Sunday, 22 March 2015

If the Hatt fits…

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

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Priscilla’s choices

This is a story of how a family dealt with some fairly typical problems that arose before the advent of modern social security.  The solutions, also typical, pose some challenges for family history researchers.

Priscilla Goodyear was born around 1800 in Stokenham, Devon.  Stokenham is located in a very remote rural corner on the Devonshire coast; a place that looks like prime territory for smugglers.  The Goodyear family lived in the area back to mediaeval times.  The eleventh of thirteen children of Richard Goodyear and Elizabeth Norris, Priscilla was baptised in the parish church on 25th January 1801.

It seems that Priscilla’s family were poor and her father’s probable death in 1806 wouldn’t have helped matters.  Because she would have been a burden on the parish, Priscilla, aged nine or ten, was apprenticed to a Joseph Randall by the Overseers of the Poor in 1810.  Some of her siblings were also apprenticed at young ages, including her sister Susannah, who played an important part in Priscilla’s story.  At the time, the church was responsible for looking after the poor and the church parishes tried their best to get someone else to take financial responsibility for the poor person, hence the apprenticeships.

Susannah Goodyear married John Camp Shephard* in 1813.  He was a labourer from Charleton, which is next to Stokenham.  In case you were wondering, “Camp” was his mother’s maiden name.  They had five children, the first two dying in infancy, before Susannah died in November 1821 leaving John with three toddlers to look after.  It may be that Priscilla, as a convenient single female relative, took on the duty of looking after the children.  This was a common solution for the circumstances. 

On Christmas Eve 1822, just over a year after Susannah died, John Camp Shephard and Priscilla Goodyear were married in Stoke Damerel.  Stoke Damerel is about 20 km from Stokenham, on the outskirts of Plymouth.

So, why did they marry so far from home?  At the time, and until the early twentieth century, it was illegal for brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law to marry. Presumably the local parish priest refused to perform the wedding, so they went to the nearest big town.  There, they could get away with pretending they were locals for a few weeks so that they could get married by banns before returning home.  They would not have been able to afford a marriage licence to speed up the process.  I have come across other ancestors who married under similar circumstances, so I think it was not that unusual even though the marriage wasn’t legal.  I assume that for most people, having a wedding was more important than worrying about the intricacies of marriage law.  Nor was it unusual for a widower with young children to marry so soon after the death of his wife, needing someone to look after the children while he went out to work.

With Priscilla and John, there was an additional reason for them to marry.  Jane Shephard was born early in 1823 and was baptised on 2 March that year, in Charleton, just over two months after the wedding.  Given how late in her pregnancy they married, I do wonder whether John was Jane’s father or whether he was the nearest eligible man who was willing to look after Priscilla.   Perhaps they and their families saw the marriage as a good way to solve a few problems and to ensure that the young children had two parents.  Alternatively, it may be that it just took them a while to work out how they could get married outside of their parish.

John and Priscilla had 6 children.  One son, George, died young, so they recycled his name and called their next son George too.  Again, it was not unusual to name a child after a dead sibling.  The second George is my ancestor.  He migrated to Australia as a young man.

In the 1851 Census, the family included Uriah Shephard aged one, listed as their son.  This would have meant Priscilla having a child at 49.  I know from many years of family history research that most women had their last child by the age of about 45, so 49 is a little old, which made me a bit suspicious.  Further research revealed that Uriah was actually their grandson, the illegitimate child of their daughter Susan.  Once again, a grandmother taking on an illegitimate grandchild as her own child was not unusual.  If the grandmother already had a household full of children, one more didn’t make much difference and it allowed the daughter to earn a living.

Priscilla died in 1867.

It took me a while to untangle this family and work out which children belonged to which parents.  Gaining an understanding of British marriage law and social history helped me understand some of the choices they made.


*Shephard is a surname with many varied spellings; I have chosen this spelling as it is the one used by more recent generations.


NOTE ON LINEAGE: Me > Mum > John Macdonald Charley > Walter George Charley > Mary Priscilla Shephard > George Shephard > Priscilla Goodyear