Irstead Church, Norfolk. The last recorded parish of the Shorten family in England
Union artillery. American Civil War.
I could call this post "What My Norfolk-English Family did in the American Civil War".
Thomas Shorten marries Rebecca Rose
3rd January, 1838, Thomas Shorten, a local 20 year old, poor agricultural labourer, married 19 year old Rebecca Rose in her home parish of Strumpshaw in Norfolk, England. Thomas himself was born nearby in the small parish of Southwood, where incidentally, my mother was born some 140 years later. We don't move far in our family line.
Rebecca was the 4th great aunt of my mother. Through my mother, I myself am descended not only from Rebecca's parents, John and Martha Rose (nee Rowland), but also from her uncle and aunt Henry and Margaret Rose (nee Ling). I am descended from Rebecca's grandparents, Henry and Mary Rose (nee Gorll) of Loddon, Norfolk - twice over.
These were incredibly tough times for the agricultural working classes in East Anglia. Enclosure had disenfranchised them from their ancestral land. The land had become privatised. The threshing machine and other new technologies then made even their labour surplus to requirement. Poverty was made a crime through the Poor Laws. My family line were the ones that stayed here - but as I research my family history, so I come across time after time, how many of their siblings and cousins were forced to leave East Anglia, to seek a new life in London, the North of England, or abroad in places such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, or the USA.
This is the story of one of those families.
Looking for work - Barton Turf
The couple moved from Strumpshaw some fourteen miles north, to a similar Broadland water side landscape at Barton Turf - a small and old parish adjacent to Barton Broad and to the River Ant in Norfolk. Maybe Thomas had found precious employment there at a labour fair, or at a market. There at Barton, it appears that Rebecca gave birth to at least four children between 1843 and 1849 - Rebecca, Thomas, George, and Sarah Ann. Thomas supported his young family as best as he could - selling his labours and skills to local farmers. Their children were baptised, not always immediately, at the local Anglican church, the medieval church of St Michael & all Angels.
The growing family appear to have made a small move to the next parish of Irstead - south of Barton Broad. They lived on the Low Road which I believe was near to the rectory and church at Irstead Staithe, alongside the small River Ant. The photo of Irstead Church at the top of this post was taken late into the 19th Century from across that river. A lovely medieval thatched roofed Norfolk church dedicated to St Michael. Perhaps the family moved along that river on the sailing vessels that passed along, mastered by watermen or a little later, by the wherrymen of Norfolk fame.
At Irstead, Rebecca gave birth to at least four more sons between 1849 and 1854: Henry, Alfred, Robert, and John Shorten. By the end of that period, they had to feed and to support a total of eight children. The pressure must have been immense. They most likely lived in a squalid tied cottage, with no running water. The children would have been expected to contribute to income or house work as soon as they were old enough. Boys were expected to earn money in simple agricultural work from around the age of six.
Emigration to New York and the USA
Around 1855 the entire family sailed from England to New York. I have most of them on passenger lists arriving at New York. Most of them on one voyage, paid with bonded labour.
New York Passenger List (for some reason the children here were being accompanied by a Mary - although this may have been their mother Rebecca Shorten?).
The family appear then to move westwards across New York State, to the township of Ridgeway in Niagara County. They were now an East Anglian-American family.
In the 1860 US Census, Thomas and Rebecca, age 51 and 52, are living in the town of Hartland, Niagara, New York. They have with them George, age 21, Sarah Ann, age 18, Henry, age 16, Frederick (Alfred), age 12, and John, age 7 - all recorded as born in England. There is also a baby in the household - Priscilla, born in New York.
The American Civil War 1861-1865
Five years after the family arrived in the USA, the election of Abraham Lincoln, and threats to the slave economy of the Southern States, lead to the secession of a new Confederacy from the USA. The Lincoln government reacted with force.
The Shorten family in Niagara County were not slow to come to the aid of the Unionist Government. They were now "Yankees". Their eldest son Thomas, age 24, enrolled in the Union army first - as soon as news reached Niagara - he joined the 28th Infantry Regiment of the New York Volunteers on the 11th May 1861.
His younger brothers followed in 1862. George Shorten, age 23, Henry Shorten, age 18, and William Shorten, age 17 - all joined the same 25th independent battery, New York Volunteers Light Artillery in the August of that year. Four sons of Thomas and Rebecca were now fighting on the Union side in the American Civil War - four Norfolk sons. They grew up in sleepy quiet Irstead, Norfolk, next to the little River Ant. Now here they were, engaged in a terrible modern war thousands of miles away. Their Norfolk accents must have still been noticeable. But their patriotism to their new country undeniable.
All four brothers would have seen substantial action throughout the following years of the Civil War. In the 28th Infantry of the New York Volunteers, Thomas Shorten (Junior) would have witnessed a number of conflicts with the Confederates during his four years of active service in the Unionist infantry:
His three younger brothers, George, Henry, and William Shorten spent the War together in the same battery of the New York Volunteers Light Artillery:
The death toll of the American Civil War is estimated at 620,000. The Shorten family were incredibly lucky. All four brothers came back alive and apparently with no serious physical injuries. With the victory, they were discharged from their army duties in July 1865. They could all go home. Thomas (Junior) after more than four years service, was mustered in South Dakota. His three brothers all still together in the Light Artillery were discharged in New York State:
Their parents Thomas (senior) and Rebecca were living in Hartland, Niagara County, New York State at the end of the Civil War. The brothers returned there. However, five years later, the US 1870 Census records that Thomas (senior) and Rebecca Shorten, now in their early sixties, had moved far to the west, to their own farm in Clinton County, Illinois. Their youngest sons, Alfred and John still with them. The poor labourer from Southwood parish had moved a long way.
As for their older sons, I lose track of George after he appears at Hartland, County Niagara in 1865 - but Henry, and William all marry, and go on to father children in New York State. Thomas (junior) appears in the 1890 Civil War Veterans census in South Dakota, where he had been mustered.
That's what my family did in the American Civil war.
St Mary's, parish church of Attleborough, Norfolk.
Whites Directory of Norfolk, 1854, reported that:
"ATTLEBOROUGH, or Attleburgh, is an ancient market town, pleasantly situated on the Norwich and Thetford turnpike, 15 miles S.W. of the former place, and 14 N.E. by E. of the latter, and on the north side of the Norfolk Railway, which has a neat station here. In the Saxon era it was the seat of Offa and Edmund, successively Kings of the East Angles, who fortified it against the predatory incursions of the Danes. These fortifications may still be traced in the ridge called Burn Bank. It was afterwards the seat of the Mortimers, whose ancient hall, (now a farm house,) is encompassed by a deep moat. The parish contains 501 houses, 2,324 inhabitants, and 5,247 acres of land. The Rev. Sir Wm. B. Smyth, Bart., is lord of the manor of Attleborough Mortimer, and its members, (fines arbitrary ;) and Mr. C. Cochell is the steward. S. T. Dawson, Esq., is lord of Chanticlere manor, (fines arbitrary,) and the rectory has two small manors, subject to a fine of 2s. per acre on land, and to arbitrary fines on the buildings. The town is comprised chiefly of one long street, with several good inns and shops ; and the market on Thursdays is well attended. The old market cross was taken down many years ago. Fairs are held on the Thursday before Easter, Whit-Sunday, and on Aug. 15th, for cattle, pedlery, &c. A pleasure fair is also held on the day before the March assizes. A stone pillar on the Wymondham road commemorates the gift of £200, by Sir E. Rich,Knt., in 1675,for the reparation of the road, which is said to be the first turnpike made in England, being formed under an Act passed in the 7th and 8th of William and Mary..."
It was also home to many of our family ancestors - with a recorded family line going back to at least 1577 in this small Norfolk market town.
Here they are, first our Attleborough Ancestors on my late father's side, starting with that line going back to 1577:
My father descended from Attleborough ancestors via his mother, Doris Brooker nee Smith. When my grandmother Doris was alive, I interviewed her several times. She was born in 1904 in Norwich, but she remembered her father taking her on a horse and cart to Attleborough, where he visited a pub with a grapevine outside. I realised that this was his parent's old Attleborough beerhouse, the Grapes, but my grandmother herself didn't pick up on this family history. Since then, I've revealed a very old family history in Attleborough. It starts as I said, with an uninterrupted line from Robert Freeman, who had three children baptised in Attlebough between 1577 and 1581. The family may well have - most likely did have, much earlier connections to the market town - but on record, they start here, not long after parish registers were first introduced by Thomas Cromwell, following the church split with Rome.
The baptism of Ann Freeman in Attleborough, 1577, daughter of Robert Freeman. Robert fathered at least three children at Attleborough. He was my 11th great grandfather.
William Freeman, my 10th great grandfather, was the son of Robert Freeman, baptised at St Mary's Attleborough, in 1581. He was to go on and father a son:
My 9th great grandfather, Robert Freeman was baptised at St Mary's, Attleborough, in 1610, the son of William Freeman. He married an Elizabeth.
My 8th great grandfather John Freeman, the son of Robert and Elizabeth, was baptised at Attleborough in 1639. He married Agatha, and they had two sons in Attleborough between 1674 and 1675.
My 7th great grandfather, Thomas Freeman was baptised in Attleborough in 1675. He married Elizabeth, and they had five children between 1695 and 1707.
My 6th great grandfather, John Freeman, was baptised at Attleborough in 1699. He married Elizabeth.
My 5th great grandfather, named after his father, John Freeman, was baptised at Attleborough in 1734. He married Anne.
My 4th great grandmother ends the Freeman dynasty for our tree. Elizabeth Freeman was baptised at Attleborough in 1779. In 1803 at St Mary's, she married Robert Hewitt, a farmer - but most likely, not a prosperous one. Agriculture was changing, and many small farmers were losing their land, being squeezed into the ranks of labourers and paupers. They had five children at Attleborough, between 1805 and 1814. Elizabeth died age 52, leaving Robert a widower.
My 3rd great grandmother, Lydia Hewitt, was baptised at Attleborough in 1807. She married Robert Smith at St Mary's, Attleborough, in 1827. Robert Smith was also born in Attleborough. He had also farmed land, but the times were changing, and the family fell on hardships. They had six children born in Attleborough, before Lydia died age 37.
Their son, my 2nd great grandfather, Robert (Hewitt) Smith, was born in the town in 1832. Although he started out life in poor circumstances, he for many years, ran a beerhouse (the Grapes), and builders yard in the town, along with his wife, Ann (nee Peach) whom he married at St Mary's in 1857. In 1879, the couple made the local new headlines, when they were burgled by an armed robber:
They had six children born at Attleborough, including:
My great grandfather, Frederick Smith, born in the market-town in 1860. Fred served an apprenticeship as a wheelwright, and moved to Norwich - ending this part of the Attleborough Ancestors story.
Other Attleborough Ancestors of my Father
My paternal grandmother had other ancestors in Attleborough:
William Hewitt, my 5th great grandfather, was born near to Attleborough, at Great Hockham, about 1742. However, with his wife, Elizabeth, they moved into the parish of Attleborough itself. There, they had at least seven children, born at Attleborough between 1772 and 1783.
Their son, my 4th great grandfather, Robert Hewitt, married Elizabeth Freeman, as noted above. Ten years after Elizabeth passed away, he married again, to Ann Batterby, in Attleborough.
We have a lot of Smith ancestors from Attleborough. John Smith a 6th great grandfather, was born circa 1700, married Maria, and was buried in Attleborough in 1776.
Their son, my 5th great grandfather also John Smith, was baptised in Attleborough in 1731. He married Judith Dennis at Attleborough in 1771. They had four children there between 1771 and 1778.
Their son Raphael Smith, my 4th great grandfather, was baptised at St Mary's in 1775. He married Mary Smith (yes, also a Smith before marriage) at Attleborough in 1798. They had seven children born in the town between 1798 and 1813.
Their son Robert Smith, my 3rd great grandfather, was baptised in Attleborough in 1807. He was an interesting character. He married Lydia Hewitt. I believe that they had some land to farm, that they lost. Robert joined the ranks of the labourers, and lead them in a riot during the "Swing Riots". His mob attacked threshing machines, the local workhouse, then the parson at St Mary's, for refusing to drop tithe taxes. Robert threatened the parson with a mattock. The court quoted him as saying:
Somehow, he received a lenient prison sentence in Norwich Castle Gaol, and successfully appealed for early release. Robert and Lydia raised six children at Attleborough, before she passed away. He then married again, to a Frances Husk. In his fifties, they moved to Sculcoates, Yorkshire, and founded more Smith lineages there.
Another Attleborough Smith ancestor - Richard Smith, 5th great grandfather.
and his daughter, my 4th great grandmother, Mary Smith, whom married Raphael Smith. That wraps up my father's Attleborough Ancestry. However... I also have some on my Mother's side!
Attleborough Ancestors of my Mother
John Page, my 10th great grandfather, fathered Robert Page at Attleborough about 1630.
My 9th great grandfather Robert Page, married Agnes. Their son:
Thomas Page, my 8th great grandfather, was baptised at St Mary's in 1664. He had a son:
Also named Thomas Page - my 7th great grandfather, baptised in Attleborough in 1690. He married Maria Hynds. They moved out of the town, to Besthorpe. The family later moved to Wymondham.
There ends my Attleborough Ancestry - at least, that on record.
23 direct ancestors between 1577 and 1860. The association still goes on. We are still in Norfolk not far away. I had a sister marry in Attleborough. I work only a few miles from the town today.
This guide is really aimed at distant cousins with ancestry from the English counties of Norfolk and Suffolk. It's the perspective of a present day East Anglian from the ground. My ancestors were the ones that usually stayed in East Anglia.
First - definitions of what constitutes East Anglia. One modern governmental definition: "the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire". Estate Agents, trying to sell properties in idyllic East Anglia, often go even further, also including Huntingdonshire, Rutland, parts of Lincolnshire, and Essex. The ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom of East Anglia (see above image), didn't really include these add-ons. I go with that, but include parts of northern-most Essex. Why? Because on the ground, those areas still feel (and sound) East Anglian. Norfolk, Suffolk, eastern Cambridgeshire, and northern most Essex. That feels East Anglian. But it's heart remains the English counties of Norfolk and Suffolk.
East Anglia is situated on the North Sea coast of South-East England. It is lowland. A chalk bed lazily slopes down from west to east, with a layer of boulder clay on top running through mid Norfolk and high Suffolk. I say high, nowhere in East Anglia is high. This is Low Country. Our hills are in the main, very gradual, slight affairs. To the west of the chalk bed, lays even lower country - the ultra-flat landscape of the East Anglian Fens. Wetlands that have been drained for agriculture in rich peat and silt soils.
East Anglia is rural. It is agricultural. Largely arable, with favoured crops of wheat, barley, sugar beet, and oil seed rape. Medium size agri-business fields of crops across a very gently rolling lowland landscape, with parish church towers around every corner, and a buzzard in every copse of trees. Ancient narrow roads with bordering hedgerows, twist around long forgotten open fields and farmsteads. Mixed farming enters the river valleys, where cattle are fattened on rich grasses. Intensive pig and poultry broiler units also dot the landscape.
What about the East Anglians? That is one of the subjects of this post.
East Anglia isn't on the road to anywhere, but East Anglia. You don't pass through East Anglia on the way to the Industrial North, Scotland, Cardiff, Manchester, Birmingham, or London. It's far out on the periphery of Hub.co.uk. It's main urban centres are the small City of Norwich, and the towns of Ipswich, Kings Lynn and Bury St Edmunds. They are all, 'small'. Norwich comes in at a lowly 48th in English town by population size. You see, small. Far more medieval towers than modern high rise towers.
After the urban centres, most modern East Anglians probably live in or near the market-towns. These are really tiny "towns" some little more than villages. Some are lovely, ancient, with unspoiled centres and market places. Places such as Wymondham, Holt, Diss, Woodbridge, Swaffham, Beccles, Pulham Market, Laxfield, Long Melford, etc. There must be dozens scattered across East Anglia.
Wymondham market-town centre.
The rest of the East Anglians live in the countryside, outside of the market-towns. Trying to explain this to American genealogists where the old Roman ideal of planned city prevails, is difficult. We have villages. We have lots of them. Most are early Medieval in origin. They are set in ancient divisions known as parishes. Many East Anglians now live in suburbs on the edges of towns - but until a century or two ago, most of them lived further out in the countryside, in these villages.
How many villages have we got in East Anglia? Would you believe, somewhere around 1,300, with over 700 in the county of Norfolk alone. They absolutely dot the East Anglian countryside. Living in the countryside, in farmsteads and villages - that really is the Anglo-Saxon way of Life. Look at the below snip of a part of south Norfolk. See all of those red circles. Villages. The Blue circle is a market town on the old Roman road (A140).
Until a few centuries ago, most East Anglians lived in the countryside. Most of these villages will have a medieval church. There are more than 600 of them in Norfolk. They'll also often have a later non-conformist chapel as well. Over 600 medieval religious buildings in Norfolk! Possibly the highest density of medieval churches anywhere in the World. This is because Medieval Norfolk was central. It wasn't so peripheral before the Industrial Revolution. The medieval City of Norwich was the second or third largest city in England after London. All of those empty medieval churches. Where did the populace go? Some of them may have been your ancestors.
How about the origins of the East Anglians themselves? Who are they?
There are very few "Celtic" place-names in East Anglia, other than the Ouse river system. Most of the villages and place-names in East Anglia are of Anglo-Saxon origin, dating to between the 6th and 10th centuries AD, around 1,200 years ago. In addition there are a number of place-names that are Anglo-Danish in origin, dating to the 9th - 11th centuries AD, with a cluster of them in eastern Norfolk. See the map below, of the area called Flegg, an Anglo-Danish place-name in itself. All of those -by place-names - they were most likely settled by "Viking" Danish immigrants during the 9th to 11th centuries.
Previous to the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons during the 5th century AD, the region that we know call East Anglia had for centuries, been a part of the Western Roman Empire. Even further back than that, at the turn of prehistory to written history, the northern parts of the region were the home of the Iceni tribal federation, and the southern part to the Trinovante. These Late Iron Age peoples were descended from an immigration event from the Continent into the British Isles that took place some 2,000 years earlier. Call their ancestors Bell Beaker, Celt, British Celt, or Ancient Briton - their DNA is still the most dominant aspect of the modern British, and even English gene pool. The Roman occupation appears to have had little impact on their genetic make up.
Then the Anglo-Saxons arrived. They came from what is now Northern Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands. Early Anglo-Saxon artifacts found in East Anglia, have their closest correlation on the Continent with artifacts in Northern Germany, south of the Danish border. This was the origin of the Angles - which the early kings of East Anglia clearly identified with. Saxo-Frisians in what is now the Netherlands were well placed to migrate to the region, and contributed to this migrant community.
The most recent genetic studies suggest that rather than displace the Britons in the lowlands, that the Anglo-Saxons admixed with them in marriage. Indeed, as I said, genetically, the DNA of the earlier Britons is still the majority component, even in England. There was no genocide. However, an Anglo Saxon identity, culture, and language was adopted by all during following centuries.
West Stow reconstructed Anglo-Saxon village in Suffolk. The birth of the East Anglian village.
Not all of the Continental DNA in East Anglia arrived here during the 5th or 6th centuries AD. Some may have already been here from the Empire, or earlier. Some arrived during the 9th to 11th century settlement of Danes in the region. Then the Normans. The Medieval saw Angevins from Aquitaine, and other French arrive. Then during the 16th century, there was a significant settlement of Elizabethan Strangers (protestant refugees) from what is now the Netherlands. Huguenots followed. Asides from these noteable immigration events, there would have been a drip-drip feed of foreigners into the region. Dutch herring fishermen and engineers, Lithuanian timber and fur traders. Drovers from the Midlands. Indeed surname studies suggest that during the late medieval and following Tudor periods, there were a number of people moving into the Norfolk countryside - from the Continent, but also from other parts of England such as for example, Yorkshire. East Anglia isn't on the way to any where, but neither is it totally isolated from ingress of new settlers.
The consequence of the location of East Anglia in the North Sea World, is that Genetic Genealogists looking at their DNA "Ethnicity Estimates" or "Ancestry Composition" results might see high levels of DNA matching the panels for the Continent, rather than for the British Isles.
How did the East Anglians live?
Many genealogists proudly brag of documented descent from early medieval kings and emperors (usually Charlemagne). The lines that they trace in order to claim this must be those of the minority of the medieval European population - the titled and landed nobles, with their heraldic records. This elite weren't really representative of the entire population.
East Anglians were mainly rural, untitled, and really didn't have a lot of wealth. During the feudal Medieval, most East Anglians would have been within the ranks of the common peasantry, owing a range of fealties to their lords, in return for protection. Not all were particularly free, although there were high percentages of freemen peasants in eastern Norfolk. Others were tied in levels of servitude to their manors. They tilled their strips in the communal open field systems. They grazed their meagre livestock on the commons. They also worked the lord's land, supplied him with sheep fencing, ale, fuel, and grains. When called on, the men would have served the lord in wars against the Scottish, French or other houses. Life was hard, brutal, and often too short. However, the abundance of medieval churches across the region testify to the wealth that their labour actually created. It testifies to the success of their medieval economy here in East Anglia.
Two men threshing sheaf - Luttrell Psalter (c.1325-1335), f.74v See page for author [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons. Originally published/produced in England [East Anglia].
Most peasant families didn't even adopt hereditary surnames until around the 13th to 15th centuries AD. Except for brief mentions in manorial records, tithes, and polls, most don't even enter the records until 1538, when parish registers were introduced with the English Reformation. So unless you tie into an aristocratic line - you are not going to trace your East Anglian ancestry much further back than 1550. Indeed, many parish registers are damaged, lost, or destroyed. Many records are illegible. There is no guarantee of making it back that far. I find it difficult to trace back rural East Anglian roots with a high degree of certainty much earlier than 1720, for the lack of correlative evidence from censuses, transcripts, etc.
Hoard of 12th century (Henry III) hammered silver coins recovered in Norfolk, and recorded by my late father.
Not all East Anglians worked the soil. There were skilled crafts people such as the cordwainers, potters, smiths, and weavers. Some based in villages, others in the towns. Protestant beliefs and practices spread across Eastern England following the Reformation, particularly in urban areas. This was re-enforced during the late 16th century AD, when protestant refugees from the Roman-Catholic crown, in the Netherlands, were invited to settle in Norwich, Ipswich, and elsewhere across East Anglia and south east England. One poll of Norwich at this time suggested that as much as one third of the City population consisted of these Dutch and French protestants. They were invited not only as allies against Roman Catholic Europe, but to bring their valuable crafts and skills to East Anglia.
Their protestant vigour was infectious. East Anglia became a hot bed of Protestantism. As the Crown and Establishment turned down the Reformation, opting for keeping Conservative values in their Anglican Church, so the Protestants ... protested. Some hopped back over the North Sea to the Netherlands, which had for the time being, repelled the Catholic powers. However, some of these most puritan protestants then asked the English king for permission to set up their own colonies in New England. Permission was readily granted. The Puritans left Eastern England en mass. The point though is that this particular chapter of East Anglians migrating away, was centred in main, on urban classes, skilled workers, and those that could actually afford the voyage.
Norfolk saw little bloodshed during the 17th century English Civil War, as it was safely Parliamentarian. Except for a riot and explosion in Norwich when the Puritans tried banning Christmas.
Back to the countryside...
Between the 16th and 19th centuries AD, the descendants of the old East Anglian peasantry had to adapt to a number of economic changes that were not in their interest. The great land owning families were enclosing and renting out their lands to free tenant farmers, breaking up the old manorial estates. Some fields were enclosed, and the peasants found themselves replaced by more profitable sheep. Even the commons were enclosed and privatised. While the more entrepreneurial freemen rented out land to farm themselves, as tenant farmers, many others found themselves surplus to requirement, and alienated from the soils that had fed their ancestors for generations. They became farm hands, the great army of "ag labs" (agricultural labourers) of the 19th century censuses. Not all labourers were equal. The more fortunate, loyal, and skilled might find themselves almost in full employment, with a regular wage and a tied cottage. The less fortunate were the paupers. Seasonal workers that had to constantly look for work, or beg for parish relief. The rural poor didn't always accept these changes without resistance. In 1381, Norfolk and Suffolk peasants joined in a rebellion that threatened London. In 1549, Norfolk peasants rose into an army that captured the City of Norwich. In 1830, East Anglia was a centre of the Swing Riots.
Many agricultural labourers and their families still married and baptised as Anglican at the Church of England, but although much of the puritanical fervour had by now swept away from East Anglia, many were increasingly turning to non-conformist chapels of the Baptists, Congregationalists, and Methodists. The Primitive Methodists were particularly successful in East Anglia during the 19th Century.
If you had rural working class East Anglian ancestors during the 16th to 19th centuries, imagine them very poor. Following the Agricultural Revolution of the 17th and 18th centuries, new machines and technologies replaced much seasonal and manual labour on the fields. The commons, where the poor had grazed their animals had been taken away. Poor relief was ceased, and the desperate were forced to enter prison-like workhouses, in order to be fed - families split into separate dormitories, the poor harshly penalised, and discouraged from asking for relief.
How the land owners, farmers, and parsons saw it - the East Anglian countryside simply had a large surplus of unwanted labour. They were encouraged to leave. Some to far away colonies - Australia and Canada. Others to feed the factories and mills of the Industrial Revolution in places like Newcastle, Yorkshire, or London. For many - the railways arrived just in time to escort them away.
Example of East Anglian Accent.
Researching rural East Anglian ancestry
Most East Anglians were not titled, nor recorded in heraldic records.
Parish registers online are incomplete. Not all parishes or registers have even been digitally photographed.
Some parish registers have been lost, destroyed, or are badly damaged.
The transcriptions of the registers on some online genealogical services are sometimes incorrect. Always if you can, try to see scans of the original registers online. Because of these frequent errors, the databases often fail on searches.
If your ancestor was rural, use OpenStreetMap.org and magnify down to get to really know the area that they lived in. Appreciate distances by foot. People did sometimes move more than several miles - but very often in East Anglia, didn't! It's not unusual to see one family in the same small parish for several generations. Sometimes marrying cousins. It was the arrival of the railways, that sometimes allowed families to finally escape the rural poverty.
You find Harry X marries Mary Z in a village. You search the online databases for his baptism (and parentage). You find a baptism of a Harry X in the same county. You add him and his parents to your tree. Problem is ... the baptism was 23 miles away, and you don't realise it, but there were a number of Harry X at the same time, several closer to the place of marriage - you have made an error. You just saw the one on the database. More research might have uncovered a more likely candidate, with siblings named like his children, in the village next to that in which he married Mary Z. Getting to know the area really well may have made you search harder.
Illegitimacy is a surprise to some. You will see plenty of it in 18th and 19th century East Anglia. It was generated by poverty, poor housing, poor education, and desperation.
Most of your rural working class ancestors will be illiterate, and sign with an X. Education of the labourers was discouraged. However, now and then, you will find one that served as the parish clerk. Some could read.
Widows and widowers, with children in tow, would frequently remarry quickly. Support for the children was vital to keep them out of the workhouse.
Infant mortality can be very depressing or sobering. Expect some high rates.
Don't be surprised to find ancestors listed as paupers, or as inmates in workhouses, gaols, or even the asylum.
Check non-conformist church records, as well as the Anglican. The Methodists operated by "circuits".
Above. One of my daughters posing in workhouse pauper attire, in the very workhouse that some of her own ancestors lived. Gressenhall Rural-Life Museum, Norfolk.
Here I will attempt to list as many of my 4 x great grandmothers, who they were, where they lived, and something about them.
Elizabeth Brooker (nee Seymore). b.1797 Drayton, Oxon. England. Mother to seven children. Wife of an agricultural labourer.
Hannah Edney (nee Hedges) b. 1784 Enstone, Oxon, England. Wife of a thatcher.
Brickwall. Switzerland. Wife of a copper smith.
Susannah Durran (nee Waine) b. 1809 Tadmarton, Oxon, England. Wife of a tailor, mother of seven.
Anne Bennett (nee Neale). b. 1786 Norfolk, England. Farmer's wife.
Frances Baxter (nee Shilling). b. 1778 Gressenhall, Norfolk, England. Bricklayer's wife and mother of four.
Mary Barker (nee Bligh). b. 1797 Scarning, Norfolk, England. A shoe maker's wife.
Jemima Barber (nee Harris). b. 1800 Swanton Morley, Norfolk, England, an agricultural labourer's wife, and mother of eight.
Mary Smith (nee Smith). b. 1775 Attleborough, Norfolk, England. An agricultural labourer's wife, and mother of seven.
Elizabeth Hewitt (nee Freeman). b. 1779 Attleborough, Norfolk, England. An agricultural labourer's wife, and mother of five children.
Ann Peach (nee ?) b. 1779. Northants, England. Wife of a Shepherd, mother of four.
Elizabeth Riches (nee Snelling) b.1781 Banham, Norfolk, England. Wife of an agricultural labourer, mother of nine children.
Elizabeth Barber (nee ?) Lived at Halesworth, Suffolk, England.
Elizabeth Beckett (nee ?) b.1770. Lived at Tasburgh, Norfolk, England. Wife of an agricultural labourer, mother of seven.
Frances Gooderham (nee ?) b.1790 Saham Toney, Norfolk, England. Wife of an agricultural labourer, mother of eight.
Mary Ann Curtis (nee Rose) b.1806 Buckenham Ferry, Norfolk, England. Wife of a marshman and agricultural labourer, mother of nine.
Elizabeth Larke (nee Dingle) b.1795 Strumpshaw, Norfolk, England. Wife of an agricultural labourer. Only two children found.
Elizabeth Rose (nee Brooks) b.1806 Postwick, Norfolk, England. Wife of agricultural labourer, mother of nine.
Hopeful Barker (nee Morrison) b.1804 Lingwood, Norfolk, England. Wife of an agricultural labourer, mother of eight.
Susanna Key (nee Briggs) b.1781 Strumpshaw, Norfolk, England. Wife of an agricultural labourer, mother of four.
Elizabeth Waters (nee Ransby) b.1772 Freethorpe, Norfolk, England. Wife of a mole catcher, mother of four.
Judith Goffen (nee Shepherd) b.1772 Reedham, Norfolk, England. Wife of a carpenter, mother of six.
Emily Nichols (nee Beck) b. 1795 Halvergate, Norfolk, England. Wife of an agricultural labourer, mother of only two known.
Elizabeth Tovell (nee Smith) b.1795 Toft Monks, Norfolk, England. Wife of an agricultural labourer, mother of six.
Ann Tammas (nee Dove) b.1786 Norfolk, England. Wife of an agricultural labourer, mother of five.
Ann Lawn (nee Porter) b.1763 Limpenhoe, Norfolk, England. Wife of an agricultural labourer, mother of four.
Mary Springall (nee Wymer) b.1789 Mouton St Mary, Norfolk, England. Wife of an agricultural labourer, mother of seven.
Catharine Thacker (nee Hagon) b.1797 Shipdham, Norfolk, England. Wife of an agricultural labourer, mother of three (died 1832, husband remarried).
Sarah Daynes (nee ?) b.1783 Witchingham, Norfolk, England. Wife of an agricultural labourer, mother of ten.
Mary Quantrill (nee Page) b.1791 Wymondham, Norfolk, England. Wife of a weaver, mother of four
What I will also say, is that these ancestors could have had more children, that I have not found baptism records for. Also, that in addition to looking after the household, and rearing so many children, they would have to contribute to income whenever they could, be it by laundering for others, tailoring, and seasonal casual work on the fields.
This is an aspect of Genetic Genealogy that I'm sure is well known to some researchers, but that, I'm only just starting to appreciate. I've been DNA testing for ancestry heavily for a year or two, but my prime interest has been older ancestry, admixture, and population genetics. All of my early attempts to contact matches through 23andme and GedMatch, resulted in frustrated conversations with North American testers, that had no paper trail back before their ancestors emigrated. Today, I matched on AncestryDNA with a third cousin. The DNA prediction was fourth cousin, but the relationship on paper is third cousin. This was my third match, confirmed by both shared DNA segments, and by a shared paper trail to common direct ancestors. How cool is that? Finding that yourself, and other researchers, share segments of the same DNA that appear to have been inherited through recent common descent. Finding each other through the code of Life that is in our cells, and being able to see where that DNA came from in our family trees!
The image at the top of this post represents the biologically verified tree, as represented by colour shaded areas of my pedigree fan. This is based on descent from shared ancestry found in DNA matches. There is always the slight possibility that we share DNA from other unknown or unrecorded routes. But the probabilities are high, that these shared segments of DNA do come from the known common ancestral roots in our trees. The stronger the verification, perhaps through multiple matches, the darker the shade.
This discovery of a third cousin on AncestryDNA, combined with my mapping of the correlations between paper trail and DNA matches serves as an incentive to work harder on finding and contacting matches. I've also spotted common DNA segments with someone that flags up as a fourth cousin ... but according to our shared paper trails, and family lore, should be a second cousin. I'm trying to get a response from the tester. But have I uncovered another family secret?