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Q My great-great-grandmother Mary BURGESS (nee SLATER) was apparently born in Frankfurt about 1830–1836. I have followed her in the census from 1851 through 1881 until her death in 1883. I am at a loss as to how to find her birth certificate, who her parents were and why she was born in Germany. Mary SLATER married Samuel BURGESS, a salt maker from Over, Winsford, Cheshire, at Manchester Cathedral Church on 2nd April 1850. Mary’s address was 3 Thompson Street, Manchester, and her father, John SLATER, was listed as a farmer. In both the 1841 and 1851 censuses there are no SLATERs listed at this address, and it’s possible that Mary was lodging there while the banns were read. In the 1851 census Mary lives in Over with her husband Samuel and one-month-old daughter, Sarah. In 1856 she gives birth to a son, Edward, in the Leftwich Workhouse. By 1861 she has moved a few miles away to live in Middlewich with her two children and has a lodger, James BURGESS. There is no sign of Samuel. Mary isn’t listed as a widow and as I haven’t found a death certificate for him; I assume they parted company. The 1871 census has James as head of the household with a whole new family – two girls, Elizabeth and Mary, and two boys, James and Thomas (my great-grandfather). James dies later the same year. The 1881 census now shows Mary as a British Subject. I had thought she was German! She is described as a widow. Mary died in Middlewich, Cheshire, in 1883 and is buried in my family grave. My thoughts turn to John SLATER. Was he a farmer or ‘just’ an agricultural labourer? Was he from Cheshire or Lancashire, or Ireland? On the census for Thompson Street, Manchester, there were lots of Irish in the vicinity, but perhaps this is a red herring. Mary’s mother was obviously in Frankfurt in the 1830s – what was she doing there? Was John SLATER with her? I have looked at the International Genealogical Index (IGI) in the births for the Armed Forces for Mary’s birth, but there are no matches. It has been suggested that if John SLATER was a farmer then he may have been quite wealthy and able to travel abroad, but my gut instinct is that he was serving his country, met a foreign lass and Mary was the result.

Jan Moreau

A One scenario is that Mary SLATER was indeed German, and emigrated to England in the 1830s or 40s, possibly with her family. The original name could have became Anglicised at some point. This was a period of great unrest in Europe, including the German States, culminating in the German Revolution of 1848/49 when thousands of middle class liberals fled abroad, especially to the United States. However, your ‘gut instinct’ that John SLATER was in Germany in the 1830s because he was in the army is probably the most likely explanation. This was the time of the German Confederation, the Deutscher Bund, and following the Frankfurt Guard Storm on 3rd April 1833, both Britain and France were asked to intervene. In addition to the records of army births, which you have already searched, you need to examine the Soldiers Discharge Documents. These only survive for soldiers discharged to pension, but for those discharged up to 1854 they are indexed in TNA’s online catalogue. I note that there are four SLATERs included who were serving in 1832/3 and discharged before 1851: John SLATER, born Colne, Lancashire, served in Royal Horse Guards and was discharged aged 47 in 1838; John SLATER, born Paisley, Renfrewshire, served in 2nd Dragoons and was discharged aged 43 in 1850; John SLATER, born Checkley, Staffordshire, served in 5th Foot Regiment and 53rd Foot Regiment and was discharged aged 39 in 1848; and John SLATER, Dublin, served in Royal Artillery and was discharged aged 41 in 1849. In addition to the records of army births, there are several sets of GRO records you need to investigate which relate to births in foreign countries: Consular Returns (indexes are available online at and and the collection of other non-statutory records, originally records of the Bishop of London, which are held at TNA. Indexes to these are available in RG 43. You have not questioned the fact that Mary married Samuel BURGESS and then set up home with another BURGESS, James – coincidence, or were they related? In the 1851 census, James and Mary are described as ‘unmarried’. James was born about 1830 in Newton, Cheshire, and Samuel was born about 1832 in Over, Cheshire. Surely this avenue requires exploring further?

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