John Walter Chapman, my 3 times great grandfather, was born between about 1835 and 1837, we believe in Ampthill, Bedfordshire, England. All the available evidence to date points to his parents being Thomas Chapman and Sophia Money, who married at Ampthill in 1819
However, there is a certain amount of mystery surrounding him, and a story which some of the descendants of John Walter Chapman have had passed down to them via their parents, grandparents etc…
We can say that the approximate birth date is most likely correct, as that is pretty much consistent throughout all the available census returns, and matches up pretty much to his age at his death in Preston, Lancashire in 1895. The birthplace of Ampthill, Bedfordshire is also consistently given. However, no record of a baptism has been found to date.
We can also say with certainty that John was a joiner.
The wife of a 2nd cousin twice removed has carried out quite a bit of research in the past into the Chapmans from the Ampthill area, and these can be traced several hundred years back to Steppingley, also in Bedfordshire. Among her research is information related to poor relief, which lists John as a child of Thomas.
On the 1841 Census, John Chapman aged 4 is listed living at “Grange”, Ampthill alongside others with the surname Chapman; Thomas – Ag. Lab. (60), Sophia (50), Thomas (15), William (15), Sophia (10) and Joseph, aged 7.
The residence before in 1841 lists another Chapman family – Thomas (35), Mary (30), Jane (2) and Emma (10 months)
In 1851 John is no longer in Bedfordshire, and is living with a family called Skinner in Ingrave, Essex, he is listed as a scholar, and there is no relationship given to the head of the household.
The head of the household at Ingrave is Edwin Skinner, aged 42, a school master born in Brede, Sussex. His wife is listed as Ann, aged 33 a school mistress born in Fittleworth, Sussex, their children being Sarah aged 9, Richard aged 7, Walter aged 5, Robert aged 3, and William aged 1. It is interesting that they have a son called Walter, given that Walter does not seem to appear anywhere else within either the immediate Chapman or Money families.
In the June quarter of 1841 there is a likely marriage for Edwin Skinner, to either a Harriet Bowles, Mary Budd or Martha Ann Hamman in the Chichester registration district.
I have found a possible baptism of Martha Ann Hamman to Luke Hamman and Elizabeth Farley on the 29th March 1818 at Burton Roman Catholic church in Sussex.
This could be significant, potentially. The family story I briefly mentioned earlier is that John Walter was born out of wedlock, and if he remained as a Catholic he would get some money from the Catholic Church for his upkeep. Apparently, he did not remain so, and, money went to the “little sisters of Nazareth”.
John married Elizabeth/Betsy Pym/Pimm at St. Peter’s Roman Catholic church in Lancaster, Lancashire in 1857, and although no father’s name appears on the marriage certificate that can be ordered, St. Peter’s church have in their records a note with the marriage saying that John was the son of Thomas and Sophie.
So is this conclusive proof?
Well, we cannot say with 100% certainty. What can be hoped for however, is that eventually the descendant of an aunt or uncle of John Walter does a DNA test, and we can then compare our results.
One other potential clue, is that living with John Walter Chapman and family in Preston, Lancashire in 1871 is a George Chapman, a nephew, aged 17, an iron works labourer born in Gawcott, Buckinghamshire, England.
There is a possible baptism for a George Chapman, to a James and Amy Anne at Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire on the 4th February 1855.
There is another potential baptism of a George Chapman at Paulerspury, Northamptonshire (Not very far away at all) to a William and Elizabeth on the 25th December 1854.
John, possible son of Thomas and Sophia did have a brother called William, however, there are baptisms to seemingly the same William and Elizabeth at Paulerspury going back to 1848, and William Chapman (brother of the possible John Walter Chapman) son of Thomas and Sophia is currently thought to appear on the 1851 census as a single man, at Oliver Street, Ampthill.
Perhaps time will eventually confirm or deny that John Walter was possibly a grandson of Thomas and Sophia, via an illegitimate birth, with the father being a Chapman, and the mother possibly being a Hamman/Hammon/Hammond or a Skinner. (I’m thinking Martha Ann Hamman was the likely wife of Edwin Skinner.)
If there are any descendants of any of the Hamman/Hammon/Hammond and Skinner families reading this, you may hold the keys to unlocking this mystery in your DNA.
Until then, I will continue checking my matches regularly.
Update 2nd June 2016 – I have been informed that a baptism record has been located at Ingrave, Essex. John was baptised to Thomas and Sophia.
Update 4th July 2016 – According to the records of Thorndon Hall RC Chapel, West Horndon, Essex, John Walter Chapman, son of Thomas and Elizabeth was born on the 14th March 1837 and baptised on the 19th April 1851. Research courtesy of P. Chapman