My great grandmother – Florence Ellen Bird – was born in Coventry on 25 September 1883 of William Henry and Helena Cora … should have been Cory … (formerly Jackman) Bird. After purchasing Florence’s birth certificate, the obvious next step was to locate the marriage of William and Helena to find out which William Henry Bird this was and trace this line back further. With such a rare name, it was easy to locate Helena’s marriage in the December quarter of 1879 in Exeter Registration District. However, the other people recorded on the same page of the marriage register were Henry Charles Marmaduke, Eliza Jane Mitchell and Edward Mark Skyrme…. no William Henry Bird in sight.
It would appear that Helena married Henry Charles Marmaduke on 6 December 1879 in the Parish Church of St Sidwell, Exeter. Just three months later, Helena gave birth to a son, William Henry Arthur Bird on 20 February 1880, son of William Henry Bird of the ‘Horse Artillery F. Battery’ in Nottingham at 23 Finkhill Street – what the devil was she doing there? And what had she done with her husband, Henry Charles Marmaduke? She would have been 6 months pregnant on her wedding day too…..
So, Florence Ellen Bird was born a few years later in 1883 and my grandmother always said that Florence had a brother called Richard but this has never been confirmed – how many Richard Bird’s are there born, heaven alone knows where bearing in mind Helena’s movements in the early 1880s!
In 1891, Florence was living with her aunt and uncle in South Brent in Devon and her mother, Helena was purporting to be the wife of John Creber Bickle in Meavy (RG12/1750/56/2) – John aged 62 and Helena just 35. They had two children together at the time of the census – Alice C. C. aged 2 and Celia J. aged 4 months – with other residents in the same household including stepson, William H. A. Bird aged 11 and three servants. So, what happened to William Henry Bird of the Royal Horse Artillery?
For many years, I was left wondering and I tried in vain to trace his military service. Then I was put in touch with William Spencer, a military expert (and author) who works at The National Archives (TNA). Knowing that William Henry Bird was a Corporal in the 69th South Lincolnshire Regiment in 1881, gave us a starting point to search the Muster Books and Pay Lists at TNA. WO16/1935 (1880-1882) helped to track his promotion from Private to Corporal on 13 May 1880 and then to Lance Corporal on 27 February 1882. The 69th South Lincolnshire Regiment became the 2nd Battalion Welsh Regiment in 1882 and William Henry was promoted once more to Lance Sergeant on 7 June 1882. Clearly, my great-great-grandfather was a good soldier as he was once again advanced to Paymaster Sergeant on 1 July 1883.
Continuing to track William through WO16/1727 and WO16/1728, finally my question was answered – William died in Cairo on 6 November 1887. I had recorded a possible military death of William Bird in 1887 but as it was registered only as William Bird, I had not ordered the death certificate as I was unconvinced. However, with pay lists to prove this was ‘my William’, the death certificate was duly ordered and his death of enteric fever aged just 28 was discovered.
William Henry Bird was born in Exeter on 5 August 1861 of George Smith and Eleanor Bird and was brought up by his grandparents, William and Hannah (sometimes Anna) Bird. The whereabouts of his parents after his birth are – as yet – unknown.