Nearly my Ancestors: or how I almost climbed the wrong (very exciting) family tree

Mary Woolgar née Cardell 1817-1892

Mary Ann Cardell, born c. 1817 in Highgate but who were her parents?

Recently, I issued a challenge to help me find the parents of my great great grandmother, Mary Cardell. Thanks to helpful fellow family historians I confirmed that she had a sister, Catherine. The marriage records of these ladies revealed that their father was called James. Mary and Catherine consistently claimed to have been born in Highgate, Middlesex c. 1817 and c.1813 respectively. In Highgate, in 1813, a James Cadwell married a Mary Ann Gutteridge, who, despite the slight spelling variation, were prime suspects as the next generation. I was tempted to follow Mary Gutteridge further, in the hope that going back a little and then coming back forward might give me the confirmatory evidence I needed. Mary Ann Gutteridge’s ancestry proved fascinatiing. I have already mentioned the royal clockmaker, the vicar of the neighbouring parish, the one who was captured by parents and the Huguenots. Add to this a poet and an inventor of an early form of shorthand and I was set to add the most fascinating branch ever to my family tree.

I was heard to say, rashly, ‘I am so sure that this is right I just need a little more evidence.’ I purchased four certificates I downloaded wills, I looked for and failed to find, DNA matches with the surnames of these putative ancestors. I wrote an eight page rationale considering the likelihood that these people were my ancestors. For days I followed this line when I should have been doing other things but still I hesitated. I reassessed the evidence again and again. Finally, I returned to the witnesses of the Cadwell marriage, who I had initially dismissed as not seeming to be relevant. One had the unusual name of Thomas Knackston (elsewhere Kneckston/Naxton et. al.). It turned out that he married an Ann Gutteridge. Surely she should be a relative, probably a sister, of Mary Ann Gutteridge? Via her second marriage, I traced Ann née Gutteridge. She had a sister Mary Ann. She was emphatically not the Mary Ann I had spent time and money tracing.

I sighed and returned to the proverbial drawing board. I very quickly discovered that, not only had I got the wrong Gutteridge family but that James Cadwell and Mary Ann Gutteridige were definitely not the parents of my great great grandmother.

I am now investigating a James Cardell and Maria Withinbury who married in Worcester in 1798 and then moved to London. I am not really convinced that these are going to be right either but I have no more likely candidates. What I really need is a baptism for Mary or Catherine, daughters of James Cardell, or even their probable sisters Eliza and Lucretia in the 1820s.

Thankfully, after 42 years of researching, I am by nature thorough and cautious. I was so close to claiming the wrong family as my ancestors. I wonder how many people would have grafted them on to their pedigrees without further thought? I’ll admit that I was very close to doing so. I don’t suppose I will ever find a family as exciting as those who were almost my ancestors. In the meantime, feel free to seek the right ones on my behalf as I have rather lost the motivation for this search. Oh and if anyone wants to know about the ancestry of a Mary Ann Gutteridge, daughter of George and Sarah Gutteridge née Mudge, born in Shoreditch in 1783 and probably married not to James Cadwell but to William Rhodes, you know where to come.

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One comment on “Nearly my Ancestors: or how I almost climbed the wrong (very exciting) family tree

  1. Brenda Turner says:

    I agree. Fascinating.

    In the work I am doing for chums named Snell back in Devon, I have refused consistently to divulge anything I am not pretty darned sure about. Somehow that leaves the family here in Northamptonshire a bit confused. This became clearer late this past week, when they put me in touch with an elderly aunt who has been researching the family for many many years. She has a very different heritage described, so now I am trying to reconcile the two … well, that’s the grand fun of family history. Cheers, Brenda

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