My Family and Abraham Lincoln

Okay, honesty time.  I have (not yet) found any proven connection between myself and the 16th President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln.  The title is a little tongue in cheek, but it's my blog, and I have a serious dearth of famous ancestors in my recorded family tree.  What I have recently discovered though, is that the Norfolk village of Swanton Morley is an ancestral hot spot on my father's side, and that the paternal ancestors of Abraham Lincoln, did indeed also hail from that village.  Therefore it is not unreasonable to speculate, that at some point since the Medieval, we do indeed share ancestry with the 16th President of the USA.  Lincolns did indeed remain in the parish until modern times, along with my Harris and Barber ancestors.

Lets start with my Reginald John Brooker, paternal grandfather's pedigree:

My grandfather's parents separated while he was young, and he was brought up at Northall Green Farm by his maternal grandparents William and Harriet Baxter.  When he was a boy, he would play by hanging by his arms from the nearby railway bridge.  His older sister Gladys would sometimes be allowed to visit.  She remembered happy times and yellow flowers on that farm.  Northall Green Farm is technically in (East) Dereham, but is actually located nearer to the village of Swanton Morley.  Many of his genes from his mother's side really had not travelled far.  He had some very old ancestral associations with his home - both in East Dereham, and in Swanton Morley.

Reginald as a boy in 1920.  He is on the second row from back, on our far left.  Standing, plain dark top, round spectacles.

His mother's side of the family also had an undesired association with the nearby Mitford & Launditch Union Workhouse at Gressenhall.  His grandparent's that reared him, had both been born in that workhouse.  They had both been born illegitimate of unmarried mothers.  However, I recently discovered that they both claimed to know and to name their biological father's on their marriage registration.  His grandparents married at the church in Swanton Morley.  As I was to discover, many of the bride's ancestors at least, had previously processed through the same building over the centuries.

Harriet (my great great grandmother) claimed at her wedding that a William Barker was her biological father.  He was from a Dereham family.  I'm not chasing up that line for now, instead, lets go up her mother's line.  Her mother was Harriet Barber, born 1826 in ... Swanton Morley.  Harriet disappears after the birth of her daughter.  Hopefully she went on well in life, perhaps married and changed surname.  In 1847, she would have had to wear a yellow jacket of shame in Gressenhall Workhouse.

Harriet's father in turn had also been born illegitimate - a feature of incredible frequency in this particular line of our family tree.  What prompted such illegitimacy?  Was it poverty?  He (my G.G.G Grandfather), was born in Swanton Morley in 1803, the baseborn son of Sarah Barber.  His name was James Alderton Barber.  In adult life, he tolled as a farm labourer in the Swanton area.  

His mother actually had no less than six children born in the village of Swanton Morley between 1803 and 1818, whilst somehow avoiding marriage!  Neither do they all appear to have had the same father.  a Mr Alderton may have fathered two including our ancestor.  A Mr Sissons at least one other (a common custom in illegitimacy was to give the biological father's surname as a "middle" name).  Maybe I should try to chase up and eliminate which local Mr Alderton was likely to be our ancestor, but such trails are tenuous.  I really don't know how she survived in this early 19th Century rural community.  I sniff a fantastic story, if only I could dig it up.

However, lets go back down to her son, James Alderton Barber of Swanton Morley.  He married at least three times.  Perhaps making up for his mother.  His second marriage in 1825 was at Swanton Morley church to our ancestor Jemima Harris.  

James and Jemima Barber were to go on to have no less than eight children baptised at Swanton Morley Church between 1826 and 1842.  Jemima herself, my G.G.G Grandmother, was born ... you guessed it, illegitimately ... the daughter of Elizabeth Harris of Swanton Morley.  I really find it fascinating, the level of illegitimacy on this line.  A local socio-economic history would be very interesting.  This family is full of mothers, rather than fathers.  They may have been strong and independent.  Or they may have been victims.

G.G.G.G Grandmother Elizabeth Harris herself was baptised in that same church in Swanton Morley in 1768.  Her parents had narrowly avoided yet an earlier illegitimacy event themselves by marrying a few months earlier - at Swanton Morley of course, in 1767.  They were Solomon Harris and Elizabeth Bradfield.  We're going back now aren't we.  Swanton Morley is starting to feel as one of our many genealogical homes.  Hey, I still live only around 15 miles away from there today.

Here she is today.  All Saints Church, Swanton Morley, Norfolk.

I only know of two children of Solomon and Elizabeth Harris.  Our ancestor Elizabeth, and her sister Martha.  I hope their parents had a successful life.  Back then, life was far more precarious than it is today.  Okay let us step back another few generations.  Elizabeth was baptised in nearby East Dereham in 1745.  The daughter of an Allen and Rachel Bradfield.  What great names!  As for Solomon, he turns out to be a Solomon Junior.  He was the son of Solomon Harris and a Mary Aimes? of Swanton Morley.  Solomon Senior married Mary at Swanton Morley in 1725.  I'm not sure of her maiden name.  The hand ascribed registers are so poor - Aitkjens?  I've gone for Aimes.  They had at least three children baptised at All Saints, Swanton Morley between 1725 and 1736.

The view today from Swanton Morley Church.

Solomon (senior) was himself baptised at this same church in 1702.  He was the son of my G.G.G.G.G.G Grandparents Francis Harris and Thomasin Sniss?.  They were married at Swanton Morley in 1701.  Francis must have been pushing it a little, as it appears that he had married a Susan Thirston in Swanton Morley in 1682.  He was recorded as a wiidower at the marriage to our ancestor Thomasin.

Francis himself?  I can see earlier Harris's in the Swanton Morley registers - but just when I think that they just might record Francis's baptism - they fade and blur.  So I can speculate - but not link. They were in the Swanton Morley area at the same time, at least for a few centuries, as Abraham Lincoln's ancestors.  Hey - there are those undeclared paternities.  I don't want to spread rumours.  But did our family play a part in the making of the USA?

Two Fathers and more Online Genealogy

The above photograph is of my great great grandfather, William Bennett Baxter, born at Gressenhall Workhouse, Norfolk, England, in 1846.

Well, I've finally updated my Gramps genealogical database for the first time for months.  It's grown!  It now includes details for over 1,600 ancestors and family relatives.  I have to admit, a lot of the swell is down to online genealogical research, using Findmypast.co.uk, Ancestry.co.uk, Norfolk FHS, BMD, FamilySearch.org, etc.  I DON'T ever resort to copying off other people's trees, although I do at times, when I'm stuck, check them to see how other's think, as the hints that they should be.  To be honest though, I often don't agree with their conclusions.  

I do use Search.  I do use transcriptions - but whenever the original image is available (as it increasingly is now), I do verify with it.  Quite often, transcribers get it wrong.  I do also enjoy browsing through digitalised images of parish records, looking for siblings and clues.

Two Fathers

With traditional documentary-based genealogical research, we of course cannot prove a biological line.  We can rarely identify NPEs (Non-Parental Events).  All that we can do, is do our very best to track names through family interviews, documents and records.  Wherever possible, we should verify connections, check and record sources, look for correlations.  This isn't however always possible.  The genealogist has to then decide whether they have enough evidence to connect an ancestor.

For quite some time, I was proud that I had recorded all of my ancestors up to and including great great grandparent level.  However, at great great great grandparent level (Generation 6), I had three missing direct ancestors.  All three of them were the unrecorded father's of three great great grandparents, born illegitimate in Norfolk during the 19th Century.  I had 29 out of 32 biological ancestors recorded for Generation 6.

Then recently, I cracked two of them!  At least I have one evidence for their names.  Two of my illegitimate born great great grandparents, William Bennett Baxter, and Harriet Barber, were actually a married couple.  They were both illegitimate, and had both been born in Gressenhall Union Workhouse close to East Dereham in Norfolk.  William was base-born there  to a pauper named Eliza Baxter.  That she gave him the middle name "Bennett", and there had been Bennetts in the area, always made me suspect that his biological father was believed to have belonged to a Bennett Family, but which?

Then some research online, and it was a back to basics research that cracked it.  I was sure that I had seen their 1866 marriage certificate or entry, at nearby Swanton Morley before, probably years ago.  But if I had seen it before, and I now suspect that I hadn't, then I missed the key.  They BOTH named their alleged biological fathers in their marriage register entry!  How could I have not seen this before?

William Bennett Baxter claimed that he was the son of a labourer, by the name of ... William Bennett.  Harriet Baxter (nee Barber), claimed that her father was a labourer by the name of William Barker.  It's only their word, on their marriage entry - to their knowledge, but I've accepted that testimony, and have added ancestors on those lines.  I haven't yet found much about William Bennett. But I did quickly find more on my 4 x great grandfather William Barker.  He was a shoe maker in East Dereham, the son of a master boot maker.  Perhaps his family didn't approve.  Two years later he married an Elizabeth Wales.

My Fan Chart of Direct Ancestry, updated. I now have 234 direct ancestors named.

Other New Ancestors

The majority (but not all) of my newly claimed ancestors have been Norfolk ancestors on my Father's paternal side, balancing things up rather nicely.  Some of the newly discovered branches include a substantial number of new ancestors recorded both in Dereham, Norfolk, and in the nearby village of Swanton Morley.  They were two very ancestral homes in my tree.  I've recently extended the Baxter of Dereham line back safely to the 1760's.  I've also traced more of my great grandmother Faith Brooker's (nee Baxter) tree, including her direct maternal line to a Rachael Bradfield of Dereham.  Her daughter Elizabeth was baptised there in 1745.  In 1767, Elizabeth Bradfield married our 7 x great grandfather Solomon Harris at Swanton Morley.

I've also extended the line going back from my paternal grandmother (Doris Brooker nee Smith).  I've found more of her ancestors in the South Norfolk village of Hedenham, stretching back to a James Goodram, the son of John and Lydia Goodrum.  James was baptised at Hedenham in 1780.

Finally, I've tidied a few dates on my mother's side, and even started to reassess the ancestry of my children's mother.

Here is a count of direct ancestors from a Gramps report:

Generation 1 has 1 individual. (100.00%)

Generation 2 has 2 individuals. (100.00%)

Generation 3 has 4 individuals. (100.00%)

Generation 4 has 8 individuals. (100.00%)

Generation 5 has 16 individuals. (100.00%)

Generation 6 has 31 individuals. (96.88%)

Generation 7 has 55 individuals. (85.94%)

Generation 8 has 53 individuals. (41.41%)

Generation 9 has 44 individuals. (17.97%)

Generation 10 has 16 individuals. (3.52%)

Generation 11 has 6 individuals. (0.59%)

Total ancestors in generations 2 to 11 is 235. (11.68%)

That's enough genealogy for a while!  Living DNA report next.  Sample was activated and returned.

The Dog Runner, and some new genealogy

I took the above photograph of myself on a recent run with the dogs,, using the self-timer function on my thirty five year old Olympus XA2 compact camera.  Taken on Rollei Retro 400S film, that I then developed in LC29

Genealogy - the Barbers of Swanton Morley, Norfolk

I did consider an alternative title for the post, following some more paper genealogical research ... something along the lines of From a long line of bastards.  However, not all family might share my amusement of such a title.  What prompted that thought was some online ancestor-chasing in one particular root of my father's ancestry.  The Barbers of Swanton Morley, Norfolk.

I recently reported on an ancestral root from my father's side of the family, with the surname Barber.  I traced them through my crow-keeper great grandmother to villages in South Norfolk.  However, I'm now on the trail of a totally different Barber family, also on my father's side, but this time from Mid Norfolk.

My great great grandfather, William Bennet Baxter (photograph below), married my great great grandmother Harriet Barber, at Swanton Morley, Norfolk, in 1866.  Both of them had been born illegitimate at the nearby Gressenhall Union Workhouse.  Their connections with that workhouse didn't end there.  Their first two child Jemima, was also born there illegitimately.  Later family members also had connections with that workhouse, that now houses Norfolk Rural-Life Museum.  I often like to think of that building, as the Family Home.  I knew that William Baxter's mother in 1846 was an Eliza Baxter.  She must have had to face the shame of wearing a yellow jacket in the workhouse, to signify that she was an unmarried mother.  She may have also been excluded from the workhouse Christmas dinner, as another shaming.  I've recently discovered that her parents (my G.G.G grandparents) were a Samuel and Frances Baxter (nee Shilling), of nearby East Dereham, Norfolk.

Moving back to the Barbers, starting with Harriet Baxter (nee Barber).  She was born at Swanton Morley circa 1847.  She appeared on one census in Swanton Morley as a young girl, with her grandparents, James and Jemima Barber (nee Harris).  She is named there as a granddaughter of James.  However, who was her mother?  I'm missing a generation.  She was born at the Union Workhouse, and I'm fairly certain that she was illegitimate, and that with the census information, suggests to me that her mother was a daughter of at least James Barber.

So I start searching parish registers for Swanton Morley.  It turned out that G.G.G granddaddy Barber, was born as James Alderton Barber in April 1803 at Swanton Morley.  He married at least three times.  The first marriage I can't find.  The second was my ancestral, he married G.G.G Grannie Jemima Harris at Swanton Morley on 6th December 1825.  She gave him at least seven kids, although at least four of them died young.  Then at the age of 58 years, she died.  He married again before 1861.  Later he had a wife called Amelia.

James had seven children by Jemima.  One of them must have been the parent of my Harriet.  Which one?  I believe that she was illegitimate but carried the Barber surname until married.  That suggests a daughter of James and Jemima.  They had at least four daughters - Hannah, Frances, Jemima (twin of James junior), and Mary Ann.  On checking the burial register of Swanton Morley, things narrowed down.  Hannah had died as an infant.  Jemima died age four (her twin brother died age seven).  Mary Ann died as an infant.  That only leaves Frances, born 1830 at Swanton Morley.  However, it's bad to assume too much in genealogy, so I've decided to pay out for Harriet's birth certificate from the GRO in London.  I should have my answer in a few weeks time.

All of the child deaths that you see in these 19th century families.  It does sometimes knock you back as you uncover them.  The poor health, lack of welfare, and shear poverty that families had to endure then.

I've got to wait for that certificate to arrive, in order to verify which of James's children was the parent of my Harriet.  However, I went back on the lineage a bit further, and it gets interesting.  G.G.G Grandad James Alderton Barber was born illegitimately in Swanton Morley on the 28th April 1803, to a Sarah Barber.  He was not alone.  Between 1803 and 1818, my G.G.G.G Grannie Sarah apparently had at least six children, all baptised and recorded as illegitimate!  I'll never know the full story, but somehow she survived unmarried.  The first two children carried the middle name Alderton, perhaps suggesting that was the name of their biological father.  A later child carried the middle name Maris, and another was named Sissons Barber.  All could suggest a number of biological fathers.  All were born in Swanton Morley.

I feel a little embarrassed talking about illegitimacy as a subject.  It is no longer seen as something shameful, nor should it be - but it was seen as sinful and irresponsible for a very long time.  The status no longer exists in the 21st Century, with the changes in family structures and a shift away from religion.  That it was treated as so shameful now sounds outrageous.  A side effect of a religious and hypocritical society - taking it out on children, and on mothers.  So when I see an ancestor living in a small Norfolk village during the Napoleonic period, I wonder how she lived, what happened, how was she seen, did her children survive?  She may well have been a colourful ancestor, and the talk of the village.  Or she could have been the tragic victim of abuse?

The illegitimacy wasn't restricted just to her generation.  As I said, her great granddaughter Harriet was also most likely (waiting for that certificate to confirm) illegitimate and born in a workhouse - as was Harriet's husband, and their first child.

Poverty, hypocrisy, and infant mortality.  The great Nineteenth Century.