Tuesday 7 January 2014

Confusion in Names and Places

Here is another example of how family historians can be confused by different surname spellings and references to places. As the OPC for Plympton St. Mary parish in Southwest Devon, I get lots of queries about birth, marriage and death records for that area. Unfortunately Plympton St. Mary is also the name of the Registration District for civil registration of births, marriage and deaths after 1837. The two are often confused with each other.

I recently received the following request for information from a lady in Australia: “Would you have any information on the birth of William Sherrell born about 1820, also who were his parents. William is my 2nd great grandfather. I believe his son, James Cawse Sherrell, born and died in 1850 is buried at St. Mary. Any information on this family would be very helpful.”

There were a number of facts here that should have allowed us to find the family: their names, of course; the birth dates of the father and son; and the possible birth and burial place of the son. But nothing showed up in my inspection of the birth or burial registers of either Plympton St. Mary or Plympton St. Maurice parishes, for which I have copies of all of the registers.

I asked the researcher about the references she had used to identify the people concerned and got some additional information back: “James Cawse Sherrell was born and died in 1850 at Plympton St Mary, Devon. Ref: England and Wales birth and death records. I thought there might be records relating to his grandparents, James and Honour Sherrell.  The other family connection are the Cawse family. William Sherrell married Jane Cawse in 1845 at Plymstock, Devon. I have been trying to find any records for John and Jane Cawse who were the parents of Jane who married William Sherrell.”

Now I had some more names and areas that might help in the search: the “England and Wales” records, presumably the civil registration of births and deaths; an 1845 marriage in Plymstock parish; possible parents’ names for both William Sherrell and his wife, Jane; and the maiden name of Jane. I did not know, at this point, whether the family historian had actually seen any birth, death or marriage entries, from either the General Record Office or parish registers, but I had a suspicion that, for the 1850 birth and death, at least, she was looking at Plympton St. Mary Registration District, not Plympton St. Mary parish. The registration district contains records from 24 individual Devon parishes, including Plympton St. Mary, Plympton St. Maurice and Plymstock.

I did a quick search on FindMyPast for William or Jane Sherrell, using the years provided and came up with possible baptisms for William in Egg Buckland parish and Jane in Plympton St. Maurice parish. An 1845 marriage entry was found for William Sherrell, a wheelwright, and Jane Cawse, in Plymstock, that gave the couple’s ages and names of their fathers. The groom’s father was James Sherrell, labourer, and the bride’s father was John Cawse, shoemaker.

I also found an 1851 census record for the family of William and Jane Sherwill, living in Plymstock parish. The surname seemed too similar to Sherrell to be anyone but the right people, especially when additional data showed: their ages fit with the other records; he was a wheelwright; he was born in Egg Buckland; and she was born in Plympton. There were two children listed, Sarah, age four and born “at sea” and William, two months of age and born in Plymstock. From there I went back to the baptism register of Plympton St. Maurice and found Jane’s baptism in 1823, along with three siblings. The father was shown as a cordwainer which seemed to confirm this was the right person.

The main differences between what the Australian descendant had, and what I found in the parish records, were the names of the parents: James and Elizabeth Sherell, rather than James and Honour; and John and Elizabeth Cawse, rather than John and Jane Cawse.

A further search on Ancestry yielded an 1853 passenger list to New South Wales, Australia for the same family. The family researcher confirmed this was her family and the entry was one of the records that started her on her journey through Devon sources.

At this point we believe we are the right track with these two families and the search has expanded to include the Devon parishes of Broadhempston, Egg Buckland. St, Budeaux and Stoke Damerel, as well. Unfortunately not all of them have Online Parish Clerks like me, so assistance will be sought from the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office and the Devon Family History Society, among others places.

The important things to note in this example, which allowed us to identify members of the families of William Sherrell and Jane Cawse were the similar sounding surname on the 1851 England census and the fact that the reference Plympton St. Mary was for the registration district, not the parish. Both are very common mistakes encountered in the search for ancestors.

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.