• 52 Ancestors 2023, week 39: Surprise
Robert James Whipp

This week's 52 Ancestors topic of "Surprise!" really couldn't have come at a better time as I was surprised by my family history research just the other day.

If you've read my other genealogy posts, you'll already know that a few years ago I was given a photo album that belonged to my 2x great grandmother, Emma. Out of the 38 photographs, there were just two that we could identify: Emma herself, and her eldest brother, Robert (thanks to his name being on the back).

The other night I was doing some little searches here and there, checking those Ancestry hints, and I decided to find out a little more about Robert.

One of the things I did know was that he died relatively young, in his early 30s, and his wife, Mary, whom he married in 1867, remarried just a few years later in 1872 as a widow. Strangely, I just couldn't pin the date of his death down; at this point it was sometime between those two marriages. Ancestry wasn't coming up with a death record, a probate, or burial, so I was just going to have to look around a bit more.

Search after search narrowed that window down a little. I found he had a son, John, born in May 1868. His birth record doesn't say that Robert had passed away, but by the time John is baptised in September 1871: "Father deceased". The parish baptism record notes that that baptism was "private", and that John was "Admitted in to the Church May 19 1872", and I note that that often meant the child was seriously ill.

John Whipp's baptism record. Baptisms at Roade, Northamptonshire, England. When baptized: 6 Sep 1871 (Private). Admitted in to the Church May 19 1872. Child's Christian Name: John. Parents' Christian Names: Robert and Mary. Parents' Surname: Whipp. Abode: Roade. Quality, Trade or Profession: Father deceased. By whom the ceremony was performed: A W Armand.
John Whipp's baptism record.

I also note that the baptism was in Roade, Northamptonshire, Mary's hometown some 60 miles away from where they were married.

I don't know why, but I searched for John next. That returned a whole bunch of records, a couple of them under his step-father's surname, right through to when John died in 1936, so I'm pleased to find out that if the private baptism was due to an illness, he survived that.

The 1871 census showed John, at the age of 2, as a boarder with a family in Wolston, Warwickshire. I didn't recognise the Matthews family, nor the location, but Mr Matthews, worked on the railway. I remembered that Mary's second husband, Eli, also worked on the railway, so there was a potential connection there.

So I searched for Mary herself next and clicked the 1871 census result. She was still a Whipp, but the first thing that caught my eye was that she was a servant, so that explained why her son wasn't with her. I hadn't really properly clocked the location, but as I clicked through to the written census return and read, that's when my eyes widened and I just stared at the screen.


Mary Whipp, a widowed 27-year-old working as a parlour maid at Brandon House, Warwickshire.

Brandon House. Brandon. Warwickshire.

Is that the same Brandon as Brandon Hall? I went back a page. Brandon Lodge. So I google... and it is.

I've been there. It's one of the preferred options for our work conferences so I know it reasonably well.

Brandon Hall used to be called Brandon Lodge, and Brandon House used to stand on the same estate.

A map from 1886 showing Brandon House and Brandon Lodge.
A map from 1886 showing Brandon House and Brandon Lodge.
Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

Comparing that to a current aerial shot of the estate and Brandon House would've been where part of the car park and health club/conference centre is today:

Brandon Hall, as seen from above in 2021.
Brandon Hall, as seen from above in 2021. Google Earth.

I found a photo online of Brandon House itself in 1906, but the restrictions on it mean I can't reproduce it here, but you can see it for yourself here.

I know it's just a coincidence, but I grew up around 70 miles from here, and didn't know of this place's existence until about eight years ago. It's just that I find it so super weird that there are only two people in that photo album I can identify, and one of them has an (indirect) connection to somewhere I know and have been to.

A view of the Brandon Hall conference centre/health club taken in 2015.
A view of the Brandon Hall conference centre/health club taken in 2015. I took this photo on my first visit to Brandon Hall in September 2015. It's looking directly towards where Brandon House would've stood.

Some final words...

After that surprise, let's finish this post with an important lesson: don't stick with just one genealogy website for your research.

I'll admit, the one I use most is Ancestry, but I'll happily search others from time to time, including Find My Past, Family Search, Scotland's People, and FreeBMD.

Remember how I said Ancestry couldn't find anything to do with Robert's death? Family Search did straight away, returning a result from the England & Wales Death Registration Index. Likewise, FreeBMD returns the same.

Find My Past returns not just that index record but also a parish burial register result, giving a burial date of 8th July 1870. Unfortunately, Robert's grave isn't one included on sites like Find A Grave, but at least I now roughly know his final resting place.

Sadly, an instant digital image of the death register isn't currently available for Robert's entry but, as I type, I'm waiting for the GRO to produce and send me a PDF version of his death certificate, so that'll be one more mystery (hopefully) solved.

So, yeah, lesson of the day - don't get disheartened if you're not getting the results you're looking for. Keep trying, try different routes, and spread your research!