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A Cautionary Tale

I recently added an officially impressed Crimea Medal to Edwards Cokes to my growing medal collection, and as normal, before parting with my money, I checked the medal roll to see that the man was actually entitled to the medal. Sure enough there was an Edward Cokes listed as serving aboard HMS London, entitled to the Crimea Medal, with the Sebastopol bar - London being one of only four ships to which officially impressed medals were issued.

The next step was a visit to the National Archives at Kew. After consulting the ‘Description Book’ for HMS London I discovered that, according to the Ships Crew List, his name was given as Edward Coakes, born Portsea, Hampshire, aged 23 years and 3 months when he signed on in May 1853, so a quick calculation put his birth as early 1830.

Checking the online seaman’s records in ADM 188, there was an Edward Coakes, born Portsea, but his date of birth was given as 1828. Still close enough to be worth a look.

Studying the print-off of Edward Coakes service record, this showed that he was born 16th January 1828 and he received his pension in February 1877, following a last posting to Lydd CG Station in Kent.

A search of the IGS suggested that there was also only one Edward Coakes likely to be my man, and he was christened in St Mary’s Church, Portsea on 23rd April 1828, the son of Matthew and Sarah Coakes; so now 1828 seemed the more likely date of birth.

Checking the census returns proved unsuccessful until 1881, when I found an Edward Coakes, aged 45, born Portsea, a labourer with the South Eastern Railway at Willesborough, near Ashford, Kent; but was this my man? On the face of it, it seemed unlikely since he would have been born in 1836, but, and here was a big BUT, three of his children, listed on the same census, were born in Lydd between 1871 and 1875, with a last child being born in Ashford in 1877. Too much of a coincidence I felt, what was needed was some additional evidence.

Since he served as a Coastguard in Kent I thought it well worth checking the database of British Coastguards on the Genuki site. However, I could not find a Cokes or a Coakes, but what did catch my eye was an Edward Coats, born Hampshire 1828. Now cross checking the names of his wife and children on the website against those listed to Edward Coakes in the 1881 census, and I had a match!!

The one final piece of evidence that I have yet to check is Coakes previous service in the ADM 139 series of records, this should provide details of his service prior to 1877, which if I’m correct, will link CG Stations with the birth places of his other earlier children. Although I am almost certain this will only be a confirmation exercise.

Now the reason I have subjected you to this diatribe is to emphasis that while the Internet is a fantastic tool, there are numerous opportunities for information to be transcribed incorrectly, always assuming it was accurately recorded in the first place. So the moral of the story is not to take dates at face value, and definitely to try different variations of spelling, particularly of names when doing searches.

Of course at the end of the day you will have to take a view as to what you believe is correct – for me my medal was awarded to Edward Coakes born Portsea, 16th January 1828, who after leaving the CG Service, became a Labourer on the Railways.


3 Comments · 7551 Reads · Print  -> Posted by crimea1854 on February 09 2008


#1 | Philip on 09/02/2008 10:41:35
Excellent advice Martin, who knows where you could end up due to misspilled worms!! Grin
#2 | broem on 08/07/2008 12:58:44
That is certainly true. My surname only has four letters and I have found that number of spellings.
#3 | lloyd on 23/07/2008 01:01:11
One of my first exciting cautonary finds was to find that a Clarke and wife were on the 1841 census. On the 1861 census they were with their children in London at Teddington and the children had been born in Newport, Monmouthshire. That was well documented and known to be accurate. Looking back at 1851 there was no record of the husband Clarke, just the mother and the three children. Trawling around London I came across Clarke as a visitor with the Hent family. Oh Joy! let's have a look at the Hents.......Nothing! However, after much pulling out of already thinning hair, one looked at the following page to see that the youngest and last daughter of Joseph Hent was scanned as .... Hunt. Ho hummmmmm..... Thank goodness that scanning is so'd take all the fun out of it.

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