I believe that the following represents a plausible case to describe the life of one man.

William Harley (3)

  • Married Margaret Heathwood(e) in Brisbane, Queensland 22 September 1863 (Reg# 1863/B671)
  • Died 25 Feb 1912 in Queensland (Reg # 1912/C1932). Father's name: Thomas Hutchison Harley Mother's name: Mary - Note: born England aged 89 years

William Harley (2)

  • Alias William Hartley, aged 23, convicted at Holland Quarter Sessions on 5 April 1847 (for theft of 2 hams).
  • Exiled to Australia aboard Hashemy arriving Sydney Cove 9 June 1849. Transferred to Moreton Bay by coastal steamer 15 June 1849.
  • Awarded ticket-of-leave (conditional freedom) September 1849.

William Harley (1)

  • Son of Thomas Harley and Myra (Pratt) was christened William Pratt Harley on 16 March 1823 at St John's Longton, Stafforshire.
  • Thomas and Myra (or Mary) Harley (or Hurley) had other children Samuel (1813) Mira Matilda (1819) Maria (1821) and Mary (1824).

In an ideal world, I would discover a letter in the hand of William (3) to one of the siblings of William (1) making reference to cholera on the Hashemy which William (2) survived. If such a treasure exists, I have yet to locate it.

What should be my next step in seeking evidence that would (a) demonstrate conclusively that they are not one and the same person or (b) strengthen the case that they are the same individual?

Edits and responses to comments:

Typo in year of death for William (3) corrected to 1912. (Reference number was correct.)

I have no good census data for 1841. (I have Myra, mother of 1 with some of the children in Stoke-on-Trent but not William.)

The dates I have for the siblings of William (1) are christening records (all in the same church).

Education data is not really an option for a son of the working class in 1830.

Additional information

The journal of the Surgeon on the Hashemy records treating William(2) for cholera in Dec 1848 and describes him as "age 26". (Source Citation: The National Archives of the UK (TNA); Admiralty and predecessors: Office of the Director General of the Medical Department of the Navy and predecessors: Medical Journals; Reference Number: ADM 101/32/5.)

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    You might look for some type of will/probate record for his father Thomas to see if Willliam is mentioned in some way. Jan 11, 2013 at 10:47
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    I guess you may have seen the marriage of Thomas Harley to Mira Pratt on 12 Sep 1808 at Norton In The Moors, Staffordshire. The coincidence of the name Pratt would make a strong case for this being the parents of William #1. If you looked back at this Thomas - does the name Hutchison appear?
    – AdrianB38
    Jan 11, 2013 at 12:19
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    Do you have birth dates for Samuel (1813) Mira Matilda (1819) Maria (1821) and Mary (1824)? Where does William fit within the family?
    – Henry
    Jan 12, 2013 at 4:11
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    You have not provided a birth detail for William Pratt Harley but you have the siblings. Do you have additional details for William Pratt Harley such as education, census residence?
    – Henry
    Jan 12, 2013 at 4:12
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    Do the christening recods of the siblings of (1) give their age at the christening? Is so, that might help determine the age of William at his christening.
    – lkessler
    Jan 12, 2013 at 15:32

3 Answers 3


In the last five years, most of the work I have done has been about a handful of individuals--cases much like yours. I have a good hypothesis, seem on the right track, but no amount of logic and reasoning can bridge the gap--the records just don't connect one personality to another.

I suspect a difference between our work is that I usually don't have birth and death records, per se. Although they state the obvious, a few of the things I keep in mind follow:

  1. Working back in time is more difficult than working forward in time. Excluding burned courthouses, some broken families and other anomalies, there is more historical and personally identifying information available as time passes. I start with my connection, by the time the work is finished, I want enough information so the case can be analyzed from both perspectives (future to past and past to future).
  2. There often is no direct evidence that connects a person later in life to their birth identity, much less to identifiable birth parents. (Or such information is not readily accessible, formally archived or indexed.)
  3. Each person (even each personality) can be compared to an iceberg--there is always more to the story. My preference is always to learn more about those to whom I know I'm related.

William Harley (3)

(1) You mention when William Harley (3) died and when he married, but nothing about his children. Perhaps there were none. Recognizing the possible difference in record circumstance (USA vs Australia), I often learn many clues about the parents (where they were born, for example) from the records of their children. Naming patterns? The records about the children would include the children's birth, marriage and death records; it would include the census records about the children.

(2) You know the date of death for William Harley (3), but what about his obituary and/or burial? Are there funeral home records (or even cemetery records) available? Was there a church service? Working with all the records created at the time someone died may provide more or slightly different information about someone's birth, age at death, parents an/or immigration. Surviving siblings? Military service?

(3) Somewhat along the lines of no. (1), this personality married in 1863 and died in 1912--I would expect there to be many records "about William" that were created in that time period--newspapers, voting lists, occupational notations, court records, land records ... In the course of gathering such research, do you become aware of other Harley families and/or other men William Harley of the area.

William Harley (3) and William Harley (2)

Are you able to join or break these two Australian personalities? According to Wikipedia, Moreton Bay is about 45 km from Brisbane. From the different vital records, tax records, newspaper archives, church records, apprenticeship arrangements, etc. of the area, are you able to develop information about men so named and/or other Harley families about Brisbane during this time? As presented, there is a 15 year gap between the records about (2) and (3). How can you narrow that gap?

William Harley (2) and William Harley (1)

Separate from the work about nos. 2 and 3, are you able to join or break these to English personalities? Are there more court records available about the case? Were there witnesses; was testimony given that might provide describe his circumstance at the time the charges were filed/hearing held? Any address for the accused? Newspaper items?

William Harley (1)

You have a nice collection of records about the family, but it wasn't apparent that you knew very much about any one of them, or the family as a whole. Somewhat as above, would circumstances about this William (1) or the family help to explain the ham?

Obviously death, obituary and probate records about the father and/or mother could be rich in clues (even clues that would associate no. 1 and no. 3). It is possible this information relates to William (2). Ditto above, what circumstances might help to explain the ham incident? (William wasn't the first born son and there is no reason to believe he is not able bodied.)

Separate from a "quick fix," I would be interested in the family group about William Harley (1). Lay out a basic framework--dates/location of the births of the parents and all of the children, all of their marriages (and spouses) and when/where they all died.

With that framework in place, you should be able to set some priorities and work to exhaust the available record groups. As I'm sure you know:

  1. Obituaries of family members sometimes carry the golden phrase, "Is survived by ..."
  2. Children, especially those who died young or did not marry, are sometimes buried in the same plot and/or cemetery as their parents.

Separate from the information found in record so discovered, my own work almost always benefits from the search itself. Ala, just how many men "William/Will/Bill Harley" appear indexed (or not) in those same record groups.


Alas - 1851 census on Ancestry (ref. Class: HO107; Piece: 2006; Folio: 362; Page: 5 ) shows one William Pratt Harley age 28 (i.e. b abt 1822), b Caverswall in Staffs, living Fenton, Staffs. Mother is Myra Harley; his sisters are Elizabeth, Maria and Ann. William is a chemist.

He's in the 1861 with the wrong age on Ancestry (23 indexed when it's clearly 33). Chemist & Druggist. ( RG 9; Piece: 1900; Folio: 121; Page: 12). Wife looks like Fanny.

He's in the 1871 (Class: RG10; Piece: 2926; Folio: 7; Page: 5) and has swapped to being an innkeeper. Wife's name may be Clara.

And he's in the 1881 as well, boarding in Shifnal, Shropshire. Back to being a chemist.

Conclusion - William #1 is not William #2 nor is he William #3. Not unless he went back and forth to Australia.


One of the key things for me is birth date.

(1) Normal age for Christening is 2 months to 2 years. So probably born between March 1821 and January 1823.

(2) Aged 23 on 5 April 1847. So born between 6 April 1823 and 5 April 1824.

(3) Died 25 Feb 1915 aged 89 years. So born between 26 Feb 1825 and 25 Feb 1826.

The three birth dates do not coincide at all. I see no good reason to combine any of these three people until further evidence will support it, and some of that further evidence must resolve the birth year discrepancy.

  • My apologies for a careless typo, @lkessler I have edited the date of death to 1912 (Note that the Ref was correct as 1912/C1932) but (through inattention) I gave the death year for his son-in-law.
    – Fortiter
    Jan 12, 2013 at 9:44
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    In that case, (1) and (3) now have an overlapping birth date and it is now possible that they are the same person. But (2) still mismatches on birth date.
    – lkessler
    Jan 12, 2013 at 15:28

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