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The Woman Who Fell From The Skies – Part 2

Previously – In part 1 I introduced you to Mary Jane Hyland, my great-great grandmother. She married John Bowers in Warrington, Lancashire in 1894. I could find no prior record for her which constituted a convincing match and the 1901 census simply said she was born in ‘Ireland’. My objective was to find a birth record for her but I was stumped. However, I made a start at piecing together her story from 1894 onward by creating a detailed timeline listing all recorded events for her and her direct family until her death in 1930.

1911 Census

The next step was analyse the timeline I’d created. Happily, the 1911 census had become available by this time, so I had a second opportunity to check her place of birth. To my surprise it didn’t mention Ireland, instead, she was now claiming to have been born in Liverpool.

Census returns. England. Warrington, Lancashire. 2 Apr 1911. BOWERS family. RD 459; PN 1353; ED 42; SN 1307.
Collection: 1911 England & Wales Census Collection Image.
Mary Jane’s purported place of birth in 1911

I asked myself why she would give her place of birth as Ireland in 1901 and Liverpool in 1911? I imagined a possible scenario in which, subject to discrimination for being Irish, she had chosen to claim English heritage. I therefore discounted the birthplace of Liverpool in favour of Ireland. This seemed reasonable at the time but, as I later discovered, this was an error!

In retrospect, the lesson here is: don’t assume a motive for an ancestor’s actions. If you do assume a motive, find a way to test your assumption and disprove the alternatives. I failed to do that for a long time, to my cost.

Analysis of the Timeline

Amongst the 21 different records in the timeline there was a considerable amount of information, but nothing else that related directly to her place of birth. How was this going to help me go back in time before her marriage in 1894?

First, there were a few questions I wanted to attempt to answer:

  • Was her name always Mary Jane? Was it sometimes referred to as just Mary or just Jane?
  • Is there agreement between the records as to her year of birth?
  • Did they live mainly in one place or did they move often? Is there any evidence of them having lived outside Warrington?
  • What was her religious denomination? Was it consistent throughout her life?

Middle Name

As we all know, Mary can be a difficult name to research. Having the middle name Jane might help us distinguish a person from the many other plain Marys in the record, provided the middle name is consistently used. By extracting the form of the name used in each record in the timeline I hoped I could gain a useful insight into this.

Name RecordedSignatureRecord DateEvent
Mary JaneM J Hyland20 May 1894Marriage cert
Mary Jane9 May 1895Baptism of son
Mary JaneM J Bowers15 Jan 1897Birth cert of daughter
Jane17 Aug 1900Baptism of daughters
Mary J31 Mar 1901Census
Jane26 Oct 1901Baptism of son
Jane30 Mar 1905Baptism of daughter
Mary Jane2 Apr 1911Census
Mary Jane14 May 1930Death cert
Mary Jane17 May 1930Burial

Mary Jane was evidently literate and possessed a confident hand. She always signed her name as M J, used Mary Jane for formal documents, but often (informally?) went by the name of Jane. The name she used most consistently was Jane.

This is helpful. When looking for a possible birth record we can discount anyone called just Mary Hyland, only a Mary Jane Hyland will do!

Year of Birth

Even between the 1894 marriage, the 1901 and 1911 censuses, Mary Jane’s purported year of birth varied. I extracted year of birth from every record in the timeline to see if I could gain any further insights.

Reported AgeYear of Birth (calculated)Record DateEvent
231870 – 187120 May 1894Marriage cert
281872 – 187331 Mar 1901Census
381872 – 18732 Apr 1911Census
591870 – 187114 May 1930Death Cert
591870 – 187117 May 1930Burial

The purported year of birth varies from record to record within a range of 1870-1873. There is little consistency from record to record with sometimes surprising step changes, e.g. between 1894 and 1901, a period of seven years, Mary Jane apparently ages by only five.


Extracting addresses from each event in the timeline gives the following, all in Warrington:

AddressRecord DateEvent
Pierpoint Street20 May 1894Marriage cert
37 Golbourne Street9 May 1895Baptism of son
21 Glasshouse Row15 Jan 1897Birth of daughter
21 Glasshouse Row17 Aug 1900Baptisms of daughters
81 Plumpton Street31 Mar 1901Census
21 Plumpton Street26 Oct 1901Baptism of son
6 Manley Street30 Mar 1905Baptism of daughter
3 Prince Street2 Apr 1911Census
14 Dallam Lane23 Dec 1926Burial of husband
14 Dallam Lane13 May 1930Death cert
14 Dallam Lane17 May 1930Burial

These addresses all fall within the same area of Warrington, the northwest quadrant of the town as it was at that time, located within easy walking distance of the iron works where John, was an founder.

Religious Denomination

Extracting church and denomination from each religious event in the timeline gives the following, all in Warrington:

ChurchDenominationRecord DateEvent
St PaulC of E20 May 1894Marriage cert
St PaulC of E9 May 1895Baptism of son
St BarnabasC of E17 Aug 1900Baptism of daughters
St BarnabasC of E26 Oct 1901Baptism of son
St BarnabasC of E30 Mar 1905Baptism of daughter
St BarnabasC of E1 Dec 1917Marriage of daughter
St PaulC of E23 Dec 1926Burial of husband
St PaulC of E30 Jun 1928Marriage of daughter
St PaulC of E13 May 1930Burial

As a family their choice of church was consistent for long periods. They were solidly Church of England. They used St Paul in the early years of their marriage, switching to St Barnabas for around twenty years before reverting to St Paul.

St Paul, demolished in 1980, was located on Bewsey Road, Warrington. St Barnabas was just half a mile away on Lovely Lane. The switch between churches may simply have been by which was closest to their home at any one time.

Is the fact that Mary Jane was consistently Church of England throughout her life from marriage to burial significant? I think so, yes. Given that more than 80% of all Irish immigrants to England were Catholic, it perhaps strengthens the case that Mary Jane may have been born in Liverpool rather than Ireland.

Any More Evidence?

I did an extensive trawl of all pre-1894 records in the Warrington area for any person named Mary Jane Hyland. To my surprise I found two records, both in 1891.

Census returns. England. Warrington, Lancashire. 5 Apr 1891. HYLAND, Mary Jane. RG12; piece 3074; folio 14; p.22.
Collection: 1891 England, Wales & Scotland Census Image.
Mary Jane’s entry in the 1891 census

I had seen this census record several times before, but always discarded it as neither the year of birth nor the place of birth seemed good matches given my tunnel vision based on the 1901 census (see part 1). Put in the context of the timeline analysis above, there seemed no reason to exclude this record. I could now see that Mary Jane had been living in Warrington for at least 3 years prior to her marriage to John Bowers.

A further, and surprising, record arose while viewing banns books for St Elphin, Warrington, the principal church of Warrington parish:

Banns (PR). England. Warrington, Lancashire. 20 Dec 1891. ARNOLD, John and HYLAND, Mary Jane. Page 85.
Collection: Cheshire Diocese of Chester parish marriages 1538-1910.

This is unequivocally our Mary Jane as she gives her father’s name as “William Hyland (deceased)” exactly as at her marriage to John Bowers in 1894. Interestingly, she is no longer in service at 15 Legh Street. Living in Cockhedge Lane she was most likely employed as a hand at the huge Cockhedge cotton mill which dominated that part of Warrington. Again, her age has mysteriously changed by two years in eight months, now suggesting a year of birth of 1867-68.

Although the banns were called for her proposed marriage to John Arnold, the marriage never took place. Not only does the marriage register of the church prove this, but the banns book itself notes the date of marriage for every other couple on the page except for Mary Jane:

Next Steps

Having collated the timeline, thoroughly analysed its contents and trawled for additional records, it became clear that Mary Jane was more likely to have been born in Liverpool rather than Ireland. Given the inconsistencies in her estimated year of birth, I would plan to search a wide range of years.

Next time – Join me as I search Liverpool’s records to find Mary Jane. Will I find her at last? Or are there more twists and turns in her story? I will need to employ more analytical techniques to accurately sift the evidence in order to uncover the truth.


Published by Phil Isherwood

Phil has studied genealogy with Pharos Tutors and the Society of Genealogists, completing their year-long intermediate programme with a distinction. He is a Family History Advisor for the Oxfordshire Family History Society and enjoys working on the knotty genealogy problems brought to him by the general public. He has a special interest in genealogical methodology, military ancestors and sources for north-west England. Twitter: @isherwood_phil

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