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My Ancestor Was Adopted
Genealogy and family tree oriented news feeds are regularly filled with amazing stories of how many adoptees are able to identify their birth parents and other family members. This is a very different and unique type of adoption story because it is not present day. This is a summarized narrative of the discovery that one of my ancestors was adopted, which was previously unknown to any living descendants. With this discovery came the surprise that the surname which I carry resulted not from the birth of my ancestor, but from his adoption.
This summarized narrative serves two purposes. First, it serves an example of the need to be extremely thorough in family tree research. Second, it demonstrates that you need to be willing to recognize, admit, and learn from mistakes. The image above is a painting by Edward Lamson Henry from 1885, which is titled “The Latest Village Scandal.” This seemed to be a fitting image, especially given the title, as will be shown below. The image was soured here and was edited via Adobe Photoshop Elements.
Stage 1: The Paper Trail Research Seemed Conclusive
Years ago, I receive an undocumented family tree passed down in my family. The information indicated that my second great grandfather is Joseph Worland Barron, that he was born on October 28, 1841 in Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, England, and that he died on April 28, 1932 in Lockport, Niagara County, New York, USA. It also indicated that he was the son of Joseph Stockbridge Barron and Maria Worland, and gave further information about both of them, as well.
Any undocumented family tree information needs to be verified with traditional paper trail research, and guided by recognized genealogical standards of proof. This includes researching for documentation to support and verify any findings and conclusions, and can consist of birth, marriage, and death records, census records, newspaper articles, etc. One obvious research approach is to work backwards, which I did in this situation. My research began with obtaining the death record for Joseph Worland Barron, which is shown below. The death record contains a number of data points that interlock with other records, including his address, the maiden name of his wife, and that his daughter was listed as being the informant. And in particular, it lists the full names of both of his parents, which matches the family tree that was handed down in my family.
Based on this death record alone, some casual researchers might conclude that this is more than enough verification that Joseph Worland Barron was the son of Joseph Stockbridge Barron and Maria Worland, and they might move on from there. My experience has shown that in depth research, and obtaining every possible record that you can identify, will frequently lead to some type of interesting finding about that person and family.
That is exactly what I did in this situation, and all other records continued to confirm and support the same family structure. Multiple records showed Joseph Worland Barron living with his parents, including the census records from 1870, 1865, 1860 (shown above, as one example), and 1855.
Stage 2: The Discrepancy Was Identified
The undocumented family tree information indicated that the entire family was born in England. This was confirmed by the death record above, as well as the census records, so I continued with my research going backward in time. After some extensive research, I finally found the family on the 1851 census in England, which would be the first census that Joseph Worland Barron would have appeared on. Beyond any reasonable doubt, the census record was a match for the family based on interlocking information of all of the names, ages, occupation, and birth locations listed. The only problem was that the census enumeration did not show a son named named Joseph Worland Barron, who would have been 9 years old, and he was the only family member that seemed to be missing.
The census record did show someone in the household named Nottage Worland, who was 9 years old, as shown above. The census indicates that his relation to Joseph Stockbridge Barron was that of a son in law. So who was this Nottage Worland, and how could he be a son in law at only the age of 9? And where was Joseph Worland Barron?
Stage 3: Revising and Correcting My Research
It was at about this time that I noticed another apparent discrepancy. All of my paper trail research showed that Joseph Worland Barron was born on October 28, 1841, but his parents, Joseph Stockbridge Barron and Maria Worland, were not married until August 5, 1843. This nearly two year gap in time was something that I had previously overlooked, which meant that Joseph was born before they were married.
After some further research, I then learned that usage of the term “son in law” meant something completely different in that era, and referred to a step son. My open ended speculation began to question whether Maria was previously married and possibly a widow, and whether Nottage Worland was the biological son of Maria. The interesting fact remained that Nottage shared the Worland surname with Maria. After obtaining the marriage record of Joseph Stockbridge Barron and Maria Worland, I was able to verify that Worland was her maiden name, as her father was listed as Samuel Worland. Next, I did some searching on the name Nottage Worland, and much to my surprise, I found the following.
Though an actual image of the source document is not available, the same index based record shown above was found on Ancestry, FamilySearch, and Findmypast. The interlocking and matching data points include the name of Nottage Worland, the birth date, the name of his mother, and the location. Based on all of the documentation identified, and as there were no other potential conflicting records, it was reasonable to conclude the following. Nottage Worland was born out of wedlock to Maria Worland on October 28, 1841, and was christened with the maiden surname of his mother. Maria married Joseph Stockbridge Barron nearly two years later on August 5, 1843. The 1851 census lists Nottage Worland as the “son in law” (i.e. step son) of Joseph Stockbridge Barron, indicating that he was not the biological father. The family emigrated to America circa 1852, and all records subsequent to 1855 show that the name of Nottage Worland was changed to Joseph Worland Barron.
Stage 4: Future DNA Clues
Besides exhausting the paper trail research, I also began to explore for potential DNA matches. Using the family members that I had already tested with AncestryDNA, I was not able to immediately identify any matches with the Worland surname. As a result, I elected to take a Y-Chromosome DNA (Y-DNA) test from FamilyTreeDNA, as I was already curious and interested in taking this particular test. The Y-DNA test can only be taken by males, and it examines the Y-Chromosome which is passed from father to son, generation by generation. Matches with a Y-DNA test enable identifying a common paternal ancestor.
After receiving the results of my Y-DNA test from FamilyTreeeDNA, the image above shows the first two closest matches. Take note of the surname of the two matches, and I’ve blurred out their forenames for privacy reasons. Neither of the two has yet to respond back to an e-mail inquiry, but given the surname that they carry, it raises some interesting questions and speculation concerning Nottage Worland.
Summary and Speculation
This story is not yet finished or complete, and there are a number aspects to ponder, speculate, and continue researching. First and foremost, I wonder what life was like for Maria, and getting pregnant out of wedlock in 1841 at the age of 22. There is one key speculation that may have already registered with you. His birth name was Nottage Worland, so his forename was Nottage. Then take note of my two closest Y-DNA matches, and how their surname is Nottage. The combination of those two facts provides a very strong case for speculating that Nottage was the surname of the father. Given the combination of all of the findings, below is the revised ancestry of my second great grandfather, who was born as Nottage Worland and became Joseph Worland Barron.
Was the forename chosen because the father did not want to marry Maria? Was it chosen because he was already married, and denied the child was his? With either of these possibilities, the selection of the forename certainly could have been an “in your face” response. It surely would have led to gossip as to which Nottage was the father, as there were multiple men with the Nottage surname in the village at that time. When I ran across the painting “The Latest Village Scandal” by Edward Lamson Henry, you can now see why I thought it was an appropriate painting and title to use and recount her story. For those curious about the size of the village, the population of Cottenham was about 2,300 in 1851. Then I have to wonder and speculate about the character of Joseph Stockbridge Barron. Maria was nearly five years older than Joseph. She was an unwed mother of son that was nearly two years old, and he chose to marry her when he was 19 years of age. Obviously, social mores in that era were dramatically different in 1843 than today.
It was interesting to discover that the surname that I carry originated through adoption, and though this was quite unexpected, it does not bother me in any way. Some have even joked that I should change my name to Tim Nottage. In the future, some research will need to be done into the ancestry of my two closest Y-DNA matches which have the Nottage surname, and some further clues might be identified. Hopefully, this account serves a simplistic example of the need to be extremely thorough in genealogical research, as well as demonstrate that you need to be willing to recognize, admit, and learn from mistakes.
For those that might be curious, below is a photo of my second great grandfather, Joseph Worland Barron, who was born as Nottage Worland. There are no known photographs of his birth mother, who was Maria Worland, or his adoptive father, who was Joseph Stockbridge Barron.
© Copyright - Timothy J. Barron - This page was updated March 12, 2023