It all began with the family Bible - a beautifully illustrated large leather volume with brass corners and clasp. My Great Grandparents, William and Emma Nixon, had thirteen children, and their births were written in very carefully by their daughter, my Great Aunt Mary. I knew from family conversations that William and Emma came from a village in Staffordshire called Biddulph Moor, but further back than that I knew nothing.
One day, on a journey to Scotland, we noticed a signpost to Biddulph, together with a National Trust sign to Biddulph Grange Gardens. I couldn’t resist the temptation. The old parish church stood proudly beside the main road through the village - the churchyard was very well kept, and there were many ancient graves, but I could not find any that I thought were relevant to my family. Of course, now that I have researched the family history, I realise that they are there somewhere!
Further on down the road we came to the village centre and the library. The Librarian was extremely helpful, and found tithe maps and documents for us to browse through. Just as we were leaving she mentioned that the parish records for Biddulph and Biddulph Moor were available on microfiche, and could be purchased. This turned out to be a stroke of luck and the opening of a doorway to my ancestors.
On our return home I contacted Staffordshire Record Office and ordered the fiche. This meant, of course, that I needed a fiche reader, but it proved to be money well spent. I started by looking for the marriage of William and Emma, but couldn’t find it, so I then searched the fiche for the baptism of their first son, Roland, which I found quickley. He was born on May 21, 1875 at Knalor Bank, Biddulph Moor. William and Emma’s marriage still bothered me and I eventually found the marriage certificate through the registers of births, deaths and marriages at the Family Record Centre. William Nixon had married Emma Brown at the Register Office at Wigan in Lancashire on March 16, 1875 and both confirmed that they were born at Biddulph Moor. The certificate gave me their fathers’ names. From there I made the natural progression and searched the fiche for William’s birth in Biddulph - again found without difficulty. He was born on May 27, 1851 at Biddulph Moor. Emma’s baptism and, later, birth certificate was also found - she was born on October 7th 1858, the daughter of Daniel Brown and Mary, formerly Booth. William’s father was George Nixon and his mother was Mary, formerly Pearson. This is where things began to get more difficult.
Up until this point I had diligently printed off the entries in the parish records and bought the marriage and birth certificates through the Family Record Centre, just to confirm facts. However, I was unable to find George and Mary’s marriage. There was no marriage for a George Nixon anywhere for the appropriate period. Every time I went to the FRC I had another look, but to no avail. Months later I added to my fiche collection by purchasing the parish records from the village next to Biddulph - Horton, and it was here that I found the marriage - purely by chance - George Nickson to Mary Pearson. I had been fooled by a spelling error! This was a lesson well learnt. Another stroke of luck!
Tracing George’s ancestors did not present a problem as they were all Biddulph people, but Mary was a different matter. The marriage certificate gave her father as James Pearson, deceased, of Biddulph, so I started to search the fiche again to look for her baptism. I did not find one Pearson baptism anywhere.
In 1864 a new church, was built and consecrated on the Moor. It must have been a wonderful time for the people of Biddulph Moor - many families had all their children baptised at the same time. I can quite understand why - it would have been a very long and arduous walk down into Biddulph to the parish church, and an equally long, but very steep walk back up again! It was in the records of Christ Church, Biddulph Moor, that I found all the children, including my William, and one grandchild of George and Mary baptised on the same day, December 20, 1871. The vicar had obligingly noted the dates of birth of all the children. Right at the end of the Nixon list was a Mary Pearson. Her date of birth had been written in, and then altered, so it was difficult to read - it was December 7, either 1868, or 1828. I wrote to Staffordshire Record Office to ask what they thought, but disappointingly they decided that it was probably 1868. Mary said that her parents were James and Jane Pearson, so I was back with the fiche again, hopefully looking for James and Jane’s marriage. There they were, married in Biddulph parish church in 1825. Although Mary was not baptised as an infant, I was able to confirm that her year of birth was about 1828 from the 1841 census, as she was aged 11 years, living with her widowed mother, Jane, and her some of her siblings.
I can imagine the scenario at the mass baptisms: the vicar asked Mary who her parents were, and she replied “James and Jane Pearson”, and the clerk just filled in the register. He was probably getting tired of writing by this time! This really was a stroke of luck - I would never have found her otherwise.
Returning to the 1841 census - the fact that Jane was a widow made me go back yet again to the fiche for Biddulph to look for James’s death. I didn”t have to look far - he was buried in the February, just prior to the 1841 census, and the entry described him as “formerly a private soldier in the West India Rangers.’ Several years later, Jane’s burial entry describes her as “Relict of the late James Pearson.” Jane’s death certificate was easy to find, and gives added information - she was the “widow of James Pearson, a Chelsea pensioner’. The informant was her daughter, Mary, who, by that time, was married to George Nixon. To this day I have not found James’s death certificate, but I heartily thank the vicar for being so diligent in the entries in the parish records.
My next task was to try to find out more about James, and what he was doing in the West India Rangers. A visit to the Public Record Office at Kew was very fruitful. I found James Pearson’s army papers. He volunteered to join the Royal West India Rangers whilst serving with the First Garrison Battalion in St. Lucia, in the West Indies, in 1804. He gave his age as 46 years, and said he was born in Salford, Lancashire. He remained with the Battalion until its disbandment in 1814, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He then returned to England, and to Biddulph, although I cannot find out why he chose Biddulph. Perhaps he had a relative there, or maybe for employment in the coalmines - he became a collier. This was where he was to meet and marry Jane Beech, a young woman about 20 years his junior. A search on the Internet IGI found James’s baptism in the church of Sacred Trinity, Salford, and his parents, Jacob and Mary’s, marriage, in 1761 in the Collegiate church, which is now the Cathedral.
My next link in the chain was to be found in Manchester, when we stayed there for the Commonwealth Games in 2002. My husband was the Treasurer for the Commonwealth Games Council for England at that time, and as such we were treated as VIPs. One of the privileges was to attend a Service of Thanksgiving in Manchester Cathedral, and afterwards our car was diverted, by the police, along a back road. Gazing out of the window, my attention was drawn to a church with a large notice board - Sacred Trinity, Salford. It was nowhere near to the present day, modernised, Salford! What luck! My search planned for the next day would have been a total waste of time!
The Local Studies Centre in Manchester Library had the parish registers on film, and I was able to find the marriage of James’s parents, which was by licence. Jacob was a Chapman, which in those days meant that he was an established shopkeeper. I also found the baptisms of their offspring - three in the Collegiate Church and four in Sacred Trinity, including my James. The Licence for the marriage of Jacob to Mary Shovelbottom was later obtained from Chester. It was issued on the same day as the marriage and Jacob and his friend, Thomas Gildart, a ’plaisterer’, were “holden and bound ... in the sum of two hundred pounds of good and lawful money etc.” This was dated February 2nd in the first year of the reign of George the Third, 1761.
The next day I was browsing the local Information Centre and found a copy of Elizabeth Raffald’s Directory of Manchester and Salford for 1772. There was only one copy available, and it cost the princely sum of £2.50. Names were entered alphabetically, and Jacob Pearson, a pot seller, was listed, living in Smithy Door. A final stroke of luck was a pen and ink sketch of Smithy Door on the front cover of the Directory!
There is still a lot more research to be undertaken - I would like to know how James arrived in St. Lucia in the first place. His military records state that he had served for 14 years and 315 days, some of which I believe was in India. I have not yet found a death certificate for him - just a burial record. He was a Chelsea Pensioner - an Out Pensioner, so that will be my next line of research. I have had so much luck so far - can it continue?