Northumberland Research

Many of my ancestors originally came from England and Wales; 71% of my DNA is from Great Britain, according to Ancestry.  But unlike the more distant ancestors who left England for America in the 1600’s, the ones from Northumberland, who emigrated in 1881, seem almost close enough to touch.

My mother knew her grandmother, Mary Payne, very well, and we even have a photograph of Mary’s father, John Payne (born in England in 1846), holding my mother as an infant in the early 1930’s. So it feels like my connection to these people and this place easily spans the distance of time.

The family of Mary Payne’s mother, Jane Weightman, was the focus of my Northumberland research.  Jane was the oldest of three children born to Andrew Weightman and Mary Tunney in coal company housing in Radcliffe Terrace, long since demolished.

The family of Andrew Weightman and Mary Tunney

All three of Andrew and Mary’s children were baptized in St. Lawrence Church in Warkworth.  See my previous post “January in Northumberland” for photos of the church.

Before going to Northumblerland, I already knew the names and dates for most of my direct ancestors back to the mid-1700’s.  My goal was to confirm the vital events for all of the children of my directs so I would be able to create accurate Family Group Sheets, and also to try to solve some stubborn mysteries.  I was very successful with the former, but not so much with the latter.  Sometimes we have to accept the fact that not all family mysteries are solvable!

Andrew Weightman and Mary Tunney married in 1847 in a civil ceremony at the Register Office in Alnwick, and not in a parish church, and I wonder whether that choice had anything to do with the fact that Mary had an illegitimate son, born the year before, father unknown.  Mary was 26 when they married, whereas Andrew was only 22, definitely making me wonder about the significance, if any, of the older, more experienced woman with the younger man.

In 1851, three years after marrying Andrew and having their first two children, Mary’s five-year-old illegitimate son, John William Tunney, was enumerated in the household of his maternal grandparents.  Was this just a visit coinciding with census night, or did young John live there rather than with his mother and stepfather?

A short seven years after their wedding, Andrew, age 29, was killed in an accident at the Radcliffe Colliery.  Here’s the newspaper account of the coroner’s inquest:1

Newcastle Courant, Andrew Weightman Coroner’s Inquest, 1 Dec 1854

We can only wonder whether the three young children, all under the age of seven, witnessed this scene in their small house, and remembered it for the rest of their lives.

And how did Mary survive as a widow with three young children? Colliery company housing was only provided to working miners.  Several of Andrew’s brothers were working at the same place, so perhaps she and the children moved in temporarily with one of them.

Seven years after Andrew’s death, Mary was still living at Radcliffe Colliery, this time appearing in the census with her 15 year old son, John William Tunney (a miner), her children by Andrew Weightman (Jane, Ralph and James) and a boarder.  And, a little surprise:  a two year old son named Thomas Weightman, who couldn’t possibly be the son of Andrew.2

1861 England Census showing Mary Tunney Weightman’s household

Mary disappeared from the records after the 1861 census. One of my research projects at the Northumberland Archives was to examine the payroll records of the Radcliffe Colliery to see if they might provide any clues about the movements of the family between census years.  These original records are in huge ledger books which go back to 1860.  They were fascinating to see, but didn’t shed much light on the family’s whereabouts.

Mary’s daughter Jane Weightman married John Payne in August of 1869 in Morpeth, about 15 miles south of Radcliffe.  Jane’s half brother John William Tunney was a witness, and less than a year later, he appeared in the 1870 U.S. census in Jefferson Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, along with his half brother Ralph Weightman.  They were living there with a first cousin, also named John Tunney, who had married an American woman named Susan Brown in December of 1869.3

In 1871, Jane and John Payne’s census household in Northumberland included their first child Mary Payne, twelve-year-old Thomas (Mary Tunney’s youngest son), and Jane’s seventeen-year-old brother James.  Here again is the earliest family photograph I have, which was taken in Blyth, Northumberland around the time of the 1871 census:

John Payne, Jane Weightman (seated), James Weightman, and Thomas Weightman, with baby Mary Payne on Jane’s lap, ca 1871

The big question at this point is what happened to Mary Tunney, and why isn’t she with her children in 1871?

In the mid-1870’s, both John William Tunney and Ralph Weightman returned to Northumberland, married, and then went back to Pennsylvania. Finally, in 1881, John and Jane Payne and their five children joined them, along with their brother James Weightman and his wife and infant daughter, and their half brother Thomas Weightman, age 22.

So, all five of Mary Tunney’s children went to Pennsylvania.  Did she?  Despite thorough searches, I have NOT found any death or marriage record relating to our Mary on either continent.

I was fascinated to learn that after all the traveling back and forth between Pennsylvania and Northumberland, brothers Ralph and James Weightman returned to England with their families in 1890, and that’s where they lived out the rest of their lives.  I found their original burial records, and visited their graves at St. Paul’s church in Choppington.  Here’s James Weightman’s stone:

Gravestone of James Weightman, St. Paul’s churchyard, Choppington

I was able to get copies of the baptisms of all of the children of these two brothers as well, most of which are not available anywhere online.  But I still haven’t solved the mystery of what happened to Mary Tunney.



  1.  Newcastle Courant, 1 Dec 1854, “Coroner’s Inquests”, Andrew Weightman, p. 5, col. 6; digital image, FindMyPast ( : accessed 2 Apr 2013); citing British Library.
  2. 1861 England census, County of Northumberland, Parish of Hauxley, Enumeration District 9e, Mary Weightman household; digital image, ( : accessed 6 Mar 2018); citing the National Archives of the UK, RG9, Piece 3877,  Folio 51, p. 14.
  3. 1870 U.S census, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, population schedule,  Jefferson Township, p. 232 (stamped) A, family 205; John Tunney household; digital image, ( accessed 5 Jun 2015); citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 1292.

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