I have a group of common DNA matches for whom the common ancestors are Edward James [James-7723, LVFF-VTY] and his wife Mary Birks [Birks-79, LVFF-VB8]. Demonstrating that these were the common ancestors for the group was fairly straightforward, as a number of my DNA matches in that group had well-documented trees going back to Edward and Mary and beyond. But the group also contained a number of matches from New Zealand, and the common ancestor of their trees was an Alfred John James, born in Worcestershire in either 1837 or 1846, but with no information about his parents or his life before arriving in New Zealand.

It seemed likely therefore that this Alfred John James was either a descendent or a cousin of Edward. In fact, Edward and Mary do indeed have a son Alfred John James [James-8981, LVFJ-WR3], born in Kidderminster (in Worcestershire) in 1846. He therefore seemed to be a very likely candidate for being the same person as the Alfred John James in the various New Zealand trees; the question was whether it could be proven from the limited information available about him, both in the UK and in New Zealand.

After making contact with one of my New Zealand DNA matches, he was able to provide me a few extra details about Alfred that weren't previously available publicly; from this and from other information I believe that I have been able to prove the connection. We will look at the evidence from both countries, and will also consider the other possible Alfred Jameses from Worcestershire, to show that each of them is not the one that moved to New Zealand.

Evidence from the United Kingdom

Alfred John James was born in Kidderminster in 1846. His birth was registered in the October-December quarter of that year, with the mother's maiden name Birks and the reference of Vol 18 Page 380.

Alfred was baptised at St George's Church in Kidderminster on 1 October 1846. His parents were given as Edward and Mary James, living in Coventry Street, and with the occupation of butcher. The fact that the birth registration is not earlier than the baptism is not a contradiction; in the UK it is customary for births to be registered some time after the event. While the often-quoted idea that it is a legal requirement to register within six weeks is not strictly true, it is a good representation of the typical time frames involved. We can therefore say that Alfred was likely born in late August or September 1846. Unfortunately this particular record is unavailable on the GRO's Digital Image service, so we would have to order the (more expensive) PDF or certificate to get an exact date and location, as well as the full names and occupations of his parents. As we have other sources for all of this information, this is probably an unnecessary expense, but if anyone does choose to order it, please send me a copy!

Alfred appears on the 1851 Census in Mill Street, Kidderminster, with his parents and eight siblings (Ref. HO107/2038/265/1). This is the last mention of him in the UK – he does not appear on any further censuses, and there is no England and Wales death entry matching his name and year of birth.

Alfred's father Edward died in January 1860 in Kidderminster (Ref. Vol 6c Page 144). He was buried at St George's Church in Kidderminster on 29 January of that year. There's no burial record for Alfred's mother Mary at St George's, so either she was buried elsewhere or she remarried. On the 1861 Census, Alfred's siblings appear to be orphans, suggesting that she had probably died: there is a death record for a Mary James in Kidderminster in 1858, but the age at death is 80, so it doesn't appear to be the same person. Alfred's eldest brother George is married by 1861, and is living at 28 Worcester Street in Wolverhampton with his wife and several of his younger siblings (Ref. RG9/1987/102/11 f.) – but notably not Alfred. As noted above, he has completely disappeared from UK records at this point – suggesting that he may well have moved overseas.

A form of poor relief used by the UK in this era was to provide free or heavily subsidised passage to one of the then colonies, where work was more plentiful. Moving into the realm of speculation for a short moment, it is certainly possible to imagine that a teenage orphan in 1860-1 could be persuaded by the idea of an adventure to a foreign country and would take up this offer. Whatever his reason for moving abroad, it is clear that if he did so, he did so on his own, or perhaps with either or both of the two siblings that were not present on the 1861 Census – but not with his parents or with his entire family. It's unlikely that he would've been able to do this much before his mid teens, and so it seems most likely that, if indeed he did move abroad, he would have done so around 1860-1, at the age of about 15.

Evidence from New Zealand

The two possible birth dates of 1837 and 1846 come from Alfred's death and marriage records respectively. We will look at each in turn and assess which (if either of them) is most likely to be correct.

Alfred died on 9 September 1924 in Wairoa, in the Hawke's Bay region of the North Island. He was buried at the Wairoa cemetery alongside his wife Emily and daughter Georgina. His age at death, as given on his death certificate and on his tombstone, was 87 – this is the source of the 1837 birth year. Although this age at death is attested by two different documentary sources, we should consider where this information came from: most probably, that it was reported by one of his children, and so it is really only a single independent source. In addition, it would have been what the informant believed his age was, which is not necessarily the same as what Alfred himself would have said that his age was. It is not uncommon for death records to contain transcription errors, such as the tens digit being one higher or lower than the real value, or the two digits to be transposed when they are close but not identical.

Alfred married Emily Palmer on 20 November 1872 in Waimea West, in the Nelson district of the South Island. His age on his marriage certificate is given as 26, and this is the source of the 1946 birth date. This age would have been reported by Alfred himself, and is therefore much more likely to be correct. Self-reported ages on marriage certificates are generally reasonably accurate – legitimate errors tend to be within a year or two in either direction, and the only common cases for intentional falsification are where one or both of the parties is under the age of majority (in which case they might state an older age), or where the groom is significantly younger than the bride (in which case the stated ages might be adjusted slightly to bring them closer together). In either case, it would be surprising for a marriage certificate to state that the groom was ten years younger than he really was, but not all that surprising for a death record to state that the deceased was ten years older than he really was.

Considering these possibilities, it seems likely that Alfred's birth was much closer to 1846 than it was to 1937. Furthermore, either of the two common transcription errors for death dates could apply here: 77 could become 87 by an error in the tens place, or 78 could become 87 by inversion. Either of these would put Alfred's birth date as actually around 1846. The accuracy of the death certificate is also called into question by the fact that the name stated is Alfred James James, not Alfred John James. Apparently this comes from his nickname of "Jimmy James", which led to whoever registered the death assuming that his middle initial J stood for James. A descendent of Alfred's has confirmed to me that this is the correct record for the correct person, but an error in one part of a record obviously suggests that we should treat the rest of the record with caution.

A further source from New Zealand is an obituary, published in the Gisborne Times on 12 September 1924, Page 4. Although this obituary is in the name of John Alfred James, it gives details of Alfred's children and death, and notes that he "was born in Worcestershire and came out to New Zealand when only a lad of 16" and that he "conducted business as a butcher in Wairoa". This fits something we had already believed about Alfred: that he left England about 1860 in his mid teens – and the fact that he worked as a butcher is unsurprising if he is the son of a butcher.

The combination of all of this evidence – the birth place, the likely year of birth, the age of moving to New Zealand, and the DNA connection – is all pointing towards the idea that the UK Alfred and the NZ Alfred are indeed the same person.

Exclusion of Alternatives

Just one thing remains to do to confirm this link, which is to look at all of the other possible Alfreds born in Worcestershire, to see what happened to any of them.

An Alfred born in either 1837 or 1846 and leaving England at the age of 16 can reasonably be expected to appear on the 1851 Census. We will therefore consider every Alfred James on that census born between about 1833 and 1850 (that being a 4-year margin either side of the two possible dates), and trace their lives forwards to see whether they stayed in England. As we have sources for Alfred in New Zealand from 1872 onwards, we will consider it proven that a candidate Alfred stayed in England if we can find them on censuses up to and including 1881.

HO107/2047/348/9 has Alfred James, son of Samuel and Mary, born Oct-Dec 1840 in Bromsgrove (Vol 18 Page 236). We can follow him through every census to 1881 and beyond; he stays in England and is clearly not the Alfred who moved to New Zealand.

HO107/2042/80/43 has Alfred James, son of Thomas and Sarah, born Oct-Dec 1846 in Worcester (Vol 18 Page 541). Again, we can follow him through to 1881 and beyond (he marries Francis Elizabeth Lawrence), and he is not the Alfred we are looking for.

HO107/2038/265/1 has my relative Alfred James, and as mentioned previously we know that he disappears from the census after 1851.

HO107/2047/783/44 has Alfred James, son of Moses and Mary Ann, born about 1840 in Redditch (I couldn't find a matching birth register entry, but registration of births was still a little inconsistent in 1840). He also disappears from the census after 1851, and I cannot find a matching death record.

There is also an Alfred James born Jan-Mar 1849 in Bromsgrove (Vol 18 Page 243), but he dies in Jul-Sep 1849 (Vol 18 Page 198) and so is clearly not relevant to our question.

So aside from my relative Alfred John James, there is one potential candidate Alfred James for having moved abroad between 1851 and 1861 – the son of Moses and Mary Ann, born about 1840. However, there is no suggestion that he had the middle name John, and, having researched his paternal line, I haven't found any connection between him and my family. While this latter objection is by no means insurmountable, we would need to find some other explanation for the DNA connection. Perhaps less convincingly, but still notably, the ages given at marriage and death consistently place our Alfred's birth in the middle of the decade, even if they can't agree exactly which decade, suggesting that 1840 is an unlikely birth date for him. I therefore feel that we can probably reject this last possible match.

It is also particularly notable that I couldn't find any Alfred James born in or around 1837 in Worcestershire at all. As well as the census, I also checked the GRO birth register and Worcestershire baptisms on FindMyPast, but found no results – although it should be noted that civil registration only began in July 1837, and that the Worcestershire baptisms on FindMyPast are incomplete. Nonetheless, with the combination of the three record sets (births, baptisms and census), it seems unlikely that we will find an 1837 Alfred James, which gives further weight to the idea that he was in fact born in 1846.

As a further check, I have also researched the siblings and cousins of Edward James (Alfred's father) to the furthest extent possible, and found no other Alfred James in the family. Therefore, as we are reasonably confident that the NZ Alfred is the DNA link, there is only one UK Alfred in my family to whom that link can match.


Rejecting all other candidates leaves us with only one possible conclusion: that Alfred John James, son of Edward and Mary, born in 1846 in Kidderminster, is the same Alfred John James who married Emily Palmer in 1872 and died in 1824 in New Zealand. Furthermore, this conclusion fits all of the known facts about his life in both England and New Zealand (limited as they are), and makes sense as the DNA link between me and my group of common matches. I therefore conclude with reasonable certainty that it must indeed be correct.

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