Trying to identify the parents of my third great grandfather, Edward James [James-7723, LVFF-VTY] was one of my long-standing brick walls. His place of birth was – and still is – impossible to determine with any precision from the available sources regarding his life, and even a broad search for baptism records returned no obvious results. However, through broader research I was able to find enough information about other relatives that led to a confident theory of his parents and siblings, and I was later able to use DNA evidence to further increase the confidence of this theory.

Information from Edward's Life

While plenty of evidence is available about Edward's adult life and death, information about his place of birth is limited to the 1841 Census (HO107/1198/4/7/9), which merely shows that he was not born in Worcestershire, and the 1851 Census (HO107/2038/265/1), which shows that he was born in Herefordshire, with the town possible Little Scanton or Sainton or simlar – neither of which are places in Herefordshire, including obvious mis-spellings. Based on this it would seem to be impossible to conclusively connect Edward to any hypothesised parents.

However, there is also a Henry James, 30, farmer, in the same household on the 1841 Census, who we will see more of later.

Evidence from his son, Edward Jr

The particularly interesting record from Edward Jr [James-8338, LVFJ-M3P]'s life is the 1861 Census (RG9/190/104/22 f.), in which he is shown living in London as the nephew of Joseph and Jane Whitaker, alongside three other young people with the surname James, who are also niblings of Joseph and Jane Whitaker, but (as we know from other records) not siblings of Edward Jr. This record is the main key to connecting Edward Sr to his siblings, and then to his parents.

The first question is to prove that this Edward is the son of Edward Sr [James-7723, LVFF-VTY]. This is easily done by cross-referencing with the 1851 Census and the GRO Birth Index, which show that there is only one Edward James born in or around Kidderminster in or about 1840, and that he is indeed the son of Edward Sr.

In order to work out the relationship between the individuals on this census record, we will have to have to make a number of assumptions and then seek to prove or disprove them. As it happens, every assumption I state in this text is later shown to be correct, and I didn't end up taking any wrong paths that were significant enough to be worth documenting. This is very unusual good luck, but it does sometimes happen!

While the relationships reported in the census are not always completely accurate, let us assume until proven otherwise that they are. This implies that the relationship between Edward Jr and his uncle Joseph Whitaker is one of the following:

As it happens, two of Joseph and Jane's children are also present on this census, and as both were born after 1837 we can look for their birth records in the GRO Index, and we find that their mother's maiden name was James. We can also confirm this with the marriage record of Joseph Whitaker and Jane James at St Bride's Fleet Street on 10 February 1835.

On reflection, it is not really surprising that Jane's maiden name was indeed James, as if it were Birks then we would have a hard time explaining how Joseph and Jane could also have niblings from an entirely separate James family.

We can therefore note Jane Whitaker (née James) [James-23374, GHBM-D43] as a very probable sibling of Edward James [James-7723, LVFF-VTY].

The parents of the other James niblings

As Elizabeth, Ann and Price James from this 1861 Census record were all born in Abberley, Worcestershire, it seems a reasonable assumption that they are of the same family and to look for matching parents. We are particularly lucky in this case that Price is such an unusual forename, and so it is easy to discover a common mother's maiden name of Board, and from there by cross-referencing with other birth and census records, we find that their parents were Thomas James and Caroline Board – and thus Thomas James [James-23372, GHDQ-FBN] is also a very probable sibling of Edward James [James-7723, LVFF-VTY].

Henry James

Thomas and Caroline had a son Henry, who shows up on the 1851 Census (HO107/2042/188/30) as a visitor of Edward's son George [James-8329, L42Y-6LS], and on the 1861 Census (RG9/2086/9/13) as a nephew of another Henry James. The uncle Henry is also found living at the Whitaker's address in Turnagain Lane on the record of his marriage to Elizabeth Harley (8 May 1838, St Bride's Fleet Street). Therefore Henry James [James-23373, M2W4-T7L] is also a very probable sibling of Edward James [James-7723, LVFF-VTY].

There's also a case of Edward James and Henry James, both of Kidderminster, being declared bankrupt as butchers and cattle dealers in 1838. This is Gazetted on 15 May 1838, where it is stated that they live in the same place and are trading together in partnership. This suggests that the two were likely to be brothers (that being a common business partnership – much more common than two unrelated people with the same surname), and thus that the Henry James living with Edward on the 1841 Census is his brother.

Connecting the four siblings to their parents

Thus by this point we have four people who we believe to be siblings:

The next question therefore is: can we link any of them to common parents?

Henry's father is the easiest: as he was married after 1837, his father's name and occupation are shown on his marriage record – William James, farmer.

For the others, we will need to find a place of birth and hopefully a baptism record. We've already noted that we haven't been able to do this for Edward. Thomas is similarly difficult, as he disappears after the 1841 Census (possibly dead, although his wife continues to insist that she is Married, not Widowed, for several further censuses). Jane's place of birth is difficult to track down for other reasons – although she appears on five censuses that give a place of birth, it is variously listed as "Mortimer, Shropshire", "Stourport, Worcestershire", "Shropshire", "Hereford", and "Albury, Hertfordshire" (almost certainly intended to be Herefordshire).

Henry, on the other hand, is much easier to find. His place of birth is consistently given on all censuses (barring spelling variations) as Orleton, Herefordshire – and sure enough, in Orleton we find the following baptism records:

Unfortunately, FindMyPast only has transcriptions and not images of the original registers, but pre-1813 there is unlikely to be any further information on the register beyond that. Nevertheless, it clearly shows baptisms for Thomas and Henry exactly where and when we expect them to be. William is an additional sibling we didn't already know about, but he does indeed fit in to the family on census records – particularly in 1851 (HO107/2041/166/7) where we find him with his mother Elizabeth and his nephews Thomas and Price – sons of Thomas and Caroline.


For privacy reasons, I'm not going to share any of the details of the relevant DNA matches, but I have found at least one where the common ancestors appear to be Edward's parents, William and Elizabeth James. The DNA match is descended from Edward's brother, Thomas James. While this isn't enough to prove that the conclusions about Edward's parents are certainly and conclusively correct, it adds an additional level of confidence to them. For these conclusions to be wrong, then there would have to be an alternate explanation for all of the above records and for the DNA match. Because the conclusions from the census records in particular are so interlinked with each other, it's hard to think of what other alternative explanations there might be.


By first identifying the siblings of Edward James [James-7723, LVFF-VTY], and then identifying the parents of those siblings, we have shown that his parents must be William James [James-23370, M2W4-TW8] and Elizabeth [Unknown-585477, GHBM-DPR]. While it would be nice one day to find baptism records for Edward and his sister Jane, we can be reasonably certain that we have at least found the correct parents, even without having found his place of birth.

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