Blog19 Dec 2012
Our resident expert Stephen Rigden, pictured below, answers your queries.
From Eric Brown:
‘Where do I start?
My paternal grandmother was born in Richmond Barracks, Dublin. She married in Northampton and her father is shown on her marriage licence is Sergeant Major. I would like to find out more about her birth and about her father’s army career and history.
My question is: why was she in Northampton? The address shown on her marriage licence is Lawrence St, Northampton, which is opposite the barracks. Can I guess that her father was based in Northampton and his daughter came over with him?
At the time of her birth, would her father have been in the English army or would there have been an Irish Regiment? Are there records at Kew?
The details are:
Father: William Lynn
Daughter: Marion Josephine Lynn, born in 1857 at Richmond Barracks, Dublin. She married Theophilus Brown on 6 December 1877 in Northampton, aged 20.
Thank you for your help.’
Thanks for your question regarding your great grandfather, William Lynn, who was a Sergeant Major in an unknown regiment in the British Army and alive in 1877.
I have chosen this question this month as it illustrates some of the techniques which we use when trying to resolve problematic points on our family trees. Firstly, I should say that this, like many problems, has no immediate or easy answer – there is no single database in which you can be absolutely sure to find a named individual, and even the most comprehensive countrywide datasets such as the birth, marriage and death indexes, or the decennial censuses, contain many omissions and errors.
This being the case, it is common to approach problems by identifying a range of potential candidates and then progressing by a process of elimination towards a correct answer. Of course, the more distinctive the combination of details available in your starter information, the more conclusive this process is likely to be. Even a rare name, however, won’t guarantee you a result.
In this case, we have a man with a reasonably good combination of names and a precise rank in the army, who was known to have been alive at a particular date. We can also infer that, as his daughter was born in 1857, he was born at least 16 years earlier than that, i.e., before 1841. When we begin to look at online record sets, we are searching for individuals who meet all these criteria (bearing in mind, of course, that in the case of his army career, he would have held a lower rank in earlier years).
The record sets to begin with in this instance are the so-called ‘Chelsea Pensioner‘ records – the pre-WWI British Army service records, good for out-pensioners as well as the very small number of red-coated in-pensioners at the Royal Hospital Chelsea – and the census returns. We must remember that the army service records are for men discharged from the army and, therefore, exclude those who were killed or died in service; and that, with some exceptions, the censuses are primarily a record of who was sleeping where on census night and, therefore, frequently exclude men at sea (even if just out on a fishing boat) or serving overseas with the army or navy. Nevertheless, when we start to consult and compare these records, only one strong candidate emerges for William Lynn.
Firstly, there is only one surviving service record for a Sergeant Major named William Lynn, and none for NCOs of higher rank (and at that date it would be highly unlikely that he would have risen to become a commissioned officer beyond the scope of the Chelsea Pensioner records). The candidate William Lynn was a Sergeant Major in the 1st Btn and then, upon its creation in 1855, the 3rd Btn of the 60th or King’s Royal Rifle Corps. Note that earlier this month findmypast.co.uk published complementary series of British Army service records from the 19th and very early 20th centuries – these include those for the Imperial Yeomanry who served in the 2nd Anglo-Boer War, for example, the records from Royal Kilmainham Hospital in Ireland, and the fascinating volumes relating to the foreign regiments, comprising mostly German (but also Hungarian, Scandinavian etc) soldiers, who fought with the British in the Napoleonic Wars.
Moreover, what is clearly the same man can be found in the census returns for 1851 (when he is a Sergeant), 1871 (by which time he is a Sergeant Major), 1881 and 1891. The 1861 Worldwide Army Index places him in Wellington (in southern India) and Madras in that census year, explaining his absence from that year’s census.
When one pieces together this man’s life and career, one can see that he married twice (firstly to Hannah, between 1840 and 1850, who died 29 May 1862 in Rangoon, Burma; and then secondly to Mary Ann, at some date between 1862 and 1871, who died between 1881 and 1891); that he had at least four children, born between 1848 and 1856 in Tilbury Fort, Chatham and Co Kildare; and that he joined the militia – specifically 2nd Edmonton Royal Rifle Regiment of Militia, based in South Mimms – on leaving the regulars.
Note that these locations and the army service record mostly match the recorded postings of the 60th Royal Rifles, which can be found in various publications such as The King’s Royal Rifle Corps Chronicle (pub 1905). Chatham was the depot for the 1st Btn of the Regiment throughout the early 1850s. The 3rd Btn was in Curragh (Co Kildare) in 1856 and in Dublin in 1855 and again from later in 1856 to 1857 – it then moved overseas and we can plot the movements of Sergeant Major Lynn (and presumably his first wife and children) as follows – 1857: Madras, Bangalore, 1858: Mysore, Bellary, 1860: Jackatalla, 1862: Thayetmyo, Toungoo, 1863: Rangoon, 1865: Madras.
This man would appear to have been the only Sergeant Major William Lynn in the British Army in the mid/late 19th century. We do not have sufficient information to definitively clinch the ID; however, the balance of probability leans persuasively towards this man being your great-grandfather. We discussed this offline, and you mentioned that your grandmother had a son of the same name, Godfrey, as one of the children of William Lynn. Godfrey is a fairly unusual name, good to have in any family tree, and to my mind this additional detail adds further weight to the balance of probability. If one and the same family is involved, then your grandmother named her son Godfrey after an older brother.
To try to secure proof, it would be useful to obtain copy documents, such as the birth certificates of William Lynn’s sons Thomas and Joseph, and also of course the 1857 Dublin birth or baptism of your grandmother Marion (this event doesn’t appear in the army births on findmypast.co.uk and, as civil registration in Ireland did not commence till 1864, your only chance would appear to be the event having been registered locally as a baptism).
If the link can be proven, the British Army pension record gives the precise parish of birth of William Lynn as Bristol St Philip, so you should then be able to advance your research back in time from there.
Good luck, and please let us know if you make a breakthrough!’
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