Genealogical Ponderings

the Professional Family History Blog

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  1. Uncovering Illegitimacy: Who was Royce Brownjohn?

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    Clara Annie Jane Young was my first cousin three times removed (or my great grandfather’s first cousin). She was added to my family tree some time ago but I have only recently begun to research her family.

    Relationship between myself and Clara Annie Jane Young

    Clara married Joseph Henry Brownjohn in 1903 in Sparkhill, near Birmingham. By the time of the 1911 census the couple had moved to Leeds. An extract is shown below (click on the image to make it larger):

    1911 census for Clara Annie Jane Brownjohn formerly Young (RG14PN27070 RG78PN1549 RD500 SD4 ED17 SN264)

    There are four children listed and yet the details of the children born to Clara tells us she only had three children. At first glance it looks as though there has been a mistake on the census return.

    Thanks to the new BMD indexes available directly from the GRO we can now search birth indexes with a cross reference on mother’s maiden name before 1911. A search for Brownjohn births registered 1901-1911 with mother’s maiden name Young finds only:

    So who was Royce Brownjohn?

    Another search of the index finds:

    The “-” in the new birth index indicates illegitimacy. On websites such as Ancestry you will find the mother’s maiden name is the same as the child’s name instead, but here the child was a Brownjohn and listed as illegitimate, so who’s son was he?

    A copy of the PDF birth certificate from the GRO provides the answer (again, click on the image for a larger version):

    Birth certificate or Royce Brownjohn

    Royce Brownjohn was the illegitimate son of Clara’s husband, Joseph Henry Brownjohn and another lady, Dorothy Fern Harden. He was a typewriter salesman, she was a typist…

    The rather unusual element of this certificate is that the father is named. From 1875 the father’s name could only be included on the birth registration if both mother and father signed as informants and more often you will find certificates with the mother named only. The fact that Joseph went to the birth registration indicates that he acknowledged the child as his own. It also explains why Royce was indexed in the GRO birth index as a Brownjohn even though he was illegitimate.

    So let’s look back at the 1911 census. The relationship given is specifically to the head of the household rather than the couple, so it is correct: Christina, Cyril, Norman and Royce were all children of Joseph Henry Brownjohn. The line regarding marriage and children applies to the wife, so this is also correct: Clara married in 1903 and had three children: Christina, Cyril and Norman.

    What is most fascinating though is this: take a look again at the name of the boarder living with the Brownjohn family, none other than Dorothy Fern Harden!

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