The Thomas Stanley Mystery

No father is given for Mary Elizabeth Stanley on her birth certificate dated 28 August 1860, about three weeks after her birth on 9 August. However, when she married John Alfred Prestwich in 1884, her marriage certificate gave the name of Thomas Stanley (deceased), occupation Minder, as her father. By this time, her mother, Elizabeth had married Jonathan Walker and had bore him a son of the same name. So the question is; did Thomas Stanley exist or not?

The 1861 census is not conclusive.Elizabeth gives nothing away about her condition, neither maried nor unmarried, even though the other people boarding at the house did so. She also gave her age as 22 which from later records was clearly at least 10 years too young. By 1871, she had married Jonathan Walker and they had a young son, also called Jonathan. However, the real surpise is that she also has a son, Thomas Stanley, who is five years older than Mary Elizabeth. So where was this five year old boy in 1861? Bolton was recorded as his place of birth, so is it possible that he was still there, perhaps with his father or his family?

I originally worked on the theory the child was illegitimate, but that a father was 'invented' in the intervening years and that Mary gave this information when she married believing it to be true. There are certainly other examples in my research of illegitimate children giving a father's name when they married. However, when I finally tracked down Elizabeth's marriage to Jonathan in 1866 at St John the Evangelist Church in Hurst, Ashton-under-Lyne, she is described as a 38 year old widow, daughter of Thomas Hiland. On checking The 1871 Census, I found this Thomas in Ashton with his wife, two married daughters, their husbands and his grandchildren living with them.

This seemed to confirm that Elizabeth had indeed married someobe called Stanley, but the mystery deepened further through a search of the IGI which gives the marriage of Elizabeth HIGHLAND to James Stanley at Manchester Cathedral on 30 June 1850. On checking the marriage records at Manchester Central Library I discovered that this was indeed the elusive wedding. Elizabeth gives her father's name as Thomas and hatter as his occupation which match the later census infomation. James was a brewer and his father's name was also Thomas.

I was initially unable unable to the couple on the 1851 Census in Manchester. Fortunately, a kind soul on the LANCSGEN list was able to provide the details. The couple had already moved to Great Bolton and were lodging with fellow brewer, John Nuttall and his family. They also had a two month old son called Thomas. Assuming later dates given are correct, this was not the same Thomas living with Elizabeth later in life. The assumption at this stage is that the child must have died and their second son was also christened Thomas.

It is still not clear whether James was the father of Mary Elizabeth Stanley and the next step is to discover where and how he died.

Elizabeth Stanley was born in Droylsden, but I have been unable to find any record of her in that area in 1841 when he would have been about 12 years old. There is a Stanley family which originated in that area around 1600. About 1700, some of the family moved to Dukinfield and began to worship at the Old Chapel. One John Stanley became one of the chief elders of Jonathan WROE's Christian Isrealites and funded the building their 'santuary' on Church Street in Ashton-under-Lyne, the chosen centre for the 'new Israel'.

More research to do, but not helped by the fact that many of the baptism and marriage records for the Christian Israelites between 1825 and 1850 are missing.

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