I often advise people not to judge their ancestors too harshly and to remember that they were living in very different times to our own. Only this week a customer was enquiring about surviving records of one of the local workhouse infirmaries because her “naughty” grandmother had given birth to her illegitimate son there in December 1919. She’d been very briefly married to a chap who lost his life to a German sniper in November 1918 and had obviously found a little comfort in someone else’s arms but with unintended consequences. Being human rather than naughty I thought and encouraged the customer to think more kindly on her.
But in checking some details in one of my own family lines – the Heafields- this week I stumbled across a link to an entry in the Criminal Registers for January 1876 for Joseph Heafield which has resulted in my being much harsher in my consideration of one of my own ancesters. The entry in the Register is just a one liner and simply states that at the Birmingham Quarter Sessions of 10 January 1876 that a Joseph Heafield had been accused of “Unlawfully and Maliciously Wounding” and had been acquitted. I have two Joseph Heafields in my tree – a GG grandfather born in 1830 in Ashby de la Zouch and his son born 1859 in Tipton. By 1871 the family had moved to Aston, Warwickshire and it was therefore possible that the charge could have related to either one of them – most likely the younger one who’d have been 16 or 17 and so of an age to get into a bit of trouble or so I thought.
With no identifying information beyond the name I turned to local newspapers as I knew they usually gave a detailed account of the proceedings of the Quarter Sessions. And sure enough I found a short paragraph in the Birmingham Post for 12th January 1876 as follows:
My GG grandfather Joseph Heafield was born on 26 Nov 1830 and so would have been 45 in January 1876. His wife, Mary Moon was born c.1833 in Ashwick, Somerset and had moved with her family to Tipton too where they married in 1852. So the name, age and wife’s name all heavily suggest that this is indeed my ancestor. The only slight discrepancy is the occupation as in both 1871 and 1881 my Joseph is listed as a groom and the alleged wife wounder is described as a labourer. I checked to see that there were no other Joseph Heafield’s with a wife called Mary in either the 1871 or 1881 censuses – I’d hoped to find one but as I suspected there were none. So unless I find evidence to the contrary I am left with the very strong possibility that Joseph Heafield, my ancestor, was taken to court to face charges of maliciously wounding his wife, Mary, my GG grandmother. Somehow the fact of his acquittal doesn’t seem to suggest that he was innocent. Mary didn’t press charges and without her evidence that the wound was deliberately inflicted there was no case to answer. But the fact remains that Mary did have her throat cut by her husband, Joseph in a domestic dispute about the kitchen fire. And try as I might I can’t help but judge him for it.