Blog19 Dec 2012
Our resident expert Stephen Rigden, pictured below, answers your queries.
From Kim Hazell:
‘My great grandmother Elizabeth Hazell is shown in the 1901 census living with Thomas Hazell (RG13 piece 3753). How can I find out who Thomas Hazell was, as Hazell was not his real surname? It seems Elizabeth and Thomas never married and Hazell was Elizabeth’s surname, not Thomas’. Thank you.’
This is a challenging question, and one which frankly may never find an answer, and I’d like to throw it open to readers of this blog to see if anyone can come up with some creative thinking and constructive suggestions.
Some first thoughts on the various possibilities behind this rare example of a man seemingly taking his wife’s or partner’s surname at this date include the following:
1. He took her name to escape a criminal or miscreant or indebted past, e.g., deserting the army, or fleeing creditors
2. As above, but to escape a previous marriage and wife
3. Stipulations of a will
4. He came from overseas and it suited him to have an anglicised name
5. Hazell was his surname – by coincidence, or by distant kinship
If 5 above is not the case, then I think the chances of finding evidence of the change of name are quite slim. Formal changes of name by deed poll were always in a minority, perhaps five per cent of total name changes, but you could try search in the London Gazette just in case he took this course.
Sometimes death certificates record an alias or earlier name, if known to the family or other informant at death, and I’d recommend that you purchase a copy if you don’t hold it already – in my view, death certificates are under-appreciated anyway and often are interesting in their own right. The same citing of former names can also be true of marriage certificates but, of course, that won’t help you here if you know that this couple were not married. If Thomas fathered an illegitimate child by Elizabeth Hazell, then there’s an outside possibility that you might find evidence of him contributing towards maintenance of the child, e.g., in petty sessions.
If Thomas and Elizabeth Hazell had been living not around 1901 but in, say, the first decades on the 19th century, one could have considered ‘poor law’ type records: examinations, settlements and removals etc. Such records can sometimes be found with parish chest materials in local archives, particularly if the mother was from an alien parish and the parish of residence did not wish to pay to support the mother and child – although naturally this only applies if the family was needy and turned to the parish for relief.
I’d recommend that you contact the relevant county record office and enquire what records survive that may be of assistance to you. RG13 piece 3753 is for the parish of Newton Heath in Manchester, so the local archive would be the Greater Manchester Record Office, 56 Marshall Street, New Cross, Manchester, M4 5FU (phone 0161 234 1979).
Do any readers have any helpful suggestions for Kim?’
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