My fourth great grandmother was Elizabeth Crawley, born 1791, probably in London. She married William Stretch in 1819 in Whitechapel. The witnesses to their marriage were D. Rogers and Mary Rogers, who I think are Demetrius Rogers and his wife Mary. Demetrius married Mary Crawley in 1810 in St Mary Islington. I suspect that Mary and Elizabeth were sisters, but I cannot yet prove it. And that's really the heart of this question: how were Mary and Elizabeth related? And can I get back to Elizabeth's parents, who are as yet unknown?
(My apologies for any confusion in the text below. There are several each of Mary, Elizabeth, Penelope etc: nominative innovation was not a family tradition. I've tried to make it clear enough by including surnames for most; where surnames are missing they are the principal actors from the opening paragraph.)
After Demetrius died in 1850, Mary lived alone for a while, and later with Elizabeth's descendants (Richard Hill and family) until her own death in 1871. In her will, Mary left a reasonable legacy, "effects under £4000". Much of that was probably inherited from Demetrius, who had left her "public stocks and funds", among other assets.
The principal beneficiaries (with equal shares of "two thousand pounds new three pounds per cent annuities ... and the dividends interest and annual proceeds arising and accruing therefrom") of Mary's will were Mary Elizabeth Hill (my 2nd great grandmother) and her sister Penelope Hill. Mary's will refers to them as her "nieces", and also as the daughters of Richard Hill and her "niece" Penelope (Stretch) Hill, so they were actually her grand-nieces (I assume that such distinctions were unimportant). That might suggest that Mary and Elizabeth were sisters, but Mary also left money to other "nieces" and a "nephew", who certainly were not descendants of William and Elizabeth. The pre-eminence of Mary Elizabeth Hill and Penelope Hill might support that direct sibling relationship, or may simply reflect that Mary had lived in the girls' home and been close to them since their birth.
Mary also left some money to Demetrius Stretch and Matthew Stretch, William's sons from his second marriage, but she does not describe them as "nephews". This confirms, I think, that she relates to the family through Elizabeth Crawley, and not through William Stretch.
I have managed to trace back all of these nieces and nephews, each reaching a Crawley ancestor somewhere around London in the 1780s-90s. So it's likely that they all are blood relatives of Mary somehow, rather than in-law relatives. But what I haven't been able to do is connect those Crawleys together. Records at this time (mostly pre-1820) are somewhat scarce, after all. (Sadly, I have failed to connect them to the Downton Abbey Crawleys too, but that is perhaps less surprising.)
The main named beneficiaries were:
- Mary Elizabeth Hill (niece)
- Penelope Hill (niece, sister of Mary Elizabeth Hill)
- Elizabeth Tucker (niece, widow of William Tucker, Coachsmith)
- Phoebe Hales (niece, wife of Joseph Hales, Silversmith)
- Mary Ann Allen (niece, wife of Thomas Allen, Silversmith)
- William Williams (nephew)
This is what I have so far. Individuals in red boxes are primary beneficiaries in Mary's will, while those in blue boxes are otherwise mentioned (relative, executor, minor benefits, forgiven debts etc). The green boxes appear to be a common generation of Crawleys. Some dates are approximate, and only relevant individuals are included.
As you can see, all of the beneficiaries descend from Crawleys of a similar age: Mary, Elizabeth, Phoebe and Lydia. Phoebe did her best to muddy the waters by marrying three times. For Mary to refer to the red individuals as nieces and nephews strongly suggests that they are part of the same extended Crawley family. The implication (and my assumption) is that Mary, Elizabeth, Phoebe and Lydia are all related as siblings or cousins. The only entries I have found for the previous generation are Phoebe's parents John Crawley and Penelope Lunt. The four could all be John Crawley and Penelope Lunt's daughters, but I can't find records to (dis)prove it. The use of the uncommon name "Penelope" for Elizabeth's daughter is somewhat suggestive but circumstantial. The age gaps of ~8 years between Lydia, Mary+Elizabeth and Phoebe are large, but not implausible.
So my question is, what should I be looking for next, to try to link these four Crawley women (Mary, Elizabeth, Phoebe and Lydia) together. I've looked on FamilySearch, Ancestry, FindMyPast and TheGenealogist, and not yet found anything to connect them to each other or to a previous generation. For clarity, I can't find any birth/baptism record for Lydia Crawley, and there are multiples for Elizabeth and Mary but none that I can select with confidence.
I can accept that the current state is enough to demonstrate familial relationships, but I'd really like to find Elizabeth's parents - that's been a roadblock for years now, and this is the first time I've had any real insight into the Crawley family.
As an aside, Mary's will primarily benefitted female relatives, and explicitly states that the funds
"shall not be subject or liable to the debts, controul or engagements of any husband or husbands she or they may hereafter intermarry, but that the same shall be for her or their own separate and inalienable use and benefit, and her or their receipt or receipts alone to my said trustees notwithstanding her or their coverture".
That's basically legal-speak for "hers and hers alone".
(My transcription of the will is here, for anyone who really enjoys ploughing through Victorian legalese.)
On first reading, this seemed (to me) rather progressive for the time, albeit acknowledging that coverture could override Mary's wishes. On further reading, there had been campaigns against coverture (the right of a husband to most of the wife's assets, ultimately because she was not legally considered a separate entity after marriage!) since at least the mid-19th century. The Married Women's Property Act of 1870 finally allowed married women to be the legal owners of earned and inherited money, thereby negating much of coverture. That was enacted after Mary's will was written (1867), but before it was proved (1872). And there was clearly a great deal of social pressure leading up to that Act, so Mary's intentions were at least up-to-date, rather than futuristic. Even so, I wonder how typical such wording was at the time. I found this an interesting little insight into a Victorian social transformation.