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My problem is the common one of a missing father. My great-grandfather Arthur HIGGINS was born in Pensford, Somerset, on 6th December 1837. His mother Elizabeth HIGGINS registered his birth. There is no father’s name on the certificate.

Elizabeth registered her second son, George, born 30th November 1843. This time she gave the father’s name as Charles HALL, a police officer. Elizabeth also produced a daughter, Louisa, born 8th April 1842, but again no father is named on the birth certificate. She is in the Publow baptismal record as the ‘base child’ of Eliza HIGGINS.

Arthur moved to Monmouthshire, presumably to work, and on 24th June 1861 married Sarah THOMAS at Llanhilleth. On his marriage certificate his father is down as ‘Charles HIGGINS, farmer’. Sarah died in 1874 and on her death certificate Arthur is now ‘Arthur Charles HIGGINS’. Arthur (Charles) married again in July 1875 and this time he gives his father’s name as ‘Charles POWELL, farmer’.

I can understand that Arthur provided himself with a father (or two) out of pride and may have forgotten the name he chose first time around, or being illiterate perhaps he couldn’t read the name on his first certificate. Or did he come by some new information? Why this sudden fascination with the name ‘Charles’? The name crops up twice in the family, his mother having a brother and a nephew with that name.

I have looked at the 1841 and 1851 censuses for the area with no result and am not able to travel to Somerset to examine the parish records. I do hope you are able to throw some light on my problem or at least give me an idea of where else to look.

Pat Jenkins


The probability is that you will never find the name of Arthur’s father, but of course you need to make all the possible enquiries you can just in case. It would be interesting, and possibly informative, to discover the ‘family’ in the early census returns, 1841 to 1861 – although you say you have failed so far. An entry in the 1851 census of Back Lane, Publow, has Elizabeth HIGGINS, head, unmarried, 38, needlewoman, born Publow, with two children: Arthur, son, 14, ag lab, born Publow; George, son, seven, scholar, born Publow. Where was Louisa? The Louisa you have mentioned above was, I think, baptised in Preston-Plucknett, the opposite side of the county to Publow and Pensford, and the daughter of Eliza and not Elizabeth, which are not the same name.

The 1841 census of the town of Pensford in the parish of Publow includes the following HIGGINS family: William (aged 56), Ann (53), Hester (18), Elizabeth (25: viz 25–29), Ann (five) Arthur (two) and ‘nk’ (four days). Are Ann and ‘nk’ further illegitimate children of Elizabeth?

To get some perspective on the location, we can look to 1868’s The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland: ‘Pensford St Thomas, a parish in the hundred of Keynsham, county Somerset, 6 miles S of Bristol. The parish, which is of small extent, is intersected by the river Chew. The village, which was formerly a market town, is situated partly in this and partly in the adjoining parish of Publow.’

It is essential that you make every effort to look at the relevant baptism registers, or hire somebody to look for you. The registers of both parishes of Pensford and Publow are held at the Somerset Record Office. Microfilm copies of the registers are available at the Hyde Park Family History Centre in London (

But who was the Charles HALL who was given as George’s father on his 1843 birth certificate? It is unusual to have the father named on the birth certificate of a child born illegitimately. A further search of the 1841 and 1851 census returns identified a Charles HALL living in Pensford in 1841 – not a policeman, but a dealer – and married to Ann with a substantial family. He was dead by 1851.

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