On the trail of Joseph Mears

I am thrilled to be able to add some updated information on my 2x Great-Grandfather, Joseph Mears. He appears in a previous blog post here.

I was thrilled this week to be contacted by a reader who is also descended from Joseph Mears! It’s just wonderful to share findings with another family member and fill in a few gaps.

The reader is John Povey, who is descended from another of Joseph Mears’s daughters – Margaret Isabel. Thus, John and my father Colin had grandmothers who were sisters which makes them second cousins and quite close kin, in my opinion! As John remarked in his email to me, “there must be potential hundreds of distant relatives by now” given that we’re talking about a huge Victorian family with 12 children.

John’s contact prompted me to examine the records again to draw together some of the information we have about Joseph.

Joseph Mears first appears in the census of 1841. He was aged 3 at the time and living in Northampton with his parents – Edmund b.1801 and Catherine b.1803 – and siblings John b.1826, Patrick b.1829 and Edmund b.1841. All the family except the youngest sibling are recorded as having been born in Ireland. No other specifics are given here since the census merely required an indication of whether the individual was born in the county, or alternatively ‘Scotland, Ireland or Foreign Parts’.

However further information about the family’s origin can be gleaned from the 1851 census – where we find a 23 year old Joseph Mears – and the family still resident in Northampton. However, the census now required additional information about individuals’ places of birth to be collected. So, rather thrillingly, we can now determine that the family originated from County Roscommon in Ireland. The family had now been joined by another son, Peter b.1843. Patrick has disappeared from the family in Northampton in the 1851 census (see further details below!)

County Roscommon in the 19th century.

County Roscommon in the 19th century.

There are a number of questions as yet unanswered about the family – we don’t know why they migrated, and why they chose Northampton to settle. We don’t know the exact date they made the migration – although we can surmise it took place around 1840, after Joseph’s birth and before the birth of his younger brother Edmund who was born in England. There are also some discrepancies with the naming of Joseph’s father – who appears as Edmund in 1841 but subsequently is recorded as John (this could of course be something as simple as personal preference but it seems odd that Edmund is the name given in 1841).

John Povey was able to supply some information that I hadn’t previously had – he has a copy of Joseph Mears’s marriage certificate which records the wedding of Joseph Vincent Mears to Margaret Jane Lewis on 14th January 1865. Joseph was aged 25 and his bride was 17 years! Joseph records his father’s profession here as ‘cutler’, that is, a maker of cutlery. Edmund Mears is recorded as a ‘hawker’ in the 1841 census. Sadly, neither myself nor my resident historic document decoder (the husband!) can make out the profession Edmund (John, as he calls himself then) gives himself in the 1851 census, but it appears to be the same profession as his son, John.

Sticking with Joseph Mears for now, it looks as if he is starting out in the printing trade quite early. In the 1851 census we believe he is a ‘printer’s boy’ (at the age of 12). By 1861 he is recorded as a ‘printer’, and this is how he is also recorded at his marriage in 1865.

There is a bit of a mystery surrounding the wherabouts of the family after this date and until 1881. I haven’t been able to trace the family at all in the 1871 census and I imagine there might be some inaccurate transcription of the family name, perhaps. What we do know is that by the 1881 census the family has grown to number 8 children – Joseph Henry, Alice May, Catherine Helen, Charles Frederick, Florence Maud, Ethel Beatrice, Edith Jane and Agnes Theresa. I suspect – although I don’t have any evidence for this – that Ethel Beatrice and Edith Jane could have been twins. Places of birth for the children include Stourbridge and Kidderminster. John Povey, who is descended from one of the later siblings, continued to live in the Stourbridge area so we can see that this location continued to act as a base for the family – my grandmother Muriel Ethel Myra was later born in West Bromwich which was quite near to the West Midlands/Staffs area where her mother Ethel’s family were living.

Clearly the period I cannot account for concerns the time of Joseph’s cross-country move from Northamptonshire to the West Midlands area. The reason for this move is unclear – we may speculate that it had something to do with Joseph’s work as a printer and him seeking employment opportunities in this region. Perhaps he had a contact who offered him a job?

By 1886 Joseph was a newspaper proprietor – of the Kidderminster Sun and General Printing (as discussed in the last blog post).

The family grew to eventually number 12 children – I haven’t tracked all of them down yet but will focus on them in a future blog. If anyone is reading this who thinks they may be descended from Joseph Mears, the Kidderminster news magnate who had 12 children, then please do get in touch – there may be hundreds of us, potentially!

I always love to receive feedback of any sort so please do feel free to use the comment box or send me an email.

Postscript: there’s a bit of a mystery in my mind about Patrick Mears – Joseph Mears’s brother. He was born in about 1829 in Roscommon, Ireland, and, as I remarked above, seems to be absent from his family in the 1851 census. I have found a census entry from 1851 which possibly – probably? – relates to Patrick. He is listed as 22 years old and born in Ireland but now resident in Uxbridge, Middlesex (to the north of London). This Patrick gives his occupation as a hawker, the same profession as that given by his father Edmund previously. Patrick Mears has a wife, Anne, also aged 22 and born in Ireland. So far, so normal! Now for the baffling part: Patrick and Anne are joined in the household by a James Mears who is clearly labelled as their son, aged 10. Ten years old?!?! This means Patrick and Anne had their son at the age of 12. Thinking this VERY unlikely, I checked the 1861 census where I found Patrick and James (without Anne) living in Birmingham (interestingly, near Joseph Mears – Patrick’s younger brother). James is ten years old in this census so I can only assume that perhaps he was ten months in the 1851 census – or maybe ‘1’ and someone added a ‘0’ to the record by mistake to appear to be ’10’. Both James and his father Patrick are boarders with a family in the 1861 census – the Hogans, another family of Irish origin. Patrick is a ‘hawker of blocks’ in 1861 (answers on a postcard please as to what a ‘hawker of blocks’ might be?!). I’d be interested to know what happened to this family – where Anne went (did she die?) and whether Patrick did remain in contact with his brother Joseph as suggested by his relocation to the Midlands – but that’ll have to wait for another time!



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