The earliest Atherton ancestor I have positively traced is John Atherton. According to his census entries, he was born in Liverpool but I feel sure he came from a Penketh / Warrington / Sankey family. Apart from my father telling me the family had "always" been in Penketh, there are some interesting coincidences in the Warrington baptism register in the early 19th century. It might well be worth following the ancestral lines of these other families if I am unable to trace "our" John's parents.
see family group sheet or chart
In 1817, John married Martha Lee at Prescott church - six or seven miles from Penketh. John and Martha had twelve children (the oldest, Daniel, being my ancestor), at least ten of whom survived infancy. All were baptised at Warrington. I suspect my father's statement that they had "always" lived at Penketh might not be strictly correct. According to the baptisms register (which lists the father's occupation and place of residence), John was a shoemaker from Sankey Bridges or Sankey: curiously, though, all the census returns from 1841 give his occupation as waterman!!
I'm not sure where John and Martha were on the night of the 1841 census. Their children were at home at Brookside, supervised by 15-year-old Ellen (a 'Waterman's Child'), but no sign of their parents.
In the 1851 census, John and Martha are living at Greyston Heath (an area between Penketh and Great Sankey and marginally nearer to the latter, but falling into the Penketh census district). John is a now a waterman, perhaps working with his son, our ancestor Daniel. They probably worked on the Mersey barges known as flats, which generally carried goods on the Mersey: however David Long of the Sankey Canal Restoration Society has pointed out to me "The inland waterways off the Mersey - the Weaver, Sankey, Irwell, Leeds & Liverpool, Rochdale, and Bridgewater - were all built to the dimensions of the Mersey flats. The possibility must be entertained that your ancestor, living as close as he did to the Sankey, actually worked on that waterway."
In the 1861 census, he is still a waterman, as is his (married) second son James (two years later, James was drowned at Canarvan Bar and is buried at Llancadwaldr Church near Bordagau Station) and third son John. He was buried in February 1869 at Great Sankey and was recorded in the register as aged 72 "of Penketh". In 1871 , his widow Martha was living at 1, Greystone Heath, Penketh with her youngest daughter, Maria, (who had married Thomas Pusill) and their three children. Martha was buried in September 1875, also at Great Sankey, aged 79 "of Penketh".
I owe much of the Atherton information to Dennis & Rita Milne from Penketh whom I met by chance in the Record Office in Aylesbury. I subsequently wrote an article about their great kindness which was published in a Family History Society magazine and read by Michael Gandy, well-known genealogist and founder of the Quaker Family History Society. It turned out that he is also descended from John & Martha, through their 9th child, Mary (1833-1906) who married John Plumpton. Michael gave me virtually all the information I have about Martha's family.
I also found two other descendants through the Internet. One is Rex Edwards of Liverpool who is also descended from John & Martha's daughter Mary (1833-1906). His mother's recollections have been invaluable though, inevitably, less accurate in the older generations. From him I have the lovely golden wedding photo below (6 May 1900) of Mary and her husband, John Plumpton.