Posted 17 July 2015 by Kirsten English

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Sarah Hannah Payne married John Thomas in 1870 in Heptonstall, Halifax, Yorkshire. From the marriage record we could see that her father was George Payne. In all census records from 1871 until her death she claims to have been born in Almondsbury, Gloucestershire. However, the Thomas side of the family are all from the Halifax area. According to my great Aunt who knew her, she was ‘a bit of a dragon’ and always claimed her family were related to the Payne’s of Bristol who made the ‘Just Brazil’s’ chocolates.

Apparently it was generally assumed she had some delusions of grandeur and no-one took her too seriously!

According to census records she was born in about 1853 and we couldn’t find a Sarah Payne born in Almondsbury or in any nearby towns in any previous census records. We started to wonder if she was confused about where she was born, or was making ridiculous claims. There is an Almondbury in Yorkshire, maybe that is where the confusion lay. Or maybe she was born elsewhere in Bristol or Gloucestershire.

My uncle did find a census record for a George Payne living in 1851 in Portsea, Portsmouth. The census record says he was from ‘Alminesbury, Glos’. Could this be him and the clerk just spelt the town wrong. This George is married to Sophia from Newton, Huntingdonshire and they have a child Emily. There is no mention of Sarah Hannah, but she wasn’t born then anyway.

A George Payne married Sophia Hunt in 1850 in Portsea and Emily Payne was born in 1851 in Portsea. But is this the same family that Sarah Hannah is later born into? There was no sign of this family either as a whole, or searching for each one individually in the 1861 or 1871 census. Although, confusingly, there is a George Payne living with his daughter Emily in Portsea at that time. He, however, was born in Hampshire and I did trace him back and forwards and could find no connection with my family.

So we left it for a while (well, several years actually!)

With my new found confidence having done this professionally for a couple of years, and some new tricks and techniques I ‘treated’ myself to some research time over Christmas on my own family. I repeated all the things my uncle had done but he had been thorough and I didn’t find anything new. Huntingdonshire is made up of modern day Northamptonshire, and there is a Water Newton near Peterborough. I searched census records and birth records there and in Bristol, Almondsbury, Gloucester, Almondbury, Yorkshire and Halifax all to no avail.

I searched every possible spelling and misspelling of Payne and looked at old handwriting to see what it could be mistaken as e.g. Rayne, Dayne etc. But nothing. I searched for Sarah and/or Sarah Hannah born in all possible places we knew of, if she had mistaken her birth place.

I tried to follow the sister, Emily, born in Portsea but couldn’t find her anywhere. Frustration!!!!! There wasn’t even a certainty that George and Sophia living in Portsea were even her parents. There were some close possibilities but never enough to really pursue it.

So, time to think outside the box. Let’s go back to what we know and assume that Sarah Hannah did know where she was born, and she was born in Aldmondsbury. Where is Almondsbury? I found out the registration district for those born in Almondsbury was Thornbury, Gloucestershire. Looking at the birth indexes I did see a Sarah Ann Payne born in 1852. I had come across this before but dismissed it, but now with more experience I thought it was worth getting the birth certificate. Ann/Anna and Hannah are often interchangeable.

When the certificate came it confirmed she was born on 18th August 1852 in Olverston, Almondsbury and her parents were George Payne and Sophia Payne (formally Hunt). George was a labourer. So my Uncle’s guess about them being in Portsmouth was correct.

Because of the Napoleonic Wars, Portsmouth was a bit of a boom town in the 1800s so George must have travelled down there to get work and met Sophia Hunt. What she was doing there, having been born near Peterborough is an area of research for another day. Going back to the census record of 1851 George is a labourer which ties in with Sarah's birth record.

But this still doesn’t help us find any of them in 1861.

Searching for Sarah Ann now, I did find a census record for a Sarah Ann Payne born in 1851 in Thornbury, working as a domestic servant in Westbury on Trym (Bristol) at the age of 11. This looked hopeful. But where could the rest of the family be. I started looking for death records in Thornbury. I found a death record for George Payne in 1853 in Thornbury. But no Emily Payne. It still bothered me though, how did a servant in Bristol end up marrying in Yorkshire? It does happen of course, 10 years is a long time. Think outside the box again… Not ready to let this go yet.

How would a young girl end up living and marrying several counties away from where she was born? It would usually be because the parents moved. I started to look back at the census records in and around Halifax for George and Sophia Payne. Maybe there was a spelling of Payne I had not considered. I put in George born in Gloucestershire living in Halifax, nothing. I put in Sophia, born in Huntingdonshire and got this...Sophia and William Lain living in Sowerby Bridge in 1871. Sowerby Bridge is close to Heptonstall where Sarah Hannah/Ann married. And Sophia is listed as coming from Huntingdonshire. This looked very positive. They have a son, George William born in 1862 in Sowerby. A birth index confirmed his birth. But further searching in 1861 and 1881 for the Lain’s didn’t bring up anything.

When I looked at the census record I thought, if I was reading it I would transcribe their surname as Law. Thinking there was a chance they might have died by now, I searched for George William Law and there he was in 1881 with his mother, Sophia who is widowed again. She is still living with him and his wife in 1891. Sophia Law dies in 1893, registered in Todmorden. I found a death record for her husband, William Law in 1880 in Todmorden, the registration district for the Heptonstall, Sowerby area. I also found burial records in the non-conformist records for both William and, later, Sophia in 1896. Sophia’s address on her burial record corresponds with her address in 1891.

This is all great, but I still want to confirm where Sarah Ann/Hannah is in 1861. Was she a domestic servant who was taken north by her mother because she remarried? I have yet to find a marriage record for Sophia Payne and William Law.

Here’s another supposition - did she remarry in between? - research for another day...)

Then I remembered (duh!) I hadn’t actually searched the 1861 records for William and Sophia Law. And when I did, there they were with Emily and Sarah Ann. So Sarah Ann was not a servant. Emily did not die young. They stayed with their mother, who remarried (When? If? Argghhhh!) and settled with her and their stepfather in Yorkshire. They also gained a stepbrother.

This felt like an epic piece of work. I looked at sooooo many records. And had to think very much outside the box. But success!!!!!!

My goal was to find Sarah Hannah Payne and I did.

I found her birth record, her parents, her siblings and all entries in census records when she was alive. But it has thrown up some more things to research.

What happened to Emily Payne? When and where did Sophia Hunt/Payne marry William Law, if they married at all? And of course now I need to go back another generation and find George Payne and Sophia Hunt’s parents.

Researching your family tree is a never ending mission. Not a bad piece of work, I think!