a My Ratcliffe Puzzle
Suzannah Ratcliffe
Susannah Ratcliffe was something of a puzzle. When she married Jeremiah Rhodes on 14 November 1887, she did not give any details of her father, suggesting that she was illegitimate. Nothing strange in that, except that I had been unable to find any record of her birth to confirm the fact..

One clue included in her marriage details was that one of the witnesses was James Ratcliffe. Searching the 1881 census, he appears with his wife and two children staying as 'visitors' at Lane End, Mottram, the home of John Greenwood and his family. His daughter, Susannah, at the age of 13 matches the details expected for Susannah Ratcliffe. Also there was James Ratcliffe who I assumed must be Jane's brother. However, the 1871 census confuses the issue.

Still at Lane End, Mottram, Jane is then Jane Greenwood, the wife of John Higginbottom! Their children are Susana (sic) and James Greenwood of the right ages for my Ratcliffes. Each had 'R' as their middle initial and I suspected that this stood for Ratcliffe and that both were Jane's illegitimate children. This was confirmed by Susannah's birth certficate. The remarkable thing is that there was 11 years difference in their ages.

So why the Greenwood/Higginbottom anomoly? Checking the Cheshire BMD website shows that a John H Greenwood married Jane Ratcliffe at Old St George, Stalybridge in 1870. Obtaining the marriage certificate proved my guess that the initial 'H' in John's name stood for Higginbottom and that his name was incorrectly recorded by the enumerator. The certificate also told me that Jane's father's name was James.

The other nugget of information from the 1871 census is that boarding with John and Jane were Charles Ratcliffe, his wife and two children. Both Jane and Charles gave their place of birth as what looks like Burshedge, Yorkshire, as their place of birth, suggesting a family connection, possibly siblings.

Going back to the 1861 census, Jane is found living on Mottram Road with her mother, Susannah, her son James and Margaret Clayton, Susannah's grand-daughter. Jane gives her place of birth as Denby, Yorkshire, (Pensitone) while her mother names Royston-in-Barnsley. Checking Multimap, both places are close to each other, north east and north west of Barnsley. Also that there is an area called Birds Edge, presumably the 'Burshedge' referred to in 1871.

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Searching the IGI showed that James Ratcliffe had married Susannah White on 5 December 1825 at St Mary's, Barnsley. They had five children, baptised at St John the Baptist church, Denby, including Jane and Charles. It also appears that their mother, Susanna, was the only child of John White and Sarah Smith who married in Royston in 1793. I have not yet found likely parents for James Ratcliffe.

How and when the family moved from Yorskhire to Mottram isn't yet clear. I have not been able to find them on the 1851 census which suggests they crossed the Pennines between then and 1861. Interestingly, the Margaret Clayton mentioned above is the daughter of Sarah Anne Ratcliffe and Joseph Clayton who married in Huddersfield in 1848 and given that the child's birthplace is given as Mottram, it suggests that the this couple at least had moved there quite recently.

Thanks to the Yorksgen list, I have found one census reference to James Ratcliffe.in 1841, at Birds Edge, as expected. Susannah says that she is married in 1861, rather than widowed, but I have yet to find her husband.

So, to return to the original puzzle, Jane Ratcliffe who later married John Greenwood already had two illegitimate children. He was certainly too young to be James' father who was only ten years younger than his adoptive dad. Whether he was Susannah's father is likely to prove more difficult to confirm! However, she obviously regarded him as such, as demonstrated by naming her youngest son John Greenwood Rhodes.

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