August 2007

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

Peter Jackson

This has no connection with Royston, I am a newcomer of only a few years, having been brought up in Hornsey, in north London, near where my father and his family had their origins. But, it may bring a smile to a face. Nearly 20 years ago my father, then a widower, moved house from Hornsey down to the South Coast, and helping him to pack up and sort out some things I came across a packet of family papers which my mother had put together. The contents included a copy of my own birth certificate and my father's. I was, at the time, starting to become interested in my family history so I persuaded Dad to let me keep them.

My paternal grandparents died in the mid 1950's: I remember, as a small boy, being taken to see them on a regular basis, possibly because my father, of their four children, lived nearest to them, only a 1d bus ride for me and 2d for Dad. It was just north of Finsbury Park railway and underground station in Moray Road in the N4 postal district of London. I was surprised to find, from his birth certificate, that my father was born in the same house 40 years earlier, so his parents hadn't moved around much. The certificate named his parents as father Alfred Jackson and mother May Bettles: they were my paternal grandparents. I got their marriage certificate and, at their marriage, in 1905, May gave her age as 27 and Alfred his as 31. I know the latter is accurate, as, using it I did not have to search far in the GRO birth index to find the right quarter for his birth and, when I got his birth certificate the age was spot on; he was 31.

To begin with I concentrated on that branch. It has been extremely fruitful to research and has taken me back to the start of Parish Registers on a couple of lines in Cambridgeshire. But, searching the GRO Indexes I could not find May, so, when the 1881 census index was completed (I started my research before the index was completed) I went and looked for her there. No May Bettles, at least none under 5, which my May should have been. I put her to one side and concentrated on some other lines and, when the 1901 census appeared I tried again; no May Bettles aged about 23.

A breakthrough came when I spotted an entry in one of the Family History magazines for a lady named Angela researching the surname Beetle, with an email address: "nothing venture ...." I thought so, I sent off an email asking if there had been any cross overs of Beetle to Bettle without expecting much of an answer. Within 2 days back came a reply asking for some more details of my research, so I explained my problem to her. We had a further exchange of messages and then, to my amazement, Angela pointed out to me the presence of a MARY Bettles, age 23, a servant in a house in Tollington Place, N4: she even emailed me a copy of the census page image -- but don't look for her in the 1901 index, who knows how she is recorded but a search for Mary Bettles does not find her.I would love to know what put Angela onto her, but she was very coy about that. Members of Royston FHS probably won't be all that familiar with the small streets of N4 but, Tollington Place is a cul-de-sac off Tollington Road, immediately opposite where Moray Road starts so, from where she was in service to where she lived when married was a 5 minute walk and, the names May and Mary are sufficiently similar that I would like to assume that they are one and the same person. When Alfred and Mary married the marriage certificate records both of them as living in Palmerstone Road: the only road of that name today is just north of Wood Green, not far from Bowes Park railway station. When I was at the Metropolitan Archives before Christmas I asked one of the staff there about renamed streets, he pulled a useful book off the shelves and asked "what was the old name?". "Palmerston Road".... "MMM, in Islington?, that's now called Playford Road", so off I went to find the A-Z and, would you believe Palmerston Road is still there, tucked between Moray Road and Finsbury Park Station, bang in the right area, again they had not moved far. A further confirmation came when I found that the Museum of London sells copies of the delightfully named “Bacon's up to date Map of London, 1905” and that has Palmerston Road right on its northern edge but clearly marked. It shows the development of the area.

But, the conundrum doesn't end there:- as members will be aware a marriage certificate gives the father's (but not the mother's) name, and May and Alfred's gives May's father as Alexander Bettles. There is only one Alexander Bettles in the whole of the 1881 Census, he is to be found in Poddington in Bedfordshire. Now, my father had spoken of there being family connections, an Uncle George (whom I never met) in the village of Denton, just over the border in Northants, but at least in the same general area. The 1901 Census for Mary Bettles says she is from Wellingborough, the main town of the area. Tracing back May/Mary's parentage, her birth certificate gives her parents as FREDERICK Bettles and Ann Maycock in Wellingborough itself on 13th March 1878 but, FELIX Bettles and Ann Maycock married in Bozeat (a village about 5 miles south of Wellingborough along what is today the A509) on 4th November 1877. There is no Frederick Bettles in the GRO birth registers, but Felix Bettles is recorded, he was born in February 1853, just right for the age of 24 he gave at marriage, so I am convinced that Felix was his baptismal name, perhaps the Registrar who recorded Mary's birth misheard, or did not like the name Felix so. put the wrong name down. So, I have both a Frederick and a Felix (but no Alexander), in both cases we have Ann Maycock, the same woman's name, so I think it likely that they are the same couple (if so then Ann must have been some 5 months pregnant at the time of her marriage, but that's nothing new). There are 2 Alexanders in her family, a younger brother, born after 1881 and so not in the census and the uncle who is in the census, although I believe her father Felix was still alive when she married. Another younger brother is called George, so he could be the uncle my father knew. The names I have could just be members of the family wrongly remembered.

So: May Bettles who, when she married said she was the daughter of Alexander, was actually Mary Bettles the daughter of Frederick, and the latter may have called himself Felix. It's the best I can do but I still have a question mark on it!!.

Fortunately if the above is right I may be in luck as there are members of the Bettles family to be found in the registers of Bozeat. Sadly the Vicarage there burnt down about 1740 and destroyed the Parish Registers to that point, although earlier some B.T's survive, but I should be able to find another three generations.


Royston and District Family History Society