Three Generations of the Curtis Family of Norfolk

Above, Samuel William "Fiddler" Curtis, born in 1852 at Hassingham, Norfolk, the grandson of William Curtis (senior).

My 5th great grandparents, John Curtis, and Ann Annison, were married at Hassingham, Norfolk in 1801.  I have so far been unable to trace where either of this couple originated, or their parents, but there were already Curtis and Annison families in that part of Norfolk prior, and I currently have no reason to think that they had moved into the area from elsewhere.  I just lack their baptism records.  Maybe one day I'll find them.

Hassingham in it's landscape in 1797.

Over the following eleven years, Ann Curtis (née Annison) had five children baptised at the Hassingham parish church of St Mary's, including a John, Richard, Theodosia, William, and finally in 1812, a Priscilla Curtis.

St Mary's of Hassingham.

William Curtis (I)

Their third son, William Curtis, was born at Hassingham during the winter of 1807/1808, and baptised in February at St Mary's.   His father, John may have rented a tract of land, to farm himself, or he may have relied on selling his labour to other farmers.  He may have done both.  The rural poor had lost all of their ancient rights, with the enclosures, but they were free to sell their labour and skills to whoever.  However, as the Agricultural Revolution gained pace - so the market for their labour was reducing, with the gradual introduction of new machinery and agricultural processes.

In 1827, William Curtis married my 4th great grandmother, Mary Ann Rose, at nearby Strumpshaw.  They were both marked down as of being of that parish, both were single, both were illiterate.  An interesting twist for myself looking at that marriage register, is that their witnesses were Mary Ann's sister, Rebecca Rose, and her fiancé, John Shorten.  I only posted about their life a week ago "From Norfolk Labourer to Yankee Gunner".  That couple were to marry in the next entry of that Strumpshaw Marriage Register, in November.  They ended up as farmers in Illinois, USA, with five of their sons serving in the Unionist Army in the American Civil War.  I keep seeing this theme in my Family History.  My direct ancestors were the ones that usually stayed - often never moving far from their village of birth.  But many of their siblings didn't stay.  I'll come back to this theme later in this post.

Between 1828, and 1850, the couple were to have a total of at least eight children, all baptised at nearby Buckenham church: Anne Amelia Curtis (1828), my 3rd great grandfather, William Curtis (the junior, 1830), Henry Curtis (1833), Alfred Curtis (1836), George Curtis (1838), Priscilla Curtis (1841), Sarah Curtis (1848), and Henry Curtis (1849).  A lot of mouths to feed.  How was William supporting these children?  If I look at the 1841 census, I find the family, as it was then, located at Buckenham (Ferry), Norfolk.  William was a 34 year old agricultural labourer.  These had been hard times for agricultural labourers in Norfolk.  Machinery and new agricultural techniques continued to replace much of the traditional labour.  Workhouses had been constructed - and Poor Laws were halting any provision of parish relief for the poor, outside of the workhouse - where inmates would be segrated from their families, and punished for being poor.  The small farmers, once the brothers of the free labourers, were increasingly associating more with other figures of the rural establishment - the squires, the land owners, and the parsons.  They often sat on the poor law union boards, determined to punish the poor.  The Established Church just watched on - and the rural poor were turning to Methodism, and other Non-conformist chapels.

In 1830, the countryside erupted in violence - as labourers swarmed the countryside, attacking workhouses, farms, and in particular, the new threshing machines that were replacing much of their labour.  They often did this under the name of a mythical Captain Swing, and hence this period of machine breaking and rioting was known as the Swing Riots.  Another of my ancestors, on my father's side, was gaoled for leading a local Swing riot, at Attleborough.  It was a period in which many local establishment figures were seriously concerned - the fear of Revolution was still in the air from France - indeed, French spies were often conjured up as being at the root of the problem - rather than their treatment of the rural poor.

It passed.  But things did not improve for the East Anglian rural working class.

In the 1851 census, William, his wife Mary Ann, and their eldest children, were all recorded iin Buckenham as being agricultural labourers.  Only there was now a ninth child.  Richard Curtis.  But he wasn't born at Buckenham Ferry, nor even in the County of Norfolk.  He was born in 1850 at Firsby, Lincolnshire.  This may infer that the family (if not just Mary Ann), had between 1841, and 1851, moved for a a period, to the Skegness area of East Lincolnshire.  People were on the move.  The rural poor were being squeezed out of East Anglia by the unemployment, poverty, and the workhouse.  Perhaps William found more profitable labour in Lincolnshire for a while.  Perhaps his skills with horses, or perhaps - like others he was attracted by the Fen drainage schemes, working as a digger - maybe like other that I've seen - it was work laying the railways?  Firsby railway station opened for business in 1848.  The railways were a part of a phenomena of migration that occurred across Norfolk during the Mid to Late 19th Century - they brought work, often attracted labourers away - and eventually carried many Norfolk families away to the Industrial North, to London, or to sea ports for migration elsewhere.

But by the 1851 census - they were back in their ancestral lands - back in Buckenham, Norfolk, by the River Yare, as though nothing had happened - except for that place of birth for young Richard.

Move on another ten years - the family are not in Buckenham in 1861.  I cannot find William at all.  However, I do find his wife Mary Ann Curtis, with some of their children, living in the Rows at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.  Mary Ann records her occupation as charwoman - a woman that worked hard, washing clothes and linen for a living.  Their daughter Priscilla Curtis, is recorded as a silk weaver:

I wonder where was William?  He could be at sea, or working away, sending money home.  Too old for the military.  I can't find anything on him in Criminal Records.  What I do find, in the British Newspaper archives, are some references to a cork cutter by the name of William Curtis, living in Great Yarmouth, dating to 1858 and 1864:

Was this our William Curtis (senior)?  Above he was working on Charlotte Street (since renamed Howard Street), Great Yarmouth.  In 1864, he was addressed to the Church Plain, Great Yarmouth.  If it was our William, perhaps he was living with Mary Ann and the children - but was away on business, or perhaps some other work (fishing?), on the night of the census.

William and Mary Ann Curtis, age 61 and 62 years of age, appear to have settled in the Yarmouth and Gorleston area.  On the 1871, William and Mary Ann Curtis were addressed on "the footpath to Burgh".  William recorded his occupation as a marsh man.  Marshmen were responsible for the livestock kept on the marshes - horses, cattle, and sometimes sheep, fattening on the rich drained marsh grasses.  He would have tended to cattle and other livestock along the southern edge of Breydon Water - an enclosed sea estuary, with the ruins of an old Roman shore-fort called Burgh Castle, on the higher ground immediately above the marshes.  I posted an article of Burgh Castle here.

The view over the marshes from Burgh Castle.

Another ten years later, William Curtis (the senior), and his wife Mary, are now living in Litchfield Place, Southtown, Gorleston.  Age 72, he now lists his occupation, for the very last time, as a Steam Engine Driver.  Now that was a surprise.

William passed away in Gorleston, in March 1888.  He was eighty years old.


William Curtis (II)

I mentioned above, that my 3rd great grandfather, William Curtis (the junior), was born at Buckenham, and baptised at Strumpshaw, Norfolk, in 1830.

William Curtis married Georgianna Larke, at Hassingham Church (photo further above) on the 11th February 1852.  They appear to have lived in the village of Hassingham, Norfolk for several decades.  No evidence this time of flits to Lincolnshire, or down river to Yarmouth.  This generation stayed put.  Georgianna was descended from two parish clerks for nearby Cantley.

Georgianna gave birth to at least nine children at Hassingham: my 2nd great grandfather (pictured at the top of this post) Samuel William Curtis (1852), Theodosia Curtis (1854), Priscilla Curtis (1856), Alfred George Curtis (1858), Sarah Ann Curtis (1861), Mary Curtis (1863), Walter Curtis (1865), Eliza Curtis (1867), and finally, Henry Curtis (1870).

Nothing unusual in their 1861 census record - Will was a 30 year old agricultural labourer with his family living in the parish of Hassingham:

Ten years later in 1871 - living at Hospital Cottages in Hassingham, still all as would be expected:

Another ten years later, William, Georgianna, and their sons and daughters Walter, Eliza, and Henry Curtis, are living on Church Road.  No change, William is an agricultural labourer.  Nothing on record happens to this family.  They are the stereotype of the Norfolk rural working class family.  William's 72 year old father was by now a steam engine driver living at Gorleston.

Move on to 1891.  Not a lot of change.  Except that they are living on Hassingham Road (High) and only their daughter Mary remains with them in the household.  Mary is recorded as an assistant teacher.

1893.  I have a record from the British Newspaper Records that looks like our William Curtis (II).  A farmer named John Draper at Burlingham St Edmund, accuses him in court of cheating him of a toll fee.  He had accused William - described as a teamman (a person that has skills at working a team of horses), of fraud.  Draper suggested that he paid Curtis to take two wagons and several horses to Yarmouth via the new toll road - but that he in reality took them via the old roads and pocketed the toll fee that he had been given.  The only witness backed up Will's account - and the case was dismissed:

However, I suspect that William's reputation was tarnished by this case - and there were few employer farmers in the area.  He survived this.  Maybe his personality and reputation was strong enough for other farmers to trust him.  In 1901, he was living at Broad Farm, Hassingham.  Yes, he was now a 70 year old agricultural worker.

He still had labour to sell.  His beloved wife Georgianna died at Hassingham on the 1st April 1911 age 79.  A few months later, the 1911 census record's Williams status.  Age 80, he is still recorded as a working, employed, agricultural labourer.  Now a widower, he had two of his daughters living with him.  Mary who was single and age 45 (a teacher?), and Sarah, now under a married name - Sarah Stephenson.  She had moved many miles away - but as we will see in the next generation with her sister Theodosia, not everything had gone well.  In the wake of her mother's death, she was back home with her elderly father William.

William continued on.  The Curtis's keep doing this - they had longetivity for a number of generations.  He died at nearby Lingwood, age 96 in 1926.  A grandson, J.P. Curtis, registered his death.  Cause, senility and haematemesis. 


Theodosia and Sarah Ann Curtis - sisters.

As I noted above, two of William (II) and Georgianna's daughters, were named Theodosia Curtis (born 1854), and Sarah Ann Curtis (born 1861) at Hassingham, Norfolk.  They had an elder brother named Samuel William Curtis - pictured right at the beginning of this post.  He was my 2nd great grandfather.  This makes Theodosia and Sarah Ann - my 3rd great aunts.

Theodosia met a fisherman at Yarmouth.  Maybe she was visiting on a market day.  The boys working in the fishing fleet must have been exciting - they risked their life's out at sea, they didn't just work the land - they would sail out.  His name was John Mitchell.  In 1874, Theodosia married John.

They had a son:

He was baptised at Yarmouth in November 1877.  It appears that like many Yarmouth fisherman wifes, Theodosia lived in the Yarmouth Rows.  Her grandmother Mary Curtis, had lived there no more than ten years earlier - and with her grandfather, now lived nearby in Gorleston.

Something happened.  You get that sometimes in genealogy.  a family appears smashed up, removed from records.  I'm going to make a guess.  A lot of fishermen were relocating from East Coast harbours like Great Yarmouth, to Kingston Upon Hull, Yorkshire.  My guess is that they moved there as a family between Nov 1877 and 1889.  I don't know what happened to their child.  He disappears.  But so does his father, John Mitchell.  He dies.  I can't find them on either the 1871 or 1881 censuses.  In future, Theodosia, now living in Hull, Yorkshire, declares herself as a widow.  Pushed to guess, I'm going to say that John was lost at sea.  It was a hazardous living then.

On the 1st March 1890 at Hull, Yorkshire, the widow Theodosia Mitchell, married a James Petersen, son of a Christiansen Petersen, an officer.  I'm going to guess that these Scandinavian names may be Norwegian.  James Petersen, like her late husband, is recorded as a fisherman.  I have one record of him - that marriage to Theodosia - then he also disappears.

But .. before I continue on Theodosia, let me move back in time to Hassingham in Norfolk, and to her little sister Sarah Ann Curtis.  

In 1881, 20 year old Sarah, was working as a servant in a Yarmouth household.  Was she still in contact with Theodosia - I think so.  

Like her sister, she moved up to Kingston Upon Hull, in the East Riding of Yorkshire.


The Great Unwritten Migration from Norfolk to Sculcoates, Hull, Yorkshire.

Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration - but I keep seeing Hull in the East Riding of Yorkshire - particularly it's district of Sculcoates, in my Family Tree - as a place that a number of siblings of my direct Norfolk ancestors, moved to.  Both on my mother's, and my father's side.  I feel that this is a history that someone needs to write.  It seems that the establishing of the railways, with stations both in Norfolk, and in Kingston Upon Hull in Yorkshire, facilitated a migration event that is unwritten.  The squeeze was being put onto the Norfolk poor.  Hull offered higher wages, expanding fishing and ship building industries, and a higher living standard.  The word spread through the Norfolk countryside.  It can't just be my family!


Back to Sarah.  In late 1890, Sarah Ann Curtis married Albert Edward Stephenson at Sculcoates, East Riding of Yorkshire.  Somehow she had also ended up in Hull - and my best guess is her closeness to her sister Theodosia.  Her groom was, again, a Hull fisherman.  Perhaps he knew Theodosia?

During the 1891 England & Wales national census, I find this:

The two sisters from Hassingham, Norfolk were living next door to each other in Hull.  That brings them together.  Things didn't go well though for Sarah.  Her husband had some severe financial problems.  Perhaps gambling?  He ends up in Wakefield Prison in Yorkshire, guilty of debt, no less than three times between 1896 and 1907:

No wonder perhaps, that Sarah was keen to be with her father in 1911.

Back to Theodosia.  Her second husband, the fisherman, James Petersen, also just vanishes from record.  Abandonment, lost at sea, I don't know, but for the second time, she starts declaring that she is a widow.

In 1896, the widow Theodosia Petersen (née Mitchell, née Curtis), married a George Theakston at Sculcoates, Yorkshire.  George wasn't a fisherman.  He was a carter and van driver.  Perhaps that saved his life - for he was Theodosia's third and final spouse.  In the 1901 Census, they were living at 60 frances Street, West Sculcoates, Hull, Yorkshire.  They had a daughter called Evelyn:

Theodosia Theakston survived long enough to be recorded onto the 1939 Register at the oset of WW II:

She finally passed away at Hull in 1942, age 87.

The Baxter-Hudson Enigma

My great great grandfather, William Bennett Baxter.  Born 8th January 1846 at Gressenhall Union Workhouse, Norfolk.

I'm creating this post in order to try to make sense of a family history that has a confusing, sometimes conflicting series of evidences.  I'll start with the order of discovery.

I learned nearly 30 years ago, that my paternal grandfather's maternal grandfather was named William Bennett Baxter.  He was named as such on my great grandparent's marriage certificate.  I met aunts that remembered a few accounts of him.  My grandmother had the above photo of him.  My late grandfather, Reginald Brooker, had been raised by his grandparent's, the Baxters, in the wake of his parent's marital breakdown.

The next step in discovery, was when I bought copies of his marriage and birth certificates from the GRO in London.  They told me that he was the illegitimate son of an Eliza Baxter, born in 1846 in the workhouse at Gressenhall, Norfolk.  I've made many visits to Gressenhall Rural-Life Museum since then - set in the old buildings of that workhouse.  Eliza would have been punished for being a single mother in need of relief.  She would have been marked out, made to wear a yellow jacket of shame.  His marriage register record at Swanton Morley, Norfolk, also suggested that his father was a labourer, named William Bennett.  I know that on marriages, illegitimate born people often claimed an imagined or faked father, to avoid what was then, a shameful thing.  But his full name would support that his biological father was indeed, named William Bennett.  It might be a coincidence, but there was a young miller in the area at the time named William Bennett.  It's just difficult to prove - although perhaps one day, another DNA match?

I couldn't find any references to 3rd great grandmother Eliza Baxter - for many years.  I eventually lost interest in genealogy.  When I returned to it, three years ago, Internet Online Genealogy, and even Genetic Genealogy had emerged.  Indeed, I'm looking into this now, because I have a DNA Match in South Africa, that I suspect, relates to myself with shared ancestry somewhere around the Baxter Line.  I'm writing this partly for her.

Online Genealogy has allowed me to greatly extend my family tree, and often, to fill it with actual stories - which as some of my recent posts suggest - I love to do.

More Recent Discoveries - the Censuses 1861/1851

I found his mother, I believe that I found Eliza Baxter.  I thought maybe she died soon after 1846 - the poverty, or perhaps married someone, took a new name - left her son behind.  I was wrong.  At least I think that I was.  How did I miss her?  In 1861, she was still in Swanton Morley:

Eliza Baxter, an unmarried servant in a household headed by a Robert Hudson.  Wait a minute, below her are a William Baxter age 15 years of age (born circa 1846 - that HAS TO BE our William Bennett Baxter), and he has a little sister, a Faith Baxter age 12 years.  My great grandmother - William's daughter, was born later in 1885 as Faith Eliza Baxter.  She was named after her aunt here, and her grandmother.  Although Eliza is an unmarried servant, quite clearly, they are her children.  Surprised that Robert Hudson is okay with that.  wait a minute, William and Faith are recorded in the census as grandchildren of the householder, Robert Hudson.  Ah, so they are family.  Eliza isn't just a servant there.  William - as I explained above, might have had a biological father named William Bennett.  But here, William is recorded as a grandson of Robert Hudson.  Which son of Robert, is claiming to be the father of William and Faith Baxter?  The only contender in the household there in 1861 is Robert's son, John Hudson.  A 42  year old labourer.  Even if he wasn't the biological father of William - it looks as though he may have had a relationship with Eliza, he may even have been the biological father of Faith, but the record in the census keeps it all respectable.  It says Eliza is an unmarried servant.

But turn the page of that 1861 census - and there are more grandchildren of Robert Hudson in that household:

Two granddaughters born at Swanton Morley of John Hudson called Faith in the same house?  One Faith Baxter born circa 1849, the other Faith Hudson born circa 1855?  Confusion.

You'll see these people appear to keep changing surname, age, and place of birth.  In genealogy, that normally suggests that you are tracing more than one individual - making genealogical mistakes.  But you'll see, there is a common thread uniting these people, suggesting contradictory evidence.

In that 1861 census, Eliza is recorded as being born at Runhall around 1823.  However, who was talking to the census enumerator?  Our Eliza was born in 1820 at East Dereham.  Not an awful distance from Runhall - but the first contradiction.  As for William - he is perfect, and the name of his sister fits the family history perfectly.

Let's go back in the census.  I appear to find the family 10 years earlier, but with contradictions.  Let's go to the 1851 census.

This HAS to be them ten years earlier.  A John & Elizabeth Hudson, with children William and Faith Hudson.  The entry is actually outside of Norfolk, over in the Fens at Ramsey, Cambridgeshire.  John is recorded as working as an excavator, without much doubt - working on a Fen drainage system.  Hang on - here he claims Leicester as being his place of birth!  Is this the same John Hudson as in 1861 - because he recorded Swanton Morley as his place of birth, where he then lived with his father.  Elizabeth (Eliza?) claims Hardington, Norfolk as her place of birth, and that she was born circa 1822.  I don't believe that there is a Hardington in Norfolk.  You might think that this is the wrong family.  But, William "Hudson" was born around 1846 at Swanton Morley, Norfolk.  Perfect for our William Bennett Baxter - Faith fits perfect as well born circa 1849 for Faith Baxter rather than the six year old Faith Hudson in the 1861 census. I have no idea where her claimed birthplace of Grassland, Norfolk is.  How could there be another family with so many correlations in 1851 that matches in our family in 1861?

I at this point, should state a doppelganger couple.  There was a contemporary John & Eliza Hudson at Necton in Norfolk.  But the bride was named Eliza Ollett, and no children called William or certainly Faith.  I'm aware of their existence.

When I think it over, I'm reasonably happy that this 1851 family residing at Ramsey, are the same as the family residing with Robert Hudson at Swanton Morley, in 1861.  But I can't explain the contradictions.  If I accept them - then William Bennett Baxter, my 2nd great grandfather, was the same person as William Hudson, born Swanton Morley (neighbouring Gressenhall Workhouse), in 1846.  He had a younger sister born circa 1849, named Faith Baxter or Faith Hudson.  John Hudson was perhaps her biological father.

Do you see the contradicting evidences?  They continue.

Faith Hudson-Baxter

Faith was baptised as Faith Hudson at Swanton Morley church, in Norfolk, on Christmas Eve, 1848.  That suits Faith Baxter better than the six year old Faith Hudson in 1861.  Her parents are recorded as John & Eliza Hudson.

I can't find their marriage records.  John Hudson is stated as a labourer:

I don't find a baptism or a birth certificate for a brother in 1846 called William Hudson, but I have a copy of a birth certificate for William Bennett Baxter.  Let's face it - they are the same person, born 8th January 1846 at Gressenhall Union workhouse, near to Swanton Morley in Norfolk.  I don't believe that John and Faith were married.  Not an uncommon situation in the 19th century working classes - nor for this area of Norfolk I suspect.  I've seen local rectors complaining about the situation (what they referred to the sad state of concubinism in the district) of their lack of parental marriage, or didn't care.  He baptised Faith.

There's more - more contradictions.

I believe that my 3rd great aunt Faith Hudson-Baxter married a William Codling at Litcham, Norfolk in 1866.  If it was her, she recorded a John Baxter as her father.  But that could have been the normal cover up to explain the surname that she was now using.  After all, in 1861, she was called Faith Baxter, granddaughter of Robert Hudson.

I haven't yet found her in the 1871 Census.

But in the 1881 Census?  Would you believe it:

Is this really her?  In Sculcoates, Yorkshire (where I know a lot of Norfolk people moved to) not as Faith Codling, but as Faith BAXTER, widow, born circa 1849 in Swanton Morley?  Not many Faiths born in that village then.  She is a widow but she has reverted to the surname Baxter?

The Marriage - that never happened.

Months before that critical 1861 census that this puzzle began with, on the 29th December 1860, the marriage banns of John Hudson and Eliza Baxter were finally read out for the third and final time:

But they didn't appear to marry.

No ensuing marriage record at Swanton Morley church.

Instead, four months later, on the 7th April 1861, we get that record where Eliza Baxter is a servant in the household of Robert Hudson in Swanton Morley.  John is there as well.  The marriage doesn't appear to have taken place.

Instead...

John Hudson appears to die sometime between November 1861 and January 1862.  Eliza disappears from record.  William Bennett Baxter - he goes on to marry my 2nd great grandmother Harriet Barber who had also been born in Gressenhall workhouse - as were their first two daughters.  Their last child was my great grandmother, Faith Eliza Baxter, born at East Dereham in 1885:

She had an older brother named Robert Baxter, born at Swanton Morley in 1873:

He served in the Norfolk Regiment in the Boer War in South Africa, as well as later, British India.  He might have nothing to do with it - but he may be our link to that South African match?

Attleborough Ancestors

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.

Genetic Genealogy - DNA Relative Matches

I have new DNA cousin "matches".  This is a very important avenue of DNA testing for genealogy and ancestry that I have simply missed until recently.  Up to now, I've concentrated on DNA testing for general ancestry (or ethnicity as some businesses will call it).  The problem was that I first tested with 23andme, and simply, using their heavy USA customer base, and user unfriendly "experiences", I couldn't find any DNA relatives that actually had paper trails that could correlate to my own.

One of the problems is I feel, is that an awful lot of Eastern English migration to the Atlantic Coast of North America, occurred very early - late 16th to early 18th centuries AD.  As a result, although some generous matching systems (such as 23andme's) suggests much more recent shared ancestry, in reality, our links to our distant USA cousins are so old, that all they do is reflect that my distant cousins have Puritan, New England, and Virginian ancestry from Eastern England.  Even for those that do claim to trace ancestry to those pilgrim fathers - I can't.  Certainly not for the thousands of my direct ancestors for Generations 11 - 14.  I don't think any of us can.  Chuck in a bit of genetic folding, and all that these distant relationships is really telling us is, that we both have some ancestry from south east England between 300 and 600 years ago.

Then I tested with Ancestry.com, Ancestry.co.uk, AncestryDNA or whatever you want to call that genealogy mega-business.  Their matching system is dumbed down to the frustrating level.  No chromosome locations or chromosome browsers for painting.  Instead however, they have the fattest database of testers and customers - some of whom, will like myself, be subscription slaves to their family tree and documentary genealogical services.  Their matching systems may cut out chromosome data - but on the flip side, you can browse trees, surnames, ancestral locations, of your DNA matches.  As a consequence, I've found 14 matches that share DNA, with predicted relationships - that correlate to a paper trail relationship.

In addition I am now scouring GEDmatch, 23andme, and FT-DNA Family Finder for more relative DNA matches.  I'm recording everything (including chromosome locations when available) onto a spreadsheet.  The image at the top of this page demonstrates my DNA matches where they share ancestry so far.  The darker the shade, the stronger the verification.

I'm starting to see how this is a better tool to understanding, or verifying ancestry, than any stupid ethnicity / ancestry composition by DNA.  Family isn't always biological.  However, finding a genetic correlation is the ultimate evidence to strengthen a tree.  It's fascinating to see actual paper research turning up as segments of inherited DNA on matches.

Genetic Genealogy - verifying the family tree with shared DNA segments

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?

How not to use online genealogy

I recently decided to invest in an annual subscription to Ancestry.co.uk.  I therefore intend to use it extensively over the next year in order to bolster my tree and to add leafs through their very fat database of resources.

A little background.  I've researched my family tree since at least 1988, but not continuously.  Back in the day, there were no online resources.  the most modern thing were census on microfilm and the Mormon IGI (International Genealogical Index - the ancestor of FamilySearch.org) available in the Local Studies Library.  My tree started, as it should, through interviewing elderly relatives, looking through their photos, the few birth and marriage certificates, and any other artifacts.  Those elderly relatives have all passed on now.  if you are just starting with genealogy - do it now.  I then moved on to the English & Welsh County record offices.  White gloves and pencils, in order to peruse through the original parish registers and other documents - no digitalisation, or even microfilming of them then.  Very little indexing as well.

Then I was ordering GRO certificates from London, paying professional researchers to collect them for me, as it worked out cheaper than having them mailed to me by the GRO!  Then rather than looking for DNA matches, it was searching through surname interests or through the annually published GRD (Genealogical Research Directory) for shared ancestry.  The good old days.

I said it wasn't continuously.  Interests changed, I lived out life recklessly, and moved on a few times, leaving all behind.  I lost pretty much all of my genealogy.  Meanwhile, digitalisation was coming in fast, indexing increasing, and the Internet was giving birth to online genealogy.  During this birth, I had used an early version of Broderbund Family Tree Maker (it installed on several floppy disks) on a personal computer, and even managed to upload data and a GEDCOM file to a few places.

Then maybe 16 months ago, after ordering a 23andMe test, I picked it up again.  I found my old GEDCOM file on a web archive.  Downloaded it, opened it with open source Gramps software.  It worked!  Since then, I've gathered surviving notes (so many lost), photos, and certificates.  I then discovered a remarkable resource.  Online Genealogy.

Online Genealogy

There are many online resources.  The big providers include Ancestry.com (Ancestry.co.uk), FindMyPast.co.uk, MyHeritage.com, and FamilySearch.org.  All but the latter website are subscription fee based.  Asides from these providers, there are many other services for genealogy online.  Of the above, I have heavily used FindMyPast, FamilySearch, and Ancestry.

Online Genealogy using Ancestry.com

The big advantage of Online Genealogy is indexing and the database.  Over the past 25 years or so, armies of volunteers and paid researchers, have been reading through microfilmed, microfisches, or digitalised images of masses of parish registers, parish records, wills, criminal registers, state records, military records, Bishop's transcripts, Headstone surveys, and more - from not only England & Wales but from all over the World, where they are available.  They read the names of those recorded, and add them to computer files with references.  Businesses such as Ancestry.com, buy access to these indexes, and often to the original digitalised images if they exist.  These are all added to their own database.  Their customers search, and find ancestors.

A Few Problems

  1. I can report this for English records, for which I have a lot of experience. The record is still very incomplete.  You might see a Joe Bloggs, but is it your ancestor Joe Bloggs?  Many of the parish records were missing, or damaged.  Parish chests in cold churches can be damp places, the registers pulled out for every baptism, marriage, or burial, thumbed through by all.  Paper was valuable in older records, and the priests and clerks cram their little scribbled lines in them.  There were stories of vicar's wife's using old registers to kindle the fire in the vicarage.  In addition, not ALL parish registers are online at any one depository.  I've noticed that Ancestry.com is very good for Norfolk registers, but abysmal for Suffolk.  FindMyPast is good for Berkshire records.  They are far from complete records.  In addition, some ancestors were not in any parish records.  They were rogues on the run, vagabonds, or even more often ... non-conformists.  Some priests were lazy.  All of this on top of those many missing or damaged records.
  2. The indexers were human beings.  Sometimes volunteers, sometimes more recently I suspect, poorly paid human beings outside of Europe (is this the case?)  They vary in skill at reading 18th century, 17th, even 16th century hand writing that has been scribbled down in often damaged records.  The database searches for names that sound similar (to a computer program), but they miss so many that are incorrectly transcribed.  Try to read through the original images if you can.

So the record is far from complete.  The online record less so.  A brilliant tool, but it's not going to hand you your family tree all perfect and true.  If you understand this problem, and you are more concerned about truth and quality, than about quickly producing a family tree back to Queen Boadicea (I have seen people claim such things!), then you are already aware of this.  The problem is, that you know that an ancestor was called Joe Bloggs.  Online, you find a Joe Bloggs, living 100 miles away, born about the right time.  With a click, you "add" him to the tree, then resume climbing up from him.  What you may not realise, is that there were maybe 20 Joe Bloggs born at about the right time within a 100 mile radius of the next generation.  You just picked the one that your online ancestry service flashed up to you.  He is quite probably not close family, never mind your ancestor.  All above him are not your ancestors.

Truth and quality in a family tree

Do you care?  Is it possible to trace back more than several generations, and to preserve that quality? The 20th and 19th centuries in England & Wales are great.  We have records from a national census every 10 years between 1841 and 1911.  They can be searched with your online service.  We have them as correlations for parish records.  We also have state records to correlate with from 1837!  Before that though, it gets a bit scratchy.  Particularly if your ancestors were not titled - as most of them were not!  Then we are down to scribbles in parish registers, a few tax books, tithes, military rolls.  Great stuff, but increasingly - we lose correlations.  We lose certainty.

When we lose certainty, we have to start to make judgments.  Do we add an ancestor based on little record?  We have to make that judgement ourselves.  We should add the resource, name it, perhaps publish our uncertainty.  We should be ready to remove if doubt grows rather than certainty.

I've not mentioned biological certainty here.  Haplogroup DNA can challenge some very old trees.  Things happen in biology.  We call them NPE (Non Parental Event).  Spouses cheat, lie, prostitute, are raped, commit bigamy, incest, confused.  People secretly adopt, particularly during a crisis.  I have seen a claim of the average NPE happening once in every ten generations on average.  I don't think that we can truly measure this.  Anyway, I'm of the school that although DNA genealogy is interesting in the pursuit of the past, that family is not always just about biology.  Who reared them?  Who gave them their name?  If that is family, it's also ancestry.


But the ultimate mistake with using online genealogy

This one is easy.  It is that companies such as Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com, allow, sometimes encourage the resourcing of other members family trees.  It has nothing to do with rights or property.  It has to do with the reproduction of mistakes, and bad quality research.  It indeed gives genealogy at online sites like these, a pretty bad name.

Many users of these sites are casual.  They have only used the online resources available through the quick click and collect ancestry of these services.  They are only trying to pursue as far back, as possible, within as short time as possible.  Truth and quality is of very much secondary value.  It's the consume society.  They leave their disjointed trees of fiction all over these web services.  Then Ancestry / MyHeritage, invites you to add them to your own.  Very much internet viral in form - the errors replicate like mutations in a strand of DNA, only with lightening speed.  It's so easy to add new layers of ancestry.  But they are fiction.  I've seen people marrying before they are born, dying before they give birth.  I've seen people marry their parents or uncles.   I myself, recently tried it en mass as an experiment to a tree.  It was incredible.  The discrepancies and errors.  Ugly.

So, if you have to, look at other trees. I strongly recommend that you avoid that temptation to simply click and collect ancestry.  Most of the genuine ancestry on these trees is available to be quickly found with your own use of the services on that site.  Do that, but make your own judgments.  Don't add to the virus trees.  Genealogy is for the long haul.

A recent ancestral journey with the Daynes of Garvestone and Brandon Parva

An incredibly beautiful sunny day for mid April.  I had a day free, mustn't waste it.  Mustn't waste life.  So on the bicycle, no plan, or idea where I was going.  I ride just down the road intending to explore the local back roads, and I passed this old diesel train sitting at the Wymondham station of the Mid-Norfolk Railway, a heritage line that terminates close to my home. I couldn't miss the opportunity, so bought a ticket to the other end of the line at Dereham, and jumped on board the vintage train with my bike.

Dereham (formerly East Dereham), was the hometown of my father.  Thankfully I had very little cash with me, so could avoid the temptation of tasting the wares of the Dereham pubs.  The journey to Dereham slowly rattled along the old Mid Norfolk railway line.  Once there, I came up with the idea of cycling back to Wymondham via some of my ancestral parish churches.

Such a gorgeous day.  Perfectly warm enough in T shirt and shorts.  Yellow primroses.  Buzzards.  Narrow country lanes, hedrerows, and tracing the footsteps of some ancestors.  I followed a cycle route out of the Mid Norfolk market town, and headed for the village of Garvestone, where some of my mother's ancestors by the surname Daynes (or Daines), had lived during the 18th and early 19th centuries.

The parish church at Garvestone is dedicated to St Margarets.  My 6 x great grandparents, Isaac Daynes and Mary Osborne, were married there in 1754.  I searched the grave yard for Daynes, but the only one that I found, was not of a direct ancestor.  I only found it with the help of a mapped index inside of the church, as the headstone had fallen down and was covered with lichens.  I literally excavated it from the vegetation:

Perhaps my Daynes ancestors were unable to afford headstones.  I decided to next follow their tracks.  They later moved a few miles to the parish of Brandon Parva.  Back on the bike:

I had to ride up a hill through a farm yard to reach the pretty church of All Saints at Brandon Parva:

My 4 x great grandfather Reuben Daynes was baptised here in 1785.  He later moved with his family to Besthorpe near to Wymondham, where my great great grandmother Sarah Daines was later born.  After visiting this church, I carried on cycling home in the sunshine.  Beautiful day.