I have been researching our Bell family for over fifty years. The first of our family to arrive in Australia were two brothers, James and George Bell from East Farleigh, Kent, England. They arrived as sailors on the convict ship Asia on 2 December 1837.
See “A Window in Time-My Bell Family in East Farleigh, Kent, England”, posted 30 April 2014 and,” My Bell Family Ancestors-George Bell (1817-1894)-Sorting Red Herrings”, posted 3 July 2014.
Although I have searched diligently for years, I have not been able to find any documents for these brothers until 25 December 1844 when George Bell married Sarah Sargent at Sutton Forest.
I first purchased a certified transcription of this marriage in 1973 from the Registrar of Births, Deaths, and Marriages, Sydney. This is a transcription of that document.
I especially noted “Bachelor, free by servitude”, beside George Bell’s name. This meant he had been a convict.
However, I had found good evidence that he had come free as a sailor on the convict ship, Asia in 1837. Had he gotten into trouble after his arrival?
I searched many court and gaol records between 1837-1844 at the State Library and State Records of New South Wales, and even old newspaper reports on Trove, but never had been successful in finding any clue to why George was ‘free by servitude’.
It has been my greatest sticking point in writing up the history of George Bell. I have had other professional historians have a look at the problem but no-one had been able to solve this problem or help with answers.
I then checked for references in the online index of the Registrar of Births Deaths and Marriages in Sydney at https://bdm.nsw.gov.au/
I found the only reference:-
404/1844 V1844404 29 BELL GEORGE and SARGENT SARAH MY
The early colonial baptism, marriage, and burial records of some 164 volumes cover the time before civil registration in New South Wales. This includes Victoria and Queensland which was part of New South Wales at that time. These are held as Government records by the Registrar of Births Deaths and Marriages for New South Wales in Sydney.
Many of these records were microfilmed and released to the public in the Archives Authority of New South Wales Genealogical Kit in 1988. Of the 164 volumes copied, only 123 volumes were released in the kit covering the time frame 1788-1855. Volumes 124-164 were not included in the kit.
This was because some of the records contained in the volumes were after 1855 so fell outside the parameters of the historical project and were subject to state privacy laws. Other volumes were not included because they were so fragile and the handling of those volumes would have destroyed them.
Returning to our Bell family research, I found Vol 29 was in the records released and I consulted the appropriate film.
This gave the same information as the certified transcription from the Registrar of Births, Deaths, and Marriages Office, and with the identical reference, it was clear to me that the Registrar of Births Deaths and Marriages had sighted the same register. I added this reference to my transcription, so I knew I had looked at this record.
It looked as if I would never solve the mystery.
However, were these transcriptions enough for my datasheet for my ancestor’s George Bell and Sarah Sargent’s marriage?
As I have been encouraging the historians in our families as well as my students to collect every document they can to build evidence for the events of birth, marriage, and death for all ancestors, I thought about what I could do to collect more evidence.
I consulted Trove for any notice or newspaper article about the marriage in 1844. There was none.
I had not found any other memorabilia concerning this marriage in family papers on any branch of the family either.
I then decided to see if the original parish register of All Saints, Sutton Forest had survived and track down the register itself.
I found it had survived in the Sydney Diocese Archives, but I was unable to visit to see the original. However, it had been microfilmed and copies were available at the National and State Libraries as well as the Society of Australian Genealogists. Again, in the present circumstances, I couldn’t travel to view these filmed records.
An online search revealed that many of the Anglican Parish Registers of the Sydney Diocese can be found at Ancestry.com, including Sutton Forest.
[As we are in lockdown with COVID 19- yes, we are those elderly relatives- family gave me a subscription as a birthday gift].
I was able to find and download an image of the marriage of George Bell and Sarah Sargent. I was excited as this was a ‘true image’ of the register the couple, witnesses, and clergy had signed on the day-the 25th December 1844.
On examining this document I was shocked by what I found. Right there, clearly written for George Bell was “Bachelor, free immigrant”. I admit I enlarged the image and then just stared at it for a few minutes.
Extract from an image – Bell-Sargent Marriage,1844 downloaded from Ancestry.com, by Nola Mackey,1st August 2020.
What a great find!
In all other respects, the entry was identical information to what was on the ‘official’ documents.
This is an example of a ‘transcription error’ at the first ‘copy’ made from the original parish register for the Colonial Secretary’s Office. After all these years I am very happy about this outcome.
My share transcriptions of these documents can be found under the Resources and Examples Tab on this website under:-
BELL-SARGENT, 1844, Sutton Forest, Marriage Transcription 1 and
BELL-SARGENT,1844, Sutton Forest, Marriage Transcription 2
The moral of this story is that family history is an ongoing journey and you should never assume you have all the information. Nor should you ever give up in trying to solve family stories and inconsistencies on documents.
In the next blog, I will show you how I took the information from this document to carry on with my research into the lives of George and Sarah Bell.