Ellen Muir, c1815 to ?, is a ghost in family history records. One of those people who is known to have lived, albeit possibly for a very short time, but about whom almost nothing is known and less proved.
It may be — and indeed I hope it to be so — that somebody, someday will contact me and say, “Ellen Muir? Of course! She was my gx3 grandmother — we have the family tree recorded in great detail …” Well, we can dream. In the meantime all I can do is describe the possibilities, such as they are.
Like her elder brother, George Muir Jnr., Ellen was baptised at St. Thomas, Portsmouth, just over a month after the Battle of Waterloo. That is the only 'safe' record of her existence. It might be guessed that she died in infancy, and she may well have done. However, there is no record of a burial that can be found. But nor is there any mention of her in her widowed father's first will, made in 1823. Her elder brother is mentioned, and as requiring the guardianship of George Brine. Surely if Ellen was still alive she would need to be looked after in the same way?
We now move into the realms of possibility only. There is a marriage record for an Ellen Muir at St. Thomas, Portsmouth on the 3rd of August, 1864. It appears both in the General Register Index of Marriages ( Portsea Island, Vol 2b; Page 671), and in the parish records. Ellen Muir married William White. If this was the right Ellen Muir then she would have been at least 49 years old.
No record of Ellen Muir can be found in the 1841, 1851 or 1861 censuses, but lo and behold, in the 1871 census there are William White and his wife Ellen living in Micheldever, Hampshire, some miles to the north of Portsmouth. He is recorded as a gardener. Micheldever was where he was born — it is close to Winchester to the north, in the direction of London. He gave his age as 51 and she as 40 — which is near enough 15 years too few if she was our Ellen Muir. But she wasn't the first, and wouldn't be the last woman to be economical with her age when she had married a man a bit younger than herself … (But was she actually a widow; an Ellen Somebody-Else, who had married and lost a Muir? Maybe, but there are no records to back this up.)
The couple appear again in the 1881, 1891 and 1901 censuses for Micheldever, William eventually becomes a 'retired gardener', while Ellen systematically and stubbornly stated her age as 50, 60 and 70 respectively. There is another problem: she always had her place of birth recorded as Easton, which is a small village, hamlet even, close to Winchester, somewhat south of Micheldever. (And it is not really possible to make 'Easton' read like 'Eastney', which would be more convenient, as the latter is part of Portsmouth.) But if they both came from two little villages close to Winchester, what were they doing getting married in Portsmouth? Is that where the bride was living? Is that actually where the bride was born?
And other questions have to be asked: if 'Easton Ellen' was actually the daughter of George Muir Senior and Hannah, baptised at Portsmouth in 1815, then why did Great Aunt Grace apparently know nothing about her, or allow her to completely slip her memory? 'Easton Ellen' survived beyond 1901 regardless of the year she was born. So Great Aunt Grace must have been well over twenty when this possible great aunt of hers would have died. Micheldever and Winchester are not a great distance from Southsea and Portsmouth where George William Muir and family, including Great Aunt Grace as a little girl, lived for a few years in the early 1880s. After GWM's death his widow Sophia eventually moved to London. But no contact at all with an aunt of GWM, or at least Great Aunt Grace remembering nothing about her from the first twenty years of her life? It seems a bit unlikely.
The reason of course is that 'Easton Ellen' was probably not Ellen Muir from Portsmouth, but, rather coincidently, Ellen Muir from Easton, as she continually claimed. The fact that no Ellen Muir can be found in the 1841, 1851 or 1861 censuses rather suggests that the girl baptised in 1815 had died or got married long before the first of these events. But why no Ellen Muir anywhere in those three early English censuses — especially 1861, just three years before the marriage?


A modern photograph of the Cathedral Church of St. Thomas in the High Street, Portsmouth.
Recorded children of George Muir and Hannah,
both baptised at St. Thomas, Portsmouth:
  • George Muir   9 April 1813
  • Ellen Muir   25 July 1815


Click on the image above for the record of Ellen Muir's baptism.

A modern map of the Winchester area, showing the locations of Micheldever and Easton ( both marked in red ).
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