The Meale Mystery – RESOLVED

A few months I posted details of the mystery of my great great grandfather, John Meale, and my hope that DNA matching would lead to resolution.  With perseverance, and some luck, the mystery has been solved.

John Meale first appears in New Zealand records when he married Elizabeth Hemblen, in St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Auckland, New Zealand on 13 June 1854.  We believed that John was born in Leeds, Yorkshire, but several researchers could find no trace of John Meale in Yorkshire.

When my third cousin, Murray, did an Ancestry DNA test, we were able to look at shared DNA matches from two perspectives, both descended from John Meale, and this suggested a Sykes / Hirst connection in West Yorkshire.  I filtered my Ancestry DNA match list to show only people with Hirst or Sykes ancestors born in Yorkshire, and noted the resulting names.  There was no obvious connection of any of these people to the Meal surname.  I did however note down other surnames connected to these Hirst and Sykes families, and planned to explore these further after taking a break from this search.

In early April 2022, a new DNA match appeared on Ancestry, and his four-person family tree identified his mother as Mary Ann Fothergill, born in 1924.  The surname caught my eye as I remembered seeing it in the online tree of one of the Hirst / Sykes people that I had researched, and so I decided to explore Mary Ann Fothergill’s ancestry, looking for a Meal or Hirst / Sykes connection.  I traced her ancestry back to her great grandfather, Benjamin Fothergill, who was born in 1825 in Leeds, Yorkshire.  Benjamin was one of at least twelve children of a Samuel Fothergill, a shoemaker, and Elizabeth Rhodes.  Alarm bells started ringing as John Meale was likely a son of a shoemaker named Samuel and his wife Elizabeth (per his marriage certificate).  Is this just a name & occupation coincidence, or could John Meale actually be John Fothergill?  Did Samuel Fothergill have a son named John?

I found the baptism record for John Fothergill, son of Samuel (a shoemaker) and his wife Elizabeth, in Leeds in 1818.  John Fothergill married Ann Craven in Leeds in 1838 and the marriage produced four children, two of whom died young (both in 1849).  John was up before the courts several times for theft and violence, and finally in 1843 was transported on the Anson, which arrived in Van Diemen’s Land on 4 February 1844.  After a false start in 1849 (revoked in 1850), John Fothergill was granted his Ticket of Leave in April 1851, and could then have returned to his wife and children in England, but I have found no evidence that he did so – John’s wife, Ann, married James Taylor in 1858.  There is no record of Fothergill births, marriages or deaths in the Tasmanian historical records, and the only Fothergill historical records in Tasmania are John’s convict records.  None of the Ancestry family trees that include John Fothergill show any record of his death, suggesting that perhaps he had no contact with his family after 1851.

So we cannot find any record of John Fothergill after his Ticket of Leave was issued in Tasmania in 1851, and no record of John Meale prior to his marriage to Elizabeth Hemblin in Auckland, New Zealand in 1854.  John Fothergill’s parents’ names, and his father’s occupation match those given by John Meale on his marriage record.  John Fothergill and Elizabeth Hemblin were both in Tasmania circa 1850.

Added to the above evidence is the fact that I share DNA with descendants of at least two of John Fothergill’s siblings.  I have no solid proof, but there is mounting evidence that John Meale and John Fothergill are the same person.

As John Fothergill was still married to Ann (she is listed as married in the 1851 census), I suspect that he changed his surname when he arrived in New Zealand, to reduce the risk of being found by anyone looking for John Fothergill, and that he bigamously married Elizabeth Elder (nee Hemblen) in 1854.

I then searched for other DNA matches with the surname Fothergill in their ancestry, and found one (Marc) who is descended from John Fothergill and Ann Craven, through their daughter, Ellen Fothergill, born in 1842.  The amount of DNA that I share with Marc (13 cM) is within the range of the possible amount shared by half third cousins twice removed (0-78 cM), but the possible range is very broad (0-78 cM) and the 13 cM shared with Marc could represent several other relationships. Based on the DNA evidence and the other information provided above, I will assume that John Fothergill and John Meale are the same person, unless evidence to the contrary is identified.

Fothergill DNA Connections (click to expand)

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