Family mystery really solved


09 February 2018
Peter-Maggs-52601.jpg Peter Maggs
In April 2009, Family Tree published an article by Peter Maggs entitled ‘Family mystery solved’ in which Peter deduced the name of an unknown father based on analysis of the child's unusual name. Now a DNA test has added another chapter to the story!

In April 2009, Family Tree Magazine published an article by Peter Maggs entitled ‘Family Mystery Solved’. Peter deduced the likely identity of the father of an illegitimate child born to one of his 2x great-aunts by an analysis of the child’s unusual name. A few months ago, he was contacted by Chris Norcutt who is married to Peter’s third cousin Beverley (Peter and Beverley were unknown to each other). Chris had encouraged Beverley to have a DNA test, and the result produced an astonishing match …

Peter writes:

Two of my great-grandmothers were siblings, and there were another four sisters in the family. They lived in Merton, then a small village to the south west of London. After their father, James Chilman, deserted the family (and, as Chris discovered, ended up in prison), the girls’ mother Jane set up a hand laundry to support them all.

In 1886, the eldest sister Mary Ann, unmarried, gave birth to a child whom she named Edward James Spinks Chilman. A local landowner, property developer and philanthropist, John Innes – of compost fame – lived in the manor house just a few hundred yards from the Chilman home, and my grandmother, Mary Ann’s niece, told me that John Innes was ‘responsible’ for Mary Ann’s child. It seemed unlikely; he was much older than her and never married, I decided to investigate.

‘Spinks’ was very unusual as a Christian name, so if it was a clue to the unknown father’s identity, it was very probably a surname. A scan of the 1891 Census revealed an Edward Spinks living barely half a mile from the Chilmans’ cottage. He was just two years older than Mary Ann, and was a gardener by trade. In the article, I suggested that Edward Spinks was the father of Edward Chilman, and that he and Mary Ann had met at the Innes manor house where she was a domestic and he worked in the garden. John Innes was ‘responsible’ for Mary Ann’s child, in as much as it was his house where Edward and Mary met.

I managed to contact a descendant of Edward Spinks, Philip Baker, and he told me something of Edward’s life and sent me a photograph which was published in the article.

And then a few months ago, I received an email from Chris Norcutt…

Chris writes …

My first introduction to the mystery surrounding Edward James Spinks Chilman was when I started courting Beverley in the late 1970s.

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Edward James was born in 1886 in Wimbledon, Surrey. In 1915, at the age of 29, he enlisted in the Royal Engineers. Despite being gassed, Edward survived the war and went on to marry Lily Elizabeth Calvert, née Mount, in Chatham, Kent in 1919, taking on her three surviving children and subsequently having another 10! Unfortunately, Lily died in 1942 leaving him to cope with the children on his own, but with the help of his daughter–in-law, Hilda, he managed to bring them up until his death in 1952.

Beverley's mother Margaret, was Edward’s second youngest daughter, and used to reminisce about her childhood and, of course, her father. She mentioned that despite having very little money they were all very well loved and that Edward wanted to make sure that his children were happy, as his own childhood had been an unhappy one with rumours that he ran away from home at the age of 12. This fact seems to be supported by the census of 1901 which reported him, aged 14, living with his grandmother Jane.

Edward's father was a mystery, and it was believed that the Spinks element of his name was a hint to his parentage. However there was also mention of a very well dressed lady visiting him on a few occasions in a big car, and of his hush-hush visits to London that he never spoke about. Rumours in the family suggested that, as Edward's mother was in service, the father was well-to-do and this had something to do with the visits from the lady in question. The surname Innes was also mentioned adding to the mix.

I started researching my own family tree in the early 1980s when information could only be gleaned from family members, parishes and record offices, however the mystery in Edward sparked an interest in me, and after receiving his birth certificate from the General Register Office (GRO), it allowed for a more detailed search.

Early this year I decided to have my DNA analysed with and the results were very interesting and in some cases surprising, so I encouraged my wife Beverley to have hers done and on receipt looked at the possible DNA matches highlighted by Ancestry. One which immediately took my interest belonged to a Philip Baker, purportedly a first or second cousin of Beverley’s. What struck me was that the name Spinks was in his tree, and on examination showed that his mother was a Spinks, and his grandfather was Edward Spinks.

To conclude – Edward Spinks lived just a few streets away in Wimbledon at the time of Edward James’ birth. The confirmation from Philip Baker that there was rumoured to be an illegitimate child of Edward's and then the detective work of Peter Maggs in 2009 coupled with the DNA evidence has confirmed that Edward Spinks was indeed the father of Edward James. The Innes element of the mystery, having also been satisfactorily explained by Peter, we now consider this 130-year-old mystery well and truly solved.


Peter Maggs has written three books on 19th century legal cases, including a brand new investigation into the famous Red Barn murder, and contributes regularly to Genealogists’ Magazine. He is working on a fourth book, an account of a previously unknown incident in one of the new union workhouses in the 1840s. More information on Peter can be found at