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I hope that you can offer a few other approaches to researching the earlier life of my maternal great-grandfather, John WOOD.

He was born in East Stonehouse, Devonshire, and baptised at St Andrew’s church on 10th January 1830. His parents were Jonathan WOOD (a Royal Marine private), and Mary (nee HANSON). Their marriage is recorded in the parish of St Andrew in 1829. After these dates, with the possible exception of an entry in the census of 1841, where a John WOOD aged 11 is at a school in Hoe Street, Plymouth St Andrew, I can find no further trace of him until he appears as a police officer in North Molton, Devonshire, in October 1857, at the birth of his second child. His wife’s name is given as Anna Maria (nee GIDDENS).

However, from the census of 1861, the family is shown as having had a son, Hanson Francis WOOD, whose birthplace is given as Malta. He is a British subject, and from the age recorded on the census was born about 1854. The 1871 census also gives his place of birth as Malta but in 1881 it is ‘Ionian Isl- Malta’.

I am trying to discover what John was doing in the late 1840s and through the 1850s before he became a police officer, particularly as seniority was attained at an early age. It seems clear that John WOOD was in Malta or the Ionian Islands in early/mid-1850s and that he may have married there, as I can find no record in this country. But what was he doing? I had hoped that, failing to find the marriage, a birth certificate for their son may have been able to resolve this, but the GRO could find no entry matching my request. The Devon and Cornwall Police archivist has suggested that John WOOD’s rapid promotion means he may previously have held a senior rank in the army, navy or marines, or perhaps was a senior merchant navy officer or in a good position in the foreign/colonial services. Can these be researched? I have looked through the Navy List of 1856 and the Army List of 1854, and for anything associated with the Royal Marines, without success.

In the last census entry in his life (1891), when he lived in Battersea there is a strange note in the occupation column that I have failed to decipher.

John W Bradshaw


Although the norm is to proceed back in time, I wonder if in this instance it might be worthwhile discovering whether the service records of Jonathan WOOD survive. You know that he was a private in the Royal Marines in 1830 and living at that time in Plymouth. The records you require are held at The National Archives. As I have covered this subject recently, I will just suggest that you read TNA’s information leaflets on the Royal Marines that you can download from its website ( Possibly there was a family tradition and John followed his father into the service, so a search for his service records is also indicated.

Following the defeat of Napoleon, both Malta and the Ionian Islands came under British rule. By a treaty of 1815 the British set up a protectorate of the Ionian Islands, and in 1864 ceded them to Greece. In 1814, as part of the Treaty of Paris, Malta officially became a part of the British Empire.

As Anna Maria was aged 25 in 1861, she and John WOOD would probably have married only shortly before the birth of Hanson in about 1854. Among the overseas records of the GRO are three series of Births and Marriages in the Ionian Islands: Chaplains Returns, Civil Registration and Military Registration, all 1814–1864. The indexes to these are searchable on a number of websites including and For Malta, you will need to rely on Regimental Returns 1761–1924, and Chaplains Returns 1796–1880.

If John WOOD was a commissioned officer in the British Army, Royal Navy or Royal Marines then he would appear in the official published lists. I suggest you extend your search from the single year you have consulted for each possibility. One possibility you have not mentioned is that John WOOD was employed in the Malta Dockyard. Any records would be held at the National Archives but I believe that registers of employees end in 1835.

The occupation entry in the 1891 census that you refer to appears to read ‘Retd Sup Cons Eng Office Rlway’. His son William H is noted as being a railway clerk in the same census. It is also worth noting that John’s occupation in the 1861 census is given as ‘Superintendent County Constabulary – Cornet…Army’. The cornet part may be significant for further research.

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