A mystery solved?

A mystery solved?

A case study from my own family history research shows a wide variety of the techniques and resources available for discovering your own ancestors.

Andrew Chapman, Editor of Discover Your Ancestors Periodical

Andrew Chapman

Editor of Discover Your Ancestors Periodical

A case study from my own family history research shows a wide variety of the techniques and resources available for discovering your own ancestors.

I have an unusual middle name, Rougier, passed from both my father and grandfather. My father and I knew it to be a surname – but not why it was there. The mystery deepened with the knowledge that my grandfather’s father had the plain and simple name of George Henry Chapman.

My father and I began researching the records of the Stock Exchange, as both great-grandfather had started a family business in that field. The records are held at the Guildhall Library in London, and showed G H Chapman over several decades, starting as a stockdealer at 1 Copthall Chambers in 1887. Then we looked up Rougier, and we found our first clue. It turned out that two brothers, Henry and George Rougier, were members of the Stock Exchange from the 1850s onwards, and from 1875 they were based at 1 Copthall Chambers. This surely indicated where the name came from – but why?


The key was a marriage record for George Rougier dated 1880 – this is in both the parish records of St Bride’s, Fleet Street, and the civil registration records (ie a marriage certificate). He married a Mary Anne Chapman…

The odd thing was that she was already 44 – so unlikely to be childbearing – and George was 57. To my perhaps overactive imagination, this suggests a partnership of love – why would these middle-aged people marry otherwise? But how did they meet, when she was from a poor family in Tooting, and he was from a wealthy family in York, as census research revealed? George Henry Chapman’s death certificate reveals he was born in 1862, but I’ve never found a birth certificate, at least suggesting illegitimacy as one possibility. His sister Amy was born in 1859, and her birth certificate had a blank where the father’s name should go.

All Saints, North Street
All Saints, North Street, where many of the Rougiers worshipped in York

A crucial piece of circumstantial evidence came from discovering Mary Anne Chapman in the 1851 census, still with her family. Old maps revealed that Henry Rougier was living only a few doors away in the same year, just a year before George Rougier moved to London to join him. This is by no means proof, but does suggest how George Rougier and Mary Chapman could have first met long before they married, and perhaps there had been some impediment to the partnership.

Intriguing article?

Subscribe to our newsletter, filled with more captivating articles, expert tips, and special offers.

Whatever the truth, census and birth records, and indeed family memories, show that George Henry Chapman went on to have 15 children – all of whom had Rougier as a middle name. Was this just gratitude to the man who seems to have given him a significant leg up on the career ladder – or a quiet acknowledgement of paternity?

Family Grave

Despite finding other bits of circumstantial evidence, I believed that to be a question I could never answer satisfactorily – until now. DNA could hold the answer. The Rougier family is well-documented (see box) – if I could find a direct male descendant and persuade them to have a DNA test, and the markers (see here) match with my own results, there would be strong evidence of a recent common ancestor. Amazingly, I have now traced such a person and they’ve agreed to a test – as I write this, I nervously await the results!

The point, though, is that there are always different angles on a family history problem – new data or technology, and indeed finding time for more diligent research, can reveal more evidence. But even if I never get the answer, or it isn’t what I expected, the journey has been fascinating.

Discover Your Ancestors Periodical is published by Discover Your Ancestors Publishing, UK. All rights in the material belong to Discover Your Ancestors Publishing and may not be reproduced, whether in whole or in part, without their prior written consent. The publisher makes every effort to ensure the magazine's contents are correct. All articles are copyright© of Discover Your Ancestors Publishing and unauthorised reproduction is forbidden. Please refer to full Terms and Conditions at www.discoveryourancestors.co.uk. The editors and publishers of this publication give no warranties,
guarantees or assurances and make no representations regarding any goods or services advertised.