Saturday, February 19, 2011

Where is Maria Jones?

Maria JONES was my great-grandmother. She married my great-grandfather William WALTERS on Christmas Day in 1885 in St. Silas church in the Lozells area of Aston (Birmingham). She and William had 7 children, including my grandfather Cyril.

Maria is an enigma. According to a cousin of my father (she was Maria's eldest grandchild), Maria was Jewish, born to a mother called Selina or Sarah LEVY. The story had it that Maria's mother was ousted from her Jewish family for marrying outside her religion. None of Maria's children were raised Jewish.

Maria's father, according to her marriage certificate, was Levi JONES, a pearl button maker. I have searched for a marriage of a Levi and a Sarah but cannot find one.

I have Maria in the 1881 census. She is a boarder with the Eli WORWOOD family. I have also found - I think - Levi JONES, pearl button maker, living in the same neighbourhood as Maria. He claims to be married but there is no wife on the census with him, although he does have several lodgers. Levi was with his wife before 1881.

And that is all I can find about Maria in the records available. I have searched the birth records of Aston and Birmingham RDs for all of the Marias born around 1860 - none of them have Levi as a father.  I cannot find Maria in any census before 1881, although I can find Levi JONES and his wife and children. I have followed their families backwards and forwards looking for some connection to Maria. I have looked for a Sarah or Selina LEVY in the censuses to no avail.

I have searched the 1851 religious census of England - that was momentarily exciting because Levi JONES' parents and siblings were listed there as Jewish, however correspondence with the compiler of the census records revealed that they had been placed on the list because some of the children had names that were also common in Jewish families - they have since been removed as there is not one shred of evidence that the family were Jewish and plenty of records indicating otherwise.

I have searched for wills of Maria and Levi to no avail. I have scrolled through microfiche of the parish registers of Aston and Birmingham looking for a stray Maria. I wrote up the story of my brick wall and it was published in Family History Monthly with comments from their expert. I have tried to find out more from my Dad's elderly cousin's son but sadly she passed away recently. I have had phone conversations with another elderly cousin who can add nothing except a vague memory of the name Solly Diamond in connection with Maria. I  have gone off on wild goose chases through the census records following a Sarah LAVEY but can find no connection there either. I have plotted the addresses for Levi JONES and scrolled through census returns in places nearby. 

I obtained a mitochondrial DNA sample from my Dad's female cousin whose mother was Maria's daughter. My reasoning there was that if the DNA sample indicated a haplogroup common amongst Jews, then that might lend some credence to the rumour. However it did not, thereby ruling nothing in or out.

I haven't found a single clue to Maria's existence before 1881.

Levi JONES died in 1886 - he hanged himself in the wash-house as seen in this entry in the Birmingham Daily Post for 22 July 1886. The record from the coroner's inquest sadly does not survive - would it have contained a clue?

Levi JONES's wife was Catherine DEVEY - is this story just a confusion of the names LEVY, Levi, and DEVEY? On the other hand, the name Maria appears frequently in Levi's family tree.

Does Levi JONES have any real connection to Maria? Is Maria Levi's illegitimate child? Was she adopted or fostered  by Levi and his wife ? Adoptions at that time were informal so there are no records to search there. Was Maria the daughter of Levi's wife, or another family member? Levi and Catherine had a daughter Jane who was probably a year younger than Maria - I think I have ruled out the possibility that she and Maria are one and the same but perhaps this is a mistake.

Here is Maria about 1915 with three of her sons in Leicester - my grandad Cyril is the young lad on Maria's left.

I return to Maria from time to time in the hopes that a clue will leap out at me - one day . . .

More recent research has turned up Maria and her husband William Walters as witnesses to the marriage of Levi Frederick Jones and Harriet Lucy Ford at St. Andrew's church, Bordesley, 7 Sept. 1884. Levi Frederick is the son of Levi JONES (above) - thought to be Maria's father. This is the only sighting that connects Maria to Levi, and seems to confirm the family connection. So it looks increasingly likely that Levi Jones WAS Maria's father. But no records show this and Maria is still elusive.

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