Kissing Cousins

These days to most people the thought of marrying a cousin seems to remain in the realms of red-neck type families, and in the States is illegal in several states, but has been legal in England and Wales since the time of Henry VIII’s reign. It is common knowledge that most of the European royal families are all interrelated through cousin marriages. Marriages between first and second cousins accounts for around 20% of the marriages worldwide and many cultures consider it to be a normal practice – especially in countries like India and Pakistan.

Medically speaking you have a higher chance of having a child with genetic abnormalities by marrying someone with a close familial connection. It often accounts for the high rates of infant mortality in the countries that regularly engage in cousin marriages.


Good old Elvis…

When researching your family tree it is often a bit of an eye opener the first time you encounter a cousin marriage. It feels a little taboo but in reality it was fairly common. There is always the question of whether your tree building software or website you use can accommodate for attaching a spouse that is already in your tree rather than having to create a duplicate entry.

Some years ago I was researching my mother’s paternal line – Marshall. I had worked up from my great grandfather Harry Marshall born 1876 in Hyde, Cheshire, his father John born 1832 in Ashton under Lyne, Lancashire to his father – another John Marshall born 1795 in Yorkshire.

I had found that John had married a Mary Gillings (married as Gillin) on 23rd August 1824 at St. Michael’s Church, Ashton under Lyne and they had six children in all:

  • Sophia baptised 26th February 1826 at St. Michael’s.
  • Sarah baptised 1st June 1828 at St. Michael’s.
  • John baptised 12th August 1832 at St. Michael’s.
  • Jennet baptised 12th October 1834 at St. Michael’s.
  • Susannah born 1839 in Ashton.
  • Elizabeth Gillings born 1843 in Ashton.

The family appeared on the 1841 census living at Ryecroft, Ashton under Lyne where John was a Watchman. The two eldest daughters were working – Sophia’s occupation is pretty illegible but I would welcome any suggestions! Sarah was a Cotton Spinner.

Sophia 1841 crop

Sadly Sophia didn’t survive to the next census as she died on 25th July 1844 at Crowthorn, Ashton aged 18 of Scrofula of the Hip Joint. She was a Power Weaver. Scrofula is a form of Tuberculosis that affects the lymph nodes and can lead to inflammation of the joints. The informant of her death was a Sarah Hampshire.

In 1851 the family were still at Ryecroft and John’s occupation was expanded upon as being a Watchman in a Factory. By then Sarah was married and was a Cotton Weaver, but was living with her parents with her daughter Elizabeth. John was still at home and was a Warehouseman, Jennet was also a Cotton Weaver while Susannah was at home and Elizabeth attending school. John senior’s place of birth was given as Leeds and his wife Mary’s was given as the same.

John then passed away on 22nd April 1858 at Slate Edge Farm, Audenshaw aged 63 – his occupation given as Farmer. His cause of death was quite simply given as ‘Found Dead – Natural Causes’ and the informant was W S Rutter – the Coroner for Manchester. The Tameside Local Studies Archive had a look in the local paper for me and found the following mention from 1st May 1858. “John Marshall, 63 years of age was found dead in his barn at Slate Edge Farm, Audenshaw on Thursday week. The deceased resided at Ryecroft. An inquest was held on Saturday at the Snipe Inn and a verdict of ‘Died from Natural Causes’ was returned”

It was interesting that from 1851 to his death he had gone from being a factory watchman to being a farmer. In 1861 his widow Mary was living at 75 Stockport Road, Ashton under Lyne and she was a Housekeeper. With her were her son John – a Cotton Cut Looker, daughters Susannah and Elizabeth who were both Cotton Weavers and also her married daughter Sarah Berry – still a Cotton Weaver, along with her three children Elizabeth, John Thomas and Frances. Sarah’s husband William Berry had died in 1860. Mary’s place of birth was given as Silkstone, Yorkshire this time.

75 Stockport Road – Ashton from Google StreetView

In 1871 she was living at 18 Cecil Street, Ashton under Lyne and was still a Housekeeper. With her were her daughter Susannah and granddaughter Elizabeth Berry – both Cotton Weavers. Her place of birth was just given as Yorkshire.

In 1881 Mary was a Cotton Weaver living at Lower Overstead, Ashton. Her place of birth was given as Doncaster, Yorkshire.

Mary died on 7th September 1888 at 152 Crook Street, Bolton aged 86 – Widow of John Marshall – Farmer. Her cause of death was accidentally falling down the stairs on on the 28th August 1888 – Shock. The informant of the death was Rowland Taylor – Coroner for Bolton after an inquest held 8th September. I have not found any article as yet about her inquest, hopefully one day I will. She was buried on 11th September 1888 at St. Peter’s, Ashton under Lyne. Mary had been living with her married daughter Elizabeth in Bolton at the time of her death.

Having traced Mary’s baptism in Silkstone on 1st August 1802 I knew she was the daughter of John Gillings and Elizabeth, who also had a daughter Sarah baptised on 16th March 1800 in Silkstone. I was surprised to see that John Gillings had married an Elizabeth Marshall on 8th July 1798 in Silkstone and in turn found Elizabeth’s baptism on 27th April 1777 in Silkstone, daughter of Edward Marshall and Sarah Hattersley who had married on 5th October 1762 in nearby Cawthorne by Barnsley.

Old Map

Old map of the Silkstone & Cawthorne area from

John Gillings must have died between 1802 and 1814 as Elizabeth went on to marry a William Chapman in Sheffield on 28th February 1814 and they had a daughter Hannah in 1815 who was baptised at a Wesleyan Chapel in Sheffield. Elizabeth must have moved to Ashton under Lyne in the early 1820s as her daughter Sarah had married in Silkstone to David Hampshire in 1821 with their first two children being born in nearby Penistone and their third child being born in Ashton in 1826. It was Sarah who was the informant of her niece Sophia’s death in 1844 and it seems she had been staying with her as Elizabeth was living with the Hampshire’s in 1841 in Crowthorn, Ashton. Her second husband William seems to have died prior to 1841 and I have not found anything more about their daughter Hannah.

Elizabeth then died on 7th June 1842 at Crowthorn aged 65 – widow of William Chapman – Coalminer. She died of Old Age and Sarah was the informant of her death.

I used to find it quite interesting that Mary’s mother’s maiden name had been Marshall, but going on John’s place of birth of Leeds from the 1851 census I didn’t really think there was a connection. There were a couple of potential baptisms for a John Marshall around 1795 in Leeds but I had no concrete proof whether either of them were my John. So I had reached a bit of a brick wall with John.

So fast forward to when John and Mary’s son John was having children, he and his wife Mary Fielding had three sons, Philip, John and Harry. Both Philip and Harry had no middle names but their brother John – who died aged 10 had not one but two middle names. Nicholson Swift. I was really intrigued by these names – what was their significance? They were obviously surnames which had some sort of importance to John and Mary, and I had not come across either of those surnames while researching Mary Fielding’s ancestry.

John Marshall and Mary Fielding circa 1886

As time went by and Ancestry digitised the West Yorkshire parish registers I started looking more into Elizabeth Marshall’s family. I made sure I had details of her siblings and then her ancestors going back. I then looked into who her siblings married and their children and it was then that I came across Elizabeth’s brother John Marshall – baptised 22nd March 1763 at Cawthorne by Barnsley who had married a Sophia Senior on 5th April 1788 in Cawthorne. In all they had 10 children:

  • Mary baptised 1st February 1788
  • George baptised 7th November 1790 – died in 1808
  • Ellen baptised 26th December 1792
  • John baptised 10th May 1795
  • Ebenezer born around 1799
  • Jennet born around 1802
  • Timothy baptised 11th June 1805
  • Sophia born 17th May baptised 31st May 1807
  • Rachel born 9th Jan baptised 24th February 1811
  • Susannah born 1st June baptised 16th July 1815

As I delved into the details of each of these ten children I discovered that Mary had married Jonathan Greaves in Cawthorne in 1812, Ellen had married John Hemingway in Cawthorne in 1811, Ebenezer had married a Mary Dues in Cawthorne in 1842, Jennet had married a John Swift in Cawthorne in 1821, Timothy married an Elizabeth Marshall (no relation) in Darton in 1840, Sophia had married a William Nicholson in Tong in 1828, Rachel had married a Henry Watkinson in Leeds in 1834 and Susannah had married William Stow in 1839 in Ecclesfield district. Two things stood out – Nicholson and Swift. I couldn’t quite believe it when I saw it.

John Marshall senior was a Farmer and lived in Cawthorne – where he was in 1841 living near Lanes  with his wife Sophia and son Ebenezer and two servants – including a 15 year old Sarah Swift who may or may not have been their granddaughter. In 1851 John was living at 3 Hadden in Cawthorne and by then was an Annuitant living with his widowed daughter Jennet. He died of natural causes on 4th June 1851, his wife Sophia having predeceased him on 17th February 1844 of General Paralysis – probably a stroke. The informant of her death was her son in law John Swift.

I looked around for any marriages for a John Marshall around the area of Cawthorne but found none that seemed to tally with a man born in 1795. It seemed likely that John and Sophia’s son John – was my John who married Mary Gillings. First cousins through their parents John and Elizabeth Marshall. – children of Edward. The names Sophia and Jennet were important to John, being the names of his sisters who had married a Nicholson and a Swift, and it seems this importance ran down to his son John too.

William Nicholson who married Sophia Marshall ran a building company at the time of his marriage. Something he had started with his father which in a short period of time became one of the leading building firms in Leeds – Wm Nicholson & Sons, and boasted some great clients such as Tetleys and the Bank of England. William’s grandson William born in 1865 went on to become Mayor of Leeds in 1911 and was knighted in 1934 for his services to politics and public in Leeds.

The Nicholson family headstone in Leeds. Sophia and William were buried together with their three unmarried daughters, Sophia, Emily and Ann.

Clearly John Marshall and Mary Fielding wanted to retain some link to this well to do family by including Nicholson as one of their son John’s middle names, and perhaps Jennet Swift had been an important figure in John’s life too, to include her married name.

I would love to find more evidence of the crossovers in this family. I wonder how close they were? Despite living in different counties they weren’t too far away from one another. I imagine John had given his place of birth as Leeds as it was probably the nearest biggest place to where he was born. Perhaps it wasn’t him that filled out the census enumerators forms and one of his elder children did it for him and got it wrong. We’ll never know, but Leeds featured heavily in his life as some of his siblings ended up living there and making lives for themselves.

Tree showing the connection between John Marshall’s parents.




8 thoughts on “Kissing Cousins

  1. My great grandparents were first cousins, and I was a bit shocked when I learned that. I never knew how common it was and still is.

    Great research. It’s always so fulfilling when those pieces click as here where suddenly names make sense.

    • Thank you. Yeah it’s an odd feeling when you discover this kind of thing but at least it means less to research as you don’t have another set of grandparents to find out about!

      • Very true! It did make researching the Brotman family a bit simpler, though I’ve yet to find those grandparents.

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