The title of this post might seem bizzare at first but all will be revealed later. Researching Ringo Starr’s family tree has been a joy to do because for me it offered up something different in that I was surprised at what I found.
Fortunately I discovered that Nick Barratt had already researched Ringo’s family history for an article for the Telegraph, and I was glad that there were areas that he had not covered. Checking this out saved me a lot of work. Another stroke of luck was the abundance of original images of records that Ancestry had. I applaud their efforts in trying to make available as much original stuff as possible (and it keeps growing), but it is a hit and miss affair whether the record you’re after will be found. With my research on Ringo’s roots I was lucky to find more than usual and became useful in the tree progressing.
I looked at the Starkey line, Ringo’s real surname, knowing that Nick had found difficulty in making much headway with it, and the best I could do was find the marriage image for John Parkin Startkey and Annie Bower, Ringo’s paternal grandparents, which at least had the name of John’s father as Henry Parkin Starkey. However, Henry and indeed John are very elusive and my week long research was not sufficient to find out who they were or where they lived. I concentrated on a line that was not apparant with the research from Nick Barratt, namely Ringo’s maternal grandmother, Catherine Martha Johnson.
She was baptised at St Thomas’ Church, Toxteth Park on 17 May 1891 (born on 25 Apr., 1891) to Andrew and Mary Elizabeth Johnson of 37 Gaskell Street. Andrew’s occupation was put down as a sailor. They were married at the same church on 14 April, 1875, Andrew stating he was a mariner just like his father Peter. This excited me a bit because I am fascinated by anything to do with the sea, probably because I have mariners on my mother’s side. Mary Elizabeth Cunningham father, James was a gardener. Finding them in the 1891 Census revealed that Andrew was born in the Shetland Isles and Mary hailed from Ireland. So I thought, how hard is it going to be researching someone from the Shetlands? What records can I find? Andrew was my first Shetland Islander and I wasn’t sure if I could progress. I knew that researching Mary would probably come to a halt because of the scarcity of available Irish records, and it would plain luck if I did find something. So I began looking and was pleasantly surprised how much I could find thanks to the FamilySearch site. But before trying to peel away the hidden generations of Andrew I wanted to find out when he came to Liverpool, and whether he had a childhood there. Was it Peter who came down looking for seafaring work or would I find him settled in alittle cold corner of the Isles that are called Shetland. So I looked in the 1871 census hoping to find either Andrew or Peter. What I found was truly amazing. Andrew Johnson was 39 in the 1891 census, so I knew I was looking for a nineteen year old Andrew. Boarding at what appears on the census sheet as 43 Upper Pitt Street was not only Andrew but a whole bunch of Shetland Islanders! Including Andrew eight in all, and an Ursula Johnson, 17, and a servant at the household. Could this be a relation of Andrew’s? It was run by a William and Agnes Thompson, both in their 60’s, and Edward seemed to be still active as a mariner. Then it was time to get educated about Shetland. The hunt for Andrew’s family was on.
FamilySearch came up with a baptism:-
Andrew Johnson born 2 Jan., 1852, christened 26 Jan., 1852 at Delting, Shetland, Scotland. Parents: Peter Johnson and Philias Tait.
Now I wasn’t aware that those far off islands were a part of Scotland, and at first I thought that they might have had their own census. Thankfully I had access to the Scotland census, transcribed, but nonetheless useful resource. I wondered if I could find who Ursula was.
Ursula Johnson born 27 October, 1853, christened 10 Jan., 1854 at Delting, Shetland. Parents: Peter Johnson and Philias Tait.
So my initial hunch that Ursula was Andrew’s sister turned out to be a good one. And a quick check on the 1861 Scotland census reveals the following:
Phillis Johnson (44) – Farms 4 acres – born Lunnasting, Shetland
Mary Johnson (11) – scholar – born Delting, Shetland
Andrew Johnson (9) – scholar – born Delting, Shetland
Ursilla Johnson (7) – scholar – born Delting, Shetland
Catherine Johnson (5) – scholar – born Delting, Shetland
Peter Johnson (3) – scholar – born Delting, Shetland
Isabell Frazin (45) – servant, ag.lab – born Sandsting, Shetland
Where Peter was I don’t know, and to be honest I didn’t look too hard. I was more concerned with going back in time and finding Ringo’s Shetland great-great-great grandparents.
In the 1851 Scotland census we find Peter and Phila (probably Phillis) are at 15 Burns Lane, Lerwick visiting the Hutchinson’s, a mother and daughter whose occupation were knitters. Over at Delting we find their first born (I presume) Mary Johnson living with grandparents Magnus and Ursula Johnson, and their son Laurence. Magnus is an incredible 87 years old and his wife considerably younger and a sprightly 63, and it would not surprise me with such an age difference, if she was his second wife. In fact FamilySearch comes up with a marriage between a Magnus Johnson and Wrcilla I on 30 Sept. 1806 at Delting and a Magnus Johnson marring a Robina Henry on 12 Jan 1792, again at Delting. Could this be the same man?
In the 1841 census we find a family of Johnson’s which have all the familiar names associated with this interesting family line of Ringo Starr:
Magnus Johnson (70) – Farmer – Born Orkney and Shetland
Ursla Johnson (55) – – Born Orkney and Shetland
Laurence Johnson (25) – Fisherman – Born Orkney and Shetland
Catherine Johnson (20) – – Born Orkney and Shetland
James Johnson (18) – Fisherman – Born Orkney and Shetland
Peter Johnson (16) – Fisherman – Born Orkney and Shetland
Andrew Johnson (12) – – Born Orkney and Shetland
Finally, I found Peter Johnson’s baptism record. Ringo’s great-great grandfather was christened on 28 May 1824 at Delting, born 20 May the same year. Being christened only a week after birth suggests that he didn’t have the healthiest of starts and that his parents were not sure of his survival.
Could I go further in time? Using the databases of FamilySearch there is a possibility that I may have. There is an entry for a Magnus Johnson christening for 6 March 1766 at Delting, with a Lawrence Johnson as the father. Could this be Ringo Starr’s great-great-great-great grandfather?
And what about Ursula, Magnus’ wife?
Well, I found a christening for a Ursula Jameson for 24 December, 1788 at Fetlar, Shetland which could be her. Going back to that Liverpool boarding house ran by the couple from Shetland there was also William Thompson’s mother-in-law, a grand old lady of 89 and also hailing from Shetland, named Elizabeth Jameson. Could she have a familial link to Andrew and Ursula and giving us an answer to why they were there?