Tuesday 10 March 2015

Family Misfortune

Sometimes when you look through the parish registers and other data concerning a particular family you just have to feel sorry for them. That was the case with one of my 1st cousins (5X removed) in Cornwood, Devon.

John was one of those members of my family who was baptized as Shepheard but buried as Shepherd. Part of the reason I think the spelling of his name changed over the years was that John could not read or write and either did not recognize the difference in spelling or accepted what the Vicar recorded as the "proper" way to spell his name. On his 1842 marriage record in Ashburton parish, Devon, he is shown as John Shephard. On the 1851 census he and his family were recorded as Shiphard; on the 1861, 1881 and 1891 censuses as Shepherd; and on the 1871 census as Shepheard. In the parish baptism register, on the occasion of the baptism of his children, he was variously shown as both Shepherd and Shepheard.
December 24, 1815 entry in Cornwood parish baptism register for John Shepheard, son of Thomas and Ann Shepheard; image courtesy of copyright-holder - Plymouth and West Devon Record Office
May 15, 1842 entry in Ashburton parish marriage register for John Shephard and Betsey Cleave;  image courtesy of copyright-holder - Plymouth and West Devon Record Office
July 22, 1898 entry in Cornwood parish burial register for John Shepherd, aged 82;  image courtesy of copyright-holder - Plymouth and West Devon Record Office
John and  Betsey had six children. One of their first setbacks was the deaths of the two oldest in 1850, Susanna at the age of seven and William at the age of 5. The burial register does not record the cause of death but it was likely one of those diseases that made their rounds among communities in the mid-19th century. In Cornwood parish, between 1848 and 1852, of the 122 total burials, 51 of them children under the age of 17 – a very high ratio.

John was a farm labourer all of his life so likely never made great wages. The family probably lived from hand-to-mouth most of the time. By the time his children were teenagers, most of them were out working, generally in menial or labouring jobs. One daughter, Harriet was fortunate in being sponsored to attend Dame Hannah Rogers’ School in Plymouth. The school was endowed in 1764, originally “for the maintenance and education of poor unfortunate children” of Devon and Cornwall.

Harriet came back to Cornwood but not without finding a bit of trouble. She had a daughter, Louisa, a “base child” according to the entry in the baptism register, in 1865. Harriet married George Haynes, the local bootmaker, in 1869 – signing her name as Shepheard, it might be noted. Louisa lived with her grandparents, John and Betsey, for a number of years apparently, even while her mother, stepfather and half siblings were living right next door. That, of course, could have been a convenience of space not necessarily a rejection by Harriet’s new husband.

Not all of Harriet’s sisters were as lucky with their education. After a few years working as a general servant, Susanna, born in 1856, was married at the age of 19 to a local boy, William Phillips. Other sisters, however – Ruth Ann, born in 1851, and Elizabeth, born in 1854 – both ended up in the Plympton St. Mary Union Workhouse.

Ruth Ann had a daughter, Harriet Blanche, born in the workhouse in 1872. Harriet also lived with her grandparents for a number of years. She went on to marry and raise a family of her own in Cornwood. Elizabeth had two children out of wedlock in the workhouse, James Ernest, in 1878, and Edith Virginia, in 1880. Both children died there, James at the age of 10 weeks and Edith as a child of eight years. I have not yet found what happened to Ruth Ann or Elizabeth.

The family of John and Betsey was not without tribulation and misfortune, perhaps like many other families of the day. In the end, several branches prospered. John and Betsey lived to ripe old ages of 83 and 86, respectively. It is likely John worked right up until near his death. He was still shown as an agricultural labourer on the 1891 census, at the age of 75.

Betsey and John Shepherd of Tor, Cornwood – about 1890 (photo courtesy of Pat den Hollander and Tom Maddock, descendants; image from T. H. Maddock Collection)
Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, 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.