John Charles Hopkins presented a problem. I had a copy of his death certificate and his marriage certificate and had found him on the 1901 and 1911 censuses. These all pointed to his year of birth being 1879 - but I could find no birth registration or baptism or trace of him in 1881 or 1891. The family story was that he was a Geordie, but he was remembered as having an accent no different to anyone else’s on Merseyside (Birkenhead and Liverpool) where he married, brought up children and lived until his death in St Catherine’s Hospital, Birkenhead in 1960 at the age of 81. He married Anne Coyne on the 7th August 1899 in St Anne’s Catholic Church, Tranmere (Rock Ferry). They are both aged 20 and his occupation is Labourer. He gives his address as 25 Bold Street, Tranmere, while hers is 42 New Chester Road, New Ferry. The witnesses are James and Ellen Kenny, Anne’s uncle and aunt. John’s father is John Hopkins (deceased), a Marine Engineer, hers is John Coyne, Railway porter. At the time of the 1901 census they are living at 29 Bold Street, and John Charles aged 22 is a general labourer born in Tranmere, Cheshire. However their first daughter, Margaret McDonnell Hopkins had been born on the 2nd April 1900 in Liverpool and baptised on the 16th April at the church of St Francis Xavier; sadly she was to die in the autumn of that year on the Birkenhead side of the river. John and Anne were back in Liverpool before the birth of their daughter Winifred in 1905 and in 1911 are living at 28 Tudwal Steet, Garston. He is now a Tramway motor man working for Liverpool Corporation, aged 32. They have been married eleven years, and of the three children born to them only Winifred is still living. They went on to have three more children: Anne (b. 1912), John Charles (b. 1913) and Frances (b. 1917), and by 1915, at the time of the short service attestation of John Charles Hopkins, who joined up with the RAMC at Blackpool, they are living at 3 Humber Street, Kirkdale He was discharged in December 1917 as no longer physically fit for war service, due to his varicose veins. Still at the Humber Street address on his discharge, he says that he worked for Liverpool Corporation Tramways for 16 years and 3 months (as an electric car driver according to the birth certificates of his children), and now desires employment as an Electric Car Repairer in Liverpool. On his original attestation form he gave his current occupation as Turner of shells, munition work, and interestingly, handwritten in at the top of this form is “Technical School, Byrom Street, Liverpool”, so he would appear to have some training. It would seem that his request for work in Liverpool was not granted, for, after his discharge he wrote two letters requesting his “silver war badge” (to which he was apparently not entitled): the first in 1918 from 55 Pool Bank, Port Sunlight, New Ferry, Cheshire; and the second on the 18th February 1919 from 62 Flat 5 Carolina Place, Devonshire Road, Birkenhead. So the family very quickly after his discharge went back “home” to the Birkenhead side, where they can still be found in the 1939 register at 47 Willmer Road, Birkenhead, and by that time he is working as a night watchman probably at Cammell Laird’s. Living with John and Anne are three of their children: Anne, with her husband, Peter Cull, a joiner with Cammell Laird’s; John Charles, junior, an electricity meter tester & repairer with Birkenhead Corporation, and also a member of the Auxiliary Fire Service; and Frances, a Football Pool clerk. Their oldest daughter Winifred was living at 71 Patten Street, Birkenhead, with her husband William Cress, an engine fitter, and their children. Anne died on the 27th January 1952 at 11 Kipling Avenue, Birkenhead, and her husband died on the 20th June 1960 in St Catherine’s Hospital. His death was registered by his son, John Charles Hopkins, who gives his father’s home address as 3 Ruskin Avenue, and his occupation as Patrol man, Gasworks (retired). It was a family memory that John Charles Hopkins’ mother had married a man called Biggs after the death of his father that helped get back before 1901. FreeBMD came up with a likely looking marriage in 1896 when a Sarah Ann Hopkins married William Henry Biggs in Liverpool. I sent off for the certificate, to find that the marriage took place on the 30th March in the parish church in the parish of Liverpool. Bride and groom are widow and widower respectively, and both give Pitt Street as their address. William Henry, and his father who had exactly the same name are both labourers. Sarah's father is James Courtney, a Cart owner. At this stage, apart from coincidence there was nothing to link this into the family tree. But when I looked for the Biggs on the 1901 census, I found them living across the Mersey, in Birkenhead, at 25 Bold Street, in the parish of St Peter's, Rock Ferry - the address given by John Charles Hopkins on his marriage certificate - and two doors from John and his wife Anne. John Hopkins married Sarah Ann Courtney on 12 January 1882 in Birkenhead Register Office. He is 40 years old and a bachelor, she is 25 and a spinster. His occupation is Marine engineer, and his address is 8 Green Lane, Tranmere. His father is Thomas Hopkins (deceased), shipwright. Sarah's address is 8 Meadow Lane, Tranmere, and her father, James Courtney is a Cartowner. There would appear to be a problem here, as John Charles Hopkins was born in Tranmere, according to the 1901 and 1911 censuses and marriage and death certificates, in 1879/1880. The solution came from some lateral thinking. Living with Sarah Ann's parents, James and Sarah Courtney, in the 1881 census, is a child, Charles Courtney born in Tranmere in 1879. While he could be a very much younger brother to Sarah, he could also be her son: a Sarah Ann Courtney gave birth to an illegitimate son, Charles Courtney, in the Tranmere Workhouse on 1st February 1879, and this is the same birthday as that given for John Charles Hopkins in the 1939 register. The family story is that there is a connection somewhere with the Dewhurst butchers, part of the Vestey empire. Vesteys were certainly living in Tranmere in 1861 in the same road as Sarah's Courtney grandparents - Olive Mount. So who was the father of Charles Courtney? And why can’t I find Sarah Ann (or her future husband John Hopkins) in the 1881 census? Strange to say Charles appears to have been baptised on the 13th October 1887 at St Peter’s in Liverpool. I’m sure this is the family, but the surname is Courtenay. His parents are John and Sarah Ann, his father is an Engineer and they live in Rock Ferry. Did they think that as he had been registered at birth as Courtney, that was the name he had to be baptised with, and that both his parents had to have? Or was it a pure misunderstanding when they gave the name of the child as Charles Courtney, the vicar assumed that was their surname too, and nobody ever checked. John Hopkins makes his mark on both the 1871 census entry (as an officer in charge of a vessel he should have filled in the return personally) and on his marriage certificate, so it is more than likely that he couldn’t read either. In the 1891 census John and Sarah Ann Hopkins are living at 25 Bold Street, with Charles Hopkins their son, aged 12. John is aged 49 and a Fireman on Ferry Boat, and his place of birth is given as Scotland, North Shields. Some helpful later census analyst has scored through the words North Shields and just left the Scotland, but this must be the Geordie connection, so probably the wrong place was crossed out. John died aged 53 on the 4th December 1895 from asthma and acute bronchitis in the Union Infirmary, Tranmere; his death was registered by E. Taylor, Master, Workhouse, Tranmere and his occupation is given as Marine Fireman Merchant Service of Tranmere. Sarah Ann Biggs (Courtney - Hopkins) is somewhat cavalier with her age. She was actually born on 6 July 1856, and is shown aged 5 on the 1861 census. So she should be 45 in 1901 instead of the stated 38. In 1911 she is still living with her husband William Henry (a shipyard hand driller) at 25 Bold Street and gives her age as the even less accurate 47. She died on the 7th May 1924 at 25 Bold Street and her husband William Henry Biggs registered her death - stating her age to be 63 - but really she had nearly reached her 68th birthday. Back to North Shields …
Hopkins family: the problem of the Hopkins
John Charles Hopkins 1 February 1879-20 June 1960 born Charles Courtney
Anne Coyne 9 July 1879-27 January 1952