Tuesday 31 December 2013

Use of Land Tax Records: Cornwood Parish, Devon, England

[This write-up was first published in the July 2013 issue of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society.]

Land taxes were first instituted in Britain in 1692. This levy was in addition to other taxes which were or had been in force, including the following:

·   Poor Rates –  assessed following the Poor Law Act of 1601 on land owners to finance the support of the poor within parishes

·   Hearth Tax – a tax on each fire-hearth in a household assessed between 1662 and 1688

·   Window Tax – a tax on houses, with rates being assessed on the number of windows in a domicile introduced in 1696 and in effect until 1851.

No doubt the new forms of taxation were intended as a way to recoup the costs of the war against the Catholic King, James II, in previous years, as well as a way to cement the authority of the new parliament under William and Mary, installed as monarchs in 1689. In any event, it was decreed that a tax would be imposed on land owners throughout Britain but be administered locally. The tax existed until 1963 when it was finally repealed.

Changes instituted in 1780 meant that an individual had to be registered in the Land Tax assessment in order to vote. Lists of the proprietors or land owners, occupiers, land descriptions and amounts to be paid were recorded on Land Tax Assessments for many areas. Preservation of the records prior to 1780 is sporadic for many English counties. In 1780, the lists started to be used to identify qualified voters in the parishes and were thus duplicated and stored with Quarter Session records. Many areas thus have fairly complete lists between 1780 and 1832.

The Reform Act of 1832 changed the rules governing who could vote for members of parliament and how the boroughs represented by such members would be organized. After passage of the act, the land tax lists were no longer used to define lists of voters and copies were no longer kept as part of parish records. Again, for many parishes, the lists are incomplete after 1832.

The lists usually contain, for the most part, only the male household heads. If a married man died, the property may have been passed down to his widow, in which case her name might appear on the list, as either a landowner or occupier. If she remarried then her property could then be listed under her new husband’s name. A careful inspection of the lists over time is necessary to see if events such as these occurred.

The Land Tax Assessments provide a sort of census as they identify all of the heads of families occupying lands in the various parishes. The parcels, in most respects, can be correlated with those described in the Tithe Apportionments complied in the early 1840s. Together they allow an historical summary to be made of both families and their primary residences over the latter part of the 18th and early part of the 19th Centuries.

The amounts of tax paid give an indication of the relative economic status of proprietors and the size of parcels. A change of names can indicate inheritance, reflecting the death of individuals which, in turn, can be correlated with parish registers to better identify specific individuals and families.

I obtained a copy of the 1781 to 1832 Land Tax Assessments for the parishes I look after, as an Online Parish Clerk, in Devon – Cornwood, Harford, Plympton St. Mary and Plympton St. Maurice. My own family had been residents of Cornwood since at least the early 1600s. The lists proved very useful in identifying the specific properties they owned or rented over several decades before the national censuses.

1781 Land Tax Assessment for part of Cornwood Parish, Devon, England; superimposed on page are entries for two properties owned by Nicholas Shepheard and a portion of the document showing him as an Assessor and Collector
My 5th great-grandfather, Nicholas Shepheard, was shown as the owner of three major properties in Cornwood – Rook, Greenland and Knott – until his death in 1786. He was also one of the tax assessors and collectors for several years. Knott appears to have been sold in 1810 as, afterward, it no longer appears under the Shepheard name. All of the lands listed were passed down to Nicholas’ eldest son, also named Nicholas, who is shown as the owner until his own decease in 1820. After 1820, the Rook and Greenland properties are shown in the possession of his brothers, Arthur and Samson Shepheard. The lists also show several other family members as tenants on various parcels around the parishes.

Combining the Land Tax Assessments, Tithe Apportionments, parish register entries and national censuses, it has been possible to demonstrate the ownership and residences of many Shepheard families over 130 years.

The Land Tax Assessment image is used here with the kind permission of Devon Heritage Services.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He serves as the Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Merry Christmas

Were any of your ancestors baptized or married on Christmas Day?

Christmas in Cornwood and nearby parishes in Devon has been a time when many families chose to have their children baptized at the local parish church, whether born then or not. The earliest Christmas Day entry preserved in the Cornwood baptism register was for Richard Maddocke, baptized in 1689. No doubt there were earlier ones however few records are available prior to 1685. In nearby Plympton St. Mary parish, the earliest Christmas Day baptism on record occurred in 1608.

1689 December 25 - baptism entry for Richard Maddocke, in Cornwood parish register
It was not uncommon for more than one family to have a child baptized during the Christmas season, particularly if any of December 24th, 25th or 26th fell on a Sunday. In my four parishes, Cornwood, Harford, Plympton St. Mary and Plympton St. Maurice, the most baptisms on any of those days was four: Sunday, December 24, 1837; and Tuesday, December 26, 1971, in Plympton St. Mary parish. 

In the 1837 Christmas Eve baptisms only one of the children had been born in December of that year. Possibly the parents waited until this special day when many of the relatives could come to Plympton St. Mary to attend the ceremony. Similarly in 1971, the four children baptized on Boxing Day had been born in April, September (2) and November.

Christmas Eve, 1837 baptisms in Plympton St. Mary parish, Devon
Between 1685 and 1995, there were 38 baptisms on Christmas Day in Cornwood parish, seven in Harford between 1699 and 1993, 69 in Plympton St. Mary between 1603 and 1982 and 16 in Plympton St. Maurice between 1616 and 1963.

Marriages were not quite as numerous. In Cornwood, there have been a total of 11 marriages on Christmas Day between 1685 and 1994; in Harford, only two between 1699 and 1978; in Plympton St. Mary, 32 between 1603 and 1975; and in Plympton St. Maurice, 11 between 1619 and 1971.

These are just some interesting statistics but probably not overly important in the greater scheme of things. From a genealogical perspective, however, many of the entries suggest that Christmas period baptisms do not necessarily represent the time those individuals were born. In the baptism registers of my four parishes, birth dates are shown for 96 individuals who were baptized on December 24th, 25th or 26th between 1648 and 1979. None of them were born on any of those dates. And only 25 were even born in the month of December.

There is probably no doubt that residents of the parish celebrated Christmas enthusiastically, especially in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, possibly more so than in later decades.

A charity was set up in Cornwood Parish, in 1700, in which my 6th great-grandfather, Nicholas Shepheard, played a role. The Rooke Charity combined with another established by Reverend Duke Yonge in 1811. Initially organized to assist the poor of the parish, it continues to this day helping out many residents in the community. Among other initiatives, every Christmas they give all old age pensioners £25 each.

In Cornwood, at least, traditions continue. Each year the members of the community participate in a special event – turning on the Christmas lights. The Churchwarden for St. Michaels and All Angels Church, Marilyn Sharpe, had the honour of flipping the switch on the evening of December 7th this year.

Afterward, everyone celebrated the event in Cornwood Square with tasty mulled wine and mince pies with clotted cream, and participated in the singing of Christmas carols.

Marilyn Sharpe turns of the Christmas lights
Cornwood residents enjoy the singing of Christmas carols
Whatever your traditions are, I hope you enjoy every one of them. May I take this opportunity to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous year in 2014!

Baptism images reproduced here are used with the kind permission of the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office (PWDRO), Images were downloaded from FindMyPast. Cornwood photos were taken by Kelvin Butcher, to whom I would like to express my thanks and appreciation for allowing me to reproduce them here.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He serves as the Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Military References in the Parish Registers

Wars certainly impacted the affairs of many parishes in the past. Often there are glimpses into those conflicts through entries in parish registers.

Between 1643 and 1645 there were 42 entries for soldiers buried in Plympton St Mary. They were very likely killed during the English Civil War which raged in nearby regions. A number of battles involving Royalist and Parliamentarian forces occurred in the region around Plympton St. Mary parish.

1644 April to June burials in Plympton St. Mary parish, Devon - soldiers highlighted

Most of the soldiers were probably from other parts of the country so searches for them in their home parishes would be fruitless. After the war, many individuals may have chosen to stay in the areas in which they served, taking up new occupations. Family historians who have a suspicion an ancestor was a soldier or lost track of someone during times of war might look in the areas where battles were fought to find them – either dead and buried, or married to a local girl.

Below we see some probable casualties from the Franco-English war of the late 1600s. Those killed overseas were probably transported back and buried in a cemetery near the port where the ships landed, one of those being Plympton St. Mary.
1689 September and October burials in Plympton St. Mary parish, Devon - soldiers highlighted
Burial images reproduced here are used with the kind permission of the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office (PWDRO),  Images were downloaded from FindMyPast , or copied from my own microfiche.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He serves as the Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

Tuesday 10 December 2013

Getting to Know the Cornwood Churchwarden

One of the great benefits I have derived from volunteering as the Online Parish Clerk (OPC) for Cornwood and other Devon parishes was in meeting Marilyn Sharp, the Churchwarden for St. Michaels and All Angels Church in Cornwood.

St. Michaels and All Angels Church in Cornwood, Devon, England (photo by Wayne Shepheard, 2004)
From the first time I made contact with her, she has been totally supportive of my goal to learn everything I could find out about the parish where my Shepheard ancestors originated. She willingly shared data she had accumulated about the burials in the church cemetery along with other information about the community and its residents. In my assisting of others researching their families in the area, she has often been able to pass along tidbits about the people and places where they had lived.

In 2004, my wife, Linda, and I had a chance to visit the area. Marilyn, her husband, Bas, and friends, Brenda and Graham Gregory, took a great deal of time out to show us all around the parish, as well as direct us to sites of interest in the surrounding area. I had a chance to see all of the places I had only read about, mostly online, and, most importantly, discover the former homes of many members of my Shepheard ancestors. Many of the residences dated back to the 17th century. Marilyn’s kind attention made the visit most memorable.

One amusing story happened when we drove out to the original Shepheard estate, called East Rooke. It highlights one aspect of meeting people and doing things on the Internet.

Left: the main house at Rooke, the ancestral home of the Shepheard family in Cornwood, Devon, England; right: Wayne in one of the typical parish lanes; both photos taken in September 2004
In early 2003, just after I became an OPC, I had an email from a school-girl in the area who had found my website.  She was looking for information about the population of Cornwood in the 1800s for a class assignment.  I was able to provide her with the totals from the various censuses between 1841 and 1901 for her report.  Anyway, it turned out that she and her family rented East Rooke, the farm that used to belong to the Shepheard family.  Small world! 

When we went to see the place in the fall of 2004, Marilyn, who was very anxious to give us a proper and friendly introduction to the current resident, approached the girl’s mother and introduced me as “the man who has been talking with your daughter on the internet!”  As you might imagine, Mom was bit taken aback to start with but warmed up once she heard the whole story.

On several occasions, Marilyn has carried messages back and forth between me and the current Vicar. I think, because of her involvement, I have been able to obtain significantly more information about the parish than an OPC might normally get. Many times, as well, she has been able to provide me with some historical perspective on the parish and area families.

We were able to partly return the favour by entertaining Marilyn, Bas, Brenda and Graham for a few days in 2008 – showing them places around Calgary, Alberta, Canada that were very different from the pretty little villages and countryside of Southwest Devon, England.

Left: Graham, Brenda, Bas, Linda, Marilyn and Wayne at the Hoodoos near Drumheller, Alberta, Canada;
Right: Bas, Marilyn, Brenda and Graham at Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada; both photos taken in September 2008
We have become very good friends with Marilyn and Bas over the past decade. We regularly exchange messages, and the inevitable email jokes, and try to keep up with the happenings of our two families.

It is very valuable for family historians to get to know people who live in the areas where their ancestors lived, to get first-hand observations about, and some insight into the history of the locations.

In our case we have been truly blessed with meeting and getting to know the Churchwarden of Cornwood.

Thank you Marilyn, for all your help and for just being you!

Tuesday 3 December 2013

Who was my 7th Great-grandfather?

As I discussed in the last blog post here, my 7th great-granduncle, William Shepheard, attempted to pass off a fraudulent will supposedly written by his brother, Sampson Shepheard, who had died in 1685. In it were named three other siblings then presumably still alive: a brother, Thomas Shepheard; an unmarried sister, Mary; and a married sister, Orange, “late the wife of John Maddicke deceased.” He did not list any other family members, one of whom, my 6th great-grandfather, Nicholas Shepheard, was ultimately deemed by the court to be the rightful heir to Sampson’s estate.

There is no marriage data for Sampson Shepheard. There is an entry in the Cornwood Parish burial register, for a Samson Shipperd, which is most likely this individual. He was buried on July 4, 1685. At that time he apparently owned property in several jurisdictions, presumably including the lands in Cornwood Parish. The court ruled on the validity of the will on May 6, 1686.

1685 – burial entries for Samson, Margeret and Cathren “Shipperd” in Cornwood parish burial register
The court record stated that William was opposed by Nathaniel Ryder who was acting as a guardian for Nicholas Shepheard, a minor, and nephew of both William and Sampson Shepheard. There is not baptism record for this Nicholas Shepheard, so I did not have a direct piece of information that would indicate who his father, and my 7th great-grandfather was. Here is how I figured it out.

The father of William and Sampson, Nicholas Shepheard, died in 1657. He left a will, signed on September 21, 1657, in which he named all of his surviving children, listing the daughters and sons in the order of their respective births. His three daughters were Barbarah, Mary and Ornidge. From the bequests stated in the will, Barbarah also appears to have been over 21 and her sisters, 19 and 18, respectively.

Nicholas’ five sons were John, Nicholas, Sampson, Thomas and William. At the time of Nicholas’ death, only John had reached the age of majority – 21 years. Nicholas appeared to be close, possibly 20. The other three were all minors.

1657 – portion of will of Nicholas Shepheard, document number PROB 11/271, The National Archives
The only surviving baptism records were found were for two children, in the Bishops Transcripts for Cornwood parish: John on June 20, 1633 and William on February 19, 1638. Both were recorded as sons of Nicholas Shepheard. Given the dates for these baptisms, I have made the assumption that the Nicholas Shepheard named as the father and the individual who died in 1857 are one and the same.

1633 June 20 – baptism entry for “John sonne of Nicolas Shepheard” in Cornwood Bishops Transcripts

1638 February 19 – baptism entry for “William sonne of Nicolas Shepheard” in Cornwood Bishops Transcripts
From the information in Nicholas’ will, and the two baptism entries, all of the children would probably have been born between 1633 and 1640. The children are assumed to have been born in this order: John – (June) 1633; Barbarah – 1634; Nicholas – late 1636; Sampson – 1636-37; Thomas – 1637-38; William – (February) 1638; Mary 1639; Orrnidge – 1640. In order to fit the four males in between September 1636, which was 21 years before the will was written, and February 1638, the baptism date for William, it seems two of them must have been twins.

While the will itself was deemed to be fraudulent, it could be assumed that the list of surviving siblings William mentioned might be accurate and that John, Barbarah and Nicholas were deceased by 1685. The court documents state that the plaintiff, Nicholas Shepheard, assisted by his guardian Nathaniel Ryder, was a nephew of both William and the deceased Sampson. I concluded that he would not have been the son of Thomas, or Thomas would have been the rightful heir as the next oldest male. Therefore the young Nicholas must have been the son of the other brother, Nicholas, who would then have also been deceased. And he would have been my 7th great-grandfather.

Rightly or wrongly, and until further information comes along, my family tree now has all of these individuals named Nicholas in my direct Shepheard line:
            Nicholas Shepheard (    -1657)                       8th great-grandfather
            Nicholas Shepheard (ca1636-bef1685)           7th great-grandfather
            Nicholas Shepheard (ca1675-1756)                5th great-grandfather
            Nicholas Shepheard (1716-1786)                   4th great-grandfather

Each of them has an interesting and unique story. The forename of Nicholas persisted through two more generations.

The baptism and burial images reproduced here are used with the kind permission of the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office,  They were reproduced from my own microfiche of the parish registers. The court documents are the property of The National Archives and published under their Open Government License. Catalogue references for the document is PROB 11/271.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He serves as the Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

Tuesday 26 November 2013

A Black Sheep in the Shepheard Family

I had a 7th great-granduncle, William Shepheard (1638-after 1685), who attempted to have a forged will of his brother, Sampson Shepheard (ca1636-1685), proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury in 1685. If he had been successful, my 6th great-grandfather, Nicholas Shepheard (ca1675-1756), would have been deprived of significant lands and other property. No doubt the history of his descendants would have been much different as well, without the family estate in Cornwood parish, Devon.

I found the court summary in a search of the name, Shepheard, in the catalogue of The National Archives (TNA) of Britain. The surviving records concerning the proceedings were contained in four files which were readily obtained through TNA. They included the supposed will submitted for probate, depositions of persons who had been enlisted to draft and witness the will, notes of the justice overseeing the case and the written sentence of the justice. Several of the documents were written in Latin which, of course, made reading it a bit difficult. That problem was solved by enlisting the services of a student in the Fine Arts Department of the University of Calgary to translate the document. Today I could probably use one of the online translating sites such as Google Translate.

The story is one of both deceit and intrigue.

1685 - portion of TNA document PROB 11/385 - Concerning the nullity of the alleged will of Sampson Shepheard

William first sought out an attorney to draft the will and was introduced to Richard Stephyns of Tavistock, Devon, by a mutual acquaintance, John Winsor, who knew him only as Constable Shepheard of Cornwood Parish, Devon. He presented himself to both men, posing as his deceased brother, Sampson. According to Stephyns, he was “in the habitt of a Souldier (wearing a greene Coate & beareing Armes)” surely to impress them with his position and power and to leave them no doubt as to his veracity. He requested the lawyer back-date the document, to a time which was before the actual decease of the real Sampson, saying he wished the date to precede the actual execution of the will because “there might arise some differences about the said Will betweene his friends” presumably meaning he (Sampson) had informed certain people of what the will contained and wanted the document to reflect the date they had been informed.

Stephyns had John Winsor and a neighbour, Stephen Harvye, witness the signature of William Shepheard, who signed the will in front of them as Sampson Shepheard. At the time none of them knew he was not who he said he was. In depositions given later, all expressed great surprise in learning he was not the testator.

1685 - copy of will of Sampson Shepheard forged by his brother William Shepheard

William then presented the executed document to another lawyer, Henry Legassicke, of Modbury, Devon, requesting him to have it proved “with as much speed as possible” as Legassicke described in his own deposition given to the court later. William indicated to Legassicke he did not personally know the witnesses or where or when the will had been sealed, “but said that his brother was not at home the day of the date of the will (being the first day of May last) & hee did believe that his said brother was then at Tavistocke & made the will before & did believe that the witnesses lived at or near Tavistocke.”

According to the deposition of the lawyer, William had “found it in his brothers chest. “Legassicke thought “it was well penn’d but did suspect the source.” In his opinion, the signature on the will did not appear to be in the same handwriting he had seen on other documents executed by Sampson. William indicated he would get the witnesses to each sign a note saying they knew Sampson Shepheard but later, when pressed by Legassicke for the notes, was told “they confessed that they were witnesses to the will but refused to set their hands to the said note.” Legassicke informed William he would not get further involved, without those supporting affidavits. William subsequently found another lawyer to act on his behalf and paid out Legassicke for his services.

The forged will was challenged in court by Nathaniel Ryder, the guardian of Nicholas Shepheard, who was a nephew of both William and Sampson. Nicholas was still, at the time, under the age of majority. The judge in the case reviewed depositions taken from each of the parties and declared William had not proven his case and the will he put forth was not legitimate. He was ordered to pay all the expenses Nathaniel Ryder had incurred in the proceedings.

As a result of the case, the properties of Sampson Shepheard were passed down to his nephew Nicholas Shepheard, and, from him, through several more generations of my direct Shepheard line who resided in Cornwood parish.

No information has yet been found as to whether William was ever charged or convicted of a fraud.

A subsequent post here will show how the relationships of all of the Shepheards named in this proceeding were unraveled.

Most of this post was first published in Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society, in October 2011, volume 32, number 1. Some additional information has been obtained since then and the interpretation as to my direct line ancestor has been changed. A follow-up post concerning my 7th great-grandfather will follow.

The court documents are the property of The National Archives and published under their Open Government License. Catalogue references for the documents are PROB 11/385, PROB 18/18, PROB 18/18/45 and PROB 36/4.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He serves as the Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

Monday 18 November 2013

How I discovered my 5th great-grandmother

I found my Shepheard family lived in Cornwood parish, in Devon County, England, for many generations, dating as far back as the early 1600s. The parish baptism, marriage and burial registers are complete from 1685 onward. In that year, a fire in the churchwarden’s house destroyed all of the parish records, including BMD registers, tax rolls, militia lists, etc.

Using the Cornwood parish registers, I was able to trace the Shepheard line back to Nicholas Shepheard, born in 1716. He and his wife, Mary, had eight children between 1761 and 1775, all baptized in Cornwood.

I did not immediately find the marriage record for Nicholas and Mary; so I was not sure what her surname was. The children had been baptized in Cornwood, beginning in 1761; so I was pretty sure they were married around 1760 or earlier. One of the children was named Jane Treby Shepheard, the only one with a middle name, which suggested the mother’s maiden name might be Treby. But I could find no Mary Treby in Cornwood or elsewhere.

In 2007, I did a search of records in the catalogue of the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office (PWDRO) and found several land-related documents in which the name, Shepheard, and the area, Cornwood, were shown. I ordered a number of these, including one which pertained to a “release” and which were named John Shepheard of Lutton, Cornwood and Jane, his wife and Thomasin Shepheard, spinster” and “Sampson Shepheard, of Westlake, yeoman.” These, of course were my 4th great-grandparents, John and Jane Treby Shepheard, first cousins who had married each other, Jane’s sister, Thomasin and her brother, Sampson. All had been born in Cornwood.

The documents concerned a property near the village of Westlake, in Ermington Parish, next door to Cornwood. Sampson Shepheard, was noted as being obligated to pay his three sisters £20 each in order to occupy the lands which he had inherited from their mother, Mary Shepheard. A release dated June 12, 1813, executed by Sampson, his sisters, Jane Treby Shepheard and Thomasine Shepheard, and Jane's husband John Shepheard acknowledged the payment and, further, described the history of the property.

The land appears to have been purchased by Arthur Jeffrys, a house carpenter in Ermington, from Christopher Shepherd (no relationship) as described on documents dated the 3rd and 4th of May 1732, for 180 pounds. On the 13th and 14th of February 1753, a document was executed between himself, a Thomas Edwards, the Elder, Thomas Edwards, the Younger, Arthur Parnell, Gentleman, Thomasine Barrett, Widow and Mary Barrett, her daughter, under which part ownership was conveyed to Thomasine Barrett "reciting that a Marriage was intended between the said Arthur Jeffrys and the said Thomasine Barrett". It further stated that, if no there was no issue from the marriage that all rights to the land would go to Mary Barrett and, upon her death, to her children. As it turned out Arthur and Thomasine did not have children and Mary did inherit the lands.

Mary apparently did not leave a will but did leave instructions concerning disposition of the Ermington property. With agreement of her eldest son, Nicholas, it was to go first to her second son, William, and if he was then deceased, as he ultimately was, to her third son, Sampson. Interestingly, these instructions were recorded in several of the land documents concerning the Westlake lands. All of the children named in the documents matched with the baptism records from Cornwood parish, helping to confirm, as best I can, the entire family.

Document number 636/12, Release of Twenty Pounds a Piece . . ., Plymouth and West Devon Record Office
In addition, and very important to my family history research, the documents also showed Mary's mother, Thomasine Barrett, as being from Newton Ferrers, in Devon, and a widow at the time of her marriage to Arthur Jeffrys. A search of records for that parish showed that a William Barrett married a Thomasine Goad on the April 6, 1736, and that they had two daughters, Mary, baptized on July 21, 1736 and Jane, baptized on March 25, 1737, both in Newton Ferrers. No other children have been found. Jane died and was buried in Yealmpton Parish on May 31, 1738 leaving Mary the only surviving child of William and Thomasine.

1736 July 23 - baptism entry for Mary, daughter of William and Thomasin Barret, Newton Ferrers parish baptism register
Thomasine Barrett and Arthur Jeffrys were married in Ermington parish on February 25, 1754. I found that entry on the Ermington marriage register. I assumed that Mary Barrett might have continued living with her mother and step-father, in Ermington parish, and looked for a marriage for her in the Ermington register. The event was, in fact, recorded on February 4, 1760. Both signed the register and Mary’s step-father, Arthur Jeffrys was one of the witnesses.

1760 February 4 - marriage entry for Nicholas Shepheard and Mary Barratt, Ermington parish marriage register
The land documents were very useful in identifying my 5th great-grandmother and my 6th great-grandparents. They also led to my discovering the marriage records for both sets of ancestors.

All images reproduced here are used with the kind permission of the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office,  The baptism and marriage images were downloaded from FindMyPast.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He serves as the Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

Tuesday 12 November 2013

Letters From Home

Hand-written letters are a real part of family history. Old letters are prized for the information they contain about individuals and events. They reflect the writer’s thoughts, dreams and emotions. Unfortunately, the art of letter-writing is a dying phenomenon and future generations will not be privileged to enjoy the intimate feelings expressed in a hand-written letter.

Letters in the past served to tell family members about the lives of their relatives – the important events being observed, the new additions to families, the loss of loved ones – all on a very personal note from one individual to another.  They were eagerly anticipated and highly coveted by recipients, especially if they had come from relatives who lived far away.

It is possible to see how historical events unfolding in different parts of the world affected the lives of individual families through the news expressed in letters to loved ones. Following are two letters written by a mother, living in England, to her son and daughter-in-law, living in Canada in the late 1930s. A very good friend has allowed me to publish them here as illustrations of family connections kept strong by the regular contact of personal correspondence.

The letters were written a year apart, by my friend’s grandmother – 11 months before and just one month after the start of World War II – and comment on both intimate family matters and on the effects of a war that was to eventually consume most of the world. They are a wonderful insight into one individual’s thoughts about the conflict and also her personal feelings toward her family members during that time. It is particularly appropriate during this week of remembrance to recognize and remember how conflicts affected not only the soldiers, but the families who remained at home.

74 Shakespeare Av.
Oct 3rd 1938
My Dearest Laurence and Lenore,
We’re back to normal this week. We have had a most anxious and tense time the last two weeks. Last Wednesday we all thought War would be declared – and when Chamberlain arrived from the Munich pact it was with great relief to hear it was Peace. Last Wednesday a great number of children were getting ready to leave London. We feel we have a breather now. How long it will last no one knows. Austen last week was helping to fit and deliver gas masks after business hours and it would be 12 to 1 o/c before he got back. We were fitted for ours but would only get them if War was declared. Austen was surprised as everyone was carrying theirs about in Southampton and Winchester. I’m sending you and Lenore a little “peace present” in separate parcels. Yours is a silver “paper and letter” opener – perhaps you may remember it – and Lenore a little Burmese silver box. Please let me have a line as soon as you receive them or I will think they have gone astray. Hope you received the draft for £500!
Love from Aunty Ethel and Your affectionate
Parcel posted Oct. 4.

74 Shakespeare Av.
Oct 2nd 1939
My Dearest Laurence and Lenore,
I received the enlargement of “Bill” this morning. I thought it must have got lost as I received the snaps two weeks ago last Friday. It is a lovely picture of a baby so young. He looks very determined and intelligent and I’m very glad to have the picture. The dates on the back of the snaps you first sent me were 7 weeks and 4 days and the second lot marked 11 weeks. He certainly is a very fine baby and I can see a great likeness to you both.
Aunty would love to knit a sweater for Bill but she couldn’t get any book in town with ones for a baby under a year old. Would you be able to send her the directions for one and illustration of same. When you say sweater do you mean with a high neck and polo collar or little coat buttoned up to the neck with or without a collar. What colour would you like it knitted?
In this mornings paper, men of 21 to be called up. Service will begin early next month. Isn’t it all too terrible. Every town and city is a perfect “black out” no streak of light to be shown anywhere. We’re getting a little more used to the gloom but it is very depressing. We’re glad you is all well. I’m glad to say I’m feeling better although these troublesome times are very trying for my complaint. The Petrol is now rationed so we don’t expect to see Austen now. We will let you know how he gets on.
Do write again soon and send directions for any knitted garment you want. Hope your Mum and Dad keep well. With fondest love to you all from us both.
Yours lovingly and kisses for Bill.

[Note: “Austen” was Laurence’s brother and “Aunty Ethel” was their mother’s sister. “Bill” was the first grandchild in the family and son of Laurence and Lenore.]

In both letters we see an attitude of “life does go on” even though the parties lived so far apart from one another and a tremendous uncertainty of war was so apparent. And we can feel the love expressed by one person through but brief notes sent by a mother to her son, written in her own hand.

This week, remember also all the families of the past who were also touched by conflict but yet continued on as best they were able in trying to maintain as normal a life as was possible.

Thanks, Bill, for allowing me to share these precious letters with the world!

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He serves as the Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

Tuesday 5 November 2013

Looking Next Door for Answers

Not every clerk or vicar was as diligent in recording notes in many of the old parish records; so, if answers are not readily apparent in one parish, sometimes it is useful to look at entries for the same time period in a nearby area.

Take, for example, the great many deaths of children in Plympton St. Mary parish between 1769 and 1773. Out of 195 burials, 69 were indicated as being infants or children. A first assumption might have been that an epidemic spread through the area, taking first the most vulnerable of residents – the very young!

1769 to 1770 Burials in Plympton St. Mary Parish, Devon County
Similar notes appear in the burial register for Plympton St. Maurice parish, next door, in the 1760s. Children always seemed to bear the brunt of whatever afflictions invaded the communities in the 18th century, but the latter part of 1766 witnessed an inordinate number of child deaths when, between  October  2nd and December 12th, 10 of 12 burials were children.

1766 Burials in Plympton St. Maurice Parish, Devon County
This kind of information suggests that some research would be warranted to find out if there had been an outbreak of contagious disease. And if health issues persisted over many years, might it even have caused a migration of people away from an area?

There was no cause of death given for the large number of deaths of children in either of Plympton St Mary or Plympton St. Maurice parishes in the mid-18th century; so was the answer to be found elsewhere?

In the neighbouring parish of Cornwood, there were, again, many deaths during the same period, many of them children and infants as well. Between 1770 and 1772, the local vicar recorded notes concerning the causes of death. So we can get an insight into what may have been happening in that community. The notes did not specifically refer to just children but of the 42 burials listed, 13 died of old age, four from consumption and nine from smallpox. At least two contagious diseases caused the deaths of over half of those buried in this small, rural community. Had similar outbreaks occurred in towns such as Plympton St. Maurice, no doubt the rates may have been much higher.

1771 to 1773 Burials in Cornwood Parish, Devon County
In this case, it helped to look in neighbouring areas for information to answer the question of cause of death. It is not totally definitive but the combined notes in all of the parish registers do give us an expanded picture of what was happening in the region over several years.

By the way, for other types of data, such as baptism and marriages, it is also useful to review records in next door parishes. Often a couple might have been married or had some or all of their children baptized in a parish near to where they actually lived and worked, possibly because one of both of them had originated there or because a vicar was out of town at the time they needed him. If you cannot find a marriage or the births of all of the children within a family, look in the records of a nearby area.

Burial images reproduced here are used with the kind permission of the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office (PWDRO),  Images were downloaded from FindMyPast , or copied from my own microfiche of the parish registers.