Now that’s what I call a Parish Register!

Lower Lamb St.

Lamb Street, St Augustine’s, Bristol

I thought I had reached another, all too frequent, brick wall in my research concerning my Gibbs/Street ancestors when I got back to Charles and Mary Gillard, the grandparents of Martha Ann Gillard who married George Street in 1863. The Gillard family lived in Lamb Street, close to Bristol Cathedral and Charles was a wheelwright. I could find no marriage for them in Bristol and judging by the registers of St Augustine the Less, the first child who was baptised there was Mary Ann (1808) followed by John (1810 – Martha Ann’s father) and five further children. So it was safe to assume they had married c1805-7.

Charles died in February 1851, maddeningly just a few weeks prior to the Census of that year which was the first to record places of birth. Mary however lived for another four years and the Census tells us that she was born in Oakhill in Somerset around 1783. Searching for a marriage of a Charles Gillard to a Mary I found one at St Peter and St Pauls, Shepton Mallet dated October 29 1805; “Mary Tapscot of this parish, spinster to Charles Gillard of the parish of Ashwick, sojourner”. Now this looked a real possibility as Oakhill is a village, indeed the main settlement, in the parish of Ashwick and it could be that Mary had moved to Shepton to work, or briefly stayed there to gain residency, and Charles was working and living in Ashwick, but came from elsewhere. Further researches found the baptism of “Mary dafter of Jacob and Martha Tapcut” on December 22nd 1781 at the church of St. James in Ashwick. I later found that Jacob and Martha became members of the Presbyterian congregation in the village, so perhaps that was why Mary married in a different parish, to avoid parental displeasure or embarrassment.



St Peter and St Paul, Shepton Mallet

All of this was speculation and I could find no further trace of Charles in surrounding parishes, nor any baptism in the whole of Somerset or Bristol that fitted. But the marriage suited the dates of the baptisms in Bristol, even if the gap between it and the baptism of Mary Ann at St Augustines was greater than normal. The problem of Charles and his origins was put aside for some time until I tried to research the Tapscotts further, and carrying out a search for Jacob Tapscott on a genealogical website, I was directed to an entry in the parish register of Henstridge in the south of the county. I was doubtful at first as Henstridge lies so far to the south that is is almost completely surrounded by Dorset parishes. Here however was the record of the baptism of James and Elizabeth, twins born July 26th and baptised September 14th 1806. There are two registers recording the same details for this period – one with rather better spelling than the other, but there is no clue as to which is the original and which the copy; in one each baptismal entry is separate and the other combines both children. The more legible entry reads:

James/Elizabeth twins son & daughter of Charles Gillard (who was son of Thomas Gillard Flaxdresser of this parish & Mary his wife) & Mary his wife (who was daughter of Jacob Tapscott Worsted Comber of Oakhill, Somerset & Martha his wife) born July 26th baptised September 14th 1806.

Baptism James and Elizabeth Gillard 1806

What we wouldn’t give to have more Parish Registers as full as this one. Not only the grandparents of the children, but the parish and occupation of the grandfathers too. For some reason the clerk or vicar only made this type of entry between 1802 and 1812. Before that there is the formulaic “John son of John and Mary Surname” and after the regular printed forms that commenced in 1813. In some cases he plainly didn’t know the details and left the space blank, but obviously tried to record all the information he could glean.

So this entry makes clear that we have the correct marriage for Charles and Mary and Mary’s parentage; in the Ashwick records Jacob is described as a Woolcomber (worsted is one of the two main techniques of wool combing) and Mary’s place of birth in the 1851 Census confirms we have the correct person.

Colonial Wool Comber Painting; Colonial Wool Comber Art Print for sale

So what of Charles and his family?

The parish register at Henstridge records just one baptism for Thomas and Mary Gillard, a son William who was christened there on October 11, 1789. Yet we know that Charles was their son, as too was a John whose eldest son, George was baptised at Henstridge in 1804 where the details of John’s parents are given in the same detail as Charles’. All of John Gillard’s other children were born in the village of Horsington, just to the north of Henstridge but baptised at Nether Compton. This village lies to the west of Henstridge, close to Yeovil,  and so much does the county boundary meander in this area that Melbourne Port in Somerset and Sherborne in Dorset lie between them.

Map Henstridge and Nether Compton

In the register of St Nicholas, Nether Compton can be found the baptism of Charles, son of Thomas and Mary Gillard, on July 15, 1781. Also baptised there are a daughter, Christian (1780) and another son, Thomas (1783). It is worth noting that both John and William are recorded as flax dressers in later documents, although William eventually enlisted in the 8th (Kings) Regiment of Foot and served from 1809 to 1827.

So we have Charles birthplace established, but there is no baptism for the eldest son, John. I cannot find one in the immediate area in either Somerset or Dorset or indeed a marriage for Thomas and Mary. However there is a marriage between a Thomas Gillard of Broadwindsor and Mary Guppey of Beaminster, which took place at St Marys, Beaminster on February 22nd 1775. A son, John was baptised at Broadwindsor on August 14th, 1776 and no further children of this marriage appear in any local registers. This date ties in exactly with John’s age in the Census of 1851 (74). The town of Beaminster which is only a little distance from Broadwindsor was a notable centre of flax growing and linen manufacture, so it is quite feasible that this is the same family who arrived in Nether Compton around 1778/9. So far, no definite trace of either Thomas or Mary’s baptism can be verified. Thomas and Mary remained in Henstridge until their deaths – Thomas in 1821 and Mary in 1836. Their ages as recorded in the burial register gives approximate birthdates of 1733 and 1752 respectively, so Thomas was about twenty years Mary’s senior. It may be that he was a widower at the time of their marriage – the register doesn’t say, only recording that Mary was a spinster. More research required!

Register entry courtesy of Somerset Heritage Centre


Mean Streets

The nave of St Mary the Virgin. The Georgian rebuilding (1777-1781) created a remarkably airy and spacious interior. Note the oak box pews.
St Marys, Tetbury

A first blog

Until now I’ve used this site merely as a useful way of recording and broadcasting episodes in the lives of my ancestors; but today I shall embark on a genuine blog, if I understand the term correctly. What follows are the puzzled ramblings of a family historian on the main problem facing all genealogists: proof.

It has been stated that at least two independent sources for a fact are required to assume it is correct, and the more the better. When tracing a direct line I have always tried to stick with this, although the further back one progresses, the harder it is to find a second source for any relationship. If a baptism occurs in the right parish at the right time and there is no conflicting evidence – such as family with similar names in the same locality or surrounding parishes – then that is often as much as one can hope for, especially if one is dealing with a family that owned no property nor left any wills or other documentation.

When one comes against a genuine brick wall, where even an expected record is missing, the question is: how to proceed and what to accept as being the most probable fact. Can one indeed accept a theory because there is enough information that points to a likely outcome even though the evidence is not there?

George Street & Elizabeth Rousom marriage 1824
Which brings me to my ggg grandfather, George Street, who died in St James parish, Bristol in 1868. The earliest record I have found for George is this marriage, on January 28th 1824 to Elizabeth Rousom, which took place at the Church of St Philip & St Jacob, Bristol and both parties possessed fine, clear signatures. It would seem, by using the information they gave in later years in the various Censuses, that George was about 19 years old at the time of his marriage and Elizabeth possibly a year or so older. They also identify their respective places of birth in the same records. Elizabeth hailed from Dublin in Ireland, and George was born in Tetbury, Gloucestershire. Their union produced seven children, three girls and four sons who were duly baptised in the Catholic chapel of St Josephs in Trenchard Street.

Many years ago, having found most of this information, I visited the Record Office in Gloucester to continue my research on the Street family, and hopefully find a baptism for George. Despite discovering a good deal about the family, from the registers and other documentation, the expected baptism was not to be found. There was no George Street in either the baptismal register nor in the Bishops Transcripts – the copy that was sent to the Diocesan Office every year. There was however, a possible family for George.

John Street and his wife, Sarah (nee Cave) had married at St Marys, Tetbury (full name, the Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin and St Mary Magdalene) on 7th May 1799 and from then until Sarah’s untimely death in 1808, had seven children baptised there. The Cave family originated in Owlpen, a few miles to the northwest of Tetbury, but Sarah’s father John had taken on a farm in the village of Long Newnton, now in Gloucestershire, but then in Wiltshire, which lies just a mile to the east of the town. By contrast, John’s father Thomas (like John himself), was a cordwainer (shoemaker) living in Lacock, Wiltshire, although his mother, Martha Hawkes was born in Tetbury and had siblings still living there. John and Sarah’s seven children arrived (judging by their baptismal dates) with almost mathematical regularity, which was not uncommon at the time, beginning with Thomas (1800) and continuing with John (1801) Hannah (1802) William (1803); a break then occurs until the baptism of Philip Cave (1806) Robert (1807) and finally Sarah, whose birth in August 1808 probably led to the death of her mother Sarah in September; baby Sarah followed the following month and was buried with her mother in Long Newnton churchyard.

Cave & Street grave crop

At first, I found the gap in the baptisms of John and Sarah’s children significant. It could be, of course that Sarah had simply been ill or unwilling to have further children after William in 1803, but it seemed more likely to me that George had been born in the gap and either his baptism was missed from the register or that he had been baptised elsewhere. Baptisms were missed from registers (another ancestor, James Emery of Ashwick in Somerset was a parish clerk and on two occasions the vicar wrote in the registers admonishing James for his errors and omissions in the recording of entries) and the register at Tetbury shows clearly that it was not written up on a daily or even a weekly basis – as was common, it would have compiled, possibly once a year from notes made at the time of the various ceremonies; there was plenty of scope for an entry to be missed.

I searched further for a baptism for George, at first in the other parishes connected to the families, Owlpen, Long Newnton and Lacock, and then in the surrounding parishes to Tetbury; modern databases have enabled me to search Bristol and the whole of Gloucestershire, but to no avail. Assuming the period between the births and the baptisms of the Street children to be more or less uniform, we find the gaps between them to be 15, 14, 14, 33, 13 and 12 months. By analysing the ages given by George in the Census and the age on his death certificate, a birth date of April-June 1805 is arrive at. This fits almost exactly in the middle of the period of 33 months between William and Philip; this was the first coincidence that might justify assuming George belonged to the Tetbury Streets.

The second fact which reinforces the idea that George was the son of John and Sarah was discovered when researching Bristol marriage records. On 22nd May 1824, at the church of St James in Bristol, the eldest son of John and Sarah Street, Thomas, married Mary Stockham of Lea in Wiltshire.

Thomas Street Marriage 1824

This was four months after the wedding of George and Elizabeth, and it can clearly be seen that they witnessed this marriage. In addition the manner in which both George and Thomas formed the name “Street” is eerily similar. This must indicate that the two men were close, even if not brothers – but no other option seems likely. There were no other Street families in Tetbury (or nearby) at the time of George’s birth, and the name “George” itself was never used by the Lacock Streets, whereas it was regularly used in the Cave family. Thomas and Mary called their second son George and another brother used it for one of his children too. Furthermore, it is surely significant that George was, by trade a slipper maker. Of all of John and Sarah’s children, none followed their father and grandfather into the occupation of shoemaking and it would seem odd if at least one of the children was not apprenticed to their father at some stage.

Several members of the Street family moved to Bristol in the years following and most of them lived, at least for a time in St James, where George and Elizabeth appear to have spent their whole married lives. Another son of John and Sarah, Philip Cave Street lived in central Bristol, marrying twice and finally being buried at St James (although both his marriages and the baptism of a daughter took place in other churches). Again interestingly, Philip’s second wife was a widow, Jane Lee whose father’s name on the marriage certificate (1843) is given as Evan Francis. In the 1841 Census an Evan Francis is the next-door neighbour to George Street in Cannon Street, St James.

Well, this blog turned into an article after all, but have I convinced myself? Have I convinced you? Do I accept that George was a son of John and Sarah Street of Tetbury and amalgamate all the data into my tree? Does anyone else care?