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Twin peaks: family history fun with Dear Tom


Discover some of the joyous genealogical gems and funnies, tragic tales and family history mysteries uncovered by genealogy researchers and sent in to Family Tree magazine's Tom Wood to share in his regular Dear Tom column.


In the April 2019 issue of Family Tree, Tom learns about a Victorian family with hordes of twins and two parish vicars who endured heart-rending tragedies...


Twin peaks

In ‘Dear Tom’ in July last year we heard of the amazing Jaycock family of Aylesbury, which in 1842 boasted five sets of twins plus six other children, making 16 in all. 


We wondered at the time if anyone could beat five pairs of twins by the same mother, so we were delighted when Dr Keith Geary wrote in with a new ‘record’. He referred me to Roger Hutchinson’s The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick Maker: The Story of Britain Through Its Census (Little, Brown, 2017) where the author reports that Mary Jonas of Chester gave birth to ‘thirty-three children including fifteen pairs of boy-girl twins’.


Keith thought he would look a little deeper into this and tells us: ‘Having checked Cheshire BMD and England and Wales birth and death registrations along with the censuses of 1841-1881, I can only find 19 children, at least seven of which were not twins, while of the six pairs of twins which I can identify only four were boy-girl (the others were a pair of girls and a pair of boys).’


For the record, he believes the children were: 1839 Joseph, 1839 Sarah d 1839, 1841 Thomas, 1843 Martha d 1844, 1844 William d 1845, 1844 Sarah, 1845 Martha, 1847 John, 1847 Mary, 1849 William, 1851 Elizabeth, 1852 Eliza d 1852, 1852 Emma d 1853, 1853 Eliza d 1854, 1854 George d 1854, 1854 Henry d 1854, 1855 Henry d 1856, 1857 Henry and 1857 Eliza.


Nineteen children including six pairs of twins is certainly remarkable!


More Dear Tom that may interest you:

Tales from beyond the grave

The man who died twice

The name game


Tragic men of the Church

Next up is Heather Lemaire, who would like to share with us two tragic instances in which clergymen lost most, if not all, of the members of their families in a very short space of time. 


Heather’s first tale relates to a member of her husband’s family, the Rev Maxwell Julius Blacker of Pimlico, who between the 18 and 26 June 1858 lost his wife and four young children to diphtheria. Two children, William and Emma, died first on the 18th, Maxwell junior followed on the 21st, wife Emily Georgina (née Daveney) on the 25th and the last surviving child, Alethea, passed away on 26th. The first three victims were laid to rest together and the second two were also buried together. The second service was conducted by Rev Blacker’s brother-in-law, Rev Pascoe Grenfell Hill.


How terribly sad, and it all happened in less than two weeks.


Heather’s second family disaster goes back even further and relates to the vicar of the parish church of St John the Baptist at Thorpe Mandeville, Northamptonshire, where the Rev Robert Wainwright recorded the following:


‘This year past buried in Thrup Mandeville [as it was called in 1693]: Jane, the wife of Rob. Wainwright, Dorothy, Jane, Margery, Elizabeth daughters and Zachariah son of Rob. Wainwright all buried in woollen according to the Act. Witness’d my hande R. Wainwright April 19th 1693 examined and allowed by us, Toby Chauney and Jo: Wodhull.’

The records of burials in woollen generally seem to have been recorded soon after the event and since the year would have started on 25 March, says Heather, it appears that Rev Wainwright had lost six members of his family over the course of just 25 days. ‘Even if it were the previous calendar year, the tragedy remains,’ adds Heather.


Both men later remarried: Robert wed Katherine Kirton in 1695 and remained rector of Thorpe Mandeville. He was buried on 9 June 1711. Maxwell Blacker married Emma Sarah Cecilia Waller on 8 September 1859 and they had a further six children before his death on 11 June 1888.


Heather notes: ‘To lose any family member is hard enough but to lose five or six in such a short time must have been devastating. One hopes their faith sustained them through these tragedies and their subsequent marriages brought them happiness and comfort.’


• Read the full version of Dear Tom in the April 2019 issue of Family Tree.


Do you have a fascinating genealogical story to share? We'd love to hear from you. Email us at editorial@family-tree.co.uk


Illustration © Ellie Keeble for Family Tree.



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