce was really difficult if not impossible to get back then but she could have reverted back to her maiden name or just changed it to avoid any shame of what her husband had done or could have lived with somebody and just taken on their name. In any event, my investigation would ordinarily end there but ever intrigued and curious to research until I can find no more I decided to pick up the research on the third person in this bigamous relationship and try and find out what happened to Elizabeth Monaghan, the victim of James’s bigamy.
Elizabeth’s father was a Francis Monaghan according to the marriage record and was a Collier by trade so my searches on census records centered around matches for that information. I discovered on the 1881 census that a Francis Monaghan, an “outdoor labourer” from Ireland with wife Elizabeth Ann Monaghan from Yorkshire was living in Dukinfield with their then 7 seven children and Elizabeth Monaghan was their eldest daughter, the record stating she was born in Jump, Yorkshire around 1865. This looked to be a likely match. Although I couldn’t initially find a birth record for Elizabeth Monaghan, research on all of Elizabeth’s siblings confirmed their mother’s maiden name as being Dyson and that Francis the “outdoor labourer” was a collier and they all despite starting life out in Yorkshire ended up in Stalybridge but research on this family began to pull at my memories because I was already familiar wih the surname Monaghan.
My Great Aunt Mary Elizabeth Batters had married a Jack Monaghan and I had remembered in my research that his Grandmother had been called Elizabeth Monaghan but I had done little to no research on her so didn’t know if there was a connection. I decided to look further.
Great Aunt Mary Elizabeth Batters, Grand-Niece of Ruth Norton
Great Uncle Jack Monaghan, Grandson of Elizabeth Monaghan
I knew that Jack Monaghan’s father was Joseph Monaghan and that Joseph’s marriage certificate had given his father as being Jonathan Monaghan but Joseph’s birth record showed that he was in fact the illegitimate son of Elizabeth Monaghan (unmarried) and he was born in 1885 in Stalybridge. The 1891 census showed Joseph living with his mother Elizabeth in the household of a Jonathan Smith. His mother was cited as being single on this record but Jonathan was his mother’s age and I wonder if this Jonathan was the man Jack was referring to on his marriage certificate with his mother possibly living with Jonathan out of wedlock and so him being the only father Jack was likely to have ever known but changing his surname to match his own for the appearance of legitimacy. I started to think that Joseph Monaghan’s mother Elizabeth could be the same Elizabeth Monaghan who married James Brough. The 1891 census with Elizabeth and Joseph on it would be at a time when James Brough was incarcerated and Elizabeth’s marriage to him would have been annulled making her a single woman again.
A closer look at the detail for Elizabeth Monaghan on that 1891 census showed that she was born around 1867 in Barnsley, Yorkshire, England. Having searched for and being unable to find a birth record for Elizabeth Monaghan, I felt inclined to do a wildcard search for any Elizabeths born with a surname beginning in M and ending in N and with a mother’s maiden name of Dyson. I got a hit for Elizabeth Mulligan born in 1865 in Barnsley and ordered the birth certificate which came back confiming that the parents were named Francis Mulligan and Ann Dyson. Additional research confirmed that Jump was a village lying wihin the registration district of Barnsley, Yorkshire. I had found my Elizabeth.
Birth Record for Elizabeth Monaghan (spelt Mulligan here)
Elizabeth remained in Stalybridge and remained single her entire life. She never stayed with the Jonathan Smith she was living with in 1891 and on subsequent census records she states she is a widow as does James Brough despite neither of them re-marrying. She dies in 1940 in Stalybridge and is buried at St Paul’s in Stalybridge where her son Joseph was also buried.
The interesting twist for me though lies in discovering that Ruth Norton was the Great Aunt of Mary Elizabeth Batters and Elizabeth Monaghan was the Grandmother of Jack Monaghan, two women who married the same man and whose descendants would marry each other in the same year that Elizabeth Monaghan died, neither party I’m sure aware of the fact that both sides of their family tree had converged before over 50 years earlier.
I am as always careful to make no judgement on James Brough and his actions. It was a different time and I have no idea of his life and marriage to Ruth Norton other than what the documents tell me. His actions were criminal only because the law of the land stated they were criminal and at least he took responsibility for that and paid the consequences as he should.