Wednesday, 11 March 2015

How the British Newspaper Archive helped solve a mystery

When I started to get involved in genealogy I was fortunate enough to be able to draw upon the research my cousin had already done. He had traced out family back to Stretford in the county of Lancashire in England and had produced a small book containing the results of his research. Unfortunately he lost most of his collected information in a HD crash, but the details in his booklet gave me a solid base from which to start. I decided I would try to find supporting evidence for the various people and events in this book and before too long I had found evidence for most of the claims but one event didn't look right...

According to my cousin's research, our great-great-great-great-great grandfather Amos BANNISTER was born about 1732 and died in 1796 when a wagon fell on him. My cousin believed Amos had been originally from Adlington, Cheshire and moved to Stretford where he married a woman called Catharine in 1757. My own research had turned up the christening of an Amos BANNISTER in Pott Shrigley, Cheshire on 19 March 1730 which lists the father as Amos BANNISTER of Adlington. While this christening is a couple of years earlier than the birth year my cousin had, his date was a guesstimate based on his age in other documents, so I am reasonably confident I have the correct record here. When I searched for any record of Amos' death or burial, I found a burial record for Amos Bannister of Stretford who was buried in Flixton, Lancashire on the 4th of July 1796. So far, so good.

What really interested me about this ancestor was the story of his death. I wondered where my cousin got the information about how Amos died from. So I started to cast my net far and wide and eventually discovered a book on archive.org that had a brief mention of the story. The book was A History of the Ancient Chapel of Stretford, Volume III and there are two brief mentions to the story of an Amos BANNISTER being crushed to death by a wagon in Stretford:

On page 72:
Amos Bannister, a member of the family, was crushed to
death at Stretford by a wagon in 1782, and was buried at Prest-
bury, CO. Chester

and page 223:
1782, Dec. 17. On Sunday se'nnight in the morning about one
o'clock a waggon belonging to Mr. Higginson took fire by neglect
for want of greasing. Amos Bannister having completed his busi-
ness except fresh greasing, the waggon slipped and crushed him
instantaneously to death.

Awesome! Here was a reference to my ancestor's death in a history of Stretford's chapel. One small problem - this Amos died in 1782 and was supposedly buried in Prestbury, Chester. The cause of death was as I expected, but the year was way out and the burial place didn't seem to fit any other movements of the BANNISTER family that I had managed to trace so far. What could be the cause of these discrepancies?

So I started to search widely once more to see if I could find any other references that might help clear matters up. During my searches I discovered a number of family trees that had been uploaded by others researching the BANNISTER family. Some of these trees had my ggggg-grandfather dying in 1796, others had him dying in 1782. Surely he couldn't have died on both dates? Did I really have an ancestor who became a zombie? I very much doubted that this was right.

I tried matching up other relatives and dates and ruled out my gggg-grandfather Amos BANNISTER, as he was married in 1795 and I had good evidence that he didn't die until 1854. The only thing I could think of was that there must have been another Amos BANNISTER in Stretford, possibly a nephew or cousin of my Amos BANNISTER.

Next I turned to Ancestry.com (thanks to my local library having a subscription to Ancestry's Library Edition) and discovered some apprenticeship records that looked promising. In 1771, Amos BANNISTER (the elder) took on an Amos BANNISTER as apprentice wheelwright. This new Amos BANNISTER couldn't have been my gggg-grandfather who was only born in 1771, so it must be some other Amos BANNISTER. At last I had enough Amos BANNISTERs to match up with the various burial records I had found. But how to prove that the Amos BANNISTER who died in 1782 was not my ggggg-grandfather? I still had more searching to do...

At around this time in my research I discovered the British Newspaper Archive (BNA). The second entry in the book I found looked suspiciously like a newspaper report, so I searched the BNA and bingo! I found an article in the Manchester Mercury dated 17 December 1782 that matched the entry in the book:

On Sunday se'nnight in the Morning, about One o'Clock,
a Waggon belonging to Mr. Higgenson, took Fire by Neg-
left for Want of Greasing, and stopping to quench it, and
repair the Damage at Stretford, when Amos Bannister, a
Wheelwright, a young Man of excellent Character, having
completed his Business except fresh Greasing, the Waggon
slipped, came down, and crushed him instantaneously to
Death; several others had been from under the Waggon
only about Half a Minute, or in all Probability would have
shared the same deplorable Fate.

So here was the original article - now what can we learn from this article and can it help pinpoint just which Amos BANNISTER died in this tragic accident? My eyes quickly narrowed in on a key phrase: Amos Bannister, a Wheelwright, a young Man of excellent Character. The "young man" was the clue I was looking for. My ggggg-grandfather would have been 52 years old in 1782 which would make it a stretch to describe him as a young man. His apprentice however would have been in his mid-20s (assuming an apprenticeship begun at age 14) which puts him squarely in the right age bracket. Mystery solved! Case closed!

Except.

Now I need to find out just who this young man was and how he is related to my ancestors. A reasonable assumption would be that my ggggg-grandfather would take on his nephew as an apprentice, so i am looking for any siblings of Amos and any children they might have had. The young Amos who died was buried in Prestbury, so presumably his family came from that area. So one mystery solved and a new one added to the list - this genealogy game seems to be never-ending! ;^)

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