Sunday, 6 May 2012

James Fairminer - a census puzzle

Tracing someone in the census can prove very frustrating at times, some people just do not want to be found! 
 I came across James Charles Fairminer whilst researching someone else and tracing him proved a challenge on its own. He appears in the 1881 census living in East Meon in Hampshire as a lodger with the Hobbs family. James is 22 years old and an agricultural labourer, he is with his wife Kate who is 25 years old, 6 year old Sarah Hobbs (who is described as an illegitimate daughter) and 8 month old Ann Fairminer.  Sarah is the daughter of Kate but it is unlikely that James is the father given he would only have been around 16 years old when she was born. As Sarah's surname is Hobbs it suggests that Kate was a Hobbs prior to her marriage and that she is therefore related to the family they are living with. 
As it turns out, James Charles Fairminer had married Kate Hobbs in 1880 and around six months later their daughter Ann was born in East Meon in Hampshire. Kate was the daughter of Mark and Mary Hobbs, she was born in 1855 in Steep just outside Petersfield. Both James and Kate can be traced back through the censuses to the 1861 census when James was 2 years old and living in Cheam with his parents James and Ann Fairminer, whilst a 5 year old Kate was with Mark and Mary Hobbs and her many siblings all living in Steep.
 Something must have happened during the next ten years as the 1891 census finds Kate still living in East Meon but as Kate Hobbs not Kate Fairminer. With her is Sarah who is now 17 years old and working as a domestic servant. There is no sign of James Fairminer. Searching all subsequent censuses finds no entries for James Fairminer and a search of deaths registered finds no evidence for his death either. Ann Fairminer daughter of James and Kate is also absent from the census but as it turns out she died shortly after her first birthday. 
There are many reasons someone can be appear to be missing from the census such as indexing errors and misspelt surnames but I did eventually find James Fairminer because the one detail which he was fairly consistent with in all his other censuses was that he was born in Cheam in 1859. I found James C Bridger in the 1891 census with his wife Elizabeth and two children; James aged 3 years and William aged 1 year. He is clearly entered as Bridger and not Fairminer so appears to simply share the same year and place of birth as James Fairminer except for the fact that he is living next door to a George Fairminer. A further search confirms that George Fairminer is a brother to James Fairminer and that Bridger is the maiden name of James and George's mother. So it appears that when James Fairminer's marriage to Kate Hobbs broke down Kate resumed her single life and James Charles Fairminer reinvented himself as James Charles Bridger. And as James Bridger he (bigamously) married Elizabeth Benham in 1885 and brought up his new large family - all as Bridgers. 
Divorce became more accessible in 1857 but it still offered only limited options; you could not divorce simply because you no longer wanted to be married to each other. So many couples continued as they had done in the past to separate and move away resuming a single life, just as Kate Hobbs and James Fairminer/Bridger did. 
Hopefully any Bridgers tracing their family back to James Bridger will be able to bridge the gap to James Fairminer.

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