Being stories that I may stumble across during my perambulations around cemeteries near and far

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Thomas PARSONS of Horsington. Yeoman or Agricultural Labourer? How easy it is to be led up the wrong footpath

Research was a lot, lot different back in the 1980s when I started the fascinating project of tracing my PARSONS forebears from Horsington, Somerset.  

Searching for birth/marriage/death certificates meant visiting the General Register Office search room at St. Catherine's House in the Kingsway, London.  Here professional genealogists, amateur family historians and ordinary members of the public could be found rubbing shoulders with one another.

The indexes were kept in huge, heavy tomes which had to be man (or woman) handled off the shelves onto high reading tables.  Once the volumes were opened up each researcher needed at least a metre of space for themselves - and that was without allowing extra room for a notepad.  Congestion could always be expected in the aisle covering marriage indexes from the 1890s to 1920s.

Whenever the smallest space was left empty another researcher would creep in and balance their volume on its spine.  Then, when the person next to them turned around to replace their volume and retrieve the next the interloper would fling their volume open and take over the space.  

The result was usually an outburst of "Researcher Rage".

Having found possible entries in the indexes it was then a matter of applying for certificates to see whether they could indeed be linked to the family.  So often buying a certificate proved to be exasperating because some tiny bit of information proved that this person could not possibly be a member of the family.  So another trip had to be made to St. Catherine's House and the searching started all over again.

A similar system operated along the road at Somerset House where the Probate Calendars (indexes of Wills) dating back to 1858 were kept.  Although, it has to be said, that this resource was less known and the search room itself was rarely crowded.  It was the staff who were the main characters here.  It was if they had leapt straight out of the pages of a Charles Dickens novel.  The Accounts Office was outside the search room and along a corridor.  This was manned by elderly gentlemen with starched white collars who took their work very seriously - and never seemed to have any change.  

The officer in charge of the search room had probably worked his way up from humble clerk for he knew the regulations inside out.  Woe betide any researcher who had not filled in the application form correctly or who had failed to provide the original index volume for checking.

 "What about census returns?" I hear you ask.  Well, these were held at The Census Room of the Public Record Office in Chancery Lane. Here researchers came head to head with modern technology because the census returns were held on microfilm.  This meant learning mind boggling techniques of threading film through a series of rollers and glass plates onto a take-up reel.  Then negotiating a series of switches and knobs to get the film to roll through and adjust focus.  In this repository it was the machines which caused "Researcher Rage".  "The image is upside down!"; "The image on the screen is so dim I can't read it!"; "Why oh why can't I get the film onto the take-up reel?".  

These are just a few of the most common remarks being uttered though clenched teeth by the elderly clientele.  Of course, prior to getting the necessary roll of microfilm you first had to negotiate a complicated array of index volumes and then place an order at the Customer Service Desk.  All very time consuming - but oh so rewarding when, after spending hours trawling through metres and metres of microfilm, one suddenly "fell across" a familiar name and familiar family.  There were many of these eureka moments and gradually the family tree began to take shape.  A few unconnected twigs were attached to branches and the branches slowly grew into a tree.

How very, very tame and uninteresting today's system of tapping a few details into a computer or tablet at home seems in comparison.  Don't get me wrong - I believe the digitisation of records is a wonderful step forward.  But in today's "instant" world researchers seem to forget that indexes are just that - they are indexes and will rarely give enough information to justify an identification in themselves.

Back in the day it was only the most dedicated of family historians who perservered but having conquered these differing systems euphoria began to take over.  What other sources might be available?  How about newspapers at the British Library Newspaper Library; Tithe returns at The Public Record Office (now The National Archives); Parish Registers and Deeds at County Record Offices - the number of sources was limitless and would take a lifetime to get through.  But well worth making a start.  A visit to a new repository meant learning how to negotiate a new catalogue; new finding aids; differing types of microfilm readers.  However, the results revealed all sorts of fascinating original documents - ancient deeds and wills stuffed full of minute detail which could throw light on much sought after family relationships.

I have already mentioned the dangers of forming a family tree from information obtained from the national birth/marriage/death indexes.  These indexes do not give enough detail to enable us to come to correct conclusions and buying relevant certificates is essential.  18th. century parish registers are even more of a minefield.  Yes, baptism registers do show names of parents - but the parish would often have several families with the same surname and several couples with the same combination of first names.  So which "William and Mary SMITH" do you attribute a child to?  There is no way of knowing.  Marriage registers are just as unhelpful because prior to 1812 they do not show the father's name and occupation.  A quick look at family trees on, for example, Ancestry (other family history sites are available) quickly show how easy it is to be led astray.  All it takes is for one person to enter a piece of incorrect information and within days that error can be copied to hundreds of other trees worldwide.  No checking has been done, no certificates obtained - much of it is assumption.

Now, after many paragraphs of waffle it is time to get into the story of Thomas PARSONS of Horsington.

 My grandmother Agnes Kate PARSONS was the youngest of nine children born to Edwin PARSONS and Louisa HODDINOTT.  From the 1930s to the 1960s grandmother lived at Lower Lodge, Horsington and I fondly remember the few trips we made down to Somerset when I was a child.  Attending a fete in the grounds of Horsington House where Gran bought me a wooden eggcup.

Of braving the ant's nests on the village cross to have my photo taken.

Of standing on the verandah of Lower Lodge in the afternoon to watch the cows as they made their way through the village to be milked.


Having traced my line back from Dad to Grandmother to Edwin PARSONS & Louisa HODDINOTT, to Charles PARSONS & Rachel COOMBES to Thomas PARSONS & Ann HAZARD I knew that each generation were Agricultural Labourers.  They were very definitely working class and never owned property or land.  In 1841 Thomas and Ann were living in South Cheriton with their three youngest children - a mile or so from the parish church of St. John the Baptist in Horsington.

In 1839 the Tithe Apportionment List & Map for Horsington had been prepared.  This shows Thomas occupying a cottage in South Cheriton - the first cottage on the right hand side as you turn into the village from the main road.  The cottage was owned by John BAILWARD of Horsington Manor and was shown as being an area of 4 perches i.e. a tiny cottage with no garden or land.

Thomas died of dropsy on 22nd. July 1843 and was buried on 26th. July.  His age on both the death certificate and in the burial register is given as 66 making his year of birth c. 1777.  {Thomas' age on the 1841 census is shown as being 60 but it is a matter of fact that the 1841 census rounded ages of adults up or down to 0 or 5 - and not necessarily to the nearest 0 or 5!!}.  It is worth mentioning here that the death indexes have four possible entries for a Thomas PARSONS dying within the Wincanton Registration district in the 1840s and it was only by purchasing certificates that I was able to identify which was the correct one.

In an attempt to find the names of Thomas' parents it was necessary to check the Horsington Baptism Registers for years around 1777.  Imagine my joy when I found the baptism of Thomas son of Moses PARSONS on 22nd. February 1778.  Surely this would be "my" Thomas.  However, always worth checking a few more years just in case there was another.  Would you believe five years later there was another:  Thomas son of Moses baptised 2nd. February 1783!!  Sure enough, when I checked the Burial Register I found an entry for Thomas son of Moses PARSONS buried on 18th. March 1779.  Poor baby had died when only 13 months old and then the name reused for a later child.

Despite going back and searching baptisms for the years prior to 1777 I could find no other entries relating to Thomas PARSONS.  This left me in a dilemma.  The 1778 baptism would have fitted in very nicely with "my" Thomas who had died in 1843.  However, a 1783 baptism left me with a six year variance and to my mind this was stretching things a little too far for comfort.  All I could do was pencil in Moses as a possible but unlikely father.  Perhaps all would become clear as I progressed the research into this line.

Well, the more I found about Moses and his children the more unlikely it seemed that I could be descended from this line.  Moses was a Yeoman - a man who cultivated his own land.  His sons migrated to nearby parishes - Templecombe, Maperton and Stalbridge - and became yeomen in their own right.  His daughters all made very good marriages and again moved away from Horsington.

The deciding point in separating myself from this line of PARSONS was a few years ago when I deciphered an indenture dated 25th. March 1834 where the children of Moses PARSONS (the elder) sold a parcel of land known as Sheeps Close in Horsington to their cousin, Charles CHISLETT, for £550.  Here is an extract from the first page of that document:

This indenture made the Twenty Fifth day of March one thousand eight hundred and thirty four between James Parsons of Horsington in the County of Somerset, Yeoman, of the First Part,

Moses Parsons of Temple Coombe in the same County, Yeoman
Meshach Parsons of Hatherley within the parish of Maperton in the said County, Yeoman
Thomas Parsons of North Cadbury in the said County, Yeoman
George Parsons of Stalbridge in the County of Dorset, Dairyman
William Longman of Stowel in the said County of Somerset, Yeoman and Lydia his wife
     heretofore Lydia Parsons, Spinster
Gideon Guyer of North Cheriton in the said County of Somerset, Yeoman and Maria his wife 
     heretofore Maria Parsons, Spinster
George Cooper of Clapham in the County of Surrey, Gardener and Mary his wife
     heretofore Mary Parsons, Spinster
John Antell of Stalbridge aforesaid, Yeoman and Ann his wife
     heretofore Ann Parsons, Spinster

Moses Parsons being the eldest son and heir at law of Moses Parsons the deceased Testator hereinafter named and the said Meshach Parsons, Thomas Parsons, George Parsons, Lydia Longman, Maria Guyer, Mary Cooper and Ann Antell being others of the children of the said Moses Parsons the deceased testator of the Second Part

and Charles Chislett of Upper Thames Street in the City of London Gentleman of the Third Part

{Research note:  James PARSONS of the First Part was the son of James PARSONS (the elder) who was the brother of Moses PARSONS (the elder)}

This indenture very clearly shows that Thomas PARSONS, son of Moses, was a Yeoman of North Cadbury.  Further research showed that a Thomas PARSONS had died in December 1834 and been buried in South Cadbury.  In his will this Thomas left his property in North Cadbury to his wife and children.  In my mind this is a far more likely identification for Thomas son of Moses as it compares with details shown on the 1834 indenture.

"My" Thomas who had married Ann HAZARD in 1805 had very definitely spent his adult life in the parish of Horsington.  The baptismal entries for his 10 children between 1806 and 1828 always describe him as Agricultural Labourer.  The 1841 census describes him as Labourer and his death certificate shows him as Labourer.

I will leave it to other to decide whether they wish to extract their Thomas PARSONS line from the prestigious line of Moses PARSONS.  But to my mind it just has to be done.

So - if Thomas was not the son of Moses where did he come from?  Well, that is the million dollar question.  The best candidate that I have come up with is a Thomas PARSONS who was baptised in the neighbouring parish of Wincanton on 30th. January 1778.  This Thomas was the illegitimate son of Mary PARSONS.  Now that is a FAR more likely identification for my line where family secrets of illegitimacy and affairs have consistently put brick walls across my research path making discussions with older family members quite impossible.

I hope that this research will prove useful to others.  If you would like to include the story on your Ancestry Tree or elsewhere PLEASE include a link back to this Blog Post where my contact details are available.  The research has taken 37 years and is, of course, ongoing.

I am now working on the family of my Great Great Grandmother Rachel COOMBES which appears to lead back to the candle makers of Wincanton.

The medical side of family research is also interesting.  Rachel died of breast cancer, whilst my aunts (her great grand daughters) died of breast cancer and liver cancer.  I hope those genes skip my generation and that I have a few more years before joining Dad, Gran and the Ancestors in that little cemetery in Horsington.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Worle at War - Thomas Wood

Worle is a parish and village on the road from Bristol to Weston-super-Mare, with a station in the village on the Weston, Clevedon and Portishead Light Railway and another station 1 mile south of the village on the Great Western Railway.  The village is 2 ½ miles east of Weston-super-Mare and 135 ½ miles from London. (Kelly’s directory 1914)

In 1914 the men of the village enlisted for military service.  The war memorial lists the names of the 28 who died - amongst these is the name T. Wood of the Royal Defence Corps.

Worle War Memorial
Thomas Wood had been born and raised in Clifton, Bristol and as a teenager found work as a butcher’s assistant in the centre of Bristol.   A few weeks before his 20th. birthday in 1881 Thomas enlisted as a Gunner with the Royal Artillery and within a few months found himself on the way to India where he served for almost 4 years.  His next posting was to Aden where he spent a year before returning to India for another 18 months.   

With grateful thanks to Thomas' Great Niece

Thomas returned to the UK in 1888 and married Leah Barrett in Bristol in 1894.  The couple had a son and three daughters before Thomas was pensioned from the military, being discharged at Weston-super-Mare in December 1904.  During his service Thomas had risen from Gunner to Company Sergeant Major and was held in high esteem by his colleagues.  Much of Thomas’ later service had been in Ireland where he picked up “the brogue” and was described as having “a way wid him”.   

With grateful thanks to Thomas' Great Niece
In retirement Thomas returned to his previous trade of butcher and the 1911 census shows the family living and working at The Parade, Worle.   When war broke out Thomas joined the Royal Defence Corps and was deployed guarding sensitive establishments on the home front.  Much of this service was near to home at Weston, Portishead and Sharpness but there is also mention of “other establishments”. 

1916 saw Zeppelin air-raids on London.  On the night of 23rd/24th. September bombs rained down on south London killing 7 and wounding 27 in Streatham.  More bombs were dropped on Brixton before the airship crossed the Thames and targeted Leyton.  Several airships were brought down by anti-aircraft fire.  

"The End of the 'Baby-Killer'" by Unknown. 
File created by Jeff Lea - British postcard. 
Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -  

It is likely that Thomas saw action in the suburbs of London during the autumn of 1916.  In mid-November Thomas developed an acute kidney infection and was admitted to the 4th. London General Hospital, Denmark Hill.  After an illness lasting 7 days he died on 21st. November.

Thomas was given a full military funeral in the village of Worle.  A gun carriage bore his coffin draped with Union Jack on which lay his cap and sidearms.  The military escort was provided by men from Thomas’ Company and the bearers were six of his fellow sergeants.  The cortege was joined by Special Constables of Worle, National Reserve members, Boy Scouts & members of the Masters Butchers Association.  All blinds along the route were closed but the streets were lined with people.  St. Martin’s Church was packed and the congregation spilled out into the churchyard.   
©Christine M. Thomas
After the service the firing party, comprising a sergeant, a corporal and 18 men of Thomas’ Company fired three volleys and then buglers sounded the Last Post.

Thomas was the only serviceman to be buried in St. Martin’s Churchyard during the First World War*

Leah lived to the grand age of 95 and is buried a mile down the road from Thomas.  Their youngest daughter, Primrose, never married and when she died in 1973 she was buried with her mother.

Grave of Leah Wood & her daughter, Primrose

*The only other WWI Commonwealth War Grave within St. Martin’s Churchyard relates to William Richard Griffin who died on 22 July 1920.  During the war William had been a Private with the 51st. Btn. Devonshire Regiment.  His name does not appear on the Worle War Memorial.  William died of Phthisis (tuberculosis).

CWGC headstone for W.R. Griffin

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Military Cemetery, Morne Fortune, St. Lucia

Whilst on a cruise to the Caribbean last year I took the opportunity of visiting as many old British cemeteries as possible. There was no way I was going to spend time on the beach or in the clear turquoise waters when there were souls waiting to be found !

In St. Lucia it was the Old Military Cemetery on Morne Fortune that I headed for. A 1925 guidebook described the journey up the hill as follows:

A winding road ascends from Castries to the summit of Morne Fortune. It is a road made gracious by many trees, by coconut palms, by a dell or a thicket here and there, and by glimpses of the sea. All who mount this steep way will find that step by step they are carried back into the past.

This ever silent gathering place of the British is the most beautiful spot on the side of the hill. A number of graves are blackened with age. Some are of stone, others of weather-worn brick. Most of them tell the same story - the roll-call of the Yellow Death, the major of this regiment or the lieutenant of that, and so many of them mere lads.

It was in 1794 that the mortality was the highest. Of General Grey's original force of 7000 men at least 5000 perished in the course of that one year. The soldiers were badly housed and badly fed. Many were in rags. Grey wrote letter after letter to the Secretary of State but nothing was done. In the end he sent the message - "You seem to have forgotten us".

The wonderful old guidebook goes on:

“It is, and always will be, a gruesome and discreditable story. If ever, on some silent tropical night, there should be heard again on the Morne Fortune the tramp of the sentry by the barrack wall and the challenge of the guard at the outpost, and if ever the stir of human life should waken among these blackened graves, the voice that would call from the summit of the hill would utter those reproachful words, "You seem to have forgotten us".”

As I stepped into the cemetery I had no idea of what I might find. If the graves were blackened with age 85 years ago would anything remain now? I need not have feared. There were the graves standing proudly on their hillside. Some were huge edifaces surrounded with metal railings whilst others were simple slabs of granite. Many were in a very sad and sorry condition but I could see that it would be possible to obtain an inscription from perhaps a handful. I took many photographs and managed to transcribe a few actual inscriptions - the six year old son of a Sergeant, the nine year old daughter of a Sergeant, a 22 years old Ensign, the wife of a Government Administrator. Whether I could transcribe the inscription or not I was careful to place my hand on as many graves as possible - at least I had not forgotten these souls who had helped to forge the British Empire.

In the blogs below I bring you some of the individual inscriptions.

Tumbled down monuments

This little group of monuments had seen better days. 

The monument to the left which has tumbled off its base is to the memory of Gun. H. WALKLEY.

The monument to the right is to an Ensign but unfortunately it was not possible to decipher his name.

John Caldwell, Hospital Sergeant

This tomb has a nice clear inscription:

John Caldwell
Hospital Serjeant 1st. Battalion
The Royal Regiment
who departed this life on
the 20th. June 1832
aged 38 years

He has left a wife and daughter
to lament the loss of an affectionate
husband and tender parent

The summer of 1832 appears to have been particularly unhealthy for the Royal Regiment.

Children of Sergeants Corsbie & Brenan

One of the few tombs to still have a legible inscription was for two children from the Royal Regiment which was stationed in the West Indies in the 1820s & 1830s.

      To the memory of                                                       To the memory of
    Henry R. CORSBIE                                                              Alicia
  Son of Serjt Henry and                                                 the beloved daughter
Margaret CORSBIE of the                                          of Serjt Hugh BRENAN
Royal Regt.  Born 9 May                                                and Celia his wife of
1826 died 10 May 1832                                                  the Royal Regiment
   aged 6 years & 1 day                                                   who departed this life            
                                                                                        27th October 1832                                                                                                                           aged 9 years

Hast thou ere seen a Mother                                                    Job 121
                           weep                                                  The Lord gave and the
While bending oer her                                                    Lord hath taken away
                           infants tomb                                      Blessed be the Name of
she mourns the everlasting                                                       the Lord
Which calls her ofspring
                          to its home

Henry Corsbie had been born in Edinburgh in 1793 and had enlisted with the 1st. Regiment of Foot at Kensington at the tender age of 14.  He was promoted to Corporal when he was 33 and Sergeant at the age of 37.  Corsbie finally left the military in January 1836 in Dublin at which time he was suffering from catarrh and biliary attacks.  He had seen service in Holland, America, France and finally served for ten years in the West Indies.  Corsbie was described as being 5ft. 6 ¼ ins tall with fair hair, brown eyes and a pale complexion. 

There is little information available for Hugh Brenan but the Military Chaplain’s returns of births does record the birth of an Elizabeth Brenan in Tobago in 1831 and this could well have been another of Hugh and Celia’s children.

The Sergeants and their wives would be proud to know that the inscription to their children can still be read some 180 years later.  Unfortunately the only way to have been able to take a good photo would have been to clamber up on top of the tomb and I was reluctant to do that – so a sideways shot will have to suffice.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Charles William TALLMADGE, St. Lucia

Here is the tomb to a man with links to the USA

To the beloved memory of
Charles William TALLMADGE
Ensign 41st. Regiment
Died at St. Lucia January 13th. 1859 aged 22 years
the only child of the late
Charles William Tallmadge Esq & of Anna his wife
Erected by a bereaved Mother

Charles was the son of Charles William Tallmadge of New York.  His father was buried in Pre La Chaise Cemetery in Paris and his inscription reads:

Sacred to the memory
of the city of New York United States of America
died in Paris
March 9th 1843 aged 35.

The grandmother of Charles William (Jnr) was Elizabeth Clinton the daughter of George Clinton, 
former Vice President of the United States