Been a busy few weeks working on a large-scale project but had to write about the discovery of the week that came about really because of a dream I had a while back. Some branches of my tree seem to come so easily that it feels at times as if ancestors are throwing themselves at me whilst there are some lines that seem to grind to a halt and you can’t seem to get any further on them despite searching every possible avenue. I have a few brick walls in my tree that have proven to be very difficult but can testify that time and long-suffering and widening searches can be fruitful and pay dividends if you have the patience for it.
Today I am writing about my Great Great Grandfather on my father’s side of the family. His name was James Thorpe and for many many years all we had known about him had come from my mother’s research and our knowledge of him consisted of his life after marriage to my Great Great Grandmother Eliza or Elizabeth Powderley. Information about him prior to marriage was limited to the information contained on his marriage record and search after search had proven inconclusive. However, prompted by a post I made on my social media sites to mark the 160th year of Eliza Powderley’s birth and by an idea that had come about through a dream about James Thorpe I decided this week to look again at James to see if I could make any sense of my theory about him and find any answers as to why I was struggling to discover anything more about him.
So, what I have known for a long time about James Thorpe was that he was born in or about 1851 in Oldham, Lancashire, England. The one census record we could find of him was from 1881 when he was living in Oldham with his wife Eliza and their eldest daughter Maria Thorpe. James and Eliza had had two children – Maria and my Great Grandmother Susannah Thorpe who was born in 1883. I knew from Susannah’s birth certificate, that 1881 census and James’s marriage certificate that James was employed in the Cotton Mills and I also knew from his marriage certificate that his father’s name was Henry Thorpe.
James’s marriage certificate suggested a birth year of about 1853 and searches for a James Thorpe or Thorp born in either of those years in Oldham and with a father named Henry had been unsuccessful. When I picked up the research on him I found another record for him that did throw a little bit of a spanner into the works so to speak. I finally discovered the 1891 Census record for James with wife Elizabeth and daughters Maria and Susannah still living in Oldham and still working in the cotton mills but this record suggested he was born in Droylsden and not Oldham as we had always believed and so now I didn’t know which record was correct but if he was born in Droylsden then the birth would likely to have been registered in Ashton-under-Lyne and there was a birth registered in that district for a James Thorp which I ordered but which came back disppointingly with the wrong father’s name. It seemed that we were never destined to discover anything further about James and his family and so the search was abandoned for a long time to work on other things. James died in 1901 and no further records were forthcoming for him. His wife Eliza re-married in 1903 after James died to a man named James Betteney and she remained with him until her death in 1917.
Fast forward many years and a decision to have another look at James and after a frustrating day getting nowhere with him, I retired to bed with him on my mind and had a dream in which I apparently woke my husband with ramblings that he wrote down in order to show and “mock” me with in the morning when I was more “compos mentis”. The ramblings seemed to centre on Eliza’s second husband James Betteney with ideas about him being a “naughty man” and the suggestion that he held the “key” so I decided I should research into James Betteney more.
The only record I had of James Betteney was the 1911 census in which he appeared with my Great Great Grandmother Eliza but on that census record there also appeared another James Betteney who was aged 16 and was listed as the son of James Betteney Sen. and Eliza. It also said he was born in Burnley so I knew that he could not be Eliza’s son as he would have been born when Eliza was still married to James Thorpe and living in Oldham. That prompted further research into James Betteney’s life before his marriage to my Great Great Grandma and to make a long story short, I discovered that he had been married twice before and that he had actually left his first wife Emma Hughes some time after 1891 and had had James Betteney Junior out of wedlock to a woman named Mary Ellen Ashworth in 1894 before Emma died in 1896 leaving James free to then marry Mary Ellen in that same year. Another daughter named Beatrice Betteney was also born to them in 1896 but Mary Ellen then dies in 1899 leaving James a widow with two young children to care for.
I took the decision to follow the trail of the two children James and Beatrice and in 1901 found them with their father living in the household of a man named Henry Thorpe with his wife Harriet and daughter Sarah. Interestingly, James and Beatrice were both listed with the surname Thorpe and as being children of Henry and Harriet whilst James Betteney Senior was listed as being single rather than widowed and a lodger. The birth details for the children were a match for James and Beatrice Betteney however so I knew they were James’s children and not Henry and Harriet’s. I think the children were informally adopted by Henry and his wife to assist James who had probally struggled with being a widowed man with two young children.
What suddenly struck me like a lightning bolt though was that James was living with the Thorpe family and I felt very stongly that the connection was something more than coincidental. I felt that this was how Eliza Powderley had come to know and be acquainted with James Betteney prior to her marriage to him – through James Betteney’s connection with the family of her deceased husband James Thorpe and so I had to research Henry Thorpe more and see if I could find a connection to James.
That research led to the discovery that Henry was born in DROYLSDEN (Are you seeing the connection?) and the only census record I can find of him prior to his marriage and with his parents is in 1851 in Droylsden with father Henry Thorp (Yes!), mother Winifred Thorp and younger brother James Ed Thorp (Yes! Yes!). On that record, it stated that James was born in 1849 and suggested a possible middle name of Ed? – Edward maybe, the document wasn’t clear but I felt so close and that this was so likely to be my Great Great Grandfather. Henry and Winifred’s marriage record although unclear revealed that Winifred’s maiden name was Dignum or Dignon and so I set about searching for a birth record for a James Thorpe or Thorp with possible middle name of Edward for 1849 or thereabouts and this time, again the number of possibilities was endless. I couldn’t find one with a middle name beginning with E in the right year and area and so was beginning to feel that familiar frustration come upon me when I saw a record for a James DEGNON Thorpe. Lightning shock to the heart again and I just knew that had to be it so I ordered it and this week it came!
I feel an absolute surety that this is my Great Great Grandfather – James Degnon Thorpe, born 18 Feb 1849 to Henry Thorpe and Winifred Degnon in Droylsden, Lancashire, England. Subsequent research has shown that Henry and Winifred only had the two boys Henry and James and that they died before the 1861 census which is why I cannot find James or Henry on any further census records until they are married. Perhaps they were fostered or informally adopted out once their parents had died and their surnames were changed to fit in with their new family and maybe someone may one day discover a census record in 1861 or 1871 with two boys named Henry or James with a different surname that they can’t find birth records for but until that day and after speaking with my family about these discoveries and thoughts, we are content that this is Great Great Grandpa James. I acknowledge angelic help speaking to me in my dreams to provide clues on where to find him. I believe so strongly that the spirits of our ancestors are working equally hard on the other side of the veil that separates us to help them be found and that if we act on the ideas and thoughts that come to us in dreams and at more lucid times, we will find them. I have had too many experiences like this for it not to be so.
In a closing note for my family who have access to my complete family tree. I have already researched more on Henry and Winifred to discover our 4th great Grandparents George and Ellen Thorpe. Winifred is going to be challenging – she came from Ireland originally and does not name a father on her marriage certificate to Henry and does not know how to spell given I have seen her surname spelt at least 4 different ways but experience says to never give up – who knows what may come from a dream!