I recently took delivery of a copy of the death certificate of Caleb Evans, a coal porter of Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, who died on 3rd February 1842 at the age of 65. The certificate reveals that the person who registered Caleb’s death was none other than my maternal 3rd great grandmother, Eliza Roe.

Death certificate of Caleb Evans (via General Register Office)

Why is this of interest? For some time, I’ve been trying to establish a definite connection between my Roe ancestors and the Evans family of Biggleswade. Eliza Roe had been born Eliza Holdsworth in 1801, the daughter of Stepney shoemaker William Holdsworth and his wife Lydia Evans, the daughter of Francis and Elizabeth Evans. William and Lydia were members of the Little Alie Street Baptist chapel in Whitechapel. As a young woman, Eliza seems to have travelled from London to Biggleswade where she met and married Daniel Roe, another Baptist shoemaker, in 1825. One of the witnesses at the wedding was Mary Evans, who seems to have been the daughter of Caleb Evans, who was apparently a deacon and lay preacher at the Baptist ‘Old Meeting’ in Biggleswade. This suggests that Eliza may have been drawn to Biggleswade by the presence there of her Evans relatives.

Recent research by my distant relative Keith Roe found a possible connection between the Roe family and another Evans – Rev. David Evans, the Baptist minister of Biggleswade in the late eighteenth century. Keith has discovered that David Evans married Mary Moss, the sister of Martha Moss, who was married to a certain William Roe of Pirton, which is across the county border in Hertfordshire but only ten miles from Biggleswade. There’s a strong likelihood that William Roe was related to the Daniel Roe who married Eliza Holdsworth.

Back Street, Biggleswade, in 1904 (via biggleswadehistory.org.uk)

Now, it’s possible that Eliza Roe registered the death of Caleb Evans simply because they were neighbours – the 1841 census shows Caleb living in Back Street, Biggleswade, while Eliza lived in nearby Sand Pit Lane – or because they were fellow worshippers at the town’s Baptist chapel. But given that Eliza’s mother was an Evans, as well as the presence of Caleb’s daughter Mary at Eliza’s wedding, it seems much more likely that Caleb was actually a relative of Eliza’s. As to why the death wasn’t registered by Caleb’s widow Ann, it’s possible that she was too old or too ill: she was 70 years old in 1842, and would die two years later.

Caleb’s wife Ann was born Ann Marsom, and came from a long-established Bedfordshire Baptist family. As for Caleb’s origins, the 1841 census record notes that he was born outside the county, but we are still no clearer about his family background. Could he have been the son of Rev. David Evans, or related to him in some other way? David Evans was born in Mydffai, Camarthenshire, Wales, in about 1710. He took up his post in Biggleswade in 1751 and in the same year married Mary Moss in Potton, a village a few miles to the north of the town (coincidentally, or perhaps not, the village where Ann Marsom would be born twenty years later). David would have been about forty years old when they married, but Mary was not quite nineteen, having been born in 1732. So it’s just about possible that she could have had a child in 1777, when she would have been in her mid-forties. The problem is: Mary Evans, née Moss, makes no mention of any children in her will of 1806 (her husband David had died in 1786).

So the search goes on. It would be a major breakthrough if we could find the record of Caleb Evans’ birth, or discover more about the origins of Eliza Roe’s maternal grandfather, Francis Evans.