Remember William on his wedding day, well this is his mother – Ada – and she is a woman with eight years of mystery in her life. Actually it could be more than eight years, as her year of birth got earlier and earlier the older she got.


Ada died on 19th November 1954 at no 1 Ranelagh Cottages on Ebury Bridge Road in London. Her death was registered by her eldest son, as her husband, Benjamin, had died 26 years previously, and her other seven children were either dead or not in close contact. The loss of so many close family members might go some way to explain why her two surviving grandchildren do not have very happy memories of her.

Ranelagh Cottages, which still exist today, had been Ada’s home since at least 1913, it was where her youngest child was born. Prior to moving to Ranelagh Cottages, Benjamin and Ada had lived in at least four different homes in Pimlico. The 1911 census has them in Commercial Place, the 1904 birth of their eldest daughter in Passmore Street and the 1901 census on Luna Street. Not at all unusual experience for families renting in London.

Ada and Benjamin married in 1893, and it was their marriage certificate which helped us find out a little bit more about Ada’s eight year mystery. We already knew from the birth certificates of her children, that Ada’s maiden name – Wheeler – was exactly the same as her married name.

Benjamin Wheeler

It just seems to be a coincidence though, as Ada and Benjamin were not related prior to their marriage. It was from the marriage certificate we first learnt the name of Ada’s father – Alfred. Unfortunately however knowing his name took us no where. A few years later the 1939 register gave us her date of birth, so we finally thought we track down her birth records and even more importantly her parents on earlier census records. Or so we thought!

The problems are multiple. Two years before her marriage, on the 1891 census, she is working as a live in housemaid, and so no information can be gathered from that. Whilst we know her father was no longer alive at the time of her marriage, we don’t know when or where he died and his common name means it has proved impossible to track down his death records. And lastly just to complicate things still further after the death of her husband in 1928 Ada began recording she was older than we had previously thought.

1939 Register
1939 register

All the pre-1928 records indicated she was born between 1871 and 1873 but on the 1939 register she gives her date of birth as 20th March 1869, and in 1954 her son says she was born in 1868! We have bought numerous birth certificates of girls born in London with the name Ada Wheeler, the place Ada always said she was born. However not one has matched up with the information we do have, and there does become a point when you feel like you are pouring money down the drain! Consequently we began to give up hope on ever discovering Ada’s childhood records, but then a few years ago I decided to look again at her marriage certificate. Namely her address – 11 Whittaker Street – and her witnesses – Charles Newman and Annie Wren. Could there be anything on the 1891 census return. There was!

In 1891 both Charles and Annie were living in Whittaker Street. The Newmans at no11 and the Wrens at no7. Clearly Ada knew them well. We also spotted that Charles was a porter, the same profession as Ada’s deceased father. Could this mean anything?

We decided to go back another ten years, to the 1881 census but this time focus on Charles Newman. We found him, still in Pimlico and still a porter. Guess what, he has an eight year daughter named Ada. We had found Ada, but whom were her parents?

Ada Wheeler on 1881 census
1881 Census – Ada recorded as daughter of Charles Newman

We went back another ten years to the 1871 census and found Charles again, but no sign of Ada. We did spot he had a different wife in 1871 and so thought perhaps Ada was his step daughter following his second marriage. However despite numerous searches over the past twenty odd years by us and professional genealogists we have yet to find any documentary evidence to support this theory. We’ve not even been able to find evidence of his second marriage, apart from the census returns.

Consequently the first eight, possibly thirteen years of Ada’s life, remain a mystery. Maybe even she didn’t know the truth about her full name, place of birth and parents.

41 thoughts

  1. Wow, this is super interesting. Reminds me that when I get back to the States I have a family genealogy mystery to try and track down. It’s a bit of confusion about dates, so that’s why your post reminded me.

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  2. Interesting stuff, finding out all the bits and pieces of family history. My sister worked on ours for years, but I’m not sure whether she still does. Seems like there are always mysteries though, records lost or destroyed. But then, some things might be better not to know!

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  3. That is a mystery. I hope someone might have ideas on how to unravel it too. It is rare for people to admit to being older as they age! Ada perhaps pretended to be younger in order to get protection. I wonder if Charles had descendants who might know more?

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    1. So frustrating, specially as Mum could have asked her. But then we never ask our parents or our grandparents the questions when we’re young do we!

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      1. And often they don’t want to tell us either. My father was born out of wedlock and has no father named on his birth certificate, but I was only told shortly before my mother died – she told me but asked me not to mention it to my dad! (I was 42). All sorts of things made sense then, he was the only one of 7 children to have bright ginger hair – the rest had very dark brown / almost black. I often wonder who the father was, my grandmother worked as a maid in London at the time. All sorts of stories could be written 😁 Who knows. I could be related to royalty!

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      2. I always find it so sad how social convention causes so many problems for families. Hope your Dad had a good relationship with his mum and half siblings . . . . . not sure I’d want to be related to royalty!!


      3. His siblings worshipped him, after all he was big brother, and no one knew any different. I’m not sure he did until he needed his birth certificate when he got married.

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  4. What an extraordinary story and well done for uncovering so much, despite your setbacks. Interestingly to me, we must have passed Ada’s house many times, as by about 1954, we would sometimes pass that way on the way to the library on Buckingham Palace Road. When I published bits of family history on my blog, it prompted very distant relations to get in touch and fill in blanks in my family story. I hope you have the same luck.

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      1. I didn’t go to Primary School there as when we moved to Victoria I continued at my original primary school. Then I went to Grey Coat Hospital, a grammar school further over towards Westminster.. Any luck?

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  5. They weren’t always happy times, Becky. I lived with my maternal grandmother when I was young and don’t remember much joy in her life. Her husband died in his 40s and she struggled on, with too many children and not enough money. I’m glad to say my aunties and uncles turned out fine, but she was dead at 60. Very different times we live in.

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    1. So easy to forget how many struggled just a generation or two back 😦

      She obviously though did something fabulous with you xxxx


      1. We won’t be going out for weeks, virus active around us and lack of proper procedures/safety measures means just too risky. We’ve got a big garden and deliveries now working so all is good πŸ™‚


      2. And plenty to keep you busy, I bet. You’ll have July squares done in record time. 🀣 And there’s always work πŸ˜•. Are you expecting to be opening in September this year? πŸ’•


      3. Well I have identified all my potential archives for July!!

        No don’t think so. The festival will almost certainly be digital. There’ll be still some form of social distancing I think then 😦


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