Tag Archives: Ancestry Research

Maidenhead spoons in old wills and inventories

One of the most fascinating genealogical tasks is reading old wills and inventories.  For a start, there is the humbling recognition that the goods and chattels of even a well-to-do householder, right up to the eighteenth centuryy, could be listed on a single page.  The will owill-fragmentr inventory of a Tudor or Stuart yeoman (or his widow) often takes us room by room around his house and outbuildings, enabling us to peer through the windows and see what kind of bed he slept on, what he wore, what he ate his food with, and even into the corners of the lumber rooms where miscellaneous and unnamed ‘thinges’ lurked.

Silver utensils, being of special value, were often described in some detail.  A wealthy Cornish yeoman of the parish of Saltash in 1581 left his wife, among other things, a dozen silver spoons ‘called by the name of the mayden head’; after her death, they were to be passed on to her daughters.

Maidenhead spoons 1580

Maidenhead spoons 1580

 

 

Maidenhead spoons – that is, spoons with a filial in the form of a female head –  feature in inventories from the fourteenth century.  The examples that survive – both in the documents and in reality – are usually silver, but no doubt there were wooden spoons that were similarly carved.  It has been suggested that they might have been wedding gifts.

 

The expression ‘born with a silver spoon in his mouth’ reflects the importance of the silver spoon as a mark of status and in particular of inherited wealth.

Precious as they were, it might have come as a surprise to the yeoman in question that a few centuries later, his maidenhead spoons would have fetched thousands of pounds.  A pair of Elizabeth maidenhead spoons, made ca 1580, was valued at between £5,000 and £7,000 in 2016.

The minute size of a spoon filial was a challenge to the craftsman.  Similar images, in wood and stone, are found in abundance in medieval church decoration, where the larger size allowed for a greater breadth of treatment.

Maidenhead spoon filial 1607

Maidenhead  filial 1607

Like other traditional forms of decoration, the maiden’s head had a symbolic meaning.  An inventory from Durham Priory (1446) makes it clear that two of its spoons (which were perhaps used liturgically for incense) had ‘the image of the Holy Mary at their ends’.  Over time, as with other emblems, generations of craftsmen adapted the image as they chose, so that some of the female heads on the ends of spoons were not obviously maidenly.

Small wonder that, come the revolution, a new fashion for Puritan spoons emerged, with plain lines and no decoration.

 

Sources & Further reading:

T Kent, West Country Silver Spoons and Their Makers, 1550-1750 (J H  Bourdon-Smith Limited, 1992).

C M Woolgar, The Culture of Food in England, 1200–1500 (Yale University Press, 2016).

Roberta Gilchrist, Medieval Life: Archaeology and the Life Course (Boydell Press, 2012)..

Online catalogue, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Woolley & Wallis, Salisbury: www.woolleyandwallis.co.uk.

J H Bourdon-Smith, London: www.bourdonsmith.co.uk.

 

 

Creating a Family Biography

We have recently relaunched a service that we first introduced in the 1980s (as our Family Heritage Programme).  We had a number of clients whose ancestry we had already traced, and who were now looking to obtain a lasting summary of their family history in a coherent single volume, to hand on to future generations.  From a series of research reports and a pile of family photographs we created a narrative: the story of the family, from the earliest known generation onwards, illustrated with photographs, maps and including a detailed pedigree chart or family tree.  We now call the final product a Family Biography.

In the 1980s, this involved a lot of travelling around, taking photographs, amassing local information and – quite literally – some physical cutting and pasting.   The process is now much more streamlined, but the finished product is still very much an individually crafted piece: a Family Biography.

A Family Biography will bring your ancestry to life, by setting the story in a wider context.  Just as each family is unique, we believe that each family history deserves individual and thoughtful treatment.   Using contemporary sources, the finished book will not just state (in full detail) what happened and where, but will seek to explain why a family moved to a particular location, or why their fortunes rose or fell.  We may not find all the answers, but setting a family in its historical and geographical context often makes sense of your family’s past.

Half-leather binding

Half-leather binding

Perfect binding

Perfect binding

Standard binding

Standard binding

The final product can be bound in a number of different formats. Craftsman leather binding is still the most popular, or for multiple copies, perfect binding provides a practical and economic finish.

Each biography includes a detailed family tree chart and we can also arrange to have this printed on acid-free paper, suitable for framing.

Prices are quoted individually.

For full details and sample pages see our new Family Biographies website.

 

Letter from the Crimean War

One of the great fascinations of genealogy is the way that personal stories sometimes leap off the page of what might –  were it not for microfilm and digitisation – have been a dry and dusty pile of official documents. Wills – particularly the older ones – can vibrate with personal feeling, centuries after they were written. Occasionally, a less formal document finds its way into the probate registries. Among the records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, the letter of an officer to his brother, written during the Crimean War as he awaited orders to join the Siege of Sebastopol, is preserved. The letter replaced the will that Major Edward Rooper, at the age of 36, had not got round to making, and so what happened next is all too painfully obvious. Hindsight adds poignancy to Rooper’s anticipation of ‘a few casualties’ at Sebastopol and to his wistful pleasure to think that at home ‘the quail are just coming in’:

Letter of Edward Rooper to George Rooper of Lincoln’s Inn

Camp nr Beicos, Aug 29 [1854]

Dear George
There is no doubt of the melancholy fact that we have got to go and take Sebastobol [sic] and considering they have 90,000 and we 50,000 I fear the operation will not be over easy.  I much fear the Authorities are driven in to the attempt by the attacks made on them by the Press, in fact the ravages of the Cholera have been fearful not so much in loss of life, though there has been enough of that, as in the weak state the slightest attacks of it reduce the men to. The Duke of Cambridge says the Army at Varna is almost annihilated for the present and that we look healthier and better than any Regt there. At the same time we had about 12 per Cent sick. Our loss to now is twenty two. Our doctors have not shone in the matter much only now adopting the measures found efficacious by now experienced men. We expect to go every day as they say the Expedition is to sail on the 2nd from Varna.

‘Buyukdere Valley, and Beicos Bay'. wood engraved print 1856. Unsigned;sketched by Capt. Montagu O'Reilly.

‘Buyukdere Valley, and Beicos Bay’. wood engraved print 1856. Unsigned;sketched by Capt. Montagu O’Reilly.

Even for a pleasanter place than the Crimea is likely to be at present I should be sorry to leave this beautiful view of the Bospheros which we command up and down from our lofty Camp. I have laid on a fresh Servant too and speak Romain to any amount. I was just beginning to inquire about the shooting of which I think we should get some good if we remained here. It is pleasant to know the quail are just coming in. I have not been very often to Stamboul but enjoy the place the more the better I know it.

Of course you will go to the Turkish Bazaar Show in London – as they are not loquacious or energetic it must be almost as good as the real live article – I rather singularly met the other day Hussey Pasha whose acquaintance I made at Yannina years ago. He was very civil to me but I did not remember him until we parted when I heard his name. I have written to B. to say they must not expect to hear regularly now but repeat the warning when you write If any accident happens to me and I expect there will be a few casualties I wish you and John to divide anything I may have I owe nothing to anyone hoping to date my next however safely from Sebastobol …

Yours ever E.R.

Appeared personally George Rooper of 68 Lincolns Inn Fields, Alfred Malins and Henry William Birch…

George Rooper is a brother of the above named Edward Rooper late a Major in HM Rifle Brigade at the Crimea in the Empire of Russia deceased that on or about the thirteenth day of July 1854 the said deceased sailed from England with his Regiment for the Crimea where they arrived 20 September 1854… On 10 September he received a letter from his brother … his brother was wounded in action at Inkerman in Russia on 5 November 1854 and died on 15 November in consequence of his wounds on board the Tranport ship Golden Fleece at sea on his passage to the hospital at Scutari.
Probate granted 17 May 1855 to George Rooper Esq.

The Crimean War

The Siege of Sebastopol, which gave a horrific foretaste of the trench warfare of the First World War, began on 25 September 1854 and ended on 8 September 1855. The Allies lost nearly 10,000 men and the Russians, nearly 13,000, on the last day of the siege alone.

The Battle of Inkerman, in which Edward Rooper lost his life, took place on 5 November 1854 when the Russian Imperial Army took the offensive against the besieging British and French troops, whom they greatly outnumbered. Rooper was one of 6 officers and 144 men from his regiment who died; in total, the British suffered 2,357 casualties, the French 929 and the Russians, 12,000. There was no decisive victory, but the Russians ultimately withdrew.

Map of the Crimean War, from Wikimedia

Map of the Crimean War, from Wikimedia

 

The Rooper family

Edward Rooper was the youngest son of the Reverend Thomas Richard Rooper and Persis, née Standly, who married in 1806 at Little Paxton in Huntingdonshire. Edward was baptised in Abbots Ripton, Huntingdonshire, on 27 January 1818 and Hart’s Army List shows that he was already serving in the Rifle Brigade in 1840. From 1841 until at least 1861, the family lived at Wick House in Hove, Sussex, where his father was a ‘clergyman without care of souls’ and commanded a large establishment of servants. Another older brother, John, was also an army officer.

Edward’s father survived him; his brother George lived to a great age, and the 1901 census found him living in Paddington ‘on means’, a widower of 89.

Notes

George, 2nd Duke of Cambridge (1819–1904), commanded the first division of the army to serve in the Crimea.  Aged 35 and inexperienced, he joined the battle of the Alma on 20 September 1854 at which 622 men out of 1361 were lost.  He was invalided home on 27 December 1854 (Edward M. Spiers, ‘George, Prince, second duke of Cambridge (1819–1904)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2009).

For a detailed, fully illustrated account of the Battle of Inkerman and the Siege of Sevastopol visit British Battles.com.

 

Some Do’s and Don’ts in Genealogy

We have been researching British ancestry since the 1970s.  Our starting point is often the research already carried out by the family.  From the thousands of cases we have worked on, here are a few hints for those just starting out…

DO Talk to your relatives

Your own family members are your most precious resource, so if you can, ask them as much as possible.   Our Recollections book is designed to help in this process.

Recollections: A Personal Record

DO Plan your system of recording

You are probably going to amass a large volume of detail.  Before you begin, think how you are going to record what you find.  In a database, online, by hand, or in a  format of your own devising?  All of these options are valid, but make sure that they will last, and that they will be understood not only by yourself but by anyone else you might want to share them with.

DO Record your sources

Be meticulous.  Every time you record a fact, or a theory, make a note of where you found it.

DO Record full details

To avoid having to revisit records, make sure that you capture everything the record says, the first time, by saving an image or transcribing it in full, with its source.

DO Label family photographs

Using full names and dates if possible: not just ‘Mum and Dad’!

Uncle Sam & A. Gladwys (Morris)DO Consider the context

Find out about places and occupations; as well as making the research more interesting, it might explain where an ancestor might have come from or where they worshipped.

DO Work back from the known to the unknown

Avoid the temptation to leap to a more interesting family of the same name.   If anyone tells you they have a family tree with a gap in it, consider whether you have ever seen a real tree with a gap…

DON’T Trust family trees or entries submitted to websites

… unless they are supported at each stage with clear evidence, such as an image, citation or link to a primary historical record.

DON’T Jump to conclusions

It may not always be possible to establish clear-cut evidence of a link, particularly in a period or location where records are sparse, but avoid gung-ho or wishful thinking genealogy.

DON’T Assume printed sources are always correct

To err is human.  Transcriptions and indexes are never completely accurate.  Early genealogical works such as Burke’s Landed Gentry relied on family information that was often wildly inaccurate.

DON’T Restrict your search to what is easily available

If you hit a problem: be logical.  Don’t be tempted to just search what is online, on the shelf in front of you, or indexed.  The answer may be quietly sitting in an unindexed record from the  parish next door.

And finally, keep an open mind.  Your ancestors may have some surprises to spring on you…

 

Sir William Betham, ‘great Irish genealogist’

The adjective ‘great’ is not one frequently applied to genealogists, but a notable exception is Sir William Betham (1779–1853), often described as a ‘great Irish genealogist’.  Sir William was not however Irish by birth, and probably would not have described himself as a genealogist: his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography defines him as an antiquary and his abiding interest was in ancient Irish history.

Arms of the Ulster King of Arms

Arms of the Ulster King of Arms

Sir William inherited his antiquarian interests from his father, William Betham senior (1749–1839), a clergyman and schoolmaster from Westmorland.  After his marriage in 1775 to Mary Planque, a widow of Suffolk, Betham settled in that county and had fifteen children.   He served as headmaster at Stonham Aspal, Suffolk, for nearly half a century; by 1829, by which time he was 80 years old, the church commissioners declared that the school had declined from its earlier ‘considerable repute’.  Betham nevertheless remained in post until 1833 when he became Rector of Stoke Lacy in Herefordshire.

Betham senior published two genealogical works, neither of which was greeted with much acclaim: Genealogical Tables of the Sovereigns of the World came out in 1795 and a Baronetage followed, in five volumes, from 1801 to 1805.  The title page of the first volume quotes the 18th century orientalist John Richardson:

It is hardly necessary to observe, that Genealogy is so intimately connected with Historical Knowledge, that it is impossible to arrive at any proficiency in the one, without being minutely versed in the other.

True to this observation, Betham senior was also a local historian; like many such projects, his intended county history never came to full fruition, but a single volume of a History of Suffolk was published in 1814, based on his findings, and his papers now form part of the Fitch collection in the Suffolk Record Office.

William Betham junior’s education was presumably provided by his father; neither appears to have  attended university.  His connection with Ireland was accidental; as a young man in 1805, he visited the Record Tower at Dublin Castle (then the repository of state records) to search for some documents for a law case on which he was employed.  The disarray in which these records were kept so struck him that he asked to be appointed deputy keeper of the records.  This application was successful, and Betham moved to Dublin and set about restoring order to archival chaos, becoming also deputy Ulster King of Arms.  A knighthood followed in 1812 and eventually, in 1820, Sir William Betham was appointed Ulster King of Arms, a post he held until his death (he was succeeded by another publisher-antiquarian, Sir John Bernard Burke).

In Dublin Betham acquired a passion for ancient Irish manuscripts and history, and also a large collection of early Irish manuscripts, which he sold to the Irish Academy at the end of his life.  He published his first slim volume, Irish Antiquarian Researches, in 1827, shortly after his admission to the Royal Irish Academy.   Further publications on English and Irish history followed, and at the end of his life Betham acquired an interest in Etruscan literature and language and its relevance to ancient Irish.  In the introduction to Irish Antiquarian Researches Betham wrote:

In the course of those investigations and arrangements, which my official duties have from time to time rendered necessary, I could not fail to observe, how little is known of the true history of Ireland. Notwithstanding the irreparable losses, by fire and other destructive casualties, of many ancient, valuable, and important documents, there still remain many consecutive series of rolls and other evidences sufficient to preserve the chain of history unbroken…

Ashfield_Gales_Betham_Pedigree

Sketch pedigree from one of Betham’s notebooks (1800)

Betham was not to know of the still greater ‘irreparable losses’ which were to come, when the Public Record Office was set alight in 1922 and so many documents  –  wills, parish registers and early census returns  –  were lost for ever.  He was thus unaware that the greatest of his legacies to the historian and genealogist would be, not his published works, but his private notebooks, for while supervising the indexing of the Prerogative Wills[1]  in his keeping, he had made genealogical abstracts of them (up to 1800 for wills, up to 1802 for administrations), from which he created sketch pedigrees which contain later additions and amendments.  The notebooks ran to 34 folio volumes and were accompanied by a meticulous ‘index of alliances and aliases’.  These abstracts, known as Betham’s Abstracts,  are now in the National Archives, Dublin and go some way to mitigating the enormous loss of the original wills and administrations.

Betham died in his adopted city of Dublin in 1853 and was buried at Monkstown, County Dublin.

J. T. Gilbert, ‘Betham, Sir William (1779–1853)’, rev. Michael Erben, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008.

J. T. Gilbert, ‘Betham, William (1749–1839)’, rev. Colin Lee, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2005.

Sir Arthur Vicars, Index to the Prerogative Wills of Ireland, 1536–1810 (Dublin, 1897).



[1] The Prerogative Court dealt with estates in more than one diocese; before 1816 its records were fragmented since hearings were usually in the judge’s residence.

Female Ancestry: Following the Maternal Path

The vast majority of our clients want us to concentrate on their paternal ancestry, which is understandable as this is the traditional way in which we view our family history in Britain. Looking from the child to its father, and then to its father’s father, is deeply engrained in our sense of self. The transfer of material wealth and reputation has followed the same paths through the ages, tagged with the father’s name alone. Many early parish register entries do not even bother to record the name of the mother of a child at baptism. (Some of our clients follow the same tradition with their starting information…)

Very occasionally, however – perhaps once among a thousand clients – someone wants to look at their ancestry from a different angle: to follow the thread back not from son to father but from daughter to mother, and this matrilineal approach makes a refreshing change. If we are interested from a biological point of view in how we became what we are, researching our female ancestry is no less logical than chasing a surname through the ages.

In traditional English families, maternal surnames are quite often preserved as middle names: we find this in all classes, but particularly where money or property entered the family via a wife. These are of course helpful clues for the genealogist. In extreme cases – among the wealthy – this gratitude was expressed (or demanded) by abandoning one’s paternal surname in favour of that of a generous female relative; or by hitching the two names together with a hyphen.

The Scottish tradition among women of never quite abandoning their maiden name after marriage, but preserving it as an alternative or middle name, is always a welcome sight. It reflects traditional practice in societies such as Iceland, where identity focuses on the given name, although surnames still refer to the father, not the mother. (An Icelandic surname is likely to refer to the father’s given name, as in early Welsh naming patterns.) Icelandic telephone directories are arranged not by surname but by given name.

In general (but few generalities in genealogy are safe), following the female line is more challenging. When concentrating on a single surname we can make blanket searches of records, sifting out all possible references to a family; and if we hit a difficulty, there are fewer clues to guide us out of it. If a marriage was not recorded, or perhaps just did not take place, we can get completely stuck.

On the positive side, however, as a client recently pointed out, the genealogy is likely to be more watertight: it is difficult to wrongly identify the mother of a newborn baby, but how many birth certificates or baptismal records do not accurately name the true father? Now that DNA tests have become more accessible, we may be about to find out.

Following the female path is the more adventurous option: a female line is more likely to take you farther afield, to a new area or even a new country. Genealogy is always full of surprises, but by leaping at each step to a new surname, who knows what you may find?

Click on the link to see one we did earlier:
A matrilineal pedigree

In praise of books

Like many other areas of life, genealogy has become heavily internet-dependent, which on the whole has been a welcome boost for both the professional and the amateur genealogist.

Here at Debrett we are still nevertheless surrounded by walls full of books, many of which inspire our affection as well as our respect.

We are therefore flying our small flag here for the printed word, and will be highlighting volumes that might be of interest to others in the field.

First in the list is an old favourite:


Haydn’s Dictionary of Dates (16th edition, 1878)

Haydn on shelf compressed

The full title of this magnificent volume describes itself with full-blown Victorian confidence as a Dictionary of Dates and Universal Information relating to all ages and nations, containing the history of the world to the autumn of 1878.  Running to 870 closely-printed pages, this was the Google of the day, whose articles range from lengthy potted histories of nations to brief one-liners explaining an obscure term or announcing a scientific discovery.

Handling this volume is a pleasure in itself; our office edition of 1878 (bought for 10 shillings by the late genealogist Frank Leeson, whose library we acquired in 1986) is quarter-leather bound, much used but still perfectly serviceable.

Many articles are still valuable to the researcher: for example, Theatres in England presents a calendar of theatre history from 1574 onwards, not just in London but (straying a little from its title) also in Dublin and Edinburgh.  The death dates of writers, managers and actors are noted, as were notable incidents: the 18 persons trampled to death at Sadler’s Wells in 1807 on a false alarm of fire; the man killed by a lion at Astley’s Amphitheatre in 1861; the appearance of a Japanese troupe at the Lyceum in 1868.

There are many legal articles of value to the genealogist; as well as pithy definitions of obsolete legal terms and explanations of specific Acts, we peer into numerous dark corners such as the Hanaper Office, the Tubman and the Postman of the ancient court of Chancery.

Politically correct it is not: an alarming number of beliefs are consigned to the article Imposters and in the section on Mormonites the author notes that ‘Missionaries are propagating these doctrines in Europe with more success than would be expected’.  As the very first page of the book announces, this is a dictionary of ‘remarkable occurrences, ancient and modern…. PARTICULARLY OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE’.

The real charm of this book, however, is how the eye will stray from the sought article to unexpected  nuggets: where else would we (accidentally) learn that ‘Bibliomania (or book madness) very much prevailed in 1811’ or that the word stationer derives from the early practice of booksellers of having stalls at the corners of street and in markets?  All this while seeking an article on Mortality rates (see Bills of)…

So who was Haydn?  The author of the 16th edition was actually Benjamin Vincent, librarian of the Royal Institution of Great Britain.   Joseph Haydn (died 1856) was the compiler of the first edition, published in 1841, and we must let him have the last word:

The design of the Author has been to attempt the compression of the greatest body of general information that has ever appeared in a single volume, and to produce a Book of Reference whose extensive usefulness may render its possession material to every individual…

(Preface, 1st edition: London, May 1841)

Quite so: every home should have one.