Who was the father?

Updated 4 Jan 2020

Any genealogist or family historian who has researched more than two or three generations will almost certainly have found someone whose father does not appear on the entry of birth or baptism record.  In many cases there is no real clue as to the identity of the father and dubious speculation is all that will ever be available.

However, sometimes there is a clue.  In the case of my grandmother, “Nan”, this was in the form of unsupported family lore.  Much later, though, Nan’s mother and alleged father married, which adds some force to the argument – see Mystery number one: Nan (part 3).

The identity of the unnamed father is sometimes hinted at on official entries of birth, and there are two examples in my tree that I have found.

Unlike the Challoner connection, there is no direct contribution to my genes in these, but it can be a way of piercing brick walls.


This concerns Thomas Fairfield Dennis, who appears in the 1861 census at Watling Street, Hammerwich (Brownhills), Staffordshire, aged 3, grandson of William Dennis (brother to my second great grandfather Henry).  In this household were 3 sons and 3 daughters (and there were 2 older children), with no indication as to which, if any, was the parent.  So I sent of for the entry of birth.

Detail from entry of birth for Thomas Fairfield Dennis, 1858.

This shows that Mary Dennis, the oldest daughter at home in the 1861 census, registered the birth of her son on 25 May 1858, when she lived at Webb’s Row.  The father is not recorded, but the name Thomas Fairfield is probably a giveaway.

The likelihood is that the father was Thomas Fairfield and a similar age to Mary, who was not quite eighteen when she became pregnant in summer 1857.  In the 1861 census there is only one Thomas Fairfield that fits.  He lived less that half a mile away at the White Horse Inn, where his step-father Samuel Bickley was a beerhouse keeper, but was only 17 when son Thomas Fairfield was born.  At those ages, even if both wanted to marry, they would have needed parental consent, or a special license, to do so, and these may not have been forthcoming.  As it turned out Mary would marry in 1863 and bring up a family of her own.


This concerns children of another sibling of second great grandfather Henry Dennis, his younger sister Elizabeth, born Moira, Leicestershire in 1818.  In all she had seven children, born between 1839 and 1860, but never married.  How did she support such a large brood?  Two daughters were curiously named Selina Hough Dennis and Mary Hough Dennis.  On the same basis as Fairfield, it seems likely that the father was named Hough.

In 1851 Selina, a lace runner, 32 and unmarried, lived at Moira Village with her mother (widow, charwoman), and children Selina (nurse), Mary and William.

In 1861 Selina, charwoman, 42 and still unmarried, with daughter Mary and four other children, now at Donisthorpe, a short distance from Moira, next to the Caves Arms.

In 1871 Selina, still charwoman, at Donisthorpe Lane, Donisthorpe.  The children were gone and there were two lodgers: a widowed bricklayer and a railway excavator (navvy).

In all of these there is no hint of a Hough.

One of the wealthier men in the area was one William Hough.  In 1851 he was at Bromboro[ugh] Farm, which lay off the road to Moira.  He was 33 (same age as Elizabeth), unmarried, occupation brickmaker.  In 1851 at Bramboro Farm, near to Moira Village, unmarried, brickmaker.  In 1861 at Rawdon Arms, Moira, unmarried, brickmaker, with father, William Snr, farmer of 300 acres.  Today, Bramborough Farm stands east of Measham Road (between Moira and Donisthorpe).

Brambro Farm OS 1881 1882 1884
Brambro Farm (ringed top right), near Moira and Donisthorpe, Leicestershire. Caves Arms also ringed bottom left. Ordnance Survey. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

In 1871 William Jnr is nowhere to be seen, but William Snr was still at Rawdon Arms.  It is clear from news reports that he owned a lot of property, including inns and hotels, and toll gate franchises that he let out.  When he died in 1872 his effects were “under £5,000”.  He was wealthy and influential, and his son, William Jnr, would also have been wealthy and influential.

In 1881 William Jnr was once again at the Rawdon Arms, where the innkeeper was his sister Rachel.  William was still unmarried, and a retired brickmaker.

It seems reasonable to suppose, given his single status that William Jnr was father of at least two of Elizabeth’s daughters, if not all of her children.  Perhaps she was a “kept woman”?

Clearly, this is speculative, but it is a hypothesis that fits the few facts available.

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