I was fortunate enough to attend two reunions this weekend, in both cases with friends I’ve known half my life or more. This set me thinking about our ancestors and their friends. When we find a ‘visitor’ or ‘boarder’ staying with our ancestors in a 19th century census, how much effort do we put into trying to track down who that visitor was?
A child might well turn out to be a grandchild (or niece or nephew), and their surname might provide the clue to what happened to missing children or siblings. Often the boarder or visitor is a relative. Just as today, when visiting or moving to a new location, it might be convenient to stay with a family connection. Or perhaps the visitor was a work colleague.
Sometimes we don’t know the reason why the boarder is staying in that particular family home, but they continue to be present at census after census. One such person in my family history is Ralph MORT. In the 1851 census, Ralph and his younger sister Ann were lodging with the family of William and Maria KELLETT, in Preston, Lancashire (England). William was my 3g.grandfather, and in the 1851 census William was listed as a coal carter and Ralph MORT was a (railway) engine driver, so perhaps they knew each other through work. That is the nearest I have found to a possible explanation for their connection.
In the 1861, 1871 and 1881 censuses, Ralph (without his sister Ann) continued to live with the KELLETT family. William KELLETT died in 1883 and his wife Maria in 1889. In the 1891 census, Ralph was listed as the head of the household, living at that same address with KELLETT relatives. In 1901 (again same address) 81-year-old Ralph is back to being a boarder with a KELLETT son as head of the household.
When I ordered a copy of the 1889 will of Maria KELLETT, I had a sinking feeling as I deciphered the names of her heirs. I had never heard of the children that were named and the children that I knew about were not mentioned. I thought I must have the wrong Maria KELLETT – until I interpreted the signature of a witness – Ralph MORT. It was the confirmation I needed that in fact I had the right will and so a number of new children to research as relatives.
Ralph Mort – long-time friend or a branch of the family not yet connected? (Ralph’s will unfortunately does not answer that question.) Either way for me “and Ralph Mort” is like the full stop at the end of this family sentence. He is also an example of why it is worth paying attention to the various lodgers and visitors listed with our families on census nights.