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Family Tree Magazine - Nick Thorne - General Genealogy Reviews

Portrait of HG Wells

H.G.Wells by George Charles Beresford [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tracing ancestors from childhood to adulthood will often lead us on a trail through time and place, as they move from one town to another. H.G.Wells, author of The Time Machine and acclaimed as a scientific and social prophet, is a case in point as he was born in Kent in September 1866 and we can trace that his family moved several times when he was a child.

Beginning with Herbert G. Wells’ birth and using the Births and Marriages from within TheGenealogist Master Search we find Herbert George Wells was born in the last quarter of 1866 in Bromley, Kent. The result returned gives us all that we need to order a copy of his birth certificate, direct from the General Register Office by clicking on a link.

HG Wells Birth Certificate

One advantage of finding a result on TheGenealogist is being able to use the SmartSearch to look for the marriage of the child’s mother and father and so get back another generation. From the transcript of H. G. Well’s birth we can click the Parent’s Potential Marriage icon and see that Joseph Wells and Sarah Neal married in London in 1853.

Uppark-West Sussex

Uppark-Sfront-01" by EccentricRichard at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Kurpfalzbilder.de using CommonsHelper.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Sarah had been working as a domestic servant at Uppark in West Sussex when she met her future husband, Joseph. He had been employed there as a gardener and researching the Wells in the 1861 census for Bromley we can see that Joseph was recorded as being born in 1829 in Penhurst, Kent. His wife claims to be born in Chichester 35 years before, making her birth year 1826. This, however, doesn’t match with what was recorded ten years earlier in the census of 1851 before she had married. In that enumeration of Uppark House she had been listed as a Lady’s Maid aged 28 and therefore born in 1823. As civil registration of births had not begun at that time we can’t turn to the GRO indexes to resolve this question and we would need to find her in the records for the parish where she was baptised. We can, however, find her death registered in 1905 in Liss, Hampshire where we can learn that her age is estimated as being 82 at the time. This means that the person informing the registrar believed that Sarah had been born in 1823.

Sarah Wells Death Information

Sarah Wells death at age 82 registered in Petersfield 1905 Quarter 2

1861 Census

1861 Census Bromley Kent

The census also reveals the details of Herbert’s siblings and we can see that his eldest sister, Frances, was born in Warwickshire four years prior. This points us to the family having relocated from the South-east of England to the Midlands and back down to Bromley. The most likely cause would have been work. By researching this lead we find that in April 1854 Joseph had moved from Uppark, with his new wife, to Shuckburgh Park near Warwick where he took up the post of head gardener. It was a short lived appointment before the family moved to Bromley and, as we have seen, Herbert George Wells, or Bertie as he was known, was born as the couple’s fourth and the last child in 1866. His elder sister, Frances, had sadly died two years earlier as we can find recorded in the Death indexes on TheGenealogist.

Death Record for Frances Sarah Wells

Death Record for Frances Sarah Wells 1864

Receiving an inheritance had allowed them to move to Bromley where they had bought a china shop. Joseph Wells also pursued a second career as a professional cricketer, playing for Kent in the years 1862 and 1863. Unfortunately, in 1877, he suffered a fracture injury and with it came the end of his ability to play professional cricket - so reducing their income.

Using the large variety of sources on TheGenealogist we have been able to trace HG Wells's life, from his birth record in 1866, onwards, and place him in the context of his family members too
Who's Who 1897

H.G.Wells in the Who’s Who 1897 from TheGenealogist’s Occupational records

An entry for H.G.Wells in the Who’s Who 1897, from within the Occupational records on TheGenealogist, gives us very potted history of his schooling, university and occupations. In amongst this list is a spell as a draper’s assistant, then as a junior schoolmaster before becoming a scholar at the Royal College of Science. The bizarre juxtaposition of a job in a draper’s shop followed by teaching and then a student of a South Kensington constituent of Imperial College London is intriguing.

It seems that with his middle class family, by now in an impoverished state, the teenaged Wells was briefly sent to work at the drapers in the hope that he would learn a trade. By all accounts he didn’t enjoy the work and was rejected as an apprentice after the first month’s trial. He was next engaged as a pupil-teacher, assisting one of his distant relatives in a National School teaching some of the younger children. This came to an end when his relative was fired from the school on having his qualifications called into question. H.G. Wells was then apprenticed to a chemist, but again this was not for him. As a stopgap he entered a Grammar school, the principal of which wanted to boost the grades of his establishment and seeing Wells’ potential to pass exams, gave him free board.

From here he won a scholarship to the Normal School of Science, which became the Royal School of Science. Here he studied under the great zoologist T.H.Huxley and his time there inspired Wells’ science fiction writing. His socialist politics drew him to join the Fabian Society at this time and he became a writer of textbooks, short stories and several reviews.

Time Machine cover

"Timemachinebook". Via Wikipedia

The Time Machine (1895) was the first of his hugely popular and predictive ‘scientific romances’ which foresaw the splitting of the atom, travel to the moon and aerial warfare. While he used his experiences in the drapery trade when he wrote the comic novel The History of Mr Polly.

As he grew into his twenties and attending college in London, he fell in love with his cousin Isabel Wells while lodging with her mother. By the 31 Oct 1891 the two got married, making his Aunt Mary his new mother-in-law. By using the BMD records on TheGenealogist we can find all the details needed to order the certificate.

Wells Marriage Record

Record for Wells marriage to his cousin Isabel Wells 1891

Accessing the 1891 census on TheGenealogist reveals the address where Herbert, Isabel and his Aunt lived: 46 Fitzroy Road in London’s St Pancras district. He is a Magazine writer, but the enumerator has written ‘Author’ in pencil, while his wife-to-be is a Photographic retoucher.

1891 Census

1891 Census for St Pancras

This marriage between H.G. Wells and his cousin Isabel, wasn’t to last long. By searching the records on TheGenealogist further we can unearth the author’s second marriage. This time it was to Amy Catherine Robbins, but known as Jane.

Wells Second Marriage

Second marriage in 1895

By 1901 H.G. Wells was doing well and he and Jane were now living in Folkestone, Kent in a house that he had commissioned to be built for his family and which he named Spade House. If we move forward to check in the 1911 census, however, we find the Wells family now living in Hampstead, North London - Spade House having been sold.

1911 Census

1911 Hampstead Census

We may not have access to a time machine and yet here we have been able to use the birth, marriages and death indexes on TheGenealogist, together with census and occupational records, to follow a timeline of H.G. Wells and his family

TheGenealogist’s SmartSearch can find the children registered to the same parents and so quickly build a family tree. For males or spinsters in the Death indexes, SmartSearch can use the Age at Death detail to save us time and effort by automatically listing the birth index pages likely to contain their birth - though we need to be aware that reported ages are often inaccurate.