Category: Ancestors Corner

Marriage record finally opens doors to a brick wall

Category: Ancestors Corner

What a difference one little word can make on a historical document! Today's tip is to always view as many versions of an original record that you can possibly find.

For a long time I'd been unable to move beyond my 4 x great-grandmother, that is until now. I knew she was born in approximately 1786 or 1787 and that she may have been born in Widecombe-in-the-Moor in Devon although one census documented her birth place as Tavistock where she was living at the time.

Elizabeth Gale married my 4 x great-grandfather, Samuel Hellier, in Tavistock in 1815 but I could find no Elizabeth Gales baptised in either Widecombe or Tavistock in the correct time frame.

Then recently someone mentioned in the Devon Family History Society Facebook Group that FamilySearch had added to their collection of Devon Bishop's Transcripts (1558-1887). I'd already seen copies of Samuel and Elizabeth's marriage in the Parish Registers but the Bishop's Transcripts contained one vital piece of information which was missing from the other records. Elizabeth was described as a widow and so Gale would not have been her maiden name.

The marriage record between Samuel Hellier & Elizabeth Gale showing Elizabeth was a widow
The marriage record between Samuel Hellier & Elizabeth Gale showing Elizabeth was a widow

Armed with this new information, I soon found a marriage between a man called Gale and an Elizabeth; James Gale married Elizabeth Carton in Tavistock on 22nd July 1806.

James was a mason by trade but when their eldest daughter, Eliza, was born he was a hellier, an occupational name for a slater or tiler of roofs or a thatcher. This struck me as strange considering that Elizabeth later married Samuel Hellier who was himself a mason.

James and Elizabeth had three children but James died in 1812 and was buried on 5th March, less than four months before their infant daughter, Jane, was buried. That must have been a terrible year for Elizabeth.

Elizabeth had a son by Samuel called William Hellier who was my 3 x great-grandfather. Samuel was a widower when he'd married Elizabeth, having previously been married to Thomasin Langworthy. They'd had a son in 1802 called Thomas.

I promptly found Elizabeth's baptism on 12th November 1787 in Widecombe-in-the-Moor. Her full name was Elizabeth Wills Certon (note the different spelling from Carton). She was the daughter of John Kerton and Joan, nee Cleave. The name also appears as Kirton and Kirten in various records.

Through finding the word, widow, on a single document, I was able to trace the Kerton line back to my 9 x great-grandfather, Richard Kerton, who lived in Bickington in Devon and was probably born around 1650.

Elizabeth Certon's Ancestors
Elizabeth Certon's Ancestors

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100 years of the RAF

Category: Ancestors Corner

Cyril Ellen's 1918 RAF Commission

(Click the image for a larger version.)

To mark 100 years since the birth of the RAF (Royal Air Force) I'm posting a copy of the Commission that Harvey's grandad, then Lieut. Cyril Norman Ellen D.F.C., received in November 1918 and which had come into effect on 1st April 1918.

Cyril was based in Stavros in Greece at the time and Frank Marlowe, one of the pilots serving with him, wrote in his diary: -
31st March: The last day of the RNAS. Tomorrow we become RAF - and we don't like it a bit.

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Mention in Dispatches 100 years ago

Category: Ancestors Corner

The notice Harvey's Grandad received advising him of his Mention In Dispatches

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Harvey's Grandad, then Temporary Observer Sub-Lieutenant C N Ellen, was mentioned in dispatches in 1918. The M.I.D. citation appeared in the London Gazette on 11 June 1918 and was "For Gallant Conduct and Distinguished Service during the Period from 21st September, 1917 to 28th February 1918", a period which ended exactly 100 years ago today. He received it "for Salonika" whilst serving in the Aegean with the Royal Naval Air Service, soon to become part of the RAF.

The Wing Commander who signed the original notice was F W Bowhill who became Air Chief Marshall Sir Frederick Bowhill during World War II.

The clipping from the London Gazette kept by Harvey's Grandad
The clipping from the London Gazette kept by Harvey's Grandad

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A Tale of Tragedy

Category: Ancestors Corner

Matthew Hibbit was born in about 1735, the second son of my 6 x great-grandparents, and he married Frances Penruddock in St Peter & St Paul's Church, Exton, Rutland, on 13th November 1758. I decided to take a look at Frances' family and, not for the first time, I stumbled across a great deal of tragedy.

Frances was the sixth of eight children born to Richard and Dorothy Penruddock between 1722 and 1737 in Pilton in Rutland. Richard died in December 1739 when Frances was barely six years old.

Her mother remarried in January 1741. Her second husband was a farmer called John Deacon who I discovered was dead two months later. Dorothy must have been pregnant with John's child when they married as John junior was baptised on 29th April 1741. Worse still, Dorothy was buried on the same day. What a start in life for that poor baby and all of his half siblings.

Snow Scene
Photo by Myeongseon Song on Unsplash

Much of Europe suffered severely cold weather during the winter of 1739/40. This became known as the Great Frost in Ireland which was particularly hit. The streets of London were clogged with snow and ice and the River Thames was frozen for about eight weeks. This was followed by more cold weather and severe gales affecting shipping and one of the worst dry spells of the 18th century which resulted in famine and disease.

The period 1740-1743 has been shown to be the driest period of the last 280 years, with the year 1740 the coldest recorded over the British Isles since comparable records began in 1659. One can only wonder whether the Penruddock/Deacon families living in Rutland were affected by these adverse conditions too?

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In Remembrance

Category: Ancestors Corner

The Cenotaph in Whitehall, London
The Cenotaph in Whitehall
I took this photograph when I visited London in June 1980

In remembrance of...
  • 4732 Private Henry James WEAVER (my great-grandfather) - 2/1 Bucks Battalion, Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.
    Born 3 October 1882 in Curry Rivel, Somerset. Died 8 September 1916. Killed by accident during bomb practice. Buried in Merville Communal Cemetery Extension in France. Commemorated on the War Memorial in Curry Rivel and Tavistock War Memorial in Devon. Left a widow, Florence (nee Smale) and an unborn daughter.

  • 2007216 Sapper George HARVEY (Harvey's great-grandfather) - 9th Battalion, Canadian Engineers.
    Born 23 July 1884 in Newlyn, Cornwall. Died at No. 9 General Hospital, Rouen, France. Died of a gunshot wound to the shoulder. Buried in St Sever Cemetery Extension in Rouen. Commemorated on the War Memorial in Newlyn and on a stone on the side of the Primitive Methodist Church in Newlyn. Left a widow, Lizzie Annie (nee Thomas) and two daughters under the age of 10.

  • Lieut.-Comdr. (E) Charles Henry MARTIN R.N. (my great-uncle) - Royal Navy.
    Born 1 May 1903 in Twerton-on-Avon, Bath, Somerset. Died 9 April 1942 off Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka). Went down in H.M.S. Hermes. Lost at Sea. Commemorated on Plymouth Naval Memorial in Devon. Left a widow, Nellie Gertrude (nee Hibbitt).
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The varied life of Ann Weaver (1830-1885)

Category: Ancestors Corner

The churchyard pathway at Curry Rivel, Somerset, leads out onto the Green
The churchyard pathway at Curry Rivel, Somerset, leads out onto the Green

My 3 x great-grandmother, Ann Weaver, has been an enigma for quite some time but more recently I've made some progress with a little help from another family historian along the way.

Ann was born in 1830 in the village of Curry Rivel in Somerset. She was the daughter of a cordwainer or boot and shoemaker. She gave birth to my 2 x great-grandfather, William Henry Weaver (known as Harry), in 1848 when she was eighteen and unmarried. I still don't know who Harry's father was as he isn't recorded in any documents.

Ann appears to have lived with her parents until 1856 when she married a soldier, John Willshire, who had previously fought in the Crimea. They married in nearby Taunton and then left the area and were living in barracks in Canterbury shortly afterwards. Harry remained in Curry Rivel with his grandparents. John and Ann had a son in 1858 but sadly Ann was widowed in 1864. John had been medically discharged from the army three years beforehand due to phthisis pulmonalis, otherwise known as tuberculosis of the lungs. Their son attended the Royal Military Asylum in Chelsea to complete his schooling.

Ann married again in 1866. Her second husband was Charles Cleverly who was almost ten years her junior. He had various occupations ranging from a farmer's boy, a carter, groom and omnibus driver. Charles and Ann lived in the Saint John area of Westminster. For some reason Charles was not with her in 1881 when the census was taken but Ann had her youngest son at home and was making a living as a shirt maker, something it seems she'd been doing for at least a decade.

Ann died of apoplexy (a stroke) on 17th May 1885, aged 54. She'd only suffered briefly and her husband, Charles, was with her when she died. Charles remarried in 1887 and was still alive in 1891 but he disappears from the records after this.

What became of Ann's sons? Harry followed in his grandfather's footsteps and, after a short time working as a journeyman shoemaker in Drimpton, Dorset, he returned to Curry Rivel where he lived and worked until he died in 1944 at the ripe old age of 95.

Ann's younger son, William John Willshire (probably known as John), stayed in London and worked as a clerk. The London lifestyle was likely much less healthy and he died aged 40 having married his second wife less than two weeks beforehand.

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Hellyer, Helyer, Hellier, Helliar, Heller, Hillier, Holliar and so it goes on...

Category: Ancestors Corner

Today's genealogical tip is to consider all name variants when you can't find a record for your ancestor.

I've had a minor breakthrough in tracing my Hellier/Hellyer line into the 18th century. For a while I'd been stuck at the marriage of my 4 x great-grandparents, Samuel Hellier and Elizabeth Gale, in Tavistock, Devon.

Various searches had drawn a blank in finding Samuel's baptism until I checked the FindMyPast website once more. The site is very useful in picking up name variants and lo and behold, I came across a baptism of a Samuel Heller (note the missing 'i' or 'y') on 15th December 1781 in Abbey Chapel, Tavistock. It seems his parents were Presbyterians.

Samuel, who was a mason, had previously married Thomasin Langworthy in 1801 and a son, Thomas, was born in 1802. Thomasin died in November 1814 and Samuel wasted no time in marrying Elizabeth five months later. Doubtless, she was already carrying William, my 3 x great-grandfather, by then. Besides William, I could find no evidence that Elizabeth had produced any other children.

Thomasin was the illegitimate daughter of a mother with the same name. Elizabeth Gale's roots are still unknown. On one census she is noted as having been born in Widdecombe on the Moor [sic] but I cannot find any Gale baptisms in Widecombe.

St Eustachius Church, Tavistock
St Eustachius Church, Tavistock

Samuel Hellier's parents were John Hellier and Amy Bennett who married in St Eustachius Church in Tavistock on 11th December 1770. This church has seen many family weddings. Of the seven generations from my parents to my 5 x great-grandparents, five of these couples were married in this church and I was baptized there.

John and Amy's eldest daughter, Mary, had arrived by March 1771 and a second daughter was baptized in May 1773. Sadly, both children had died by the end of the year. Four sons followed but Thomas died in 1782, aged three, and two more daughters were born in 1784 and 1787.

I've made no further progress on Amy's ancestry and John's is uncertain. John Hellier died in early 1841 at the ripe old age of 90 so I knew he would have been born in approximately 1751.

There were a number of Hellier couples having children in Tavistock during the mid 18th century. However, I have a feeling that John's parents might have been Edward Hellier who married Mary Cann in Crediton in 1750. Their son, John, was baptized in Crediton that same year. Subsequent to this, an Edward and Mary Hellier were having children in Tavistock. As stated above, John and Amy named their first child Mary, and it so happens their eldest son was Edward. Could they have been named after their grandparents? Without additional evidence to link the Crediton couple to the Tavistock couple, I have decided to leave Edward and Mary off my tree for the time being.

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When you think you know something, look again

Category: Ancestors Corner

My Great-great-aunt Lil on the left
My Great-great-Aunt Lil on the left and my Great-Grandmother, Sarah Geake, on the right

Today's genealogical tip is to keep revising your information and checking sources.

My 2 x great-grandparents, John and Mary Ann Hellyer, lived in the Devonport area of Plymouth for much of their married life and had, what I believed to be, ten children. Twins, Lily Elizabeth and May Amelia, were born on 13th August 1880 and, for a long time, I had thought the lady my mum referred to as her Great-aunt Lil was one of these twins. Not so!

Whilst undertaking a little more research into the life of my Aunt Lil I discovered a marriage in 1930 in the Willesden District of Middlesex. Her husband was recorded as Frederick W Thompson which I knew was the correct name so this had to be my Aunt Lil but her middle initial appeared as 'S' and not 'E'.

Poking around in the 1939 Register, I found the couple living at 16 Trelawny Road, Tavistock, an address I was familiar with. There was no middle name recorded but Lily's date of birth was noted as 19th November 1881. It was now obvious that she wasn't one of the twins.

Further investigation led to the discovery of the burial of baby Lily Elizabeth in Tavistock on 12th June 1881. I already knew they lost May Amelia in March 1882. Throughout this time it seems the family were living in Bannawell Street, Tavistock, quite possibly with John's parents who lived in this street throughout the second half of the 19th century. They subsequently returned to Devonport but this sojourn in Tavistock had originally thrown me.

Finally, I found a baptism for Lily Sarah Hellyer on 23rd December 1881. The family were living in Bannawell Street, her parents were John and Mary Ann Hellyer and her father was a stoker in the Royal Navy. At last I had found my Great-great-aunt Lil.

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Were my Whorwood family well connected?

Category: Ancestors Corner


My 7 x great-grandmother, Susanna, was the daughter of Edward Whorwood. She was born in Oldswinford in about 1652 which was during the time of the Commonwealth, before Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector. Researching this time period can be problematic as there are many missing entries in Parish Registers. This phenomenon has become known as the 'Commonwealth Gap' and the difficulty can often extend from the beginning of the English Civil Wars in 1642 through to the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660. For this reason, I've been unsuccessful in discovering the name of Susanna's mother as I've not yet found a marriage entry for her parents. Nevertheless, the baptism records seem fairly complete and so I've managed to ascertain that Susanna was the third child in a family of seven.

Susanna York, nee Whorwood, was living with her grand-daughter, Anne Blagg, when she wrote her will in Jan 1728. Susanna died in September that same year and it was her request that she be buried near her husband, Edward York, in the Churchyard at Oldswinford. An inventory taken of Susanna's possessions mentions a brewhouse within her dwelling - the ale and beer were stored in the cellar. Her worldly goods were virtually the same as those listed in her husband's inventory taken seven years earlier.

The Whorwoods were an old Staffordshire family and I've seen references to them going back to the 1400's. They were well connected and influential, owning manors, marrying into the House of Grey, having links to the Dudleys, becoming Members of Parliament, High Sheriffs and Knights of the Realm. The Whorwood name appears in Staffordshire Parish Registers as far back as 1517 when we find a baptism of an Anne Whorwood, daughter of William, in Tipton. However, proving Edward Whorwood's (Susanna's father's) parentage is decidedly difficult.

There were Whorwoods in Kinver, not far from Oldswinford, in the early 17th century but I have an inkling that a baptism in Bobbington, Staffordshire, in 1625 could possibly belong to 'my' Edward. This was the same year Charles I came to the throne. The father of this Edward was a Gerrard Whorwood. One of Edward's sons, born in about 1654, carried this same name. However, this is not enough to go on to be sure I am on the right track.

There may be another clue but, again, this is by no means conclusive. Edward's first daughter, Ann, was baptized in January 1648. A second daughter, also an Anne, was baptized in 1650. It was the custom for a child to bear the name of an elder sibling if their namesake had died but I couldn't find a burial for the first child in Oldswinford. Nevertheless, I did find a burial of an Anne Whorwood in June 1648 in Bobbington, although there is no age listed. Could this be Edward's eldest daughter? Did the family take her back to Edward's original home for burial? We simply cannot be certain.

Finally, if Gerrard Whorwood was indeed Edward's father then it looks as though Edward had a sister named Susan or Susanna. She was baptized in Bobbington in 1630 and married John Knocker there in 1667. Might Edward's daughter, Susanna, have been named after her aunt? The evidence is circumstantial and these conclusions remain purely speculative at this stage.

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18th Century Barbers with a Gruesome Sideline

Category: Ancestors Corner

Barbers PoleCatching up once more with my York family from Oldswinford, Worcestershire, the parents of my 5 x great-grandfather, George York, were yet another George York and his wife, Hannah nee Littleford.

6 x Great-Grandpa George had an unusual occupation. In 1711, he took on an apprentice called Francis Tole so he could learn from George how to become a barber-surgeon and periwig maker. You may be familiar with the red and white poles which would regularly appear outside barber shops. This used to represent the blood and bandages used to clean up bloodletting which was one of the main tasks of the barber-surgeon together with early dentistry (teeth extraction), performing enemas and surgery, selling medicines and not to forget, shaving and cutting hair.

The profession developed in medieval times but eventually surgery became a separate profession and barbers were increasingly forbidden to carry out surgical procedures except for teeth extraction and bloodletting, as if that wasn't bad enough! The two professions were finally separated by George II in 1745 when the London College of Surgeons was established.

George York's father, Edward York, was a tailor by trade, as was another of Edward's sons, Henry York. Henry was the grandfather of Thomas Crane who you might recall from an earlier post was the cousin named as an executor in 5 x Great-Grandpa George York's will.

Another son, John, was described as a victualler living in Amblecote, Staffordshire and later he was an innholder in Stourton, Kinver, in the same county. John was mentioned in his mother, Susanna's will, together with a number of other siblings but he died shortly after his mother's death and before probate was granted.

Besides Edward and Susanna's seven children which I have listed on my tree, there are a number of baptisms for other children who may also have been their offspring. However, there remains some ambiguity about these and so I have chosen not to include them.

Susanna's maiden name was Whorwood and my next post will shed further light on her ancestry.

Did any of your ancestors have an unusual occupation? Please share your stories in the comments section of my blog or on Facebook.

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