Tag Archives: william elbourne atkins

The Rhythm of Research

There is a meditative rhythm to genealogy research. First is a family story, hopefully with names and dates, a birth certificate found stuffed in an envelope, or a grandfather’s name in a census. Second is reading the record to discover the information it reveals, third is keeping track of what is found and fourth is locating records using the new information. And so the process goes; research, analysis, data entry,research, analysis, data entry. There are momentary distractions that lead away from the goal. Gently, focus returns; research and analysis begins again. It goes smoothly until the crash, a brick wall! The next generation is silent. Then research goes everywhere and nowhere. Look everywhere the experts advise. The cadence returns as family and neighbours are searched. Eventually, the end is reached. There is nowhere left to search, for now.

You found a record and gathered all the facts from it. That analysis leads to another record, more analysis and entering the information into your database…and so on. For example let’s look at the Atkins family. Kathleen Atkins is my biological great-grandmother. Her marriage record in Toronto, Ontario, Canada lists the names of her parents, her age and birth place. Kathleen was born in, approximately, 1894 to William Elbourne Atkins and Francis Alice Green in Buckingham, Buckinghamshire.

Pictures of Kathleen Atkins (married name is Harrison). Left to right – on her wedding day – on the wedding day of Henrietta Harrison – at her home near Cochrane, Ontario.

I search the General Register Office (GRO) for Kathleen Atkins with a mother last name Green but nothing comes up. What to do next? Well, if Kathleen was born in 1894 she must be on the 1901 census. Sure enough, there is one William E Atkins with a wife Fanny in Buckinghamshire in 1901 and they have a daughter Kate age 7 which puts her birth in 1894. She is born in Chesham Bois according to the census but this mus be the family!

Here is the basic information from the William Atkins household of 1901
William E Atkins 39
Fanny Atkins 31
Elizabeth B Atkins 12
Edith E Atkins 10
Rosa Atkins 8
Kate Atkins 7
Horace Atkins 5
Alice M Atkins 3
Edward J Atkins

1901 England Census; William Atkins Household; Class: RG13; Piece: 1334; Folio: 6; Page: 4; Ancestry.com. 1901 England Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005. Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1901. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives, 1901.

A search in the GRO index reveals one Kate Atkins with mother’s surname Green. A copy of the birth registration ordered from the GRO shows this is the correct Kate Atkins. Kate, not Kathleen, is born the 23 February 1894 in Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire. Her parents are William Elbourne Atkins and Fanny, not Francis, Green

Birth Registration of Kate Atkins
Birth: 23 February 1894
Place: Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire, England
Name: Kate
Father: William Elbourne Atkins; occupation: worker in woodenware
Mother: Fanny Atkins, formerly Green
Informant was Fanny Atkins, her mother

England Birth Registration; Subdistrict Chesham; Registration District Amersham; Buckingham; Certified copy of Birth; Volume 3a, Page 665; General Registrars Office, Kew, England

The information, along with the source information, is then entered into a preferred database. It may be Ancestry, FamilySearch, a cloud based tree, or desktop software. Entering the information ensures the research is organized and accessible.

Continuing the rhythm of research would mean finding the marriage of William Elbourne Atkins and Fanny Green using FreeBMD and the GRO indexes. Using the information from the marriage records census records would be viewed, looking for William and Fanny as parents and as children living with their parents.

Thus goes the rhythm of genealogy research, usually looking at vital statistics and census records at first, sometimes veering off to other sources to find stories. Then comes the brick wall. There is nowhere left to search. Except for that new family that just turned up on your tree.


I’ve been researching William Elbourne Atkins who is the father of Kate Atkins. Kate is the mother of my biological grandfather, the one I never knew. William was born in Chesham, Buckingham. An Ancestry tree had his mother’s name, Hannah Atkins, but nothing on his father. So I ordered the birth registration in from General Records Office in England to find out who William’s father is. Well, the birth registration lists his mother but not a father. William was illegitimate! My first time researching a child born out of wedlock. That’s exciting, now I get to try to find his father.

Since William was born in June 1861, my first step is to find more information on Hannah by checking out the 1861 census. This census was taken about 2 months before William is born. In this census, Hannah is listed as the head of household; she has an 11 year old daughter, and get this, there is a 31 year old male lodger living with her and his name is Thomas Elbourne. Does his last name not suggest that William “Elbourne” Atkins is his son?

An expert in English genealogy confirmed my theory. She said it was common to give an illegitimate child the last name of the father as a middle name. However, since the couple wasn’t married when William was born, he would always have his mother’s maiden name as a surname. Hannah and Thomas Elbourne eventually married 6 months after William was born. But since Hannah wasn’t married when her son was born, he would always be William Atkins.

Hannah Atkins lived in Duck Alley, a row house in Chesham

William is not Hannah’s first child born out of wedlock. In 1851, she is unmarried and has a one year old daughter named Sarah. She is living with her elderly parents, William and Sarah, at 20 Duck Alley in Chesham, Buckingham, England. Her father had been a farm labourer but at the age of 81 he can’t do much work so is on parish relief. Hannah works as a straw plaiter. In this occupation women and children prepared straw to be made into hats and ornaments.

My first experience researching the father of an illegitimate child was exceptionally easy. It’s not always this straight forward. I think it’s going to be harder to discover who is the father of Hannah’s daughter, Sarah.


1851 England Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005[ Registration district: Amersham; ED 1b;Piece: 1717;Folio: 119; Page Number: 19; Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1851. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1851

1861 England Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005; Registration district: Amersham; Sub-registration district: Chesham; ED 2e; Piece: 845; Folio: 26; Page Number: 15; Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1861. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1861. Data imaged from The National Archives, London, England

For information on Straw Plaiting see; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_plaiting

Photo from Chesham Heritage Facebook Page; https://www.facebook.com/pg/CheshamHeritage/photos/?tab=album&album_id=583692001780762