January 19, 2012

Finding Common Names in Census Records: Evans, part 2

Lately I’ve been working on the challenge of identifying three generations of my husband’s family, all named Evan Evans, in the census records of Montgomeryshire, Wales. Evans is a very common surname there, and it’s taken some strategic moves to narrow the field and find exactly the right family. If you haven’t read Part 1 of the story yet, with my first few strategies, you can find it here. As a refresher, here’s a cast of characters guaranteed to make you head spin:
  • Evan Evans, born about 1840, who married Mary Hughes (Evan A)
  • His father Evan Evans, born about 1812, who married Elizabeth Jones (Evan B)
  • His grandfather Evan Evans, born about 1781, who married Elizabeth Reynolds (Evan C)
After the first flush of success finding Evan A and Mary with their children in the 1881 and 1871 censuses of Wales, I hit a roadblock with the hunt for Evan A as a youth in his parents’ home in the 1861 census. I had one candidate who fit the location well, but the father was widowed and the results inconclusive.

If you’re not getting anywhere, try a different tack

In a sailboat race, if a boat isn’t catching the wind, it will come about and head off on another tack. Since I couldn’t pin down either Evan A or Evan B in 1861, that’s what I had to do now. With a less common name, I might have broadened my search to adjacent counties. But that wouldn’t help here because I already had an overabundance of results. Another thing I could do was look at Evan’s neighbors in 1881 and 1871, and see if I could find them in 1861. But what I chose to do instead was look for Evan’s mysterious brother, John Higgs.

Higgs is a much less common surname and I quickly found John in Carno in 1861. But the census record didn’t give me the results I hoped for. He wasn’t living with the Evans family; he was living in Stephen Higgs’ household, and identified as Stephen’s brother. Evan was nowhere to be found. There was, however, a Hannah Evans, identified as “sister.” Hmmm. The plot thickened.

Yet another tack was in order. I left the 1861 census and decided to search in 1851. According to the family summary, I could expect Evan B to be about 39 years old, with a wife Elizabeth and a son Evan (A) about 11 years old. I had no idea if they had any other children. But I was tired of looking for Evans—I had Evans coming out the wazoo by this time—and this Higgs business intrigued me. So I started my search of the 1851 census of Montgomeryshire by looking for John Higgs, born about 1837.

And just like that, there was my family. With one important twist.

1851 Census of Wales, Evan Evans (B) (see source citation below)
  • Place: Trawscoed township, Carno, Montgomeryshire, Wales
  • Evan Evans, head, married, 37, farmer (90 acres) employing no man, born in Carno, Montgomeryshire
  • Hannah Evans, wife, married, 45, born in Carno
  • Children: Mary Evans, daughter, 13; Evan Evans, son, 11; Hannah Evans, daughter, 9; Rebecca Evans, daughter, 7; Margaret Evans, daughter, 5; Stephen Higgs, stepson, 22; Elizabeth Higgs, stepdaughter, 17; John Higgs, stepson, 15 (all born in Carno, Montgomeryshire) 

Form a hypothesis if you find unexpected results

As you can see, Evan B wasn’t married to Elizabeth in 1851, but to Hannah. There’s no mention of Hannah in the family summary, so how do I really know this is the right family? I needed to make a hypothesis and test it with other evidence. The hypothesis I drew up is: If Evan Evans married Elizabeth Jones, as asserted in the family summary, she died prior to 1850. Evan remarried to a woman named Hannah, who previously had been the wife of a Mr. Higgs. She brought at least three children—Stephen, Elizabeth, and John Higgs—from this marriage into Evan’s household.

I decided to look back to the previous census, 1841, the earliest one available, for more clues. I searched for Evan Evans (B), born about 1812, in Montgomeryshire. Ancestry returned 57 results. Based on my locality information, I narrowed that down to six likely records. One of these, in Trawscoed township, Carno, was clearly a better match than any of the others. It was the household of Evan Evans, a 30-year-old farmer, with Hannah Evans, age 35; Mary Evans, 3; Evan Evans, 2; Hannah Evans, 9 months; Elizabeth Higgs, 8; John Higgs, 6; Thomas Rees, 15, a servant; and Mary Benbow, 75, Ind. (“of independent means”). Relationships were not stated.

1841 census of Wales, Evan Evans (B) (see source citation below)

This census tells me that Evan’s supposed first wife, Elizabeth, as well as Hannah’s husband Mr. Higgs, died before 1841. I adjusted my hypothesis accordingly. It’s pretty safe to assume that Evan and Hannah were married at the time this census was taken. Most likely, little Hannah Evans was the daughter of Evan and Hannah. It is not possible to determine from this record who the mother of young Mary and Evan Evans was. This census also gives me another name to research: Mary Benbow. Could she be Hannah’s mother, and therefore a clue to her maiden name?

Search for correlating evidence

The census records of 1871 and 1881, where John Higgs is listed in Evan Evans’ household as his brother, support my hypothesis. And the odd result I found for John Higgs in the 1861 census, where he was living with Stephen Higgs, brother, and Hannah Evans, sister, makes perfect sense now. It also made this result from the 1861 census, where Evan B was widowed but living in Carno with children Mary, Evan, Rebecca, and Margaret, look like the correct one:

1861 census of Wales, Evan Evans (B) (see source citation below)
This meant I had five decades worth of census records that were in agreement with one another. The next logical thing to look for was a marriage record for Evan Evans and Hannah Higgs. Unfortunately, very few Welsh marriage records are available at FamilySearch.org, and none at all prior to 1916 on Ancestry.com. Neither could I find any newspapers from Montgomeryshire.

Ancestry.com does have a FreeBMD Index to Welsh death records that begin in July 1837. I searched for an Elizabeth Evans who died between 1837-1840 in Montgomeryshire, and got 29 results. Narrowing it down to the Newtown registration district left me with 12 prospects. Unfortunately, the index does not provide any personal information, so I was unable to tell if any of them might be my Elizabeth. Next, I searched for a man with the surname Higgs who died during the same time period. There were no results in Montgomeryshire, which suggests he may have died prior to when the index starts. Finally, I searched for a Hannah Evans who died between 1851-1861. Again I received way too many prospects in the Newton registration district, with too few details to identify my Hannah. A search through the Welsh death records on FamilySearch.org returned similarly inconclusive results.

As a final step, I searched for the grandfather, Evan C, in the 1841 census. The family summary indicated he was born about 1781, lived in Carno, had married Elizabeth Reynolds, and had children named Evan, Richard, Roger, Maurice, and Mary Elizabeth. Now I just love that name Maurice. It is unusual enough that I rarely get multiple results for him—and with a common surname, you can’t ask for more than that. I’ve already researched Maurice Evans after he immigrated to Columbus, Ohio and have his obituary. He would have been about 18 years old in 1841, and that made quick work out of finding the right family—living in Trawscoed township, Carno—in the census.

1841 census of Wales, Evan Evans (C) (see source citation below)
Evan Evans (C), age 60, had no wife listed and apparently was widowed in 1841. He still had three of his children at home: Roger, Maurice, and Elizabeth. The fact that his son Evan was not living with him supports finding Evan B as the head of his own household in 1841, in the exact same locality as his father. The puzzle pieces fit.

Draw your conclusion and plan future action

Here’s my conclusion: Three generations of the Evan Evans family lived in Trawscoed township, Carno, Montgomeryshire, Wales, between 1841-1881, as evidenced in the census records of that locality. One thread that links the records together is the presence of John Higgs, stepson of Evan B. While more research is needed to confirm the results found in these census records and identify the wives of Evan B, it will primarily need to be done offline in archives and repositories, or possibly on UK-specific websites.

To recap, here are the strategies I used to locate my Evans family in the census:
  • Compile background information on your family
  • Start your search where you know the most
  • Milk every bit of info from the records you find
  • If you’re not moving, try a different tack
  • Form a hypothesis if you find unexpected results
  • Search for correlating evidence
  • Draw your conclusion and plan future action

What do you think? Have I made my case for finding the right family? Do the strategies I used seem like they’d be helpful in your own census searches?

Source citations:
1851 census of Wales, Montgomeryshire, Carno, Trawscoed Township, folio 397, page 13, household 52, Evan Evans; digital image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com: accessed 9 January 2012); citing original records, The National Archives of the UK, London, GSU roll 104258, class HO107, piece 2496.

1841 census of Wales, Montgomeryshire, Carno, Trawscoed Township, folio 16, page 2, line 16, Evan Evans; digital image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com: accessed 9 January 2012); citing original records, The National Archives of the UK, London, GSU roll 464338, class HO107, piece 1436.

1861 census of Wales, Montgomeryshire, Carno, Trawscoed Township, folio 32, page 5, household 21, Evan Evans; digital image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com: accessed 9 January 2012); citing original records, The National Archives of the UK, London, GSU roll 543256, RG 9, piece 4247.

1841 census of Wales, Montgomeryshire, Carno, Trawscoed Township, folio 21, page 11, line 24, Evan Evans; digital image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com: accessed 9 January 2012); citing original records, The National Archives of the UK, London, GSU roll 464338, class HO107, piece 1436.

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  1. Blessings on John Higgs! Aren't you glad your Evan B didn't marry a Widow Evans?

    This looks as tight as possible given the sources available. If you head to Wales I'll give you information on my 17th c. Welsh Williamses. Even (or Evan?) more fun.

    1. Yes, this definitely made me grateful for small favors, especially that diligent census taker who bothered to note "stepson." (really, Susan, a widow Evans? you have a wicked sense of humor!) Good luck with your Williamses--I'll let you know if I ever get to Wales.

  2. Very well laid-out and thoroughly documented. And the source citations are great! Wish I were half as thorough :{

    1. Thanks, Randall. I followed the citation format from Elizabeth Show Mills' Evidence Explained, page 242 and 304-5. Once I figured it out, I just used the same template for all the years. Not as hard as it looks, thankfully!

  3. Great job ferreting out your Evans family and great post telling us what you did and how you did it. Thanks!

    1. Nancy, your instincts after the first post were spot on, but I couldn't give up my hand that quickly! Glad you liked it.

  4. Well done!! That was interesting and I just LOVE your source citations!!! :)


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