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Progressing past brick walls when compiling family history

Most of my family history research has gone straight back through my direct ancestors, in some cases to 6 generations without any problems.

I have encountered brick walls for some of my great-grandmothers and am still stuck on a few of them.

I’ve made great progress on one recently though by coming forward although going back is still a work in progress.

Caroline Rumpf

My 2 x great grandmother is Caroline Rumpf, quite an unusual name which I believe to be German. I have her marriage details and I found her quite easily on the 1891 census married to John William Martin Fonblanque (JWM) and with her 3 year old son John Berkeley de Fonblanque (JB). They were living in 39 Muschamp Road, Peckham, south London which was smarter then than it is now. She was 23 and her husband 70 – quite an age difference here. He was a widower with a son who was 19 years older than my great grandfather JB.

In 1891 her census return says she was aged 23 and born in Norwich, Norfolk, England. This means her date of birth is around 1868.

Then the trail went cold, I couldn’t find her on any other censuses from 1901 or 1911.

Her husband JWM, a former barrister, died in May 1891 not long after the census. Caroline is mentioned as the widow and ‘relict’ in his probate where he left £549 7s 10d equivalent to around £69,000 today.

What happened to Caroline?

I started to wonder if she had remarried after being widowed at just 23 with a young son. Doing a search for Caroline Fonblanque came with a few headaches…

How many Caroline Fonblanques are there in my tree at this time?

I have found at least 6 of them over 3 generations which makes it quite confusing when trawling through the records.

I saw one on Ancestry where a Caroline Fonblanque married someone Duffill but didn’t think it was significant as there were several Carolines born Fonblanque who this could have been for.

Tip: Check carefully that you have the right person if you have several people with the same name in your tree.

Thinking creatively…

I then started being more creative in my searching. Her son JB was called Jack in the 1891 census so I started to look for him.

Tip: Ancestry is very helpful in bringing up suggestions for similar names as Fonblanque is regularly mis-transcribed in the census. There’s an option for ‘sounds like’ when searching.

Also look for a child when trying to confirm a parent’s details.

And in the 1901 census Jack is shown with Caroline Duffill living in Bexhill in Sussex! And with a younger half-brother.

Looking at the original census return Jack’s name was spelled correctly.

However Caroline is shown as aged 36 and born in Clapham, London. I know this is the right person as her son Jack B is shown and his is a very distinctive name. Caroline is 10 years older than her second husband George Duffill who she married in 1899. If she is 36 on the census then her date of birth is around 1865 not 1868.

Her second husband dies

Tip: The people shown on a funeral announcement will often have their relationship to the deceased mentioned.

By 1911 Caroline is a widow again aged 46 with 3 surviving sons (there is a child who has died – not sure who this is yet, possibly a girl born in 1901 called Ethel Mary Duffill) and living in Bexhill working as a Fancy Draper at home. I believe she could be a dressmaker.

She is still saying she was born in Clapham and is a “British Subject by Parentage”. Her son JB is now an articled clerk working in Battle (name mis-transcribed again). He went on to become a solicitor at Lincoln’s Inn in London.

She also appears in the trade directory in 1915 and 1918 as a shopkeeper /stationer at Oaklands, St James Road, Bexhill.

My great grandfather JB must have moved to London fairly soon after this as he married by great grandmother in on 4 January 1913 and my grandmother was born in July 1913. I actually have their original marriage banns (complete with a hanging stamp) and wedding certificate.

I did some more digging in the British Newspaper Archive and found her death notice in 1923. In this she is called Edith Caroline Duffill. It says she only had two sons and JB isn’t mentioned (although he is shown on his step-father’s burial notice in 1909 (see above).

Tip: Check old newspapers for birth, marriage and death announcements. Search for the full name as well as just the surname.

I don’t have any definite photographs of Caroline. I have her son JB’s papers which include lots of family history enquiries. In amongst this are a couple of lovely photos of him as a young child and one of a beautiful young woman, possibly Caroline but I need to do further research here.

Caroline with her husbands and children (Robert is from JWM’s first marriage)

A family mystery

Finding Caroline living locally with a second family was a complete surprise. My family never knew of Caroline. We grew up in Sussex, only around 20 miles from Bexhill. My father also never knew his grandfather lived in Bexhill from the age of 3 to 23. JB lived in London after he married and everyone believed he had grown up there. We also never knew he had two younger half brothers. Sadly both of them have died and I haven’t yet found any living descendants of theirs. If any Duffills read this please get in touch.

And Caroline’s parents?

I haven’t yet managed to trace Caroline’s ancestry. Was she born in 1868 or 1865? There’s a possibility of a link to someone in Suffolk. If anyone knows anything about the Rumpf family I would be very happy to hear about it…. I will carry on searching.

I hope my experience and tips help you with your brick walls, please let me know if so.

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