The Hunt for Arthur Stockbridge

This is a good example of how, in genealogy, it is very easy to assume too much, and why theories should be constantly tested and revisited.

My mother-in-law, Anne, clearly remembers her grand-father Arthur Stockbridge. She remembers his birthday as December 26th, that he died in 1948 and that he was a driver for Carter-Paterson. We even have a photo of him at his wedding in 1904 to Alice Taylor. Their marriage certificate was easy to find, giving his age as 27 and naming his father as James Stockbridge, a salesman. But, I simply could not find a closely matching birth certificate. It was possible that he was born in Medway, Kent son of John James, a constable in Chatham Dockyard, but the date was a year or so out, his father’s name didn’t quite match and it just didn’t feel right. Unfortunately, I got to this stage in the early 1990s, so when the “World Family Tree” project started I submitted my research to date, including the link to the Arthur from Medway. That mistake still haunts me, since typing Arthur’s name into Ancestry’s search engine brings up the Medway link, so I apologise now to anyone who sees this link and makes use of it… but it’s your own fault for not checking the data yourself!

Anyway, back to the story…

When the 1891 census became available online, I found a new candidate Arthur Stockbridge. This one was born in Islington in 1876 and was one of three boarders at a house in Islington,  the others being William and Joseph Cole. When the 1901 census was released, I found this new Arthur in Finsbury, employed as a “Carriers’ Porter” and still living with William and Joseph who were now described as his step-brothers.

It wasn’t until the 1911 census came out in 2009 that I was able to establish that our Arthur, by now living with Alice, was indeed born in Islington, finally breaking the link to Arthur from Medway. So now we know he was born in Islington in 1876/7, father James Stockbridge, and that he had two step-brothers called Cole. But I still could not find a birth certificate for him. Either he was born Arthur with a different surname, or Arthur wasn’t his given name.

I knew that the two step-brothers had to be significant so I started to search for an Arthur Cole and found him in the 1881 census, stepson of James Stockbridge, a widower. Living with them were Robert and Joseph Cole, both also step-sons of James… but it didn’t really make any sense – why were Joseph and Arthur both step-sons if they were step-brothers in the later censuses?  Also, if Arthur was James’ step-son, implying that Arthur’s mother was widowed and re-married James (divorce wasn’t an option in those days), why was James still a widower – did Arthur’s mother die soon after marrying him?

I looked for women named Cole who died between 1876 and 1881 and tried to match to any women marrying Stockbridges in the same period.  It was actually quite easy to find the marriage of James to Harriet Cole in 1877, but she sadly died the following year, aged 42. So Arthur’s mother re-married around the time of Arthur’s birth but died when he was less that two years old, leaving James Stockbridge to raise him and his brothers.  

From their marriage certificate, James’ father was Andrew a gardener, and Harriet’s was William Pretty, a builder. James was a widower – Harriet, as expected, was a widow.

I then discovered that Harriet had married Charles Cole in 1858, but that he had died in 1868, leaving her with 4 children: Charles, Robert, Joseph and William. She then had another son, Arthur, sometime between 1876 and 1877 and married James Stockbridge in September 1877.

It is a fairly safe bet, then, that James Stockbridge was Arthur’s natural father, but if Arthur had been born after his James and Harriet married, he would have been given the name Stockbridge, so he had to have been born out of wedlock but I still cannot find his birth certificate.

So I still don’t really know who Arthur was, and probably never will. Was he the natural son of James Stockbridge. Either way, he always seemed to refer to James as his father, so that’s what really matters, isn’t it?