words on family history (UK)

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.

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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.

Revue: Impossible in the Nineties

I am focussing these days on my father’s family in Manchester and the northern towns. Thanks to the census , principally, one can follow families through fairly persistently. It would have been impossible to do this in the past as they left no wills, had common lastnames, no middle names. One really has to work to tease out the data. I have found marriages where the names are Ann Gibson, Jane Bell, Sarah Stevenson (really Sarah Eleanor Stephenson), John Jackson, Elizabeth Ann Jones, Edward Jones. It would have been impossible without finding aids, in these case the census (for birthplaces), a parent’s will viewed for free at LDS, checking the original registers having found the exact place listed on LancashireBMD, the 1900 census for the US (which told me that John Jackson had married about 1878 and that his wife ‘s name was Mary Jane), the Ancestry probate index which found an administration for J T Jones giving his daughter Elizabeth Ann’s married name, the Newcastle Courant newspaper available free at BL/LDS which yielded an announcement of marriage for Ann Gibson (‘daughter of Charlton’). All these tools helped enormously and were simply not available in the past.

Revue: Real Conclusions in Family History?

Family history has little credibility in academic circles, being regarded as a pseudo-scientific pursuit with only a passing rememblance to more disciplined studies. Where else would your brief be so vague as to look at anything and everything (no matter how unconnected) over any time period you liked, with endless project extensions, and finally, for one’s conclusions to be, rather inadequately, ‘cor blimey, you’ve got to look at this!’ The journey has been a fascinating one and I for one am happy with my conclusions. I am delighted to think of Mary Earl making the wonderfully vivid gift of her ‘best red cloak’ to her daughter Elizabeth, 1820, Somerset [1]. Also to learn through a relative of how Lucy Rugg met her husband, the story of Jabez Hunter’s experience in 1860s South America [2], and the tale of the door, in danger of being whitewashed, in the North of England [3].

[1] Some sixty years after the coat had been passed on, Lucy was sitting at home in Woodlands one cold Saturday. Her future husband was not planning to take his usual Saturday morning jaunt into Wells because of the bitter weather, but his friend Jimmy Tate, wine merchant persuaded him saying “I will find you a rug”. Sure enough they called in at Woodlands on their way home where Tate said there was a choice of three Ruggs, and when they looked, there were, and one of them was Lucy. She married the cold guest at the parish church a year or two later. The nine Rugg sisters have nicely repopulated the Levels, and I think they will have increased the average life expectancy there – the family was chock-full of octogenerians and beyond.

[2] My grandfather’s grandfather Jabez Hunter grew up in the Tuckingmill Hotel in West Cornwall, which killed several of his infant siblings.  The family soon went to Bogota, New Granada where Jabez encountered revolutionaries in the mountains – as a small boy he’d jumped up on a donkey and gone exploring. On one occasion he had been snuck out of mass under the crinoline of a maid. Presumably violence had erupted: this would be the 1860s. I’m glad we can still talk of Jabez and his exploits in South America. We have these ridiculously unbelievable accounts from the tall stories Jabez weaved for his grandchildren in 1930s Wales, and these have since been told to me.

[3] In a shop there is an attic, in the attic a door, and on this attic door there are carved the names of the conquests of my great-grandfather and his brothers. I have not seen this door. I should like to do so before this new century engulfs previous ones with a coat of whitewash and a good springclean – literally. I suspect the men were wealthy enough to produce bastards, and if they did, it would be a poor sort of family tree which did not show them.

Revue: Early Forebears in Somerset

One of my earliest forebears is Edward Murrow. At the time we’re peeping at him, the date was Christmas, 270 years ago and Mr Murrow was about to die. He had had a long life in the village, had been churchwarden and a successful farmer. Of course even the youngest person alive at the time he made his will would be the oldest of the old if alive today. I like to linger awhile at his deathbed before moving quietly on. If the latter-day saints can canonise the ordinary, I would wish to en-noble his three daughters, Women of Ansford, Elizabeth (baptised 1690), Frances (baptised 1692) and Mary (baptised 1705). If it was not for the father’s will we’d know nothing of them, so patchy are the registers. Their gravestones have long since perished and their family would greet sorrow just as much is it would produce pioneers, architects and agents of great estates. But they have 3,000 descendants, a scarcely credible number, hence my wishing to honour the memory of these ordinary ladies, whose names happen to have survived. Cue a barn-doors scene change. It is now 1769 and the sisters are long dead. Sally, granddaughter of Elizabeth, has given birth to her first child and the rector, the diarist Parson Woodforde, travels to read prayers for her, ‘poor woman.. she is more likely to die than live’. Her husband was already paying a shilling a week to the mother of a baby born a few months previously.

Revue: Old Documents

I have been thrilled by the emergence of old documents in the family. My elderly aunt wrote to tell me she had the will of an old hatter penned when the family lived in Derbyshire. It has been a long time since we lived in Derbyshire, some 140 years. I read a transcript of this document. I have since visited the hamlet of Starkholmes near the Heights of Abraham and it is all the more special knowing we have a document in the family surviving from when they actually lived here. The will deposited at the Record Office turned out to be a version four years older, and showed that the hatter built a new house between the two documents (1852-6).

Revue: Women’s Lot in Family History

Family history would be a dull pursuit were it not for the women within it. Bearers of tradition, of children, of different surnames. If you are researching a rare name, chances are you will know what happened to all the men in the family. You will find those who strayed overseas or founded their own business fairly readily, perhaps by searching for an hour on Google? The Padfields in my family have been thoroughly researched by a veritable pack of wolves. Each reference has been sniffed over by several other researchers hungry for data. Joseph Padfield was born a few weeks after his father was killed by falling down an old coal hole which had opened during the night. He grew up and fathered four daughters. As they were women (1880s), they were no longer Padfields and thus their histories had not been so easily pursued. Charlotte was a dairymaid who married a miller (water & steam), settled on the Mendips and had a large family despite marrying late, and died age 88 at the home of her youngest child in Bristol; Ellen in later life married a farmer in a feudal village on the Fosse; Jane and Mary were, respectively, the mistresses of the Queen’s Arms Hotel by Swindon Railway Station and of a coaching inn on Watling Street west of Cannock. These are varied lives and took considerably more effort to pinpoint than a Google search, though the net did help. It seems a wicked chance that so much of life for women was a gamble. It depended on your husband’s personality and whether he was a good worker or spent every evening at the pub. Martha Tucker’s husband Riddle looked out for her. As she said herself in 1775, Riddle “is a very good husband to me as ever step on England ground.” Her old friend Sarah Dawe added, “for if her finger did but ache, he would go and call a doctor for her”. This would not have been cheap. Martha was in fact led rather a dance by her husband, who would not stick at anything for long. He would not raise another man’s child, so her daughter had to stay behind in Somerset when he struck out for London ‘where malice, rapine, accident conspire’ in 1752. They eventually returned to Somerset. . . Gladys Haine was described by her brother-in-law as “the only woman [he knew] who could feed a baby, read a book and stir a saucepan at the same time”. This was not from choice – Gladys’s husband was often out of work and ill; he had diabetes. As for Jane Haine, when she married William Cole she would soon be packing marriage, emigration and childbirth into just three months, May-July 1887. Too much, surely! My favourite tale of ‘strong women’ is my great-grandmother doing another evening shift at the family grocery in West Worsley Street, Salford in the 1890s. A man came into the shop, an ex-soldier or a warehouse labourer who had lost his job through drunkenness. “I’m a desperate man, give me bread”, he said, thrusting a knife towards the woman behind the counter. My great-grandmother snatched a carving knife and held it near his face. “Two can play at that game”, she hissed. . . When a mother dies the heritage can be lost. Nance Airey wrote the words ‘New Era’ in her diary when her father remarried to the unpopular Mrs Illingworth in Windermere 1883. (I am reminded of this whenever I walk past the New Era takeaway shop on my way to work.) Marjorie Gibson was never left alone with her father (London) after his remarriage and had no opportunity to enquire about aspects of her background, or to speak of her mother. Looking through the family album with my aunt we saw a picture of a young girl with her bicycle on a hilly street in Salford. We realised she must be cousin Edith who had later died leaving four small children. When we sent her youngest child a copy of this photograph, she confirmed that this was indeed her mother, whose picture she had never seen.

Revue: Young Men Travel, 1900s

Many young men went off to fight in the Army: the second Boer Campaign began in 1899 and the Great War in 1914. Something caused ‘Uncle Vic’ Heaver to get his age short by three years at his army medical in 1915, perhaps the intimate medical inspections? One youth was recorded as having a mole on the left side of his foreskin (or was it a four on the left side of his moleskin?). Ted Britten on the other hand bulked out his age to escape Dad and to fight in the Boer War. He ended up in Canada a long way from his autocratic father. Another young blood with a cantankerous parent was Sam Portch. When he joined the Wiltshire Yeomanry he too determined to fight the Boers. He took his own horse plus one of his father’s all the way to South Africa. Dad was furious. . . I am missing an awful lot of relatives who appear in the census or in the family bible and then nothing further is known of them. I have tentatively identified some as ‘black sheep’ but haven’t managed to catch them at it, as it were.

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