Well, I’ll be John Browned!

Sometimes, all you need to do to find the answer to a problem is to look at it from a different angle, or in today’s example, from a different Mary. I never expected to get far with Mary Brown; generally, the name Mary isn’t much of a clue to anything (there are just too many of them) and the surname Brown is also normally pretty unhelpful.

I haven’t been looking at my family tree much during our recent travels, but now that we’re back at home for two weeks I thought I’d have a quick look at AncestryDNA to see what’s new. I clicked on a match to N.D. that I haven’t looked at before and straight away, I could see that we have a shared location in our trees of Northwich, Cheshire.

N.D. has an ancestor called Mary Brown, born in Northwich circa 1853, the daughter of John Brown. I have a Mary Brown, born in Overton in 1822 and living in Northwich, the sister of a John Brown of the right age. Surely it can’t be that simple? It looks to me as though it is. Well, I’ll be John Browned!       (John Brown was an abolitionist hung in the USA in 1859, so “I’ll be John Browned” is akin to  “I’ll be damned”)….

Our shared matches (other people in the database who have the same chunk of DNA we share, presumably passed down from the same common ancestor) confirm that the match must be in the family tree of my HOLLAND great grandfather (he’s the one who was killed during the First World War – see a recent travel post mentioning him here). Northwich is spot on for that part of my tree, as indeed is Mary Brown – she was my great grandfather Bill Holland’s maternal grandmother. So far so good.

I found N.D.’s Mary Brown (under her married name Mary Carls / Carles) on the 1881 census, living at 6 Crum Hill, Northwich (a “crum hill”, by the way, is an area near the salt works where impurities would be tipped… sounds lovely). I note that James Brown, a brother-in-law of the head of the household, is listed with them. James Brown is a chimney sweep born in Northwich.

Going back 10 years to 1871, 6 Crum Hill was at that time the home of John Brown, age 50, a “chimney sweeper” born in Overton – the brother of “my” Mary Brown. His daughter, N.D.’s Mary Brown, isn’t listed at Crum Hill (there’s a Mary of the right age in service elsewhere in Northwich) but John’s son James the chimney sweep is.

Jumping back a generation… In 1841, James and Phoebe Brown (my GGGG grandparents) were living at…. you guessed it…. Crum Hill, Northwich. James was…. a chimney sweep. Among the children living at home is their son John, aged 20. Their daughter (my GGG grandmother) Mary Brown isn’t in the household at Crum Hill but could well be the Mary Brown of the right age listed as a female servant at nearby Rudheath.

SO my conclusion is that N.D. is descended from Mary Brown, the daughter of John Brown and granddaughter of James and Phoebe Brown. I am descended from her aunt, Mary Brown the daughter of James and Phoebe Brown. If only tracking down DNA matches were always that straightforward!

Crum Hill does still exist as a street in the centre of Northwich by the way, although nowadays it looks nothing like it did back then. Here’s a link to an image of Crum Hill in 1891. Here’s what it looks like today. I’m not sure which looks worse! (not all of Northwich looks like that; I’ve visited a few times in the course of my family history research and I really like the place).

Getting back to the family history shared by N.D. and myself, the Browns do seem to have been a family of chimney sweeps. James Brown (1794 – 1849) was born in Frodsham, Cheshire and married Phoebe Moulding (1792 – 1868) of Overton, Cheshire in Frodsham in 1818. The marriage record states that James is a chimney sweep. It’s hard to know how far back the sweeping might go in the family as previous generations don’t have occupations listed on any of the records I’ve seen. Following on from James, though, sweeping does seem to have been “the family trade”.

Whilst nothing that I’ve done today has got me any further with my family tree per se, I’m really pleased with the progress. I’ve now found out that this bit of DNA, which I knew belonged in the HOLLAND part of my tree, must have been passed down the line to my great grandfather Bill Holland from one of his great grandparents James Brown and Phoebe Moulding (normally I’d want further evidence in order to conclude that this bit of DNA confirms James Brown and Phoebe Moulding, but in this case I think that the records are clear enough). This could be a big help should any more matches with this same bit of DNA pop up in the future…… who knows, perhaps one day as a result I might even find biological confirmation of generations further back than whichever of James or Phoebe handed over that particular bit of DNA.

Genealogy…. beats Sudoku any day!





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