Reuben and Jemima: finding siblings

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Abney Park cemetery, opened in 1840, is one of the “Magnificent Seven” cemeteries in London, which includes the famous Highgate Cemetery. It was designated for non-conformists, and I had encountered it before when researching Samuel Nunn’s family, as his mother and several sisters were buried there. It’s in Stoke Newington, in Hackney Borough. While I think a lot of people buried there were non-conformists, I don’t think all burials necessarily were – if you lived nearby then it made sense to be buried there.

I took a chance and looked for Daniel on the burials website, but couldn’t find him. Then I took a chance with Sarah, who died in 1873. And I’d found the Harris family grave. Or at least – Sarah was definitely in the grave, but who were these other people? Had I in fact found a communal grave? So I decided to see if I could identify the burials.

The grave contains eight burials:

  • Reuben Harris, buried 31 January 1847, aged 57 (born about 1790)
  • Margaret Davies, buried 16 May 1852, aged 46 (born about 1806)
  • Charles Terry, buried 18 April 1861, aged 8 months (born 1860)
  • David Harris, buried 30 December 1861, aged 62 (born about 1799)
  • Jemima Brown, buried 12 April 1862, age not given
  • Sarah Harris, buried 9 Jul 1873, aged 73 (born about 1800)
  • Emma Horne of 117 Englefield Road, N, buried 8 March 1916, aged 80 (born about 1836)
  • Sarah Jemima Davies of 14 Synder Road, N16, buried 2 August 1917, aged 86.

Although we have a “David” Harris, rather than a Daniel Harris,[1]It’s only a transcription online, rather than the images of the burial register. I have often seen David and Daniel muddled up – they can be very hard to distinguish in some handwriting. it was clear to me that this was a family grave, given the names of other people buried there. Charles Terry was one of Daniel and Sarah’s grandchildren (son of their daughter Mary Elizabeth and her husband Francis Terry). Emma Horne and Sarah Jemima Davies were two of Daniel and Sarah’s daughters. But that left me with Reuben Harris and Jemima Brown.

I was instantly excited – Reuben Harris and Jemima, and Margaret, were all the right ages to be Daniel’s or Sarah’s siblings. I managed to discount Margaret quite quickly, though, as she turned out to be Sarah Jemima’s mother-in-law. And although Sarah Jones had a sister called Margaret, Margaret Davies wasn’t her (I’m fairly sure) as she was born further south in Wales according to the censuses.

This left me with Reuben and Jemima. And fortunately they both have unusual names!

Reuben married Selima Bartlett at Christ Church, St Marylebone, on 18 March 1833. Unfortunately, the register wasn’t a usual marriage register (as far as what’s available online, anyway), as it’s from a banns register being used as a marriage register. So there’s no witnesses are named and the bride and groom didn’t sign. Maybe the actual register exists somewhere else. It’s tempting to wonder if Daniel’s daughter Harriet Selina was named at Reuben’s wife, but Harriet Selina was born six years before Reuben’s marriage – that said, Selima Bartlett may have known the Harrises for some time before she married Reuben.

Reuben and Selima appear on the 1841 census (and the 1841 Post Office Directory) at 23 Diamond Row in Stepney, where Reuben was worked as a grocer – like Daniel. As the 1841 census only says yes or no as to whether people were born in the county they’re living in, we get a N beside Reuben’s name. Then, Reuben died. And I sent off for his death certificate, in case it offered any further clues.

Reuben died of bronchitis on 28 January 1847 at Fowkes Buildings in the parish of St Dunstan’s in the East in the City of London. He was 57 and had worked as a wine porter – which goes back to Daniel’s earlier role as a wine cooper, perhaps. The informant of his death was “J Brown”, his sister, of 16 Bridport Place New North Rd. It sounded to me as if Jemima Harris/Brown was the informant – and therefore, also, Reuben’s sister.

If Jemima was Daniel’s sister – and she was Reuben’s it seemed, then it made sense of his daughter being called Sarah Jemima – she had been named after her mother and paternal aunt. I found a marriage for a Jemima Harris to a James Brown on 7 May 1818, at St Giles’, Camberwell, in Surrey. Then I looked for any children. Initially, I found five baptisms, all of which took place at St Giles Cripplegate.

  • Henry Collett Brown, 1818-?
  • Maria Brown, 1819-?
  • Thomas Henry Brown, 1821-1870
  • William Brown, 1823-?
  • Jane Joanna Brown, 1824-1891

What leapt out at me was the fact that Jemima’s children had all be baptised at the same church as Daniel’s. And that Jane Joanna Brown had been baptised on exactly the same day as Mary Elizabeth, Daniel and Sarah’s first child.

Jemima’s husband James – a coachman, according to the censuses – probably died before 1841. He doesn’t appear on the 1841 census with Jemima, working as a milliner, and her four children: Sarah, Maria, Jane, and Thomas, although he could’ve been away working. Sarah appeared to be another child, so I looked up her baptism. It turns out that she was baptised in 1816, two years before her parents marriage, and at St Giles Cripplegate, where all of Jemima’s children – and all (or almost all) of Daniel’s – were baptised. It seems that Jemima and James presented themselves as man and wife when Sarah was baptised, then just before Henry was born, nipped over the Thames to Camberwell to get married, rather than admit to the vicar at St Giles Cripplegate that they hadn’t been married when Sarah was born.

In 1841, Jemima was living on Aske Street in Shoreditch, then in 1851, she was living at 45 Bridport Place – right next door to Daniel. In fact, it was looking at the other households living around Daniel that acted as a clue – because who was this Jemima Brown living next door to Daniel, who had also been born in Hook Norton? And by 1851, she was a widow. In 1861, Jemima had moved to 42 Bridport Place, so she was still living very close to Daniel, and had done for over a decade.

When Jemima’s son Thomas Henry Brown got married in 1846, one of the witnesses was Mary Elizabeth Harris – presumably his cousin (and Daniel and Sarah’s daughter). So there were several facts bringing these families together, and suggesting very strongly that Daniel had a brother and a sister – Reuben and Jemima – who had also moved to London. It isn’t surprising, as I’ve spotted this before with the Griffin family, who left Buckinghamshire to move to London and work as drapers and chandlers. It’s not clear if all three of them moved to London together, climbing onto a stage coach in Oxfordshire that rattled them along the highway and depositing them in the city. Or if one or two went, and the others followed once they’d got established there.

The siblings were evidently close, given that Jemima and Daniel baptised their children at the same church, Jemima and Daniel were neighbours for many years, Daniel’s daughter witnessed the marriage of Jemima’s son, Jemima was the informant of Reuben’s death, and the three were all buried in the same grave. I wondered if there were other siblings, but I had given up being able to find out anything more about them – their parents, their grandparents, their origins, other than the fact that they were born in Hook Norton.

But families are in essence teams. And teamwork can often knock down brickwalls. We all look at things slightly differently. It turned out that Maggie, a descendant of Harriet Selina’s, saw my theory about the three siblings and got to work. What significance, she wondered, was there in the name “Collett”, which Jemima had given her son Henry Collett Brown?

Quite a lot, as it would turn out.

Next: Thomas Harris and Mary Collett: another generation further back

Written: 19th March 2023.


1 It’s only a transcription online, rather than the images of the burial register. I have often seen David and Daniel muddled up – they can be very hard to distinguish in some handwriting.