On 5 September 1837 two sisters went to the registrar’s office for the district of Aspull, Lancashire. The sisters, Mary and Elizabeth Ball from nearby Haigh, were 17-year-old twins. They had come to the registrar’s office, as they were legally required to do, to register the births of their new babies.

Mary first registered the birth of her baby daughter Hannah who had been born on 11 August. Mary did not register either the name or occupation of the baby’s father. She identified herself as a spinster, and therefore an unwed mother.

Elizabeth (who was better known as Betty) next registered the birth of her baby son Peter who had also been born on 11 August. Like her sister, Elizabeth did not register the name or occupation of the baby’s father and identified herself to the registrar as an unwed mother.

On 3 September 1837, Mary and Elizabeth Ball brought Hannah and Peter to be baptized at All Saints Church in Wigan. They clearly represented to the pastor that two women had given birth to two children on the same day. The birth dates of 14 August are noted in the parish baptismal register for both babies.

Four years later, on 6 June 1841, the census taker recorded Mary and Betty living with their parents Henry and Elizabeth Ball. Peter and Hannah, by then age three, were living with their mothers and grandparents.

What are we to make of these strange circumstances? The coincidence of two teenage sisters bearing children out of wedlock on precisely the same date in 1837 seems highly unlikely. A more plausible explanation might be that either Mary or Betty gave birth to twins on 11 August 1837, and that her sister represented that she was the mother of one of the babies as a show of moral support.

We have not yet attempted to research what became of Mary, Betty, Hannah or Peter. By the time of the 1851 census Peter and Hannah were still residing with their grandparents. But Mary and Betty were not. Learning what became of all four may shed additional light on what transpired in 1837.