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Hannah Green, Emily Green and the mysterious, vanishing Henry Green

This is the story of Hannah Green (1812-1908), Emily Green (1834-1914) and the mysterious, disappearing Mr Henry Green.

It tells how Greg Wardell-Johnson, in Perth, Western Australia, and John Lomas, in Borgofranco, Italy, two fifth cousins both descended from William Johnson (1784-1851) and Sarah Wardle (1787-1873), worked together to solve an enigma that had been frustrating Greg during 40 years of genealogical research. It looks at how a coordinated policy of deception carried out by 2 generations in the nineteenth century, ensured that a myth became a fully-accepted truth, that Greg, when working on the family history of his great great grandparents, just could not untangle.

Let's start with an e-mail that Greg sent to John on 14 April 2019 that neatly defined the problem:

Greg's initial e-mail to John

"Thanks John and you have raised the most vexing issue in all my genealogical research stretching back over the last 40 odd years - the ancestry and census disappearing acts of Emily Green, my great great grandmother (1834-1914). On her death certificate, it says that she had been born in London in 1834 to Henry Green, a glove maker, and Hannah Taylor (1812-1908). Emily’s birthday was known in the family to have been 25th July 1834. A baptism record for Emily Green, daughter of Henry (a Gentleman) and Hannah Green, on 31 October 1834 in St Johns, Paddington, London is consistent with the death certificate information.

All good so far. Now you would think we would have a splendid census record for Emily and her parents in 1841, 1851 and 1861, given that she departed England for Australia in 1869. But no - not a cracker, not even a sniff! The whole Green family disappear completely.

But wait - there's more! We have the marriage certificate of William Wardell Johnson and Emily Green in Woodstock, Oxfordshire in 1857. Behold what's recorded for Emily's father and his occupation - blank fields! Why? Normally this could mean either that the bride did not know the identity of her father, perhaps that he was long deceased or that she wished to disown him.

By 1861, William and Emily have had 2 children, so the youngsters William Henry Johnson (aged 3) and Percy Hugh Johnson (aged 1) should appear somewhere in the 1861 census. Nothing! William Wardell Johnson is recorded on his own in 1861, residing in Dedham, Essex, a master at the English School there. It appears that Emily and the children may have gone back to Woodstock to visit her parents at the time of the census and been caught up in the wonderful disappearing act of Henry and Hannah Green!!

Henry is believed to have died in the early 1870s because his widow Hannah came out to Western Australia in 1875 to live with her only remaining daughter Emily. She died in Perth in February 1908 at the age of 96 years, her death certificate stating that she was the daughter of one Samuel Taylor and mother of Emily and 2 deceased children – a son and a daughter. Newspaper death notices made clear she was the widow of Henry Green.

So Hannah and Henry are still in England in 1871 and presumably residing in Woodstock where the grandson William Henry Johnson recalled a wonderful Green family garden before he left for Australia with his parents at age 11 in 1869.

1871 census record for Henry Green and Hannah Taylor? Nothing! It really is a mystery how Henry Green and wife Hannah managed to avoid 4 consecutive censuses and why his name is not listed on Emily's marriage certificate to William Wardell Johnson. I have never been able to find any death registration for a Henry Green in Oxfordshire or anywhere in England that looks remotely like the right person. I have wondered if it might be possible to find some record of him in trades directories given that he was supposedly part of a reputable glovemaking family - the Greens of Woodstock.

At this stage I am bereft of data on Henry but what I do have is a photo of him - signed by the mysterious man himself. You can see that this photo was taken by William Hobbs, Whitechapel, London - estimated about 1870.

You probably don't need to concern yourself with the mystery of Henry Green as we have all the vital particulars for Emily, but heck - if you have any brainstorms I will be wonderfully pleased to hear them!"

Who was Henry Green?

So that was the problem: who was Henry Green, and how did all the Green family keep managing to avoid census returns?

At this point, both John Lomas and Greg Wardell-Johnson decided to apply their energy to the problem. Although they lived on different sides of the world, with large time zones separating them, they threw the problem back and forth between them. One question was solved immediately: the 1861 census returns for the town of Woodstock were found by John to have been irretrievably lost and thus not included with the full census record for that year. Anyone who was living in, or visiting Woodstock in 1861 would not appear. This solved the problem of the absence of the Greens, Emily and the two children in 1861 but not of the Greens in the other census years.

So, having failed with the obvious census returns, and with no marriage record of any Henry Green to Hannah Taylor in any England marriage index, they decided on a more oblique approach. They decided to build up information on the supporting characters. Greg had the inspiration to ask John to look for a witness to Emily's wedding in 1857, a certain Bessie Green. Could she be a relative of Emily's, even a sister? If so, how come we have no record of her?

The First Clue

John finds no trace of a Bessie Green, but with the assumption that Bessie is a diminutive of Elizabeth, found an Elizabeth Green in 1851 who gave the first big clue to the solution, even if they didn't realise it at the time.

The 1851 census of a family of Greens in Woodstock, consisted of:

  • Samuel Green, aged 64, a Glover born in Woodstock;
  • his wife Elizabeth aged 65, born in Deddington, Oxfordshire;
  • Samuel's daughter Hannah Green, aged 36, born in Woodstock (1815);

and 3 grandchildren, namely:

  • Elizabeth Green, aged 16, born in Deddington (1835);
  • Emily Green, aged 9, born in London (1842);
  • Henry Green, aged 6, born in Bushey Heath, Hertfordshire (1845).
The First Intuition

The first major intuition comes when John says: "There is something strange about the whole situation. Here we have a whole load of recognisable names. For example, Hannah Green could be "our" Hannah Green nee Taylor. If Samuel Green had been named Samuel Taylor, then we would have had the mother-father connection. If Emily had been born 10 years earlier, then we could have had our Emily Green".

The Second Intuition

The second is when Greg says: "When we reflect on the fact that no marriage record can be found anywhere for a Henry Green and Hannah Taylor, and the fact that the father's name was left blank on Emily's marriage certificate, I reckon Hannah could be the unmarried mother of Emily and siblings in this family grouping with father of children elsewhere - perhaps a Henry Taylor. The Samuel Taylor father's name on Hannah's death certificate and family legend about Henry could be part of a fabrication to disguise any impropriety. The Rev Wardell-Johnson was an old master at fabricating or embellishing the truth of his past and it is possible that his departure to Australia provided an opportunity to recreate a new past for him and Emily".

The Third Intuition

John then provides a critical third intuition, which is basically that the census enumerator had mixed up the names of Elizabeth and Emily but not the other details i.e. age and birthplace, so that the grandchildren should have been:

  • Emily Green, aged 16, born in Deddington (1835);
  • Elizabeth Green, aged 9, born in London (1842);
  • Henry Green, aged 6, born in Bushey Heath, Hertfordshire (1845).

This would tie in with "our" Emily Green born in 1834 except that she had been stated to have been born in London on her death certificate. If the Green family really did have at its head Samuel Green b 1786 and Elizabeth b 1785, and Hannah Green (b 1812) was their daughter, we would now need a lot of supporting information about Samuel and any other children, together with data on Bessie and Henry. Both ideally need to have died before 1874, when Hannah set off for Australia to be with her one remaining child, Emily. We also need proof that Hannah did not marry.

Back and Forth

John then searches official GRO birth indexes and finds an official birth registration for a Henry William Green in Bushey Heath in 1844 which indicates a mother's maiden name of Taylor. He also finds a London registration in 1842 for Elizabeth Green, also with a mothers maiden name of Taylor. These fit the revised Woodstock 1851 family if the father was Henry Green and the mother Hannah Green nee Taylor. Emily was unfortunately born before compulsory birth, death and marriage registration commenced in 1837.

Greg then finds a Bushey Heath baptism for the brother Henry William Green on the Mormon IGI website in 1844 which shows a mother Hannah Green, but no father. This is in contrast to the official birth registration which indicates that Henry Green's mother's name was Taylor.

John at this point postulates that Henry Green, the supposed husband of Hannah Taylor, did not exist at all and that the Henry Green in the photo is in fact Emily's brother!

Greg then finds an 1819 Oxfordshire marriage for Samuel Green that shows Elizabeth (nee Brotherton) was in fact his second wife and that he was a widower when they married in 1819. This would mean that Hannah's mother was in fact someone else.

John conducts a difficult search in Oxfordshire records to find out that Samuel Green married a Sarah Taylor in 1810. This is a breakthrough, as, at last, the name "Taylor" has appeared!! In fact Hannah Green's mother was Sarah Taylor.

John then finds a likely Henry Green death in London in 1871, and Greg finds that Elizabeth (Bessie) Green died in Woodstock in 1858 aged 17. So the necessary condition that by 1874 Hannah's only remaining child was Emily has been met.

John then finds Woodstock baptisms for all the children (4) of Samuel Green and Sarah Taylor, including Hannah in 1812, and then 2 children of Samuel and Elizabeth, including a certain Mary Green born 1820. Greg shows from burial records that all the children died young except for Hannah and Mary. John then shows that Mary was living with her parents Samuel and Elizabeth Green during the 1841 census, and Greg finds that Mary married John Parker later in 1841. John was a carpenter who also appeared as a witness at the 1857 wedding of William Wardell Johnson and Emily Green – his niece!

The Major Breakthrough

Then the really incredible breakthrough: John finds the probate registration for Samuel Green who died in 1859, and his two executors are named as his daughter Hannah Green, described as being a spinster, and son-in-law John Parker, Mary's husband. Thus finally we have proved that Hannah was never married, and that the family consisted of Samuel, daughters Hannah and Mary, and Hannah's daughter Emily, at whose wedding her other sister Bessie and brother in law John Parker were witnesses.

It is now proven beyond doubt that there was no Henry Green married to Hannah, and the reason he could not be found in any census return was because he just didn't exist! Perhaps there was a Henry Somebody who was Emily's unspecified father. We now need to buy the birth certificates of Elizabeth Green and Henry Green to clear up this "mother's maiden name of Taylor".

Hypothesis of What Happened

Now let us look at the situation in 1857, and imagine what could have happened. William Wardell Johnson marries Emily Green, who is an illegitimate child of Hannah Green. William, the schoolmaster, is soon to take up Holy Orders, and would no doubt prefer to hide the illegitimacy of his wife. When, due ostensibly to the delicate health of Emily, the Johnsons decide to emigrate to Australia in 1869, William and Emily take the opportunity to start afresh with a slightly modified family history. This includes an enhancement of William's own background social station and soon the family name is consolidated as a hyphenated Wardell-Johnson.

When Emily's brother Henry dies in 1871, Hannah decides to emigrate to Australia to be with William and Emily. In the new country it is simple for spinster Hannah Green to become the widowed Mrs Green and for her fictitious late husband to have had the same name as her deceased son and Emily’s brother - Henry Green. The old deceit of Hannah’s apparent maiden name, first produced on birth certificates of her illegitimate children was the easily chosen mother's maiden name – Taylor. So she happily lives out her final 30 years as the widowed Mrs Hannah Green, and gives her maiden name as being Hannah Taylor.

The convoluted story now all holds together, but it is a fine example of how subterfuge carried out some 150 years ago can take a very long time to unravel!


John Lomas and Greg Wardell-Johnson, 28 April 2019