One of the more difficult research problems associated with Henry Harold Harrison’s ancestry is the answer to the question “Who were Ellen Ball’s parents?” We know Ellen’s grandparents were Henry and Betty (née Ormishaw) Ball, because she was enumerated living with them at the time of the 1851 census. The question therefore can also be framed as “Which of Henry and Betty’s children was Ellen’s parent?”

Ellen left us a single clue to help answer this question. When she married Joseph Harrison in 1855 she reported on her marriage register that her father was deceased.

Henry and Betty Ball had five sons: Edward, John, James, Henry, and Daniel. Insofar as we can tell all of these sons were alive and well at the time of the 1861 census. James and Daniel can be definitively traced because they later lived with Henry and Betty. We believe that three men named Edward, John, and Henry Ball, all of whom lived in Standish in 1851 and 1861 were the other three sons of Henry and Betty. Their names, ages and places of birth match up well and these three men lived close together at times as brothers might.

There are two candidates for “our Ellen” among the offspring of these three men:

  • Edward Ball had a daughter named Ellen of about the right age according to the 1841 census. However this daughter reappeared in the 1851 census as “Helen.” Helen was living with her parents in 1851 and Edward was still alive in 1861. Helen was born in Standish whereas “our Ellen” was born in Haigh.
  • John Ball and his wife Margaret had a daughter named Ellen who was baptized at All Saints Church in Wigan on 20 May 1833. She has the right name and age to be “our Ellen.” However this Ellen was enumerated at her parents home in the 1851 census. Her father John was definitely alive in 1855. This Ellen was also born in Standish, not Haigh. Although more could be done to track her down in later life she is probably not “our Ellen.”
  • Henry Ball Jr. did not marry until 1842. Had he sired a daughter out-of-wedlock the daughter would have taken the mother’s maiden surname – highly unlikely to have been Ball. Henry Jr. was clearly alive in 1855.

If Ellen was not the daughter of one of Henry and Betty’s sons she must have been the offspring of a daughter. As can be seen by perusing parish baptismal registers of the time many children were born to unwed mothers. The fathers of these children were never identified and the children took the surname of their mother. Henry and Betty’s unmarried daughters would have been living with their parents which is consistent with Ellen’s birthplace being Haigh, and more specifically Heywood’s Farm. If “our Ellen” was born out of wedlock she could have reported in 1855 that her father was deceased because that was the case, or because she was embarrassed by her circumstances.

Henry and Betty Ball had three daughters who were alive and of child bearing age in 1832 when Ellen was born: Ellen, age 31; Elizabeth, age 17; and Margaret, age 15. First daughter Ellen almost certainly married John Hilton of Shevington in 1827 which would eliminate her as a candidate to be “our Ellen’s” mother. Of the two younger daughters Elizabeth is the more likely mother of “our Ellen” because of her age and the fact that she had at least two other children out of wedlock in later years. Furthermore, on 5 June 1832 Elizabeth Ball, a spinster staying at Hallgate (a Wigan neighbourhood), baptized her daughter Ellen at Wigan All Saints, the church where the Ball family baptized all of their children at that time.

After quite considerable research the balance of the evidence leads us to conclude that Ellen Ball was probably the daughter of Elizabeth Ball and an unknown father. Probably, but not definitively. Our Elizabeth never lived in Hallgate to the best of our knowledge but rather on her parents farm in Haigh until she was married some 14 years later. We have to assume that Elizabeth was visiting a friend in Hallgate at the time of the baptism, that she misrepresented where she was from, or that the parish register contains an error. These explanations are supported by the fact that there was no 8-year-old Ellen Ball living in the Wigan area at the time of the 1841 census except the daughters of Edward and John.

Also unanswered is the question of Ellen Ball’s whereabouts at the time of the 1841 census. If she was Elizabeth’s daughter she should have been enumerated with Elizabeth (aka Betty) at Heywood ’s Farm. She was not. We have to assume that she was simply “overlooked.” Indeed, if she was not the daughter of either Edward or John then she was clearly overlooked whoever her parents were.