Tuesday, 20 June 2017

The elusive George Mason Hales - unravelling a Gordian knot sideways

This is an adaptation of my sixth and final BIFHSGO talk, presented on June 10th, 2017, as part of the biannual "Great Moments in Genealogy".  My first presentation in June 2011 was also a "Great Moment in Genealogy", so I rather liked the symmetry.  

I've added a couple of slides in a bid for greater clarity, and subtracted material that really only works in a spoken presentation.

The notice at the website for the British Isles Family History Association of Greater Ottawa read:  

Ten years ago, all that Gail Roger knew about George Mason Hales was that in 1791, he had an inn in the parish of St Ann’s Soho, Westminster, and that he might be related to her. She eventually found out that he is indeed a relative, and that almost everything she knew about him was wrong — except that inn in Soho. This will be an illustration of how, sometimes, a seemingly dead end can lead to multiple great moments in genealogy.
Gail Roger will tell her family history stories to anyone who will listen. That’s why she joined BIFHSGO.

This is a tale only a family researcher could love.

So I’m telling it to you.  Who else would possibly listen?

While I was chasing down this strange and vengeful tale, I was also attempting to disentangle the Hales family itself, a family inextricably entwined with two or three other families living in the City of London, and neighbourhoods east in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

What I was encountering was a family that wasn’t wildly wealthy, but they had quite a bit in the nature of property and business interests.  I don’t know about you, but I find families like these tend to marry often – and they tend to marry each other.  So I have a tangle of siblings, step-siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins. 

And a fellow named George Mason Hales.  I had no idea where he fit it in this tangle of relatives.

I’ll get to him in a minute.

Have you ever heard the legend of the Gordian knot? Short version: 
There was a knot. 
Nobody could untie it.  
Alexander the Great came along -- and sliced it with his sword. 

This legend shows up a lot on business websites and sports blogs, because it’s a heck of a metaphor, and an appealing idea, if you’re lacking in patience.

However, slicing doesn’t really work for people – living or dead.  If you cut apart family connections and blood ties, you’ll just get lost, or covered in blood.

Now, be brave, as I lead you through a genealogical Gordian knot, showing you what I had at the time of my Hanging Hales presentation five years ago, which was the result of years of slow, steady disentanglement. It turned out I was mistaken in more than one respect.

Near the centre of this knot are my “Hanging Hales” great-great-great-grandparents Richard Hales and Virtue King.

Richard was the third child of my great-great-great-great-grandparents William and Mary Hales.

All of these children were born at an inn called The Gun & Star in Petticoat Lane, which is on the eastern border of the City of London. 

Sometime after 1800 and before 1812, a fellow named Thomas Nightingale took over William Hales’ establishment, The Gun & Star. 

Thomas Nightingale turned out to be a maternal uncle of Mary Rose, my great-great-grandmother.

Mary Rose’s mother-in-law Virtue King was the daughter of William King and his first wife Rosanna Butwell.  (And yes, I’m afraid that’s relevant.)

Thomas Nightingale married Isabella Elizabeth Snow Hales whose maiden name I didn’t find out for years ---- because this was her second marriage, so she showed up as Isabella Jude.

A few months prior to the 2012 presentation, Ancestry put the certificates for Freedom of the City of London online, and because my great-grandfathergreat-great-grandfather, great-great-great-grandfather, and great-great-great-great-grandfather all had the Freedom of the City, I was able to confirm their birth years and their father’s identities.

In my 4 times great-grandfather William Hales’ case, it was his 1769 apprenticeship paper, so I surmised that he was 13 when he was apprenticed, and came up with an estimated birth year of 1756. 

The apprenticeship contract also gave me the name of William's father Richard Hales.

Are you lost?

None of this explains who George Mason Hales was, but I thought I might have a clue.

First, I have a confession, which, as a serious family researcher, I’m ashamed to make.

I found a tree at Ancestry many years ago that had several of my Hales relatives on it, claiming that William Hales married a Mary Snow in Lincolnshire. 

This mysterious tree had no sources whatsoever, but the surname "Snow" gave me pause.  Thomas Nightingale was connected with the Hales family through his marriage to an Isabella Elizabeth Snow Hales.  Was it possible that this sourceless tree was correct?  I filed it in the back of my mind, and very nearly forgot it.

While I was scrabbling around for more information on George Mason Hales, I found this marriage bond.

Clicking on any image should enlarge it.
It really doesn’t tell me much, but I thought:  At least I know who Isabella Elizabeth Snow Hales is!  She’s obviously the daughter of George Mason Hales and Elizabeth Snow!

Naturally, I couldn’t find a christening record for her to confirm this, although I found christening records for three other children:  another George Mason Hales, an Anthony Hales, and an Elizabeth Hales.

"Leicester Fields" is now Leicester Square in London's West End.

I first encountered George Mason Hales over a decade ago on a Sun Fire Insurance list at the National Archives web site.  I thought he had to be a relative, because there were several Hales innkeepers in the family.

With a distinctive name like George Mason Hales, finding his christening record ought to have been a cinch. 

It wasn’t.

I researched his inn, I found his name on Land Tax Records, on the christening records for three of his children – but not Isabella Elizabeth Snow Hales, of course!  I even found his burial record.  Nothing to tell me about his parents or siblings, or to connect him to my Hales.

I thought:  My great-great-great-great-grandfather William Hales and my great-great-great-grandfather Richard Hales were innkeepers because they had the Freedom of the City (You needed to have the freedom of the city of London to run an inn within the borders of the city of London.)  Maybe there’s a record for George Mason Hales, and I can find out who his father was!
But, alas, the Coach and Horses Inn was in the City of Westminster, so George Mason Hales didn’t need the Freedom of the City of London.

Once again, clicking on an image will usually enlarge it.
So I went back to gaze futilely at his marriage record, and while looking it up, I came across another Hales/Snow marriage, registered in the same church five months later, evidently witnessed by George Mason Hales' wife, Elizabeth.

So who’s Anthony Hales? 

Well, I mentioned that one of George Mason Hales’ sons was named Anthony, and it looks like he apprenticed with his uncle and namesake.

I decided to recklessly revise the Hales family tree – based on guesses that George Mason Hales was William Hales’ brother, that their mother probably was named Isabella and might have had the maiden name of Mason,  and that Isabella Elizabeth Snow Hales was the daughter of George Mason Hales.

And then there was that Mary Snow who seemed to have married my 4xgreat-grandfather William Hales, based on that mysterious unsourced family tree.

I’m a family researcher.  If there are no sources, I find them, dammit.

I found:

Grantham, Lincolnshire

I also found this marriage record, which tells me very little, except these are the correct names at the correct time.  

So I started a search for Mary Snow’s christening record.

There are a lot of Mary Snows in Lincolnshire, but I found myself looking at the registers for Wellingore.

I found a record for a Mary Snow born to Elizabeth and Henry Snow in 1763, which works for a 1783 marriage.

Mary had several siblings, including sisters named Elizabeth and Lettice, born at the correct time to be married in the late 1770’s.

This led me, in turn to the maiden name of my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Elizabeth Wilson.

 I rather love this entry from the parish register of St Martin Lincoln, Lincolnshire:

Lady Day is the Feast of the Annunciation - March 25th - and before the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar in Britain in 1752, the year began and ended on that day.

I returned to the London parish registers to see if I could find out more about Isabella Elizabeth Snow Hales and her connections either to the Hales or to the Snows.

On one of those visits to the record of her first marriage to Peter Jude, I happened to glance at the marriage preceding it, which took place on the same day, with the same witnesses, neither of whom I recognized.

However, I did recognize the surname of the bride.

Hmmmn, I thought. She’s probably a relative.  

I thought this for months, before remembering that I had no record of my 4x great-grandfather William Hales after the birth of his last child Edward in 1800.

Could this be my widowed great-great-great-great-grandmother Mary Hales née Snow, marrying two years after the death of her first husband, on the same day as her niece?

I looked at Isabella Elizabeth Snow Hales’ second marriage record, to Thomas Nightingale, who, you may remember, took over William Hales’ inn The Gun & Star. 

The witnesses to this wedding probably are my relatives.

The “Richard Hales” is likely my great-great-great-grandfather who would have been quite young – about fourteen.  Up until the twentieth century, there was no age requirement for witnessing a marriage.

The other is William King.  Remember the name of Virtue Hales’ father?

Naaaaah.  This was six whole years before Virtue and Richard got married, and William King is such a common name – surely it’s just a coincidence.

I kept thinking that until I started searching for the death record of my 4 times great-grandmother Mary Kelly, formerly Hales, née Snow. 

I couldn’t find one, so I checked for a marriage record.


Twelve days after Isabella Elizabeth Snow Jude née Hales married Thomas Nightingale, a Mary Kelly, widow, married a William King, widower. 

Who are the witnesses?  Two very familiar names: Anthony Hales and Thomas Nightingale.

Now, at this point, I went into total denial mode.

Surely, I couldn’t have my 4 x great-grandmother married to not one, but two of my 4 x great -grandfathers.


After watching the presentation, my husband and daughter felt I needed this graphic.

For one thing, that would make my great-great-great-grandparents Richard Hales and Virtue Hales step-siblings, which would be …..illegal, right? 

I mean, Richard and Virtue got married by banns in St Botolph Aldgate, the parish church in which the Hales had been active members for at least twenty years.

After much searching, I failed to find a law against step-siblings marrying. They're not blood relatives.

I went off to look William King’s will.

I knew it was him, because it mentioned his first wife, also my great-great-great-great-grandmother, Rosanna.  He wanted to be buried with her.  It also mentions his sister in East Knoyle, Wiltshire, where he was born, and his current wife Mary King, and his daughters, including Virtue and her husband Richard Hales who were living with him.

This document didn’t confirm that Mary King was Mary Hales née Snow, but it did confirm that William died in 1815, so I looked for a death record for a Mary King.

Instead, I found another marriage record.  Her fourth.

One of the witnesses was Mary’s sister Lettes, whose husband Anthony Hales witnessed Mary’s third marriage to William King. Anthony Hales, you may recall, was George Mason Hales' brother -- we'll be getting back to GMH, I promise!

This might be the moment to compare the signatures that appeared on the respective parish registers for each of my great-great-great-great-grandmother's marriages.

I think they look like they have been made by the same woman over the course of a long life.  What do you think?

The discovery of my great-great-great-great-grandmother's last marriage meant I could finally find a will for her, because I now had her surname when she died. 

Clicking on this, or any other image, will usually enlarge it.

It was definitely the will of Mary Nicholls, formerly King, formerly Kelly, formerly Hales, née Snow, because it mentioned all her living children:
Her son Richard, my great-great-great-grandfather;
His brother Henry, whose daughters lived with Thomas Nightingale and his wife ----
Isabella. Elizabeth. Snow. Nightingale!

Mary’s daughter!
Not the daughter of George Mason Hales! 

My first thought:  Oh no! Now I've got to reconfigure all my trees! 

Then I had to email the half-dozen or so distant cousins who are also researching this branch of my family.  Their reactions were….interesting.

As for George Mason Hales, I was back to square one, having no way of confirming how he was related. 

So I gave up.

Until last spring. 

I can’t even remember what I was looking for, but I had neglected FamilySearch.org for some years while they underwent re-organization.

FamilySearch.org (I like their alternate spelling of Worcester, bless their cotton socks.)

And there it was.

The record that had eluded me for over a decade.

Why hadn’t I seen it before?  I think it was a recent addition.  You really need to go back and re-check web sites.

It had never occurred to me that the family might come from Worcester. 

Worcester is the red icon; Grantham is the purple circle; London is difficult to miss.  Click to enlarge.

Look where Worcester is, in relation to London and Grantham, Lincolnshire – which is where I thought the Hales had come from.  This was in the days before rail travel.

So, using Family Search, I came up with this:

George Mason Hales was the son of Richard Hales and his wife Isabella.

He had several siblings, all with names that carried on down through the generations, including his brother Anthony --- and his brother and my ancestor William Hales, born 1755.  (Remember how I estimated his birth year as being 1756, from his apprenticeship papers?  --- Go, Gail!)

All the Hales children in this generation were born in Worcester between 1743 and 1762 and I found a marriage record for a Richard Hales and an Isabella Heworth, married at the chapel of St Oswald’s Hospital, which is now an oasis of quiet off a fairly busy street. 

Here’s a coincidence. Almost exactly a century later, my husband’s great-great-great-grandmother was buried here.  Guess where she had been born?

A small village in Lincolnshire, not five miles from Wellingore.

So I reconfigured the family tree - again - and it won’t be the last time, because I’ve been wrong before and I can be wrong again.
"Now" meaning as of the spring of 2017

We have my great-great-great-great-great-grandparents Richard Hales and Isabella Heworth,
the parents of my great-great-great-great-grandfather William Hales, innkeeper of the Gun & Star in Aldgate, London, who married Mary Snow.

William and Mary's seven children included Isabella Elizabeth Snow Hales, who eventually married Thomas Nightingale, who took over The Gun & Star because it was his father-in-law’s establishment.  (That makes more sense, doesn’t it?)

Thomas’ brother-in-law was my great-great-great-grandfather Richard Hales, the father of
my great-great-grandfather William King Hales, who married Mary Rose, a niece of Thomas Nightingale.

Let’s not forget the three gentlemen that my 4-times-great-grandmother married after the death of my  4-times-great-grandfather William Hales, including another of my 4-times-great-grandfathers, William King, the father of my great-great-great-grandmother Virtue King.

Is this any clearer?

A major factor in unraveling all this is the man I now know to be my great-great-great-great-great-uncle, George Mason Hales, for it is while pursuing him and trying to find his connections that I stumbled across this other stuff.

I can’t help but wonder:  had I found George Mason Hales' christening record ten years ago, would I have made all these other discoveries?

Now, if only I knew where the “Mason” in "George Mason Hales" comes from….

Please note; I didn’t have to slash through anything with a sword - although I did get a few paper cuts.