For one of my portfolio pieces for the (IHGS) Diploma in Genealogy I’m undertaking this year, I have decided to focus on my 3 x great grandfather, John Clarke, who served in the 74th Regiment of the British Army during the mid 19th century.
But firstly, how did I find out his regiment, and, just as importantly, how did I discover the woman he married, my 3 x great grandmother?
It’s tempting to stop when you find a record that confirms details of an ancestor such as name and occupation, especially when you’re looking at civil registration records. Why look for a parish register entry if you have the marriage certificate already? Well, as they say, the devil is in the detail, and sometimes that extra effort pays dividends.
John Clarke’s daughter Mary Jane, my great great grandmother, married three times and every marriage registration recorded her father as John Clarke.
Marriage #1, 1877
Her first marriage was to James Freeth, a sergeant in the 94th Foot regiment of the British Army, and took place in the Roman Catholic chapel in Navan, County Meath, Ireland, on 5th February 1877.1 Mary Jane was a 22 year old servant living in Railway Street in Navan, and her father John’s occupation was recorded as “soldier.”
James Freeth died in Transvaal in 1881 during the Siege of Marabastad. His name is listed on a memorial plaque in St Paul’s Cathedral, London, and a likely mention of his death was recorded by Lady Bellairs in her account The Transvaal war, 1880-81.2
Marriage #2, 1882
Mary Jane’s second marriage was to Ephraim Wright, my great great grandfather, a fitter originally from Polstead, Suffolk. They married on 13th March 1882 at St Stephen’s in Lewisham, and her father John’s occupation is not listed, being described only as “Deceased”.3
Ephraim died on 26th November 1894 in South Eastern Hospital of enteric fever, and the informant was Joseph Sullivan. Joseph was described as Ephraim’s “Brother-in-law”, a clue that eventually led me to Mary Jane’s younger sister Annie.4 She had married Joseph Sullivan on 12th August 1883 in Our Lady of the Assumption church in Deptford, and on her marriage registration her father John is described as a “labourer”.5
Marriage #3, 1901
Mary Jane’s last marriage was to John Carroll, a widower from County Kerry. They married on 27th April 1901 in Our Lady of the Assumption church in Deptford, and Mary Jane’s father was recorded as “John Alexander Clarke (deceased), an Army Pensioner”, which was the fullest description I had found of him.6 And, the possibility of finding an army pension file for him filled me with hope!
Perhaps there might be more details in the parish register?
FindmyPast have some English Roman Catholic sacramental registers, including those from the Diocese of Southwark, and there’s a list of the parishes in the collection so far. For Our Lady of the Assumption church (or Church of the Assumption) the date range covered is 1850 to 1910.
In the search facility you can filter by parish, which is useful. The names of the bride and groom are often in Latin, so searching by English names may not get you the result you want, and you also might want to have an idea of date range. John and Mary Jane are recorded as “Joannem” and “Mariam Jane” and her father John as “Joannis Alexandri Clarke”.7 The entry contained no new-to-me information, but it was good to check in any case.
Back to Marriage #1, 1877
After I had found Mary Jane’s first marriage on irishgenealogy.ie, I remembered that the parish registers held by the National Library of Ireland had been digitised, and indexed by Findmypast, and so thought I’d better check the Navan parish register for the marriage.
On their marriage entry, both Mary Jane’s father and mother are recorded: “Joannis et Margaritae Montgomery”, as well as their residence of Belfast.8 Eureka!
John Clark and Margaret Montgomery
To date, I haven’t been able to find a record of John and Margaret’s marriage in a Roman Catholic parish register. Catholic marriages weren’t civilly registered until 1864 in Ireland, but I decided to search non-Catholic civil registrations just in case, as marriages for non-Catholics were registered from 1845.
And, I found a marriage registration for them. John and Margaret married in the Registrar’s Office, Belfast, on 26 October 1847.9 Not only did the entry give a regiment for John, but also the name and occupation of his and Margaret’s fathers!Findmypast has an index to Irish Marriages 1845-1958 or you can search on irishgenealogy.ie. I originally purchased a digital copy of the marriage registration through GRONI (General Register Office of Northern Ireland) but it’s now freely available online at irishgenealogy.ie.
John Clarke, 74th (Highland) Regiment of Foot
Now that I knew John’s regiment, I could try and find a pension file for him. Findmypast’s British Army Service Records includes several series of records related to army pensions. The search facility didn’t seem to like it when I tried filtering by regiment – using “74” or “74th” returned exactly one result each, out of over 8 million records. Instead, you can filter by series number.
If you scroll down the main search page, you’ll find a list of the included series in the Available record series section under Learn more about these records. (The original records are held at The National Archives in England, and their website has excellent guides on researching your British Army solider, with more details on the various pension records that have survived.)
The main series of records relating to soldiers who were in- or out-pensioners of the Royal Hospital Chelsea are listed as Wo 97 – Chelsea Pensioners British Army Service Records 1760-1913 at Findmypast. Searching in this series of records, I found not one but TWO John Clarkes who were in the 74th Foot around the same, both of whom were discharged and received a pension.
My next step, and the main topic for my portfolio piece, was to sort out which John Clarke was mine – was it John the weaver from Cullybackey, Antrim, or was it John the labourer from Glasgow, Scotland?
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- Ireland, marriage register entry for James Freeth and Mary Jane Clarke, 5 Feb 1877, Navan registration district; digital image, irishgenealogy.ie (https://www.irishgenealogy.ie/en/ : accessed 26 Feb 2019); vol 2 p960, General Register Office.
- Bellairs, [Blanche St. John] Lady. “Chapter VI: The Siege of Marabastadt Fort”, The Transvaal war, 1880-81. Edinbugh & London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1985. Digitised version. archive.org (https://archive.org/details/transvaalwar00bellgoog/page/n330/mode/2up?view=theater : accessed 6 Dec 2012).
- England, marriage certificate for Ephraim Wright and Mary Jane Freeth, 13 Mar 1882; Mar quarter, vol 01d p1019, Lewisham registration district; General Register Office.
- England, death certificate for Ephraim Wright, died 26 Nov 1894; Dec qtr vol 01d p552, Greenwich registration district and Deptford Centreal sub-district; General Register Office.
- England, marriage certificate for Joseph Patrick Sullivan and Annie Clarke, 12 Aug 1883; Sep qtr vol 01d p1487, Greenwich registration district; General Register Office.
- England, marriage certificate for John Carroll and Mary Jane Wright, 27 Apr 1901; Jan qtr vol 01d p1817, Greenwich registration district; General Register Office.
- Church of the Assumption (Deptford, London), marriage register, entry for Joannem Carroll and Mariam Jane Wright, 27 Apr 1901; digital image, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark, 1901-1922, Marriages, England Roman Catholic Parish Marriages, Findmypast (https://search.findmypast.com/search-world-Records/england-roman-catholic-parish-marriages : accessed 5 Apr 2021).
- Roman Catholic Chapel (Navan, Co Meath), marriage register, entry for Jacobus Freeth and Maria Johana Clarke, 5 Feb 1877; digital image, Ireland Roman Catholic Parish Marriages, Findmypast (https://search.findmypast.com.au/search-world-Records/ireland-roman-catholic-parish-marriages : accessed 26 Feb 2019); from Diocese of Meath, Navan: MF 04181/08 Marriages 25 Oct 1868 to 19 Nov 1881, National Library of Ireland.
- Ireland, marriage register entry for John Clark and Margaret Montgomery, 26 Oct 1847, Belfast registration district; digital image, M/1847/B1/570/4/63 Registrar’s Office Books; General Register Office of Northern Ireland (https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/services/go-groni-online : accessed 2 Dec 2018).