It was about ten years ago that I discovered that our branch of the Warner family was descended from a man named William Warner who migrated with his parents from England to Canada in the late 1820s. All I knew about his parents was that his father was also named William.

I still didn’t know his mother’s name or where in England the family came from. I knew that William was probably* born in England during the second half of 1807 or the first five months of 1808, because that’s what his burial record (below) says. It says that he was thirty-eight years old when he died at the end of May, 1845.

* I say “probably” because death records are based on what the immediate family knew or remembered at the time the person died. They often contain wrong information about the date or place of birth.

William Warner’s burial record at the York General Burying Ground (13th line from top)
Toronto Trust Cemeteries; Toronto, Canada; Cemetery: Potters’ Field Cemetery; Volume: 01; Year Range: 1826-1850 (click on image to enlarge)

So I needed to look at English birth and christening records to see if I could find a William Warner who was the son of a William Warner and who was born in 1807 or 1808., turned out to be the most useful source for that. The problem was that I found not one, but seven who matched the search criteria.

What turned up when I searched for a William Warner born in England, between 1807 and 1808, to a father named William Warner

Which one, if any, was the right one?

I had a stroke of luck when I looked at the names of the mothers. Among the seven young English women who, in 1807 or 1808, bore a son named William Warner to a husband named William Warner, there were three Sarahs, two Elizabeths, a Margaret, and a Hannah. Only two of the seven records gave the mother’s maiden name. One of those was Hannah Benson of the village of Howden in Yorkshire.

That gave me a hunch.

I knew that the William I was looking for had fathered a son named James (my great great grandfather), born in Montreal about 1837, and that James had fathered a son, born in Toronto in 1864, whom he named Thomas Benson Warner.

So is it possible that James gave little Tom the middle name “Benson” because it was his own grandmother’s maiden name? If Hannah Benson were James’s grandmother, it would make sense for him to honour her in naming one of his children.

A second, and much less convincing piece of circumstantial evidence is the prevalence of the name “Hannah” in our branch of the family. James had only two sisters that we know of and one of them was named Hannah Maria Warner. He gave the same name to his second daughter, Hannah Maria Warner. The problem is that the same handful of women’s names – Martha, Sarah, Ann, Elizabeth, Margaret, Hannah – seemed to get used over again and again in those days, and Hannah was one of the most common.

So we had one fairly good bit of circumstantial evidence, and one that was much less persuasive, to support a working hypothesis that our ancestor William Warner was the son of William Warner and Hannah Benson of the village of Howden.

If the hypothesis were correct, then I would also know, based on other English records available through, the names of his paternal grandparents and, most importantly for the subject of this post, the names of his aunts and uncles who, less courageous or perhaps less destitute than William’s father, had decided to stay behind in Yorkshire when their brother and his wife set sail for Canada.

If I knew that, then maybe I could even find some of my distant cousins who still live on the other side of the Atlantic.

The hypothesis remained unproven for several years. The historical evidence just didn’t seem to exist to confirm it or to reject it.

What historical evidence couldn’t do, DNA evidence (in my judgment, at least) finally did.

That’s what I’d like to tell you about in my next post.

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