Family History,  Rose

The disappearance of Peter Soards – Family History

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I haven’t shared any family history for a while.  To be honest, after searching through records on Ancestry (when they had their last free access) and still hitting a brick wall with Peter Soards, I’ve kind of pushed it to the back of my mind.  And to those of you who are familiar with names being mistranscribed, I have searched since 2006 for all sorts of variations.

Peter Soards is somewhat of an enigma being born in Holland as a British Subject and then disappearing (although I THINK I know what happened but it is only conjecture).

I’m related to Peter through his daughter, Catherine Soards.  Catherine Soards married Richard Thomas Edmund Rose (RTE is mentioned here as a son and in my music halls post).

Peter is my 3 x gt grandfather.


Screen shots from my Ancestry tree

I know what happened to my 2 x gt grandmother, Catherine Soards (I will write about Catherine in another post); am still in contact with a couple of William Soards descendants; found Hannah’s marriage and traced her up to the 1881 census; found Elizabeth’s two marriages and traced her up to the 1901 census.  The other two siblings died a couple of months after birth.

The family remain Soards, Soardes or Sords throughout every document I have found (no Swords!).

Beginning with RTE’s marriage certificate, I was able to trace Catherine on census and her baptism.

Tracing Peter back or even forward has been something of a nightmare!

I have searched through records online for Holland (so many districts!) but the closest I have come to with Soards is SCHWARTZ.  There are no Soards …

It’s possible he was born in Holland because his father was in the military.

The first time I find Peter is to his marriage to Esther Alcock in London in 1827.  In the census records I’ve found him on, in the baptism registers, on the marriage certificates and Esther (as a widow of) in the poor law records, he is noted as being a combmaker.  He is also in the Combs, Combmaking and the Combmakers’ Company directory.  In the directory his year of birth is 1808 and he is practicing in Shoreditch.

In the 1841 census, Peter is living alone in Bristol, there is no trace for Esther, Catherine and William.  Hannah and Elizabeth are in Bethnal Green workhouse and had been for some time.  Interestingly, at the same time as they were in the workhouse, an inmate John Sords (b 1726), died. Obviously a connection. 82 years difference with Peter, he could have been his own gt/grandfather.

In the 1851 census, apart from William (who married Celia Chumbley in 1850), they were all living together.  This is the only time!

William was a fisherman and moved to Barking to join the Short Blue fishing fleet.  When the fleet moved to Gorleston in Great Yarmouth, he moved there with his young family too.  Catherine remained in touch with them.

Celia Chumbley and William Soards


William and Celia’s grave


Anyway, I digress.

Esther and her parents originally came from Ribbesford in Worcestershire and moved to Spitalfields. It is important to note here that Esther’s (nee Alcock) father, William, died at the end of 1847 and his will proved in 1848.  Esther is a beneficiary in his will and the finances would have made a great deal of difference to her life.  Properties were to be sold before she could realise her inheritance – although I’m not sure she ever saw it…

After the 1851 census, Peter disappears.  Maybe not totally though.  Just from the UK.

I can’t find Esther in 1861 or 1871 census either.

I think it may be possible that the Peter Sords from Great Britain who arrived in Ohio in July 1851 and gained US Naturalization on 3rd November 1860 could be the same one.  He may even have gone there to find a ‘new’ life for Esther and either died there or just didn’t communicate with those back home.  Peter Soards/Sords is such an unusual first name and surname that it is rare in the UK at that time.  Coincidence?  Should I give him the benefit of the doubt?

In December 1851 (Hannah married Edward Soar), October 1855 (Elizabeth married Henry North) and February 1858 (my Catherine married RTE), the marriage certificates do not note he is deceased (although he could still be alive, somewhere).  And from 1875 to 1881, Esther is in the poor law records shown as being the widow of Peter.

The 1881 census has Esther in Bethnal Green workhouse.  She died 11 Mar 1884 at the Infirmary Hackney Union.  She was 74 years old, widow of Peter Soards combmaker, cause Brights Disease, Pulmonary Oedema, informant Catherine Rose daughter in attendance of 135 Holly Street, Dalston (my 2x grandmother).

Bethnal Green workhouse seems to figure in the Soards lives.  In 1866 it was featured in the medical journal, The Lancet in respect of the 27 sick wards (information sourced from the above link):

  • No running water was available from 5pm until 7am.
  • Classification was poor, with imbeciles scattered amongst the various wards, and foul cases mixed with ordinary patients.
  • Lighting and ventilation were inadequate — many windows were six feet from the floor to prevent the inmates seeing out.
  • Overcrowding resulted in each patient having only 300 cubic feet, only a quarter of official recommendations.
  • There was a lack of water-closets and urine-soaked floors.
  • Washing facilities were severely lacking — in one children’s ward, 17 children were washed daily in one pail, several in the same water, and dried with sheets.
  • In the male wards, forty-five men were served by two latrines which were flushed twice a day.
  • A staff of only two paid nurses, both untrained, nursed up to 600 sick. They were assisted by 40 pauper nurses and helpers ‘whose tendencies to drink cannot be controlled’.
  • The insane ward consisted of small, dark, ill-ventilated rooms, under the charge of a male pauper, a weaver by trade with no knowledge of nursing.
  • The diet was lacking in meat, and the aged and infirm were given difficult to digest food such as suet pudding
  • The number of medical officers was inadequate for the number of patients

I am very grateful for the NHS!

So … if you’re reading this and you’re descended from the Peter Soards who lived in Ohio and can dispute he is the same one who was a combmaker in the UK then please leave a comment.

If you know anything about the Soards family then I would love to hear from you!


I've been blogging about my interests at Jera's Jamboree for 8+ years. My love of reading, crocheting and being out in nature are all things that help me unwind from my role as an Inclusion Lead in a primary school. I'm passionate about early help and sharing strategies with families to empower and help build resilience. I'm a member of of my Local Authority's Early Help Operational Board, working alongside other professionals to instigate change and growth.

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