After getting over the shock of discovering that his family had emigrated to America in 1849, leaving him behind, [see Left Behind], my quest to discover the identity of George Thomas Powell continued. I had solved the mystery concerning the apparent disappearance of his parents, (William) Benjamin and Mary Powell, but that still didn’t change the fact that I had little information on his early life. I could find no birth certificate, baptismal record or reference to him in the 1841 census. However, my research had pretty much proved that he could not have been the biological son of Benjamin Powell and his wife, Mary, née Beard. I think the most likely explanation is that Benjamin and Mary Powell adopted George Thomas because he was a child within the extended family who needed a home. He was not living with them when the 1841 census was taken, so they probably took responsibility for him when he was a small child, perhaps after losing their own son, Henry, who would have been a similar age. Since they gave him their surname of Powell, it seems that they intended this to be a permanent arrangement but it appears that they changed their mind. So, if he wasn’t their son, whose son was he? In these circumstances, the best strategy is to explore the wider family, in the hope of discovering where an unknown child might fit in. It is quite plausible that he was born illegitimately to another family member and given that he went to live with the Glayshers on the Isle of Wight, it seemed most likely that research into the Beard family might provide some answers.
Sarah Glaysher, the sister of Mary Powell and the aunt of George Thomas Powell, named her father as Thomas Beard, a carpenter, (like his son in law, Benjamin Powell), when she married her husband, Henry Glaysher at the tender age of 15 in Acton in 1838. She had been born ca. 1823 in Chiswick and I found her baptism in the registers of St Nicholas, Chiswick:
I discovered that Thomas and Sophia Beard had several other children whose baptisms had all taken place at St Nicholas, Chiswick, including that of Mary, the wife of Benjamin Powell:
- Mary bpt Mar 6 1808, born Feb 7 1808
- William bpt Dec 17 1809, born Nov 25 1809
- Thomas bpt Aug 18 1811, born Jul 29 1811
- Alfred bpt Jul 31 1814
- Lousia bpt Jan 7 1816, born Dec 14 1815
- Sophia bpt Sep 27 1818, born May 26 1818
- William Richard bpt Jul 9 1820, born Jan 16 1820
- Elizabeth bpt 21 Oct 1821, born Sep 25 1821
(bur 29 Aug 1824 aged 3) at Chiswick St Nicholas
- Sarah bpt Jun 22 1823, born Jun 5 1823
I traced the marriage of Thomas Beard and his wife Sophia, to the parish of St Mary’s Abbots, Kensington, where it took place on March 29 1807:
Armed with the names of the children, I could now seek the Beard family in the 1841 census. Sadly, it looked like Sophia had been widowed by this date:
Sophia Beard was recorded as a 50 years old laundress, taking in washing to support the family. In the 1841 census, ages for adults are rounded down in multiples of five, so Sophia was born ca. 1786-1791. The family home was on Bennets Street, part of a recent development of streets that formed Chiswick New Town, which had been built to meet the demand from workers for housing in the area. Perhaps Thomas Beard had helped in the construction of the houses since he was a carpenter. As you can see from the map below, Chiswick New Town was still surrounded by orchards and agricultural land:
The baptisms I had found in the registers of St Nicholas, Chiswick confirmed that Alfred, Louisa and William were Sophia’s adult children though I have yet to find the baptism of Joseph. Although their ages had been rounded down in multiples of five, as per the instructions, you can see underneath that their exact ages had originally been recorded. Also in the household were Ellen Beard aged 4 and Thomas Beard aged 2, probably Sophia’s grandchildren. Could Thomas Beard be, in fact, George Thomas Powell? I needed to investigate more.
I firstly searched for the burial of Thomas Beard, prior to 1841, and this recorded in the registers of St Nicholas, Chiswick on April 22 1838:
Helpfully, it was noted in the register that the burial had taken place by “coronary letter”. This indicated that a coroner’s inquest had taken place. At the inquest into the death of Sarah Glaysher, the daughter of Thomas Beard, which had taken place on April 21 1888, it had been reported that she had suffered from depression, particularly around the anniversary of her father’s death, which had taken place at Easter. It was also reported that there was a history of suicide in the family. It therefore seemed likely that Thomas Beard had indeed committed suicide, but why? Coroner’s records, generally, do not have a good survival rate but I searched the catalogue of the London Metropolitan Archives (L.M.A.) to see if I there were any surviving papers. I located this entry:
Chiswick: Thomas Beard: Hanged Himself Insane
1838 Reference MJ/Sp/C/W/1859
Middlesex Sessions of the Peace: Court in Session
The records have not been digitised so I will hopefully have the chance to view this record in person in the future.
If the coroner was involved, there would often be a report of the death in the newspapers. I was pleased to find that the death of Thomas Beard had been reported, and indeed, the news featured in several publications:
It was a terrible story. Thomas Beard, described as a master builder, had been depressed and there had been a visible change in his appearance and manners, according to the witness, Mr. H. Yorston, a close friend of Thomas. Mr Yorston thought this was because trade in business had fallen off and Thomas consequently had little work. In addition, a short while back he had lost his son, a fine young man, who had been killed after falling from a building and “the calamity had greatly preyed on the mind of the poor father”. On top of this, a few months previously, Thomas had fallen out with a person in town [unnamed], who had inflicted a horse-whipping. This had led to Thomas being confined to his bed for some time as he recovered from the injuries that he received. When Thomas had recovered, he had instigated an action in the Court of the Queen’s Bench, which had been due to take place in the forthcoming term. What was particularly moving was the fact that Thomas had been found hanging by his daughter, who had come running into the house in a state of dreadful agitation, exclaiming “Oh! my poor father!” Could this have been his daughter Sarah? Perhaps haunted by what she had seen, she too committed suicide nearly sixty years later in a similar manner.
The details of the suicide were dreadful and so tragic, but the account was rich in family history detail. The Court of Queen’s Bench (also King’s Bench), was a senior court of the common law, with both civil and criminal jurisdiction. No doubt Thomas Beard wanted to get redress for the injuries he had suffered and bring the perpetrator to justice. However, in low spirits after the loss of his son and in financial trouble, he didn’t feel strong enough to go through with it. As the case never took place, it seems that I will never find out exactly what happened and what was the cause of the dispute.
I was able to corroborate the loss of Thomas Beard’s son, as a search of the burial registers of St Nicholas, Chiswick revealed the death of Thomas Beard junior, who was just 25 years old at the time of his death:
Thomas Beard junior was probably working with his father as a builder when the accident happened. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any record of his death in the newspapers, nor was there any reference to a coroner’s inquest being held in the catalogue of the London Metropolitan Archives (L.M.A.).
It looked likely that little Ellen Beard, who was recorded in the 1841 census, could well have been the daughter of Thomas Beard junior, and was consequently living with her grandmother, Sophia, after her father’s death. Further research revealed that Thomas Beard junior had married Isabella Humphries on July 24 1835 in St Mary, Putney, another riverside parish but closer to the City. Their daughter, Ellen Sophia, was baptised in St Nicholas, Chiswick on May 14 1837:
Ellen Sophia was described as the posthumous daughter of Thomas Beard, a carpenter. She had been born a little over four months after her father’s death. However, although I could confirm that little Ellen was the four year old grandchild of Sophia, who was two year old Thomas Beard? He couldn’t be another child of Thomas Beard and Isabella so who were his parents? A search of the registers of St Nicholas Chiswick has not revealed his baptism, nor is there any sign of it in the registers of surrounding churches. In addition, there is no birth record for a Thomas Beard in the General Registration birth indexes.
It seems most likely that little Thomas was a grandson of Sophia. Did one of her daughters have an illegitimate child or had Thomas been left motherless? Following this line of enquiry, my next step was to focus on Sophia’s daughters. Mary was probably Sophia’s eldest daughter and had long been married to Benjamin Powell. My previous research had proved that she could not have been the mother of George Thomas. Another daughter, Sarah, who was born in 1823, had married Henry Glaysher in December 1838. Could she have had an illegitimate child that summer? It is not impossible and this could explain why George Thomas went to live with the Glayshers after the Powells emigrated. However, you would imagine that they would have taken him into their home sooner. I checked the birth indexes to see if there was any candidate for the birth of George Thomas under the surname of Glaysher but drew a blank. Louisa, was who born in 1816 and Sophia who was born in 1818, were the remaining candidates for the mother of George Thomas.
To discover more about Louisa, I searched to see if I could find a marriage for her, as I could find no candidate for Louisa Beard in the 1851 census. There was no reference to a marriage for a Louisa Beard in the General Registration indexes between the 1841 and 1851 census but I did note that the marriage of a Louisa Beard had taken place in the registration district of Brentford in the June quarter of 1838. Louisa was living with her mother as Louisa Beard in the 1841 census but I nevertheless, decided to obtain a copy of the certificate, as it seemed promising:
It was surprising to find that Louisa was in fact married when she was recorded in the 1841 census. The witnesses to her marriage were her sister, Sophia, and Alfred Glaysher, the brother of her sister’s husband, Henry Glaysher. I searched the GRO birth indexes to see if I could find a George/Thomas Pool birth registered but had no success. I found only one child of the couple, James Thomas Pool, whose birth was registered in the March quarter of 1840 in Kingston. I discovered that he was born on January 1st 1840. He was baptised on January 26th in Kingston, Surrey but died in infancy, aged one month, his burial taking place on February 9th 1840 in Kingston. Louisa and John Poole were living in Kingston in the 1851 census and have no children recorded with them. I could therefore rule Louisa out of the reckoning, as it was impossible for her to have had a child whose birthday was June 23rd 1839.
I now turned my attention to Sophia Beard. Could she have been the mother of George Thomas? My research has led me to believe that she had had a somewhat volatile life. At the time of the 1841 census, she was not living with her mother and other family members at home in Chiswick. Instead she appears to have been working as a servant for Charles Longcroft and his wife Ellen, at their home in Lambeth, Surrey. She was not easy to find, as she appears in the index as Sophia Brand! When the 1851 census was taken, she was again working as a servant, but this time in Kensington, as a cook for a master butcher named Charles Gede. She appears in the returns as Sophia Bird, but her place of birth is given as Chiswick, Middlesex. My next sighting of her is in 1860, when she marries Charles Daniels, a widower, who was probably a gardener at Kew Gardens in Surrey:
The following year, Charles and Sophia Daniels are recorded in Richmond, Surrey, in the 1861 census:
Included in the household is Charles Daniels, aged 10, and over the page in the enumeration schedule is Harriet Daniels aged 4, and the Holmes family who were lodging with the Daniels family:
Since Charles Daniels was a widower when he married Sophia in 1860 it looked likely that both Charles and Harriet were children from his former marriage. However, all was not as it seemed.
The baptism of Harriet Louisa Daniels took place in Barnes, Surrey, on November 8th 1857. she was in fact the child of Charles and Sophia and they had obviously not told the incumbent that they were unmarried:
Harriet Louisa Daniels would later go on to marry Henry Glaysher in 1887, the widowed husband of Sarah, née Beard, the aunt of George Thomas Powell. I can find no birth certificate for Harriet Louisa, despite searching under both Daniels and Beard and looking at any Harriet Louisa births that took place in 1856 and 1857.
Charles Daniels, who is recorded aged 10 in 1861, is living with Henry and Sarah Glaysher on the Isle of Wight at the time of the 1871 census and is described as their nephew. He seems to have taken the place of George Thomas Powell in the household, after George Thomas Powell got married and set up his own home next door. However, I have been unable to find a record of his birth or baptism either. What is notable is that his place of birth is given as Chiswick, where Sophia Beard had grown up. Could Sophia have also been his mother?
Untangling the life of Charles Daniels senior provides some explanation for these missing records. In 1844, Charles Daniels marries his first wife, Eliza Roff, a widow, in Kennington, Surrey. In the 1851 census, they are living in Lambeth and have a nine year old daughter, Rose, who was probably Eliza’s daughter from her first marriage. Note that Sophia Beard was also living in Lambeth when the 1841 census was taken. Had she met Charles Daniels in the 1840s? In September 1855, Charles Daniels marries again and his new wife is Barbara Mussett. The marriage takes place at All Saints, Croydon and Charles says he is a widower. This marriage was short-lived, as on February 24 1859, Barbara files for divorce. In her divorce petition, she says that Charles was suffering from syphilis when they were married and receiving treatment for the disease. However, she was not aware of this and consequently, contracted syphilis herself. This resulted in her giving birth to a baby boy prematurely, at seven months, who did not live. Charles Daniels was abusive and deserted her and she alleges that he had committed adultery with Sophia Beard:
Barbara tells the court that Sophia Beard was passing herself off as the wife of Charles Daniels and around May 1857, Sophia had a baby girl, [Harriet], and Charles Daniels was the father.
Barbara was granted a divorce on January 16 1860 and later that year, in November, Charles Daniels marries Sophia.
The paternity of Harriet seems clear but Sophia could well have been the mother of Charles Daniels junior. Perhaps Charles Daniels had reconnected with Sophia, an old flame, after his marriage to Barbara failed. This does seems probable as why would Charles Daniels junior have gone to live with the Glayshers on the Isle of Wight, and be described as their nephew in the 1871 census, if Sophia was not his mother? Charles Daniels senior was born in Streatham, Surrey around 1825, so he would have been too young to have fathered George Thomas Powell in 1839. However, could Sophia have found herself pregnant at the close of 1838? She was 20 years old and had suffered the trauma of losing her father in very traumatic circumstances earlier that year. Her older brother had also been killed just two years earlier at the age of 25, and the family were not in a good position financially.
My theory is that Sophia Beard gave birth to a baby boy on June 30 1839 in Chiswick, who grew up to be George Thomas Powell. His birth was probably never registered, nor was he baptised and Sophia went back to work as a domestic servant, leaving him in the care of his maternal grandmother, Sophia Beard, who was already looking after another grandchild, Ellen Sophia, the daughter of her deceased son, Thomas. Isabella, the mother of Ellen, was likewise, also working from home as a domestic servant, forced to support herself after the death of her husband. It would be a natural choice to name the baby Thomas after his maternal grandfather and uncle, who had both recently passed away. He is therefore recorded as 2 year old Thomas Beard in the 1841 census, living with his maternal relations in Chiswick. Sophia, his mother, then had two further children born illegitimately, through her relationship with Charles Daniels, Charles Daniels junior (born ca. 1852) and Harriet Daniels (born ca. May 1857).
Perhaps, as the little boy, Thomas, grew older, Sophia Beard, Thomas’ widow, struggled to look after him. She died of apoplexy on December 2 1850 at the age of 70. Maybe Mary Powell, Sophia’s daughter, offered to look after him after the loss of her own son, Henry. The Powells may have given him the additional first name of George after adopting him. The puzzle is why the attachment did not go deep enough for them to take him with them to America. Did the Glayshers, desperate for a child of their own, beg the Powells to leave George Thomas with them? However, without more substantive evidence, further research is definitely needed to either prove or disprove that George Thomas Powell was the son of Sophia Beard. More research into the Powell family could also be worthwhile. Given the lack of records, it may be ultimately impossible to prove the parentage of George Thomas Powell conclusively, though there is the possibility that DNA might hold some answers.
My research into the identity of my great great grandfather, George Thomas Powell, has been a rollercoaster ride. I’ve answered some questions but been left with more needing answers. However, I now know so much more about the family that he claimed as his own and have a theory that I can explore further. I have certainly discovered a lot about the Beard family, and in particular, the tragedies they experienced at the end of the 1830s, just before George Thomas was born. I have been able to prove that (William) Benjamin Powell and his wife Mary could not have been the birth parents of George Thomas Powell and I finally know what happened to them, learning of their emigration to Wisconsin and the fate of their son, Benjamin Thomas, who died in the American Civil War. One can only speculate as to why they left George Thomas behind but it provides additional confirmation that he was not their biological son. Without knowing all the circumstances, I feel one should not be too critical. Of course, one cannot rule out the possibility that George Thomas was not related to either the Beards or the Powells. For example, could he have been the orphaned son of a carpenter friend of Benjamin, or did he appear on their doorstep one day, nameless and homeless? In summary, as a family historian, one has to explore all the possibilities and remember that in genealogical research, the fun is in the pursuit, even if ultimately, we do not find exactly what we are looking for.
© Judith Batchelor 2021
Links to my earlier blogs on the life of George Thomas Powell, and my search for his origins, can be found here:
16 thoughts on “Who was Thomas?”
Judith – this is an amazing piece of detective work! I felt incredibly sad reading about the tragic circumstances that led to the death of Thomas Sr. Without counselling or medication available for depression back in those days there was really nowhere to turn for help. I think the possible explanations for the early life of George Thomas are absolutely plausible. I hope one day you get to the root of the issue. Thank you for a fascinating piece once again.
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Thanks Gill! What I love about family history is that it helps you understand a little more about what life was like and at the same time, you get to uncover some amazing stories. The account of the death of Thomas Beard senior is hard-hitting. You really get a sense of his anguish and that of his family. I am happy that I have at least one possible clue to follow concerning the identity of George Thomas. Perhaps DNA may one day confirm that I am indeed descended from the Beard family.
Jude, your methodical research sets such a great example, and it bears fruit! I found the report on Thomas senior’s death very sad. I think that your theory about Sophia is very plausible, and I hope that one day you have the evidence to confirm it.
I actually have a mysterious Thomas Beard in my family. He was supposedly born in 1790, only 4 years after yours, and this has got my genie radar buzzing. I will message you directly!
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Yes, the report on Thomas’ death is very moving. I’m glad that my theory seems plausible. It was a bit of a process of elimination.
Love it when the genie radar buzzes! Will get back to you.
This is remarkable story which required a lot of hard work for you to uncover. It is really fascinating and I cant wait to hear more!
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Thank you! I am hoping that more information will come to like that will confirm my theory on the parentage of George Thomas.
I have followed your journey searching for George Thomas Powell and it has been both absorbing and fascinating. Brilliant detective work to put together such a solid theory, I am just hopeful that additional records come to light or maybe even DNA can prove your story. Great example to anybody carrying out their own research of how methodical and detailed you have to be to reach the correct conclusion.
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Thank you! It was a challenge piecing the research together and explaining how I came to my conclusion. I would be really happy if DNA supports my theory.
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Although a difficult challenge I do enjoy these longer pieces of research myself. The ones where you have to painstakingly piece together the evidence piece by piece and gradually eliminate all the ‘suspects’, a real sense of achievement at the end, you’ve done a brilliant job with this.
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There is a lot of satisfaction with the detective work and it is definitely one of the things I enjoy most about family history research.
Hi, I’ve come to the conclusion that Benjamin and Mary Powell came to the U.S. because Emma and husband John were coming. Maybe John and Emma talked them into it. Who knows what they were thinking. Even though they didn’t live in the same area of the US, they lived where they thought they could stake out a brighter future for themselves.
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You could well be right!
Wow – quite the tale you’ve uncovered. We all tend to think people led such boring lives in the past, yet the twists and turns you’ve uncovered proved the opposite is true. Sadly, the event were sad rather than happy. Given that registering births still wasn’t compulsory on the part of the parents, it’s easy to see how the family would have covered up Sophia the younger’s out-of-wedlock child by neither registering his birth nor baptizing him. If your hypothesis is correct, at least he was still with members of his family, rather than dropped at an orphanage.
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Yes, he was at least cared for by the family. I am sure there is a lot more to the story than I have been able to uncover. It’s all very tantalising and as you say, not boring, despite perhaps initial appearances.