April 2011 – Finding Fanny Richards

Finding Fanny Richards

I gave a talk one Tuesday this month at the Wiltshire Family History Society, Devizes Branch “Finding Beryl’s Grandmother” or rather more accurately not finding her.

So who is Fanny Richards and why have I spent most of this month preparing for the talk and then following up the feedback.

Fanny Richards married John Crook Peapell on January 18th 1890 at Swindon (in the parish church – Christchurch). She was my Great Grandmother and the grandmother of my mother Beryl Richards Hurley (maiden name Webb). John Crook and Fanny had five children between 1891 and 1900. She died in 1917 and John Crook subsequently remarried. They lived in Swindon and then South Marston then a village a few miles north of Swindon, now virtually part of Swindon.

We know lots about Fanny and John Crook after their marriage but cannot find more than hints of her before the marriage. No obvious appearances in formal records or many family records that we can pin down. Beryl Hurley started looking for her in the early 1980s. Her marriage certificate said she was born in Newport Monmouthshire in 1866 and her father was Thomas Richards a Commercial Traveller. We also had two photographs taken in Newport one of her as a yound girl in the early 1870’s and the other of her mother in the mid 1860’s. There were stories she was brought up by her grandmother (a stay maker), she may have been a ladies maid and may have gone to America at some time. But we cannot find a birth that matches nor entries in the 1871 or 1881 census.

After much fruitless searching by Beryl and quizzing of her mother (Ethel Maud Webb maiden name Peapell) and of her Aunt (Fanny Richards Peapell known as Sissy) one clue came to light. In 1913 Fanny decided that her youngest daughter Sissy should learn to become a seamstress. She took Sissy to see her married cousin Elizabeth Keenan living in Bristol at Brook Street Montpelier.  Sissy could remember the address 72 years later. Sissy either did not want to move to Bristol or fancy being a seamstress because she did not take it up. However Fanny must have been in contact with her cousin and possible other family members.

Beryl found lots of information about where Elizabeth Keenan lived and all about her husband but could not trace Elizabeth back. So despite much effort over 20 years nothing more was known about Fanny.  However it did lead to a number of interesting talks to family history groups.

In 2007 more information became available on-line and searchable. At this time Beryl was seriously ill and unable to do her own research but John Hurley, her husband, found out that Elizabeth’s maiden name was “Richards” and was born in Cardiff – a breakthrough of a sort.

In 2009 I took up the challenge and started mining the information available from census and other parish records.  I am building up a picture of all the Richards in the Newport area. I have also traced Elizabeth Richards’s family and found that although it originated in Devon two of her uncles as well as her father moved to Cardiff and her grandparents and some of their children moved to Newport. So we have a clear Newport connection. But….There is no link to Fanny Richards and no link to a Thomas Richards commercial traveller.

I showed the photographs to the meeting asking them to confirm the family resemblance and give ages for the people. The consensus was that Fanny may have been born after 1866.  I also presented four possible scenarios to the meeting all supported by circumstantial information . This lead to an interesting discussion with an overwelming consensus that the information suggested that Elizabeth and Fanny were cousins and that the missing link would be found. I got some useful suggestions and have some new leads to follow up which is great. I really quite enjoyed it.

Well next month back to sorting out Peapell documents and the one name study.

Kevin Hurley

April 2011


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