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8 Feb 2012

1856 and all that

In 1856, George Nuttall died and his executor subsequently found (or wrote) two codicils, amending the will in his favour.  Surprisingly it took 38 years and 3 court cases for the truth to out; the witnesses having been probably bribed and lying most inconsistently.

As a naive young family historian in the 1990s I had no idea that what I held in my hand was a document from exactly the same year and town, and every bit as suspicious as the Nuttall codicil.

Joseph Carline had made his will in 1852: a grand old document, running to several pages, and sparing no detail.  He names several properties, including the meadow, the Willow Piece, which I found through tithe maps, and was able to visit, and photograph.


On the day of his death, we're invited to believe he reached for his pen again and wrote another will; without revoking the earlier document.  The date was December 1856.

From 1 January 1858, would-be forgers had to stand up in a civil court and were perhaps more thoroughly examined in matters probate - it no longer being a matter for the Bishop's officers.
Joseph had genuine grounds for changing his will - his daughter had died at Easter, but a simple codicil would have sufficed.  The second, badly drafted will, hints it being made by family members, perhaps at his direction.  He may have forgotten, on the day of his death, that matters were already resolved, and that is why the second document was passed down to me - when if valid, it should have been the one in the Bishop of Lichfield's hands, April 1857.

It was a big shock when I ordered Joseph's will, expecting a carbon copy of the later document, only to find this impressive earlier screed from 1852 being the one kept on file.  I personally think it's genuine, the later document, just ill-advised.  I particularly like the reference to a new house, clearly built in the last four years.  But he would have left four houses to a foppish 19 year-old distant grandson and nothing to family close by: certainly a mistake.

We only know about the document because its transcriber finally learnt to read and write in his twenties, because I wrote to ask him about it, and because I did so in the nineties - the thing having more lately got lost.  It's probable it won't turn up again, though I should dearly like to see it.

Not so fertile

Thomas Henry Craig Stevenson in 1909 postulated that working-class women would have large families than those higher up the income chart.  In 1911, he and Sir Bernard Mallett, the Registrar-General, included the famous fertility question in the census, which now makes us consider the number of Victorian infant deaths (10 or more years earlier) rather than there being 'too many living children' from the poor.

However, as someone for whom those details have been most revealing in conducting my research, I was of course surprised to find Stevenson among my cousins.  Or rather, I wasn't.

As soon as I found my relative had married Miss Catherine De Boudry in Bristol, I was pretty sure we'd be surfing a genteel wave for at least a couple of generations, Stevenson in fact was going to marry Miss De Boudry's grandddaughter.

Just a week ago I despaired of finding out the stories of the 6 Scott children baptised at Ditcheat and environs in the 1780s.  Their cousins set off for Monmouthshire and all sent for each other: though as butchers and factory workers, Chepstow was an odd choice to say the least.  But the 6 Scotts in question didn't go to Chepstow, they went to Britain's second city around the corner, Bristol.  I have no idea why Bristol got routinely ignored by my Somerset farming families.  They were happy to retire to regency, tasteful, Bath; but for a farmer, the true county town of Bristol seemed to offer nothing.

To inhabit Bristol with the same style as a yeoman farmer you needed a much higher income.  When I examined the PCC wills more closely I saw that Benjamin and William Scott were corn factors (as was an unmarried sister), while youngest sister Susanna had married an accountant, Henry Northcote.  William's father-in-law had kept a school at Kingsdown, personally approved by John Wesley.

Northcote stole £10,000 in 1839 and was transported on the Barossa, begging to be given Sunday school duties as he commenced his long sentence.  I haven't checked to see if he survived, but his wife died of shame.  There's a clue in her will 'wife of Henry, LATE of the City of Bristol': she having been given a house in Sidney Place through a marriage settlement, which did not form part of her husband's debts.

Benjamin Scott sailed for America after his mother-in-law had died, leaving his eldest child behind with brother William, presumably to claim her inheritance; and also as his poor wife still had no children.  Matilda rejoined the others 18 years later and was still alive age 90, unmarried, according to my reading of US tax records.  (And in 1880 living with E D Scott, Minneapolis.)

That just leaves William and Miss De Boudry to continue the line in England, and as Stevenson might have guessed (with 3 children and no heirs himself) we are shortly and swiftly led to the single descendant - a fundraising expert in Cheshire.

Small wonder I've not been besieged by enquiries about these Bristolians.  It's yet possible that the oldest sister, Grace Scott, had surviving children by her husband James Hill, but I'm not hopeful!  They just had too much money to be fertile.

The Stapleford dilemma

We've proved it.  Now I need to wonder whether I like it.  John Barton from Matlock moved to Stapleford aged 22 or thereabouts in 1792.  Considering that he was a farmer's son, most probably a carpenter, it's pretty neat to pin him down so firmly.  The evidence is fairly easily acquired: his father's will of 1822 shows he was living then at Stapleford, being the executor.  Further, a John Barton of Matlock marries in 1792 in Kirk Ireton, and that couple's children are certainly born, and stayed, in Stapleford.  Pretty compelling.

Stapleford must have been an attractive village recalled as being in the Broxtowe hundred, with country roads reminiscent of A R Quinton.  The lace industry operated there, and it seems a river ran through it.  My modern AA map makes it impossible to imagine the area before roads, and it's far too dang close to Nottingham.  Mr Woodward kindly tells us two hundred people were thrown out of work 1881 when a large lace factory in the village was burnt to the ground.

Folk of Matlock had several options when the industrial era came, and for unskilled workers, the cotton mills to the west exerted a big pull.  Carpenters could work anywhere, and shopkeepers or publicans could also take advantage of the larger towns to settle there.

In a world where all our big towns look the same (not the smaller Cheadles, Petsworths), and former industrial communities look greenest of them all, I offer three cheers for the Matlock folk who moved to beautiful Bollington; and two cheers for those who went to Gotham, still a small village.  But only one cheer for the Stapleford move.

I am glad to see a picture of the Warren Arms, the Barton home, with the sheep being driven to market.  1792 may seem early enough to be part of rural Broxtowe goings-on, but all too soon it's 1881 and the grandchildren are heading to labouring jobs in Nottingham and Manchester, leaving their heritage behind.  In addition, they'd already lost the extended family back in Matlock by moving twice.

One brave family, the Stapleford Greasleys, rejected the big Midlands towns on offer and went straight to Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania, in 1850.

Types of relationship

A researcher in Basingstoke found a few years ago that many stated male parents were not actual the fathers of their children.  Probably the men knew this.  A Maori woman might have children with several men before her family approve of her marrying one.  In England the pressures are different.   Here is a perfectly ordinary looking woman with a very sensible name gambling so she can have her 'big day' which Englishwoman see as their birthright (according to advertisers, at least).  There is less societal pressure for weddings, and many more opportunities to meet men unchaperoned.

People always ask 'how do you know the husband of a married woman is the father?'  The answer, at least before 1900, is that there were few chances for women to have encounters with anyone else.   This wasn't Victorian morals, as much as a Victorian awareness of how immoral we really were.

But here are two, perhaps related, screenshots of a modern age (the second is from GenoPro).



Staying power in our contacts, and more of them, please

A former editor of the Greenwood Tree met his wife while doing family history;  I once had a box of chocolates sent me from Kansas City - see 'choc or bloc' which I'll post some time.  My longest-running family history partnership goes back to 1994 and has seen us through changes in life circumstances, several trips to the States, and many a curry.  One gets dozens of contacts from people all the time, through Ancestry or Genes Reunited.  How on earth do you decide 'how far to go'.  I'm not suggested a church, but a marriage of ideas can prove pretty compelling.

I guess I'm looking for staying power.  I like to include enough information in my first message (or first reply) to get the other person interested, if they are a family historian; and to encourage them to open up a bit, if they are not.  But I hold back.  Those contacts who demand 'all my information' I dismiss as one-night emailers, and probably our relationship isn't going anywhere.

I'm also looking for eye contact: very hard through email.  The closest I can get is a touch of honesty, something you wouldn't tell the mailman: 'I'm away for two weeks; I'm at O'Hare; my daughter was very excited to hear about your message;  I wish you could have met my father'.  In contrast, worrying signs are easily elicited over your second date, or message: 'I found all the data online and have no information beyond that; I'm not related to these people they are just on my tree; I'm confused they had the same name could a brother marry a sister?'

Most of the time, the second message never comes, and we know it was a fleeting moment.  Peter Calver at LostCousins won't allow you to exchange information unless the recipient has the courtesy to acknowledge your first enquiry.

It's worth being patient with newbies, or to borrow from the dating world, 'fresh meat'.  They may bungle the facts, but with your experience you should be able to set them straight.  A lady asked if her grandmother's relatives were related to her?  Another had incorrect baptismal records for our John Purton, but was happy to acknowledge she might be wrong, a charming touch and so rarely seen.

The more people adding good data to sites like Ancestry, the fewer brickwalls we'll have in our research, particularly going 'downhill' from the past to the present.  Oftentimes, it is newer researchers who are able to add this information. (I have written earlier about the strength of weak connections.)

Jumping the gap

To me, one of the excitements about family history is finding a person in one record and then spotting that person in another record.  This may seem pretty prosaic!  For a long time I believed I needed to find that person in another country, but actually, that proved to be excitement mixed with disappointment.  I can never do as much justice to a family tree overseas as when the family ends up in England: should the line go off to America or Australia it gets a little dull after a couple of generations, being further removed from 'the jump-off'.

Probably the exceptions to 'boring Aust-america' are when we are following the female line, following a story, where there is a strong family connection or where they lived in an evocative place, such as early 1870s Utah or the Wisconsin big woods.  Should the family come BACK to England that can make for a good tale, particularly as British records may be even better than corresponding ones overseas.  (For example Mullins Symes and siblings were born in Ohio according to the British censuses, but there isn't a single American record confirming this.)

In contrast, if someone migrates to Lincolnshire or Brecknockshire I'm transported with delight: a whole new county and area to explore; new settlements to see through the eyes of my relatives.
I particularly find it wonderful where an ancestor has you weaving through a sea of records like a Turkish bazaar chase , only to have them quietly sipping tea at home by the time you do finally catch up with them.  A case in point is Ann Hooper who marries twice in quick succession, on one occasion in Bristol, and then is away abroad in the next census, before finally, in 1881 letting us in to her Wiltshire farmhouse, twenty years after we'd last seen her with her parents.  Unfortunately she leaves no family now, but it was still important to resolve her, and to have the enjoyable hunt.