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  • Writer's pictureDiane Mague Stanley

Bloom Where You're (Re-)Planted

Updated: Apr 12, 2018

I am not especially comfortable writing about Week 12’s topic of misfortune. I think every life has times that seem either lucky or unlucky. Still, sometimes events that are bad turn out to be life-shaping and trajectory-setting. Misfortune played a role at just about every turn in my third great grandparents’ lives, but their response shaped our family’s future.

Sarah Lamb was born about 1812-1814 in Farnborough, Warwickshire, England.[1] Sarah faced many typical hardships as a young girl. Her mother, Hannah Lamb, (b. 1790 in Farnborough) was a weaver’s daughter and umarried. Sarah was, as the priest at baptism put it, “baseborn.” Her marriage[2] to Daniel Dobbs (b. about 1808) in 1833 in Byfield, Northamptonshire, England, his mother’s parish, was probably considered a good match. Daniel's father was a man named William Dobbs[3], but Daniel was given his widowed mother’s surname, Woodford.[4] We don't know the reason for this, but maybe Sarah and William did not marry until later. Daniel was likely raised alongside her other Woodford sons. Later in life Daniel switched his name to “Daniel Dobbs.”

All the signs point toward Daniel being a man of some ambition. Daniel started his working life as a laborer[5] and rose to become a canal lock keeper[6] in Watford Locks of the Grand Union Canal. By 1840, Daniel and Sarah had four children with eight more in their future. Sarah busied herself with motherhood and was joined in the household by her mother-in-law.

Life was going well for the growing family alongside the Watford Locks until tragedy struck in September 1851 when son, William, only 9 years old, was found drowned in the locks at Norton Junction.[7] Drowning in the locks was not uncommon especially for children because the force of the water, as the water filled and drained, was impossible to fight against. We can only imagine the grief of Sarah and Daniel, and the upset this caused in the family. Baby George was only 6 months old, and the eight others were all under 10.

After two more babies, Sarah’s health began to fail. Then her mother-in-law, by now an old woman of 80, died.[8] Whether from the exhaustion of childbearing, or stress from the death of William, Sarah became chronically ill. The doctor thought a change of climate would help. So, in 1856, when Daniel lost his job at the Locks, he packed up his ailing wife and their remaining 11 children and moved to America.[9] Sarah was strong enough to survive the trip, but just barely. She never regained her health.

One of Daniel’s (probable) half-brothers, Bunny Woodford, had already settled in America, so the family moved to New Jersey to be near him. Daniel returned to farming in Bunny’s community near Bridgewater, but before the first 12 months were out, Sarah died.[10] The doctor declared that she was a victim of consumption. In May 1857, Sarah was buried in the Pluckemin Cemetery near the Presbyterian Church.

This was only the first setback; more misery was on the way for Daniel. A few months later in 1858, Daniel had a bad fall while haying and broke his leg. The family story goes that the local community sent him back to England because they were afraid the large family would become a public burden. Daniel intended to take all the children back with him, but two of the daughters refused, having found beaux, so the eldest son, Francis, was appointed to stay behind and look after them. Soon Daniel found himself back in England with his family now spread over two continents which did not agree with him. He longed to return to New Jersey and did so in 1864 with some of the children.[11] He settled in and put down roots and grew into an old man. Daniel died a few days before the Great Blizzard of [18]’88[12] and was buried alongside his wife in Pluckemin, having firmly transplanted the Dobbs family, despite their misfortunes, to New Jersey.


[1] Farnborough Parish (Warwickshire, England), Register of Baptisms in the Parish of Farnborough, Warwickshire, England, 1813-1883, 1814 Baptisms, p. 2, no. 13, Sarah Lamb, 20 March 1814; FHL microfilm no. 548386.

[2] Byfield Parish (Northamptonshire, England), Parish Registers, Marriages, 1813-1837, no. 117, Daniel Woodford and Sarah Lambe, 11 August 1833; FHL film no. 6126940, Family History Library, Salt Lake City.

[3], "England, Select Marriages, 1538–1973,” database online, ( : accessed 14 July 2014), marriage entry for William Dobbs and Sarah Woodford, 20 February 1808, Welford, Northamptonshire; citing “England, Marriages, 1538–1973,” FHL Film no. 1966305, Item 2, FamilySearch, Salt Lake City.

[4] Byfield Parish (Northamptonshire, England), Parish Registers, 1773-1812, Baptisms, baptism of Daniel Woodford, 15 November 1812; NRO ref. Byfield 56P/2, Northamptonshire Record Office, Northampton; FHL microfilm 6126937-6c.

[5] 1841 Census of England, Northamptonshire, Watford, enumeration district 6, folio 5, p. 5, lines 9-15, Daniel Dobbs household; PRO HO 107 / 800 / 18.

[6] 1851 Census of England, Northamptonshire, Watford, folio 697, p. 20-21, household nos. 81-83, Watford Locks households; digital image, ( : accessed 16 May 2015); citing The National Archives of the UK (TNA), Public Records Office, PRO HO 107 / 1741.

[7] England, certified copy of an entry of death, Long Buckby sub-district, Daventry district, county of Northampton, 1851, Jul.-Sept. Qtr., vol. 15, p. 168, no. 69, William Dobbs, 3 September 1851; General Registry Office, Southport.

[8] England, certified copy of an entry of death, Long Buckby sub-district, Daventry district, county of Northampton, 1853, vol. 3b, p. 78, no. 248, Sarah Jobson, 23 February 1853; General Registry Office, Southport.

[9] “New York Passenger Lists, 1851-1891,” database online and digital images,, manifest of the Samuel M. Fox, 30 August 1856, lines 30-41, Daniel Dobbs family.

[10] Somerset County, New Jersey, Deaths 1848-1867, vol. AE, p. 461, microfilm no. 34, Bedminster, Sarah Dobbs, 23 May 1857; New Jersey State Archives, Trenton.

[11] 1900 U.S. census, Somerset County, New Jersey, population schedule, Bernards Township, Liberty Corner, enumeration district (ED) 74, p. 44, sheet 2A, dwelling 28, family no. 30, Benajah Anthony household; database and digital image, ( : accessed 27 March 2015); citing The National Archives (NARA) microfilm publication T623, roll 994.

[12] Somerset Co., N. J., Death Certificate D49, Daniel Dobbs, 6 March 1888.

© 2016-2018 Diane Mague Stanley ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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