Myth-Busting: What We Don’t Know About John Hodgkinson

In my last post, I summarized the basic vital data about John Hodgkinson, United Empire Loyalist (U.E.), that I believe is supported by evidence from the historical record. However, there are quite a few family trees out there that make some unusual claims and connections to this family, and offer no evidence to support those assertions. Today, I’d like to discuss a few of the common claims regarding the origins and immediate family of John Hodgkinson.

Let’s begin with a few of the most popular statements found in family trees pertaining to John Hodgkinson, U.E.:

  1. John Hodgkinson was born 29 November 1750 in London, England.
  2. John Hodgkinson was born 29 December 1753 in Mansfield, Nottingham, England to John Hodgkinson and Sarah Godley.
  3. John Hodgkinson was married to Sarah Carey Marle on 6 June 1781 in St. Leonards, Shoreditch, London, England.
  4. John Hodgkinson died on 26 October 1826.
  5. John Hodgkinson had other children besides the ones discussed previously (namely, Samuel, Ellender, Francis, and Robert).

Let’s examine these individually.

Statement 1: John Hodgkinson was born 29 November 1750 in London, England

Records from the Hodgkinson Family Burying Ground indicate that John Hodgkinson, U.E., was born in 1750 and died in 1832,1 but there is no specific birth date suggested by Canadian records, nor do we have any definitive evidence for where he might have been born. Certainly, as a Loyalist, he was living in the American Colonies prior to the start of the Revolutionary War, but that’s about all we know for sure. The lack of promising matches for John’s birth or baptism in indexed collections of American Colonial records suggests that there might be some merit to the hypothesis of a birth in England, however. Moreover, the Greater London area was something of a hotspot for this surname in 1881, based on the surname distribution map shown in Figure 1.2 Unfortunately, data for years prior to 1881 are not available, but assuming it’s safe (?) to extrapolate these data to the previous century, then we can infer that the Hodgkinson surname was also quite prevalent in Lancashire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Cheshire, Yorkshire, and Staffordshire at the time of John Hodgkinson’s birth. (The popularity within those counties varies based on the the specific parameter in consideration—incidence, frequency, or rank within the area.)

Figure 1: Geographic distribution of the Hodgkinson surname by counties in England in 1881. Darker colors represent higher surname densities.

Unfortunately, geographic surname distributions are not especially helpful at predicting a family’s origins when it comes to relatively popular surnames. It doesn’t matter if there were only nine Hodgkinsons living in Northumberland in 1881; if you can definitively trace your ancestry back to them, then you don’t care that the surname is relatively rare in Northumberland. So, while it’s entirely possible that John Hodgkinson, U.E., was born in London on 29 November 1750—and plenty of people seem to believe this to be true, based on all those online trees out there—there needs to be some evidence for this assertion, because that’s certainly not the only place he could have been born. In fact, a quick search of indexed records on FamilySearch for “John Hodgkinson” born in London, England in 1750, produces a slew of possible vital records from all over England. “Hodgkinson” is just not an especially unique surname, so it’s not clear to me how a certain percentage of the Genealogical Community at Large decided that this information was reliable.

Statement 2: John Hodgkinson was born 29 December 1753 in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, England to John Hodgkinson and Sarah Godley

This second hypothesis is perhaps even more popular than the first, and what makes it so intriguing is that some evidence is offered for this assertion. Several Hodgkinson trees online cite birth records for John Hodgkinson, William Hodgkinson, and a purported sister, Mary Hodgkinson, all baptized in Mansfield, and all of whom were recorded as children of John and Sarah Hodgkinson.3 Moreover, there’s a marriage record for John Hodgkinson and Sarah Godley, who are assumed to be the parents of these children.4 John’s “birth record” is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: John Hodgkinson in Ancestry’s database, “England and Wales Christening Index, 1530–1980.”

On the surface, these data fit the research problem nicely, and it’s very appealing to hope that this hypothesis might be true. Mansfield in Nottinghamshire lies squarely within that “Hodgkinson surname hot zone” shown in Figure 1. Although no maiden name was reported for the mother on the baptismal records of John (baptized 29 December 1753), Mary (baptized 6 April 1755), and William (baptized 10 April 1759), it’s logical to suppose that they might be siblings since the parents’ names are the same in all cases, and they were all baptized in the same place. The marriage of John Hodgkinson “Senior” and Sarah Godley in Mansfield England on 25 June 1752 would fit nicely with the timing of the children’s births, suggesting that this groom and bride might be the same John and Sarah Hodgkinson that were identified in the baptismal records. But how does this family group compare with existing data for the Loyalist Hodgkinsons?

Well, John’s baptism in 1753 is sufficiently close to his documented birth date of 1750 as to make this plausible, especially since the birth date recorded in the Hodgkinson Burying Ground records may have been calculated from his supposed age at the time of death, which may have been “off” by a few years. The structure of this family group is consistent with Canadian evidence indicating that John Hodgkinson was older than his brother, William, as well. It’s also possible that the Mary Hodgkinson identified in the baptismal record could be the “Mary Huskinson” who was recorded as the godmother to Ellender “Huskinson” in the records of the Dutch Reformed Church in Schaghticoke.5 However, if this hypothesis is correct, then William was baptized quite a long time after his birth on 12 August 1751, which is the date cited by the transcript of grave markers from the Hodgkinson Family Burying Ground.6 Could it be that he was actually born in 1751, but baptized as late as 1759? That seems unlikely, in light of existing evidence that the vast majority of babies were baptized within a week after birth in 16th- and 17th-century England.7 Nonetheless, exceptions did exist, and some families were more lax than others in baptizing their children soon after birth. Furthermore, if this were true for the Hodgkinson family of Mansfield, it would also help to reconcile that discrepancy between John’s date of birth according to his grave marker (1750) and his date of baptism.

Any time we find an “index only” record, such as these records for the baptisms of the Hodgkinson siblings and the marriage record for John Hodgkinson and Sarah Godley, it’s useful to go to the source and view the original documents from which the indexed information was taken. John Hodgkinson’s birth record was found in Ancestry’s “England and Wales Christening Index, 1530–1980” database, and the marriage record for John Hodgkinson (“Senior”) and Sarah Godley was similarly found in Ancestry’s “England and Wales Marriages, 1538–1988” database. As the source for the information in both these databases, Ancestry cites the British Isles Vital Records Index, 2nd Edition, published by the Genealogical Society of Utah (the progenitor of FamilySearch) as the source. So in this case, the source of the information is an index citing another index.

A similar situation occurs when searching for these individuals at FamilySearch. William’s and Mary’s birth records can be found in the database, “England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” and I suspect that John must be in there as well, although he was curiously absent in searches of the database, both broad and narrow. Mary’s search result is shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Search result for Mary Hodgkinson, born 1755, in the “England Births and Christenings, 1538–1975” database at FamilySearch.

This particular database is one of FamilySearch‘s “Legacy” databases. Unlike collections of indexed historical records from one particular place, FamilySearch‘s Legacy collections are compilations of records obtained from a variety of sources, including user-contributed (i.e. unverified) data previously published in the International Genealogical Index (IGI). As FamilySearch cautions on their Wiki article about this database, “As this is an index of records compiled from various sources, it is strongly recommended that you verify any information you find with original records.

Where to find those original records? An easy way to do that is to click on the drop-down arrow for “Document Information.” This displays important information about the original source, as shown in Figure 4, including the digital folder number and the microfilm number.

Figure 4: Document information, boxed in red, for the baptismal record of Mary Hodgkinson, indexed in “England Births and Christenings, 1538–1975.”

FamilySearch has recently made some updates to their website, and that may be why some of the search features and links seem “glitchy” to me. You’d think, for example, that clicking on the microfilm number shown in Figure 4 would take you to the catalog entry for that film number. Unfortunately, it links instead to a “No Results Found” page in the Records search. That means we have to take matters into our own hands and navigate to the FamilySearch Catalog, and from there, choose “Search for Film/Fiche Number,” and then paste in (or retype) the film number, 503789. That brings up the page shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5: Result of the search for Film/Fiche Number 503789 in the FamilySearch Catalog.

This tells us that Film number 503789 contains Bishop’s transcripts from two different parishes in Nottinghamshire, Linby and Mansfield. Since the indexed entry stated that the Hodgkinsons were from Mansfield, we can assume it’s that second collection, “Items 2–3: Bishop’s transcripts, Mansfield (Nottingham), 1598–1903” that must contain the images of the baptismal records for John, William and Mary Hodgkinson. (In fact, as an alternative to looking up the film number contained in the Document Information, we could also search according to Place [Mansfield] in the FamilySearch Catalog and find the original images that way.)

Following through with either one of those methods will bring us to the page shown in Figure 6, which contains details on the available Bishop’s transcripts from the parish of Mansfield.

Figure 6: Detailed description and film/digital notes for the FamilySearch collection, “Bishop’s transcripts, Mansfield (Nottingham), 1598–1903.”

At last, our efforts are rewarded with the information that items 2–3 on film 503789 contain “Baptisms, marriages, burials, 1598–1760,” which is right where we would expect to find the three Hodgkinson baptismal records and the parents’ marriage record. Since the images are not available for home viewing, I had to visit my local FamilySearch Affiliate Library in order to obtain copies. Unfortunately, the original images contain no additional information beyond what was indexed. William Hodgkinson’s birth is shown in Figure 7 as an example.8

Figure 7: Baptismal record for William Hodgkinson from the Bishop’s transcripts of the parish church in Mansfield, 10 April 1759.

So what does this do for us in evaluating the hypothesis that John Hodgkinson, U.E., was baptized in Mansfield on 29 December 1753 and was the son of John Hodgkinson and Sarah, whose maiden name was probably Godley? As far as I’m concerned, the jury is still out. Reasonably exhaustive research is one of the criteria required by the Genealogical Proof Standard before we can consider this hypothesis to be proven. While evidence from Canadian records may well have been exhausted, there may still be some insight that can be gained from deeper research in British records. Do John, William and Mary Hodgkinson “disappear” from British records, or can potentially relevant marriage or death records be found, which might imply that these individuals did not emigrate? Do the original parish vital records (not bishop’s transcripts) contain any information not found in the copies? Can evidence for the departure of John, William and Mary Hodgkinson be found in parish chest records from Mansfield? Can probate records be discovered for John Senior or Sarah (Godley) Hodgkinson, which mention children living in the American Colonies? Until answers are found to these questions, I think it can only be said that this is an interesting—and plausible—hypothesis in need of further research.

Statement 3: John Hodgkinson was married to Sarah Carey Marle on 6 June 1781 in St. Leonards, Shoreditch, London, England.

Moving right along, there are a number of family trees that contain the claim that the Sarah Hodgkinson who was married to John Hodgkinson, U.E., was in fact, Sarah Carey Marle (1782–1854). According to these trees, Sarah was the mother of Samuel, Robert, and Francis Hodgkinson of Grantham, Upper Canada. These claims originate with this marriage record for John Hodgkinson and Sarah Carey from St. Leonard’s Church (also known as Shoreditch Church) in London (Figure 8).9

Figure 8: Marriage record from Shoreditch Church, London, for John Hodgkinson and Sarah Carey, 6 June 1781.

This marriage record can be considered as solid evidence that a John Hodgkinson, widower, married Sarah Carey on 6 June 1781 in the presence of Mary Stoneley and William Burgess at Shoreditch Church, but it’s an obvious case of mistaken identity to assume that this record has anything at all to do with John Hodgkinson, U.E.. Sarah Spencer was clearly identified as the wife of John Hodgkinson in his land petition, and in 1781, John was presumably in active service with Butler’s Rangers, since they did not disband until 1784.10 It’s unlikely that he took a quick jaunt back to England to enter a bigamous marriage with Sarah Carey. Sorry, folks, you’ve got the wrong John Hodgkinson.

Statement 4: John Hodgkinson died on 26 October 1826.

John’s grave marker stated that he died in 1832, with no specific date given.11 He does not appear in the index of wills for Lincoln County, Ontario (1796-1918), which is good evidence that he did not leave a will, which might have been helpful in narrowing down a date of death.12 Barring the discovery of any previously-unknown church death records or newspaper obituaries, the date on that grave marker seems to provide the best estimate for John Hodgkinson’s date of death. So where does the date of 26 October 1826 come from? I suspect that this error stems from confusion with the date of death of John’s wife, Sarah Hodgkinson. There’s good evidence that she died in 1826; her death notice was published in the Farmer’s Journal and Welland Canal Intelligencer on Wednesday, 1 November 1826, stating, “Died…In Grantham, on Tuesday last, of dropsy, Mrs. Sarah Hodgkinson, wife of Mr. John Hodgkinson, at an advanced age. The funeral will take place at his residence tomorrow, at 12 o’clock, at noon.”13 Although “Tuesday last” seems to suggest the previous day, 31 October 1826, it could be argued that perhaps the previous Tuesday, 24 October, was meant. Regardless of which date you prefer, it was clearly Sarah Hodgkinson who died in October 1826, and not John, since the wording of the death notice strongly suggests that he was still alive and would be present at his wife’s funeral on 2 November.

Statement 5: John Hodgkinson had other children besides the ones discussed previously (namely, Samuel, Ellender, Francis, and Robert).

There are quite a few family trees out there that attach additional children to John Hodgkinson, U.E., and either of the two wives, Mary Moore and Sarah Spencer, who are supported by evidence from historical documents. Some assert that John had a son, William James Hodgkinson, or a son, Spencer Hodgkinson. Others claim that he had a daughter, Rebecca, or a daughter, Sarah. No sources are cited for these claims, and I believe that’s because there aren’t any to cite. Let’s remember that there was an important monetary advantage to being the son or daughter of a Loyalist in Upper Canada in the late 18th- and early 19th centuries, since each son or daughter of a Loyalist was entitled to a free land grant (typically 200 acres) from the British Crown. It would be unusual for any children of John Hodgkinson who survived to adulthood to neglect this opportunity for free land, and no other land petitions exist for children of John Hodgkinson except for those already cited, for Samuel, Francis and Robert. You don’t have to take my word for that; consider evidence from William D. Reid’s book, The Loyalists in Ontario: The Sons and Daughters of the American Loyalists of Upper Canada, in which he, too, identifies only these children of John Hodgkinson (Figure 9).14

Figure 9: William D. Reid’s list of children of John Hodgkinson, U.E., who were granted land by Orders-in-Council (O.C.)

Of course, one could argue that William James, Spencer, Sarah, or Rebecca were nonetheless children of John Hodgkinson, but that they died before reaching an age at which they could petition for a land grant. After all, there is no land petition for Ellender Hodgkinson, yet I’m of the opinion that she was a child of John Hodgkinson and his first wife, Mary Moore. However, the difference is that there is a baptismal record identifying Ellender as a child of John and Mary “Huskinson,” as discussed in my last post, whereas I can find no evidence that these other putative children actually do belong in this family group. It’s not enough to say, “Hmm… I’ve got a Rebecca Hodkginson who was supposed to have been born in Canada in the right time frame for her to be the daughter of John Hodgkinson, U.E… I guess she must be his daughter!” Essentially, that is proposing a hypothesis, and it’s perfectly okay to do that, as long as your online tree indicates in some way that this is your own, unproven, pet theory. To avoid confusing newbies, however, it’s probably more prudent to keep those trees private, so that you can provide appropriate cautions about the hypothetical relationships in your tree when curious people write to you for more information.

Although the Hodgkinson family presents just one example, the issue of hasty, careless, or poorly-reasoned research is pervasive in the world of genealogy. I want to emphasize that I’m not trying to “name and shame” anyone. In fact, I deliberately avoided citing specific online trees where these errors are found. Instead, my hope is to encourage family historians to be a bit more critical and discerning when evaluating evidence from historical sources, rather than jumping on the “same name” bandwagon. We all make mistakes, and in our enthusiasm for pushing back just one generation further, it can be easy to overlook pesky facts that don’t fit our hypotheses very well. However, we owe it to ourselves and to our ancestors to get their stories right, to the best of our ability.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2021

Sources:

1 Maggie Parnell, Hodgkinson Family Burying Ground, (St. Catharines, Ontario: Niagara Peninsula Branch, Ontario Genealogical Society, 1998), p 2.

2 “Hodgkinson Surname Distribution Map,” Forebears (https://forebears.io/surnames/hodgkinson#place-tab-1881 : 10 October 2021), showing distribution for England in 1881.

3 “England and Wales Christening Index, 1530–1980,” database, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com/ : 10 October 2021), John Hodgkinson, baptized 29 December 1753, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, England; and

“England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NVHB-VVZ : 10 October 2021), William Hodgkinson, baptized 10 April 1759; and

“England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:JSF3-JJ2 : 10 October 2021), Mary Hodgkinson, baptized 6 April 1755.

4 “England and Wales Marriages, 1538–1988,” database, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com/ : 10 October 2021), John Hodgkinson and Sarah Godley, 25 June 1752, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, England.

5 “U.S., Dutch Reformed Church Records in Selected States, 1639-1989,” database with images, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : 10 October 2021), Ellender Huskinson, baptized 23 November 1778; citing Holland Society of New York; New York, New York; Deer Park, Vol II, Book 11.

6 Parnell, p. 2.

7 Sally Brush, “Research Note: When Were Babies Baptized? Some Welsh Evidence,” Local Population Studies (http://www.localpopulationstudies.org.uk/PDF/LPS72/Article_Note_Brush_pp83-87.pdf : 10 October 2021); and

Stuart Basten, “Birth-Baptism Intervals for Family Historians,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Birth-Baptism_Intervals_for_Family_Historians : 10 October 2021).

8 “Bishop’s transcripts, Mansfield (Nottingham), 1598-1903,” Baptisms, marriages, burials, 1598-1760, 1759, Baptisms, William Hodgkinson, son of John and Sarah Hodgkinson, 10 April 1759; browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 7 October 2021), FHL film no. 503789/DGS no. 7565515, image 551 of 566.

9 “London, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1936,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 10 October 2021), John Hodgkinson and Sarah Carey, 6 June 1781; citing London Metropolitan Archives; London, England; London Church of England Parish Registers; Reference Number: P91/LEN/A/01/MS 7498/12.

10 Government of Canada, “Upper Canada Land Petitions (1763-1865),” 1797, no. 32, Land Petition of John Hodgkinson, Vol. 224, Bundle H-3, Reference RG 1 L3, Microfilm C-2043; browsable images, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/microform-digitization/006003-110.02-e.php?&q2=29&interval=50&sk=0&PHPSESSID=rgi7t06a60or2jdheocn6v65f4 : 10 October 2021), Microfilm C-2043 > images 766 and 767 out of 990; and

Ernest Cruikshank, The Story of Butler’s Rangers and the Settlement of Niagara (Welland, Ontario: Tribune Printing House, 1893), p. 113; ebook, Project Gutenburg Canada (https://gutenberg.ca/: 10 October 2021).

11 Parnell, p 2.

12 Lincoln County (Ontario) Registrar of Deeds, “Will Index, 1796–1918;” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ : 10 October 2021), surnames beginning with “H,” images 55–68 of 160.

13 Farmers’ Journal and Welland Canal Intelligencer (St. Catharines, Upper Canada), 1 November 1826 (Wednesday), p 3, col 4, death notice for Sarah Hodgkinson; online images, Google News (https://news.google.com/ : 10 October 2021).

14 William D. Reid, The Loyalists in Ontario: The Sons and Daughters of the American Loyalists of Upper Canada (Lambertville, NJ, USA: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1973), p 150, Hodgkinson, John of Grantham; ebook, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 10 October 2021).

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