Elusive (or Favourite) Ancestors

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The Half Life of Henry Hawkins of England and Newfoundland

by Rob Whitlock

I have been researching my family roots and those of a few friends since 2000 when I just happened to stumble into the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, with no family information in my possession. Somehow that brief contact led me into what looks like a life time passion with genealogy.

Within a couple of years I had discovered the work of fellow BCGS member Peter Whitlock and the Whitlock Family Association. The purchase of at most 4 or 5 certificates certificates connected me to Peter’s WHITLOCK.02H line, and instantaneously my Whitlocks were taken back to the early 1500s This was a breeze!

Henry_HawkinsThe remaining 10 years or so has been facing the challenge I face with my maternal line. According to his headstone in Newfoundland, my great-grandfather, Henry Hawkins1 died on December 29, 1905, at the age of 77, and he was from Dorset2. Thus begins the mystery.

The first official record of Henry’s life is the birth of his 3rd son, Henry Hooper Hawkins, in 1861, listed in the Methodist church records for Twillingate, the community he and his family would live the rest of his life. Subtracting 77 from 1905 establishes a year of birth of 1828. We have all done the math. So it should have been a straightforward look at parish records to find when and where he was born.

Henry_Hawkins-headstoneThere are threads of family lore leading the   research to the Christchurch area of Hampshire, my own visits to record offices in Winchester and Dorchester (Christchurch was moved administratively from Hampshire to Dorset in 1974) and vacation time in Christchurch. The only possible lead, ever so tantalizing, is an 1841 English Census listing for a Henry Hawkins (14) and an Dinah Hawkins (50 – living on her own means) in Iford, a tithing in the parish of Christchurch3. Family lore says that Henry arrive in Newfoundland in June 1846, so of course the research has centered on the time period between 1825 (and earlier) and 1846. In 1844, Dinah Hawkins dies at the age of 544 and a Stephen Hawkins, also of Iford, dies in 18435, both deaths witnessed by an Elizabeth West – all three were residents of Iford. There is at least one other Henry Hawkins born in Christchurch in 1828, but he is accounted for in the 1851 Census.

At the other geographic end of the research, Henry’s time between 1846 and 1856 in Newfoundland is accounted for on a year to year based on family lore, working for various individuals and companies. That same lore indicates that he married Alice Maidment in 1856, followed by the birth of their first and only daughter Elizabeth (about 1857), followed by 10 boys, one of whom was my grandfather Walter, born in 1865.

Presently I am in touch with two descendants of my grandfather’s brothers in Newfoundland and a private researcher in London, England looking at shipping records for 1846. I have looked at parish records for Christchurch, Congregational Church records for the same area and found many individuals and families named Hawkins. Reconstruction of some of these families has led to some interesting possibilities, but again no direct evidence for either Henry or Dinah. A William Breaker married a Susannah West in 1780. Breaker died a couple of years later. Susannah Breaker bears two children in 1786, Dinah and Hannah. A Joseph Hawkins marries a Susannah Breaker in 1787. Could this be the origins of Dinah Hawkins? Is Susannah West the link to the West family of Iford in the 1840s. Is the 1841 Dinah Hawkins the mother of Henry, an aunt, or another relative. And of course, where the heck was Henry born? The 1841 Census is perhaps the least informative as there is no indication of relationships, nor is the place of birth indicated other than whether the individual was born in the county where they are enumerated. If the family lore is correct, Henry had already left Christchurch via Poole by 1851.

The search will continue in Salt Lake City next month with a week of study on pre-1837 English records and research in the evenings. I will be looking at parish records in areas closest to Christchurch, such as Bransgore, Hinton, and a couple of communities a little further away but with known groupings of Hawkins families. Any advice would be of great assistance.

Contact: Rob Whitlock at robw.whitlock@gmail.com

1 Photo shown from family collection, likely taken in Boston, Mass., date unknown.
2 Photo shown of headstone, Hart’s Cove Cemetery, Twillingate, Newfoundland, from personal visit, May 2005.
3 1841 English Census, Christchurch, England, enumeration district of Iford.
4 Registration of death, Dinah Hawkins, October 1844, Iford in the Parish of Christchurch, England.
5 Registration of death, Stephen Hawkins, August 1843, Iford in the Parish of Christchurch, England.


As Winner of the BCGS 2013 Bring-A-Friend Membership Contest, Rob Whitlock won the opportunity to have his elusive ancestor, Henry Hawkins, featured first on the BCGS website.

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