Sunday, 21 December 2014

A Suffolk Farmer

On a recent visit to the record office in Bury St Edmunds (a lovely town), I was able to look at and even hold Robert Mumford’s will, which was written in 1779.  Being a records manager, as well as a family historian, this was a very exciting moment – it is rare to get access to originals when so many documents have been filmed or scanned.  As a bonus, the will was very informative.

Robert Mumford was born around 1733 and was baptised 22 April 1733, in the parish church of Edwardstone in Suffolk, England.  He was the second son of George Mumford and his wife Catherine (nee Collins).  Robert was one of eight children, two of whom died in infancy; a typical family of the time.

I don’t know any more about Robert Mumford’s childhood, although my guess is that he had a good relationship with his three brothers, George, John and William.  I think Robert’s father George Mumford died in 1759 and was buried 27 January 1759, in Groton, which is a neighbouring parish of Edwardstone.

On 19 October 1759, Robert Mumford married Ann Sparrow by licence at Edwardstone parish church.  The witnesses were his older brother, George Mumford, and Richard Wright.

Robert and Ann had four children, Ann, Susannah (my ancestor, also known as Susan), Robert and Mary.  All four were baptised in Great Waldingfield.  Sadly, wife Ann died in August 1771 some months after their youngest child, Mary, was born.  Robert’s mother, Catherine, also died in 1771, so it must have been a difficult time for the family.

Robert Mumford was a farmer.  He acquire by means currently unknown to me, land in Whelnathan and a property called Sandfords in Great Waldingfield, both in Suffolk.

In January 1776, Robert Mumford married for a second time, to a widow, Elizabeth Lugar, of Acton Hall.  Unfortunately, this marriage didn’t last long as Robert died, aged only 48, in January 1781.

Oddly, Robert Mumford was buried with his first wife, Ann, rather than with his second wife.

Robert’s children were all minors when he died, so his property was left in trust to them.  His will names his brothers, a brother-in-law, Thomas Frost, and one John Brewster, who was a connection of Elizabeth Lugar.  Perhaps in a move that would seem unfair to modern sensibilities, Robert’s property included Acton Hall, his second wife’s house.  It was left to his son Robert, along with £200.  Altogether, Robert Mumford’s property was valued at around £300 – quite an impressive sum in 1781.

Another Robert Mumford of a similar age lived in the same part of Suffolk.  Until I had read Roberts’s will, with its list of relatives, I wasn’t certain which Robert was my ancestor.  I was very pleased to be able to solve this mystery.

Notes on Lineage: Me > Mum > Daphne Madge Smith > Esther Ilma Lees > Fanny Sarah Eliza Briggs > Henry Sparrow Briggs > Susannah Mumford > Robert Mumford

Monday, 3 November 2014

The Diary – Part 1

Back when I was a teenager and first started researching my family history, Pop, my paternal grandfather, told me about the Blake “Diary”.  This diary had been written by his grandfather, James Jesse Blake, and was passed down to the oldest Blake male in each generation.  It was then (and still is) in the possession of a cousin.  I was soon able to get a copy of the diary and my father transcribed it, so I have an electronic version.
The document is not actually a diary.  It is an autobiography called “An Epitome of My Life”, written by James Jesse Blake, probably when he was bout 70.  I subsequently discovered that he wrote copies for at least two of his children, James William Blake (my great grandfather) and Elizabeth Ann Flanagan nee Blake.

As a teenager, I didn’t fully appreciate how fortunate I was to have this document.  It is truly amazing to have the detailed story of my ancestor’s life and life in general in the East End of London in the second half of the nineteenth century, when so many who lived there would have been illiterate.  James Jesse Blake also recorded his personal philosophy and justification of decisions he made.  I suspect it might be the later that led him to writing the story; there were things that he wanted to explain to his children.  I will cover the details of James’ life in another blog post.

Apart from having my ancestor’s life story, I also have a document that contains some good lessons for all family historians. 

There are factual errors in the story, events where James’ memory differs from official documents.  He recorded the time of day his wife, Eliza Blake nee Todd, died but got the year wrong, recording it as 1890 instead of 1891 as per the death certificate.  Another puzzle is that one of his children seems to have died twice in the story.  Several close family members died within a few years of each other, so perhaps it is not surprising the details got a bit jumbled in his mind years later.  It is good to keep in mind that family stories might not always be accurate.

At one point in the diary, there is an intriguing clue.  In referring to his grandmother, James wrote Mrs Gilbert, crossed it out and then wrote Mrs Blake.  How could he get his beloved grandmother’s name wrong?  Well, the answer is, he didn't!  At one point she was almost certainly Mrs Blake, although I am yet to find a marriage record.  She later married John Gilbert, a ships caulker, and had been widowed twice by the time she became a grandmother.  Searching for Elizabeth Gilbert instead of Elizabeth Blake filled in some gaps in my family history.  Also, for some reason, James Jesse Blake is recorded in the 1871 census as James Jesse Gilbert.  What at first appeared to be a mistake turned out to be valuable information.

James Jesse Blake had a life full of adventures that don’t show up in the official records.  He had a habit of falling into rivers and canals, including an accidental dip in the Thames on a foggy January day.  He was rescued by a Swedish sailor who later tried (and failed) to convince him to migrate to Queensland.  On other occasion, he found himself caught in a Canadian snow storm.  This makes me wonder what happened to my other ancestor that I may never be able to find out about.  However, I hope that through writing this blog I can put a bit of flesh on the names and dates that form the bones of my family’s history.

Notes on lineage: me > Dad > John Edward Blake > James William Blake > James Jesse Blake

The photo is of James Jesse Blake.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

A Very Kind Soul

James Jesse Blake, my great great Grandfather, said of his mother-in-law, Elizabeth Todd nee Macro:
I liked her very much then, and still think her to be a very kind Soul. I regretted her death (and she outlived my wife) very much, quite as much as the loss of my own mother. She was a good woman, was Mrs Todd, my mother in Law.
How I know he said this will be the subject of another post.
So who was Elizabeth Macro?
Betsey Macro (AKA Elizabeth) was baptised at the parish church of Denham near Bury in Suffolk on 27 Aug 1820.  She was the fourth of five children of Charles Macro and Ann Ashman.  Charles also had a daughter from a previous marriage and Ann had lost an illegitimate infant not long before she married Charles.  So they were a blended family who had experienced some tragedy. 
Just to make things a little confusing, there are two Denhams in Suffolk.  The Macro family lived in the hamlet of Dunstall Green near the Denham that is near Bury St Edmunds and not the one near Eye.  The area was, and is, farmland.
Elizabeth Macro fell pregnant to a Thomas Smith in 1839, possibly a scandal in a small village where everyone would have known everyone.  At the end of that year, their daughter Emma Macro was born.  Emma grew up in her mother’s family and was well known to her brother-in-law, James Jesse Blake as Mrs Ginn.  As for Thomas Smith, in the 1841 Census, there is a Thomas Smith living in Denham who was a married young man with two very young children – he seems to be the most likely candidate.
In 1841, Elizabeth Macro and young Emma were living with Charles and Ann.  Charles was working as an agricultural labourer.  Listed on the same census page, as few houses away, was one James Todd, also an agricultural labourer.
Agricultural labourers did seasonal work on farms.  It is likely that all of Elizabeth’s family did this work, not just her father.  Children could be employed from a very young age doing things like collecting twigs for kindling.  It wasn’t an easy life.
Elizabeth Macro married James Todd on 11 February 1843, in the parish church in Denham.   Their first child, William, was born in August that year.  I will leave the reader to do the maths… James and Elizabeth had seven more children, the last born in 1861: Ann, Eliza (my ancestor), James, Arthur, Selina, Charles and Albert, who all survived to adulthood.  I am not aware of any children who died and at a time when it was normal to loose children, Elizabeth and James did well to successfully raised nine.  While Elizabeth and her family continued to live in Dunstall Green, they changed to attending the church in the neighbouring parish of Dalham.  Eliza and all of the younger children were baptised there. 
Sadly, the 1851 census is missing for this area, which has left a frustrating gap in the history.
In 1861, all of the Todd family were living together in Dunstall Green, according to the census.  The 1860’s was a tumultuous time for Elizabeth and her family.  Her husband, James, died in 1866 and daughter Ann died in 1868.  By the time of the 1871 census, only Charles and Albert were living at home with their mother.  Emma and Eliza had both moved to London, and Selina to Newmarket, to work as servants.  William and James had moved to Horningsea near Cambridge, while Arthur may have been living elsewhere and suffering from small pox.  It must have been a hard time for the family. 
Another ten year later, in 1881, Elizabeth was once again surrounded by her family and four of her children were married.  The census lists four sons and three grandchildren living with her.  The grandchildren included Elizabeth Blake, daughter of James Jesse Blake, who was born deaf.  Perhaps her helping with a difficult child was one of the reasons why James thought a lot of his mother-in-law.  James noted that during his marriage, his family often went to Dunstall Green to spend Christmas with his wife’s family.  I wonder if it was anything like the current Blake family’s Christmas gatherings; I hope so.  I like to imagine Elizabeth as the beloved matriarch surrounded by her many children and grandchildren.
Elizabeth Todd nee Marco died in 1895.
NOTE on lineage: Me > Dad > John Edward Blake > James William Blake > Eliza Todd > Elizabeth Macro


Friday, 5 September 2014

A Bit of Luck

As all good family historians know, a lot of the evidence we find is circumstantial.  We make an assumption that because there is a baptism, marriage, children’s baptisms and burial for one name in a parish register, it is all the same person.  While this might seem reasonable, there is always a little doubt.  So, there is always a search for other evidence to prove the links; the search for certainty.  This brings me to my ancestor Sarah Luck, several generations back on my maternal line.
Sarah Luck was born about 1765 in the pretty little village of Beckley, in Sussex, England.  The daughter of Richard Luck and Sarah Susans, Sarah was baptised in the parish church on 10 Mar 1765. She was the third of seven children, a fairly typical family size for the time.
In early part of Sarah’s life, the main industry in Beckley and the surrounding area was iron work.  The region was the main source of bar iron for making things like cannons.  The industry closed down around 1770, so it must have been a difficult period and a time of change for the people of Beckley.  However, the Luck family had some luck. 
In 1773, various members of the family were left significant legacies by the (currently) mysterious John Gower, including £700 in trust to Sarah Luck’s oldest brother, John.   The bulk of John Gower’s estate, including land in Vinehall, in the Sussex parish of Mountfield, was left to Sarah’s spinster Aunts, Ann and Elizabeth.  I don’t yet know why John Gower left them a fortune.  He seems to have only lived in Mountfield for a few years, having moved from a different part of Sussex.
The next event of note in Sarah’s life was her father’s death in 1789.  He left behind a fairly young family, including three teenage sons.
Sarah Luck married Henry Goodsall*, a blacksmith from Ewhurst, on 15th August 1791 in Mountfield.  Henry Goodsall served the later part of his apprenticeship in Mountfield, so that must be how he came to meet Sarah.  Their first four children, including and Sarah Goodsall (my ancestor) were born in Hollington, some distance from Mountfield and on the Sussex coast near Hastings.  Two later children were baptised in back in Mountfield.
In 1792, Sarah’s Aunt Elizabeth died in Whatlington, a village not far from Mountfield.  She left most of her estate to her sister, Ann Luck.
Ann Luck died in 1800, in Mountfield, and left will detailing various members of the Luck family, including Sarah Luck and her blacksmith husband, and leaving them various legacies.
Sadly, Sarah lost her mother and husband in quick succession, in 1812 & 1814 respectively; also a difficult time in England generally, with the country being at war with France and the US.
Ten years later, there seems to have been more trouble in the family.  Sarah Luck’s daughter, Sarah Goodsall, had an illegitimate child, Sarah Elizabeth (my ancestor), born in November 1823 in Mountfield.  Sarah Elizabeth’s father may have been Henry Playford, who her mother married in 1831.  He certainly acknowledged her as his daughter and she used his surname**.
Sarah Luck, died in 1840, still living in Mountfield up to that time.
Much of what I know about Sarah Luck and her family with such a degree of certainty comes from Sarah’s two spinster aunts, Elizabeth and Ann Luck, who left wills that include the details of family relationships, and from the will of the mysterious John Gower whose connection to the Luck family is a mystery I am still trying to solve.
Of course, the other reason for certainty is that Sarah Luck is an ancestor on my maternal line…

*There are many variations of Goodsall.  In the late 18th Century the main variations were Goodsell or Goodsall.  Earlier Gutsell and Gutsall were more common variations.

**Edit 29 Oct 2018: A descendant of Sarah Elizabeth Playford shares DNA with a descendant of Henry Playford's brother William, suggesting that Henry was almost certainly Sarah's biological father.

NOTE on lineage: Me > Mum > Daphne Madge Smith > Esther Ilma Lees > Fanny Sarah Eliza Briggs > Fanny Sarah Perigo > Sarah Elizabeth Playford > Sarah Goodsell > Sarah Luck

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Names and Newspapers

James Buss and his wife Ann Hill are ancestors who have always intrigued me because of the names they gave their children:
Ann Sarah
James Joseph
Letitia Maria
Ethelbert John (also my ancestor)
Edmund Francis
John Gowing
Elfrida Mary
Charles Alexander
Henry Gustavus
Thomas Sargent
James and Anne were married 3 February 1793, St Botolphs Aldersgate, in London.  Their first child was born about a year later.  Their youngest child was born about 1820.  During this time period in England, middle names were not particularly common; nor were the Germanic names that became popular after Queen Victoria married Prince Albert.  As yet, I have no idea why James and Ann chose these names.
James Buss was born around 1770, possibly in London or Kent.  Buss, generally a rare name, seems to be more common in Kent.
Apart from his marriage, the earliest record of James I have comes from the Sun Fire Office Insurance Company.  On 23 Mar 1794 James Buss, 28 Shoemaker Row, Blackfriars, Gent is listed as insured and William Hill, possibly a relative of Ann’s, was also listed as an occupant.
12 Jul 1794, the Sun Fire Office lists James Buss, of 20 Cock Hill Ratcliffe [in London], chemist and druggist.  On 23 July 1794, a devastating fire swept through this area after apparently blowing up a barge laden with saltpetre.  Over 450 houses were destroyed in a couple of hours.  It was the worst fire in London since the Great Fire of 1666.
By 8 August 1794, the Sun Fire Office records list James Buss 90 Upper Shadwell, Chemist & Druggist, so James had managed to keep in business.
James appears to have moved back to Cock Hill once it the area once was rebuilt.  The London Gazette records that a partnership between James Buss and Joseph Crawshaw of Cock Hill, Ratcliffe, Chemist and Druggist, was dissolved 13 June 1796.
In 1797, James Buss appeared in the Old Bailey as a witness after some sal-ammonic was allegedly stolen from his shop.  The accused were found not guilty.
Sometime before 1799, James Buss and his family moved to Bury-St-Edmunds, Suffolk.  The London Gazette records a partnership between James Watt and James Buss of Bury, Chemist and Druggist, Buss & Co, was dissolved by mutual consent, 30 Mar 1799.
Over the time to around 1806, numerous advertisements appear in local Suffolk newspapers for various products sold by James Buss, Chemist and Druggist.  Over this period, various Buss children were baptised in Bury-St-Edmunds.  Most of them were, unusually, baptised a few years after they were born and they weren’t baptised in birth order either.
An 1811 Directory lists James Buss, Chemist & Druggist in Newmarket.
By 1814, James Buss and his family were back in London, where Henry Gustavus Buss was baptised, living in Goswell Street.
The London Gazette sadly catches up with James again in 1826.  On 30 March that year, a list of Insolvencies declared at Maidstone Court House lists James Buss, formerly of Maiden-Lane Cheapside London, afterwards of Wateringbury, since of West Malling and later of Wrotham, Kent, Chemist and Druggist.
Ann Buss nee Hill died in September 1827 and was buried in Wrotham.
The 1841 census lists James Buss, labourer, as living in the Malling Union Workhouse, suggesting he was ill or had fallen on hard times.
James Buss died in December 1845 and was also buried in Wrotham, Kent.
I have found other records of James Buss living in London, but they don’t add anything of note to the information above.  It is nice to find an ancestor who is this well documented even if the news is not always happy.
I hope to find about his origins and perhaps, one day, some clue as to why some of his children were given somewhat exotic names.

NOTE on lineage (added 30 Aug 2014): Me > Dad > John Edward Blake > Alice Mary Elliston > George Elliston > Elfrida Mary Buss > Ethelbert John Buss > James Buss

Friday, 22 August 2014

A bird and a B

My plan is to write a short biography of one of my ancestors on a regular basis.  My first subject is a man by the name of Henry Sparrow Briggs.  He was one of the first ancestors I discovered when I started investigating my family history when I was in my teens.  I was intrigued by his avian middle name.

Henry Sparrow Briggs was born in London about 1798 and appears to have had a twin brother, Charles Mumford Briggs.  They were both baptised in the parish church of St Sepulchre on 1st February 1798.  As Charles was listed first, my guess is that he was older.  They were the younger sons of Jehu Briggs, who merits his own story, and Susan (or Susanna) Mumford.

As you can see, Charles was named for his mother.  So where did Henry’s “Sparrow” come from?  Susan Mumford was the daughter of Robert Mumford and Ann Sparrow.

The Briggs family lived in St John Street where the Smithfield Markets are now located.  Jehu Briggs had a Pawnbroker’s shop there.

I don’t know anything about Henry’s early life, yet.

Henry may have arrived in Sydney, Australia, in May 1823 on the “Andromeda”, although that could have been a different Mr Briggs.

I next have a definite record of Henry Sparrow Briggs writing a letter in 1824, describing himself to the Governor of New South Wales as having been some years an officer in the East India Company Naval Service.  Later reports say he was a Captain.  Henry was asking permission to settle in Australia to be given a land grant, as the severity of the climate in India had impaired his health.  He was given a grant on 800 acres on 15 December 1824.

I haven’t yet found any records of Henry’s time in India.

Henry Sparrow Briggs married Eliza Rowley on 28 August 1826, at St John’s Church, Paramatta.  Eliza was born in Australia and her parents deserve their own stories.  Henry and Eliza had ten children.

Henry had land at Wollombi on the Hunter River, NSW, and some of his children were born there, including my ancestor Frederick Henderson Briggs.  Life doesn’t appear to have been easy, as Henry was involved in insolvency proceedings during the 1840’s, documented in multiple editions of the Sydney Morning Herald.

At some point, Henry and his family moved to his wife’s family property at Newtown in Sydney, where there is still a Rowley Street.  He died there in 1866.  Henry Sparrow Briggs is now buried in the Rowley & Briggs family tomb in Waverly Cemetery.

His name was passed down through the family, so he must have made quite an impression on his children and grandchildren.

I am still searching for more information about his early life and his time in India.

NOTE on lineage (added 30 Aug 2014): Me > Mum > Daphne Madge Smith > Esther Ilma Lees > Fanny Sarah Eliza Briggs > Frederick Henderson Briggs > Henry Sparrow Briggs