words on family history (UK)

Review of the new GRO index, November 2016

The all spangly new GRO index is hiding some gems.  Whilst the index page is reminiscent of the Dark Ages, even the Venerable Bede would be pleased at the motherlode this shy database is hiding.  Hereinafter this database shall be called the Index.  You do need a login to proceed there.

Something weird was afoot in Bakewell Registration District, where my ancestors enjoyed many an ‘early bath’ courtesy of the haphazard hygiene and filthy water available there.  A stonking 8.25% of births were registered without names, compared with just 2% in neighbouring Belper in the period being examined (1840s).  I had thought that my Aunt Esther Fox was struggling with her particulars when she registered Nathan as Male, Ellen as Female, Sarah Ann as Female and then Caroline as Female.  All these children survived so I am now blaming an overzealous parish council pushing people to get registering, even when names hadn’t yet fallen fully into place.

I have confirmation now from the Index that the Fox children WERE registered, with mother’s maiden name showing, but without a name, rather than not registered at all.

Emigrés.  Several relatives begin families in England before heading off overseas.  If they fail to ‘clock in’ at a census before they leave, we can easily miss folk.  The Index captures them before they go.

Fact-checking.  As a researcher I am full of reasons why things might have happened, and explanations which may or may not be correct.  The Index has told me sadly, that uncle Arthur Smith began his child-siring career age 20, and it was this urgency, rather than doting affection for his 28 year-old bride, that caused the wedding bells to ring.  He notched up 15 in the end according to the Index, and only wrapped it up as he needed to emigrate – by himself.  The hard work in establishing who were Rachel’s kids (blog), is all confirmed, too.

More fact-checking.  I could see that the Whitehaven newspapers of 1869 were, as I predicted, wrong about the marital status of my Bridget Moon.  Various Davies births in Merthyr Tydfil were similarly accepted.  The crazy marital career of Eliza Creighton in Wellingborough is proven too – with many partners, varying locations and sons with the same name and vastly different futures, all needing untangling.  One of these became a Barnardo’s boy in Canada.

Sort it out!  How embarrassing that I missed the death of my Ann Welch in Kent, 1862, out of the 92 available.  It’s easier to home in on her given that the Index specifies her age (51), which is new information, and significantly narrows the field.  Ann’s son-in-law survived until the 1940s when he was photographed with his great-granddaughter, who I yesterday informed of Ann’s death.  Clearly Ann had gone from Somerset to Kent to help her niece with young babies.  The precise registration district and time-frames match.

Sort it out again!  Blundering through the Young births of north Newcastle, I thought that Cecilia Young would be our relative, as she’s called that in the 1911 census.  Wrong!  Her name was Celia and the Cecilia was somebody else.  No wonder her great-niece put down the correspondence when I made this clanger.  Thank you Index for illuminating me.

Ha-ha, what 1837 cut-off?  I have no idea where my ancestral Barnett siblings married.  James (1799) is very much married by 1837, BUT has plenty of children after this time with the mother’s maiden name usefully revealed (it was Taylor).  Agnes (1806) marries at about age twenty, and can we find where?  Luckily her youngest child arrives after 1837 so we confirm her maiden name of Barnett, and lock down the relationship.

That don’t help me much!  My most puzzling Yorkshire rellie, Ann, born at Bedale in 1875 is confirmed with the mother’s maiden name of Bagshaw.  Can someone tell me how this helps me find her (it don’t)?  My great-grandmother’s only cousin, Walter Gregory is born at Belper in the same year.  Apparently *no* mother’s maiden name is given, which is certainly ringing my alarm bells.  Was he really who he said he was?

I see, sort of.  Eleanor Jenkins from Aberdare’s three daughters are all born with different surnames:  Mary Monk in 1858, Gwenllian Thomas in 1865 and Elizabeth Jenkins in 1869.  Thank you, Index.  Mary Gwenllian Davies was definitely born in 1898 nearby.  Martha Reeve was the name of the lady who left the policeman (Roberts) in Manchester, danced around Northamptonshire before choosing my violent relative Hugh to shackle down with on the Derbyshire/Cheshire border.  She reverts to Mrs Roberts after his passing, but finally we spy her marriage – in Leeds – impossible without the Index.

I still see, sort of.  Ahhh, naughty cousin Charlotte is pinned down to sexy Fleet, Hampshire for the birth of her illegitimate daughter in 1910.  She fronted it out by deciding she was married.  The entire family dodge the 1911 census.  Arthur Sims born 1887 at Devonport is revealed as really being born at Shorncliffe Barracks.

Kiddies aren’t us.  Lots of couples are proved as having no children whatsoever, at any point.

How are you spelling that?  Putting aside how the surnames were spelt, we seem to struggle with mother’s maiden names.  Mary Charlotte had the excuse of being 17 when she got married which isn’t very many years to learn how to spell Carline.  But this maiden name needed to be dusted down every year or so as the house filled with children (1880s Birkenhead).  Carlyle, Carlisle, Cartyre and occasionally… Carline.

Please turn over your page for the biggest bombshell of all, the Constantinople Connection.

Check out this potentially useful helper here at Greasy Fork.  Postscript: ordered six certificates with Greasy Fork’s help.

A good coffee shop

Shop #1
Keep your voice down I was told in a cwtchy coffee shop somewhere in the Principality of Wales. My correspondent proceeded to tell me plenty of gossip they’d felt unable to do in the comfort of their own home. Ok, so the names of grandkids were a little hazy, but that was ok. Who cared about them!
Shop #2

Two scalding cuppas wobbled on the table as the underground train rumbled through. Thank goodness the family photos were still in their orange supermarket bag waiting to be shown. Here’s uncle Harry, in southern [Zimbabwe] in 1913. Wow, I said, dodging the table’s wet patches as the photo was carefully placed on a dry area.

Shop #3
My phone camera is at the ready as I capture the photo of Granny’s grandpa’s uncle Thomas at the EasiNet i Edgware Road with the cousin standing by. I cannot recall the coffee but boy do I remember running through in my head the things I wouldn’t do to get a snap of this photo. I’m afraid there weren’t very many.

Today my old friend Excel is chomping through a million addresses, getting fed a new line of code every few minutes while I pen this blog. I have clocked up ten pounds of cash spent here, but the view is good with plenty of daylight. On a note of safety, it would be impossible for a truck or lorry to accelerate into the property.

I usually choose a hot chocolate and a doughy sticky mixture guaranteed to press pause in my bowels. I’m confident my kidneys would struggle to squeeze even a drop of moisture from the cheese toastie lately consumed. This has held back a trip to the bathroom by a good while. Chocolate too seems to contain hardly any fluid.

This particular favoured place gets very busy indeed at the counter. One can occupy a prime position on the laptop without preventing others from dining. To top up with food (which is only polite), one must look out for gaps in the queue and seize the moment.  Judiciously dropping down a coat on the way in helps to ensure you get the right seat. Be warned these establishments are known for taking unscheduled badly-spelled days off:

Kitchen be closed I am on holiday from you, customer!

Enjoy the moment while you can, as it changes from ‘no laptops at weekend’, ‘byo alcohol licence applied for’, to trendy family friendly hipster tapas carvery retro bar. You’ll need a good coffee after all of that.

Persuasion in Family History

Probably my shining achievement in family history is when my Dad told me exactly how auntie E. answered the door in Salford in the 1950s.

Put into perspective, there were a tonne of family secrets which slipped out eventually, but this one was actually volunteered!

I also, at the age of 10, gave the floor to my elderly grandfather, hovering uncertainly on his stick in the centre of the room. He was given the opportunity to divulge his grandmother’s name, and exactly how and why his uncle Philip ranaway to sea in the 1890s. Unfortunately, this gentleman failed to oblige and he never visited us ever again.

A few years ago I was pulled from my job as PA and put on stakeholder management duties. The reason? I was just too persuasive. The project manager’s diary was being filled from early in the morning to late in the afternoon – only right and proper as they were on £xxx per day of taxpayers’ money. To make matters worse, those at the venue assumed they would be meeting me, not my erstwhile boss. “I pulled people in”, I learnt.

Not my grandfather, apparently.

We hear so much about how suspicious the British people are, with many poised at the net curtains, enjoying nimbyism, telling people not to park cycle or play ball and withholding internships to everyone except their tennis partner’s son.

Oh no, friends, the British people are not suspicious, they are inordinately trusting. How else did they sleepwalk their way into zero-hours contracts, politician’s charms and (for some) the cutesy notion that the govinmant has money to pay for everyone to be on benefits? Aaaah!

In truth we tend to trust people whose faces or identities we understand.

In the last ten years I have not snuck a single letter past an American, but the Brits love a letter. It’s my most powerful tool, a warm sheet of introduction that just slips its way into a centrally heated home, and is safe enough to place with the breakfast papers while being slowly and pleasantly digested.

I was an awful letter writer, boring people with facts and questions. Exactly what they wanted to hear! A chance to talk. In 2005 or so everyone was still in love with their BlackBerry, and hated getting ‘snailmail’. But with online shopping back, paper bills, statements and junk mail all easing off (reduced carbon initiatives and consumer watchdogs helping here) – your letter is now really welcome again just as in the days of Postman Pat.

“Knock. Ring. Letters through your door!”

I’ve sent out hundreds of these warm pieces of propaganda and they’re a great way to learn more about your own puzzling family, if you’re brave enough.

For the less pushy, you can still use persuasion to meet your archival needs. (For a bonus point, where is archiving on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? It’s there, believe me.)

Setting up a web presence or tree on Ancestry, and subtly seizing the vacant position of family expert helps you claim more territory. When aunt Grenda dies, her children will ensure those nasty old photos (covered in dust) come naturally to you, rather than setting off everyone’s asthma and clogging up the family’s Feng shui.

I get a lot of eyeballs on my site and it’s informative to get a handle on their research interests. Last month I pounced on Timmy in Canada who had submitted a query about my grandpa’s third cousin Denis.  And soon I was enjoying a nice chat online with Denis’s son across the water. (Yes the Canadians are much more open to persuasion.)

But not exclusively so. This week I was so delighted to finally make contact with the granddaughters of Auntie Bea, both in southern USA. It’s the right time for everybody. I knew I had to share the stunning Twenties photograph of their mothers (sisters) bathing in the sea, and of course they responded well. So privileged to be in touch. I first saw that photo 20 years ago and knew I would one day share it.

I pulled a really fast move on my Irish cop cousins. I needed to meet them and laid a trail of cookies to get their undivided attention. Sure enough, screeching around the corner of my home-from-home, Boston youth hostel, was cousin Gerry in his police wagon. Out I stepped ready to glad-hand him as we greeted reach other warmly.

Behind the smiles and superb choreography lay a string of careful plans. The meat of the encounter, the bait, was the letter Gerry’s grandfather wrote from wartime Ireland, six to ten pages, which they got to keep. I bet that was all he ever wrote in his life, at least in English. Assisting with the meet-up was tough substitute teacher Kimberly, Gerry’s niece. She got him to check his phone, accept the message request, and bring a smile.

With more front than Selfridges, I treated myself to an afternoon at the Boston Athletics Club for a complimentary tour, stating that I was in fact, a resident, if just for one day. #Persuasion

Luck in Family History

I’ll always remember the G. Ewart Evans quote to “let the horse have its head” when conducting oral history interviews. With family history who knows where the enquiry will end up. The researcher has his or her ideas, but they are not in overall control.  I have no problem with this. I’m hoping for an interesting journey, after all.

In the opener of an Albert Campion mystery the author drops many handwritten addresses around a lunchtime park. Albert just has to pick up one for the game to start, as it inevitably does.  It makes me wonder how many clues I spot versus how many I miss.  I consider myself fairly observant, who’s kidding who here?

In this article, we’ll see luck dished out by the census, the cousins,  and other miscellaneous sources.

The 1841 census has served up a few treats in its time. An entire world of Protestant Dubliners, Irish country houses, oyster farmers, Surrey drawing rooms and cross-partisan love springs from little Miss Sophia Urch sitting pretty at her grandfather’s farmhouse in Cossington, Somerset, 1841 age 4.  Had I ignored her, not only would she have been angry and not sat on her tuffet, but she wouldn’t have offered me the delicious Urches and whey above outlined.

Ten years later, the 1841 census struck again. This time she flagged up that my missing aunt, Betty, was very definitely Mrs Whitehead, an ostler’s wife in Kendal, with 179 descendants to boot. All thanks to young niece Betty Barton, subject of the two-coffee problem, who happens to be visiting on census night.

Digging around another 1841 entry revealed who moved in months later, Miss Rebecca Cox. She simply had to be child of Miss R. Dibben whose first marriage to Mr Cox was missing. Proof comes in her fourth marriage when the clerk lists the bride’s father.

I was very lucky when uncle William Smith elects to marry, in the anticipated registration district of Guiltcross, just months before he emigrates for good. He was guilty, but I wasn’t cross.

I was similarly blessed with fortune when cousin G., just before his death, summons me to visit. We see the farm, the game birds, have a chat about silage, and then: “Would you like to take all my family photos off my hands, David? The children just aren’t interested and won’t keep them. I’d like you to have them.” I think you can predict my answer to that question!

Relatives and goodly folk so often came to my rescue when I had the genealogical equivalent of a burst tyre. Malcolm patched up my Boyce tree and sent me on to the specialist, Celia. Mary pushed me back on the road and on to The Pines, Holcombe where I could receive more treatment (facts!). Sue F. flashed through her rolodex to Sue J. a third cousin who gave my Harris module a completely new engine with several extra gears (generations!). The postman deserves credit too for delivering letters to people who shouldn’t have been so easy to find. Epic saleswoman Elizabeth who filled the dense brieze block she published (annually!) with so many names and addresses, it felt every page housed a relative. Occasionally I got through by accident to bleached-out Gold coasters who squinted at my aerogrammes and waved them on, but that was ok.

Other things I’m grateful for:
* that the journalist at the Derbyshire Telegraph printed a mangled version of Ranongga, the island in the Solomons where emigré Harold Beck had his cupra plantation (1920s)
* that a clued-up Robinson researcher from Sheffield came forward to firmly refute our 1808 Bagshaw – Robinson marriage, sending us forward into a Bagshaw – Gee marriage and to the peculiar territory there
* that the sisterly feud between Catherine and Florence Jones somehow held off exploding before 1939, meaning we could finally identify Catherine in the page of the 1939 register…

And enjoy the fruits of her labours, including great great grandson Joe Gill who I’m reliably informed is on the box as Emmerdale’s Finn Barton.

Luck, you’ve been fairly even-handed, but right now it feels you’re playing along nicely in the merry game of family history.

Faith in Family History

No faith.  It’s sad when people write to say they’ve no idea who their grandparents were, particularly if I felt they should.  But I’ve got faith we’ll find out more.

‘I never knew anything about my mother Jean’s family (1933-2000).  She died a number of years ago, and there aren’t any photographs.’

If you’re born at the tail end of a decade, like me, it’s not that hard to look back.  We’ve been talking about the family pub in Cornwall forever and that was actually the 1850s.  Here we look at different times we’ve employed faith in family history.

Postal faith.  I made sure to tap the friendly red postbox on the head as I rounded the bend this morning.  When I finally put a letter in this box to find Eva Walker, I knew I’d get a phone call from her family in a day or two.  I did, and I’ll see them again tomorrow as a direct consequence of this.

Finding Faith.  I waited 8 years from spying Louisa Smith’s marriage in Castle Cary, Somerset, to finding her daughter, born 12000 miles away: her name, Faith.  So they did have children! And I went on to have elevenses with Faith’s niece, in London, some years after that.

Exquisite faith.  Very rarely in my own family history is the hunt ever seriously ‘on’.  From the moment I learnt about this baby girl born 1921 (no name given), I knew I was going to find her.

Undeniable faith. You have a woman born 1751, with 8 children or so, and one of them had a youngest child who continues her line until 1992.  It’s implausible to deny that the original female will have family, somewhere.  Again, it’s an eight-year wait, till I reach them in Knighton, East Wales.

Solid faith.  I have always adopted an indefatigable attitude regarding my Smiths.  Although there were 12 Ellen Smiths born in Norfolk 1853, I can spot mine a mile off.  Let’s not even begin to think how many shared her brother’s name, born two years earlier.  We needed another tactic. I tailed his movements in Norfolk closely, finding a marriage in Garboldisham, which fitted securely.  And my solid faith he would rejoin us brooked no doubts.  I would select and eliminate William Smiths in the USA, knowing he had a wife Anna.  Blind faith or cupidity took me straight to his door, always-open, in Jamestown, Western N.Y.  I was the only family member to visit him in 130 years.  No longer just a name: I had stayed solid, to find the man.

Hungry faith.  My appetite was unassuaged.  Three Dibben girls born 1790-1796 needed finding.  I focussed my attention on Rebecca. Whatever persuaded me to search for her marrying at age 40, I cannot now recall.  Ridiculous to imagine that having failed to find a first marriage, I’d lumber straight into a second.

In fact, this lucky find was Rebecca’s fourth marriage!  The bridal marriages of all three Dibben girls are entirely missing and you can really only locate them in the census.   Once one had shown amid the undergrowth, my hunger spread to find the others.  So I ravenously entered all the Gunville, Dorset folk with 1790s births into Ancestry’s census index and so chomped my way through to all the sisters and their seven marriages.

Family faith.  From the moment Mary Jenkins arrived in Tonypandy in 1881, she was somebody’s sister, daughter and niece.  But who’s to say she was our Mary? Ah, but we’re reckoning without the family, who knew about the Williams and Price marriages in subsequent generations.  While Ennis and I sat waiting for Mary’s birth record to finally arrive, we both already knew the outcome: Mary was ours, 100%.

Fearless faith.  With every year which passes, somebody dies.  Nowhere was that more true than with my father’s Irish cousins.  We stutter from the pre-arithmetic progression of his ‘one’ first cousin, straight to 18 Irish second cousins, and that’s just on his father’s side.  Of the 18, eight were in America and at least half unaccounted for.  We had a bit of time as you can’t hide three red-head Irish cop brothers well, and a great-uncle had made 92, so perhaps others might too?  I never thought for a second that I mightn’t find them.  Reading cousin Babs’s will and the names of her 8 children, who’d all left Ireland, I’ve harassed, stalked, jogged round peninsulas, got on planes and swam upstream to find them, and I’d say 17 out of the 18 have responded well.  I need to decide if the 18th has changed gender before writing my final letter.  I’m gonna reach them. I have faith.

Determination in Family History

In this piece, we get determined.

Sorting the Surname soup
Something with the way the Cornish bred meant surnames ebbed and flowed in popularity, and my eager young self stumbled right into the mire.  Rodda – rare as hen’s teeth, but back then, the most common name in the parish.  Jennings – not that numerous, but I faced multiple couples of the same name.  Three William Roddas with wife Elizabeth and two Ann Jennings with husband John.  I saw red and decided to log every single Rodda in Crowan here, which will now need an update from the excellent GRO site. The Jennings did not need such a blunderbuss, but finesse.  The tree all hinged on two Elizabeths.  To determine who they married, I squinted deeply at the age given on their death records. Ah, you belong to him and you to him, I said, firmly.  I could now parcel out their siblings. I felt I was picking sides at a school football match.

Taking the Path of least resistance
I wasn’t that determined to find Eliza Ainsworth’s family after 1900; I just followed the paths available at the time.  BMD records were laborious whereas finding Eliza’s obituary (via CheshireBMD online, the probate index and then the newspaper library at Colindale) was a lot more informative. I then had to look for her granddaughter Miss S. Fox, who I happily found, and who was extremely informative about all the Ainsworths.

Pushing for the clinch
I’ve made headway with a number of Welsh lines thanks to this approach.  Elimination is a highly unsatisfactory method of identification as you never really know who the other eligible candidates are.  Keep going! And hope to find a clinching fact, one which locks in your supposition and confounds your suspicion.

Exhaust the avenues available
James Carline’s missing baptism has had me routinely cussing him out, as the predecessors were sure to be of interest if we only knew who they were. His father was slapdash brother James Carline, while his wife’s father was organised brother Joseph Carline. There is absolutely a gap in both the naming pattern and the chronology of James Carline’s infants.  Other evidence, such as trades, familial locations, bears this out. What’s lovely is to arrive after a hot afternoon’s research, digging away, at Mary Ann Bird’s cottage in Darley and realise she was both the sister of James and his immediate neighbour in 1851, a fact which had been long hid.Make a nice diagonal itch
The area has been scratched from every direction, except diagonally.  Maybe that will solve things? For some reason I wasn’t about to go plunging into guesswork to establish whose parents Ann Morgan, born 1762, might have been. It’s tantalising to wonder how far I might have got without the death duty hint, Ann’s sister and her will, and even whether I’d have got to see the will anyway, regardless of my lucky hit.  The diagonal direction was to look for something at the National Archives to bolster up a very soggy will.  Quite what good I thought a glance at the death duty registers could possibly do, we’ll never know.  By rolling with the fresh direction, this time the scratch was successful: the writer, Elizabeth Morton, had a childless aunt from 40 years earlier who emerged in the paperwork.  Where she got her money, name, genes and executive habits were all laid out in the doc.  That area no longer itches but there’s plenty new places in the body of research which would benefit from a scratch in a different direction.

You are a Cornishman. What would you do?

We have so been here before. Two men of the same name of the same village of the same age. What on earth made me get it so wrong? Of course my relative was not the one to stay behind in Cornwall bouncing across the county like a fly in a jar.

Here are all the Francis Harris men born in Cornwall at about that time:

  1. Francis Harris baptised 1818 at Crowan, son of Francis and Ann (mine)
    – living 1841 at home in Wheal Clowance, Crowan with parents age 20
  2. Francis Harris baptised 1818 at Camborne, son of Francis and Honor (not mine)
    – living 1841 at home in Camborne with widowed mother and siblings age 20.
  • One of these is living at Stokeclimsland in 1851 and marries as a blacksmith in Plymouth 1852, son of Francis senior, before moving back to Camborne area. Was this my Francis?

I accepted the easy option, that my Francis stayed behind in Cornwall.  Wait a minute, this was when I found out about Francis (2)!  A series of creeping ‘meh?’ moments got me thinking?   What if Francis (2) was the one who came back to Camborne!  Then what…  Let me actively try to disprove my connection here.

In the 1861 census came the disproof I needed.  I knew that Francis (2) was related to the Pearce family and in this census he’s shown as living with Pearces in Camborne.  Boom!

Freedom!  My Francis (1) was been released from these shackles.  He didn’t stay behind.  I could begin my investigations anew.  What do we know?  He sneaks into the 1841 census as a young hot-head of 20, and I realise we know nothing about the rest of his life.  This definitely explains why his brother’s family in Wales never mentioned him.

But where did he go?  It had to be America: he had a sister there, and plenty of Cornish followed suit.  I mean it could be Australia, but let’s try the States first.

The 1850 census  for Grant County Wisconsin shows Francis Harris age 31 born in England.  This could definitely be him.  Everyone knows the Cornish went to Grant county, particularly towns called Mineral Point and Hardscrabble.  But who’s to say this man is mine?  He might be from Devon or Kent.  But it turns out his bride was unmistakably from Crowan parish, Cornwall, which looks more than promising.

The marriage record showing reversed genders: Philip Rowe and Frances Harris (1847), Grant county.

Francis is missing from every other census so we just get the one bite of the cherry.  Thanks to his son’s marriage record and some online trees leading to grandchildren, I have an astonishingly lucky find.  His grandson gets a great journalist come to visit his homestead in 1950s Iowa.  There he tells of Francis Harris’s goldmining exploits and untimely death and this account is reproduced below.  Despite no records directly linking my Francis (1) to Wisconsin, it all fits.  His sister lived less than 15 miles away, across the state line, would you believe.  How had I missed that lead?

Epilogue: Niece Jane Harris in Wales wraps her woollen blanket around her, tighter, that year in 1854/5 as she sleeps on.  Unaware that her grandson would become my grandpa or that her uncle had kept his gold and his sweetheart but lost his life far far away in the waters of the goldrush.

And I get to trade Christmas accounts with my new mid-Western cousins in December 2015.  Thank you, voice of ‘meh!’ that told me what I should have checked out all along.

FullSizeRender (1)


Roadtrip – Little Bardfield, Essex

I slammed down the family tree and adjusted my pince-nez.  No way!  There is no way that one of our Creeds, rural Somerset farming stock by their nature, could have passed through some magic enriching device in London and come out the other side as Lord of the Manor.  Squire at home at Little Bardfield Hall, Essex?  I don’t think so.


And that has pretty much been my angle ever since.  It is 20 years since I saw that tree.  Anyone who has watched My Secret Family will know families can indeed shed their wings and soar upwards economically, and in certain circumstances this change can be lasting.

Richard Creed, Lord of the Manor of Little Bardfield, was born in London in 1847 and orphaned quite soon after.  In a change to Dickens’s script, family friends at Malvern took him in and got him articled to an architect.  He had a successful career in London but had a genuine love of old buildings, none older than the Elizabethan era’s finest manor house, Little Bardfield Hall.

holly oak far27 hall - Copy

Creed’s obituary mentions his Somerset origins, and his grandmother visiting the crowded Marylebone rooms in the 1851 census confirms that. Like Marianne Mellieux, whose needlework is apparently in Thaxted, grandma Creed was from Glastonbury.  Her husband’s burial at 37 means he simply must be the Creed baptised at West Pennard 1781, which does indeed make him a cousin.

The Hall’s grounds stretch on and on forever.  The Hundred Parishes Society believe this Bardfield has changed little since a pre-war Happy Days film, if anything it’s become remoter yet with the railway gone from the market town.


Little Bardfield is full of lovely landscapes, pastoral views, leafy lanes, woodland and the Hall itself is apparently a movie setting, described by its 2007 owners as:
… a magnificent 15th Century Manor House nestled in a sixteen acre parkland setting.  The grounds include a Medieaval wild flower meadow, beautiful orchards filled with wildlife, four spring-fed lakes that were man-made by Norman monks, and an adjacent Saxon church.

The Saxon church has significant components from Saxon times, given as 1042 inside the building, including most of the wall.  There’s an area where the sacrament was placed inside the wall during Lent, which I didn’t photograph.

More photos of the church are at Tricia’s Tales:

To see the lanes and flowers, and the fabled oxslip of the 1938 movie clip, browse into the gallery here presented.

Images copyright author, Google Images 2009 and Hundred Parishes Society


Roadtrip – The One Hundred Parishes

Of course I was never going to get to all 100 parishes.  13 years ago I cycled to Essex, languidly rising one Saturday lunchtime before bombing it 60 miles to Earls Colne, childhood home of course of Shakespeare, arriving in shorts and t-shirt, chomping chips at my very surprised brother’s cottage.  I had no clue I had biked right past Greensted, oldest church in the world.

This time I chose to bike from Ware, gateway to Listed Building Wonderland.  Ware itself boasts 80, head north and east and you will find over 6000.  I wanted to get to Thaxted: something about it appealed. Cousin Marianne Mellieux’s needlework is there from the 1820s.  Rebellious Marianne was actually from Glastonbury: Mellieux was Millear.

Thaxted is stunning: so’s the countryside surrounding it.

In particular, there is a very high concentration of pre-1700 architecture, Grade I-listed churches, village greens and conservation areas. In addition, there [are]…  ancient field patterns, woodland, winding roads, sunken lanes and ancient hedgerows. The area also enjoys a wide variety of wildlife and long-established cultural activities [e.g. Morris dancing, bell-ringing].

Saturday’s route is in blue and the return journey (Sunday) in purple, totalling 42 miles.

to Little Bardfield all

Images from Google Streetview 2009, 2015.

Moments in History – Elizabeth

1950s, John Martin purser on the Queen Mary.

1950s, Thomas Francis, Jr, an analytical man, leads the nationwide trials for Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine. Polio was then a crippling disease which often struck in childhood.

1960s, a new town, somewhere in England. My father remembers being present at the opening of a new town. He thought it was Basildon, but the dates don’t really fit. He says his father did the official opening – which is entirely possible. The war left a legacy of a people in limbo – and these new towns were an opportunity to ensure everyone had running water and access to modern conveniences. I’m sure I’ll someday figure out exactly what town was opened, and be able to ‘be there’ myself courtesy of my relatives.

1963, Borneo. Ronald Norman is killed on an SAS operation in Borneo. The Belvedere helicopter crashed near Long Merarap. At a guess it was en route to intercept soldiers from the neighbouring country attempting to reach Brunei during the height of the TNKU activity.

1976, Montana. Legalised poker keeps Bob Woodahl out of the Governor’s Chair in Montana. A lawyer at the time in Helena, was LaVerne Harris, descendant if you can believe via Methodist ministers and a gold-miner from the Harrises of Crowan and Camborne, Cornwall.

1988, Washington. Reagan’s Presidency was ending and he was invited as guest-of-honour to meals with his former staffers. Tradition dictated the Ambassador’s wife be seated next to the guest-of-honour and so it was that Mrs Acland-Dyke descendant of the Dykes of Ansford, Somerset got to know at least one side of the outgoing president, sat at table together.

2002, Bali. My sister evades the Bali bomb – by being on another island (apparently Bali has more than one island). This was not covered in Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour’s Road to Bali.

2004, second cousin is bouncer at Mass, Brixton

Moments in History – Elizabeth

Moments in History – Edward and the Georges

Moments in History – Victorian era

Moments in History – little Ice Age to Victoria

Moments in History – Edward and the Georges

1900s, south Wales. Coalminer David Taylor wins an entry in the Guinness Book of Records as a young man for his skipping time.

1910s, cross-dressing fireman in Shanghai, China

1910s, missionary nurse on the lower Congo river

1910s, Sandbanks, Dorset was a string of cottages when the Duffett boys came down from Gillingham to play and explore. Perhaps nothing has changed: it is now a string of (very big) houses.

1911, Whitehall. Thomas Stevenson and the Registrar-General include a question in the 1911 census to find out more about fertility. Stevenson’s wife had still not produced an heir at nearly 40; fortunately this was about to be remedied. Her siblings however had too much money to be fertile, exactly as Stevenson had feared.

1914, Ear-boring ceremony of the ex-Princesses of Burma.  Mr and Mrs H N Lowry attend.

1915, the landing beaches of Gallipoli. These were sketched by G. W. Geddes, later lieutenant-colonel. His father, a lawyer in Calcutta, produced sketches, too, which survive in the family.

1920s, Havana, Cuba. Miss Margaret Hannan ran St George’s School, Vedado, Havana, Cuba. This co-educational, English-Spanish private school was apparently founded by Miss Hannan and her sister. It seems to have run until Fidel Castro’s coup in 1959, when it became Escuela Fructuoso Rodriguez. It is set in a gorgeous building and students had a navy-blue and white uniform.

1920s, the female tinplate picklers assistant, Swansea, in the absence of any men

1921, drowning in the Columbia river, Washington State. Great flow of nature, great unmissable endless panorama of water draining two full states an area the size of France and taking a huge amount of rainfall off the Rockies. Willy Bell didn’t stand a chance. His father was bright, complicated but with an inferior complex the size of a house. He’d got to LA by sheer chutzpah and realised the world didn’t love him all that much, at least not the Chinese who he’d shopped in a major gangland killing (1896). Nebraska was the next port of call but something pulled him back to the West. What was Willy thinking. His only brother’s death 50 years later sparked the end of this entire force of nature, the Bell family – intellect and rivers colliding and only the great ocean surviving to chomp it all up.

1923, the white horse at Wembley. This was the first FA cup final at Wembley. Crowds were double the expected and the image of a white horse parting the crowds endures in ‘White Horse Bridge’. A memorable painting was produced by W R H Browne and hangs in the National Football Museum in Manchester.

1927. My grandmother witnesses the Giggleswick exclipse up on a hill in Lancashire. This was the last total eclipse until 1999.

1930s, Mussolini courted Arthur Taylor in Italy most probably for a ‘Hitler Youth’ type equivalent run by the YMCA

1930s, USA. We’re told that John Raine the iron worker from Blaydon, county Durham, went out to the States with his wife Nina and there met President Roosevelt. I am not sure if there was a photograph but there was certainly a corroborating letter.

1936, the Jarrow marchers travelled down the length of England to London, to seek rights for the mine workers, who having survived WW1, were once again seeing inhuman conditions. The streets grew empty. Old Miss Gibson had had the Prince of Wales hotel, Jarrow, for over 25 years which would have seen numbers swell after the marchers’ return.

1938, London. Agatha Christie’s favourite coroner, Sir Bernard Spilsbury is employed by the family on a doubtful case of our cousin being killed by witchcraft on his way back to England from the Gold Coast.

1939, Mickey Lowry, the barmaid’s son, ex-Haileybury starting his ill-fated dentist’s practice in Exeter, at the historic Bedford Circus which was destroyed by WW2. He died before war began, having just lost his father. Princess Henrietta Stuart was born at Bedford House in 1650 just after the Republic began.

1940s, the Smiths were at war in Bethnal Green. They remember so much dust from the bomb you couldn’t tell if your family member three yards in front of you was alive and present, or not.

1942, at school in Munda in the western Solomon Islands. Peter Beck son of a man from Burton-on-Trent and a local woman was at school during WW2 as the Japanese invasion began.

1942, drowning in the Passaic river, New Jersey. There is something so heartbreaking about such an event; full of life one minute and perhaps wanting to take on the elements and then over over over, the next. Fourteen year old Frank Messina was horsing around and is now buried with his grandfather at the family plot nearby.

Moments in History – Elizabeth

Moments in History – Edward and the Georges

Moments in History – Victorian era

Moments in History – little Ice Age to Victoria

Moments in History – Victorian era

1839, the Barossa convict ship. Mrs Northcote of Bristol wrote about her husband ‘late of Bristol’ and my bristles hackled. Where might her husband be to leave him no longer a city resident. What might he have done. White-collar crime is what. He had been a trusted accountant and had fallen from grace being sent out to the colonies in the last years of transportation. He begged for clemency over there, and died a few years later.

1840s, Edward Bowden the third who spent five or more years in the Isle of Man, working on the building of the Lady Isabella Wheel at Laxey, now the world’s largest working water-wheel. Its purpose was to reduce damp in the lead mines and it features on the BBC TV programme, Coast.

1840s, Upper Street Islington. F S Boyce the carman tells his tale of the priest and the rentboy.

1844, the Westoe and Pontop railway had come into place to permit goods and supplies to be loaded and unloaded at the great docks of the Tyne. Waggons were heavy and parts of the rail were on an incline. A young man age 30 was caught between two waggons. His knee was the part affected. Some men worked to free him and he was sent home for a few days. His name was John Gibson and he died of something similar to blood poisoning eight days later, leaving an only child. I once received £10 for listing all of this child’s descendants. Oh; his brother had the Waggoners Arms right in Westoe.

1850, first white birth in Mount Vernon NY was a British couple Mr and Mrs Gould.

1850, John Munroe arrives in Buffalo, then a city of 40,000 inhabitants and swelled to ten times that size in his lifetime. From their door in Carroll-street, they had an unobstructed view of Lake Erie. On Sundays they would walk along the shore where sheep were pastured. These facts were deemed remarkable by the newspaper publishing this history on Munroe’s death (1916).

1853, Silver Hill Gap, a strip of land dividing the Port Royal and Blue Mountains which carve up southern Jamaica.   Accessible today by botanists and tourists wishing to see its unique flora, in the 1850s its assets were being assessed by a group of mining adventurers including it would seem as their spokesman my forebear Henry Lowry. His father was good friends with Sir Charles Lemon (of Lemon Street) at Truro and he was surely given a truly awful assignment, of which he makes light. Henry wrote a long letter by candlelight from the miners’ accommodation. The scenery was simply stunning, particularly the vales and rivulets which this part of the mountain had on offer.

1854, soldiers returning from the Crimean War, witnessed by Cornelius Martin, who writes about it 90 years later.

1854/5, Lake Nicaragua. This watery lagoon was an obstacle all men bound for California would take, at this juncture. And take it they would take upon their return journey heavy and bounden with coin and mining proceeds. Into the miry drink went miner Francis Harris in an unrecorded vital event some time in 1854/5. I can tell you he hailed from the Camborne, Crowan borders and was 36 with a wife and son somewhere in America. His niece Jane shivered under her Welsh wool blanket as she heard the news, age 16 likely sharing a room with her sisters. And the gold? Made its way back through loyal friends to the widow and son.

1858, Galway. The town’s policeman nearly declares himself Protestant in a bid to marry Englishwoman Sarah Urch. His letter to the bishop results in barriers being removed and Sarah being officially joined in matrimony with her intended.

1860s, Philadelphia. Philadelphia was booming and was the de facto capital of the country during these frantic times. The United States army of soldiers just had to win against the southern Confederates and new recruits were arriving the entire time to enlist and get kitted out. The Western Reserve newspaper in Ohio published a whole huge sheet of eligible men for north-eastern counties, which must have been a rather crude attempt at intimidation. The Scotts laughed all the way to the bank. They had switched from corn to clothing and were now mass-producing uniforms, or at the very least providing an aggressive logistics operation, getting the cloth to the battlefield where an army of ‘sutlers’ in wheelbarrows would deliver uniforms to soldiers as they got ready for battle. This sounds crude and ungainly, but it fed the war machine.

1860s, rulers in Mexico. Without wishing to be unkind, southern America was in turmoil for most of the nineteenth century. For any individual to have become king and stayed that way for more than 3 years was extraordinary. Statistically the odds of an emperor covering all the lands east-west crossing paths with us was very improbable. But at Pachuca silver mines in the 1860s, the Emperor visited. Matthew Bowden was a Cornishman then at the mines. The empire faded but the pasties remained: you could still buy them in the alleys of Pachuca in the last 50 years.

1863, Chickamauga woods, northern Georgia. Sick to their stomachs, young men patrolled the smokey early morning woods at Chickamauga, knowing the enemy were just the other side of this false security blanket. Support lay many fields behind them, and they were largely on their own. The slaughter was awful, and among this name lay Cornish-born John Rodda. Elsewhere, two boys were being raised together in Morriston, his aunt’s family, one of whom would become my Grandfather’s uncle.

1863, the great mill, north-eastern Ohio. This part of the State was never under the flattening influence of the great ice-sheets from the Ice Age. Consequently there was gradient and water ran in different directions on its way to Lake Erie. Frankie and Sarah turned 21 on the same day in the middle of the civil war; their brothers had headed to Lexington and Kentucky fighting the cause of the northern states. Blood ran and flowed. At the time the girls pensively stood at the mill, perhaps nothing was known. They got on the scales as was the practice for all the women in the family. The numbers they recorded were not the numbers they needed.

1870, siege of Paris. Mary Amelia Lowry (17) is obliged it’s said to eat rats.

1870s, Belgian’s chief astronomer was on the run for 20 years for his extreme political views. He chose to spend some of that time in Jamaica, where W B Hannan, then a merchant in Port Royal, offered him the use of some of his land.

1870s, prior to the mail trains hitting the tracks and the opening of the great Pacific-Atlantic railways, riders such as tiny William Page (18) from Birmingham, were required to serve on the fabled Pony Express.

1880, in the big woods, Wisconsin. As far as I know Agnes Palfrey lived at Waukesha, a sizeable town. I think she and her husband went further inland, to a cabin of some kind. Her family managed to keep going in these primitive locations, their educated mother craved a newspaper which she occasionally got. She cursed and cursed herself for her decision. Back in Buffalo she could have stayed in the fine town-house on Bryant-street, but the romance of the backwoodsman sent her to these parts. We know from Laura Ingalls Wilder that native Americans ‘Indians’ and wild bear were a constant threat. Money, weather, disease and rodents would be, too. Every few months her husband would come back, with a beard so long he frightened his children. Way later in 1911 home arrived in the form of a younger brother, ministering to the northern lakes. But Agnes was searching for an end, not a beginning, and so she took one.

1880s, Rhodes visits the Cotty stores in Kimberley, South Africa.

1880s, Richmond Park. Love blossoms under the penniless Tecks, Queen Victoria’s fat and clueless cousins. The under-butler finds ever more excuses to visit the kitchen and at his marriage to the cook a few years later, they decide their first child will be called Adelaide after the Tecks.

1888, Springbok migration. Postmaster Davie is overwhelmed with Springbok at Prieska. With his friend he attempts a count, but is utterly floored.

1880s, Tonga. Mr Stephinson the Methodist missionary was getting on fairly well with the King of Tonga until the king’s eldest son, the 17 year-old heir died. Stephinson didn’t allow the king any latitude – either he was a Christian or he wasn’t. And going back to old rituals, even for a dead son, didn’t seem right. The relationship deteriorated and Stephinson made his way back to Sydney. He’d earlier been out in the Friendly Islands, which hopefully had lived up to their name slightly more. He had married Emma Swanton from Maperton, Somerset.

1881, Redland Green, Bristol. Elms grew in a stately avenue and fields with stiles and rippling brooks and the air full of the singing of birds. Hattie Board walked hand-in-hand with her great-uncle Octavius Harding.

1881, The Age’s E C Martin signs his name as one of a half-dozen witnesses to the Colony’s execution of Ned Kelly, outlaw in an event that polarises the English and Irish Australian communities.

1890, the gas workers’ strike in Bermondsey was the beginning of a struggle to get decent wages and conditions. There were plenty of opportunities for blacklegs to come and load the fuel to keep the city’s lights and gas working. Into this maelstrom stepped Arthur Smith, 33 from Norwich.

1890s, life on the coffee plantation in Mysore from old photographs.

1890s, Esther Davis shoots the cobra in Florida.

1895, Castle Donington. Fatherless Albert Creed arrived at London House in the town aged 14. He had never seen gas lighting, and yet this huge store was entire gas-lit. Fifty kilogram bags of flour were calling his name, and up a tall flight of stairs he carried them. Currants, raisins and sultanas needed sieving. Customers demanding sugar, tea and fruit expected these to be carefully and snugly wrapped in paper. The floors needed regular sweeping and then the great windows to be washed. The internet claims this whole enterprise never existed, but it was the making of Bert and dozens of other boys like him. By the time he left he would be a preacher, headed to bring Christian cheer to the miserable mill-towns of Lancashire.

1896, Percy Bell is learning Chinese on the street and learns the Chinese for ‘get out fast’ after witnessing a gangland murder in Chinatown.

Moments in History – Elizabeth

Moments in History – Edward and the Georges

Moments in History – Victorian era

Moments in History – little Ice Age to Victoria

Moments in History – little Ice Age to Victoria

1660s, the Bagshaws walk out alive from Eyam for the first time in nearly a year, survivors of the plague.

1745, Reginald Tucker fighting on the side of the British at Culloden and earlier 1743 with the King at Dettingen Germany

1770s, transportation for pushing a door left open in Ansford, Somerset,(by William Speed) to Sugar Loaf Mountain, Maryland

1787, John Lain’s photo, born the year of the US constituion being ratified and Mozart composing Don Giovanni, and the Bourbons try to cling on in France despite having just been declared insolvent.

1800s, Hugh Hunter quoting Trevithick’s memory, Cornwall.

1805, Neath and Southwark. These two unlikely towns were connected by the services of Cap’n Rees Rees and his barque, the Eliza Ann. I would love to know what goods and passengers he had aboard his ‘bark’, and what his view of Neath pre-industrialisation would have looked like and how the local folk welcomed him. Was he really able to get all the way up the straggly Neath river? Did he tell jokes, what was accommodation like and how did he keep afloat in storms. It’s only at rare extremes we remember we’re an ocean-bound island: such as the flotilla of east Anglian bathtubs which came out in force to help at Dunquerque. This barque takes us back to a time when the only way was water.

1815, Norwich. Robert Manser was imprisoned for being a Quaker. He shortly after moved with his family to Hertford, which was a more tolerant town for Quakers. He is somehow related to the Flowers family of Deopham.

1831, arson of the castle in Nottingham. The crowd torched the castle and made for the ironmoulders. Only by Thomas Gee (30) having ‘not the property of the Duke’ chalked in big writing on the gates is further disaster averted.

1837, a hair-cut in Bath. On Friday 5 May, Maria Lowry a young married woman left her home in Truro for a trip to Bath. She must have taken several days, as the route was lengthy in the extreme. She pays for a housemaid, guard and at least two coachmen. She stops at Lostwithiel, Okehampton, Exeter, Ilminster (via Axminster), Bristol (via Street) and then on to Bath where she heard six missionary services. It was the Spring Harvest of its day. She met up with her sister and had the hair-cut. This journey was minor compared to others in her life. She had been born all the way east in Margate and her parents lived in Rochester and later Shoreditch. How on earth they got about in those days, it’s impossible to fathom. Cost: the whole trip cost one pound, 13 shillings and sixpence.

Moments in History – Elizabeth

Moments in History – Edward and the Georges

Moments in History – Victorian era

Moments in History – little Ice Age to Victoria


Photos: Highways and Byways of Somerset

The photos should speak for themselves.  Underneath no rain shadow, I despair of finding thick well-used grassland – the loose smell of turnout arriving and the spuddled-up winter days forgot.  Somerset still has enough rain and sun and byways.  Let the motorist accelerate down his strangulated arteries, leaving rural England to the rest of us.  It awaits.

From Hurlstone Point above Porlock – overlooking the south Wales coast – to the clifftop paths near Watchet, and the unspoilt glens of Minehead, this is the Somerset coastal path.  I include a byway parallel to the rail-route at Taunton Station, leading as it does to Obridge, still a quiet hamlet of sorts.  Copyright for all these images rests with the author.


Revue: The Detail in Probate Index Entries

There’s something very intimate about the indexes of probate. One can begin one’s quest towards understanding a family. Take this example.

Deaths Jan—Mar Quarter 1891

Padfield Martha 88 Wincanton 5c 391

Deaths Jan—Mar Quarter 1892

Treasure Exton 75 Wincanton 5c 390

These entries tells you nothing about the individuals. But how much more information is given in the probate entries below.

Calendar of Probate and Administration 1891

20 February. PADFIELD, Martha, widow, of Bruham House, parish North Bruham died 2 January 1891. Probate was granted at Principal Probate Registry to Ann Elizabeth wife of Josiah Jackson of Bruton and Sarah Ellen Treasure, spinster, of North Bruham, granddaughters, the Executrixes named in the said Will. Personal estate £523, 9, 9

Calendar of Probate and Administration 1892

4 May. TREASURE, Exton, farmer, The Gables, North Bruham died 26 February 1892. Probate was granted at Principal Probate Registry to James Golledge (accountant), William Exton Treasure (farmer) and Sarah Ellen (wife of Walter Edward Peach). Personal estate £516, 11, 5

They have come to life, we know where they lived, their occupations, and we might have an image of Sarah Ellen and Walter’s wedding ceremony, with a roast and a hogshead or two of cider, and a honeymoon in Bath.

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