A Research Conundrum

Everyone who has conducted genealogy research experiences at one time or another, the disappointment and the frustration felt when the records they are using do not provide the desired information. As genealogists we are on a continual search for documented truths about who we are by learning who our ancestors were. We spend many long hours studying long lists of names on census records, or reading through old registers written in a seemingly ancient style of handwriting (almost all handwriting in today’s age of computers and iPods seems ancient.) It is even more difficult to comprehend doing research in an environment where records are inaccurate, incorrect, or even false. This is a challenge that all genealogists face, righting wrong records. Forty years ago, a cousin of mine, Karen Denhalter, and I tackled such a research conundrum to find the truth about our common ancestor, William Henry Wright, and his true parentage.

The ancestry of William Henry Wright was dead ended for over 150 years after his arrival in Utah in the 1850’s. William, his brother Joseph, and a sister Jane all joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the 1840’s, and together claimed to be the children of Edward Wright and Esther Wilson, leaving us with a brickwall in our genealogy. Extensive research during that century failed to correctly identify and document their parents until it was discovered that the account they gave was false to protect their social pride within their religious community. When all of the genealogy was sorted out, it was found that it contained many inaccurate and even fabricated statements by both the original immigrant ancestors and subsequent generations of well-meaning genealogist grandchildren.

The Brummie’s Story

William was a “Brummie”, a native of Birmingham, Warwickshire, England; born in 1827 and christened at St. Martin’s Parish Church in downtown Birmingham. In the early 1840’s William, his brother Joseph, and a sister Jane Wright heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ preached by missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and were baptized as members of this new religion. At the Mormon services held on Bishopgate Street, William met another young convert, Jane Taylor, and they were married. No legal record exists of this marriage that was likely performed in secret because of her parents’ opposition to her membership in the Mormon Church, and association with William.

But a record does exist. William wrote of his marriage and the trials he and Jane experienced in a Missionary Journal kept during his 1882 LDS Missionary Service to his homeland. He spoke of visiting the place on Bishopgate Street where “I and my dear wife were married.” And then mentioned a visit to Handsworth Parish, where “I and my dear wife were married” referring to a second marriage. Careful research uncovered the fact that Bishopgate Street was the place where the Mormon Elders conducted their services and married William and Jane in 1845. English law at that time required the Non-conformist Church (any religion outside of the Anglican Church including LDS) to obtain a license, and the marrying couple to follow Banns, or be married by License of the Anglican Church. However, these legal requirements were often not followed; thus the only record we have for this first marriage is William’s journal.

A year later in 1846, when it became evident that Jane was expecting a baby, the Taylor family insisted that she and William Wright be “legally” married in the Anglican Parish Church at Handsworth, Staffordshire, England, just outside of Birmingham.   Consequently William Henry Wright and Jane Taylor were married twice. Their daughter Julia was born just a few months later.

Eventually, William and Jane Wright, along with his brother Joseph Wright, sister Jane, and their respective spouses, immigrated to America, and settled in Utah where the Latter-day Saints had gathered. With this move, the truth about the Wright Ancestry was left in England and Edward Wright and Esther Wilson would become the family story. A seemingly insurmountable brickwall went up when this genealogy myth crossed the pond. It would take years of research for family genealogists to unscramble the truth with correct documentation.

The Truth

Karen and I learned through in-depth research into parish and civil records, that William, Joseph, and Jane were born out of wedlock in Birmingham along with several other siblings. Their Mother, Esther Wright, daughter of Samuel Wright and Catherine Wilson, moved to there with her parents from Stratford upon Avon, Warwickshire, England. The family lived within the boundaries of St. Phillip’s Parish in Birmingham, but possibly due to the social discomfort of their daughter having children out of wedlock, each child was christened in a different parish church in the Birmingham area. The records indicate that often Esther was accompanied by her Father, Samuel Wright, who stood in during the christening service, as though he was the father of the child. This practice continued for Esther Wright until 1836, when she finally married a local silversmith, by the name of William Camm. He may have been the father of some of her children prior to their marriage, and he and Esther had additional children following their marriage.

While William, Joseph, and Jane Wright, and their siblings grew up in the William Camm home, and learned the art and craft of silversmithing from him, when they immigrated to America for their new life in Utah they agreed to a pact, to tell another story about their ancestry. All of their individual Church records reflect this story, giving their parents’ names as Edward Wright and Esther Wilson; but their 19th Century Birmingham records clearly show that Esther Wright (not Wilson) was a single woman when her children were born. There was no Edward Wright. With this new information, our records have been corrected, and temple work completed for our Wright ancestry.

John 8:32

When you do genealogy, you must always keep in mind the scripture, John 8:32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. We were able to right the wrong in our genealogy by not being afraid of the truth and by being willing to work through the brickwalls, questions and doubts. We loved our ancestors more than holding to the myth of a socially acceptable background.

Our goal in genealogy is to prepare a family history record that will be deemed “acceptable” to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This requires us to seriously and boldly search out the truth about our ancestors. Our responsibility is to provide saving ordinances for our loved ones and to stand as witnesses for the truth. When we all gather together before Him at the time of Judgment we want to be able to celebrate with our Fathers. This can only be done by righting the wrong records and creating a true record of our ancestry.  

James W. Petty, AG, CG, is the Board-Certified and Accredited Professional Genealogist, “Climbing the Family Tree Professionally, Since 1969”. He is President of HEIRLINES Family History & Genealogy, Inc. (www.Heirlines.com), the “Salt Lake City, Utah BBB Accredited Business” trusted professional genealogy research services firm, providing US and International genealogical and historical research for a world-wide clientele.

For Heirlines-Quality professional genealogy services, resources, and products including expert family tree research, LDS family history assistance, and answers to genealogy questions, please see Jim’s website www.Heirlines.com and his blog ProfessionalGenealogy.com. Heirlines: We professionally identify and document ancestry and kinship relationships and verify and certify the family tree with Certified Family Trees and Certified Forensic Genealogy Solutions. We’re ready when you’re ready!