Thursday 18 January 2024

Not my 7th Great-Grandfather

In one of my earliest blog posts, on 3 December 2013 (Who was my 7th Great-grandfather?), I tentatively concluded that a Nicholas Shepheard, who was born about 1636 and died before 1685, was “rightly or wrongly, and until further information comes along” my 7th great-grandfather.

That conclusion was based upon analyses of a fraudulent will and a will of my 8th great-grandfather dated 1657. The interpretation was a bit complex and contained more than a few assumptions. On the face of it, though, it seemed logical.

Well, “further information” has come along. This week I obtained photos of a 1659 lease document for a property called Notts, now Woodburn, in Cornwood Parish, Devon, England. This and other documents are being analyzed to determine when this property came into the possession of members of my family as part of a review of the construction of the main residence.

I am writing an article on Master Craftsmen and the house at Woodburn offers an excellent example of many different building styles in use over the past several hundred years. But I digress.

The first document I have transcribed pertains to a lease for certain lands in Cornwood to two local gentlemen, one of them being the property named Notts. A section of the lease in part describes the “…Messuage and Tenement commonly called or known by the name of Notts Scituate lying and being in the Parish of Cornwood aforesaid formerly in the Tenure or Possession of one Margaret Shepheard and John Shepheard the Grandfather of him the Said Nicholas Shepheard or one of them Afterwards of Nicholas Shepheard Father of the Said Nicholas Shepheard…”

The Nicholas Shepheard named as a party to the agreement was my 4th great-grandfather. Parish records are clear that he was born in 1716 and died in 1786 and was my direct ancestor. It is equally clear that his father was also Nicholas Shepheard, born around 1675 and died in 1756. His burial record confirms the year of his death. His birth year cannot be entirely defined as the parish records older than 1685 were destroyed in a fire that year. He appears to be the individual named in a 1685 legal case involving a fraudulent will, at which time he was a minor child.

Margaret Shepheard was the widow of my 8th great-grandfather, another Nicholas Shepheard. They had sons John, Nicholas, Samson, Thomas and William. The lease document just obtained states that it was John who was the direct ancestor.

Serendipity smiled on me again.

Through circumstance and a new look at certain lands in Cornwood parish, I can now be confident that my Shepheard line is better defined.

I would also note that the spelling of our surname has been constant since at least the early 17th century, notwithstanding that other members of the family have changed their names on occasion over the decades.

The next challenge is to discover who John’s wife was. There are some possibilities as recorded in the parish registers: one being a Cathren Shipperd [sic] buried in 1685. By all accounts John died before the “fire” year of 1685 and was thus certainly married before that time as well. We do have his baptism record as shown on the Bishops Transcripts for Cornwood as being 20 June 1633.

The Notts or Woodburn property stayed in the family until 1806 when it was sold by my 4th great-grandfather, Nicholas Shepheard (yes, another one!). The documents demonstrate that the lands, along with other properties at Rooke, Cornwood (the “family estate”) were in possession of family members for likely at least 200 years. In the case of Rooke it was over 300 years.

This example does show the importance of land records and wills, especially when BMD data is not available. These types of old documents often have information about lineage, at times when title records were not kept.

It also shows that persistence, patience and luck are important in reconstructing family histories.