I’ve been searching for William Tagg for years now. I don’t know his date of birth or his parents. I’m not entirely positive where he was born. It could be that these records were destroyed in the Blitz. I can’t be certain. What I do know is that he lived in Bristol, England and married twice: first to Mary Banford and second to Elizabeth Weeks. The first part of this triangulation was about William, this second part is about about Elizabeth. Who is she?
In September 1829, William Tagg and Elizabeth Weeks paid for a marriage license, allowing them to be married almost immediately. In England, a brushmaker wouldn’t normally pay to be married quickly. Most men of his economic standing would be married by banns, meaning the marriage would be made public beforehand, permitting someone to raise an objection. It would mean the newlyweds were in an awful rush. The evening of their union, they set sail for America. Five months later on Mott Street in Manhattan, New York, Elizabeth gave birth to a stillborn girl. You do the math. It was most certainly a shotgun wedding.
Years later, in 1840, William Tagg died, leaving Elizabeth, a widowed dressmaker, with three young children: Frederick, nine years old; James, seven; and William Henry, two. In 1844, Elizabeth married another English-born brushmaker, James Woodall Rawlinson. Ironically, I know more about James W. Rawlinson then I do about my own fourth-great-grandmother. But a recent discovery just tipped the balance just a bit.
Years ago, I discovered a document called The Rawlinson Family of White County, Illinois. In it contains the family history of the Rawlinsons of London who immigrated to America. This synapsis was created based on letters sent among various family members. One of the Rawlinson brothers who traveled to the United States was James W. Rawlinson. According to the document, he was a widower and married an Elizabeth with three kids. Those children were named Frederick, James and Henry. Based on census records and city directories I had discovered years ago, I knew the Elizabeth mentioned was, in fact, Elizabeth Tagg (the New York Public Library has their marriage record).
One fact that I was not aware of was the origins of James Rawlinson’s parents. And I suppose why would my step-fourth-great-grandfather’s parentage be relevant to a search for William and Elizabeth? From an 19th century perspective, it was vitally important! James Rawlinson’s mother, Rachel Harding, was a sticking point for about ten seconds. I had known her name for many years but neglected to seek her out. I did a quick search on Ancestry and discovered a Rachel Harding baptized on 13 Mar 1768 at St. Mary Redcliffe in BRISTOL, where the whole Tagg story begins!
Seeing that, I went back to Bristol records I already have considering my past searches and discovered Rachel married William Rawlinson in 1789 at St. Mary Redcliffe (ironically, about the time William Tagg was born) and they had three children baptized at Bristol’s St. James Church. Ok, so Rachel was born and married in Bristol, England. Coincidence?
According to Bristol baptismal indexes provided by the Bristol and Avon Family History Society, there are only three Elizabeth Weeks born about 1810. Actually, 1807 and 1808 to be precise (if she was indeed born in and around Bristol): Elizabeth baptized at Filton; and Elizabeth and Eliza Ann, baptized at St. Mary Redcliffe. Where have I seen that church before?
In addition to St. Mary Redcliffe data, there is a basket weaver named James Weeks who was working in the St. James Churchyard (1825 Bristol City Directory). That would be just four years previous to William and Elizabeth’s marriage at St. James, both of whom were parish members.
There is a very short list of Elizabeth Weeks whom were born in the correct time frame at Bristol. Elizabeth’s 1880 death certificate states she was 75, giving her an 1805 birth year. However, every other record before Elizabeth’s death skews her age closer to an 1810 birthdate. Her marriage license says she was “full age,” meaning at least 21 (born abt 1808). The ship manifest, when they left the same day says 20 (1809). Both the 1830 and 1840 U.S. Census state she is in the 20-29 and 30-39 categories, respectively, meaning she was born no later than 1810. Her marriage record in 1844 says 33 (1811). Then four census records give most dates in line with her marriage record: 1850 U.S. Census, age 39 (1811); 1855 NYS Census, age 40 (1815); 1860 U.S. Census, age 49 (1811) and the 1870 U.S. Census, age 58 (1812). That’s ten age approximations, the average of those being an 1810 birth year.
Get Over the Ick Factor
There is no guarantee that Elizabeth Weeks was born in Bristol. Ironically, this may prove a relationship between the Taggs and the Hardings/Rawlinsons. Perhaps, William Tagg and James Rawlinson were cousins. Maybe James and his wife were cousins (21st century ick factor). I’ve always do descendancy research but perhaps it is wise to also engage in some ancestry of spouses whom may have no connection to my direct line.
Communities centuries ago were smaller and knitted together by families that never strayed far from their origins. Social standing and economic circumstance limited the available pool of spouses. Also, cousin marriage wasn’t exactly an issue in the past. All of us, whether you know it or not, have what I call “multiples and repeaters” on our trees. Yes, all of us. Depending on how long your ancestors remained in a certain location, it is inevitable that your great-great-great-etc-grandfather shows up on your tree more than once. You cannot escape this fact.
If that sounds creepy, that’s because it is. However, cousin marriage is still prevalent in many parts of the world. The farther back your research goes, your family tree becomes interwoven with itself numerous times. Elizabeth Weeks Tagg Rawlinson could be such an example. The evidence points to a relationship of some kind. Just because today we would deem these relationships taboo and gross doesn’t mean you should ignore it. History has uncomfortable realities. Deal with it.
The lesson here is never ignore spouses to whom you are not related. Step-parents and their children are a powerful genealogical resource. Names becomes intertwined among families, providing clues to their ancestral past, which could also be yours. Descendancy research plays a role in this as well. Beware not to fall down that rabbit hole to a ridiculous degree but be mindful that they may be common ancestors, whether you’ve established the connection or not.