Sparkes Line pre 1900 - Starting Points

Arthur Sparkes (father to Margaret May Sparkes) was born 1855/6 (as shown by his age on census data). I can find no civil registration of the birth of Arthur Sparkes in Free BMD for either year except for one in Exeter. However, Family Search has a record of the baptism of Arthur Sparkes in Whitchurch on 23rd February 1856. No father’s name is given but the mother’s name given as Sarah Sparkes.

Although I could not find this or any other likely birth on Free BMD I tried sending for a BC but received a reply saying that no such registration could be found.

The starting point for the research is thus the 1861 Census - see below in the chronological account. This shows Arthur Sparkes aged 5 living with 4 supposed siblings (John, (34) Anne, (37) William (34), and Ellen (22). The discrepancies in age and the lack of any parents of the siblings make it highly unlikely that Arthur is truly brother to the others. He is almost certainly the illegitimate child of one of the unmarried sisters in the family. However no Sarah appears in the 1861 listing.

The 1841 Census, two decades earlier, shows a Sparks family living in Newhall, Cheshire with names of children that appear to match the names in the 1861 census (Ann, William and Ellen - now given as Helen). And here now is daughter Sarah (5). The surname is spelt without the “e” but this is the only mismatch and such a change in spelling from census to census is not unusual.

The young Sarah was aged 5 in 1841 therefore born around 1836 - sadly one year before registration began so it is not possible to trace a birth certificate. However there is a record of her christening - see below. If she is Arthur’s mother she would have been 20 years old when her illegitimate son was born.

This 1841 Census and the christening record provide evidence of the previous generation - Sarah’s parents were Thomas and Sarah - both born before the start of the 19th Century.

Thomas Sparks - Christened 19th April 1789

Thus the first Sparkes ancestors that it is possible to know much about are Thomas and Sarah who figure in the 1841 Census.

As they would have been born and married before national registration, FamilySearch was the initial source for further information - their possible birth or marriage dates and birth dates for their several children. However, I discovered that this part of Cheshire seems to be well represented in Ancestry too through “Bishop’s Transcripts” and “Parish Registers” so much of the following information is duplicated there.

Family Search has two records of the same birth on 19th April 1789 one in “Bishop’s Transcripts” giving the name Thomas Sparks and the other from “Parish Registers” with the name Thomas Lover Sparks. Lover seems an unlikely name so this may well be a mis-transcription. The church address is given in the Bishops Transcripts - St. Oswald, Malpas, Cheshire, England. This is the only close fit I can find, although birth in the county of Cheshire does not fit with the 1841 census, which had him born out of the county (but see below).

Two others researching this line contacted through Ancestry (JM & HA) dispute that this is our Thomas as they have information from the Banns to his marriage where he declared that he was born in Whitchurch, Shropshire. This would fit the “out of county” response in the 1841 census but no record of this birth can be found. The distance from Malpas to Whitchurch is less than 6 miles and it is perfectly reasonable to assume that the family may have lived somewhere along this route. I am satisfied with this Thomas and do not accept the argument for the alternative Whitchurch family. 

St Oswald’s is a splendid Anglican Parish Church built in the 14th century in Malpas, a town close to the Welsh border and close to Wrenbury and Whitchurch.

This record takes us a generation further back to Thomas’ parents William and Anne Sparks.

Family Search (and also Ancestry) has the marriage of William Sparks and Ann Glover on 13th December 1784 - also in St Oswald’s.

William and Ann have three other children with christenings listed in Family Search - all christened in Malpas, Cheshire: Elizabeth 1791, William 1793 and John 1796.

I am unable to trace either William Sparkes or Ann Glover any further back, as there are at least two possibilities for William’s christening. One is in 1761 at Overton, in Cheshire. This record is in the Bishops’ Transcripts and can be found in family Search and Ancestry. This gives the parent’s names as John & Elizabeth Sparks. The other did not show up in Family Search but was on Ancestry and is a birth in 1762 in Whitchurch to William & Margaret Sparks. Either of these births would fit with William’s marriage 21 or 22 years later. Both are in the same part of Cheshire and there is no way of choosing between them.

I cannot find any likely death record for William and there are a number of possible deaths for Ann Sparks though none in Malpas.

While there are numerous birth records for Ann Glover in Cheshire none is particularly close to the Overton, Malpas, Whitchurch, Wrenbury area so I cannot with any confidence progress this line either.

Thomas Sparks married Sarah Wilson in Wrenbury in 1817 - like Thomas, she had been christened in 1789.

Sarah Wilson - Christened 16th June 1789

According to Family Search Sarah Wilson, was christened in Whitchurch Shropshire on 16th June 1789. Her parents' names were Thomas & Mary. The date fits with the age on her death record (65 in 1855) but not with the fact that on the 1841 census she is recorded as having been born in the same county (Cheshire). The ages for her on the 1841 (45) and 1851 (58) censuses do not match with each other or with the birth date. My theory is that - like many women do - she was lying about her age to the census enumerator. Maybe the enumerator got the 'born in same county" records the wrong way round for Thomas & Sarah. If Thomas was born in Cheshire that fits better with the theory that he is the child christened at St Oswald in Malpas.

A likely marriage for her parents is this marriage of Thomas Wilson (2) to Mary Boulton in 1777. This also fits with the several other births to the same couple over the period 1780 -1796.

This fits with either the christening of Thomas Wilson (2) to parents Thomas Wilson (1) and Mary in 1754 in Whitchurch or one in 1760 in Marbury. It is impossible to choose between these or to trace the line further back. 

There are also two possible births for Mary Boulton which means I cannot trace this line further back either - although her father may well have been yet another Thomas.

Thomas Sparks (1789) & Sarah Wilson - Marriage 8th April 1817

Thomas Sparks married Sarah Wilson in Wrenbury in 1817. Unfortunately the Family Search record of this transcript does not yet (24/12/14) give the names of the fathers. - which would be a confirmation of the lineage suggested above. The data is being constantly developed so it may be worth checking this in a year or two when more information may be available on-line.

The following children of Thomas & Sarah can be found on FamilySearch

The birth dates for Anne, John, William and Ellen all match with the ages shown on the 1861 Census. The duplication of George is not unusual if the first George had died. However I can find no record of that although there is a record of the death of the second George in 1835 aged 10 months

Sarah Sparkes - Christened 17th April 1836

As she was born before registration it is not possible to obtain a birth certificate but the christening of Sarah Sparks is recorded in “Bishop’s Transcripts” and “England Births and Christenings”. 

Thomas & Sarah Sparks (1) and Sarah Sparks (2) - 1841 Census

The 1841 census shows the Sparks family living in Newhall, Cheshire.

Thomas Sparks is an agricultural labourer and four of the children are still living at home. Thomas’ wife Sarah (nee Wilson) will be hereafter referred to as Sarah (1) and his daughter as Sarah (2). A number of the children have left home and amongst these John is of particular interest as he reappears with the family in 1851 and 1861. Born in 1827 he would be 14-15 years of age in 1841 and thus could easily be working away from home. However the name is too common and there are no obvious matches.

Thomas Sparkes - Death - 15th May 1850

This burial of Thomas Sparks in 1850 fits with the census record below and the location of the burial matches with the Wrenbury registrations of all Thomas & Sarah’s children.

I obtained a copy of the DC from JM - someone I found through Ancestry in 2014 who had researched the same family tree. The location Newhale is almost certainly a mis-transcription for Newhall, which is close to Wrenbury (see also 1851 census). Newhale does not exist. The age does not accord with the Parish register, 1841 census or birth record. He was almost certainly 60/61. Sarah Dodd may not have known his age. She was a neighbour, a housewife aged 53, living in  New Cottages, Newhall Lane according to the 1851 census just 4 doors away from Keeper House (shown on the adjacent page of the census record). Sarah Dodd may have served as a local community nurse which is why she was present at the death and why she and not Thomas’ widow reported the death.

Albuminuria seems to be kidney failure and can be associated with diabetes but I have no knowledge of anyone else in the family with diabetes.

Sarah Sparkes (1) - 1851 Census

Thomas Sparks died before the next census as the family headed by the widowed Sarah is to be found in the Keeper House in Newhall Lane (this is the same address as in the 1861 census).

Young Sarah (2) is missing but she would have been 15 at the time so possibly working “in service” (but see below). The eldest son John is back (he was missing in 1841). William, Anne (who is deaf) and Ellen (still at school) are still living at home with their mother.

1851 Census - Keeper House, Newhall Lane, Newhall Cheshire

Name and Surname


Profession or Occupation

Where Born

Sarah Sparks (1)


Widow of Agricultural Labourer

Cheshire, Marbury

John Sparks


     Farm Servant

Cheshire, Newhall

William Sparks


Farm Servant

Cheshire, Newhall

Anne Sparks (deaf)



Cheshire, Newhall

Ellen Sparks



Cheshire, Newhall

Sarah Sparkes (2) ? - aged 15 - 1851 Census

As she is not at home with her family in 1851 it must be assumed that Sarah Sparkes is living away “in service” - which was usual for girls at that time. I can find only one record of a Sarah Sparkes (or Sparks) in service in Cheshire in 1851. 

This is in the Wirral - quite far from the rest of the family in Newhall. Would a girl have travelled so far for a job as a servant at that time? The age is not quite right either as it is given as 18. I think this is an unlikely fit but cannot find an alternative.

Sarah Sparkes (1) - Death - February 1855

Sarah Sparkes (1) (grandmother to Arthur) died in 1855 in Wrenbury at the age of 65. She had outlived her husband by 5 years. Her age is given as 65, which fits better with the record of her birth in 1789. Seems she was lying about her age on the census records! I cannot see much would be gained by sending for the DC and there is no sign of a will.

Birth of Arthur Sparkes - 1855/6

There is no civil registration of the birth of Arthur Sparkes in Free BMD or at the GRO. However, there is this record of the Baptism of Arthur Sparkes in FamilySearch and also in Ancestry. No father’s name is given and the mother’s name is recorded as Sarah Sparkes.


It seems most likely that Arthur’s birth was never registered and he is the illegitimate child of Sarah (2) Sparkes.

Sarah Sparkes (2) - Marriage to John Ankers 22nd February 1858

I am unable to find any trace of Sarah after the possible 1851 census record above. I found a death in the first quarter of 1855 in the Wirral. I initially dismissed this as I had assumed Arthur was not born until 1856 but it seemed possible that there was a long delay between birth and baptism and this was Sarah’s death in childbirth so I sent for this DC to check the theory - but it turned out to be a 3-year-old child who died of scarlet fever.

An obvious alternative to death is marriage (!) and indeed Sarah Sparkes was married to John Ankers on 22 February 1858. Ellen Sparkes, her sister, is a witness and probably bridesmaid.

However I am not able to find Sarah and John Ankers together in the 1861 census or thereafter. This problem could be explained by the death of either or both of them before the next census but I cannot find any record of this.

Arthur Sparkes - 1861 Census

In 1861 Arthur Sparkes was living with four ‘siblings’ in The Keepers Cottage in Newhall, Cheshire.

All the properties on this page are named cottages - there is no street name. The following sheet of the census has the next record being Keepers House where the resident is George Goring, Gamekeeper. This suggests that Keepers Cottage is also a farm workers cottage (not a lock-keepers cottage as I first suspected in light of the later address of the Sparkes family - see Swinburn 1926).

Newhall is close to Wrenbury (where they were all born) - between Nantwich and Whitchurch in Cheshire. As there is no street name given it is not possible to find the location but the area is very rural even today.

Clearly Arthur is not a brother to the others (as stated on the census form) but a nephew.

Arthur Sparkes - 1871 Census

In 1871 Arthur Sparks is working in service in a large household in Baddington with 5 staff. The handwriting on the original form is difficult to decipher and also faded which is why there are a number of errors in the transcription - including the name “Auther” but I have no doubt that this is our Arthur.

Arthur Sparkes & Fanny Holmes Marriage - 24th December 1876

Arthur Sparkes married Fanny Holmes in Audlem, Cheshire on 24th December 1876 after Banns on 5th November. Cheshire Parish records have full information and details from the marriage certificate have been supplied by JM so I have not sent for a copy of the certificate. The lineage of Fanny Holmes can be found in the separate Holmes Line <1900.

Daniel Ashley (one of the witnesses) is Fanny Holmes uncle on her mother’s side.

I do not know who Annie Griffiths is - perhaps a friend to Fanny acting as her bridesmaid?

Curious that the Ashleys come from Audley, Staffs not Audlem, Cheshire but this is not a transcription error both do exist.

One interesting thing about this marriage record is that Arthur gives his father’s name as Thomas Sparks. Thomas was his grandfather and moreover had been dead for 5 years when Arthur was born! However, when asked to provide a father’s name Arthur might have preferred to hide the fact that he did not know his father.

Arthur & Fanny Sparkes - 1881 Census

In 1881 Arthur and Fanny are married with 2 children and living in Slapenhill, Burton on Trent. The address 11, Pickering Street is just a few doors away from Fanny’s parents Thomas & Ann Holmes who live at number 27 - see Holmes line.

Arthurs place of birth is probably a mishearing of Newhall by the census enumerator. There is no such place as Yuell.

JM reported that on visiting Stapenhill in 197 she found Pickering Street demolished and turned into a park and the old brewery across the river had been turned into a museum. She also sent me a copy of the 1880 birth certificate of Thomas Sparkes showing his place of birth as Mount Pleasant Chesterton (now modern housing). Fanny registered the birth and “made her mark” ie she was illiterate. The other interesting thing about this BC is that Occupation of Father is given as “Collier”. This is interesting as there is no other evidence that Arthur ever worked as a collier. The only evidence of any colliers in the family is that Richard Ashley (Fanny’s maternal grandfather) is described as “Collier” on his son’s MC (1859) - although again there are no census records that so describe him. He was however, staying as a lodger in 1881 (at the age of 75) in the home of someone who was described as a “Colliery Carpenter”.

Arthur & Fanny Sparkes - 1891 Census

In 1891 Arthur and Fanny are living in Alveston, Derby with their growing family. The youngest 4 children were born in Alveston, which suggests that the family has been here for at least 6 years.

JM has a copy of a family bible with details of the births of all 12 of the Sparkes children, including Charles Harold who died in infancy. All of these details accord with the census data above and the family tree shown below.

Birth of Margaret May Sparkes - 17th April 1895

Margaret May Sparkes was born on 17th April 1895 at Alvaston Street, Alvaston, Derby (no house number is given on the certificate). Note that Fanny ‘made her mark’ - and was thus probably illiterate. Note too the late registration - almost 2 months after the birth.

This copy of the BC is a Copy obtained on 4th September 1909. Backing the original is an application form for the copy of the BC under the Factory and Workshop Act 1901. The BC was probably required when Margaret May started work at the age of 14 and had to be sent for as the original was lost - see Margaret May’s Story.

Derby Mercury Wednesday 12th August 1896

A piece in the Derby Mercury of 12th August 1896 makes reference to two of the Sparkes children. The article is in column 6 under the general heading Flower Shows and Sports with subheading Alvaston. Arthur Leonard (9) and Fanny (11) submitted entries in the same show, which was held on a field belonging to Alvaston Hall on Alvaston Street.  Arthur came fourth in the section for a nosegay of garden flowers and Fanny also achieved a fourth prize for a nosegay of wild flowers. (HA alerted me to this and I found the article on-line in the National Newspaper Archive.)


Summary of the Sparkes line from 1750-1900

The earliest known ancestors in the Sparkes line are William Sparks and Ann Glover who were married on 13th December 1784 - in St Oswald’s Church Malpas. Their birth and death dates are unknown but they had at least four children: - Thomas 1789, Elizabeth 1791, William 1793 and John 1796.

Thomas Sparks was christened on 19th April 1789 also at St Oswald’s Church Malpas and married Sarah Wilson in Wrenbury on 8th April 1817.

Sarah Wilson, was christened in Whitchurch Shropshire on 16th June 1789. Her parents names were Thomas & Mary. A likely marriage for her parents is this marriage of Thomas Wilson (2) to Mary Boulton in 1777. This also fits with the christening of Thomas Wilson (2) to parents Thomas Wilson (1) and Mary in 1754. However I cannot find any other births to this couple or trace the line any further back. There are also two possible births for Mary Boulton which means I cannot trace this line further back either - although her father may well have been yet another Thomas.

Thomas & Sarah Sparkes had at least 10 children including Sarah Sparkes (b 1836) who gave birth to an illegitimate son Arthur Sparkes in 1855 who was christened on 23 February 1856. (But see details above that question this.) Without further data about marriages and family members it is not possible to trace the lives of any of the other siblings except Ann Sparkes (b 1824) who was deaf and possibly mentally retarded and remained single living with relatives for all her life. She can be found in census data in each decade from 1841-1891 (except 1871).

Arthur Sparkes married Fanny Holmes on 24th December 1876 in Audlem Cheshire. They lived briefly in Burton-on-Trent and then in Alvaston, Derby and had 12 children, including Charles Harold who died in infancy and Margaret May Sparkes born on 17th April 1895.

All the family locations are shown on the map. All the earlier ones are in a small area of Cheshire.

The story of the family from 1900 continues in
Margaret May's Story.