A Marriage Made in Cyberspace

William Smithson CORTIS practiced medicine in Filey for over ten years. In that time his wife, Mary Jane née GREEN, gave birth to five children.  Two of three sons survived into adulthood and both qualified as doctors. The elder, William Richard,  blazed an adventurous trail to Australia and father, stepmother, brother, and two sisters duly followed him there. You may find a fourth son recorded in a British Census but “Albert” is a mistranscription of Herbert who, when not treating people for ailments, was thrilling those who turned up at cycle racing tracks in the early 1880s. Herbert Liddell CORTIS became widely recognized as the greatest cyclist of his generation and was still being remembered as such forty years after his death.

William Richard had a longer life, dying at 61 in Perth, Western Australia, at the beginning of 1909. He packed a great deal into his span – a shipwreck, fighting in a war, owning racehorses, becoming an MP, giving evidence in murder trials and being charged with an unlawful killing himself. He married three times and none of his brides were Anne Barnby HILL.


Link to pedigree

Blame “the system”!   Humans make mistakes like this too, of course. When I happened upon this marriage a couple of days ago I was quite prepared to accept it. The Australia connection fooled me initially but I went back to old notes and recently donated information and began to find more credible pieces of the Cortis Family jigsaw.

Titanic was not the first White Star Line vessel to hit an iceberg. In 1864 one of the company’s first steam-powered sailing ships, Royal Standard, got into a scrape in the South Atlantic. The people onboard lived to tell the tale, the ship making her way to Rio de Janeiro for repairs and then returning to Liverpool, her home port. The ship’s luck ran out in October 1869 when she was wrecked on the coast of Brazil. William Richard Cortis, on his way to Australia, was among the survivors.

William returned home rather than continue his journey to the antipodes and within a year had married Mary Julia MOORE in Camberwell. The newlyweds almost immediately sailed for the Australian Colonies but Mary Julia soon died in Tambaroora of tuberculosis, aged 23.

On 15th January 1873, William married Florence FYANS, daughter of the late Captain FYANS (4th King’s Own Regiment and formerly Commissioner of Crown Lands for the Western District, Victoria), at Christ Church, St Kilda, Melbourne. By the time William is reckoned to have married Anne Barnby Hill, Florence had borne one son and was pregnant with another. They would go on to have nine children together – and then divorce about 1905.

I haven’t found any evidence that William took up with a younger woman while still married to Florence but, as he approached sixty, Edith (family name not yet found) became the doctor’s third wife. On the 5th October 1908, The West Australian was reporting her funeral “in the Anglican portion of the Karrakatta Cemetery”. The screen image of the death notice is too heavily printed to be sure but, aged 23 or 28, Edith died well before her time.


(Family Notice via Trove.)

Within three months, William Richard Cortis was also dead. On the 6th January 1909, The Geraldton Express reflected on “A Varied Career”.

Dr. William Richard Cortis died suddenly yesterday at the W. A. Club. He was over 60 years of age, and during his career had been a prominent surgeon, legislator, soldier, and magistrate. During the past six or eight months he acted as Resident Medical Officer at Kookynie. He came to the city about a month ago, having obtained leave. For two or three years he held the position of Resident Magistrate and Medical Officer at Derby. The post-mortem examination revealed the fact that the cause of death was angina pecoris (sic), and although the deceased had taken a quantity of morphia to alleviate the pain, this had nothing whatever to do with his end. Deceased was a man of fine physique, but during the last year he was overtaken by a trouble which no doubt undermined his health, and this was accelerated by the recent death of his wife, which preyed on his mind. Last year, while Resident Magistrate and Medical Officer at Derby, he was called upon to stand his trial on three separate occasions for the alleged unlawful killing of a man named Gerald Ascione.

William Richard’s short-term in Government is officially recognized here.

My thanks to Elizabeth Kennard (USA) and Peter Donkin (Australia) for kindly offering information on the Cortis Family that might otherwise have remained hidden from me. I have several more leads to follow and hope soon to make the necessary corrections to the pedigree on FamilySearch. I won’t be at all surprised to discover that the William who married Anne Barnby HILL and William Richard are cousins with a recent common ancestor just three generations back in north Lincolnshire. CORTIS isn’t a common name.


A Long Way to Go

In her 2016 presentation for Genetic Genealogy Ireland Debbie Kennett had this to say about world family trees:-

It seems insane to me that we’ve got lots of people working on their family trees, everyone uploading their family trees but it’s on different websites and no one is working together. So my vision for the future is that we have one integrated family tree website where everybody is working together. Think of Wikipedia, if you want an Encyclopedia where do you go for a first look? You go to Wikipedia. If you want to look at someone’s family tree you’ve got to navigate a whole… all sorts of different websites and some of them you’ve got to have a subscription to access trees. We want one world-wide family tree website where everyone can put their results and where it’s completely free and where you can also upload your DNA. So we just need someone to come up with the solution. I don’t know who it’s going to be, erm, none of these sites at the moment are up to the job, none of them actually can do what you can do with your own family tree software at home but that will come in the future when we have our family tree and our DNA in the cloud and online and everyone working together on one big family tree.

The Future of Autosomal DNA Testing (from 12min 50sec)

Jere Becker commented –

Thanks for sharing this, but Debbie is wrong that there is no website for everyone to work on a single tree. FamilySearch has FamilySearch Family Tree, totally free and linked to their records (always free) and to the records of for-profit companies as well (you have to be a subscriber to see the records of the for-profit companies).

Debbie replied.

Jere, I did include FamilySearch in my presentation. The point I was trying to make is that there are currently lots of competing websites where people can upload family trees. Wikitree, Geni.com and We’re Related all allow people to work on a universal family tree. Each website has its pros and cons but there is no single site that is favoured by everyone. The FamilySearch Family Tree is still somewhat clunky to use. I prefer the system at Geni.com but you have to subscribe to access all of their features. I suspect in the long run the FamilySearch Family tree will improve and become the preferred option but it still has a long way to go.

I began tackling the Abel SAWDEN/Annie BANKS household on FamilySearch Tree first thing this morning. Given the couple’s multiple IDs I chose those attached to their marriage to be the “definitives”. Choosing a pair of baptism IDs would have given me a three person start but it seemed neater to begin at the nuptials.


It took about 20 minutes to add the five children who are in the GRO Online Index. I thought I’d put on Abel’s forebears next but had difficulties almost immediately. Yesterday I found some good leads to earlier Sawden generation on a forum and Abel’s grandfather (I think it was) unlocked a fairly extensive chunk of pedigree on FST. Alas, the dates were slightly off and a couple of spouses with similar names were attached to different husbands with the same name. (Hope you are following this!) One of the dubious connections jumped the pond to the United States, a commonplace that nonetheless puts me on a state of high alert. (See William Brown in Sunday’s post Blowman v. Wiseman.)

I chose instead to tackle the purple signposts and made a bit of progress in forty minutes or so. All told I spent about an hour and three-quarters on just seven people – and hardly scratched their surfaces.

And yes, it all felt a bit clunky. But if it seems to take longer than it should to add the various vital record sources the procedures are straightforward. I do feel an idiot sometimes when asked for my reasons for adding information and I am sometimes confused by the reviewing and attaching of the Blue Hints. Overall, though, it is enjoyable work and a comfort to know that any howlers I might make will be noticed and indulgently corrected by someone who passes this way afterwards. Won’t they?

This is as far as I got today:-


I walked through the churchyard this morning to photograph the Sawden headstone. The inscription is not at all clear in dull, flat light so here is Annie’s grave (foreground, between the red granite obelisk and oak tree) in relation to the church. Abel was, presumably, buried in Sheffield.


In Today’s Image the tree to the left beyond the roundabout is said to be the one in which Charles Laughton hid from the Sisters of Mercy at the convent school. There is a snippet about the circular seat at the base of the tree in Sunday Assortment 14 on Looking at Filey. If you go there and feel short-changed because the Laughton links don’t work on the Way Back Machine – try this age nine and Stoneyhurst Jesuit College.


On the 3rd July 1882 Charles Henry SAWDEN, a bricklayer, suffered a serious accident while taking down scaffolding. The next day it was his mother’s 52nd birthday.

Annie Banks was about twenty when she married Abel SAWDEN, ten years her senior. I haven’t yet determined how many children they had together. So far I have found five in the GRO Online Index, there are seven in Filey Genealogy and Connections and four baptisms (at least) recorded on FamilySearch Tree. You will know by now that the FST System’s plucking of baptismal records from the old IGI is a Make Work Project for anyone who may feel obliged to do some pruning. In twenty minutes or so I found that Abel had six duplicate IDs and Annie five. Abel’s extra one was his own baptism, the shared others his marriage to Annie and the christenings of four of their children – Alfred, Arthur Jabez, Charles Henry and John William. There may be more dupes but this is what you see when you search for Abel on FST.


The eagle eyed among you may already have noticed that I searched for Abel’s birth in 1821 and the one record that strongly matched my search terms confidently gives his baptism in 1819. The Monumental Inscription in St Oswald’s Filey, as recorded by both John & Maisie Crimlisk and the fine team of recorders from East Yorkshire Family History Society give “Also of ABEL SAWDEN born July 17th 1821 died Oct 5th 1895”. What to do?

I must say I’m not keen to don gloves and pick up my secateurs but I may have a go tomorrow – and set the timer to see how long the job takes. There must be a million tasks just like it at FamilySearch and my bet is that “the community” is as enthusiastic as I am to get stuck in.

There will be SAWDON/SAWDEN details to add and perhaps more isolated bits of the family to bring together. It could take hours!

My old LaF post had Charles Henry leaving Filey a single man. A chip off the old brick, he married an Annie over ten years younger than himself. I have found three children so far.

Not to be outdone, after his wife died Abel married another Annie, the daughter of John KING, whitesmith, at All Saints  Scarborough on 13th September 1890. Annie 2 was a spinster of full age and the most compelling evidence I have found so far is that she was about sixty years old. Six months after the marriage the census enumerator called and found Abel and Annie together at Rutland House, Rutland Street – but it was Annie Dinah, Abel’s  26 year old daughter. The pair of them departed for the West Riding a short time afterwards. Dinah married Henry SCOTT in Huddersfield in 1893 and Abel died in Sheffield in 1895. I don’t know what happened to the former Annie KING.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe scene of Today’s Image looked very different this morning. (I’m going to stop adding “previous post” from now on.) No Everyboy radiating joy in the world, just a mizzly sky and the distant placid sea dotted with a few small fishing boats (their twin wheel carriages parked up against the Coble Landing wall).

The Williams Beswick

I arrived in Filey with my faithful companion Jude, a 7 year old lab cross, nine years ago today.  I can’t remember writing a local history blog being high on my To Do List but when I began Looking at Filey in 2010 the first post featured the area’s most famous Bronze Age citizen. Put Gristhorpe Man into your favourite search engine and you will find plenty of information about him, including photographs of what the facial reconstructionists reckon he looked like. His skeleton was discovered on the estate of William BESWICK (1781 – 1837) in July 1834.

William’s second son, also William, was born 200 years ago and as a 17 year old was probably in the party of amateur archaeologists and labourers who excavated the barrow near Gristhorpe cliffs. Should you doubt the interest in such an activity by a teenager in the reign of William IV take note that the first report on the excavation was written by William Crawford WILLIAMSON, the son of Scarborough Museum’s curator, also aged seventeen.

I will write a post about the excavation next month but today young William BESWICK is my first guinea pig in the experiment to link Yorkshire coast people in Kath’s Filey Genealogy & Connections (FG&C) with the same individuals on FamilySearch Tree (FST).

My initial search for William on FST was disappointing. Here is a screenshot of the family tree.


For a scion of a locally significant landed family this was an unexpected result but after a few weeks of exploring the world of FamilySearch I guessed there would be more to discover.

A second search, this time for William Senior, brought another fragment of pedigree.


You will see from my comments on the screenshots that Kath’s database has more information on these Beswicks than FST seems to be currently offering.

Here is a graphic comparing the Williams on FST and FG&C.


Two hundred year old William is the target man. His FST ID is in red as a warning that he is currently detached from his extended family. (See yesterday’s post for an explanation of why he is Generation 5.) On his male (Y-DNA) line the IDs for earlier generations are in green because I hope these will prove to be the best of two or more Duplicates for the people on the two (and possibly more) pedigrees.

The names of the Males in the Filey Genealogy column are in bold because they are represented on FST. Mary KELD is also on FST but as just “Mary” and I’m not sure which of her Duplicate IDs will survive a merging process that will see Young William linked to his extended family.

Brian BESWICK born 1602 is in regular font because I haven’t yet found him on FST. (This doesn’t mean he isn’t there!)

You will see very clearly from the graphic that the BESWICK female line begins and ends with Mary KELD. Maybe you can extend it by finding Mary’s mother, then her mother’s mother – and maybe even take the line further back towards “the Daughter of Eve”.

William didn’t marry and died in 1884 shortly before his 67th birthday. Only Mary Elizabeth [LRB5-GP9] of his five siblings married and her husband will be the subject of a future post.

I hope all this makes sense and is of some interest. Feel free to go to FST and reunite Young William with his family. You will need to sign up for a Free Account to make changes to the World Tree Wiki but anyone can access the Pedigree Resource File. To search for Young William there click Genealogies on the Menu bar and enter his name, birthplace “Gristhorpe” and birth year “1817”. Kath’s database should be the better of two birth and christening hits. The third return is for the 1841 Census which shows William and his younger brother with servants.

(The burial place of Gristhorpe Man is about two miles towards the setting sun in today’s image of the Cleveland Way.)