Family history research in the nineteenth century is usually based on General Registration certificates of birth, marriage and death, together with the decennial census returns enumerated from 1841 onwards. But newspaper records can help fill in fascinating details about our ancestors’ lives, bringing them alive in a way that few other records can.
One such example is with the Kerry family of Suffolk. Genealogical sources had revealed them in census returns, GRO records and parish registers. Dennis Kerry was baptised in Wattisfield in 1796, and lived most of his life in the village of Badwell Ash, in North Suffolk. He and his sons were consistently recorded as agricultural labourers, as was the majority of the rural population at the time. They did not leave wills, and it is often difficult to find out more about our normal, working ancestors.
However, here we were aided by the digitised newspaper collection, which included the Suffolk publications The Bury and Norwich Post as well as The Suffolk Chronicle. These newspapers included information on family notices of birth, marriage and death, local tradesmen’s adverts, as well as records of the local petty and quarter sessions.
The reports in the local newspaper made for intriguing reading. Dennis Kerry married his wife Ann Makins in 1820, but in 1830 he was charged with abandoning her. Dennis was recorded in The Suffolk Chronicle of 23rd October 1830 as being committed to the Bury St Edmunds Gaol, for leaving his wife and family, thus making her chargeable to the parish.
Parish registers indicate that Dennis quickly returned to his wife, and they continued baptising children at Badwell Ash until the year 1839.
Dennis and his family appear in later newspapers, for a variety of reasons. The Suffolk Chronicle of 12th January 1861, showed that he was convicted to ten days hard labour at the Ixworth Petty Sessions for steeling turnips.
In 1873 Dennis and his wife Ann were called as witnesses to a theft of money, as recorded in the Bury and Norwich Post. Two years later, in 1875, their son James, and grandson John Kerry, were convicted together of stealing “two ash poles”. This was again recorded in the Bury and Norwich Post.
This newspaper record gives valuable information about who the Kerrys were working for, in a way that few other records do. It is interesting to find that the son was let off, and the father given 14 days hard labour. Young John would have been 17 at this time, and the court clearly felt that his father had led him astray.
Newspaper entries relating to the Kerry family covered many decades and several generations of the same family, finding reference to them from the 1830s onwards. Whilst Dennis was convicted of leaving his wife, he clearly returned to the parish of Badwell Ash, where he and Ann were witnesses to a theft in later decades. Dennis himself stole some turnips in the 1860s, perhaps to help feed his family, whilst his son and grandson later stole wooden poles from their employer. An interesting investigation indeed.