When I became interested in genealogy, I didn’t want to begin researching my mom’s family for a couple of reasons. First, it seemed a bit daunting to attempt research in a foreign country . Second, the line didn’t seem to offer much of a challenge. Boy was I wrong!
My mom’s grandfather, William Albert Burge was born in England. Our family had always thought they had known who William Albert’s parents were, because the official copy of his birth certificate clearly stated that his father was William Burge and his mother was Mary Burge, formerly Greenaway. But in reading “This Is My Life” which my grandfather (“grancher”) Reginald George Burge wrote in his own hand at the urging of his oldest son, the narrative begins with “My father’s father passed away before he was born, and his mother and grandmother raised him and gave him a good education…” This didn’t make sense to me. Mary Burge would have been 48 when William Albert was born, would her own mother really have been around to help raise him? And if William Albert’s father had passed away already, why was he listed on the birth certificate, and not noted as deceased?
I began by ‘googling’ William Albert Burge on the internet. From the results, I met a woman from Australia (Val Burge) who has posted a website of her Burge relatives. We swapped our notes about Mary Greenaway and William Burge. She had been somewhat baffled by the suggestion that William Albert was the son of William Burge and Mary Greenaway Burge. “Her” William Burge and Mary Greenway had 12 other children – the last of which was born in 1853 – and lived in Batheaston. None of “their” children were “my” William Albert born in 1861 in Westminster.
Val and I put our heads, and our facts together. The names of William and Mary Greenaway Burge’s children were strikingly familiar: Thomas Greenway, William James, John Gully, Albert, Ellen Elizabeth, James, James (2), Sarah, Mary, Henry, Frederick and Rhoda… familiar in that William Albert Burge named his children Mary, William Albert, Arthur, Ellen, Reginald, Rhoda, John Gully and Thomas Greenway. What are the chances that two people who named their children John Gully and Thomas Greenway would be unrelated? This was definitely a puzzle to find out where “my” William Albert fit in.
Through the wonderful availability of both British census and parish records, both online and from the LDS Family History Library, I began my search. I had already easily found William Albert Burge, 10, in the 1871 census listed as the son of Mary Burge, living with her (alone) in Batheaston, Somerset. That matched the birth certificate information. But then he appears again in the 1881 census still in Batheaston; Mary is still the head of the household, living with Rhoda her daughter, 27, but also with William, 20, her grandson.
I really wanted to see where the family was in 1861, but a search of the name Burge in the census records yielded neither Mary, Ellen nor William Albert Burge. Then I got the idea to search using the address listed on William Albert’s birth certificate as the place of his birth – 5 Stafford Place, Westminster, Middlesex. Bingo! William Albert ‘Taylor’ shows up in the 1861 census as being 2 months old, living with his mother Ellen Elizabeth ‘Taylor’ and his grandmother and head of household, Mary Burge (transcribed as Barge – which explains the search difficulty). On the handwritten census image, the name Taylor seems to have been scribbled in as an afterthought, and was never mentioned in any records again. In searching the Civil Registration Indexes, there is no record of Ellen ever marrying the elusive Mr. Taylor – or anyone else by that date. Could Taylor have been a play on words for them both having been dressmakers perhaps?
In the Civil Registration for Births at that time, there is no birth registered for a William Albert Taylor for that time period, but there is a William Albert Burge.
Further proof is found later, in the Batheaston Parish register, in 1875, when William Albert Burge is baptized, at the age of 14 years. His mother is listed as Ellen Burge, who states she is a servant in London. There is no father listed. At this time of his life, he was, according to the censuses, living with his grandmother there in Batheaston, and most likely, it was his grandmother that had taken him to the church for his baptism.
Now comes the fun part — who was William Albert’s father? Val put this one together for me. I told her that Mom had always said that it was family “rumor” that somewhere along the line we were related to royalty, but not through marriage — just indiscretion. My mom, aunts and uncles always seemed to refer to it as if it was so far back in history that nobody really know when it had happened. Val and I both sort of laughed at the idea. But then Val looked up Stafford Place, Westminster, where Ellen, Mary and baby William Albert were living after his birth. It is just outside the walls of Buckingham Palace! Literally right across the street from the gates! Val provided me with the following information on “Dirty Bertie”, the prince at the time of my great grandfather’s birth:
“The early 1860’s were also the time when the young Prince of Wales, Albert Edward (nicknamed Bertie, later King Edward VII of England), was beginning an unofficial career of wenching. His mother, Queen Victoria, was furious with him for this. She blamed him for the death of his father – who had travelled to see a young woman in 1861 who was reputedly pregnant with Bertie’s bastard – and caught a chill he never recovered from. Bertie became famous for his many mistresses in later years.”
It is no great stretch of the imagination for young Bertie to have had yet another bastard the same year – to a servant. All the Burge girls were very pretty, young William’s birth name included ‘Albert’ but this name wasn’t used on any of the later censuses, there was quite a cover-up of his birth, and yes – there IS a resemblance between William Albert and King Edward! All we have to do now is wait for genealogical DNA testing to get up to speed, then claim our rightful place in the palace. At least this story makes a nice fairy tale to tell my children.