Bringing your Family History to life every month APRIL 2012
  • Contact Us

Q and A


Q We are researching my husband’s family but are unable to find when or where his great-grandfather, Henry KNOWLES died. His baptismal name was KNOWLES, born 1837 in Kirkburton, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. He was the natural son of Esther KNOWLES. In 1846, Esther married Isaac Copley HEY, who we believe may have been Henry’s father. Henry had a rather cavalier attitude when it came to which name he used, calling himself KNOWLES when it came to anything to do with the church, and HEY when it came to civil registration, ie his daughters’ births or the census. The last daughter was born in 1873 and Sarah, his wife (nee SENIOR), remarried in 1881. Henry’s occupation in the last years of his recorded life was platelayer on the railway. We have searched for and applied for all the likely death certificates, under both names, not only in Yorkshire, but the rest of the country as well, but none has been right. Huddersfield Register Office also searched their records under both KNOWLES and HEY (and their variants) and found nothing. It has been suggested to us that Henry may have deserted his family and disappeared; after the statutory seven years Sarah had him legally proclaimed dead. She must have had a death certificate, or something, to present to the authorities when she married Alfred BEAUMONT in February 1881, which is just over seven years later. Would she have had to present herself to a solicitor, a commissioner of oaths or a coroner to do this? If so, would there be an official record of this anywhere, and would we be able to get a copy? I feel that if he did die between 1873 and 1881, there must be a record of his death or burial recorded somewhere, and this possible explanation I have presented could be the answer, unless he did disappear and changed his name completely. I do hope you can help me come up with an answer to his disappearance off the face of the earth.

Mrs Jennifer A Mellor

A Although I see that in 1851 Henry HEY was described as ‘son’ of Isaac Hey, in 1861 Henry KNOWLES was called the ‘natural son’ of Isaac HEY, and in 1871 Henry HEY was a power loom weaver, you have not mentioned having searched the 1881 and 1891, or even 1901, census returns for Henry HEY / KNOWLES. I am sure you will have done this but if not then of course this is essential. As mentioned in answer to Sara Vallard’s question, divorce became a real possibility from 1858. Indexes to the divorce records for the period 1858 to 1903 are available on the FindMyPast website ( I am sure your searches for the death of Henry HEY / KNOWLES have been thorough and that you have included Harry as well as Henry in these. As you cannot be positive that he did die before 1881, you do need to search beyond that date. For example, there is a Henry HEY who died in 1919 in Halifax Registration District, aged 82. The FamilyRelatives website ( will allow you to search by surname (a proper index) up to 1920. There was no reason why Henry had to have stayed in England: possibly the Americas or Australia or somewhere else called him. Perhaps he went to Scotland. Perhaps he joined the army or navy (although he would have been at least 36). These are all possibilities that you need to consider. Under the Offences Against The Person Act 1828, a person was free to remarry: whose Husband or Wife shall have been continually absent from such Person for the Space of Seven Years then last past, and shall not have been known by such Person to be living within that Time, or shall extend to any Person who at the Time of such Second Marriage, shall have been divorced from the Bond of the First Marriage, or to any Person whose former Marriage shall have been declared void by the sentence of any court of competent jurisdiction. The seven year rule was, and is, a method of establishing that a person is dead, not the date of a person’s death: the person will be presumed to have died by the end of that period. Whatever the circumstances, each was determined on its own facts as presented to the court. The decision of the court is entirely discretionary and can be refused. A significant problem is determining which court may have passed the judgment, if one was ever sought. The likelihood is it would have been in Huddersfield and you will need to make enquiries locally for better advice on who may have had jurisdiction at that time.

Search again:

Browse Q and A by Heading
You need to Get the latest version of Adobe Flash to view this.


Subscribe to our
email newsletter:


Win British Newspaper Archive Subscriptions

Discover the genealogical goldmine that is the British Newspaper Archive ( with an online subscription. This recently launched digitisation project has four million pages of searchable family notices, advertisements, obituaries, letters and illustrations from over 200 historic local and national newspapers.

We have a one-year subscription (worth £79.95) to give away as well as two 30-day subscriptions (worth £29.95 each) and four 2-day subscriptions (worth £6.95 each). To be in with a chance of winning one, simply answer the following question. Send answers to or write to the usual address on page three, by the 15th March.

Q: Who invented the printing press in the Holy Roman Empire in 1440?