Eliza Sherer

For years the name Eliza Sherer was on my spreadsheet with a massive question mark along with the names James Shearer and Joseph Shearer. They were all putative parents of William Shearer and I had very little hope of finding out more about any of them.

Eliza was a single parent who had taken her son William to be baptised at Bradford Parish Church – later the Cathedral – in 1845. That was all I knew.

Then it occurred to me that my mother had mentioned a “German Liza” somewhere in her family – I wish I’d taken more notice at the time! “Sherer” could easily be a German name Anglicised to “Shearer” later on.

It also occurred to me that Liza would probably have married, so I searched in the census records for any Eliza or Elizabeth in Bradford who was born in Germany.

Success! In the 1871 census I found her at Adolphus Street, Bowling, in Bradford. She was a married woman, the head of the household and with her were her sons Hiram aged 15 and Robert aged 11. The name “Hiram” was a further encouragement.

Her name was Eliza Dennison and it was a matter of moments to find the marriage in 1847 of Eliza Sherer and Manasseh Dennison. So far, so good. I wish I’d left it there!

In 1848 they had a child, Hiram. Sadly he died in 1849. As often happens, the 15-year-old Hiram from the 1871 census must have been named in memoriam for his brother.

Unusual names like “Manasseh”, “Thompson” and “Hiram” are a godsend and a temptation to the family researcher. I soon found census returns for Manasseh for 1841, 61, 71, and 81 – nothing for 1851. Then I looked for his birth and death. I found his death in 1889; no birth record but he was in the army from 1849 to 1855. That was why there was no census record for 1851.

But why were there two census returns for 1871? Eliza, we know, was in Adolphus Street with her sons. Manasseh, it turns out, was a “widower” living in Bradford Moor not two miles away. No doubt it was the right man: as well as his unusual name, he was 43 years old, born in Rigton and was a “pensioner”. That didn’t mean an older person, but someone with a civil service or army pension. He has with him his two sons Abraham and Isaac.

Let’s go back to 1861. Manasseh, aged 33, is living with his wife Elizabeth, his daughter-in-law Hannah Fieldhouse aged 13 (?) and his two sons William Fieldhouse (?) aged 4 and Abraham Dennison, aged 2. That all makes so little sense it’s hard to know where to begin.

[As a matter of fact, the explanation was (fairly) simple. “Daughter-in-law” meant “Step-daughter”. She was the daughter of Elizabeth Fieldhouse, who “married” (no record of course) Manasseh some time after the birth of their son William.]

But things are moving now from strange to downright bizarre. I see what I can find for “Eliza Sherer” again. This turns up three baptisms: children of Eliza Shearer, spinster. Hiram Sherer was born in 1855 and the twins Alice Elizabeth and Robert Scherer in 1860.

The two boys are the right ages to be the “Dennison” children from the 1871 census. You may be relieved, as I was, to know that Alice Elizabeth Shearer was married from Adolphus Street in 1884. In her marriage record the space for “father” is blank. At least she didn’t make up a fictional name …

What a strange story! It looks like after the death of their son Hiram, Manasseh went off to join the army and never came back to Eliza. She, meanwhile, continued to live as Mrs Dennison but had her children baptised under her maiden name.

It’s a sadness and a disappointment that in all of this fantastic story William Shearer is nowhere to be found.

Mother (perhaps) of William Shearer and daughter of William Shearer Snr

Born in Germany in 1825, no further details

Married Manasseh Dennison on 20 June 1847 at Tong, near Bradford, Yorkshire

Died in the winter of 1883

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