Was he Dennison or Johnson ?

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Martin-46
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Was he Dennison or Johnson ?

Post by Martin-46 »

I am hoping for help in clarifying the parentage of my grandfather .. a matter shrouded in mystery.

My grandfather’s mother was born Sarah Dennison on 4th June 1870 to parents Peter Dennison and Catherine Dennison (née Langford), my great-great grandparents, whose address is recorded on her birth certificate as 6 Court Regent Street, district of Saint Martin, Liverpool. Peter Dennison’s occupation is recorded as Labourer, and her mother, as the informant of her birth gave an ‘X’ as her ‘mark’ suggesting that she was not literate. Baptism records show that Sarah was baptised Roman Catholic on 8th June 1870 at St Augustine’s church, Liverpool. The family’s address was given as Carlton Street – a street running parallel to Regent Street. It is not clear why their address should have changed in the space of 4 days.

The Dennison family are recorded in the 1871 Census of England and Wales as living at Whitley Street – court, Liverpool. Whitley Street is also close to Regent Street and Carlton Street; all three are close to the docklands and are about a mile north of Pier Head. The family head is given as Peter Dennison, aged 39, occupation Labourer, born Kildare, Ireland; his wife is recorded as Catherine aged 28, born Queens Co., Ireland; children Bridget, aged 12, born Queens Co., Ireland; Peter, aged 4, born Liverpool; and Sarah aged 11 months, born Liverpool.

The 1881 Census shows a different picture. Peter Dennison is shown as living at ‘8 Ho’ Whitley Street, his occupation given as Dock Labourer. Sarah Dennison is recorded as a Scholar aged 12. There is no mention of Catherine, her mother nor her elder brother and sister. However, two more hitherto unmentioned names are recorded. Firstly, a daughter Margaret aged 10 born in Liverpool, listed as a Scholar; secondly Patrick (surname not confirmed but recorded as ‘son’) aged 7 born in Liverpool.

Catholic burial records for St Augustine’s, Liverpool show that a Catherine Denison of Whitley Street died on 22nd February 1877, aged 34, and was buried on 25th February 1877. It is possible that Sarah’s older sister and brother, Bridget and Peter, also died about the same time as their mother, possibly from the same cause. Further searching might reveal this.

My grandfather was born in Liverpool on 4th December 1891. His birth certificate records his mother as Sarah Dennison. It records his given names as John Fleming. It shows no entry for his father’s name, surname or occupation but gives his mother’s occupation as Domestic Servant living at 32 Upper Hill Street, Toxteth Park.

One might expect both Sarah and her son, and her father, to show up on the 1891 Census. I have been using Ancestry.com, but am not sure whether or not they have digitised the 1891 Census ? If as I expect they have, why do these three people not show up? It could be that her father had died or returned to Ireland, but Sarah was most certainly alive. It is also curious that she should living on the other side of town from where she was raised.

I have found no information about Sarah’s life beyond the birth of her son. If indeed she was a domestic servant, one can only speculate about who her employer was. It is quite likely that she was not actually employed at the time her son was born nor for a period beforehand; I guess that only a particularly benevolent employer in those days would have accepted an expectant domestic servant – unless perhaps they had some interest in the child such as being the father.

Does anyone know what sort of housing might have been on Upper Hill Street at that time? Would it have working class or perhaps the location of a middle class or wealthy family where she worked?

Several mysteries surround the life of my grandfather. The first of course is who was his father? Secondly, why was he given the name ‘Fleming’ at a time when the vast majority of working-class children received only one given name? ‘Fleming’ sounds almost like a family name rather than taken from the standard stock of everyday Roman Catholic given names. Did his mother choose this name? If she did, why? Does this hold a clue about who his father was? Fleming was not an uncommon surname in Liverpool at this time. In fact, William Henry Fleming was a successful and wealthy merchant in the cigar importing business in Liverpool at around this time. Could Sarah Dennison have worked for him as a domestic servant and could he be the father of her son?

Although, apparently, at birth my grandfather’s surname was Dennison, by the time he was in his early 20s he was using the name John Fleming Denison Johnson. The question arises, where did the name Johnson come from and why did he spell ‘Denison’ with only one ’n’? Possibly he discovered that his true father’s surname actually was Johnson. Another possibility is that his mother later married someone called Johnson and he adopted his step-father’s name. Alternatively, he may have simply adopted the surname Johnson of his own accord for some unknown reason. Whatever the truth, when he later enlisted in the army (the R.A.M.C., in 1918) he gave his father’s occupation as ‘Ship’s Officer’. This appeared again on his wedding certificate (28th August 1916) where he gave his father’s name as ‘John Johnson’, occupation Ship's Officer.

A family myth links my grandfather's name 'Denison' (as he later spelt it) with the family name (Denison) of the Earls of Londesborough. Couls his mother have worked for the Earls?

My grandfather and grandmother had 4 children in the early 1920s (one of them my mother). In the early 1930s he reportedly had 'a funny turn' and disappeared. He was never heard of again by the family. He died in 1973 in Liverpool.

Can anyone help with any of the questions above? Most pressingly, who was my grandfather's father?

Many thanks for any possible help or suggestions.

Bertieone
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Re: Was he Dennison or Johnson ?

Post by Bertieone »

Hi Martin and welcome,

Much to take in, however, 32 Upper Hill Street was apartments (1894 directory) Mrs Mary Jane Truswell. Mrs Truswell is there, 1891 census, along with family and 2 other families.

One to keep on file, further investigation needed.

John William Johnson married Sarah A Dennison, 1900, Burnley, Lancashire.

Sarah's birth/Baptism address.

Birth certificate asks Where and When Born, possibly went elsewhere to give birth, perhaps relative and not in the family home.
Bert

Bertieone
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Re: Was he Dennison or Johnson ?

Post by Bertieone »

I can only fined one birth registration for John Fleming Dennison, March Qtr, 1892, Toxteth.

Possible Baptism?


Name:
John Fleming Denison

Age:
0

Birth Date:
4 Dec 1891

Baptism Date:
11 Sep 1892

Baptism Place:
Ancoats, St Jude, Lancashire, England

Parish as it Appears:
Manchester, St Jude

Father:
John Denison

Mother:
Sarah Denison
Bert

Bertieone
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Re: Was he Dennison or Johnson ?

Post by Bertieone »

According to Sarah's baptism,
Image


Sarah Dennison married Thomas Coombes, 1890, March Qtr, Liverpool.

As, Sarah Coombes married Thomas McDonald, 1909, Sept Qtr, 1909.
Last edited by Bertieone on 25 Dec 2020 05:33, edited 1 time in total.
Bert

Bertieone
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Re: Was he Dennison or Johnson ?

Post by Bertieone »

Bert

Bertieone
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Re: Was he Dennison or Johnson ?

Post by Bertieone »

Possible, 1911,

Thomas McDonald,
Sarah

https://search.ancestry.co.uk/cgi-bin/s ... cessSource
Bert

Bertieone
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Re: Was he Dennison or Johnson ?

Post by Bertieone »

Bert

Bertieone
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Re: Was he Dennison or Johnson ?

Post by Bertieone »

Probable,

Thomas & Sarah Coombes, 1901 census, no children.

https://www.ancestry.co.uk/imageviewer/ ... d=20277374
Bert

Bertieone
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Re: Was he Dennison or Johnson ?

Post by Bertieone »

Providing we have all the actors in the correct play, at the time of John Fleming Dennison's birth, December 1891, Sarah his mother was married to Thomas Coombes, 1890, Liverpool.

Regardless of whether Thomas knew about the birth, it's possible Sarah gave the child up, adopted out. It may account for how he ended up being baptised in Manchester, perhaps taken on by relatives? John & Sarah Denison.
Bert

Bertieone
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Re: Was he Dennison or Johnson ?

Post by Bertieone »

Manchester Baptism,

Occupation, Phrenologist.

Image
Bert

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MaryA
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Re: Was he Dennison or Johnson ?

Post by MaryA »

Wow well done Bertie, and Merry Christmas to you all.

This research seems to be very comprehensive and all I am able to add is that if his mother didn't put a father's name on the birth certificate, there is no way, for certain, of discovering his identity through documentary evidence alone. Although it's not something we could expertly advise upon here, we could make suggestions for groups who could assist/advise if you decided to go down the line of DNA testing.

We would however, try to help in traditional research methods. The change in spelling of Dennison/Denison is often down to either a registrar or vicar, or somebody who had reason to log the name in a record, if the person was illiterate they were not able to check the spelling that was used, and the new spelling may have continued on in the family.
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Names - Lunt, Hall, Kent, Ayre, Forshaw, Parle, Lawrenson, Longford, Ennis, Bayley, Russell, Longworth, Baile
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MaryA
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Re: Was he Dennison or Johnson ?

Post by MaryA »

Just to add I wasn't able to find a Den(n)ison family at 125 Mill Street in Manchester. There is a John & Sarah Denison living in Moss Lane West, Mosside, however birthdates and places are way out so I don't think they are connected.
MaryA
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Names - Lunt, Hall, Kent, Ayre, Forshaw, Parle, Lawrenson, Longford, Ennis, Bayley, Russell, Longworth, Baile
Any census info in this post is Crown Copyright, from National Archives

Bertieone
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Re: Was he Dennison or Johnson ?

Post by Bertieone »

I received a message from Martin, I will respond here,

Bert,

thanks so much for your interest and help. Can you tell me, does the 1891
Census actually name the other occupants of 32 Upper Hill Street ?
Can you send me a copy of the Census entry? I have not been able to access
it via Ancestry.com

Also, regarding the marriage in Burnley, 1900, this seems a possibility
although Sarah did not have a middle initial ‘A’. What is your source for
the marriage info? Can you send me a copy ?

I do have Sarah’s birth and baptism certificates and addresses.
If she went elsewhere to give birth, surely you would still expect her to
show up on Census records somewhere. I’m not sure if she had other
relatives in England but I don’t think so. She could of course have gone
to Ireland but I can’t see why, it’s not a country she knew.
Thanks again and Happy Christmas. Martin.
Bert

Bertieone
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Re: Was he Dennison or Johnson ?

Post by Bertieone »

1891, Upper Hill St,

https://www.ancestry.co.uk/imageviewer/ ... Id=9783568


Name:
Mary Jane Truswell

Gender:
Female

Age:
38

Relationship:
Head

Birth Year:
1853

Mother:
Caroline Truswell

Child:
William Truswell
Ada May Truswell
Walter H Truswell
Frederick C Truswell
Arthur G Truswell
All born Liverpool

Mary Gardiner, 45, Macclesfield

William Smith, 42, Macclesfield
Harriet Smith, 48, Wales???
Joseph, son, wales???
Bert

Bertieone
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Re: Was he Dennison or Johnson ?

Post by Bertieone »

Marriage can be found here,

http://www.lancashirebmd.org.uk/

Image
Bert

Bertieone
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Re: Was he Dennison or Johnson ?

Post by Bertieone »

JFD was born December 1891, Sarah is married to Thomas Coombes and prior to the birth is likely recorded with Thomas at 42 Porter St Liverpool.

RG12 P2904 F33 page18.

Bridget Ferrell 40
Nicholas Ferrell 15
Thomas Combes 23
Sarah Combes 20
James Currey 30

https://search.ancestry.co.uk/cgi-bin/s ... c3a8dd9d1f
Bert

Bertieone
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Re: Was he Dennison or Johnson ?

Post by Bertieone »

"I do have Sarah’s birth and baptism certificates and addresses.
If she went elsewhere to give birth, surely you would still expect her to
show up on Census records somewhere. I’m not sure if she had other
relatives in England but I don’t think so. She could of course have gone
to Ireland but I can’t see why, it’s not a country she knew."

Meaning her mother Catherine went elsewhere to give birth, with addresses being different from Birth reg, Baptism, etc.

Martin, can you open the Ancestry Links?
Bert

Bertieone
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Re: Was he Dennison or Johnson ?

Post by Bertieone »

Message from Martin,

Martin, I have no problem you contacting me privately but others may want to contribute.

Bert,

You have done a huge amount of work, thank you so much.

The Baptism info seems odd. If it was a Catholic baptism the couple would
certainly have been married; hence this particular Sarah Denison would have
had a different maiden name. And why would the baptism be so long after the
birth – not normal for Catholics? It could be, as you suggest, that they
are family members. Maybe John Denison was the brother of Peter Dennison,
Sarah’s father. Do you think there are any records for Irish immigration to
Liverpool in the 1860s? This would be about when Peter and Catherine
arrived. It would also be helpful if I could find their ages.
The record that John Denison was a phrenologist is curious. If they were
Irish immigrants they would have been poor and likely unqualified. The term
‘phrenologist’ is quite sophisticated and not one you would expect from a
probably illiterate immigrant. Very odd.

There is a Manchester hint in my grandfather’s life. He served in the
R.A.M.C. in the first world war and gained a commission as 2nd lieutenant.
When he applied for the commission he gave his birth date and place as 4th
December 1891, Manchester (wrong – he was born in Liverpool – perhaps he
didn’t know this). Amazingly, he re-enlisted in 1939 in the Pioneer Corps
at the age of 48 and gave date and place as 4th December 1889, Liverpool
(so seemingly he did know he was born in Liverpool). Why he should get his
year of birth wrong is a mystery. If he wanted to lie, you would think he
would make himself younger, not older. His death certificate showed he
suffered from chronic schizophrenia – maybe that explains a lot.

I do have a copy of Sarah’s baptism entry, thanks. Can you make any sense
of the Latin in the bottom left corner ?

Could you send me copies of the sources for the marriage of Sarah Dennison
to Thomas Coombes1890, the Thomas McDonald and Sarah record, and marriage
of Sarah Coombes to Thomas McDonald, 1909. The problem is I don’t have
access to Ancestry.co.uk only Ancestry.com (the American version – my
sister lives in Oregon). I would have thought they would be the same but
maybe not


I have found two burial records for Thomas Coombes 30th November 1904, Ford
Cemetery, Liverpool, Almost certainly the same person, Grave number 416
the same. Don’t understand why there are two records. Also given in the
3rd quarter 1904 official death index. The links possibly won’t work for
you:
https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/co ... pId=583246
https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/co ... pId=583246

I think you may have helped get closer to the truth about my grandfather’s
parentage. I’m still curious to work out how he came later to use the
surname Johnson and claim his father was a Ship’s Officer.
When he married my grandmother (in North Wales in 1916) there were no
members of his family present. A mystery man.
Once again thanks. Any other help would be welcome.
Bert

Bertieone
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Re: Was he Dennison or Johnson ?

Post by Bertieone »

Martin,

Sarah's Latin Baptism, I can't translate it perfectly but I have seen enough Baptisms to know it is a recording of her marriages, there is a mistake made, it should be McDonald and not McDonnell, perhaps someone more in tune with Latin can translate it in more detail.
Bert

Bertieone
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Re: Was he Dennison or Johnson ?

Post by Bertieone »

Ages taken from the 1871 census,

Peter Dennison, 1832.
Catherine Dennison, 1843.

I'm not aware of any records recording people coming from Ireland, it was the equivalent of jumping on a ferry boat, it was that simple.
Bert

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