We all know how this goes. Someone in the family will insist that an ancestor was a Russian princess or walked from Sydney to Brisbane or jumped ship and changed their name or was the illegitimate son of royalty. The initial reaction from many of us is to dismiss these claims and discard them as possible clues. In many instances, this is probably the correct option but I have this niggling suspicion that in each over-the-top story, there is a tiny piece of information that may be correct. Let me give you an example – which is as yet unproven.
In a newspaper obituary for Dr Richard Bowker, there is an intriguing paragraph about his mother-in-law, Lydia Phillips, who was my great great great grandmother.
In 1858 Dr. Bowker married Lydia, the youngest daughter of Mr. Phillips, of the Paterson. Mrs. Bowker, whose mother had been a maid of honour to Queen Caroline, died in 1878, leaving nine children, six boys and three girls.
Now, almost nothing is known about Lydia Phillips (nee Ballard or Kelsey) so this seemed like gold. I spent days researching the ladies-in-waiting for Queen Caroline
(17 May 1768 – 7 August 1821), reading accounts of the day. Queen Caroline (or Princess Caroline at the time that Lydia may have been a lady-in-waiting) was the wife of George, the Prince of Wales but she was estranged from him for most of their married life.
I know that Lydia’s first child was born in 1809 so she may have been married about 1807/1808. Given her age at death, Lydia was likely to have been born about 1790 so, if she was with Queen Caroline, it would have been from about 1805 to 1807. At this time, Queen Caroline was living in Montagu House in Greenwich Park (the house was demolished in 1815).
No mention of a Lydia Ballard or Lydia Kelsey as a lady-in-waiting has been found (yet). However, it is very unlikely that Lydia did occupy such a position as she would have had to been a member of one of the leading families at the time and later records do not bear this out. What is a more plausible explanation is that she was one of the many children that Queen Caroline brought into her household over a period of years.
More research still needs to be done to find out about the children in Caroline’s household. If Lydia was living there, how did she meet James Phillips? Why is her maiden name given as Kelsey on the baptism of her first two children in 1811 in Liverpool but is Ballard in later documents?