Harriet’s missing father

Update on Harriet Beresford (c. 1819 – 1876)

In my book Genealogy, Essential Research Methods, I use my great-great-great grandmother Harriet Beresford’s missing London baptism and unsure parentage as an example of how to think and plan for solid research when following up family stories.  In this case the story was that she was the daughter of a ‘Benjamin Beresford from Ireland’, and I showed how bringing together some of the available evidence might enable locations to be narrowed down and a focus brought to the search.  I had already worked out that she was the daughter of a Caroline Beresford and possibly illegitimate.  As her husband was a respectable London solicitor and she was the mother of Sir Richard Stephens Taylor, one time President of the Law Society, her unsure origins were a mystery.

In 2017 I was contacted by a genealogist living in Canada, who was reading my book, with a partial resolution to Harriet’s birth details.  He had found her through the wonders of the London Metropolitan Archives collection online at Ancestry.

He wrote:

“I started your book in a desultory way on Friday. When got to the first bit about the Beresford’s on Saturday night, I became intrigued and began to snoop on ancestry.com and fmp. Saturday night I managed to trace mother Caroline Beresford back to her baptism at St Martin Ludgate in 1786. This is probably no great surprise to you I expect as I have just tonight reached pp. 182-3 where you list baptisms of children born to Thomas and Ann Beresford,the names of her parents.

Noting that this would then have been her maiden name, I began to look for possibilities that she had had her brood by a man named Benjamin but not surnamed Beresford (unless a cousin).

Taking this route, what was intriguing, and which I only managed toprove to my own satisfaction at 11.05 Sunday night (it’s now coming on 2 a.m. Monday morning in Vancouver, where I sit), is that she had her children, well, at least three of them so far (Caroline, Catharine Ann, whom you know about, as well as a son, Samuel Martin) by a seemingly married man, a coal merchant and bankrupt who died in prison in 1826 aged 66 or 67, named Benjamin Acocks.

While carrying on fathering children by Caroline and passing them off as legitimate (and having them baptised shortly after birth, making the 1832 baptisms of the three adult daughters a sort of a legal name change except perhaps in the case of Harriet), Benjamin Acocks had a legal wife, the mother of his second batch of legitimate children (born 1804-1822). She was a woman named Mary Rucke, whom he had married at St Mary Aldermary in 1801 (she was his 2nd wife, his first being Mary Talbois whom he had married in 1780, shortly after completing his 7 year apprenticeship to John Beale, citizen and baker, of London, and by whom he also had issue).

You will find the baptisms under the surname Acocks in 1812 (two, Caroline and Samuel Martin, on the same date 14 July, but recorded in different PRs apparently, those of St Leonard, Shoreditch, and St James, Clerkenwell) and in 1814 (Catharine Ann), and their respective burials (Samuel Martin Beresford aged 20 in 1832, indexed under Boresford, recte Beresford per orig., and Catharine Ann in 1835, as you note in your book) or marriages (Caroline and Harriet) under Beresford. The only remaining one who eludes me thus far is daughter Harri(e)(o)t(t), your direct forebear.

In the British newspaper collection on fmp there is quite a lot about Benjamin Acocks various financial setbacks including an item about his death in The Fleet prison. There are also related items for his wife in Old Bailey records, and more prison items about him in the Fleet on ancestry and fmp.”

It is Catherine Ann’s 1814 baptism at St Pancras where the father’s name, trade, and address is exactly the same as was given for his children by Mary at roughly the same time, coupled with her burial as a Beresford, and parallelled by the baptism and burial of her brother Samuel Martin Acocks/Beresford, which really clinched things.”

Richard Carruthers-Zurowski, M.A. (Oxon.)

West Vancouver, British Columbia, CANADA


Well, there we have it folks, my first (known) ancestor who died in the Fleet, what an exciting find! And it just goes to show how online parish registers and their indexes, coupled with online newspapers can help solve genealogy mysteries, although I also recommend understanding about the older ways of planning searches in parish registers. My thanks go to Richard for his work.


Richard’s blog is here:



  1. Lovely story and help by Richard! There but for the grace of Earl Fitzhardinge, my Benjamin Bunn might have gone the way of Benjamin Accocks and Fleet.

  2. Thanks Margo. Of course it is slightly vexing that I didn’t get to solve the mystery myself. But then again, too many ancestors, so little time!

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