The Gibson Family
This file is in desperate need of updating!


This is one of four strands to my search for a history, the other three being Earnshaw, Thorne and Best. When I started to seek out my family history all I knew of this family was that my Grandmother (Florence Lavinia Earnshaw) was previously called Gibson.


My Gran died when my dad was 20 – a few days before his 21st birthday. This was before the 1939-45 war and well before my parents married, let alone me being born. All I knew about her was a photo that was on the mantel piece over the fireplace in our dining room of her holding the family dog (called Micky).


In the 1950s I remember visiting Aunt Jessie (Balch) a couple of times and, once, she came to our house. She lived at 13 Rosemary Avenue in West Molesey, Surrey. All I knew was that she was related to my Dad – one of only three of his relatives that I met. Now I know that she was a sister of my Gran. As Dad always seemed to refer to his mother with love and was always upset about the fact that he lost her at such an early age, why didn’t he keep in closer contact with her sister – after all she only lived about 5-6 miles away.


Gran had bought my dad a wardrobe for his 21st birthday. He kept it until his death and I still have the receipt. The wardrobe was finally sold when I sold Mollie’s flat in Exmouth.


I got in touch with Ron and Hazel Gibson, through Dad’s address book (Ron’s father was Gran’s brother). They live in Essex. I got a little bit of information and they had several certificates, although they have now given them to their son to start researching the Gibson family.


The telling comment, from Hazel, was “your Dad didn’t have a happy childhood”. When I questioned this, it transpired that my grandfather was even more of a “beat and question later” person than my dad.


The initial information I had was my father’s birth certificate that gave her name as Florence Lavinia Earnshaw formerly Gibson. It was a fairly simple matter to find her marriage certificate (there weren’t many people with the name Verdi Lindley Earnshaw!) and that gave her age and father’s name, Walter Gibson. Equally, it wasn’t a hard task to find her birth certificate which provided her parents names as Walter Gibson and Frances Gibson formerly Potter. So now I knew who my great grandparents were – or did I?


I found my Gran on the 1901 census relatively easily, except that it named her mother as Fanny A Gibson. From there I found the family on the 1881 and 1891 census, also naming her as Fanny.


I have gradually pieced together a couple more generations of this family, starting from my Gran’s marriage and birth certificates as well as from Hazel’s memories of names. But looking for the names Gibson, Potter and Smith in East London is like the proverbial needle in a haystack. One day I may be able to complete this part of the search, but it is obviously a hard and slow task.


Recently though (Mar 2004), I had a little success but also created a lot more questions. Hazel had mentioned a Mr Marshall who she thought had married Fanny after her husband died, so explaining why her son was called William Walter Marshall Gibson. This actually made no obvious sense as this referred to the wrong generation, but the name William Marshall was on Fanny’s marriage certificate as a witness and so I thought that it might have been Walter Gibson’s mother who had remarried.


With the arrival of the 1871 census for London on the Internet, I tried to find the Gibson’s and Potter’s – and in some ways I wish I hadn’t, as it really started a lot of new ideas and brought about lots of brick walls. Gradually, albeit very slowly these brick walls are being knocked down and I am getting to know more about the two generations before my Gran.


Walter Gibson


According to Gran’s birth and marriage certificates, her father was Walter Gibson. I quickly identified the correct marriage for him – Walter Gibson to Fanny Agnes Potter. So it seems that my great grandmother’s name was Fanny Agnes, not Frances. The certificate named Walter’s father as George Gibson, a Mariner. I had a range of dates to work with, from the censuses, for Walter’s birth and ordered a couple of likely certificates. Neither seemed to match as the father’s name was wrong.


Then came the first major breakthrough. I was talking to Hazel’s son about my search for Walter Gibson’s birth and he said that Walter’s father was Arthur Joseph – and he had the original birth certificate to prove it. He also had the original marriage certificate and discovered that it named Walter’s father as George! By luck, one of the two birth certificates that I had previously obtained matched exactly the details of the original held by the family. Although I have traced a George Gibson who was a Mariner, I have not, so far, tied him into the family – other than this odd entry on Walter’s marriage certificate. Walter’s parents were Arthur Joseph Gibson and Lavinia Gibson nee Smith.


Later, I found a Walter Gibson on the 1871 census in Mile End with two siblings and his mother who was then called Lavinia Walker. This eventually proved to be correct, see later under Lavinia Smith.


The family told me Walter Gibson’s date of death, but didn’t know when his wife died. In September 2004 I obtained a copy of his will and that had several references to a grave at the City of London Cemetery. After a brief telephone call to the cemetery I discovered that his wife had died in July 1924 and that another daughter, Rhoda, was also buried in the same grave.


Fanny Agnes Potter


Other than her name on various certificates and married to Walter Gibson on the later censuses, I just couldn’t find much about her. It wasn’t that hard to obtain her birth certificate, which gave her parents as Humphrey Potter and Elizabeth Potter late Watts previously Abell. There were a few vaguely possible entries, but nothing really matched. I also looked for her father, who I thought (don’t know why) was still alive in 1871. The only one I found was the same person for whom I had the death certificate (1877) – but the entry just didn’t seem to match well at all as he was married to Jemima and had his own family.


I discovered on the IGI a Humphrey Abell Potter and the name was too much like a coincidence. I managed to get a copy of his birth certificate and that gave a little more insight. He was obviously Fanny’s brother, but his mother was stated as Elizabeth Potter, late Watts, previously Loader, formerly Abell. So Fanny’s mother had been married three times!


After doing various searches on locations, first names, last names, ages etc on the 1871 census I came up with Fanny Marshall who was living with “parents” William Marshall and Elizabeth Marshall as well as two siblings. The age and place of birth were correct and there was that name, William Marshall! Fanny’s mother was Elizabeth as well. So, I am now convinced the connection to William Marshall has been found and it is with Fanny’s mother rather than the Gibson family. And of course it means that Fanny’s mother was married not three, but FOUR times.


As I said earlier, I have now discovered that Fanny Agnes died in 1924 and is buried in the City of London Cemetery in Manor Park – an enormous place and incidentally where my Earnshaw great grandparents are also buried, as is Job Lindley, my great, great grandfather.


Whilst speaking to the Gibson family there was a reference to a daughter Florence, born in 1882. But my grandmother was born in 1893. This helped to complete the “known” family of Walter and Fanny Gibson – a total of 7 children.


Arthur Joseph Gibson


Other than the fact that he is named on the birth, but not marriage, certificate of Walter Gibson what do I know about him? Well, basically very little indeed. He married Lavinia Smith at Poplar parish church in 1842 and was a seaman of some sort. By 1871, his wife was called Walker and so either Arthur had died, or split up. At present I have no idea which. I do know that he and Lavinia had at least two sons and a daughter, from the 1871 census and the birth certificate of the daughter in 1858. As I haven’t found him yet on any census, I can’t be sure where, or when, he was born. So it isn’t really possible to search for a valid death certificate or look for a birth or baptism record – even on his marriage certificate it just says “of full age”.


There is one possible record on the 1841 census – Arthur Gibson a Ship’s Steward, aged 31 who was living in Poplar, but not born in the same County. It’s possible, but that’s it, a possible candidate.


The search continues – if only I had a surname index for the 1841-1861 censuses!


Lavinia Smith


Lavinia was Walter Gibson’s mother. On her marriage certificate she states that her father was John Smith, a Carpenter. I didn’t think I had much chance of finding her ancestry, especially as her father was John Smith!! But, if the 1871/1881 census entries were the correct family, then I had a possible success. Lavinia (Walker) is stated as being born in Rochester (Kent).  The 1881 census entry is confusing as it lists Lawrence Walker (female and a widow), also from Rochester. In both cases there are Gibson children at home. Neither of them was listed on the 1891 census and I found a death for Lavinia Walker in 1886. She was stated as the widow of Henry Walker and the informant was E J Gibson (her eldest child, Edmund). It became clear that the 1881 census had a transcription error and should have referred to Lavinia, not Lawrence.


Up to date I have not found the marriage of Lavinia to Henry Walker, nor found his death. There are three deaths for a Henry Walker in the Marine registers that might be relevant.


But the lack of a death for either husband and lack of marriage to her second husband leaves a big gap between 1858 (Birth of last child) and 1881 (when she was a widow).


Could we get back another generation? It was a tall order. However, I have found a baptism on the IGI for Lavinia Smith, father John and mother Mary, in Rochester in the expected year. This couple had other children as well and for one of them the mother was called Mary Anne. I also found what appears to be a logical marriage of John Smith to Mary Ann Williams in Chatham. A lot of work still to do, but I may have the clues that would break that particular brick wall. There were several possible baptisms for John Smith on the IGI and so it will be necessary to look at the details of the parish registers before attempting to go any further.


At least we have the outlines of her history – born in Rochester in 1820, married in Poplar in 1842, 3 children by Arthur Gibson between 1854 and 1858, and then connected in some way to Henry Walker before she died in 1886.


Humphrey Potter


The starting point for this search was that Fanny Agnes Potter is stated as Humphrey Potter, a Carman, on both her birth and marriage certificates. It was clear from the birth certificate of the only other child discovered, that Humphrey had married someone who had been married twice before.


Strangely, the name Humphrey Potter seems to be fairly unusual and so finding his marriage was not that difficult. In 1850 Humphrey Potter, a bachelor, married Elizabeth Watts, a widow. Humphrey was a Master Carman. These details all matched with the information I had from his children’s documents. As with the Gibson family the ages of both of them was just “full age” at the marriage – that is very unhelpful.


There was no sign of him on the 1881 census despite carrying out all sorts of permutations of searches. We also had his wife, Elizabeth, remarried and now called Marshall. When I obtained access to the 1871 census, there was an anomaly. Not only did I find Elizabeth Marshall, but there was also a Humphrey Potter, a Carman. He was living with his wife Jemima, children called both Potter and Costin and his mother in law Jane Carter. This couldn’t possibly be the right person, despite the close fit. I obtained a death certificate for the only Humphrey Potter I could find and the informant was Jemima Costin. This was in 1877. Well, this was the same Humphrey as on the 1871 census and so not correct – or so I thought.


Some time later I decided to have another attempt at finding what had happened to the Potter family and found a remarkable coincidence. Humphrey’s wife Elizabeth had married William Marshall just three weeks after the death of the Humphrey Potter whose certificate I had.


I believe that this means “problem solved”. It appears that Humphrey and Elizabeth separated after having two children and that Humphrey set up home with the “widow” Jemima Costin, nee Carter and they had four children together. Elizabeth set up home with William Marshall and had two children. Only when Humphrey died was she free to marry William.


At his marriage to Elizabeth in 1850, Humphrey stated that his father’s name was also Humphrey (deceased). There is an IGI entry for such a birth and baptism that gives the mother’s name as Ann. Also there is a marriage of Humphrey Potter to Ann Akers.


I have yet to research Humphrey or parents on earlier censuses or through parish records and so these IGI entries currently only have the status of “possible”.


Elizabeth Abell


Now this is one interesting lady! I still wonder how many husbands she had and, more to the point, what became of them.


Remember, from discussion of Fanny Agnes Potter and her brother Humphrey Abell Potter that there was evidence that she had been married twice before she married Humphrey Potter.


I have obtained what seem to be her four marriage certificates.

a)                  Elizabeth Abell (spinster) to George William Loader in 1846

b)                  Elizabeth Loader (widow) to Antony Watts in 1847

c)                  Elizabeth Watts (widow) to Humphrey Potter in 1850

d)                  Elizabeth Potter (widow) to William Marshall in 1877


While all these names match exactly what would be expected, there are still two issues.

a)      Until I realised that “our” Humphrey Potter was the one who died in 1877, we had 4 marriages and no evidence that any of her husbands had died!

b)      There are inconsistencies of the name quoted for her father on the four marriages – William Abell, Thomas William Abel, Thomas Abel and Thomas Abell


The lack of deaths for the first two husbands might, just might, be explained by their being involved with ships – one was a mariner and the other a shipwright. So it is possible they died overseas. Alternatively, was she a bigamist? At this stage I have no idea.  There was certainly a very short time span between the first three marriages.

I think that the father’s name is answered more simply. On her first marriage, to George William Loader, is it possible that the first names of the parents were reversed? His father was stated as Thomas Loader. Reversing the names would appear to make more sense – William giving his son a middle name of William. The problem with this guess is that I have found two possible births on the IGI for George William Loader – and both have a father called Thomas.


There is certainly an IGI entry, right time and place, for an Elizabeth Abell that gives the parents names as Thomas and Elizabeth. If correct then her mother was Elizabeth Green.


At the present time I have not found Elizabeth or William Marshall on the 1891 or 1901 censuses, nor have I found deaths for either of them. So there is still a lot to find out – you never know we may yet find a fifth marriage!


Remaining Work


a)      To trace, satisfactorily, the four sets of grandparents for Walter Gibson and Fanny Agnes Potter

b)      To find these families on the 1841-1861 censuses

c)      To trace the death of Arthur Joseph Gibson

d)      To trace the death of Elizabeth Abell

e)      To trace Henry Walker (second husband of Lavinia Smith)

f)        To trace the deaths, or whatever, of Elizabeth Abell’s first two husbands

g)      To trace the death of William Marshall

h)      To trace more of the family forwards toward the present day

i)        To discover who George Gibson was, quoted at the marriage of Walter Gibson – were they brothers or was it just an error on the certificate


Current Hypothesis as to a Gibson Tree


1-Thomas GIBSON + Unknown

   2-Arthur Joseph GIBSON d. Between 1858 and 1871

    +Lavinia SMITH b. 1820, d. 1886, m. 1842

      3-Edmund J GIBSON b. c1854

      3-Walter GIBSON b. 1856, d. 1940

       +Fanny Agnes POTTER b. 1859, d. 1924, m. 1879

         4-Arthur GIBSON b. c1879

         4-Florence Louise GIBSON b. 1882, d. 1884

         4-William Walter Marshall GIBSON b. c1886

          +Louisa Kate SMITH

            5-Ronald W GIBSON

         4-Ernest GIBSON b. c1888

         4-Rhoda GIBSON b. 1890, d. 1951, Essex

         4-Florence Lavinia GIBSON b. 1893, d. 1936

          +Verdi Lindley EARNSHAW b. 1892, d. 1953, m. 1914

            5-Walter Ernest EARNSHAW b. 1915, d. 1992

            5-John Kenneth Sunderland EARNSHAW b. 1920, d. 1944

         4-Jessie GIBSON b. 1896


      3-Emily Mary Ann GIBSON b. 1858



1 John Smith + Mary Ann Williams

   2 Lavinia Smith b. 1820 d. 1886

    + Arthur Joseph Gibson

      3 – see above

   2 Henry Smith b. 1822

   2 Jane Smith b. 1825

   2 Emma Smith b. 1826


1 Humphrey Potter + Ann Akers

   2 Humphrey Potter b. 1823, d. 1877

     + Elizabeth Abell b. 1825 m. 1850

      3 Fanny Agnes Potter b. 1859, d. 1924

       + Walter Gibson b. 1856, d. 1940, m. 1879

         4 – see above

      + Jemima Carter

         4 Eleanor Potter b. c1863

         4 William Potter b. c 1867

         4 Elizabeth Potter b. c1869

         4 Frances Potter b. c1877

      3 Humphrey Abell Potter b. 1852

         4 Frances Maud Emily Potter b. 1878 d. 1964

         4 Julia Potter b. 1880

         4 William Potter


1 Thomas Abell

  + Elizabeth Green

   2 Elizabeth Abell b. 1825

    + George William Loader m. 1846

    + Antony Watts m. 1847

    + Humphrey Potter b. 1823, d. 1877, m. 1850

      3 – see above

    + William Marshall m. 1877

      3 Grace Marshall b. c1864

      3 Walter Marshall b. c1868

   2 Thomas Abell (1838-1839)

   2 Sarah Abell (1840-?)


More details of these descendant lists are available on the main family tree pages.


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