As an Online Parish Clerk (OPC) I get a number of requests each year for information about people who lived in one of the parishes I look after. Because I have a large database of births, baptisms, marriages, deaths, burials, censuses that span centuries, I can generally put together a reasonable answer about the families in question. It helps to know what documents are available and what are missing; it is also valuable to be able to look at the relationships of family members over several generations.
One recent query involved the birth/baptism of a girl in 1871, in Cornwood parish, Devon. The researcher wanted to know who the mother was for a Clara Jane Greep who he thought was illegitimate and baptized in Cornwood.
1871 baptism record for Clara Jane Greep in Cornwood parish, Devon (Note: all images used courtesy of the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office)
Little Clara Jane was indeed baptized in Cornwood, on 6 October 1871. She was a base child of Eliza Jane Greep. Nothing else is on the entry that would tell anything about Eliza Jane: how old she was, where she lived or originated, who her parents were or what she did for a living. I looked further into the records and found an Eliza Jane Greep baptized in 1846, in Cornwood, to parents John and Charlotte (Crispin) Greep. Eliza's age in 1871 made it likely she was the mother of Clara Jane. (Just as an aside, Charlotte was my 3rd great-grandaunt making Eliza Jane a 1st cousin, 4X removed and Clara Jane a 2nd cousin, 3X removed. It’s a small world!)
1846 baptism record for Eliza Jane Greep in Cornwood parish, Devon
Now the story gets interesting. Eliza Jane’s family can be found on censuses in 1851 and 1861, living in Cornwood parish. But there was nothing from 1871. What I found out as the OPC, in reviewing and transcribing the census records for the parish was that there were two pages of that census that had not been preserved. And wouldn’t you know, the Greep family was likely recorded on one of those pages.
Skipping along in time, we find John and Charlotte Greep on the 1881 census, living in the same little village of Lutton where they had been since they had married and where their families had also lived. With these two 70-year olds was a nine-year old girl name Clara J. – but no Eliza! Clara was shown as the granddaughter of John and Charlotte.
So what had happened? Had Eliza gone off to work or get married, leaving her child behind with her parents? That was possible and not uncommon for the time.
Eliza was not found on any census past 1861, at least with the name of Greep. There were a few marriage entries for an Eliza Greep and Eliza Jane Greep on FindMyPast – none in or near Cornwood – but they did not seem to fit the right time frame. I looked further in the Cornwood records and found a burial for Eliza Jane Greep, age 26, on 28 August 1872. So, in fact she had died, which explained why I could not find her on the censuses.
1872 burial record for Eliza Jane Greep in Cornwood parish, Devon
Clara Greep was recorded on the 1891 census, working as a domestic servant in Ugborough, a nearby parish. By that time, Charlotte had died and John was still in Lutton, by then a pauper. He died there a few years later.
In 1893, 21-year old Clara Jane Greep married 25-year old Eli Lethbridge in Ivybridge parish, which is next door to Cornwood. Her father is shown as John Greep, labourer. A George Greep was a witness to the ceremony, undoubtedly her uncle.
1893 marriage record for Clara Jane Greep and Eli Lethbridge in Ivybridge parish, Devon
While some information could be found in databases such as FindMyPast, the whole family story would not have become readily clear except for someone like an OPC, who had BMD data covering several generations and in a form that could be reviewed easily and quickly.
Without having the detailed background information of the Cornwood parish records, over several decades, one might miss the connections and not know the proper relationships between all of the Greep family members. In just looking at the marriage record for Clara, we would not have learned that John Greep was by then 83 years old. From that document, but without her baptism and the census records, we might have assumed she really was John’s daughter. We might not have realized that the witness to the marriage, George Greep, was probably her uncle. We might have missed the fact that Clara was orphaned and raised by her grandparents.
Clara and her husband went on to have seven daughters, all born in Ugborough parish. The name Greep lived on as the second name of one of them, although, interestingly, none had the forenames of either her mother or grandmother. She died in 1935.
In this case my knowledge of and immediate access to the records available concerning families in Cornwood over decades helped to find details about Clara Jane.
Have a problem like this? Consult an OPC. If there is not one in the area you are searching, consider becoming one.
Wayne Shepheard is a retired geologist and active genealogist. He volunteers 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 in several family history society journals. Wayne has also served as an editor of two such publications. He provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.