Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Confusion of Family Names on Some Official Documents

As the Online Parish Clerk of Cornwood Parish, I had a query to find the parents of Elizabeth Tarsk or Sampson. The surname was in question on the record of her marriage to Edwin Moss in 1848. On the register entry, her father was indicated to be Thomas Sampson Tarsk, a labourer. This was an unusual name, one I had not ever run across.
Marriage entry for Edwin Moss and Elizabeth Tarsk, September 24, 1848 from St. Andrew, Plymouth, Devon parish marriage register (image downloaded September 24, 2014 from FindMyPast, used with the kind permission of Plymouth and West Devon Record Office)
On the 1861 census, Elizabeth was shown to have been born in Cornwood parish so that led the ancestor to me. 
Portion of page from 1861 England census, Charles Plymouth, showing family of Edwin and Elizabeth Moss – Elizabeth born in Cornwood parish, Devon (image accessed from Ancestry September 25, 2014, copyright The National Archives)

The only Elizabeth of the right age and a similar name in the Cornwood baptism register was Elizabeth Sampson, baptized in 1825, and whose father was Thomas Sampson, a labourer. The family actually lived at Venton, in Plympton St. Mary parish, but all of their children appear to have been baptized in the Cornwood church as it was closer. That seemed to fit the circumstances but what about the name Tarsk?
Baptism entry for Elizabeth Sampson in Cornwood, Devon parish baptism register (image downloaded September 28, 2014 from FindMyPast, used with the kind permission of Plymouth and West Devon Record Office)
The conflict between the information on the baptism and marriage records led me to believe that Elizabeth might have been married to someone else, possibly named Tarsk, prior to 1848. Searches for this surname led nowhere except back to the 1848 marriage entry on Ancestry, FindMyPast and FreeBMD records. There were some Tarsks in Somerset but the names and time periods of the records did not match.

I posted a message on the DEVON_L message board to see if anyone researching in Devon had ever heard of this person or, indeed this surname. A very helpful soul found a marriage entry on FreeBMD for an Elizabeth Samson and John Trask in 1845. Now we were on to something! I suggested to the family researcher that she obtain this particular marriage certificate to see if the information fit. She did and it did! The individual from DEVON_L also thought that maybe Elizabeth was a bigamist because the marriages were so close together. It’s an interesting idea but we have no evidence for it.
Portion of marriage certificate for John Trask and Elizabeth Sampson, January 20, 1845, East Stonehouse, Devon parish (certificate obtained from the General Record Office)
The bride’s father was Thomas Samson, a labourer. The man’s name, Trask, strongly suggested that the name on the 1848 marriage record was in error. Although it is curious why Elizabeth would state that her name was Elizabeth Tarsk and her father’s was Thomas Sampson Tarsk, a perusal of the entry showed that she could not write her own name and possibly did not notice or pay attention to the fact that is was spelled wrongly. Maybe the Vicar did not quite understand the situation either, especially if the parents did not attend the wedding.
We could have gone round in circles a few times before we found the Trask/Sampson marriage entry so the query to DEVON_L was timely and valuable. Having the name, Sampson/Samson on all records seems to have tied everything together as well.

John Trask, if that was his real name, was a Private in the Royal Marines. It is possible that he was killed in the service, or otherwise, prior to 1848. There are two deaths registered for a John Trask that fit the time frame: in fourth quarter on 1845, in East Retford, Nottinghamshire and in the first quarter of 1847 in Yeovil, Somerset. We have not yet seen the details of these records so we cannot ascertain whether either are the John Trask that married Elizabeth Sampson. He could also have died overseas or the marriage could have been annulled. Or maybe Elizabeth was hiding the true relationship of her past marriage by adding Tarsk to her father’s name.

There is still some way to go to find out the whole story about Elizabeth Sampson’s history. The confusion of surnames on the official documents certainly does not help with resolution of outstanding questions.

Some images reproduced here are used with the permission of the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office, Census records are the property of The National Archives and published under their Open Government License. Images were downloaded from Ancestry. Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.


  1. Wayne, I need to get back to you on this. My own data contains a John Trask who left Chard, Somerset, to go to Nottingham in about 1841, with 2 brother-in-laws from the Webber family. Could this be the same one as yours?

    1. Tony. That could be the man if he ended up joining the marines. I have seen Trask families in Somerset around the same time period however they lived there for several decades. I had thought that John Trask came from one of those families.