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Posts Tagged ‘english research’

The 1939 Register for England & Wales debuted on FindMyPast last evening (my time). For those that don’t know, the 1939 Register was the UK government’s work to take a census of everyone living in the country in September 1939, through which they issued national ID cards. And from what I understand, it was quite precisely everyone living in the country at the time – anyone who wasn’t in the country wasn’t enumerated. There was no 1941 census because of the war, so the Register is also a substitute for a would-be record set that wasn’t created, and since the 1931 census was destroyed during the bombing of London, the 1939 Register is also akin to the 1900 US census – a document to try to  fill in gaps from 18 or 20 years of no censuses. Last week FindMyPast announced that the Register would be going live on Monday, November 2nd, which turned out to mean midnight GMT. They got a lot of flack for high pricing on the Register entries, with each scanned page costing 60 credits, and the Register not being included in what subscribers can view for no additional fee.

As a subscriber to both FindMyPast and the Lost Cousins newsletter, I got a coupon from each site for buying what they called five-household packages, which was technically a bundle of 300 credits per coupon. So I decided that I would use the coupons to find ten households to view. Many fellow Americans have said they will wait till the price (eventually) drops, but having booked a trip to visit the UK next year (yay!), I’m on a deadline to see if there are any more cousins there to find to be able to meet in person. Research takes time, and sometimes there’s the additional wait time for ordering specific records, and then doing legwork to try to locate anyone still alive also takes time.

Because 20th century England has often felt to me like people fell into a black hole in the early part of the century, I was not sure how easy it would be for me to find people, nor how many of them were living within England in 1939. The debut last year of the governmental site allowing people to order probates of England & Wales online up to a few weeks ago has made a significant dent in my 20th century research, as long-distance researchers can now order online (at £10 each, they cost more than viewing a 1939 Register household; however, ordering them online costs less than the way I had to do it before, which included paying a researcher for her time in going to the Probate Office on my behalf, ordering the copies, and mailing them to me). (For more information on the probate site, see my posts Finding probates 1858-1995 in England & Wales and Receiving copies of probates 1858-1995 in England and Wales.) Anyone who was born less than 100 years ago and which hadn’t been proven to be dead before a certain date (I don’t remember the exact date offhand) is redacted from the household entries in the Register, though you can send FindMyPast a scan of a death certificate to try to get a redacted entry opened.

Before I discuss in detail my foray so far, let me give you some general tips I have gleaned:

  • Don’t get stuck upon a certain birthday, even if you know what the person’s birthday should be. As with any record, sometimes there are errors and/or conflicting evidence.
  • Don’t get stuck upon someone definitely living with someone else, even if you are pretty sure they should be living together.
  • Start with as little information as possible. (This is how I do almost all my searching for research)
  • Adding in an estimated birth year (I would recommend starting with +/- 2 years and continuing to narrow if you still get too many hits) and/or a given name of a person that you think will be living with the main search target is a great way to narrow down an overwhelming number of results for a common name. But again – don’t assume that the record will reflect what you think it will or that the transcription will necessarily be correct.
  • For those like me that are searching for cousins rather than our own ancestors, use other records in conjunction with this to narrow down results. I have personally found probate records and electoral rolls particularly helpful in helping to give an idea of where someone might have been living in 1939.
  • In these early days, if you get an error message try reloading. (Last night I got error messages about 50% of the time.) If you get several error messages, take a break with some tea/coffee or a walk outside and try again later. The records will still be there.

I started out with relatives I’d recently traced, choosing first to search for my cousin’s husband with the unusual name of Studley Gerry. I can’t say as I was too surprised to find there was only one Studley Gerry living in all of England & Wales in 1939. Clicking through to preview the transcription showed that there were three people included in the record and three who were redacted, for a household total of seven people. I purchased the household and learned immediately that I had the correct household, as my cousin Winifred Audrey Gerry (Studley’s wife) was listed. I discovered that the other two people included were a son by her first marriage whom I had not known existed, and her little brother. The scan shows you what precise lines are redacted, and through this I believe that I have two to three more unknown-to-me children of Winifred to find, depending on whether the redacted line just above her brother is a child of Winifred or one of her siblings.

It was interesting to note that Winifred’s birth year was several years off, particularly since some people have recommended searching by exact birth dates (as birth dates are included in the entries). Her birth year had been written as the same year as a younger person in the household, and then crossed out by a different pen, with the last two numbers reversed by that other pen. So while it is tempting to say that Winifred was probably lying about her age after having married a younger man (something I have seen both men and women do), I wonder if it was instead a clerical error either on the household’s part or on the part of the person who copied their form into the register. However, this was not the only time I would see a birthday that wasn’t the one I have in my files – a cautionary tale for those exact-match searchers. The other time in the entries I have viewed so far, the birthday was exactly one year different than the birthday I had in my file, leaving me unsure if the error was in the register or in the documents I had previously viewed. The transcription of the household (after you pay you view the full transcription) also had an indexing error, with Winifred’s son and brother mistakenly listed as the same occupation that she had, “Unpaid household duties.”

I next tried to find Winifred’s father, who had the much more common name of John Turner. It took a lot more winnowing on my part, including inputting a year of birth. I had recently ordered his will, which he had never changed after writing it in 1924, and that had given me a location for him post-1911-census. Luckily for me, he was still living in the same town in 1939. The preview contained a shock – it listed only him in the household. Skeptical that there had been an error, I bought it – but it was correct. Even though the woman I had known as his wife would still be alive for quite a while, and he had several children who could have been living with him, he was living by himself. Now I understood better why Winifred’s youngest brother was living with her. I tried to find his wife because I was curious, but with such a common surname as Turner, and my not even being sure that she hadn’t divorced him and married someone else by 1939, I quickly gave up the search.

I moved on to one of Winifred’s other siblings, with the very unusual (married) name of Sadrene Petherbridge. I had found through FreeBMD that Sadrene had married a William Petherbridge, but I had literally nothing about him in my files – I didn’t even know yet how old he was, much less where he had been born or anything, as the surname Petherbridge had turned out to not be as unique as I had expected when I found the marriage. (Like almost all researchers, I would buy every certificate possible if I could but have to pick and choose which ones I spend the money on. And I hadn’t bought William and Sadrene’s marriage certificate from the GRO yet.) Sadrene Petherbridge, like Studley Gerry before her, turned out to be the only one in the country in 1939. Clicking through to view their entry gave me William’s birthday, and information on a child I had not known about, with a redacted line below their son probably being another child. Through inputting William’s exact birthday I was able to find his death date, and used that to locate him in the Probate Calendar, then ordering his probate file from the governmental probate site. The child whose entry wasn’t redacted turned out to have died before his parents, but I’m hoping that William’s probate file might provide me the names of other relatives who could potentially still be alive.

Next I tried to search for Sadrene and Winifred’s brother Herbert, but Herbert Turner turned out to be a common name and I did not have an idea of where he was living in 1939, so after a few attempts to narrow down my results, I quickly moved on to a different branch of my tree. Finding the wonderfully-named Victor John Edward Crowley was another easy task from the unusual name combination, and through his household’s register entry, I found a wife I had not known about, including her exact date of birth. There is also a redacted entry that I am guessing is a child from one of his marriages.  Every entry gives another piece of the puzzle – another angle to pursue or person to try to give a name.

Through electoral rolls I knew that the husband of a cousin on a different line was living in Surrey in the 1940’s, so I next tried to find Charles Davey. As one might expect, I got a lot of results. This time I input a second name, my cousin Grace, just inputting her first name. Immediately the results changed and the top hit was the place where he had been listed on the electoral rolls, so I bought the household. It did indeed turn out to be the correct family. Like with Sadrene and William, I had Charles’s name and their marriage year but nothing else about him, so again the 1939 Register gave me an exact birth date. In this case so far it has not led to further records about him, but at least it is more information than I had.

This completed my first five-household package, but since I was still alert despite the growing late hour, I decided to try a couple more unusual searches. I tried a search for the surname Sadrene’s same-named niece married, as I have not been able to find any biographical information on him. His surname produced no results at all, which could be because he was not living in England at the time (his name sounds Continental European to me, and they did not marry until after the war), or could be because he would be less than 100 years old now. (I am not including his surname because I have yet to determine whether he is living or deceased, though I am sure both Sadrenes have died.) For my final search I chose an easier target, the Redcliffes, the last of whom died in 1982. I found them in Hereford as I expected, but was surprised to find the entire family still living together, though their three surviving children were in their late 30’s to early 40’s. It was a pleasant surprise that will save me further searches for the family, and nice too to see the daughters listed with paid jobs, an early sign of what was to come with the war.

Six households into my 1939 Register research, I reflected on my findings so far. It is of course important to get confirmation of what you expect to find or to add , but for me the most immediately satisfying finds were the unexpected – the brother living with his married sister’s family, the nuclear family all still living together after over 40 years. For some people I had no birth dates before last night, and for others (as well as them) I had no occupations before last night. Most people were in the location I expected them to be, but there were a couple households where I had no idea where they were living in 1939 until last night. And it has led me to new records, especially to the Petherbridge probate that I hope will lead to living cousins. If I had a lot of research in 1939 England, I think I would have been much more likely to just take the transcription at its word that John Turner was living alone despite what I’d expected and move on to a household that had more proverbial bang for the buck than his one-person household. Any time when money is an issue, researchers make decisions like this by necessity – which person(s), which records, to prioritize. For many of my fellow Americans, this choice has included not searching the 1939 Register at all at this point. I can’t say what is the right choice for others, but I am glad I have found the information that I have, and I look forward to downloading four more households in the future.

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In my last post, I discussed Finding probates 1858-1995 in England and Wales, including that I had ordered some wills through the UK government’s new online ordering system. Now that I have received the wills, I wanted to post again to discuss the process. The system estimated that the wills would be ready to download on January 7th, and as I blogged, I wasn’t sure whether the system took holidays into account. I’m still not sure if they do, but the wills were ready to download on January 9th, which is comparable to the estimated time vs. actual time that someone tweeted to me that they had experienced while I was waiting to receive mine. However, the system did not notify me by email until the evening of January 13th my time. At first I thought maybe the email had been temporarily lost in transit, but I checked the full email header and nope, it said that the email was sent shortly after midnight on January 14th GMT. So if you are waiting for a will, I would strongly suggest logging into your account yourself once a day starting on the day the system has estimated it should be ready rather than relying on a timely email notification.

When I did log in I discovered that if there was a problem retrieving the will, the download page itself won’t tell you; you’ll download what you think is a will, and instead you’ll open a form letter notifying you that they haven’t been able to locate the file you ordered and giving you some ideas as to what might have gone wrong. It is through this letter, not the website, that I discovered for sure what the handwritten numbers by some entries in the Probate Calendar are – they’re folio numbers, and if there’s a handwritten one by your Calendar entry, you have to include it in your order. If the probate service doesn’t find the will you request, they keep the search fee (which is a common policy) and you will have to pay a new search fee if you want to try again.

I also had a mysterious problem – the system showed that each of my wills should be ready to download, but the final one listed didn’t have any file to download. After spending about 20 or 30 minutes looking around the website for who to contact, I finally contacted the email address that’s listed for “feedback” and said that if that wasn’t the right address, to please forward my problem to whomever was appropriate. I immediately got an automated response that showed that it is the address to email with problems and questions as well as with feedback, which at least to me, the site doesn’t really make clear. They responded quickly; their email said there was a technical error with displaying that file and somewhat implied that there should have been one of those form-letter files saying that my will hadn’t been found, but since their email was not completely clear on the latter point, I wrote again saying I wasn’t sure if that was what they meant and asking them to verify whether it was. I’m really glad that I did, as it turned out that was not the real problem. After four more days, they emailed me an apology for the confusion and attached a copy of the will I’d requested.

The scans of the wills themselves are good. They come as PDFs and include the probate proceedings page(s) as well as the actual will. You can also order administrations; since those had no will (or a will that had been ruled inadmissible), those files are only probate proceedings. The administrations don’t have very much detail, so whether it’s worth ordering one would probably depend on your reasons for wanting it. In my case, I ordered one administration as well as some wills, and the administration provided me with some information that I hadn’t found elsewhere and got me closer to finding a living relative on that line. Wills themselves are also always a gamble – you never know until you view it how much detail it will have or how much it will (or won’t) help you. In my small sampling of wills, I received everything from a brief will where the person left everything to their spouse, who was also their executor, and a several-page will where someone died without living descendants and left a variety of items and money to their siblings, their grand-nieces and grand-nephews (including specifying which were the children of deceased siblings), and their long-time housekeeper (with the qualifier that she was still in their employ at their death), and they included exact addresses in other countries for their relatives who had emigrated from the UK. And thanks to the new ordering system, all of that information was downloaded to my computer for a fee of just ten pounds.

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The UK government recently debuted their own free site for their Probate Calendar, previously only readily accessible online on pay site Ancestry. It has been up for a bit, but made waves yesterday (December 27th) because the UK government issued a press release about it. I hadn’t explored the site until the new waves because I already use the Probate Calendar on Ancestry and had read reviews from some other researchers that the search engine on the UK government’s site was less practical if you were searching for someone with a common name, as it only allowed you to search for the surname for probates from 1858 to 1995, not the given name, location, or other limiting parameters. But after it made so much fresh news I decided to explore the site, partly because based on the press release and the buzz around it, I wasn’t completely clear that it was still the same site that had recently gone up, with capabilities just to search the Probate Calendar, until I searched myself and discovered this. The first thing I want to stress, because in my opinion the press release didn’t make this clear unless you read the “Notes to editors” bullet points at the end, and some people/sites who have shared it may have unintentionally added to the confusion, is that it’s still the Probate Calendar that’s free to view on the site, not original wills themselves. You use the site to find entries for wills/probates and then use the information you have found to order copies for a fee through the site’s ordering system.

In my test searches I wanted to start with people I already knew how to find, so I began with a 1919 death and probate whose probate I have yet to order. I plugged in the surname and the year he died (the only parameters allowed by the 1858-1995 search engine) and up popped the first page of the surname in the 1919 Probate Calendar. The site told me that there were 9 relevant pages total in 1919 and allowed me a few options – next page, next year, and zoom. I paged through until I found the right person in the Probate Calendar. It was surprisingly fast and easy for the surname Davis (perhaps the surname is more common here in the States by this point than it is in England), though since I already knew I would find what I was seeking, that may have influenced my opinion. In my searching I discovered something that I hadn’t personally seen anyone mention in their pre-press-release reviews – the Probate Calendar scanned on the UK government’s site includes notes, presumably made by staff into the copy that was scanned. It was particularly glaring on the first page that came up in my first test search because underneath a 1919 Probate Calendar entry, a handwritten note added, “Further probate granted 19 January 1934.” However, most of the notes are just numbers written beside entries, including beside the person for whom I searched in my first test search. I am not personally completely clear on what the numbers mean.

My first search had raised a question that I wanted to try to answer with my next test search. While the search engine says to plug in the year the person died, since the pages returned were that year in the Probate Calendar, I had a feeling that what you really needed to input was the year the person’s probate went through, and that any delayed probate wouldn’t show up if you inputted the year the person died rather than the year their estate was probated. This is particularly large an issue in cases like some I have had where a probate went through many years after the person died, sometimes after their surviving spouse finally died. But it could be a problem in smaller ways, too – say, for example, if someone dies in December and their probate isn’t processed till early January. So for my next test of this site, I decided to try one of the crazier cases in my tree, someone who died in 1903 and whose estate was probated a whopping 45 years later. As I suspected, plugging the year of probate (1948) into the search engine for “Year of death” turned up the relevant page. I then tried the actual year of death in the search engine, and was told that there were two pages for the unusual surname for that year, but when I went to the pages, they were only for other surnames that started with RED-.

I next searched for a Davis who died in December 1961 and their estate was probated in January 1962. Again, plugging in 1962 as the death date, even though the Probate Calendar entry was explicit that it was when the estate was probated rather than when he died, was what brought up the entry. This time there were 32 pages to wade through, and I was glad it was someone with a given name early in the alphabet.

These test searches were ones where I already knew the answer, so next I decided to try some searches where I didn’t know what the results would be. This is possible because the Probate Calendar on the UK government’s site goes to 1995 (with a separate search engine going from 1996 to a few weeks before the current date), whereas Ancestry’s Probate Calendar only goes to 1966. I first searched for another of the Redcliffe clan; she and her sister had never married, and her sister had died in 1965 with enough money to have a will. Alma died in 1978 and a search for Redcliffes with a probate in 1978 did not turn up Alma’s probate. With the unusual surname and the way the viewing is set up, it was easy to quickly click through the coming years to check to see if Alma’s probate was belatedly processed. I made it to 1982, when their brother William’s probate turned out to have been processed, before giving up on Alma. I had found their brother’s probate, which had been my next planned search, and I still can’t say for sure that Alma’s probate wasn’t belatedly processed, only that it isn’t on the Probate Calendar as far forward as I searched in this test. After this I searched for another woman who was born with an unusual surname but in this case died with a more common one. Finding Grace (Brimacombe) Davey’s probate was easy – she died in 1973 and her estate turned out to have been probated in 1973, and it only took a few pages of Daveys before I found her entry.

The way the system is set up, as far as I have been able to determine, you can only order 1858-1995 wills through the dialogue boxes that show up in the right sidebar after you perform a search. However, through my testing, I determined that once the ordering sidebar comes up, you can fill in anyone’s information to place an order, not just the person for whom you searched. So if you already have found folks in the Probate Calendar on Ancestry but haven’t obtained their wills yet, you can do a search for anyone and then plug in the information you already have to order the will(s) you want. While a calendar pops up when you go into the sidebar’s “Death Date” and “Probate Date” dialogue boxes, I determined that you can type in the date in the English style (day/month/year) rather than having to toggle through the calendar. Each will costs ten pounds and you can pay by a few different types of credit cards. If you don’t already have an account you will need to create one before you can place your order, but the process is fast and I found it easy to do. Once you place the order you are told an estimated digital delivery date; mine was listed as January 7th for every will I ordered, and the system isn’t clear as to whether it takes governmental holidays into account. The site warns, “You will have 31 days to download your copy of each will, starting from the first day that you log in to see it.”

If you don’t have an idea of the death date and/or are researching a common surname and/or think the person died by 1966, Ancestry’s Probate Calendar is a lot more effective to search since their index includes the given name(s), the death date, the theoretical death place, and the probate registry used. I say “theoretical death place” because in my experience, what they index is almost always where the person typically lived, regardless of whether the Probate Calendar is very specific about them dying somewhere else. If you know where the person’s usual residence was at the time they died, this is probably better since you may not know where they died; but either way, this difference is something to keep in mind while you search Ancestry’s Probate Calendar. But the UK government’s Probate Calendar is great if you do have an idea of the death date, are researching a less common surname or willing to search through many pages of results, and/or believe that the person died after 1966. Plus the UK government’s Probate Calendar is free for anyone with an internet connection, whereas for Ancestry you need to either have a subscription to their UK records collection or access Ancestry Library Edition somewhere that does. And most importantly, non-local researchers now have a way to order wills online, thanks to the new ordering system.

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Sometimes being contacted about one of my lines by another researcher spurs me to do additional research on that line. So it has been recently with the Plumb family of Essex County, England, and early colonial New England. I say “Plumb” but it’s got a ridiculous number of spellings – Plumbe and Plumme being two of the most common variants, probably actually more common than Plumb back in Early Modern England. Then there is an additional layer of mistranscription. The National Archives [UK] has, rather to my surprise, indexed the Plumme materials that have the line over the first “m” to represent the second “m” as “Plume” rather than “Plumme,” and the other sites I’ve checked so far have followed suit. Most online trees seem to have copied this spelling as well.

This may sound like a digression, but an online tree is how I came to write this post. I was going along doing more research on the family in original records after receiving a note from the researcher, and I thought I would check and see what other people have posted online about the family. In some of the Plume trees on Ancestry there is a small photo (seemingly snatched from a website) of a Spaines Hall, County Essex, with a lengthy caption about how the first person to add the photo to Ancestry had been curious about Spaines Hall and done a web search, wherein they discovered that it was still in existence and was now a popular wedding venue. They also copied information about how this Spaines Hall had only ever been owned by three families – and oddly, none of those surnames were any variants of Plumme. Did none of the people who had added this information wonder why a manor would only be associated with surnames that don’t match the one they are researching? Curious, I double-checked back in the original records for their references to a Spaines Hall associated with Plummes, and verified that rights to a Spaines Hall in Great Yeldham had been willed by Plumme family members. Then I set about trying to sort all of this out.

A web search for Spaines Hall Essex quickly turned up references to an old manor that is indeed a popular wedding site today, including hosting a bridal expo. However, while this Spains Hall is in Essex, it is not in Great Yeldham. I clicked through to the Wikipedia article and discovered that: 1) Much of the information in the Ancestry caption had been copied and pasted without attribution from the Wikipedia page; 2) There are at least two other Spaines Halls (varying spellings) in Essex, including one in Great Yeldham that today is usually spelled Spayne’s Hall. A more precise web search for Spaynes Hall Great Yeldham Essex turned up the Spayne’s Hall that was actually associated with the Plumme family. It doesn’t have nearly as much historical information online and it doesn’t have nearly as flamboyant a modern usage, but it’s the correct manor.

As always with genealogical research, one question for researchers is: Are you looking for information on a family with the same names and places that have matching names? Or are you looking for your family members and the locations associated with them?

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The Plummes/The Plumbs

I am in the process of documenting the Plumme/Plumb family to my satisfaction. This is the family tree according to the published version of the 1634 Visitation of Essex (note that due to their purpose, the Visitations only documented some lines of descent); names spelled here as in the Visitation, including variants within the pedigree:

John Plumme of Yeldham Magna [Great Yeldham] m. [unknown]. Children:

  • Robert Plumme of Yeldham Magna [Great Yeldham] m. __ daughter of ___ Purcas of __ in Essex.

Children of Robert and __ (Purcas) Plumme:

  • Robert Plumme of Yeldham m. Grace, daughter of Robert Crackbone.
  • Margeret Plumme.
  • Elizabeth, wife of Richard Symonds.
  • Thomas Plumme of Yeldham Magna [Great Yeldham] m. Mary, daughter of Richard Hamond of Ellingham.
  • Mary Plumme.
  • Anne Plumme.
  • Edmund Plumme.

Children of Robert and Grace (Crackbone) Plumme:

  • Robert Plumme of Yeldham Magna [Great Yeldham] and Lincolns Inn, 1634, m. 1st Frances, daughter of __ Gaswell of Watlington, Norfolk; m. 2nd Honora, daughter of Thomas Woolrich of Cowling, Suffolk.
  • John Plumme of Ridgwell, Essex.
  • Ethelred, wife of Phillip Sparrow of Wickham Brooke, Suffolk.
  • Frances, wife of John Upcher of Colchester.
  • Hannah, wife of William Sadleir of Horksley, Essex.

Children of Robert & Grace’s brother/brother-in-law Thomas Plumme and his wife Mary (Hamond) Plumme:

  • Samuell Plumme of Yeldham Magna [Great Yeldham], 1634, m. Dorathey, sister of Sir Richard Higham of Eastham, Essex, and daughter of William Higham.
  • Thomas Plumme.
  • Robert Plumme.
  • Mary, wife of Henry Milsop of the Ile of Ely.
  • Jane, wife of Robert Brooke, rector of the church of Woodham Walker.
  • Martha, wife of Samuell Pratt.
  • Elizabeth, wife of William Sandford, rector of the church of Eastwell, Kent.

Children of Robert and Grace’s son Robert Plumme and his first wife, Frances (Gaswell) Plumme:

  • Robert Plumme, aged about 16 in 1634.
  • Edmund Plumme.
  • Anne Plumme.
  • Sarah Plumme.
  • Frances Plumme.
  • Jane Plumme.

Children of Robert and Grace’s son Robert Plumme and his second wife, Honora (Woolrich) Plumme:

  • Honora Plumme.

Children of Thomas and Mary (Hamond) Plumme’s son Samuell Plumme and his wife, Dorathey (Higham) Plumme:

  • Samwell Plumme.
  • Thomas Plumme.
  • Robert Plumme.
  • Dorathey Plumme.
  • Mary Plumme.

Children of Thomas and Mary (Hamond) Plumme’s daughter Elizabeth (Plumme) Sandford and her husband William Sandford (listed on the Sandford Visitation pedigree):

  • Thomas Sandford.
  • William Sandford.

Children of Margaret (Plumme) Strutt Woodcock, daughter of an unspecified Plumme, and her second husband John Woodcock of Alphamstone, Essex (Woodcock Visitation pedigree):

  • John Woodcock, 7 years old in 1634.
  • William Woodcock.

It is interesting that the Visitation documented two lines of descent. It is also interesting to note that the Plummes seem to have been an up-and-coming family in Essex at the time, as they were not mentioned in Essex’s earlier Visitations. In my research I have found a Prerogative Court of Canterbury will for a Plumme who was described as of Ely, Cambridgeshire, which is particularly interesting since the Visitation described Thomas and Mary’s daughter Mary’s husband Henry Milsop as “of the Ile of Ely,” which was a separate administrative area near the town of Ely. Also intriguing, the family used the name Ethelred repeatedly for daughters, and Anglo-Saxon Saint Æthelthryth, whose name was/is often transliterated to Ethelreda, had been Abbess of Ely, though this certainly could be coincidence, as there were a number of well-known historical Ethelreds (though usually men). I have yet to fully sort out what the family’s connection to Cambridgeshire and Ile of Ely might be.

As I have attempted to stress, this is the family pedigree according to the 1634 Visitation of Essex. It may be completely accurate (as far as it goes) or it may have one or more errors. Having some family members listed in the wrong generation seems to be an especially common error, and as the pedigree probably already made clear, not knowing the origins or possibly even the names of some of the male family members’ wives was also common. Robert and Grace had died by the time of the 1634 Visitation and their son (and my ancestor), John Plumme/John Plumb, seems to have been willed the rights to Ridgewell Hall in Essex, and he was apparently living in “Ridgwell” at the time the pedigree was compiled. (Compiled genealogies state his land rights, but so far I haven’t located a will that explicitly states them and I have yet to view the family’s inquisitions post mortem, which are in hard copies at the National Archives [UK].) Within two years he would seek his fortunes anew, being in Connecticut Colony in New England by late 1636.

This is something I have seen time and again as I research my early New England colonists’ English ancestry – so many of them are the younger sons of gentlemen, or the younger sons of younger sons of gentlemen/knights. While I know enough about conditions for “average” people in England at this time that it is sometimes difficult for me to feel sympathy for them, from their perspective, their prospects were limited in England – they had gotten less (or no) rights to land than their elder brother(s) or knew that their father’s elder brother(s) had gotten more than their father and that they were likely to also be willed less money or land rights than their own elder brother(s). If you wanted to try to make your own fortune, own land outright (rather than, even if you were at the top of society’s echelons, at best being a large landholder holding your land direct from the Crown), and perhaps were seeking adventure and/or a society with others who shared your Puritan beliefs, moving to the Colonies won out in the “risk-reward” columns.

John Plumb had already married Dorcas Chaplin before they left England and they had at least nine children, most born in England. John became a trader in the “New World,” spending a lot of his efforts on trade with the Native American tribes, like his Massachusetts Bay Colony counterpart William Pynchon, whose relatives have made appearances in some of my posts from earlier in 2014. John also held various offices and amassed a good amount of land, which he owned outright and sold when his family moved, unlike in the country of his birth. How would he and Dorcas have done if they had stayed in England? I can’t say. But it seems to me like they did well for themselves and their children in their choice to start over.

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NOTES

Spayne’s Hall in Great Yeldham was listed by the British government in 1952. Their listing implies that the building dates from the time the Plumme family ran it, but the listing (not updated since it was first listed in 1952) notes that the property had had a large amount of 18th century and late 19th/early 20th century work done.

British History Online has digitized a 1916 inventory of Great Yeldham that includes Spayne’s Hall. It is interesting to note that the inventory-taker(s) dated the building as having been built later than the official listing’s estimate.

A location named Ridgewell Hall in Ridgewell, Essex, was also listed by the British government, but the listing says it dates from the late 1600’s, so I’m not sure it’s the same hall that John (seemingly) had been willed rights to occupy. There is no Ridgewell Hall listed at British History Online’s digitized 1916 inventory of Ridgewell, just a “Ridgewell Hall Farm,” though the latter is estimated in the inventory to date from early enough to possibly be the property related to the Plummes/Plumbs.

The Plumb, Crackbone, and Purcas families are featured in Clifford L. Stott’s “John Plumb of Connecticut and His Cousin, Deputy Governor Samuel Symonds of Massachusetts: Additions to Their English Ancestry” [part 1], The American Genealogist 70:2 (April 1995); Stott’s footnotes also contain additional sources that will likely be of interest to researchers of these families. NEHGS members can view a scan of this article on NEHGS’s website. Regular readers of this blog likely remember that I have found errors regarding other families in Morant’s History of Essex, which is used extensively in Stott’s article. (I have not yet tested Morant’s assertions about the families in this blog post against original records.)

Reminder: Essex Record Office has digitized their old parish registers and some of their other old records, all available on their pay-to-view site Essex Ancestors.

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In recent months I have been making more extensive use of manorial records in England, and I thought I would share some basics here. The system and procedure appear to be mostly equivalent in Wales, though I haven’t personally done any research in Welsh manorial records (or more than a tiny amount of Welsh research at all to date).

There is a common perception that English & Welsh manorial records are only from the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, and that they are all in Latin. None of this is true. While there were manors in the Middle Ages, the largest percentage of surviving manorial records date from the 19th and early 20th centuries, until the manorial system was effectively abolished through the Law of Property Acts of 1922 and 1924. Second to that in survival terms are manorial records from the 17th and 18th centuries, although those are more likely to have gaps. The earlier than that you go, the fewer extant records there are, and the more gaps they tend to have.

For many earlier manors, the only thing known to survive is the name – historians know the manor existed and that’s all. However, even for manors where their own records didn’t survive, you may be able to glean a fair amount of information by locating extant records from an adjacent manor, as a number of people held/rented land in more than one manor so manors that were near each other tended to reference each other in their records. It is also important to keep in mind that while some manors were the exact equivalent to a parish, many were not – sometimes there were multiple manors in one parish, sometimes one manor occupied parts or all of two or more parishes, etc. As to the question of Latin – technically all legal documents were supposed to be written in Latin prior to the change to English that took effect in 1733, but in actuality a fair number of manors started using English for most of their records prior to this date or had a record-keeper who didn’t know too much Latin and mixed the Latin they knew with English words in place of the Latin words they didn’t know. This having been said – there were certainly manors that kept records completely in Latin until the official change to English, and the likelihood tends to vary regionally.

Because manorial records can be in any number of locations, including still in private hands, and many manors had their records scattered between two or more record-keepers, the first stop in working with manorial records will generally be the Manorial Documents Register. The Manorial Documents Register is, in the words of the National Archives [UK], “partially computerised.” You can search all of Wales and some counties of England through the National Archives’ Manorial Documents Register database. As of the time of this writing, these English counties were complete in the online version: the Isle of Wight, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Nottinghamshire, the three Ridings of Yorkshire, Shropshire, Surrey, Middlesex, Cumberland, Westmorland, Lancashire, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, and Bedfordshire. According to the site, they are in the process of adding Cambridgeshire, Essex, Huntingdonshire, Suffolk, and Sussex.

This database is very helpful not just in locating who holds which records for a manor, but also in determining what manors with surviving records existed in the parish you are researching and in neighboring parishes, because for England you can search the database by parish, not just by the name of the manor. If you are researching in a county that isn’t in the online database yet, you have to go in person to check, get someone to visit on your behalf, or write and ask the staff to check for you. Before I start using specific examples, let me note here that the main difference for researchers using the database for Welsh research will be that since Wales is not divided by parish, you will have to search by county if you don’t know the manor name or are trying to locate nearby manors.

Let’s use Wraysbury, Buckinghamshire, as an example. Wraysbury is where two of my colonial North American ancestors who chose to return to England died. If you haven’t used the site much or at all, I encourage you to bring up the site in another tab/window and practice searching along with my post. If you go to “Advanced Search” at the online Manorial Documents Register (an option from the front page) and enter “Wraysbury” in the “Parish” search field, leaving all other fields blank, two results will appear after you hit “Search”:

RECTORY, Wraysbury, Buckinghamshire (15)

also known as – Wraysbury Rectory

WRAYSBURY, Wraysbury, Buckinghamshire (27)

also known as – Wyrardisbury

The number after each manor is the number of different entries for manorial records there are in the database. Clicking through to view the results for each manor (termed “sub-records” by the Manorial Documents Register database), you will see at the top of the results pages that both of these manors were indeed in the parish of Wraysbury, so if you were researching someone who lived in Wraysbury and didn’t know precisely where they lived, you could potentially find them at either manor. Even if you did know their primary residence was at one of the manors, you might still find them holding/renting land at the other manor. Let’s click through to the Wraysbury Rectory results to start. You may note immediately that the results for each manor are arranged by the listed start date of each record set, so that if you are researching late in a manor’s existence, you can immediately scroll towards the bottom of the results to see what (if any) manorial records survive from that period.

Viewing the Wraysbury Rectory results, you will see that 14 of the 15 known extant manorial record sets are held by St. George’s Chapel Archives and Chapter Library at Windsor Castle, with a lone set of court rolls held by Westminster Abbey Library and Muniment Room at The Cloisters in Westminster Abbey. You can see at the results page that each listed repository is a live link; clicking on the link will give you details about where the repository is located, its contact information, what its hours are, and the barest basics of how you can access the repository’s documents. As an example, if you want to view the Wraysbury Rectory court rolls in person at Westminster Abbey, the database’s repository page says that you will need a letter of introduction to be allowed to do so. With extant records from 1353 to 1902, with huge gaps in availability of any records and in which types of records are available, Wraysbury Rectory is also a good example of the scattershot survival of manorial records. An additional note before moving on to the other manor in Wraysbury parish: Manors run by the Church were much more likely to keep all their records in Latin until the official change to English than other manors were.

Viewing the sub-results for Wraysbury Manor (AKA Wyrardisbury Manor), you will see that the location of the 27 surviving record sets is quite literally all over the place. There are listed record sets for Wraysbury Manor at the National Archives, Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies, Essex Record Office, Berkshire Record Office, and Westminster Abbey Library and Muniment Room. Again, the availability of any extant records at all and of which types exist today is really variable, with extant records from 1272 to 1890 with huge gaps.

Since we are looking for manorial records in the Wraysbury area, let’s do a further exercise. I like using the GenUKI site’s “Nearby Places” feature to show what was in and close to a parish. If you go to GenUKI’s Wraysbury main page, you can click on the link at the top of the page that’s titled “Nearby Places” to see what they are for Wraysbury. The GenUKI site defaults to a 5-mile radius, which is a good starting point. Reviewing the results, you can see that while the very closest next parish is “Horton (near Slough), Buckinghamshire,” the two following parishes are in other counties – Old Windsor in Berkshire and Egham in Surrey. Following are another parish in Berkshire (New Windsor) and then a parish in Middlesex (Staines). All of these parishes included locations that were 3 miles or less from Wraysbury parish. This is overall good information to know for researching someone, as people who lived near the border with one or more other counties often left some records in at least one of the other counties or perhaps even moved around between the counties.

Luckily for our purposes, all of these counties are already on the Manorial Documents Register database. So let’s go back to the Manorial Documents Register. Because there are multiple counties with places named Horton, if you don’t specify Buckinghamshire when you do an Advanced Search, some irrelevant results will be returned. If you search for Horton, Buckinghamshire, you get results for two more manors:

BERKIN, Horton, Buckinghamshire (0)

HORTON, Horton, Buckinghamshire (3)

also known as – Horton with Colnbrook; Horton with Colnbrook, Eaton Guildables and Chalvey; Eaton Guildables; Chalvey

As you can see, Berkin Manor is listed though it has a “0” after its name. Clicking to view Berkin Manor’s entry, you see: “NO RECORDS KNOWN TO SURVIVE.” Horton Manor also has many fewer surviving records than either of the manors in Wraysbury parish, and when you click through to view the sub-results, you will see that the surviving record sets cover 1619 to 1737 (with big gaps). Whether there are no later records because the manor no longer existed or simply because no later records survive, I do not know at this point. According to the database, all three of Horton Manor’s surviving record sets are at the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies.

Next, let’s look up the next closest parish, Old Windsor in Berkshire. Because there was only one parish named Old Windsor, you don’t have to specify a county when you search the database. Like Wraysbury, Old Windsor’s results are divided into two manors with one a rectory:

WINDSOR RECTORY, OLD, Old Windsor, Berkshire (21)

also known as – Old Windsor Rectory; Rectory manor of Old and New Windsor

WINDSOR, OLD, Old Windsor, Berkshire (11)

also known as – Old Windsor

Old Windsor’s manors’ record set survival is also more similar to Wraysbury’s than to Horton’s. For Old Windsor Manor, the largest number of record sets are held at the National Archives, with record sets also at Oxford University’s Bodleian Library, Berkshire Record Office, and Cambridge University’s Department of Manuscripts and University Archives. Record sets cover 1431 to 1900 with huge gaps. The most recent record set (covering 1840-1900 with gaps) is a file of evidence related to enfranchisement of copyhold land. If you are researching Old Windsor Manor, this tells you something without even having viewed the records themselves – copyhold land could be converted to freehold land by the Lord of the Manor, meaning that the copyhold tenant became freehold, and this record set implies that this was done over the course of the 19th century for some to all copyhold tenants at Old Windsor Manor. The Copyhold Act of 1852 had allowed copyhold tenants to demand that their copyhold become freehold, so this type of record became much more common as the 19th century progressed. For a basic overview of enfranchisement, see this page from the University of Nottingham.

The Old Windsor Rectory’s record sets are mostly held by Berkshire Record Office, with a small number held by the National Archives. Their record sets cover a tremendous period of time (with large gaps), from 1269 to after the manorial system was abolished, the final record set being papers related to “the extinguishment of manorial incidents” (1925-1933).

Let’s do one more parish in the Manorial Documents Register, the next nearest parish per the GenUKI site, Egham in Surrey. Searching for Egham via the Advanced Search, you get the highest number of results of any of the parishes we have searched:

ANKERWICK PURNISH, Egham, Surrey (2)

BROOMHALL, Egham, Surrey (41)

EGHAM, Egham, Surrey (43)

FOSTERS, Egham, Surrey (0)

also known as – Great Fosters

IMWORTH, Egham, Surrey (0)

also known as – Fosters

MILTON, Egham, Surrey (75)

also known as – Middleton

RUSHAM, Egham, Surrey (0)

also known as – Ruysshames

TROTTESWORTH, Egham, Surrey (1)

also known as – Trotsworth

As you can see, Egham had three manors where no records are known to exist, two with a very small number of surviving record sets (1 for Trottesworth Manor and 2 for Ankerwick Purnish Manor), and three that have a lot of extant record sets. Like Old Windsor Rectory, Broomhall Manor’s final extant record set is about the enfranchisement of copyhold land. And like Old Windsor Rectory’s final record set, Milton Manor’s final record set dates from after the abolishment of the manorial system – a “book of steward’s fees, with Ashford (Middlesex) 1926-1932” that is held by London Metropolitan Archives. It is also interesting and important to note that there appear to have been two different manors in Egham that were known by the name Fosters Manor; for one of them it appears to have been the primary name, whereas for the other it is listed in the alternate names field.

It is possible that someone who lived in Wraysbury held a tenancy at any of these nearby parishes’ manors. It is also possible that someone who lived at one of these nearby manors that has no known surviving records also had a tenancy at one or more of the manors where there are some, or even a good number of, surviving record sets.

Hopefully this post has given you an idea of a starting point for how to find English and Welsh manorial records and the wide variance in availability and current locations of extant records. Stay tuned for Part 2, wherein I will discuss how you can use manorial records in your research.

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I am arguably fortunate in having had many of my colonial New England families studied by scholars, sometimes genealogical scholars, sometimes scholars in other fields, sometimes both. Probably the biggest possible down side of this is that well-respected scholars tend to be taken at face value by many genealogists, probably on the belief that since they are well-respected scholars, they are thorough in every aspect of their research. Donald Lines Jacobus, one of the early to mid-20th century leaders in turning American genealogical research from generally consisting of hearsay, family traditions, and fabricated noble/royal lines into a scholarly discipline, researched and published on a number of my colonial New England lines and we are related through at least one ancestral line, the Lymans. Hale, House, and Related Families, Mainly of the Connecticut River Valley by Jacobus and Edgar Francis Waterman (originally published in 1952, a 1978 reprint is available online at HathiTrust) includes a number of my families, and I use it as a reference for sources.

When I was working back on tracing the Pynchons and allied families, I used Jacobus and Waterman’s sources as a starting point. I was able to confirm much of their information via their referenced sources. And then I came to a supposed ancestor named Jane Empson, whom they list as the daughter of Richard Empson, and state that this father named Richard Empson served in the government of English King Henry VII and was one of the two people executed by King Henry VIII right after he ascended to the throne. I was able to confirm their sources on Jane’s adult life. They had stated that widowed Jane Pynchon had married Thomas Wilson and that again-widowed Jane Wilson had left a will that had been proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC). I located her 1576 marriage to Thomas in Terling, Essex, in which she was listed as a widow, and her 1587 PCC will, which listed both her late husband Thomas Wilson and her Pynchon children by her first (known) husband John Pynchon, neatly tying together her adult life. So far this is the earliest extant will I have found that was written by a woman in my own tree. The Pynchon sons listed in her will that she made as Jane Wilson match the sons listed in her previous husband John Pynchon’s 1573 PCC will. Curiously, according to the Terling register, Jane and Thomas married after dispensation by the Bishop of London; so far, I haven’t sorted out what was going on there. (Also curiously, though Jacobus and Waterman reference the dispensation, they seem blasé about it.)

The 1582 PCC will that Jacobus and Waterman ascribe to Jane’s final husband Thomas Wilson, which does indeed seem to me to be the correct will, doesn’t mention Jane at all, and to me seems like it was partially intended to continue his good connections after his death, as his first bequest was to “my goode and loving friende Sir Ffranncis Walsingham, knighte,” who was one of Queen Elizabeth’s major advisors, and his second and third bequest recipients were his brother-in-law (who was another knight) and an esquire. After that, Thomas made bequests to his children. Once I got to the part in his will that specified that he had living biological children (a fact not mentioned in the book) I understood why his will seemed aimed to continue his good connections after he died. Connections like Francis Walsingham were extremely good ones for his children to have.

Jacobus and Waterman say that Jane’s absence from the will was “presumably because she had been provided for in a prenuptual contract,” but as the “presumably” indicates, they provide no source to back this up. Jane’s previous husband John Pynchon had willed her all of his property in County Essex for “her natural life,” and none of the conditions placed on the bequest included that she remain a widow. Whether her next husband would consider this enough for his widow, I cannot say for sure, but I think it is also a plausible scenario. Thomas did not mention any properties in Essex in his will, so it seems that even if the property Jane inherited should have technically legally been his after marriage, rights to it may have been retained by Jane, whether by a marriage settlement (to oversimplify, a 1500’s version of a prenuptual contract) or some other way. In Jane’s own will, she bequeathed the aforementioned Essex properties to her eldest son William, and rights to a dwelling-house in Thomas’s beloved London to her youngest son Edward. (Her middle son, John, was bequeathed money.) All of this was after their father had already bequeathed directly to them as well as to Jane.

But after researching Jane’s adult life, there was still the problem of Jane’s origins. Jacobus and Waterman referred to Jane as one of her alleged father Richard Empson’s heirs (more precisely, as a “coheir”), so I figured they had estate papers to back up their claim of parentage. But then I started researching the life of Richard Empson – not particularly difficult to do since he was a major figure in England’s government – and realized that the math didn’t add up. Richard’s execution was before it was particularly plausible that Jane was born given the documentation I did have, and Jane was not listed as one of his heirs in anything I reviewed. While it had been possible that she could have been an heir as, say, a grandchild or cousin, if she wasn’t listed as an heir at all and that was listed as the proof that she was his daughter, then what to do next? I have had this issue before, including with some much more recent scholarly genealogical publications, so my next strategy was two-fold – try to see if Jane even was an Empson by birth (whomever her parents were), and try to find the real source of this statement.

Unfortunately trying to find Jane’s origins is not an easy slog in surviving records of 16th century England. She could have married or been baptized in any of a number of parishes in a variety of counties, and could have even been married by license, which would have been separate from parish records. Additionally, only some parishes have extant registers from this period, so even a thorough search would not necessarily be able to conclusively prove that Jane was not an Empson unless a record were found that definitively showed her maiden name as something else, as there would be a good possibility that the relevant records don’t exist any more. So far I haven’t found a record of her marriage to John Pynchon. Without knowing her maiden name for sure, I don’t really see a point in trying to find her baptism record at this point, since even if I found a Jane Empson baptized in a time period that fit, that wouldn’t necessarily mean she was the person who married “my” John Pynchon.

Finding the origin of a questionable statement is almost always an interesting challenge to me. I located a number of 19th century authors that claimed Jane was the daughter and heir of the Richard Empson who was beheaded by King Henry VIII, which may be where Jacobus and Waterman found it and accepted it as fact (since they don’t share a source, I don’t know for sure). I eventually found an author who attributed the claim, listing Morant’s book on Essex as their source. It didn’t take much searching to find Morant’s wonderfully-lengthily-titled The history and topography of the county of Essex, comprising its ancient and modern history. A general view of its physical character, productions, agricultural condition, statistics &c. &c (1831) nor to discover that it is now online. For some reason searching the text for “Pinchon” does not turn up any hits even though there are multiple mentions of the surname, so I went through the “Writtle” mentions until I found the statement in question. Morant seems to have been a very enthusiastic local historian, but once I saw the Empson comment in context I realized that his genealogical work is, shall we say, not up to the par of the 1800’s, much less today. Quoted in part below, it is riddled with errors:

Nicholas Pinchon, of Wales, was one of the Sheriffs of London in 1532; he left John Pinchon, Esq., of Writtle, who married Jane, daughter of Richard Empson, (beheaded in 1509,) one of the hated ministers of King Henry the Seventh. This Nicholas died in 1573, and, with his wife, was buried in the north aisle of the church; his sons, were William, John of Springfield, and Edward, who was knighted. He had also two daughters; Elizabeth, wife of Geofrey Gates, of St. Edmunds; and Jane, the wife of Andrew Paschal, of Springfield. William Pinchon, Esq., of Writtle, married Rose, daughter of Thomas Redding, Esq., of Pinner, in Middlesex, by whom he had six sons and three daughters; of these, Joan was married to Sir Richard Weston, of Skreens, in Roxwell, chancellor of the exchequer, made baron of Stoke-Neyland, and earl of Portland. . . . (p. 171)

It is difficult to say where Morant got any of his information, since the only thing that seems to clearly be from a specific source is the information on where certain family members are buried in the church in Writtle (most likely from a church visit, but who can say definitively?). What I can say for sure is that the Nicholas Pynchon who was a sheriff in London in 1532 appears to have been from Writtle, and his PCC will names four sons, not three – Edward, William, Robert, and John – as well as his wife Agnes and a cousin John Pinchon of Writtle. Note that Morant has either latched onto the wrong Nicholas or made a serious typo with the death date, as the Nicholas who was sheriff left a will proved in 1533, a far cry from Morant’s claim of a 1573 death. As to saying Nicholas Pinchon was “of Wales,” I honestly have no idea so far as to where he got that, and I was able to find some later writers who had been equally baffled by Morant’s “of Wales” reference. (My only idea so far is that perhaps he badly misread a handwritten mention of “Writtle.”) The William Pinchon that Morant lists as Nicholas Pinchon’s son was really Jane and John’s son.

More digging on my part resulted in my locating what I believe was the likely origin of Morant’s information on the Pinchons, the 1612 Visitation of Essex, which was published by the Harleian Society and is now available online. The Pinchon pedigree in the Visitation states that John Pinchon’s wife was “Jayne daugh. and heire to Sr Richard Empsone Kt. She after mar. to Secretary Wilsone.” (there should be a few superscript letters in that quote). Note that the Visitation was in 1612, over a century after the Richard Empson who served Henry VII was beheaded. Note also that the pedigree does not state that her father was the same Richard Empson who was beheaded; if the pedigree is correct (and there’s no guarantee that it is), could she be the daughter of another Richard Empson? There are some errors in Morant that aren’t in the Visitation, so my educated guess is that the information had probably made at least a couple of hops on its way to Morant, like the game we called “Telephone” when I was a child, where you would whisper something to the person next to you, who would whisper it to the person on their other side, and so on, until what eventually came back to you was a garbled – or sometimes completely different – version of what you said.

In addition to my trawling through records long-distance, folks have gone to various archives in England to look through specific records for me, and it has proved fruitful. So far the clearest evidence that there was a connection between the Pynchon and Empson families is through heraldry. A manuscript identifies Jane’s son and daughter-in-law William and Rose (Redding) Pynchon as having had a shield design that was half Pynchon, one-quarter Empson or Epsom, and one-quarter Orchard. While this certainly doesn’t definitively show Jane as an Empson/Epsom by birth, it indicates there was some connection between the families. The manuscript is similar to the description of the shield design in the 1612 Visitation of Essex, though it appears that by the time of the 1612 Visitation whomever held the rights to it had added a symbol of an additional surname to the shield, that of a Weston family.

Whomever Jane was by birth, she seems to have been a shrewd and savvy 16th century Englishwoman. She married a man who was either wealthy to start or became wealthy over the course of his life, and in his will she was given the rights to property with no condition that she remain a widow. After at least three years operating her late husband’s property as a widow, she chose her next husband extremely well; the year after Jane and Thomas married, he was appointed joint Secretary of State, serving alongside his friend Francis Walsingham after another of his friends (and Walsingham’s prior co-secretary), Thomas Smith, died. Then, again a widow, Jane made a will that gave her sons additional benefits beyond those they had already gotten through their late father. For a woman of her time and place, marrying well and leaving children that were living, and living comfortably at that, when she died was about the best that she could hope to do with her life.

I was going to make this another two-person 52 Ancestors post, but this post is already pretty long and involved, and Thomas Wilson’s story is also long and intricate, so I’ll devote a future post to him.

For me, history is not something static – it is a constant flow in which those of us alive are participating now. Two hyacinths and a tulip that were introduced while Elizabeth I was queen of England are blooming in my garden now. While Thomas and Jane had died before the tulip’s 1595 introduction in the Netherlands, many of their children and grandchildren were still alive and may have walked past it, seen a painting that included it, or even grown it in their gardens. Additionally, it was one of the parent tulips for many of the tulips that came shortly after it. Every time I walk past that little tulip blooming in my urban garden, I think of how much history is stored in that bulb, how much has changed in the world since then, and how few cities there even were in the world in 1595. Could Jane have even imagined that one of her grandchildren would be one of the major early colonizers of what would become known as New England, or envisioned that the actions of her grandson and his fellow Massachusetts Bay Colony leaders would reverberate down the centuries and drastically change the world? Just before she died in 1587, did she think England’s efforts in colonizing distant locales would go anywhere at all?

Tulip Duc van Tol Red and Yellow

1595’s tulip ‘Duc van Tol Red and Yellow’ blooming in the author’s urban American garden this week. (Photo by the author.)

Pink Roman hyacinth

The pink-colored Roman hyacinth is known to have been in gardens starting in 1573, the year Jane’s late husband John Pynchon’s will was proved; it is blooming in the author’s urban US garden this week. (Photo by the author.)

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Sarah Ann Mathews, generally called “Annie,” was born to Edward Isaac Mathews and Maria (Bray) Mathews of Limehouse in Greater London on 24 March 1864, the fourth of their five known children. Annie’s parents had been part of the story of the changing landscape of England: Her father had been born in the Bermondsey area of Surrey while her mother had been born in rural Devon. Annie’s mother had migrated to London, but exactly when is not clear, as the first London-area record in which I have found Maria is her marriage to Edward at St. Jude’s in Whitechapel in 1857. According to this blog post, St. Jude’s was just 9 years old when Maria and Edward married there, but by 1873 it would be neglected and abandoned. Taken over and rescued by the area reformers Samuel and Henrietta Barnett at that time, who had requested the assignment, St. Jude’s would one day be destroyed in the London Blitz.

According to their marriage record, Edward, a widower, was a carpenter living at what looks somewhat like “Alis Street,” and Maria was a spinster living at the “same place.” As with Edward’s first marriage, both witnesses were members of the Mathews family. While Maria gave the correct father’s name, the occupation is wildly wrong; whether she did not know the correct occupation of the father who had abandoned her family when she was a child or lied about it, there is no way to know. Either way, Maria was part of the early wave of people moving from rural England to urban areas. Was Maria one of the many who saw a move to the big city as a as a chance to consciously reinvent herself? Regardless of whether her reinvention was a conscious choice or not, Maria’s move dramatically improved her lot in life.

Edward had at least one surviving child, Mary Jane Mathews, born to his first wife, Elisabeth (Godwin) Mathews, and baptized at St. Peter’s in Walworth, Surrey. Edward and Maria stayed within the Tower Hamlets area, initially settling in Poplar, then moving to Limehouse between the 1861 census and Annie’s 1864 birth. At Limehouse the family lived within easy walking distance of one of the busiest waterfronts in London. The East India Company had docks very close by. The nearest Church of England church, St. Anne’s, had the highest church clock in London, and rang its bell every 15 minutes in a long tradition to help merchant mariners and Royal Navy seamen orient themselves as they neared the docks. It is estimated that 6,000 ships docked daily. There were also a large number of factories, warehouses, and other industrial buildings in the neighborhood. I imagine it must have been a noisy, bustling place to live. On the well-known Booth Poverty Maps of London, where the criteria used means that the ranking can change dramatically from block to block, their block was ranked fairly well-off. While the family was living in Limehouse, some buildings at the dead-end of their tiny Aston-street were knocked down and Aston-street was expanded.

By 1890 Annie’s father Edward had gained the right to vote through his residence at their 67 Aston-street home. He continued to appear on the voter rolls until 1897, the year after his death. In 1898 Annie’s widowed mother Maria appeared on the voter roll in his place. What happened to Maria after this is not yet known, but in her lifetime she had gone from working as a servant as a desperately poor young teen in rural England to being on the voter roll of London.

Maria’s family had been non-conformist when she was a child, so whether Maria and Edward’s children do not appear in the local Church of England baptismal registers as infants because they were non-conformists or because Maria and Edward did not baptize them anywhere is unclear so far. Annie chose adult baptism in the Church of England church St. Anthony’s at Stepney on 21 May 1884, with “(Adult baptism)” scrawled in large letters above the entry. The register lists her as still living at her family’s 67 Aston-street home in Limehouse, so it is interesting that she chose to be baptized at a church in Stepney.

On 17 February 1889, Annie married fellow local John Crowley, a clerk, at St. Matthew’s in Limehouse Fields. Both single, Annie and John were listed on the record as both living at 67 Aston-street at the time they married. Annie’s father and one of John’s relatives witnessed the marriage. Annie’s father remained a carpenter and her new husband’s father was an engineer. Maria had signed her marriage record in the childlike writing of someone who may have only known how to write their own name, while Annie signed her full name Sarah Ann Mathews in the confident hand of someone who was probably fully literate.

On the 1891 census Annie and John and their oldest child, a son named Victor John Edward Crowley, were living at 67 Aston-street, as were Annie’s parents; the address is divided into two separate households by the enumerator. Had John moved into the other half of 67 Aston-street and then literally married the girl next door? Or had he moved there because he already knew and liked Annie? These are the kinds of questions it is difficult to answer in the types of records typically left for posterity. Regardless, in 1891 John was still working as a clerk and Edward was still working as a carpenter.

In June 1896 the Crowleys’ oldest child Victor was listed in a register for school, part of a large group of children in the register for Garden-street Temporary School in Tower Hamlets. The family’s address was listed as “67 Ashton St.”

By 1901 Annie and John’s family had expanded, now with three living daughters in addition to their still-living oldest son: Gladys Annie Lizzie Crowley, Eva Rose Irene Crowley, and Hilda Iris Crowley. Their family was now listed first at 67 Aston-street while a single working woman was listed as the resident of the other half of the building. John was still working as a commercial clerk.

By 1911 the family had left both Aston-street and Limehouse behind. They had moved to Forest Gate in the West Ham area of County Essex. All four children I’ve mentioned in this post were still alive, but the enumeration says that Annie had a fifth child who had died. Annie and John had been married for 23 years. For the first time a record gives a more detailed glimpse of John’s working life than “commercial clerk”; he is listed as a Ledger Clerk in the industry “Oil, Gas, & Electric Heating Apparatus.” Their son Victor was enumerated as working as a Stockkeeper’s Clerk in the same industry, and their oldest daughter Gladys as a Vest Machinist in the industry “Gentleman’s Underwear and Vest Manufacturer.” Their two younger daughters were listed as still attending school.

Like millions of other mothers, Annie watched her son Victor go off to war in what would later come to be called World War I. Victor served in the Royal West Kent Regiment. Luckily for their family, Victor survived the war; he was discharged on 24 January 1919 after over 3 years of service, having enlisted on 23 November 1915. Someone scanned and posted a photo of Victor in his uniform, listing the year as 1914, and I am grateful they gave me the opportunity to see the photo.

Annie died on 23 February 1935 at Queen Marys Hospital in Stratford, Essex. Though she died in hospital, she was still living in Forest Gate in the West Ham area. While she was a widow when she died, I have yet to find the correct death record for her husband John. Annie did not leave a will, and her small estate was administered by her son Victor, who by then was working as a commercial traveller.

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