Devotees of “Who Do You Think You Are?” will know the first rule in any genealogical adventure is to start with what you are sure about.
So let’s start with the documents I have: first the official record of people buried in the grave at Undercliffe Cemetery bought by William Shearer in the 1880’s. Their names and dates are:
Hannah Bell, 1831 – 1883
Arthur Singleton, 1828 – 1884
Mary Shearer, 1851 – 1890
William Shearer, 1854 – 1907
Lilian Hird, 1889 – 1918
I know that Aunt Lily died around the time of the first world war, and her married name Hird is unusual enough to fix her identity.
I have a funeral card for William Shearer which confirms the time and place of his burial, so clearly he is also a relative of some description.
So far, so certain. Then working backwards, what about Mary Shearer? She was aged 37, a married woman living at 23 North Street, and the right age to be William’s wife.
This is when things get a bit strange. Mary was buried on 18 June 1890. A widower called William Shearer, living at 23 North Street, married a woman called Mary Elizabeth Smith on 11 August 1890.
Cold-blooded as it might seem, did William bury Mary in June and marry Mary Elizabeth in August?
Yes, he did, and it’s confirmed in the 1911 census return, filled in by Mary Elizabeth herself. She names Hiram, William’s son, as her stepson. So William and Mary Shearer are Hiram’s parents and my great-great-grandparents.
Let’s move on to Arthur Singleton. He lived at 32 Summer Street, nowhere near North Street: in fact right on the opposite side of town. What’s he doing in our grave?
After a few frustrating efforts to find a connection on ancestry websites, I had the bright idea of googling him. And lo and behold, I find Mel Blake in Australia looking for clues about the Berry family. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to make contact but the information she gave has cleared up the mystery of Arthur.
His wife Martha is the sister of Hannah Bell, the first person to be buried whose funeral was, presumably, organised by William Shearer when he bought the grave.
We know that Hannah had a daughter named Mary who would be about the right age to be Mary Shearer so I think we can safely assume that Hannah was William’s mother-in-law.
Evidence, perseverance and a little imagination can take you a long way. And if you think this was complicated, take a look at the story of German Liza!