Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Henry Hackett, prison hulks, deportation to Tasmania... and magical babies

A prison hulk, Deptford, artist unknown.
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Henry Hackett was the maternal grandfather of husband of one of my great-great-aunts, and maybe not even that... so a rather distant relation. And things became even more, way more distant, when he was deported for burglary! It's a story of prison hulks, Dickensian images, and a family that kept growing despite him being on the other side of the world.

Henry Hackett was born in Wigston, Leicestershire, in 1818. I believe he was baptised in Wigston Magna (Greater Wigston) Independent chapel on 15th March, 1819, to parents William Hackett and Charlotte (nee Bates). Henry married Esther Brewin (also spelled Bruin) on 23 November, 1838, when both bride and groom were aged twenty. The wedding ceremony was performed at the Anglican church in Wigston Magna--All Saints'--and both of the spouses' fathers, and the spouses themselves, were all working as framework knitters.

Henry and Esther's first child, a daughter, Mary Brewin Hackett, was born during the second quarter of 1839, and the second child, another girl named Sarah Ann, was born in the second quarter of 1841. (Sarah Ann is the one who later marries Samuel Cawthorn, and whose son then marries my great-aunt, Elizabeth Bonnett.)

At least, I am pretty certain that Sarah Ann is Henry's daughter. I have ordered Sarah Ann's birth certificate to be 100% sure. Without the birth certificate, we cannot know Sarah Ann's exact birth date--it could be any day between mid-March and June 30th. Most likely, she was born at during the early part of the registration quarter. Why does this matter? It matters, because on 7th August, 1840, Henry Hackett was sentenced, in Leicester, to ten years' deportation, and despatched to a prison hulk, Justitia, in Woolwich, London, before being shipped to Tasmania, Australia in May, 1841 on the convict ship called David Clark, one of 308 prisoners making the journey. I doubt that conjugal visits were allowed on prison hulks, though you never know.

Leicestershire Mercury, 8 August 1940.
By kind permission of findmypast.com
Henry Hackett was charged with breaking into the house of a Mrs. Fox in Wigston, and stealing "jars, keys, and other items". The Leicestershire Mercury on 8th August went into more detail, and stated that he was suspected of stealing two pounds of mutton, a pound of butter, a loaf of bread, five jars of preserves, and a jar of pickles. Someone was hungry. Maybe his wife was craving the pickles during early pregnancy. If he had stolen the goods for his  family rather than to resell, or just because he wanted a snack, then very sadly, Henry was soon to leave his wife and child in a far hungrier state. Committed to trial at the county assizes, and then sent to London, he ended up on the other side of the world, never to return. He died in Richmond, Tasmania, on 19th November, 1847.

New South Wales and Tasmania Convict Musters
By kind permission of findmypast.com
The prison hulk that Henry was held on for the months prior to shipping out to Tasmania, was called the Justitia in 1840, but had had a long prior history as the HMS Hindostan, sailing to India, Australia, the Mediterranean. No longer seaworthy, by 1840 she had been "hulked"--her masts and other parts removed, leaving just the hull and decks--and converted to a prison--a common practice in the early 19th century. The sort of place that Abel Magwitch escaped from in Dickens' Great Expectations.

The ship David Clark had already been to Australia in 1839, that time carrying the first emigrants under the assisted-passage program: encouraging people to settle "down under". Those that were on the ship in 1841 didn't make the voyage of their own choice, and may even have been put to work for some of the people on the 1839 voyage. (There is a picture of the David Clark on various websites, but reproduction is prohibited. Try here. Or here but this link was not responding for me.)

The bridge in Richmond, Tasmania
Under Creative Commons licensing via Wikimedia Commons
Richmond, Tasmania, was the end of Henry Hackett. Unless, of course, Henry had a personal transporter that allowed him to return to Leicestershire and impregnate his wife several  more times, both before, and after, his death. Emma Louisa Hackett was born in 1846, with Adah Maria in 1850, Amelia Catherine in 1855, and Martha Ellen in 1860. (All were registered as Hackett, in Esther's married name, despite no Henry in sight!) It might have taken a while for news of Henry's death to reach Wigston Magna, allowing Esther to marry again: in 1851, Esther was living with her sister, Mary Percival, Esther's baby Adah only eight months old and Henry long gone; in 1861 she was living as a housekeeper in the household of John Holmes, a 42 year old bachelor. In 1871? Esther was Mrs Esther Holmes, having married John in 1864.

I obviously have to do more research into Esther's children after Sarah Ann, before she marries John Holmes. (Amelia) Catherine gives no father on her marriage certificate:

Marriage of Amelia Catherine Hackett to Henry Frederick Wells in 1873
with kind permission from http://findmypast.com
I wonder if there are any Hackett descendants in Hobart?

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Joseph John (Henry) Carvell. And a confusion of names for his lady, Sarah Jane


Joseph John (Henry) Carvell was my great-great uncle, older brother by a few years of great-grandad Samuel Henry Carvell. The (Henry) in his name is because on one documented occasion, and one only--the baptism of four of his children, all on one day--his name was recorded as John Henry. At all other times he was Joseph John, or simply Joseph. To avoid confusion with another brother, Henry, I will stick to Joseph John.

Joseph John Carvell was born in Walcote, Leicestershire, to parents Samuel Carvell (1816-1898) and Jane nee Brown (1824-1877), within Misterton parish in the rural west of the county, on 6th September, 1863. He was baptised there, privately, two weeks later, on 21st September. A private baptism might indicate that little Joseph John was sick, though the register says that it was the rector, and not a local nurse or midwife, who officiated. (Baptisms could be done by anyone and then later 'brought into the church', but this appears to have been a church baptism, just private.) If it was because Joseph John was sick, he happily survived.

Map indicating location of Tan House Farm
Bromsgrove District
Joseph John's father, Samuel Carvell, was an agricultural labourer, as were many people living in the village of Walcote at that time. By 1871, when Joseph John is seventeen years old, he is working as a footman, and as little brother great-grandad Samuel Henry Carvell is already working, aged 12, as a farmer's boy, it's likely that Joseph John has been working for several years already.

Then in 1881, while Samuel Henry is a soldier in the 6th Regiment and barracked at the Tower of London, Joseph John has travelled to Stoke Prior in Worcestershire, where he is working as a butler for the Mays family at Tan House Farm. At some point between April 1881 and about 1888, Joseph John returns to Leicestershire, becomes a gardener, and meets up with Sarah Jane... and that is where all the name confusion begins.

Sarah Jane first appears in the censuses as Sarah Jane Bennett, a two-year-old boarder in the home of William Hyde. The family consists of William aged 45, Sarah Hyde his wife, aged 35, William's sons James aged 13 and Tom aged 10, plus little Sarah Jane Bennett and an older Jane Bennett, aged 15, also a 'boarder'. The census doesn't indicate if Jane and Sarah Jane are sisters, but I think Jane is far too young to be Sarah Jane's mother. I can find no indication that the two Bennett girls are William Hyde's step-daughters... there is no Hyde-Bennett marriage to be found. Nor is little Sarah Jane's mother's name easy to identify: there is a Sarah Jane born to an Elizabeth Bennett, no father named, in January 1859, but no way to be 100% certain it's the 'right' Sarah Jane... nor why she and Jane Bennett are living with the Hydes. Sarah Jane Bennett--still called Bennett--is still living with the Hydes, on Benford Street in Leicester, in 1871. Aged 12, she is already working as a "fancy hand"--probably doing delicate hand-work in Leicester's hosiery industry.

In the summer of 1879, Sarah Jane gives birth to a baby girl, Mary Edith Bennett. No father named. (I'll have more to say about Mary Edith later... there is a whole set of stories there!)

But by the time that Sarah Jane marries a William Burdett on 7th March, 1881, she is using the name, Sarah Jane Hyde. Did William adopt her? Or was it simply easier to say to the vicar or parish clerk that Mr. Hyde was her father? It took a while for me to track down that marriage, even though I knew that at some point between the 1871 census, and the 1891 census when she is living in Evington, Leicester, and Joseph John Carvell is her "boarder", her name had changed to Burdett!

Marriage of Sarah Janee Bennett or Hyde to William Burdett
by kind permission of FindMyPast.com
In the 1891 census, Sarah Jane Burdett, still a "fancy" workier, now with two daughters, Mary Edith (now listed as Mary Edith Burdett), and Daisy Georgina Burdett (born 12 October 1890, and what a lovely name!) are living at 29 Leicester Street in Evington. Joseph John Carvell is their lodger, and he is working as a gardener. There is no sign of William Burdett, though the census says that Sarah Jane is a married woman--and that Joseph John is single.

1891 census entry for Sarah Jane nee Bennett and Joseph John Carvell
I can find no record of William Burdett's death, and nothing at all to say that Sarah Jane is a widow. There is no newspaper story of anything untoward happening to Mr. Burdett, such as imprisonment or disappearance or such: nothing. Just one news item, saying that a William Burdett of 16 Christow Street was fined 2 s. 6 d. for not sending his children to school regularly, dated 18 April, 1889, in the Leicester Daily Mercury... but no way of knowing if it is indeed regarding Sarah Jane's children, or even the same William Burdett. I suspect that the couple simply split up and carried on their lives as if the other no longer existed. (If you know anything to the contrary, please let me know!)

Baptisms of the Carvell Burdett children
by kind permission of FindMyPast.com
During the 1890's, and by the time of the 1901 census--when Sarah Jane's surname has become Carvell--there are more children born: Wallis Carvell Burdett (1891-1899), two Joseph Carvell Burdetts, the first of whom was born and died in 1894, the second who was born in 1897, and Percy Henry Carvell Burdett, born in 1898, died in 1899. All of these children's births are registered with Carvell as a middle name, Burdett as their surnames, indicating that the parents probably were not legally married. Wallis, the older Joseph, Percy and Daisy Georgina were all baptised on the same day, 4th December, 1898, in Belgrave, Leicester. The family were living at 90 Checketts Road: the road still exists, but that house does not. What prompted the mass baptism? Did William Burdett pass away, allowing Sarah Jane and Joseph John to do as they pleased? Or were the children sick--note that Percy Henry and Wallace would be dead within a year--leading the parents to want them to be baptised before meeting their God? I haven't a clue.

By the day of the 1911 census, the family is living in Anstey, Leicestershire: Joseph John is still a (domestic) gardener, Sarah Jane (simply 'Jane' on the census document) is still a Carvil (sp.) and still Joseph's wife; daughter Daisy Georgina and son Joseph are the only surviving children, both of whom are already working in the shoe trade, even Joseph junior, aged 14. Mary Edith married John Hendry in 1900 and has her own family to take care of. The census says that John Joseph and Sarah Jane have been married for 23 years, so since about 1888, but that was contradicted earlier by the 1891 census, which shows Joseph John as being single, albeit living in the same house as Sarah Jane Burdett. Most likely, 1888 is when their relationship began. The 1911 census also shows that there were five children born to the marriage, and only two surviving, which matches up with the loss of Wallace, Percy Henry and the younger Joseph... but doesn't take into account that Daisy Josephine might be from Sarah Jane's marriage to William Burdett. Intriguing...

Joseph Carvell the younger serves in the First World War as a lorry (truck) driver, and then in 1925, he emigrated to Australia, where he lived until his death, in Victoria, in 1966. Daisy Georgina... Burdett or Carvell? She married a William D Hooke in 1924 in Belgrave, Leicester, and had at least two daughters of her own, Josephine and Alma Georgina.

As for Joseph John, and Sarah Jane Bennett-Hyde-Burdett-Carvell, I think they lived happily ever after... because I haven't yet tracked down when they passed away!

I can see where I get my gardening genes from... several Carvell ancestors found their vocations as gardeners!


7 Mar 1881

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Ninteen under twenty-four... and that must be a record. That's nineteen babies, in twenty-four years.

Baby shower for Tiffany, expecting Easton, May 18 2013
Happy and healthy pregnancies today
I thought that my paternal great-great-grandfather, Richard Toon, had a large family: two wives and fifteen or more children. That was before I started looking at the Bennetts... and found Walter Bennett and his wife, Elizabeth nee Weston, who raised their family in Leicester: at first, on Caroline Street, then on Sheridan Street, and by 1911, at 95 Knighton Fields Road West--a typical Leicester brick terraced house, with two or three bedrooms at most.

The information on the 1911 census is incredible, shocking, and sad. My mouth dropped open when I read it.

Walter is quite a distant relative, first-cousin-three-times-removed, on my maternal side. His father was John Bennett born in 1798 in Hinkley, Leicestershire, my great-great-great-grandfather. Walter's sister, Roseanna Bennet born 1827, married John Gask: their daughter, Elizabeth Alice Gask, born in 1854 married Henry Bonnett, my great-grandfather. I found Walter Bennett and his wife Elizabeth while rambling through the censuses looking at Roseanna's family... and what a family it is. (There will be more Bennett stories!)

The 1911 census is a mine of information. Not only does it list everyone in the house on the night of Sunday, April 2nd 1911, it is also completed in the head of the house's own handwriting. It not only gives the ages and occupations of everyone in the household on that night, it also tells you how long the couple (if a couple and not a single householder) has been married, how many children have been born to the marriage, and how many are still alive in 1911.

Walter and Elizabeth Bennett? They had been married 24 years in 1911. During that time, Elizabeth had given birth to nineteen, yes, 19 children. NINETEEN! Within twenty-four years... can you imagine? And very sadly, only eleven were still alive in 1911. That's an infant, or childhood, mortality rate of almost 50%. Horrific. That's an average of one child every 15 months... six months or less between pregnancies. Ouch.


I cannot believe that life was any less precious in 1900 to 2019. I cannot believe that the loss of a child, no matter how young or old, was any less traumatic than it is today, just because it happened more often, and especially in families at the lower-end of the earnings spectrum. How hard must that have been... to carry nineteen children to term, or nearly, and then find that only half survived childhood. How fearful each pregnancy must have been... and how precious and loved, every one those remaining children.

It seemed important to find all of their names, and say them out loud. Not all were baptised, not all were registered, and there is still one birth and three deaths missing (Ada died long after the 1911 census), but I found eighteen of the nineteen children born to Walter and Elizabeth within those first twenty-four years of marriage:
  • Walter H Bennett, born 1884
  • James Bennett, born 1885
  • Harry Bennett, born 1886
  • John Bennett, born 1889
  • Elizabeth Harriet Bennett, born 1890, died before 1901
  • Florence Bennett, born and died in 1891
  • Elizabeth Bennett, born in 1892, died in 1893
  • Emily Bennett, born in 1894
  • Grace Bennett, born in 1895
  • Florence Bennett, born in 1897
  • William Bennett, born in 1898, died before 1901
  • Ada Bennett, born in 1899, died in 1916
  • Cyril Bennett, born in 1900
  • Ernest Bennett, born in 1901
  • Mary Bennett, born in 1903
  • Evelyn Harold Bennett, born in 1908, died in 1977 (yay!!!)
  • Leonard Walker Bennett, born in 1909, died before 1911
  • Edith Evelyn Bennett, born in 1910.
The "missing" baby Bennett, to make up to 19 the babies born before April, 1911, most likely came in 1887 or 1888, between Harry and John. All the births appear to be single pregnancies--there is nothing to suggest any multiple births. I haven't tracked down all the deaths nor their causes... you can see from the two Elizabeths that they were not stillbirths or days old, but months or years. Little people.

Anyone who thinks that maternal or infant health care is not important, read this. Anyone who thinks that family planning and the availability of contraception is not important, read this. Because no family should have to lose that much.

And... that woman deserves a medal! She on lived to the (relatively) good old age of 65. I don't think there were any more children born after Edith Evelyn in 1910, but you never know... Walter, he lived to be 75 years old. I hope all the surviving children looked after them both in their later years.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

My lost Frosts. They simply melted away...

Remember Richard Frost, the (presumably) eldest son, also presumably "natural born" (illegitimate) son of my great-great-grandmother, Sarah Frost?  This is about his family.

Richard Frost was born in 1847 or thereabouts. He married Eliza Worthy (which is sometimes transcribed as Wortley), who was born in about 1850 in either Nottinghamshire or in Shepshed, Leicestershire--she was certainly living with her parents in Shepshed ("Sheepshed") by the night of the census in 1851, aged nine months. (Later censuses say she was born in Nottinghamshire, though the 1851 says Shepshed.)
Richard Frost and Eliza Worthy marriage, 1870
The married couple were living together with Richard's parents, Emmanuel and Sarah Bonnett (nee Frost), on the night of the 1871 census--by which time the Emmanuel's family was living on Birstall Street, Leicester. I have the impression that the families moved around the area quite a bit... Wharf Street, Birstall Street, later Brunswick Terrace, off Palmerston Street, which no longer exists... Gresham Street, Upper Brunswick Street, all over the area between Belgrave and the city centre that is now mostly vanished (see this story about the demolished 'slums' of Leicester.)

By 1881, Richard and Eliza have three children: two daughters, Elizabeth born in 1874, Maria born  1876, and a son born in 1878, named Richard after his dad. Eliza's parents, William Worthy and his wife Sarah nee Hayes, are living with them in their home at 4 Brunswick Terrace, Palmeston Street: Richard is a shoe finisher, Eliza a milliner--a hat-maker, Eliza's father a framework knitter.

But the very next year, tragedy struck: Richard died, on 7 June 1882, aged only 35. While I am sure that the family had little money, somebody managed to find the pennies needed to put a simple, one-line obituary in the paper. His address is given as Gresham Street... did the family move again so soon? To a better home, just the other side of the Great Northern Station?

Richard Frost's obituary, from the Melton Mowbrary and
Oakham and Uppingham News, 8 June 1882
Reproduced with kind permission of findmypast.com 
I hope they did move to Gresham Street. It has to be said that Brunswick Terrace, off Palmerston Street, was one of the poorest areas of housing in Leicester. Palmerston Street (later called Taylor Street) ran parallel to Syston Street, Birstall Street and Willow Street, but instead of individual terraced houses facing the street, it had "terraces" or courtyards of houses off it, fourteen houses to a terrace, each one tiny. Brunswick Terrace was the closest to the corner of Palmeston Road and Catherine Street, at the point where it changes to Upper Brunswick Street. Gresham Street was a long street of larger terraced houses--a step up from a little house on a terrace.

Map from National Library of Scotland, OS Map published 1904. shared
here under Creative Commons Licensing and with the addition
of indication of Brunswick Terrace. More maps here. 
But then... Eliza disappears. Richard Junior disappears. Maria disappears.

The closest I have come to finding them is a sighting of an Elizabeth Frost whose birth-date is given as 1875 in the 1891 census, who fits Richard and Eliza's daughter. Listed as born in Leicester, working as a sixteen-year-old servant in Lambeth, London, and employed by a married couple called Nash and their daughter, also Elizabeth, but have no way to verify that this is indeed the very-same Elizabeth... because there is another Elizabeth Frost, born in 1876 with birth registered as Barrow upon Soar, which might have been Belgrave and therefore Leicester from the perspective of a Londoner. But after the 1891 census, I can't find her again either. Nothing.

Logically, Eliza Frost nee Worthy was only 32 when Richard died, and very much young enough to marry again. The children were young enough to be adopted by, or to simply adopt the name of, her new husband. But I have searched everywhere for a marriage record for an Eliza Frost after the death of Richard... and nothing. Eliza isn't short for Elizabeth--she had a younger sister of that name, so her second marriage isn't mixed up in a confusion of firstnames: it would have been recorded as Eliza unless some self-important registrar decided that they knew better than the person who owned the name, but I searched the Elizabeth Frosts too, and all the Eliza and Elizabeth Worthy's too, just in case. Nothing.

I searched for Richard Frost (junior) and Maria. Nothing. I searched all the Richards, no surname, throughout the country... nothing. Censuses, marriages, deaths, everything... nothing.

I did find one Eliza Frost listed as the mother of someone who died in the USA, but that was yet-another Eliza Frost, not our Frost-nee-Worthy Eliza.

Did the whole family die, with nobody left to report the deaths or pay for an obituary? That would be way, way too sad. I prefer to think of Eliza meeting a rich gentleman, setting sail with all the children to Australia, or the USA, or Canada, and marrying her beau on the boat.

I have no idea where any of them went. If you find them, please can you return them to me?

Friday, July 27, 2018

A few Frosty tales. Leicester, Knighton, Countesthorpe, Rotherby. And a non-existent Alexander Frost, the hatter.

Frosts of Knighton and Countesthorpe with two Williams: which is which?

I have recently been going down a few Frost rabbit-holes and burrowing around... coming up in places like Countesthorpe and Ratby and Rotherby, and becoming confused in the process.

(Remember Sarah Frost, my great-great-grandmother? This is her family. Carvell--Bonnett--Frost.)

I had originally traced Sarah Frost's ancestors to her grandfather, William Frost, who was born in Knighton, Leicestershire in about 1776. His date of birth comes from the 1841 census, where the census-takers did not record the exact year of birth for the adults: the enumerator was supposed to round down to the nearest five years--but not all did. Or they rounded up. So there is a big margin of error. As he died before the next census in 1851, 1776 is just a mark in the sand.

Knighton St Mary Magdalene,
Photo by Charvex from Wikimedia Commons
Knighton was then a village with a chapelry, St Mary Magdalene, which meant that it had parish records of its own but was part of the much larger parish of St Margaret's of Leicester. There were baptisms, marriages and burials recorded in Knighton, but some events--especially marriages--seem to have been carried out at St Margaret's church, or at least recorded there rather than in Knighton. Sarah's grandad William was from Knighton, according to his marriage, and my earlier research came up with a baptism for a William Frost, Knighton, in 1776: born to mother Mary Frost, no father named. A bit of a brick wall.

This research was done several years ago and involved lots of staring at microfiche copies of parish records on a squeaky machine in a dark room in a family history research centre in the USA.


Since then, more parish records have been digitised, and I recently found another William Frost, also baptised in Knighton, in 1773. Aarrgh. I cannot yet find any definitive evidence to say which of these two Williams--baptised 1773, or 1776--is the "right" William to be my great-great-great-great grandad. He could be either one. I cannot find a reliable death record or marriage record that would eliminate one or the other. So in my online tree, they are both marked with warning signs. Because I don't know which William married Mary Bryan. I just know that one of them did!

BUT: the second William Frost, baptised in 1773, his parents were John Frost (b. 1748 in Knighton) and Sarah nee Leavis or Loavis. And guess what? This John Frost was our unmarried mother Mary Frost's brother, older by a year. So... regardless of which William it is, the Frost family line goes back to William's grandfather, my sixth great-grandfather, Joseph Frost of Knighton, born about 1720. And from Joseph... the tree stretches way, way back to Countesthorpe, and eventually to a Richard Frost baptised there in 1615. That's as far as I have travelled in time so far... Countesthorpe has amazing records so if you have any ancestors there, you are in luck for research! (The only question I have in this line is around a John Frost who was baptised in Countesthorpe in 1678, but appears to have got on his bike or horse or cart and travelled to Leicester, married Elizabeth Newton in St Margaret's at the relatively late age of 32 in 1710, and then settled in Knighton. Was it a second marriage? Were there earlier children? Still to find out!)

While delving into these Frosts, I found many more Frosts, seemingly unrelated to "mine". That was the part that ended up in Rotherby, so far with no connection to either Knighton or Countesthorpe, as far back as another William Frost, who was buried in Rotherby in 1702--and where there are so many William Frosts that it is difficult to distinguish one generation and family from another. Along the way from the 1900's in Leicester to 1700 Rotherby by way of a few other places, I found some interesting and sad Frost stories:

Birth certificates for Alexander and Eliza Frost
- Two children, Eliza and Alexander Frost, who both listed their father as Alexander Frost, a hatter, on their marriage certificates. Though there never was an Alexander Frost. Their mother, unmarried, was Eliza Frost, born in 1829 in Leicester, daughter of Joseph Frost and Anne nee Taylor. I spent ages trying to find Alexander Frost, the father; an unusual name that should have been relatively easy to track down. But then I found the birth registrations. Eliza Nichols Frost, born 1862, and Alexander Nicholson Frost, born 1864, both to Eliza Frost, and neither with a father named. The registrar was the same for both: did he force the unwed mother to include the father's surname, or part of it? Or were the couple living together as common-law husband and wife when the babies were born? There was an Alexander Nickols, a hatter, born in Scotland but living close to Eliza Frost in a large, Leicester boarding house in 1861. But no trace of him ever after, and Eliza did not marry him--in 1871 she and her young son Alexander are together in the Union Workhouse on Sparkenhoe Street in Leicester, daughter Eliza is living with Eliza's older sister Ann and her husband, James Bland. Did the children know their father? Or was he just a fairy-tale Alexander Frost, pulled out of a hat like a rabbit to put on their official paperwork? We may never know...


Marriages of Alexander and of Eliza Frost, naming father Alexander
1861 census entry for Alexander Nickols in Leicester, a hatter from Scotland


- A connection between my paternal, and maternal, lines that I had no clue about. The Frosts are from my mother's side. There are Lords, on my father's side--a Ruth Lord married a Riley, her sister was Bathsheba who also married one of the Riley brothers, and they both lived in villages on the Syston side of Leicester. The Lord sisters were born in Countesthorpe. And one of their ancestors married a Mary Frost from my mother's ancestry... not part of the blood line, Mary was a second wife but--the connection is there, and I now find that I have a long-ago direct ancestor, also called Bathsheba... what a lovely name. Bathshebas on both sides of the tree. Maybe it was in the blood to fall in love with Thomas Hardy's writing. (More on the Lord story later.)

- A sad story of what were probably triplets, born to (probably) the William Frost who was buried in Rotherby in 1702. He -- or his son, or his father William -- married Elizabeth Sea, or Lea, of Market Bosworth, on 3 December, 1704, in the village of Barlestone, Leicestershire. The husband was living in Rotherby at the time of the marriage, and the family settled there, with three sons, Thomas, William and Samuel baptised in Rotherby in 1705, 1706 and 1708. Then comes the sad part: the records show three children baptised together on the same day, 16 January, 1710: a daughter, Ruth, and two more sons, Richard and Charles. Given the spacing of the older children and the marriage, it is most likely that these were triplets rather than a group of older (and possibly sick), unbaptised children being baptised together, though there is nothing in the parish records to indicate a multiple birth. But then tragedy strikes... little Richard was buried on 20th January. The mother, Elizabeth, was buried in Rotherby on 24th January, just two weeks after the babies were baptised. Baby Charles, on 29th January. Ruth survived into early February, buried on 5 February 1710. Within two weeks, William Frost had lost his wife and three children, leaving him a widower with three sons under the age of five. (I think it is this William Frost who remarries to Mary Bayley in 1716 and has more children with her.)

Sometimes the parish records will mention a multiple birth--I have seen "twin" next to a baptism record, sometimes with, sometimes without, the other twin's name. And once, a set of triplets, where the record showed the baptism of two children and also said that a third child had been stillborn. A vicar or clerk being respectful and helpful and kind. Early UK parish records only include the father's name, not the mother's. Occasionally the year, or even the exact date, of the birth itself is included with the baptism (but most often not). And then you have the very early records which simply say, John Smith baptised... and nothing else. No name of father, or mother, no age, no clue whatsoever. Could have been a newborn. Could have been a thirty-year-old who had just realised that they had never been baptised and wanted to do so before being allowed to marry. Or a ninety-year-old John Smith, preparing to meet his maker.

Family history is a treasure hunt, a mystery story, a forensic investigation, and an adventure. Be prepared for sorrow, surprise and intrigue. Even if it's down a rabbit hole that ends up nowhere near your own ancestors!

Friday, June 1, 2018

And more Toons (not "ours", yet): meet the Whissendine Toons!



It's easy to fall down the rabbit-hole when researching a prolific family. Like the Leicestershire Toons.

This week, I was trying to find the son of one of "my" Toons, from the branch that had nipped off to Thurmaston a few generations ago. This was a George Toon, born about 1851 in Thurmaston, the son of Arthur Toon and Elizabeth Upton. No trace of George after the 1861 census, when he and his elder sister Harriett are living with Arthur (a stocking-maker) and Elizabeth on Main Street, Thurmaston, Leicestershire. No sign of him (or Harriet) with mum and dad on the 1871 census, but by then George would have been 20, Harriett 22, and they would very likely have been making their own way in the world. No death records fit, either, I checked. He just vanished.

Friern Hospital
Photo by Philafrenzy 
So I was quite excited when I found a George Toon, born in Leicestershire, working as a porter in a lunatic asylum (!) in Friern Barnet, near London, in 1881, and then married to a Kate, and living in a cottage on the grounds of the asylum in 1901, kindly called "the farm", though whoever had transcribed the census called him George Loon. Freudian slip of the pen? Maybe this is our George! Must have been an interesting place to raise your kids... (They were living on Maidstone Rd, Friern Barnet, in 1911.)

This George had several sons, and gave them long-winded names like "Harold Edmund Victor Toon", which somehow didn't feel so Syston. I started to have doubts... something didn't feel right. (Harold Edmund Victor served in the First World War in the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, and in France. He was demobbed with the rank of Sergeant, Signalling.)

But how to know for sure if this was "my" George, from Thurmaston, when the later censuses only said born in Leicestershire? Work backwards...

I found the parish record for the marriage of George Toon and Catherine Ellis at the Liverpool Road Methodist Chapel in Islington, 2nd April 1885. George, a widower (I haven't found first wife yet), Catherine (or Kate)'s father named Edmund (now we know where Harold's second name came from)... and George Toon's father? A John. John Toon. Not Arthur Toon from Thurmaston. Not "my" George... but another Toon from Leicestershire. So of course, I had to work out where this Toon branch fit into the overall Leicestershire Toon tree.

Sigh... I have now traced this branch all the way back to a John Toon, born about 1765 in Whissendine. The Whissendine that one year thinks it's in Rutland, the next in Northamptonshire (many of the church records are considered "Northampton")... and later, for a while, it was in Leicestershire, before Rutland returned to the map as it should.

However... I can find no connection after 1765 with any of the Toons of Hoby or Syston or Thurmaston or Asfordby. If they are, indeed, a branch of "my" Toons, then they must have forked off before then--maybe around the mid-1600's, where we have a John and a William in Hoby and I am not sure where they end up. It looks like there were farmers in Whissendine set of Toons; brothers William and John together farm and graze over 150 acres in 1851. Cunningly, these brothers have two cousins with exactly the sames name and almost the same ages, all born in Whissendine, but I am pretty certain that the joint farmers are the sons of William Toon and Mary, not the sons of John Toon and Ann. (John, William, George in every generation... yes it is confusing.)

There are at least a couple more generations of Toons in Whissendine prior to the John of (about) 1765. Research material is a little piecemeal, and nobody else seems to be researching this family yet, at least not on Ancestry. If you borrow any data from my tree on Ancestry, be sure to look at the comments because there is quite a bit of supposition and caution...

I did, however, find this interesting story on a history website about Whissendine:

Also buried within the Churchyard, is Nanny Toon, ‘The Whissendine Witch’. Annie lived in a mud cottage on Horton’s Lane at the end of the nineteenth century, and was reputed to be particularly mindful of local farmers who overloaded their milk-carts. Anybody breaking her limits would have a curse put on them preventing their milk turning into butter. The local carter was a recurrent offender. Annie Toon is said to have been murdered by the local villagers by means of being covered in a barrel of treacle. Interesting story, probably not true – one can’t really expect a mob of angry villagers to bring about the abrupt demise of an apparently evil old lady and then lovingly inter her in a prestigious position within the local Churchyard, up close to the Porch, can one?

So which Toon is this??? Murdered???  Oh but wait... there are no dates ("end of the 19th"), no marital status (widow or spinster?), no age other than "evil old lady". I searched the censuses, and there is no Ann, Annie, Hannah or any other female Toon, in Whissendine, at the end of the 19th, at least not according to the censuses. There is a 77-year-old Ann Toon who died in Whissendine in February, 1855--hardly at the end of the century. But I couldn't resist ordering her certificate, to find out if there was treacle involved, and if so, how much.

Now to go back to the orginal quest... finding the missing George-of-Thurmaston. And if I come across a the missing link between "my" Toons and the Whissendine bunch, I'll let you know.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Ever have a deja-vu that you can never shake?

Ever experienced deja-vu that was so real you could taste it?

Family trips to Melton Mowbray were always something special for me. Whether to the swimming pool, where my sisters and I learned to swim, our Dad swimming sidestroke but teaching us the right way to go, or on special days during the school holidays, to Melton's cattle market, to see all the livestock from bantam chickens to huge bulls, squealing pigs, and gentle sheep and cows. Or the stalls on the streets of the town, selling cheese and clothes and all the sweets in the world, and the old pork pie shop and the bakers' scenting the air with freshly-baked, crusty bread.

Just a bus trip away from Syston, it's not really a surprise that the town became a hang-out for my teen friends and I, even more so as we all started to attend Melton's College, even before several of us moved there and rented a little terraced house with an outside loo and a cat called Oedipus. (We were drama students. It explains almost everything.)

We used to explore places that we shouldn't; tumble-down buildings that were scheduled for demolition, like the big house to the left of the bridge in this photo of old Melton; empty, abandoned, why couldn't it be made safe and pretty again?

There were other, less grand, abandoned houses that we explored, mostly around the area that is now paved over and rebuilt, the area of town that Norman Way now runs right through. These were terraced houses, workers' cottages, rundown, tumbledown, empty of the people who once called them home. Curtains behind broken glass, peeling wallpaper, a broken teacup; doors creaking in the breeze.

One day, I walked through the door of one of these abandoned, Melton Mowbray homes, and was struck with such a feeling of deja-vu that I can remember it to this day. The scent of the damp wallpaper and the cold soot in the fireplace. The way the light fell through the window. The sensation of moving through low doorways. The holes in the plaster ceiling. The floor, maybe it was flagstone, maybe quarry tile, I don't think it was wood. Being in a very a small room, and then another, out to the back of the house. Like I'd been there before, but I had never, ever opened the door to that house on an old street in Melton.

It's a strange feeling, that depth of deja-vu. Unnerving, even; yet somehow comforting, too. A bit like going home.

It wasn't until many years later that I obtained a copy of a little book about Syston's history. I was already researching the family tree, and was reading everything I could find about the town, and the copy of the book was already second-hand. The booklet is Syston As I Remember It, by Chris Gregory, published in 1992 and I think reissued in 2006, ISBN 978-0850223330. On page 12 is this picture:


I turned the page and saw this photo... and had the deja-vu, all over again. That was the house! That's the one that I remembered in the house in Melton! But why?

The houses don't look the same; the one in Melton was a red-brick terrace; this, an ancient cruck cottage, with a thatched roof and wooden beams. But... I saw this photo, and the sensation came back, even stronger than before.

I had never seen this photo before.

The cottages to the left of this photo were on Lower Church Street and would have faced the main door in the tower of St Peter's and St Paul's church. The cottages are long gone; they were replaced by the church hall and its car park. The cobble pavements are gone, replaced by tarmac and concrete. I had no memory of these cottages from my childhood or teen years, and I was on that street at least once each and every week of my youth. And yet: seeing this photo triggered what must be my earliest memory.

I was being carried through a tumble-down house; the smell of damp, peeling wallpaper, a forgotten picture on the wall, an old fireplace smelling of soot; curtains behind broken glass, a stooped doorway, a home empty of its people.

Grandad Fred Toon had a vegetable garden on the land which later became the car park for the village hall. The cottages were demolished very, very early during my lifetime. I think my Dad carried me through the abandoned cottage, to visit his father who was working in his garden. Maybe my pram was left in the street, in front of the cottage, and he just picked me up and carried me through, a short-cut to Grandad Fred.

That's where I think the deja-vu came from.

I could be wrong; this might all be my imagination, or someone else's story. All I know: I knew that cottage, and at some point in this life or another, someone carried me through it.