Look around for clues

It’s certainly true that you can’t always use ancestral records in isolation. Sometimes there is simply not enough information in them to be able to use them alone. However, the supporting information can sometimes be closer to hand than you realise.

I am gradually working my way through the Statutory Death records from Unst and trying to process one for a man called John Henderson. The record is quite early in the Statutory Records processing, 1857 – only a couple of years after they started in 1855, and they record whether a person was married, but not who to. I have a number of John Henderson’s but which one is it. How can I be sure? After trying a variety of different ways of looking at it (looking for siblings with the same parents; trying to track down the Brother-in-law who was the informant on the record) but I get the feeling I’m not going to be able to place this one.

I sit back and stare absently at my screen.

No. Surname and Name.
Rank or Profession, & Condition,
(whether Married or Single,
Widower or Widow.)
When and Where Died,
with Hour of Death.
Parents’ Names,
and
Rank, Profession, or Occupation.
Cause of Death, and how long
Disease continued. – Medical
Attendant by whom certified,and
when he last saw deceased.
Signature, Qualification, and Resi-
dence of Informant, If out of the
House in which the Death
occurred.
16 Henderson
John
Fisherman

(Married)

1857
June
Eleventh
7.30 am

Some miles
off Skaw

Andw Henderson
Fisherman
(deceased)

Margt Henderson
maiden name
Gray (deceased)

Drowned at Sea
in a gale of wind
John Priest
Brother in law
of Deceased
17 Henderson
Laurence
Fisherman

(Single)

1857
June
Eleventh
7.30 am

Some miles
off Skaw

John Henderson
Fisherman
(deceased)

Mary Henderson
maiden name
Spence

Drowned at Sea
in a gale of wind
John Priest
Uncle of Deceased

Skaw Map

Map showing Skaw in the north of Unst. Click on the map to go to the zoom-able version on the NLS website

It’s then I notice that the informant for all three death records on this page is the same name. It’s clearly a boating accident as all three are recorded as “Drowned at Sea in a gale of wind” at the same date and time, and “Some miles off Skaw”. Three people registered with the same cause of death on the same day, and the informant has the same name surely means that the informant is the same man.

This man, John Priest, is a Brother-in-law to the first man, Uncle to the second man, and neighbour to the third. The second man is recorded with a father’s name the same as the name of the first man. Given the relationship of John Priest to each of them, this means that the first man is the father to the second man. Father and son working in the same fishing boat is certainly a common occurrence.

This also means that the mother recorded on the second man’s death record is the missing spouse on the first man’s death record. Now I can place them both.

Knowing the spouse is Mary Spence, I am also then able to place John Priest, as there is a John Priest married to Catherine Spence (who lives in Norwick in 1851 which is not far from Skaw) which tells me something about the Spence girls – that they are sisters – that I didn’t previously know. Finding both their death records also confirms they have the same parents.

So, when all looks lost, sit back and look around you!

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