When I first started investigating my family history as a teenager, Granny (my grandmother, Helen “Nancy” Blake nee Akeroyd) told me a story about her grandmother’s mother. If you are already confused, don’t worry, there is a note at the bottom (spoiler warning!) showing the lineage so you can try and sort out how everyone fits in. The story I was told was that the grandmother’s mother was the daughter of a gentleman and she eloped with a groom. The story also said that her surname was Hatt and that the family was from Gloucestershire. A Gentleman in this case meant someone who was gently born, that is, a wealthy landowner. Naturally, I wanted to find out whether there was any truth to this story.
The grandmother was Harriet Partridge. My research revealed that Harriet was born in 1852 in Duntisbourne Abbots, Gloucestershire, the daughter of Thomas Partridge, a carpenter, and Sarah Smith, the “Grandmother’s mother”. You might think that is the end of the story, proven false. However, a bit of digging raised some interesting questions. The Partridge family once owned the manor of Wishanger in Miserden, Gloucestershire, so Thomas was the descendant of gentlemen. Sarah Smith was Thomas Partridge’s second wife. Married in 1850 in Winstone, Gloucestershire, their brief marriage ended with Thomas’s death in 1853, leaving Sarah with some step children to look after along with her baby daughter. In the 1861 census, Sarah, the head of her household, was living with Harriet, stepdaughter Ann Margaret Partridge and son William Smith, who was aged 18 and born (c. 1843) in Kennington, London.
William Smith was the first hint of a scandal in Sarah’s past, an illegitimate child born a long way from home. So maybe the story was true but the “Hatt” surname was wrong. Trying to find William’s birth certificate was something of a lost cause, as there are far too many possibilities, so it was back to the census records and Sarah Smith’s past. Curiously, William Smith was not living with his mother and step-father in Duntinsbourne Abbots in 1851. I think he was living in nearby Winstone with the family of the local school mistress. Finding Sarah Smith in the 1841 census proved problematic due to places of birth not being included to offer vital clues. Researching Smiths is never easy.
The next step was to look for Sarah Smith’s baptism. Was she the daughter of a gentleman? I knew from the 1861 and other census records that she was born in Arlington, a hamlet next to the village of Bibury in the Cotswolds. Bibury is considered by some to be the most beautiful village in England and a very pretty stream divides it from Arlington. A search of the Bibury parish register revealed that Sarah was baptised 6 June 1817, the oldest daughter of James Smith, another carpenter, and Elizabeth. So, James Smith was not a gentleman. Was this the end of the story?
Regardless of whether the story was true, I wanted to continue researching this family. I discovered that James Smith married Elizabeth Hatt by Licence on 17 December 1816, in Eisey, Wiltshire, where Elizabeth was living. I found the Hatt from the story! The marriage by licence told me a couple of things, firstly, they could afford a marriage licence and secondly, they had to get married in a hurry (Sarah was born less than 6 months later).
My next thought was: did the generations in the story get muddled in the telling? If you got confused at the beginning with all of the grandmothers and mothers, it is easy to imagine how the same could have happened to Granny and her mother.
I was now on the hunt for Elizabeth Hatt and pleased to have a much less common name than Smith to research. Elizabeth Hatt was the daughter of John Hatt and Sarah Crew, baptised 29 May 1795 in Farringdon, Berkshire. John Hatt was a yeoman farmer from the Swindon area in Wiltshire, not far from Farringdon. At last I had found the gentleman!
So was the story Granny told me true? I would say “sort of”. It seems that the story was a generation out. Elizabeth Hatt was the daughter of a gentleman and had to get married in a hurry, even if she didn’t elope. Although James Smith was not a groom, perhaps he was working for Elizabeth’s family and that is how they met. I think the lesson from this is that family lore shouldn’t be treated as gospel truth but it may point in the right direction.
Of course, if I ever track down William Smith’s father, he might put another spin on things.
As for some of the other questions that are raised by this story, I think most of the ancestors mentioned here are worthy of having their own tales told in future blogs as I know a lot more about each of them. Look out for more family history soon.
Note on Lineage: Me > Dad > Helen Francis Ruth Blake > Florence Ruth Kirby > Harriet Partridge > Sarah Smith > Elizabeth Hatt > Sarah Crew