Assumptions In Research Are Tricky

While working on one of my Richardson family in Lincolnshire, England, I came across an Ancestry Tree that had a newspaper clipping that was associated with one of the wives of my relative. It didn’t make sense to me. I decided to do a bit more digging and it resulted in multiple “surprises” and wrong assumptions. It’s turned out to be a great lesson in always double checking all of your information, no matter how cut and dried it seemed. More importantly, I learned not to quickly make assumptions.

The questions raised by the newspaper article, revolved around the second wife of Robert Richardson of Waltham, Lincolnshire. Robert had 9 children with his first wife, Jane Surfleet. Jane died in 1843 and Robert married his second wife, Mary Dawson Parker.

In 1851, Robert, Mary, along with five of Robert’s children from his first marriage and two of Mary’s children from her first marriage, lived in Waltham, Lincolnshire.

In 1861, Robert was living on his own in Waltham and listed as a “widower”. His daughter, Rebecca, age 21, and two younger children, Moses, age 2, and Fanny F, age 2 weeks, were living with him. Moses and Fanny were listed as being the son and daughter of Robert. The information in this census led me to believe that Mary was the mother of Moses and Fanny, and that she probably died giving birth to Fanny.

Now comes the question of the newspaper announcement. In late December 1863, there was a notice in multiple newspapers saying that Robert Richardson, of Waltham, would not honor the debts of his wife, Mary. When I first saw this, I thought that it can’t be the same “wife, Mary” as Mary was dead! Well, you know what assumptions do.

cause of double checking information

As I was going over everything about this family again, looking for clues, the first one involved Moses Richardson. In 1871 he was living with his “half sister” Rebecca and her husband, George. Moses was listed as being George’s “step son”. Again, the first time I saw this record I assumed (there’s that word again) that it was just an error. That Moses was actually George’s half brother in law. I decided to look for more records for Moses. One of the first records that I found was his baptism which lists his only parent as “Rebecca Richardson, singlewoman”. This was the first big surprise.

The baptism record for Moses, led to me searching for the same for his sister, Fanny. Sure enough her baptism listed the same as far as parents, “Rebecca Richardson, singlewoman”. These discoveries let me to two new conclusions. The first was that Mary Dawson Parker Richardson had no children with Robert Richardson. That obviously leads to the fact that she wouldn’t have “died in childbirth”.

double checking records

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Looking at the newspaper announcement made a lot more sense with this new information. It seems that while Robert was listed as a widower, he was actually still married to Mary and she must have left him which led to him refusing to pay her debts.

I was never able to find any records for Mary after the newspaper article. I tried all of her possible surnames but couldn’t find her in Lincolnshire.
Finally, all of these new discoveries helped shed light on some other relationships. In 1871 Robert had what seemed to be a third wife, Harriet (Grice) Richardson. There were two children, listed as Joseph and Fanny Richardson, living with the couple. Making another assumption, I surmised that Joseph and Fanny were Robert’s children. This time, birth registration records come to the rescue. First, Joseph, who always used Robert’s surname, was actually named Joseph Fawlding Grice at birth in 1862. I hate to use this word again, but I assume that Fawlding was his biological father’s surname. Fanny’s birth registration listed her name as Fanny Richardson Grice in 1864. I believe that Robert was the father of Fanny, but that Harriet and Robert were not married. Remember that 1864 was the year that Robert refused to pay his second wife’s debts.

After having to “re-organize” a bunch of relationships in my tree, I’m finally happy to have sorted this family out. I feel confident that I have the correct story now and will be a lot more careful about making those tricky assumptions from now on.

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