Saturday, 8 April 2017

A Lady of Letters

I know quite a bit about Elizabeth Harvie McDonald* and her family because she kept many letters sent to her and her family.  I am lucky enough to have copies of these letters.
Public domain photo of some old letters.
Elizabeth Harvie McDonald was born 21 May 1825 in Tradestown in Glasgow, Scotland, the daughter of William McDonald, a cloth lapper, and Margaret Bowie.  Cloth lapping was a stage in weaving, so William would have been a mill worker.  Elizabeth was named after her grandmother, Elizabeth Harvie, who would have been about 95 when Elizabeth Harvie McDonald was born and was said to have reached 100**.  Elizabeth Harvie McDonald was baptised at Gorbals church on 5 June 1825.

Elizabeth Harvie McDonald was the oldest of three siblings.  Her brother was Salis Schwabe McDonald, definitely a black sheep of the family with a criminal record.  As an adult, Elizabeth seems to have lost touch with her sister Margaret McDonald, with a letter from a relative saying that they didn’t know where she was either.  The three children lost their mother, Margaret Bowie, sometime between Margaret’s birth in 1833 and 1839, when their father married his second wife, Grace Davies.  Scottish burial records are patchy and I haven’t found one for Margaret.  Elizabeth’s Bowie correspondents didn’t seem to think much of Grace but maybe that was because she replaced their sister.

I haven’t yet identified Elizabeth Harvie McDonald in the 1841 Scottish Census.  She wasn’t living with her parents and there are several possible Elizabeth McDonald’s working in the Glasgow as servants and my ancestor may have been one of them.  Even though Elizabeth had a disrupted childhood and was probably working by the time she was 15, she had somehow managed to get enough of an education to be a letter writer.

On 31 Dec 1846, Elizabeth Harvie Macdonald married Malcolm Macdonald, a shipping clerk.  Both gave their residence as Anderston, an area of Glasgow.

By the time of the 1851 Scottish Census, on 30 March that year, Elizabeth and Malcolm had two children, Malcolm Kay Macdonald and William Bowie Macdonald, plus a third, James Gordon Macdonald (my ancestor) well on the way.  James was born in May 1851.  Sadly, Malcolm Kay Macdonald died sometime in the early 1850s, probably before 1854.  Elizabeth and Malcolm did not have any more children that I know of.

By July 1854, according to a letter from her Aunt, Elizabeth and her young family were settling in Liverpool, England, which was where Malcolm’s father’s family lived.  Elizabeth and Malcolm appear to have stayed in Liverpool until 1858, when they migrated to Victoria Australia.  

The family travelled on the ship “Monsoon”, which departed London on 11 March 1858 and arrived in Hobson’s Bay, Melbourne 9 Jun 1858***; three months on a ship with two lively young boys.  They went to live in Ballarat, in the heart of the gold fields of Victoria.  A letter sent to Elizabeth in 1859 from her Aunt Elizabeth Bowie, indicates that Malcolm may have been strongly encouraged to migrate to Victoria due to some (unspecified) bad behaviour on his part.  The Aunt suggests that Elizabeth and her boys should have stayed with her in Glasgow and left Malcolm to his own devices.  I wish the Aunt has been more specific about Malcolm’s wrong doing; all I know is that an old Scottish spinster thought he was an evil doer.  Perhaps Elizabeth and Malcolm did not have a very happy marriage.

Elizabeth and Malcolm stayed in Ballarat.  Members of Malcolm’s family followed him out to Australia, including his father, also Malcolm, and his only surviving brother, Charles.  His uncle, the brother of Malcom snr, a sailor named Angus, visited Australia on at least on occasion.  So in spite of the spinster Aunt’s fears, the boys (William and James) did not grow up not knowing their family.  In addition, plenty of correspondence seems to have been exchanged with both Elizabeth’s and Malcolm’s extended families, in spite of the distance and time it took letters to travel between Britain and Australia.

Elizabeth Harvie McDonald outlived her troublesome husband by over 10 years, dying 16 Jan 1892, in Ballarat.  By this time, she had several grandchildren and hopefully this made up for having been shipped away from her family under less than ideal circumstances.  I imagine that having had to move a 3 month voyage away from her family, their letter’s must have been precious, as Elizabeth’s only connection with her now distant family and friends, and that is why she kept them, for which I am grateful.

Notes on lineage: Me > Mum > John Macdonald Charley > Constance Mary Macdonald > James Gordon Macdonald > Elizabeth Harvie Mcdonald

*There are various spellings of both Harvie and McDonald.  Harvie and Mcdonald are the spellings used in Elizabeth’s baptism record.  Macdonald is the spelling used by the living descendants of Malcolm.

**According to the book:  The Bowies and their kindred: a genealogical and biographical history, available on Google books and other archive web sites.

***The Age, 15 Jun 1858

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Two Many Names

Jehu Briggs was born sometime between May and September in 1750, the oldest child of Timothy Briggs and Lettice Preston. Timothy and Lettice were apparently respectable landed gentry.  They married on 5 May 1750. Jehu Briggs was baptised 28 September 1750 in Elswick Independent or Congregational Chapel, Lancashire.  I will leave the reader to do the maths.

In the baptism register, his name was originally written as John Briggs, but the John is crossed out and Jehu written above.  This confusion between the two names continued for his entire life.  It is an additional challenge in family history research to be hunting for someone known by two names.  While Jehu Briggs is a good name to research, as every reference to the name I have found in the time period refers to my ancestor, there are many more John Briggs’s.  In addition, when hand written, the names look similar and Jehu is sometimes wrongly transcribed as John.

 Jehu had at least two brothers, one who died in infancy, and one sister. The Briggs family lived in Thurnham in the parish of Cockerham, Lancashire.  They were yeomen and non-conformists.  Timothy Briggs died in 1762, leaving a young family.  Lettice’s family had very little money and appear to have been supported by a distant noble relative, at least until her mother died in 1765.

According to the Register of Duties Paid for Apprentices' Indentures, 1710-1811 - in 1764, a John Briggs was apprenticed to Thomas Hall, a cooper and citizen of London.  I think this might be Jehu.  I wonder if he was apprenticed as soon as he was old enough due to his family’s circumstances rather than following in his father’s footsteps as yeoman.  Jehu Briggs later took on apprentices as a cooper or at least as a member of the Coopers Guild, Thomas Swanton in 1785 and Thomas Patrick in 1790.  Members of a guild did not always practice the trade in the guild’s name.

From 1781, there are land tax records showing that Jehu Briggs was living in St John Street, St Sepulchre (Farringdon area), in London, initially as a tenant and later as a property owner.  St John Street is still lined with Georgian terrace houses, so it is easy to picture the world he lived in.  In fact, here is me looking at some houses in the area that may be very like what the Briggs family lived in (photo taken by my mother), although I think where the Briggs family actually lived is now Smithfield’s Markets.  Their address is sometimes given as Smithfield Barrs.  Jehu lived in St John Street for the rest of his life.
Somehow, Jehu met a young lady from Suffolk, Susan (or Susanna) Mumford, daughter of Robert.  They married in Action, Suffolk by Licence, on 14 Oct 1784*.  Jehu and Susan had at least seven children, four girls and three boys: Elizabeth, Charles Jehu, Mary Ann, Sarah, Louisa, George Mumford and Henry Sparrow, all baptised in St Sepulchre parish church.  Curiously, in the parish registers, the father’s name is given as Jehu for the boys and John for the girls.

Sometime in the 1790’s Jehu changed trades from cooper to pawnbroker, with a shop in St John Street, possibly under the family residence.  In 1797, one Hannah Wright stole 5 yards of cotton material from his shop.  The trial took place in the Old Bailey and Jehu Briggs gave evidence in court, so I have a transcript of words he actually spoke.  Hannah was found guilty and sentence to 6 months confinement.

In addition to working, Jehu Briggs supported the Finsbury Dispensary benevolent charity, which provided medicines for those who couldn’t afford them.  A book about the dispensary says that in 1797, Mr Jehu Briggs was a steward of the charity.

Jehu Briggs died in August 1821, age 71, and was buried 29 August 1821, at St Sepulchre in London.  In the burial register, he was original named as John Briggs.  His son-in-law, James Clark, the husband of Louisa, signed an affidavit, which was inserted into the parish register, to say that John was also known as Jehu.  So the man who started life with two names also ended with them.

I have yet to find a will but assume he must have had one, given that he was a successful business man.

*Sudbury Marriage Licence Allegations gives the year of marriage as 1782 but given the entry is in the 1784-1785 section, this appears to be a typo.

Notes on lineage: Me > Mum > Daphne Madge Smith > Esther Ilma Lees > Fanny Sarah Eliza Briggs > Frederick Henderson Briggs > Henry Sparrow Briggs > Jehu Briggs

Sunday, 8 January 2017

The Partridge Inheritance

When John Partridge was about 56 years old, in 1769, he inherited a manor house from his cousin Joseph.  Earlier in his life, John wouldn’t have expected this inheritance as he had various uncles and male cousins who should have inherited the property, and passed it onto their heirs, had they had any that survived long enough.

John Partridge was born in Miserden, Gloucestershire, around 1713 and baptised in Miserden parish church on 18 November 1713.  Miserden is a small picturesque village in the Cotswolds. At the time in that parish, the Rector only recorded the bare minimum amount of information, a name and a date, so John’s parents were not named.  However, based on a process of elimination using various Partridge family wills and a 1714 electoral roll, John’s father must have been Nathaniel Partridge and, therefore, his mother was Nathaniel’s wife, Ann Burrows. 

Nathaniel Partridge was the sixth son of Henry Partridge of Wishanger, so seemingly unlikely to inherit the family estate.  However, three of the older brothers, Henry, Robert and John, died without having children of their own.  Thomas Partridge, the brother who inherited Wishanger from father Henry, had one son who seems not to have survived childhood, so the property was left to his brother Henry’s oldest son, Freeman.  And yes, there were two (half) brothers both named Henry.  The two Henry’s can be clearly distinguished in their father’s will.   Freeman Partridge died relatively young and without having a son, so Wishanger went to his younger brother Joseph.  Their two other brothers, Thomas and John, must have died young as they were not mentioned in Freeman’s will.  Joseph did not marry, so Wishanger ultimately passed onto his cousin John, my ancestor.  Joseph Partridge left his other property to his sister’s son, Partridge Smith who married Freeman’s daughter Susanna.  Fortunately the family wills explain the various relationships in some detail.   As Joseph Partridge was only five years older than John, even when John because Joseph’s heir, John may have expected his son’s to inherit, rather than himself.

John Partridge had at least one sister, Rebecca, born about 1700; both are mentioned in their Uncle Thomas’ will of 1752 as siblings.  John Partridge lost his father in 1717 when he was about 4 years old.  Nathaniel died intestate (without a will), so there is no will to conveniently list family members. John’s mother, Ann, seems to have re-married in 1719 to Andrew Soul.  There may have been some half siblings but without parent’s names in the Miserden parish register, I can’t be sure.  Andrew Soul died in 1726, so John lost his stepfather, as well as his father, while still a child.

On 19 February 1734/5*, John Partridge married Ann Moss (or Morse) in Pitchcombe, Gloucestershire.  John and Ann had five children, Harry, Thomas (my ancestor), Ann, Sarah and John, all baptised in Miserden parish church.  Ann died in 1768.  John married his second wife, Sarah Herberts, at Stonehouse on 25 May 1771.

In additional the manor of Wishanger, John owned other land in the area around Miserden that he left to his children in his will.  He died in February 1785, having enjoyed his inheritance for nearly twenty years.

Wishanger is now a B&B and some pictures can be found here (I couldn’t find any that I was sure were public domain to include in this post).  It belonged to the Partridge family from the 1560’s until the early 1800s.

Notes on Lineage: Me > Dad > Helen Francis Ruth Akeroyd > Florence Ruth Kirby > Harriet Partridge > Thomas Partridge > Nathaniel Partridge > Thomas Partridge > John Partridge

*Prior to 1752 in England, New Year's day was 25 March so it is conventional to write dates from 1 Jan to 24 Mar like this.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

The Diary Part 2: A Mother’s Tale

It is quite some time since I wrote part one of the story of “the Diary”, so this second part is well overdue.  James Jesse Blake mentioned many people when he wrote his life story.  For many of these people, he didn’t just provide facts, he also gave an insight into their personality. So, this is the story of James Jesse Blake’s mother, her life and her character.

According to James Jesse Blake, his mother’s father was a widower with three girls and that he had moved up from Somerset to London to work on the Thames Tunnel – I have written his story.  Catherine Elizabeth Flower* was born in Timsbury, Somerset about 1820 and was baptised in the parish church there on 3 Aug 1821.  She was the oldest daughter of Jesse Flower and Mary Ann Hoare and had two sisters, also born in Timsbury, Harriet and Amelia, who survived childhood.  Another two sisters, both Elizabeth, born in Southwark, died in infancy.

Catherine lost her mother when she was eleven and her father when she was twenty, so was an orphan before she came of age at twenty one.  As a teenager, she went into service, so worked as a house maid somewhere in Greater London, I don’t know where. 

On 5 Oct 1846, Catherine married James Blake, a south sea mariner, in Aldgate Parish church, London.  According to The Diary, they moved from Aldgate to Park Street (now Milligan Street) Limehouse in 1848.  They stayed in Park Street for the rest of their lives, as shown by subsequent Census records.

Although she didn’t feature much in her son’s early recorded memories, Catherine emerges as a concerned mother once he started work as an apprentice.  James Jesse was living in Park St Limehouse while working at a coach maker’s in Marylebone.  After a year of walking 7 miles to and from work, Catherine finally allowed her son to lodge close to work during the week with him coming home at weekends. James would have been no more that eighteen at the time, so her reluctance to let him move out is understandable.  As his apprenticeship continued, he varied between living at home and living away depending on his health and behaviour.  James records a few instances of his mother insisting that he return home for varying periods.

After one of his many (yes, there were several) accidental dips in the Thames, slipping of a dock in fog, James Jesse was rescued by a Swedish seaman who inspired him to want to travel.  The seaman was headed for Queensland, Australia.  He mother said that she “would soon know that dammed nonsense out of you”.  This resulted in him having to live at home for some time.  It sounds like she was a woman who wouldn’t stand for any nonsense from her children and wanted to keep an eye on them.

Another time when Catherine exerted her authority on son James was when she reminded him that he needed to give his sister a wedding present.  She then helped him get one of his drawings framed as the present so was supportive of his talents too.

When James met his future wife, Eliza Todd, his mother had an important role. The two women first met without James present.  Eliza was sent by her Mistress to meet James’ mother soon after the young couple first met.  The mistress wanted to make sure James was a decent lad with honourable intentions and presumably thought his mother would feel the same.  When James and Eliza eventually married, Catherine helped them set up their new home and also hosted thier wedding dinner at her house. 

Throughout his married life, James mentioned his mother coming to help out when one or other of them was ill.  This included when James had to be nursed for three months after he was temporarily blinded by small pox.
Catherine died not long after the small pox episode, in December 1889.  She was 68 years old.

For so many ancestors, it is only the bare facts of their stories that can be known for sure, so it is special to have even a hint of personality; to know that someone care about their children’s welfare and did their best to look after them through childhood and as adults.  I do know from the facts that Catherine’s life couldn't always have been easy but thanks to The Diary, I know a little of how she coped with what life threw at her.

*Or Flowers.

Notes on Lineage: Me > Dad > John Edward Blake > James William Blake > James Jesse Blake > Catherine Elizabeth Flower

Monday, 22 August 2016

John Smith - Generation 3

This is the story of my third Bicester John Smith.  He was born around 1765 in the vicinity of Bicester.  Somewhat surprisingly, there is a shortage of likely John Smith baptisms and I have not yet found his.  I suspect he might be the son of John Smith and Catherine Gulliver, who were having children at the right time and have a suitable gap between other children that he would fit into, but have no proof yet.

I do know that John Smith’s father was a gardener working for a Mr Stratton who lived in the former grounds of the Priory of St Edburg.  Bicester parish church is dedicated to St Edburg.  I know about his father because, in 1816, a John Dunkin published a book, “The History and Antiquities of Bicester, a Market Town in Oxfordshire”. One of John Dunkin’s sources on the ruined priory was a letter from John Smith, explaining about some of the ruins he and his father had dug up while gardening.  I always think it is exciting to find the actual words an ancestor spoke or wrote, so here is a quote about a well:

“My father and Master Hudson repeatedly tried to empty it; but after they had reached a depth of seven feet the water flowed so fast that they were compelled to desist.  Close to the present building, my father also discovered a very neat coffin about two feet long; the bones were so small that he could not ascertain what they were, and there was no inscription visible.”

It sounds like they were not very successful amateur archaeologists.  The well they were trying to dig up was possibly one much visited in medieval times because it was believed to have healing properties.

On the domestic front, John Smith married Anne Bowden 1 Nov 1790 in Bicester and one of the witnesses was Martha Smith, perhaps his sister.  John and Anne had six children between 1792 and 1805, Harriet, Catherine, James, my ancestor John, Thomas and Mary Ann.

At some point, John Smith changed careers, becoming a school teacher.  He was school master at the Bicester blue coat school, a charity school for boys.  There were many blue coat schools around England and they got their name from the distinctive uniform worn by the children.  I have a photo of a former blue coat school in Hatton Gardens, London, showing statues of two children in their blue uniforms.  The Bicester charity school was supported by local gentry.

Blue Coat School, Hatton Gardens, London

John’s wife Anne died in November 1821.  The following year, probably on 2 December 1822 (I don’t have a reliable source for this date) John Smith married Mary Moore in Bicester.  John had at least another six children with Mary, taking his total to twelve: Benjamin, Mathilda, Emma, Eliza, Henry and Kezia.  Kezia was born when John was about 71 and so he might be the oldest father I have found so far in my family tree, although to be honest, this is not something I have taken much note of.  As well as his twelve children, who I think all survived to adulthood, he had over 30 grandchildren, although he did not live to see them all.  He did live to see some great grandchildren, including my ancestor Harry Smith.

Bicester in the 1820’s and 1830’s was an interesting but possibly not safe place to live.  In 1826, according to an extract from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868), there were riots in the main street that destroyed the town hall.  In 1832, the same source says there was a cholera epidemic that infected 70 people.  I have no record of any of the Smith’s suffering from Cholera, though.

By the time of the 1841 census, as well as being a school teacher, John Smith was a parish clerk.  As far as I can work out, a parish clerk was something of a jack of all trades, supporting the clergy with administrative and other tasks, possibly including leading the singing.  Also in 1841, John’s family were living in New Buildings, Market End, Bicester, near his son John.

In 1851, John Smith was an elderly man and the census says he was blind, although he is still listed as a parish clerk.  He, wife Mary and some of their children were still living in New Buildings.

In his will, John Smith seems to have owned two properties, one in New Buildings and one in Crockwell, another area in Bicester.  Curiously, John wrote his will in 1829 before all of his children were born, so they are not all named however there was a clause to cover this eventuality.

John Smith died 17 March 1858, age 93.  Did miraculous water from the well he and his father dug up contribute to his long life?

Saturday, 6 August 2016

John Smith – Generation 2

Having established that my Smith ancestors came from Bicester, Oxfordshire, as described in my previous blog post, my next challenge was to work back a few generations.  Luckily for my research, many of the branches of the Smith tree are less common names and so are easier to trace. However, for this story, I will stick with my one of my John Smith ancestors.

This John Smith was born around 1799, the fourth of six children of John Smith and Ann Bowden, and baptised 29 September 1799, in the parish church in Bicester.  There were actually three John Smith’s baptised in Bicester in 1799.  So, how do I know that I have the right one?  The first time I looked at the Bicester registers, I noted that one of the John Smiths was a twin.  I know, sadly, that the survival rate for twins was not good at a time when infant mortality was high, anyway.  

Something I learned while doing my anthropology degree was that until the 20th century in the western world (and still in some places), one of life’s biggest challenges was to get to the age of five.  Those who made it to five had a reasonable chance of reaching old age, if they avoided the risks of violence (for men) and child birth (for women).  So, I checked the burial records for the few years after the 1799 baptisms.  Unfortunately for the families concerned, two of the three John Smiths died very young and the logical conclusion is that the survivor must have been my ancestor.

Having survived the trials of childhood, John Smith trained as a plumber and glazier; plumber, at that time, being someone worked with lead (plumbum being Latin for lead), rather than the modern trade of working with copper and plastic water pipes.  I haven’t found a record of his apprenticeship yet.  Records from the later part of his life say that he was also a painter.

On 31 March 1823, John Smith married Elizabeth Ellston* in Bicester parish church, by banns.  They had nine children, including my ancestor John Smith.  Their oldest son, James, was born in September 1823.  I will leave the reader to do the maths but will say that it was quite a common occurrence...  Their last child, Ann, was born about twenty years later.

John, Elizabeth and their family can be followed through the 1841, 1851 and 1861 censuses.  For all that time they lived in Newbuildings, Sheep Street, Market End, in Bicester.  Sheep Street is the main street through the town and is now a pedestrianised shopping area but many of the old buildings are still there.  In the nineteenth century, as well as being a market town, hence Market End, Bicester was famous for hunting, although the Smith family did not belong to the hunting upper class.

John Smith died on 19 October 1870, age 71.  His death was announced in births, deaths and marriages column in the Oxford Times.  His death certificate says that he died of a diseased heart, congestion of the lungs and softening of the brain.  In modern medical terms, this probably translates to congestive heart failure and dementia.

Once again, I am pleased to have been able to discover so much about my ancestor in spite of his common name.

*There are various spellings of Ellston.

Notes on lineage: Me > Mum > Daphne Madge Smith > John Henry Smith > Harry Smith > John Smith > John Smith

Thursday, 30 June 2016

John Smith - Generation 1

It is a while since I posted a story about one of my ancestors due to an injury that has meant not too much typing and this story is a shorter one too.

I have written about common names before but no name is so common in British ancestry as John Smith.  My maternal grandmother was a Smith, so finding a John Smith in my family tree was inevitable.  As my research has progressed, I have found several other ancestral Smith families, but I will focus on my grandmother’s family for now.

Adding to the complications of researching the common Smith surname, when I first started my research, the information I had was that the Smiths were from Woolwich, in Kent and south of London, or Banbury, in Oxfordshire and north of London.  Thanks primarily to census records, I discovered that the family had connections to both places.

This particular John Smith was born in Bicester, Oxfordshire, in 1832, and was baptised in the local parish church on 9 December that year.  He was the middle of 9 children of John Smith and Elizabeth Elston*; four boys and five girls.

In 1841, young John Smith was living with his parents, siblings and grandmother, Martha Elston (nee Guntrip), in Bicester Market End.  Ten years later, in 1851, not much had changed other than John having grown up to be a carpenter.

John Smith married Eliza Roberts 17 April 1854 in Oxford.

Although they married in Oxford, John and Eliza lived for the first few years of their marriage in Banbury, Oxfordshire, where their first two children, Emily and Harry (my ancestor) were born.  So here is the Banbury link from my earliest research.  The family were briefly back in Bicester, where daughter Mary Ann was born in 1860, before moving to Woolston, St Mary Extra, in Hampshire, where the family were living at the time of the 1861 census.  Woolston was a ship building and port area of Southampton. 

The Smith family soon moved again and around 1864, daughter Elizabeth was born in Sandhurst, Berkshire.  By the time of the 1871 Census, the family were in West Plumstead, Kent, which is next to Woolwich, Kent, where they were living in 1881, with George Roberts, John’s father-in-law, living in the household.  So I also found the Woolwich connection. 

Daughter Emily married Henry James Brooker in 1875.  Son Harry migrated to Australia in the 1880s.  Daughter Elizabeth married John Carriss around 1890.  Both daughters stayed in the Woolwich area.

1891 found John and Eliza back in Oxfordshire, this time in Headington, just outside of Oxford with 6 year old Frederick Marriott, possibly a relative, living with them.  Eliza’s father had lived in Headington in 1890.  Another ten years later, John, Eliza and Frederick were back in Woolwich.  I think they stayed as John was still there in 1911, as a widower, Eliza having died in 1904, living with his daughter Elizabeth and her family.

I am not sure what took the Smith’s all over southern England but I suspect it was John’s work as a carpenter and joiner.

John Smith died in 1913.  He was 80 years old, a good age at the time but not unusual for his family.

I am pleased that I was able to track the movements of the Smith family and show that such a common name doesn’t make research impossible.

Notes on lineage: Me > Mum > Daphne Madge Smith > John Henry Smith > Harry Smith > John Smith

*Also Ellston, Elstone and other variations.