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The Woman Who Fell From The Skies – Part 3

It is one thing to show there is a likely link between a person or family across two locations, but it is quite another to eliminate all the other possibilities. In this part of Seeing the Wood for the Trees I look at how to build partial evidence into a compelling case.

Previously – I used a timeline to analyse the marital life of Mary Jane Hyland and found that she may have been born in Liverpool rather than Ireland. But does this mean I’m on the brink of cracking the case?

Having found indications that Mary Jane Hyland, latterly the wife of John Bowers of Warrington, Lancashire, might have been born in Liverpool sometime in either the 1860s or 1870s rather than Ireland, the obvious next step was to investigate census and civil birth registrations in Liverpool.

The 1881 census of Liverpool and surrounding areas yielded twelve possibilities but only two named Mary Jane or Mary J (remember – we established in the timeline that she always used her middle name Jane).

Candidate One:

  • Address: 20 Walnut Street, Liverpool;
  • Mary J Hyland, aged 16, approx year of birth 1864-65, occupation Nurse, place of birth Liverpool;
  • Living with her widowed mother Margaret Hyland, aged 51, approx year of birth 1829-30, occupation Tailoress, place of birth Ireland; and
  • Elder brother Robert Hyland, single, aged 19, occupation Stone Polisher, place of birth Liverpool.

Candidate Two:

  • Address: 8 Kilshaw Street, Everton, Liverpool;
  • Mary Jane Hyland, aged 12, approx year of birth 1868-69, occupation Scholar, place of birth Liverpool;
  • Living with parents John and Susan Hyland, born in the 1840s in Ireland; and
  • Five younger brothers: Thomas J, Joseph, Edward, Francis & Frederick.

Both candidates have parents born in Ireland, which is encouraging. On the surface candidate one seems the better match given that she is living with her widowed mother Margaret – Mary Jane had given her father’s name as “William Hyland (deceased)” in both 1891 and 1894 – however, she is older than expected from the timeline. The second candidate can be eliminated as the father is alive and called John, not William.

So, I have a candidate for “our” Mary Jane Hyland before she moved to Warrington. Is that enough? Can I close the case here? Of course not. To do that I will need to establish several things beyond reasonable doubt:

  1. The candidate matches the established facts in most, if not all, respects
  2. There are no other candidates that could be a match
  3. This candidate did not move anywhere other than Warrington and married no other person than John Bowers.

I like to think of this as eliminating all of the backward-looking candidates bar one, then eliminating all of the forward-looking candidates bar one.

Backward-looking elimination of candidates
Forward-looking elimination of candidates

Comprehensive Search – Censuses

Let’s continue with a more comprehensive search for backward-looking candidates.

The 1871 census of Liverpool and surrounding areas yields nine possible candidates, of which just three are listed as “Mary J” rather than plain Mary.

Candidate One:

  • Address: Robsart Street, Everton, Liverpool;
  • Mary J Hyland, aged 9, approx year of birth 1861-1862, place of birth Liverpool;
  • Living with parents John and Alice Hyland, born in the 1830s in Birmingham and Liverpool respectively;
  • One older and three younger siblings: Thomas, John, William and Mary A.

Candidate Two:

  • Address: Macauley Street, West Derby, Liverpool;
  • Mary J Hyland, aged 9, approx year of birth 1861-1862, occupation Scholar, place of birth Liverpool;
  • Living with parents Denis and Alicia Hyland, born in 1830-31 and 1840-41 respectively, in Ireland;
  • Two younger brothers: John and Dennis.

Candidate Three:

  • Address: Burnley Street, Everton, Liverpool;
  • Mary J Hyland, aged 2, approx year of birth 1868-1869, place of birth Ireland;
  • Living with parents John and Susan Hyland, born in the 1840s in Ireland;
  • Maternal grandmother Mary Murray , aged 63, place of birth London.

Oh dear! All three candidates have a living father, none of which is called William, so all of these must be discounted. What’s more, our candidate from 1881 hasn’t been found in 1871.

Or has she? We all know that online census searches can be far from straightforward. Errors can occur at many stages in the process of making, compiling, imaging or indexing the census records, let alone the possibilities of mistaken search terms. I made an additional search in the 1871 census following Margaret Hyland, the widowed mother …

Candidate Four:

  • Address: Peach Street, Liverpool;
  • [unreadable] Hyland, aged 6, approx year of birth 1864-65, place of birth Liverpool;
  • Living with her widowed mother Margaret Hyland, aged 40, approx year of birth 1830-31, occupation [unreadable], place of birth Ireland; and
  • Elder brother Robert Hyland, aged 9, place of birth Liverpool;
  • Elder sister Catherine J Hyland, aged 8, place of birth Liverpool.
Census returns. England. Liverpool, Lancashire. 2 Apr 1871. HYLAND, Margaret. RG02; piece 3782; folio 165; p.31. Collection: 1871 England, Wales & Scotland Census Image.

It seems that a poor scan at Find My Past is the cause of the difficulty. Is this barely legible name Mary Jane?

Is this Mary Jane?

I checked Ancestry’s scan of the same page:

Better, but still not clear.

This is a little better. The transcriber at Ancestry clearly wasn’t sure either – they recorded it as “Hiram J Hyland”.

I am happy that it is “our” Mary Jane candidate as the corroborating evidence for her widowed mother and older brother are exact matches. And I think I can make Mary J from the Ancestry image. Just about.

So, I now have a single, common candidate from both the 1871 and 1881 censuses, with all other census candidates eliminated. Does that constitute sufficient evidence? Of course not.

Comprehensive Search – Civil Registrations

I must now check civil birth registrations for Mary Jane Hyland for the 1860s and 1870s to establish if there are any more candidates.

Searching Free BMD ( and the GRO ( for Mary J Hyland born in Lancashire between 1860 and 1880 yields just three candidates:

#SurnameFirst NamesQuarterRegistration DistrictVol & PageMother’s Maiden Name
1HylandMary JaneDec 1861Liverpool8b 222Jones
2HylandMary JaneMar 1862West Derby & Toxteth Park8b 494McGrath
3HylandMary JaneMar 1865Liverpool8b 244James

By searching for possible GRO marriages between men named Hyland and women with these three maiden names, I may be able to narrow the field:

#Groom SurnameGroom First NameBride SurnameBride First NameQuarterRegistration DistrictVol & Page
1HylandJohnJonesLatitia AtinaMar 1859Liverpool8b 147
2HylandEdwardJonesJaneDec 1859Liverpool8b 465
3HylandJohnJonesMary HalsallJun 1860West Derby8b 730
4HylandWilliamJamesMargaretSep 1860Liverpool8b 34

Here it is at last! A marriage between a William Hyland and a Margaret James, who then went on to have a child called Mary Jane in 1865. Surely this is the smoking gun? Probably. But how can we develop this likely scenario to a solid case?

Tie up all the Loose Ends

To make a convincing case everything should be consistent, and if there are inconsistencies we must show clear and credible reasons why. So, let’s prove that this is the only backward-looking candidate by verifying the remaining loose ends:

  1. Can we show this is the same couple who had the two older siblings of Mary Jane?
  2. Can we find the death of William Hyland between the conception of Mary Jane and the 1871 census, when Margaret declares herself to be a widow?
  3. Is the birth certificate of Mary Jane consistent with this scenario?
  4. Are the parish records for the marriage of William & Margaret and the baptism of Mary Jane consistent with this scenario?

1. Using the GRO indexes we can quickly show that both Robert and Catherine are the children of William Hyland and Margaret James:

#SurnameFirst Name(s)QuarterRegistration DistrictVol & PageMother’s Maiden Name
1HylandRobert JamesJun 1861West Derby & Toxteth Park8b 437James
2HylandCatherineDec 1862Liverpool8b 230James

Furthermore, searches for other children of surname Hyland with mother’s maiden name James return no further matches. The three children Robert, Catherine and Mary Jane are the only children born to this combination of surnames anywhere in England and Wales before 1885.

2. I find only a single death of a man named William Hyland in Lancashire between 1861 and 1871:

#SurnameFirst Name(s)QuarterRegistration DistrictVol & PageAge at Death
1HylandWilliamDec 1866Liverpool8b 20132

3. I ordered the birth certificate of Mary Jane Hyland from the GRO and received this a few days later:

Births (CR). England. Liverpool, Lancashire. District of Islington. 18 Dec 1864. HYLAND, Mary Jane. Entry no. 337

This shows us that the birth took place in late 1864 at Great Richmond Street and is entirely consistent with what we know of her parents William Hyland and Margaret Hyland nee James. Great Richmond Street is just under a mile from Peach Street where the family lived in 1871.

4. A quick check on the Lancashire Online Parish Clerk site ( yields a transcription of the marriage of William & Margaret:

Marriage: 16 Jul 1860 St Peter, Liverpool, Lancashire, England
William Hyland – full, Porter, Bachelor, Peach St.
Margaret James – (X), full, Spinster, Peach St.
    Groom’s Father: Michael Hyland, Coachman
    Bride’s Father: Robert James, Plumber
    Witness: Thomas Davis; Catherine Grisdale, (X)
    Married by Banns by: Richard Titley, Curate
    Register: Marriages 1860, Page 215, Entry 430
    Source: LDS Film 1656680

This is pleasingly consistent with the address in Peach Street of the widowed Margaret and her three children in the 1871 census.

Lancashire OPC doesn’t have a record of the baptism of Mary Jane, but Find My Past does:

Baptisms (PR). England. St Silas, Pembroke Place, Liverpool, Lancashire. 30 Apr 1869. HYLAND, Mary Jane. Page 173. Archive ref: 283-SIL-2-1. Collection: Births, Marriages, Death & Parish Records.

Here is a group baptism of all three of the children of William & Margaret of 70 Peach Street on 30th April 1869.

Where does that leave us?

We have identified all the possible backward-looking candidates for Mary Jane Hyland and eliminated all but one. So can the case be closed now? Not quite. There are two further steps I need to go through before I can say I have proven the case beyond reasonable doubt:

  • Search for all possible forward-looking candidates and eliminate all but one.
  • Examine contradictory evidence and attempt to resolve it.

Next Time – Join me for the final steps in the case of Mary Jane Hyland. I review the journey I’ve been on and summarise my methodology.


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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