John Stewart’s Other family – hiding in plain sight

Foreword: For genealogists researching British ancestors the UK Census records are a key primary source, especially for establishing core parent-child family relationships. In the following research I want to show how the censuses can sometimes provide insight into more extended-family relationships.

Introduction: I’m sure there are many genealogists who work in a very structured way, taking one branch of their family and exhaustively studying it. I, on the other hand, am a butterfly genealogist, jumping from ancestor to ancestor hoping to find something new, or that I’d overlooked before. Most of the time this is a fruitless pastime, however recently I came across a relative who I’d been hoping to find for a couple of years.

Before I go further I think it’s worth adding a brief sketch of the family structure I believe I have found. When writing about your own family it’s easy to get involved in the details and forget that the reader gets easily lost in the story. Hopefully a quick glace at this family tree will help people understand what I have researched. For absolute clarity, what I’m trying to show with this research is that William and John Stewart are children of John Stewart (senior) and an unknown first wife.

John Stewart’s presumed family tree (not complete)

I wrote about my search for my Stewart ancestors in 2016. They were a Ulster plantation family who moved to industrial Teesside some time in the 1860s. John Stewart and his wife Jane (nee Bell) were my gg-grandparents. Interestingly their marriage certificate  (see below) records them as widower and widow, so the possibility exists that they both had children from earlier marriages. This is something that has often piqued my curiosity.

Marriage record of John Stewart & Jane Marshall-Lissan 7th Nov 1848

By chance I found a William Stewart, living in Stockton-on-Tees in the 1871 census.  He’s interesting as he is a Stewart who came from the tiny village of Lissan on the borders of Co. Tyrone and Co. Derry. This is, co-incidentally where my ancestors, John Stewart and Jane Bell came from. Tracing William Stewart through the British census returns we see the following:

Census Age Location Occupation Origin
1861  21 East Thickley, Durham Black Smith Ireland
1871 31 Stockton-on-Tees Blacksmith Lissan, Tyrone
1881 40 Stockton-on-Tees Blacksmith Ireland
1891 50 Kirkdale, Liverpool Foreman Smith Ireland
1901 60  Bootle cum Linacre Foreman Blacksmith Derry, Lissan, Ireland

Through all of the censuses he is accompanied by his wife, Annie. She was, according to most online sources, born Annie Creek in Windsor, News South Wales, Australia Her census records are shown below. Since the censuses were not very generous with women’s occupations I have noted her age and the children and others recorded in her household.

Census Age of Annie Stewart Children and others living/visiting William Stewart
1861  21 Henry (5/12)
1871 31 Henry (11), Matilda (8), Annie (6), John W. (4),
Frederick J. (1) John Stewart Brother in Law (26)
1881 40 Henry (21), Annie (15), John Wm (13), Frederick J. (11), Jenny E. (4), Wesley H. (2) Matilda Creek Mother in Law (71) Boarders Charles Stewart (28) John Hancock (20)
1891 51 Matilda (27), John W. (23) Jenny A.B. (14), Wesley (12), Harold V. (8)
1901 61 Matilda (37), Frederick (31), Jenny (24), Harold (18), plus Visitors: Alice Stewart (18), Frederick Frazer (3)

Neither William nor Annie appear in the 1911 census. I believe they both died between the censuses. Finding these records in the civil registration death index is a little difficult as nether Annie or William appear to have died in Bootle, their last place of residence. Any other search for Stewarts can only be rather speculative, given how common the Stewart surname is. The most likely records of their death are in the West Derby, Lancashire, registration district. If we look at the census records the suggested years of birth would be around 1839 to 1841, for both William and Annie. The “best-match” registered deaths would be Q3,1904/aged 65 for Annie and Q3 1907/aged 67 for William. I’m guessing on West Derby as this covers Kirkdale, where William and Annie lived when the 1891 census was taken.

Looking at the census records of the children we see that each one is recorded at least twice in the  censuses, normally in the first two decades of their lives. Taking their ages and their birth locations into account it’s relatively easy to find the actual birth year for all but one of the eight children from the civil registration records indexes that are available via the FreeBMD website. This results in the following information for the children:

Name Birth Quarter / Year Birth Place & (Registration district)
Henry Q4/1860 Shildon, Co. Durham (Auckland)
Matilda Jane Q3/1863 Shildon, Co. Durham (Auckland)
Annie Q3/1865 Shildon, Co. Durham (Auckland)
John William Q4/1867 Darlington, Co. Durham (Darlington)
Frederick James Q1/1870 Darlington, Co. Durham (Darlington)
Jenny Elizabeth Q3/1876 Stockton-on-Tees, Co. Durham (Stockton)
Wesley Hackworth Q1/1879 Stockton-on-Tees, Co. Durham (Stockton)
Harold Valentine 1882 Stockton-on-Tees, Co. Durham
(not found on registration indexes)

Beyond the census records the other primary-source documents for ancestors from the United Kingdom, are the Civil Registration documents. In England and Wales this began on 1st July 1837. Given that William and Annie’s first child, Henry was born in 1860, then it would be expected that they most likely married in 1860, or just before. They actually married on the 5th August 1860 (about 3 months before their first child would be born). Their ages fit with the census information, and if they are totally accurate suggest William was born sometime between the 6th August 1839 and the 6th April 1840.

Marriage registration for William Stewart & Annie Creek 5th Aug. 1860

The most interesting information shown here is that William’s father is named as John Stewart. This information, by itself, doesn’t prove anything, but it does make it more likely that William is the son of my gg-grandfather. It would be great to have a birth record for William, however civil registration of births in Ireland on 1st January 1864.

The census “strays”

For further supporting evidence we need to examine the census boarders and visitors to see if how they might be connected to William and his wider family.

Charles Stewart

Charles is an important figure in this research, as I believe Charles is the son of John Stewart, and the brother of Robert Stewart, my great-grandfather. He is recorded in the the 1871 census, aged 17 living with his parents and being born in Co. Derry, Ireland. The data from the 1881 census fits with the earlier census, as his age is 28 and he is born in Ireland. In both censuses he is described as an Engine Fitter. As before, none of the information from the 1881 census proves the Charles is the half-brother of William, but it does not contradict this information.

After the 1881 census Charles disappears from records. The only way to positively identify what happens to Charles would be to find a descendant of his who has a DNA connection with other Stewarts from my family line.

John Stewart

The other important person in this research is John Stewart, who  is likely to be related to the rest of my Stewart tribe, and is possibly a brother of William. He is recorded in the 1871 census living with William and being born in the same village of Lissan in what is now Northern Ireland. As with William I’ve attempted to trace his passage through the census records. This work is not perfect, as there were two Irish-born Stewarts living in the Stockton area at the time (family trees on reflect this confusion).

Census Age Location Occupation Origin
1871 26 Stockton-on-Tees Fitter Lissan, Tyrone
1881 38 Stockton-on-Tees Enginefitter Ireland
1891 46 Stockton-on-Tees Screwer (Machinist) Ireland
1901 56  Norton, Durham Lamp Lighter Ireland

His wife is believed to have been Elizabeth Suddock (or Suddick). This is based firstly on the 1881 census, where he appears to be living with Elizabeth, but has a boarder, William Suddock, aged 21. This fits in with what I believe to be his marriage registration. A John Stewart is recorded as marrying Elizabeth Suddick on 5th August 1878 at the North Terrace Wesleyan Chapel in Stockton. Below is a copy of the certificate. What doesn’t fit is the age of the groom (27 against an expected age of 33-34), however at least the father of the groom is recorded as John Stewart (Deceased) which is correct given that John died on the 11th October 1877.

Marriage Certificate of John Stewart & Elizabeth Suddick 5th Aug. 1878

As with William Stewart, it is worth tracing the census records for his wife, Elizabeth. In the 1901 census John is recorded as a widower, so it is assumed Elizabeth died before 1901. The most likely date is in Q1 1897 in Stockton district.

Census Age of Elizabeth Stewart Children and others living/visiting John Stewart
1881 28 William (1) William Suddock Boarder (21)
1891 39 William (11), Alice (9), Margaret J. (7), Elizabeth (4) Ada (2)
1901 dead Elizabeth (14) Ada (12) John (8)

John Stewart does not appear in the 1911 census, so it is assumed he died before the census, possibly in Q1 1910 in Stockton district. There is, however, another John Stewart, aged 68, born in Ballybay, Co. Monaghan found in the 1911 census, and some family trees.

Given the age discrepancy between the marriage registration and the census data, I have some concerns that I may be mixing up two John Stewarts, however there is at least more evidence connecting the two families.

Alice Stewart

The 1901 census shows an Alice Stewart, aged 18, born in Stockton-on-Tees as a visitor to William Stewart. There is only one Alice Stewart recorded as being born in the Stockton registration district between 1880 and 1885. This is most likely to be the Alice Stewart, daughter of John Stewart, as recorded in the 1891 census. In this case she would be visiting her uncle and family.

Frederick Frazer

The last census stray is Frederick Frazer, who is also a visitor at the house of William Stewart. It is possible that Frederick is the son of Annie Stewart and William McCrea Frazer. This couple are recorded as getting married in Q1 1889 in Stockton registration district. As Annie was the daughter of William Stewart he would be the grandson of William Stewart, although he is not recorded as such in the census.

Final Thoughts

Putting all this information together I think that both William and John Stewart are the sons of John Stewart, my gg-grandfather. There is nothing that directly contradicts this hypothesis. More importantly the links between the William and Charles and William and John Stewart support this idea.

It would be helpful in this research if DNA testing would show a link between my known Stewart relatives and descendants of both William and John. Sadly I’ve yet to identify any living descendants from either of these two lines. Even though William had 8 children and John 5, there are no clear records of any great-grandchildren from either brother. In part this is because they would have been born and grown up in the period between the last publicly available census (1911) and the 1939 Register. The publication of the 1921 census (expected in 2022) may help clarify this.

I have built a publicly-available family tree of the William and John Stewart families at This covers all suspected descendants of both William and John.

If it is the case that both family lines petered out, there is still the possibility that other Stewarts exist from John Stewart’s first marriage. Maybe someday I will get to find and read the original Lissan parish records, that may give some clarity on the whole Stewart family. As genealogists, we can only dream of these things!

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1 Response to John Stewart’s Other family – hiding in plain sight

  1. Kelly says:

    My mother is Gail Alison Stewart. She is the daughter of William John Stewart and and Alice Stewart nee francuoer. My grandma Alice died April 1 1950. In Timmins Ontario. Her parents were Ann and Napoleon narcissi Francoeur. My mother named Gail is their daughter. My mom is 82 now and alive living in Alberta. I too am trying to find roots. My grandpa John lived in Campbell river at some point. I believe in the seventies. Cannot find his obituary anywhere. I know he was in the navy though. My mom was born in Sept 1936. She married Don Sutton in Timmins in 1955 October 17. That’s all I know but would love to learn more.
    My name is Kelly

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