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.