A heads up that I will be giving a talk via Zoom at 7.30 p.m. on 10 May 2022 about the Lusitania sinking of 7 May 1915.
Huddersfield and District Family History Society are hosting the talk and more details are in the advert below. Essentially it is free for Society members, and a minimum £2 donation for non-members. Registering is by sending an email with ‘Local Lusitania Links’ in the subject box to email@example.com
As well as background details, I will be exploring some of the local links from around the family history society area to illustrate why the sinking had such a huge impact on our community.
It should be a fascinating talk packed with information and some amazing tales of loss and survival.
In 1834 Susan Gibson (née Rylah) made the news across England. The Leeds Times of 20 October 1834 typified reporting when it wrote:
RARE NEWS FOR MALTHUS!! – A woman named Susan Gibson, of Earlsheaton, was brought to bed of three children on Wednesday last, who with mother are all doing well – she has born twins twice before.
The children, Joseph, Rachel and Leah, arrived in the world on 17 September 1834. Their father was clothier Thomas Gibson. Soothill was the family abode given in the parish register, though Susan (sometimes referred to as Susy or Susannah) was born in Earlsheaton and the family did eventually move there.
The infant newsmakers were baptised at All Saints Dewsbury Parish Church on 12 October 1834, along with December 1831-born sister, Elizabeth. This was the same church in which their parents married on 22 July 1821.
The headline’s Malthus referred to the influential, but controversial, English economist Thomas Malthus. His population growth theories centred round the argument that increases in population would diminish the ability of the world to feed itself and there would be insufficient land for crops. Citing Malthus was a recurring theme in reporting unusual birth stories during this period.
Interestingly, at the same time as the press reported the birth of the Gibson trio, they were also reporting the birth of Bridlington’s Thompson triplets. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were the sons of Bridlington Quay stone mason Robert Thompson and his wife Ann. They were described as being ‘all well and likely to live’. The Bridlington St Mary (Priory) parish register recorded the baptism of Robert Thompson’s ‘thrine sons‘ on 22 September 1834, all under the same entry (No 649) in the baptism register, rather than under their own individual entries.
Neither set of triplets added to the population pressure though. Despite the hopeful press outlook at the time of their birth they all failed to thrive. The Thompson trio lingered longest. Jacob was buried on 16 November 1834; Abraham 22 January 1835; and finally Isaac on 17 March 1835.
The demise of the Gibson babies was far swifter. Less than three weeks after their baptism all were dead. A 12-day period in late October/early November 1834 saw a series of Gibson funerals at the parish church. Rachael (as her name was recorded in the burial register) was buried first, on 26 October. Before the month was out Leah died too, her burial taking place on 31 October. The final triplet, Joseph, was interred on 6 November.
As it is pre-July 1837, there is no civil registration. We’re relying on parish registers, and it is not possible from these entries to identify the earlier sets of twins born to Susan. Birth dates are an exception in the baptism register. It’s usually just a baptism date which is given. And, as indicated when the triplets were baptised alongside their almost three-year-old sister, the family were not always prompt in initiating their offspring into the church. It appears some of the Gibson children died before baptism. But burials are inconclusive too. These give father’s name – but there are three clothiers named Thomas Gibson in the Soothill area to muddy the burial entries. And some of the entries simply indicate S.B.C. (abbreviation for stillborn child) or an unbaptized [sic] child with the name of a parent (father, unless illegitimate). So without the newspaper reports we may never have known about Susan’s tendency towards multiple births.
The census provides no clues. In 1841 the family lived at Town Green, Soothill and in addition to Thomas and Susan the household includes Sarah (20), Martha (15), Elizabeth (9), Jane (5), William (3) and Ann (1) – but bear in mind the age of those over 15 was supposed to be rounded down to the nearest multiple of five, and relationship details are absent in this census. However it is clear there are no common ages.
Similarly the 1851 census has no indication of multiple births either. In terms of the couple’s children, Jane (15), William (incorrectly entered as 18 – he was born in 1837) and Ellen (9) are recorded. However, it appears from the GRO Birth Indexes that Ellen was a twin too. Her birth is registered in the same quarter at Dewsbury as an Eliza Gibson, mother’s maiden name Rylah.
Eliza Gibson’s burial is recorded on 21 February 1842 at Dewsbury All Saints, father Thomas.
And Susan Gibson comes nowhere near earning the accolade of most prolific mother ever. That dubious honour goes to the wife of a Russian peasant, as detailed by Guinness World Records:
The greatest officially recorded number of children born to one mother is 69, to the wife of Feodor Vassilyev (b. 1707–c.1782), a peasant from Shuya, Russia. In 27 confinements she gave birth to 16 pairs of twins, seven sets of triplets and four sets of quadruplets
Leeds Times. 20 October 1834 via FindMyPast
John Bull. 13 October 1834 via FindMyPast
Dewsbury All Saints Baptism Register. West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference WDP9/11, via Ancestry.co.uk
Dewsbury All Saints Burial Register. West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference WDP9/50, via Ancestry.co.uk
Ibid, Reference WDP9/51
Dewsbury All Saints Marriage Register. West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference WDP9/21, via Ancestry.co.uk
Bridlington St Mary (Priory), Parish Register of Baptisms 1830-1847. East Riding Archives and Local Studies Service, Reference PE153/11
Bridlington St Mary (Priory), Parish Register of Baptisms 1813-1838. East Riding Archives and Local Studies Service, Reference PE153/38
1841 Census. TNA, Reference HO107/1268/14/7/7, via Ancestry.co.uk
1851 Census. TNA. Reference HO107/2325/133/11, via Ancestry.co.uk
War Memorials can be found in churches, towns and villages the length and breadth of the country, inscribed with the names of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Years later researching those named can prove problematical, as all that exists on the Memorial is a name. I know this only too well from my Batley St Mary’s research!
However some Parishes and Districts went a step further and, in addition to these Memorials, they produced registers and books containing more details about their war dead.
This Christmas my parents bought me a limited edition reproduction of one such book, the Upper District of Soothill War Register and Records of War Service 1914 to 1920.
The original was compiled by the Rev W.E. Cleworth, Vicar of St Paul’s, Hanging Heaton. Printed by E.F. Roberts in Batley, it was based on a War Service Register kept by the Vicar from the start of the war. The Soothill Upper War Memorial Committee subsequently assisted. When the war ended 1,000 Record Forms were printed, information inserted from the Manuscript Register and then these were distributed to households in the area for correction and additions. Over 900 were returned and these were used in the production of the book, which was truly a parish effort. Copies of the original book are held at St Paul’s Hanging Heaton and Batley library.
It is particularly noteworthy that this book contains the names of not only those who gave their lives in the course of the conflict; it includes information about all those from the District who served. So a wonderful record of those who came home and are all too often overlooked.
It contains addresses, Units, age when war service commenced, places served, promotions, distinctions and other points of interest about the service careers of those featured.
Details of the limited edition reproduction organised by Margaret Watson, including more about the original, can be found in October 2014 editions Batley & Birstall News. However I understand the reprint has now sold out. The book includes a number of men linked to my family tree, including Jesse Hill, so I am so pleased to now own a copy. And I am indebted to Margaret and all those who worked on putting the reprint together.
On a recent visit to Lavenham, Suffolk I popped into the local Parish Church of St Peter and Paul to look at their War Memorial. To my surprise and joy beneath their Memorial they too had a book.
Lavenham Parish Church – Jane Roberts
This one commemorated those who died in both World Wars. A handwritten Book of Remembrance dating from 1922, it was compiled with the specific intention that those who died would have more than their names remembered.
Lavenham War Memorial – Jane Roberts
There appeared to be a page devoted to each man, giving name, age and address alongside service details and even extracts from letters informing families of their loss. A wonderful lasting legacy for generations to come.
These books are particularly poignant because of their “of the time” nature. I wonder how many more are out there? And how many are being reprinted to ensure these men’s memories are perpetuated?