52ancestorsGenealogist Amy Johnson Crow, who blogs at No Story Too Small, has set a challenge to write about one ancestor each week. I’ve decided to take up that challenge to wake up my (somewhat) languishing blog, but to honor my ancestors. I plan to post every week on Sunday, and I encourage others to join the challenge with me.

Fairwood Farm, Dilton Marsh, R.S.D.

We all have them somewhere in our family tree. You know, that person who has a really common name? And we all know the pain of searching for records that go with that person.

So it was with my 3x great-grandfather, John Mason, who was born in Westbury, Wiltshire, England. I was successful in tracking him through all the censuses—1841 through 1881—and from there I lost track of him. Either he had died between 1881 and 1891, or he had moved.

Back in 2004 when I was researching this branch of my tree, the only good (and free) source of UK birth, marriage, and death information online was on FreeBMD. It’s still a great resource today. But there were far too many possible matches for the death of a John Mason in Wiltshire post-1881. Assuming he had died, and in Wiltshire of course. And I couldn’t afford to send for all the ones I thought might be him. I took a chance with a few, and the only one that seemed likely was this one:

1889 death certificate for John Mason, aged 67.

1889 death certificate for John Mason, aged 67.

The age at death was within 2 years of how old he would have been in 1889. Okay. Unfortunately, the location of “Fairwood Farm, Dilton Marsh R.S.D. (Rural Sanitary District)” did not match up with any address I had for my John Mason, nor did the occupation of agricultural labourer. Dilton Marsh was a familiar location as I had other Mason ancestors from there. But in the 1881 census, John was a coal merchant, living in Berkley, Somerset.

The certificate was signed by the coroner, and also gave the date of the inquest. So this John Mason had died under unusual circumstances—perhaps a murder, or simply an unattended death. Coroner’s records are not easy to find, but usually a newspaper will carry a story if it was worth noting.

I was stuck, and put the death certificate in my “questionable” files. And there it remained from 2004, when I got it, until last month. Ten years. Thanks to the British newspapers now online through FindMyPast.com, I finally found my answer.

Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette, September 12, 1889.

Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette, September 12, 1889.

There were the key words—Fairwood Farm, inquest, and Dilton Marsh. If I had checked a map, I would have seen there were only 3 miles between Dilton Marsh and Berkley, where my ancestor was living in 1881. I am now reasonably confident that the death certificate I am holding is the right one. I assume that John Mason took on extra employment or even stopped working as a coal dealer after 1881.

Sometimes it takes a while, but sooner or later the pieces come together, even if your ancestor plays hide and seek in the records.