Mercy TROWER: what happened between the 1881 census and 1891 census?

22 Apr

Mercy TROWER was my 3x great aunt, daughter of Henry and Jane TROWER of Henfield, Sussex. She was born in Henfield in 1852 and like most of the young women appears to have gone into domestic service. She died in March 1929 and was buried back in Henfield, although she had been living on the coast in Portslade, Sussex.

At first glance there is nothing unusual about Mercy, apart perhaps from her name, but what really troubles me is the fact that in the 1881 census she is Mercy TROWER, but in the 1891 census she is Mercy STEADMAN and a widow. Now I am pretty certain this is her, and she is likewise using the name STEADMAN in the 1901 census. The reason I am so certain is that when she dies probate is granted to her sister Ruth TROWER.

The obvious answer is that she got married but I can find no record of Mercy TROWER marrying a STEADMAN. What have found just confuses things even further! On the 21st May, 28th May and 4th June 1882 banns were read at St. Peter’s Church, Henfield for the marriage of Mercy TROWER and George BARLEY (both were of the parish of Henfield).

I can find no record of a marriage, between Mercy TROWER and George BARLEY either in the Henfield marriage register or the GRO civil registration indexes. I have also checked the indexes for a marriage between Mercy BARLEY and a STEADMAN, but that doesn’t show up either, nor do any other name variations that I can think of.

So, what is the story here? There seems so many possible explanations, but all of them as unlikely as the next. Did she marry twice and was widowed twice? Did the first propsed marriage fall through and there was only one marriage and she was then widowed? Did they run off somewhere (overseas) and get married? Was she using an alias and just pretending to be a widow? Was George BARLEY using an alias? Did she change her name after she was widowed?

This is one mystery I really would like to get to the bottom of. I have a couple of things still to do, which may provide further clues. Firstly, get a copy of her death certificate and second get a copy of her will and see if they provide any clues, although I very much doubt it. After that I could check to see if she is mentioned in the parish magazine for Henfield (if it survives) or in the local paper. Just to be on the safe side I should check passenger lists as well to see if she did leave the country.

I can’t really call this a brick wall, I know when she was born and died, she is not a direct ancestor, so it is not really a problem if I never find out what happened to her, but I enjoy a challenge so I don’t want to just let it go. I feel there must be an interesting story in there, maybe just a tragic one, but either way it deserves to be told.

If you spot Mercy TROWER/BARLEY/STEADMAN between 1881 and 1891 please let me know, I really would like to fill in some gaps….

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