William Cork’s English Beginnings – He was an Orphan! (Part I)


St. Margaret, Betley, Staffordshire, England

William Cork (1832-1916) who died in his adoptive home in Mazamonie, Wisconsin, left an obituary filled with dozens of clues to research and I am finally getting around to checking some of the statements made about his early life. (See posting here from June 2014.)  As we all know you must evaluate an obituary with healthy skepticism, but that doesn’t mean that some of the statements aren’t correct.  So, I took the following clues and tried to see where they might lead: “William Cork was born September 2nd, 1833, at Betley, Staffordshire, England and passed from this life on January 13th, 1916, at his home in this village aged eighty-two years, four months, and eleven days.  He was the last of the twelve children of his father’s family.”

After ordering Williams marriage certificates to his first wife (Annis Eardley) and second wife (Jane Dame), both confirmed that William’s father was Charles Cork, a tailor.

Cork_William and Annis Eardley marriage 1854.12.5 with edits


Cork_William and Jane Dame marriage 1864.07.14 edited

I then looked for William’s baptism in Betley, Staffordshire at St. Margaret’s with Charles Cork as his father. Confirmed! The obituary was correct that William was born in Betley, Staffordshire and his baptism on 15 September 1833 fits with his reported birth of 2 September 1833. And now I had William’s mother identified as Martha.

Cork_William 1833.09.15 Baptism with edits

Note: there was another Charles Cork in Betley’s baptism records who had a son named William but he was born in 1832 and he was a shoemaker. Having the correct profession for Charles helps to ensure I have the right one!

I have not been able to find all eleven of William’s siblings he claimed to have. But I have been able to locate seven siblings baptized at St. Mary’s. He is not the youngest as the obituary claimed, but his youngest brother Joseph died soon after being born, so he probably thought of himself as their youngest child.

Charles and Martha Cork’s children:

  • Emma Cork b.1821
  • Harriet Cork b.1823
  • Hugh Cork b.1825
  • Peter Cork b.1827
  • Sarah Ann Cork b.1829
  • Dinah Cork b.1831
  • William Cork 1833-1916
  • Joseph Cork b.1835 -1836

If you are familiar with British research, you know that the most logical place for me to have tried to find this family was in the 1841 census, the first British census to identify each person living in a household by name. Unfortunately, the census records were of no help in getting additional information about Charles and Martha Cork because they were not in it. Why? Because they had both died before then.

Charles is buried in January 1838:

Cork_Charles burial 1838 edited blog

And sadly Martha was buried just a few months later on June 4th, 1838.

Cork_Martha burial 1838 edited for blog

I ordered the death certificates to see what they had died from and if there was any additional information that could help with locating their families.

Charles died of “consumption” or what is now called tuberculosis. He was attended by his wife Martha who signed with her mark.

Cork_Charles Death Cert 1838.01.09 edited

Martha’s death certificate lists her cause of death as “decline” which seems to cover a multitude of possibilities. But it also offers a clue to Martha’s maiden name – she was attended by Elizabeth Moor – her sister-in-law.

Cork_Martha Death Cert 1838.06.03 edited for blog



Pip meeting Miss Havisham in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Poor William became an orphan at age five. All my stereotypes of the orphans in Charles Dickens’ novels come to mind. Remember poor Pip from Great Expectations and Oliver Twist? What kind of life did orphans have in 1830’s England? What happened to all the Cork children when their parents died? Were they sent to an orphanage? Did someone from their families take them into to their homes to raise them?

More about that next time.

This entry was posted in Cork Family, English Genealogy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to William Cork’s English Beginnings – He was an Orphan! (Part I)

  1. Laura says:

    Love it! Makes it all come to life.

    • Rachelle says:

      Thanks! It feels a little more complicated doing it across the pond and also trying to figure out what data should or should not be there when I am not familiar with the types of records that are available yet. Should we make our next genealogy trip – England???

  2. Val Sanford says:

    Wow. Great research across the pond. Wish you were coming to the Isle of Man with me and Kim, 😀

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