The Elusive Ellen WILEY

I am trying to trace a direct ancestor who is something of a mystery. Ellen WILEY is my ggg grandmother. She married my ggg grandfather Robert WARD in 1839 by licence and from the various ages she used on the census she must have been born about 1815-1818. They lived in Marfleet in Yorkshire (on the North side of the Humber overlooking Lincolnshire), which was Robert Ward’s parish at the time and where he had been born. Her earlier roots are the problem. They shouldn’t be. She has coverage on 6 censuses and she has two marriage certificates; the church records prior to formal certificates for the whole county are all complete. But here’s the problem: we have her on 6 censuses each of which has a different place of birth, and she was married twice, and for each she gave a different father’s name. There is no baptism for an Ellen W(H)ILEY at any of the places she identified as being her parish of origin. Her birth places have some consistency in that some are around Friskney and Wainfleet, where WILEY families lived. On her first marriage, she claimed her father was Edward WILEY, but no-one of that name is mentioned at all – he seems to be a red herring. But in her second marriage, she said her father was William WILEY and there is indeed a William in Friskney.

What we know:

Ellen WILEY born 9 Jan 1839 married Robert WARD in Marfleet by licence, father named as Edward

1841 census: birthplace Yorkshire age 20 [b. 1821]

1851 census birthplace Lincs Foston (sic meant to be Boston?) age 33 [b. 1818]

1861 census birthplace Lincs Rangle (Wrangle?) age 43 [b. 1818]

1871 census birthplace Lincs Wainflit (Wainfleet?) age 53 [b.1818]

1881 census birthplace Yorks Preston aged 66 [b. 1815]

23 Apr 1888 Ellen WARD married Edward HUNTER, father named as William WILEY aged 71 [b. 1816]

1891 census birthplace Lincs Boston age 74 [b. 1817]

Died 17 Apr 1891 at Marfleet aged 74 [b. 1817]

Grave of Ellen and her first husband Robert WARD with their son James. The grave is in Hedon Road cemetery, Hull.
Robert and Ellen used several names for their children not present in earlier generations of the Ward family and some of these might be indicative of names from Ellen’s family. Having said that Robert’s brothers used unusual names without a precedent, including the unique name ‘Energy’ for one of their sons. Their children were: William, Arthur, Mary Tweed, Jesse, Frederick, James, Sarah Jane, Phoebe, Charles. The Ward family tree uses and would account for the choice of any of: William, Mary, Jane, Robert, Elizabeth, Joseph, Peter. Tweed was Robert’s mother’s maiden name, leaving potentially: Jesse, Frederick, James, Sarah, Phoebe and Charles… …as indicative of names in Ellen’s family. Why would someone not know where they were born, or change their father’s name? We might imagine that a registrar might enter the father’s name incorrectly, and neither Robert nor Ellen could read so they might not have known the name of Ellen’s father was mistaken. Ellen might have been born to wandering labourers who moved to the area for summer work and then back to their home parish later, and Ellen just knew that she was born somewhere in that part of Lincolnshire. Let me hazard a hypothesis. I wonder whether my Ellen WILEY is the Elizabeth WHILEY baptised in Friskney in 1818. She was the daughter of William WHILEY and Betsy; William was an Innkeeper who hanged himself in 1838, a scandal which at the time might have been widely reported. When getting married just a matter of months later, she did not want to be associated with the event, so she fabricated a different father’s name for the certificate. She may have even called herself my a new name, Ellen not Elizabeth, although she might be called Ellie either way. When asked her place of birth on the census, she may not have wished to be associated with that area. It was a poor area, and Robert Ward was a professional upwardly mobile working man in a prosperous area along the Humber. Perhaps she did not want the neighbours to know she was linked to a widely reported scandal from a rough part of rural Lincs. This might explain the extraordinary range of places of birth, ages and fathers names. One way we might test this hypothesis is via DNA although this is at the range of the resolution. I’d be interested to hear from anyone who is descended from the WHILEY family of Friskney to see if we can find a DNA match.

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