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Berkshire Family Historian
December 2001

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Berkshire Family Historian
Main Page, December 2001 Contents

Evidence or serendipity

Lynne Smith

I had great difficulty attempting to verify information about my grandmother's mother. She was Ellen Cope and married Charles Peever but that was the extent of family knowledge. I was unable to trace her and her husband on the 1881 census, either on fiche, or CD-Rom. I wrote to Practical Family History magazine requesting help but despite much advice and trying different variations of the fairly unusual name of Peever I came up against the usual brick wall.

I found their marriage certificate, dated 1880, in the Regents Park area of London in my grandmother's effects, together with their first child's birth certificate in August 1881 but no mention of a birthplace on either of them. My heart sank at the thought of searching censuses throughout London in the hope of discovering where they were born. it could have been Camden, Paddington, or points west. I must admit I faced the prospect of never finding them and giving up the search, but I couldn't get her out of my mind. I had a photograph that my father said was a picture of Ellen with possibly her first child and she looked to me about 20 to 25 years old. So I assumed (a somewhat dangerous game in family history) that she was born about 1855. I used the Mormon Familysearch website ( and started to work on all the likely candidates. It seemed a pointless exercise, as the only clues to links with any counties outside London were Portsmouth, where my paternal family came from, an uncle who had lived in Wales and two brothers who may have gone abroad to Canada and Australia.

Then going through the Familysearch site I happened upon an Ellen Cope whose father was David (Ellen's marriage certificate named her father as David, occupation woodman) and her baptismal date the same as my own son's birthday. It wasn't much to go on but I assumed (again) I must be on the right track, as it felt right. My conviction was overwhelming. The baptism was in Preshute, Wiltshire, in the Savernake Forest area, a reasonable place for a woodman to be living and working. Wiltshire had never surfaced in any family memory; in fact my grandmother was born in Camden Town and moved to Portsmouth when her father Charles Peever is thought to have died. Was greatgrandmother a widow, or did she run off with a marine and end up in Portsmouth, or did she re-marry? I became more and more convinced that Ellen Cope was my great-grandmother on the flimsiest of evidence: her father's name and the christening on the same date as my son's birthday, not exactly substantial evidence. Foolish woman........

I ordered the parish register for Preshute from the Mormon Family History Research Centre. It arrived within the month and with some trepidation I wound the film on to cheek her baptism date September 6, 1855. There was an Ellen Cope but I needed to be absolutely sure she was my ancestor and not some stray person with the same name. I continued to search and then stopped on October 2, 1881 (my birth date) and there was the baptism of her first child Charles David and parents Ellen and Charles Peever 'abode Camden Town'. I could hardly believe my luck. I would never have considered looking in Wiltshire for his baptism as his birth was registered on August 22 1881 in Regents Park, Middlesex. I had initially chosen to start with Peever precisely because it was an unusual name, but it left me with more problems than if the name had been Smith or Brown.

The moral of the tale is that I took incredible leaps in the dark but only by a combination of unusual circumstances was I led to the correct place. The only 'evidence' I had to go on was that my great-grandmother looked about 20 to 25 years old. Is this what people mean when they say beginner's luck? I think it must be, as I shall find it incredibly hard to stick to working back methodically, which I know is the best way. Now the initial euphoria has worn off I wonder if any more surprises await me as I stick to the rules. Perhaps you might let me know?

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updated 25th February 2002