Posted on behalf of Mike Sheldon, Leicester
I found out my grandfather was the product of an illicit affair and eventual bigamous marriage. This led me to some incredible discoveries further back in my family tree.
I knew my great-grandmother, Eliza, became a mother at 16 and married at 17. However, when I found her listed in the 1901 Census as Eliza Burton, she was the head of her own household, with three children and a lodger named Thomas Sheldon – her husband was lodging some streets away.
My grandfather, William, was born later in 1901 and another brother George arrived in 1903. The most obvious clue that something was amiss was that the last three children (all boys) had the middle name of Sheldon and the last name of Burton.
I discovered that Eliza and Thomas eventually married in 1906. I ordered the marriage certificate, and found her status was “widow”. I’m certain this was a lie, as I’ve found her husband alive and well at the time, and he in fact remarried himself in 1908. Still, there was no divorce to my knowledge.
I followed the family’s progress, and found my grandfather’s brother Albert was killed in a chemical poisoning incident at the British Celanese company near Derby in 1930. Four others also died in the disaster, and it was even discussed in the House of Commons at the time. His widow received £800 compensation – a small fortune at the time.
I then worked backwards through the Sheldon line, and unearthed some fantastic family secrets. My favourite discovery was another Thomas Sheldon – my 3x great-uncle, had the words “Waterloo man” written on his burial record.
I dug deeper, and found his Army discharge papers at The National Archives – these were dated 1840 and stated he was in the Royal Horse Artillery at the Battle of Waterloo. You can see Thomas listed in the Waterloo Medal Roll.