Thomas Corbett [Corbett-3454, M4ZL-ZP2]'s first marriage to Elizabeth (Betty) Bickley [Bickley-640, LZPF-L2W] is very easy to find – they were married and had several children in his home town of Wednesfield, and then she was died and buried there. It is similarly easy to see that his second wife's first name was Esther, as they had at least three further children in Wednesfield. But to find where they were married is somewhat tricker, as is the question of their first two children; neither the marriage nor the baptisms of Walter or Thomas took place in the Wednesfield area. We will examine all of the evidence for these events, in an attempt to determine conclusively where and when they occurred.

First Marriage to Elizabeth Bickley

As noted, the records of this marriage are mostly easy to find – they are all in the Wednesfield parish registers. What I haven't been able to find is where and when Elizabeth was born; the FamilySearch tree states about 1762 in Wednesfield, but does not cite any sources for this. There is no corresponding baptism record, and neither the marriage nor burial record suggests an age at death.

Thomas and Elizabeth appear to have had two sons called John Bailey Corbett; the first [Corbett-4401, KXLL-3MV] baptised 25 October 1785 in Wednesfield, and the second [GDL5-64N, Corbett-4403] baptised 5 January 1797 in Wolverhampton. I wasn't able to find a burial record for the former, but it seems that a John Bailey Corbett born in the mid 1780s survived to adulthood. Given how close the latter baptism is to that of their next (and last) child Walter, there is always the possibility that the same child was baptised twice for whatever reason, especially as the two baptisms are in two different churches.

The surname Bailey as a middle name appears to be a family name, as one of Thomas's siblings was William Bailey Corbett [Corbett-4383, K8CW-MFQ]. This suggests that we will find a mother with the surname Bailey within a small number of generations, and also gives us additional confidence that the Thomas Corbett who had these children was of the same family as William Bailey Corbett.

Their last child, Walter [Corbett-4402, L8YQ-SL3], appears to have died in infancy. There are two possible matching burial records: 8 February 1789 and 3 March 1793, both at St Thomas's in Wednesfield. One of these must be the young Walter and the other his grandfather [Corbett-4381, LH38-Y5S]; the FamilySearch tree asserts that the 1789 burial is the young Walter and that 1793 the grandfather, but I haven't been able to find any evidence that confirms that this is certainly correct.

Second Marriage to Esther Wood

That Thomas later married someone by the name of Esther is again fairly easy to find in the Wednesfield and Wolverhampton parish registers: their sons William [Corbett-4389, KZ54-LMZ], Samuel [Corbett-4390, MDJZ-5WL] and James [Corbett-4391, LCP4-YP9] were baptised there, and both parents' names are recorded on the baptism register. However, there is no marriage for Thomas Corbett and an Esther (with any sensible variation of spelling) in Wednesfield or Wolverhampton between Elizabeth's death in 1788 and William's birth in 1798. In fact we can go further than this: there are no marriages of a Thomas Corbett and an Esther at all in FindMyPast's Staffordshire Marriages collection, which is reasonably comprehensive.

"Reasonably comprehensive" does not, however, mean "entirely complete" – but what we can say is that for the time period we are looking at (1788-1798), the Wolverhampton St Peter marriage register is present and complete, and the Wednesfield St Thomas marriage register is irrelevant, as marriages were not registered there until it became an independent parish in 1849. Either way, we can be confident that Thomas and Esther were not married in Thomas's home parish.

We therefore need to widen our search, and also to try other sites that may have parishes not included in FindMyPast's collection. We are lucky that Esther is a relatively uncommon name, and by searching FindMyPast, and FreeREG for Staffordshire and neighbouring counties, we find only one result: Thomas Corbett and Esther Wood at Tipton St Martin on 14 October 1792, on FreeREG.

One potential problem with this record is that it – or at least its transcription – records Thomas as a bachelor, not a widower. We therefore want to find a copy of the original record to verify it. Looking for the marriage register at Tipton on FindMyPast, we discover why this record didn't appear on a search there: there is a gap between 1783 and 1795, presumably where one register book was not scanned. However, when we look at the last entry in 1783 and the first entry in 1795, we find that these registers only record the name of the bride and groom and no additional detail; we can reasonably presume that the missing book is much the same.

The original register has apparently been deposited at the Staffordshire Record Office, and it would be useful to visit at some point to see the original; but nonetheless this is the only marriage record for a Thomas Corbett and an Esther anywhere in Staffordshire or the neighbouring counties in the time period in question. It is certainly true that Thomas and Esther must have married somewhere – therefore, even though it is some distance away from Wednesfield, by having eliminated all other possible options for their marriage, we must assume that it is the correct record.

Thomas Corbett Junior

As mentioned previously, we know that Thomas and Esther had a son James Corbett [Corbett-4391, LCP4-YP9]. He was married to Susannah Smith [Smith-236481, MZK6-R9D], some eight years his senior, as her second husband; her first, Thomas Corbett, died in 1827. The main evidence that Susannah married both Thomas and James (aside from the marriage registers) is that on the 1841 Census, she appears with her husband James and son Charles, who was born before her marriage to James and with a father of Thomas.

While marrying one's deceased spouse's sibling was not actually legal until the early 20th century, it was nonetheless very common. Certainly when a woman's second husband has the same surname as her first and is significantly younger than her, we would assume that it is more likely that she married her deceased husband's brother, rather than that she coincidentally met someone of the same name. Additionally, the fact that James and Susannah were not married in their local parish church (they were married in Wednesbury, which is about five miles from Wednesfield) could suggest that there was an irregularity about their marriage that their local vicar would have known, and the fact that they had three children before their marriage could suggest that they had already considered themselves family for some time. This is, of course, all very circumstantial evidence – but we should not be surprised if Thomas's parents turn out to be Thomas and Esther.

Thomas's approximate date of birth (1796) is given by his burial record; so let us search for a baptism record based on that date, again using FindMyPast and their Staffordshire Baptisms collection. There is only one baptism for that name within two years of 1796, the son of Thomas and Phebe in Lichfield in 1794. This doesn't seem like a very convincing match, and while widening the search to within five years produces a few more results, they are all similarly far away from Wednesfield and with similarly unknown parents, and thus somewhat unlikely.

Again, it is woth checking that the baptism registers for Wednesfield and Wolverhampton are complete through this period – and they are. So again we need to do a wider search, and looking at's collections we find a baptism of a Thomas Corbitt, son of Thomas and Esther, at St Philip's Cathedral in Birmingham on 29 September 1796.

Quite what Thomas and Esther – if indeed they are the same Thomas and Esther – were doing in Birmingham in 1796, after marrying in Tipton and later moving back to Thomas's home town of Wednesfield, is a good question. But an even better question is: if they are not the same Thomas and Esther, then who are they? We have already seen that there is only one marriage of a Thomas Corbett and an Esther in a very wide radius of this area in this time period, therefore we are presented with a situation in which one of the following two propositions must be true:

  1. They are the same Thomas and Esther Corbett as we are looking at, in a slightly unexpected but not impossible location.
  2. They are a different Thomas and Esther Corbett – in which case we need to find an alternate history for this couple and presumably another plausible baptism record for the young Thomas.

While not every child was baptised, the vast majority were; if we could find a plausible alternate history for another Thomas and Esther Corbett, who could plausibly be the parents of this child, then we could potentially excuse the lack of baptism for "our" Thomas. But as we can't find any other couple Thomas and Esther Corbett within a wide area in this time period, we are forced to conclude that scenario 1 is much more likely than scenario 2. While we might still have doubts about the likelihood of scenario 1, it is clear that these two scenarios are the only two options and that it is by far the more likely of the two.

Therefore we conclude that Thomas Corbett [Corbett-3900, K8RF-KN6] was indeed their son.

Walter Corbett

The FamilySearch tree also has a Walter Corbett [Corbett-3453, LHVF-H67] as Thomas and Esther's oldest son. He was baptised 9 June 1794 at St John the Baptist in Deritend – now an inner-city area of Birmingham but then on the outskirts.

Again this is a baptism in a relatively unlikely location for these parents – although having now accepted that they baptised their son Thomas in Birmingham in 1796 it becomes much less unlikely. In fact, we can use the same logic as in the case of Thomas to demonstrate that, as this is the only couple Thomas and Esther Corbett within a wide area, they must be the correct parents.


The Genealogical Proof Standard requires "reasonably exhaustive research" as its first step. We have shown that the Wednesfield and Wolverhampton registers are complete throughout the period where we might expect to find entries, and have searched within a wide radius across multiple different databases. While completely exhaustive research might require inspecting every parish register manually, the standard is simply "reasonably exhaustive", which is met by searching on as many databases as we can find within a wide area. We can therefore conclude that Thomas and Esther Corbett are overwhelmingly likely to be the only couple by that name in this area and period, and thus conclude that these marriage and baptism records do indeed all refer to the same couple.

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