I’ve often found that following up the names of witnesses at weddings can be a useful strategy in family history research. You have to be careful – sometimes the witnesses are churchwardens or other parish personnel, or people who were there for other weddings. And sometimes it’s impossible to find out any more about the witnesses, beyond their names. But just occasionally, this line of enquiry can reveal useful new information.

The marriage of Robert Bowman and Caroline Reed in the parish register of St Mary’s, Whitechapel

The other day I was looking again at the marriage record for my 3rdgreat grandparents Robert Bowman and Caroline Reed, who were married at St Mary’s, Whitechapel on 20thJanuary 1828. Robert (1801 – 1842) and Caroline (1798 – 1875) were the parents of John Bowman (1828 – 1906), an umbrella frame maker who married Elizabeth Larke (1831 – 1910). Their daughter Louisa Bowman (1856 – 1905) married Charles Edward Robb (1851 – 1934 ), and they were my great grandparents.

There were two witnesses to the wedding of Robert and Caroline Bowman: John Doughty and Charlotte Wylle, the latter marking her presence with an ‘x’.  If we search for Charlotte Wylle in the online records, we find her in both the 1841 and 1851 census accounts. In 1841, she was described as a 40-year-old laundress, living at No 4 Somerset Court in the parish of St Botolph, Aldgate, with 50-year-old Robert Wyle (sic), a j[ourney] m[an] butcher. Living with them is 8-year-old Jane Wood. In 1851, the couple were at the same address, and doing the same jobs, but now we learn that Robert was born in Ipswich, Suffolk, and Charlotte in Edmonton, Middlesex. The ages don’t quite match the 1841 equivalents: here, Robert is said to be 59 and Charlotte 42. There are land tax records for Robert Wyle at the same address, dating from 1823.

Next door to the Wyles in 1851, at No 3 Somerset Court, was none other than my 3rd great grandmother Caroline Bowman, Robert Bowman’s widow, working as a charwoman, together with her four children: John, 22, an umbrella frame maker; Robert, 18, a light porter; Joseph, 15, an errand boy; and Charlotte, 13, a ‘scholar’. The Bowman’s had been living in nearby Harrow Alley before John’s death in 1842.

The parish church of All Saints, Edmonton

The connection between the Wyles and the Bowmans is explained by the marriage, on 2ndJanuary 1820, at All Saints church, Edmonton, of Robert Wyle and Charlotte Bowman. I already knew that Robert Bowman had a sister named Charlotte. On 17thNovember 1793, Joseph and Sarah Bowman had their daughter Charlotte christened at All Saints, Edmonton. If the 1851 census is correct, then Charlotte Wyle née Bowman was born in 1809; if the 1841 census is correct, then she was born in 1801. Neither quite matches the baptism record, but it’s possible that the 1793 Charlotte died in infancy and the Bowmans subsequently had another daughter of the same name.

What could be more natural than that, after her husband’s death, Caroline Bowman should move to be near her sister-in-law Charlotte Wyle, especially as she was left with four children, and the Wyles appear to have had no children of their own? As for young Jane Wood, who was living with the Wyles in 1841, she turns out to have been the daughter of another Bowman sibling, Jane, who had married Edward Wood in Lambeth in July 1823: Charlotte Wyle, her sister, had been a witness at that wedding too.

I’ve found no further records for either Robert or Charlotte Wyle after 1851, and the dates of their deaths and details of their burials remain, for now, something of a mystery.