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I have definitively identified my ancestor John Charles Wright born circa 1830, but have two conflicting baptism records for him that I need to reconcile.

John Charles Wright maintained all his life that he was born in Kidderminster (which is where his mother was born and where he lived from the early 1830s until at least 1841).

Findmypast (transcription and image) and Wolverhampton History (transcription) show the baptism of John Charles Wright at Wolverhampton St Peter 25 Mar 1830 (a Thursday) with parents John Wright (a druggist) and Maria. Abode is Wolverhampton, and the baptism was carried out by R. Robinson. There is no indication that this was a private baptism.

Another researcher into the same individual was provided several years ago (by a member of the family) with a hand-written transcription of a Copy of Certificate of Baptism for John Charles Wright (annotated by him) that specifies that he was privately baptised in the vestry of St Mary's Parish Church by the Rev Thos. Cook 1830.

The parents are the same, but described as 'of Kidderminster' (or perhaps only his mother is 'of Kidderminster') and associated details confirm that this was the same individual. (I'm not reproducing the transcription in full because it isn't mine to do so; the whereabouts of the original document is not now known).

The copy certificate appears to have been produced in the mid 1860s in support of a property transaction (Worcestershire Archives report that they do not have any deposits from the relevant solicitors, and the solicitors cannot find anything relevant in their own archives.).

There are two witnesses named (which I suspect were witnesses to the baptism and necessary to make it lawful, and not to the production of the certificate copy, as The Clergyman's Manual 1842 seems to suggest that a clergyman could certify a baptism all by himself). One of the witnesses was definitely resident in Kidderminster from 1829/30 (Trade Directory) to 1841 (census) -- very distinctive spelling of his surname plus occupation and seems to have died in 1841, which supports the assertion that he was witness to the baptism not the certificate copy.

Registers do not start at Wolverhampton St Mary until 1843, so I don't believe that can be the church referred to in the Copy Certificate. The incumbent at Kidderminster St. Mary in 1830 was not Thos. Cook. I'm having difficulty finding a list of incumbents for St Peter's (which was an awfully complicated ecclesiastical set up), but can't find any other children baptised by a Thos. Cook in Wolverhampton around that time.

I cannot find any other baptisms for a John Charles Wright in the Midlands in 1830 via the usual search sites (Ancestry, Findmypast, TheGenealogist, FamilySearch, FreeReg).

Is it possible that a private baptism in one church would be followed by a public baptism in another, or rather a public acknowledgement that the child had been baptised (as double-dipping was theoretically disallowed, although there was the 'conditional baptism' loophole -- I baptise this child if it hasn't already been done)?

Or that a copy certificate (presumably hand-copied from a register) could be so wrong?

And if it is possible that the private baptism did not take place in Wolverhampton, how might I track it down? It should surely have appeared in a register somewhere.

Or is there an explanation I haven't thought of? Was he really born in Kidderminster?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – PolyGeo Mar 22 '19 at 8:41
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Having done quite a lot of digging into baptism practices in the Church of England in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, here is what I think may have happened, and why, and what mysteries still remain (with thanks to everyone who has commented so far).

Many thanks to AndyW, AdrianB38 and Sempaiscuba for helping me work out what was going on.

The (possible) sequence of events

Maria Ann Weal (who was John Charles Wright's [henceforth JCW] mother) was born in Kidderminster and was either living there or had returned there when she gave birth to her first child (it wasn't unusual for a woman to go to her mother at this time, and Maria Ann was only 19 in 1830.) Her husband John Wright was described as 'of Kidderminster' at their marriage in 1828 and 'late of Kidderminster and formerly of Wolverhampton' upon his death in October 1830; he was buried in Wolverhampton.

JCW was privately baptised in 1830 in the vestry of St Mary's Kidderminster by the Rev. Thos. Cooke who had been curate there for 22 years before his death in 1837: Gentleman's Magazine of 1837. Confirmation that this ceremony took place in Kidderminster comes from the fact that one of the witnesses named (who had a very distinctive name and occupation) was definitely resident in Kidderminster from 1829 to 1841 (Trade Directories and Census); this witness died in 1841. His parents were issued with some sort of certificate that the baptism had taken place (perhaps because they already intended to carry out the next step in the process and having the baptism certified was helpful in that) but more likely because a certificate of baptism could be used as proof of identity before civil registration was introduced.

Later, JCW was publicly received into the church and his baptism entered into the register of St. Peter's Wolverhampton (the only parish church in Wolverhampton at the time). His parent's abode was given as Wolverhampton.

Why the private baptism?

This is open to conjecture. The Book of Common Prayer makes provision for private baptism when need compels (the infant is likely to die before the next Sunday when a normal baptism would be carried out) but there was also a tendency for certain parts of society to prefer the privacy of a ceremony carried out not under the public gaze. As this ceremony took place in the church, it seems unlikely that the child was too ill to leave the house... but having the child 'received' in Wolverhampton suggests that the public gaze wasn't an issue.

Perhaps because the parents were living or about to live in Wolverhampton, they wanted JCW to appear in the register there -- as proof of his legal 'settlement' there under the Poor Law rules? (See https://genealogy.stackexchange.com/a/3485/6485 for more on this). Or perhaps the godparents they wanted for their child were in Wolverhampton? Or were they worried about the child's health, or their own health (John died a few months after the baptisms, and Maria Ann died in 1834 after a long illness).

It may be that I will never know the reason... As the original document is lost, and Worcestershire Archives do not have any papers deposited from the solicitors who were involved in the property transaction in the mid 1860s that necessitated a copy of the document... those solicitors still have the same office in Kidderminster in which they have operated since 1828 and it has a deep cellar and they sent a member of staff to have a look, unfortunately without result but kudos to them for trying!

Supporting Information

The Clergyman's Manual by Robert Simpson (142) has a few things to say about private baptism! Notably:

Baptisms in the vestry are irregular. No baptism in a church is regular without there being godfathers and godmothers present, according to the rubric. Parents are not allowed to stand as sponsors for their children; nor are persons not communicants qualified for this office.

and also

The distinction between public and private baptism does not consist in the one being administered in the church and the other in a private house; but in the one taking place in the great congregation, where the child is publicly received amidst the prayers of multitudes, into the congregation of Christ's flock; while the other is performed privately, before three or four witnesses, sometimes at the font, sometimes in the vestry, occasionally at the communion table; nor have I ever been able to discover any reason for making use of the service for the public baptism of infants in an empty church, which would not apply to the adoption of it before a large party in a drawing-room. (Rev. T. Webster.)

[I think we can assume that Robert Simpson was not too enamoured of private baptisms except when necessity compelled...]

The Book of Common Prayer makes no mention of godparents being required at a private baptism. Godparents are required at a public baptism, and also at the point where a child that was privately baptised is subsequently brought into the church to certify publicly to the congregation that a 'lawfull and sufficient' baptism had already taken place. There is provision for a child to be received by a minister other than the one that carried out the private baptism, which means that the two events could happen in different parishes.

The private baptism was NOT entered into the Parish Registers of st Mary's Kidderminster. The entries in parish registers for "private baptisms" actually refer to the event in which the infant is 'received into the congregation' -- as discussed at length in Few Deaths before Baptism: Clerical Policy, Private Baptism and the Registration of Births in Georgian Westminster: a Paradox Resolved which argues that:

The evident lengthening of the interval between birth and baptism over the eighteenth century has often been assumed to have increased the risk that young infants died before baptism. Using burial records that include burials of unbaptised infants and give age at death we demonstrate that very few infants who survived the first few days of life escaped baptism in the parish of St. Martin in the Fields, despite a very profound lengthening of the delay between birth and baptism over the second half of the eighteenth century. Examination of baptism fee books indicates that perhaps a third of all infants were baptized privately in the parish and a pamphlet dispute between the vicar and one of his clerks provides extraordinary evidence of the extent to which baptism was a process rather than a single event. Our analysis suggests that it was the registration of baptism that was delayed, with no affect on the risk of death before baptism.

and refers to The Population History of England, 1541-1871 by E. A. Wrigley and R. S. Schofield page 96-97 (various editions) which says:

even in parishes where home baptism was widely practiced such baptisms were often not entered in the register unless the child lived long enough to be received into the church by public ceremony

  • "There is provision for a child to be received by a minister other than the one that carried out the private baptism" - I have checked and my 4G GF, Samuel Beech has one baptism recorded in the PR of Barthomley (17 Dec 1799 - the day after his birth) and a 2nd in the PR of Haslington (19 Jan 1800) - Haslington was a chapel in Barthomley at that time. However, neither is marked as "P" etc and at that time the officiating priest was not recorded. – AdrianB38 Mar 23 '19 at 12:34
  • I also definitely have "P" baptisms followed later by apparently normal baptisms - probably receptions really. I also have apparently ordinary baptisms followed later by apparently normal baptisms - again, probably receptions. I further have "P" baptisms with no follow-up and one or two of them might be some time after birth suggesting the possibility of the "P" ceremony actually marking the reception after a private baptism beforehand, as apparently suggested in your last quote. Interesting possibility... – AdrianB38 Mar 23 '19 at 12:46
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This is not an answer but things are getting too deep in the comments.

LDS Film 350509 contains part of the Bishop's transcripts for St. Mary's Church, Kidderminster, 1820-1875, specifically Baptisms, marriages and burials, 1830-1835 for St. Mary's

I'm not wholly sure what's going on because 350508 contains Baptisms and burials for St. Mary's, 1828-1837; baptisms, 1829-1831, and burials, 1828-1832 for St. George's

Anyway, the index for 350509 contains this:

Name                Richard Wright
Residence Place     Kidderminster, Worcester, England
Christening Date    23 Apr 1830
Christening Place   Kidderminster, Worcester, England
Father's Name       John Wright
Mother's Name       Mary

Now, not your chap because the child's names is wrong but John and Mary v. John and Maria...? Could it be that memory is getting a bit adrift by the 1860s and / or there has been a mix up?

  • As well as the name, there's the fact that this was after the Wolverhampton baptism (March) ... now maybe the Wolverhampton baptism is a red herring but John Wright the father as buried in Wolverhampton in October 1830. – ColeValleyGirl Mar 21 '19 at 13:07
  • Also, this Richard Wright had a brother John baptised 2 years later. – ColeValleyGirl Mar 21 '19 at 13:13
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    Indeed. But if JCW the son was looking for evidence of his baptism in Kidder, because he believed that he was born there, asked the priest there, and the priest found that entry, he might have allowed himself to be persuaded that there was an error. – AdrianB38 Mar 21 '19 at 13:13

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