in Family history

Thomas Wookey 1789-1846 : A man in search of belonging?

Christian Ladies Magazine 1851

Image of motherhood from Christian Ladies Magazine 1851. Unsigned, no attribution. Publication by the Religious Tract Society, London.

From the perspective of research, Thomas Wookey has been one of the most troublesome ancestors ever.  Coming from a nice, orderly section of the tree where everyone lived quietly and methodically in the same village for centuries, he issued a challenge to my assumptions.  Which is most welcome of course, family research would be boring if the ancestors all did the same thing. But I do like to find the answers after a reasonable search. I think I have the truth this time.

Thomas was the father of Fanny Eliza Wookey, my four times great grandmother.  I’ve written about her here and I have more of her story to write in future posts.  

Originally, I thought he was the Thomas Wookey born 1800 who married Ann Bowles.  That one lined up perfectly to be the second wife of a grieving young widower with two babies, as my Thomas became.  But no, I later conclusively found my Thomas in the 1841 census born in the 1780s.  So he wasn’t the man who married Ann Bowles.  I next decided he had to be the son of George and Martha Wookey born 1780 in East Harptree. Very logical, made heaps of sense.  There was no other Thomas Wookey born in that twenty year period.

Then I gained access to his digitized marriage record with Fanny Eliza’s mother stating he was a widower – a detail missing from the previously available transcription.   That missing first wife was the biggest puzzle yet. Then I found two death records for Thomas Wookeys of the same age in East Harptree.  We had one baptism and two burials.  One of them had come from elsewhere.  Only one lived long enough for the 1851 census, and that one said he was born in East Harptree and he was unmarried, not widowed.  So I looked out of the Harptrees altogether and found my man.

His story begins in Congresbury in Somerset. 

Congresbury in Somerset – Thomas Wookey’s actual birthplace

Sometime in very late 1788 or early 1789, 19 year old Ann Wookey gave birth to an illegitimate son who she named Thomas.  He was baptised in Congresbury on the 18th January 1789.

Portion of baptism record: Somerset Heritage Service; Taunton, Somerset, record D\P\con/2/1/4

Ann was the fourth daughter of George and Mary Wookey of Hinton Blewitt.  She may have been staying with relatives for the birth for the sake of propriety,  that sort of thing did happen.  Or maybe she was working in Congresbury, perhaps as a domestic servant, and chose not to go home until after the birth.

I have no idea what happened next to Ann Wookey.  I don’t believe she is the one who married Thomas Athay. There is an Ann Wookey from East Harptree who was buried in Stanton Drew in 1836 and she’s a good fit. If that’s ours, she possibly did not marry.

Thomas grew to adulthood out of the records and I found him next in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, as an adult involved with a religious group called the Moravians.  It’s this occurrence that leads me to wonder if he was seeking a place in the world to belong to.

The Moravians were a European version of Christianity who believed in open air services.  There were only a few groups of them in England.  They called each other brethren and Thomas was probably very happy in their midst. 

A couple of surnames dominate the Malmesbury Moravian Parish Register.  One of those names is Robertson. It may have been his meeting with Elizabeth Robertson that brought Thomas into the fold. Or maybe he came in and then met Elizabeth?  The pair were married in the Malmesbury Anglican church in 1821.

Marriage record of Thomas Wookey and Elizabeth Robertson 6th August 1821 via 
Wiltshire History Centre

I haven’t located Elizabeth’s birthplace or parents but one of the witnesses to this marriage was Matthew Robertson.

Thomas and Elizabeth had only the one child that I can discover.  A daughter, Fanny Elizabeth baptised in Calne in 1823.  Fanny Elizabeth was buried a year later. 

Portion of baptism of Fanny Elizabeth Wookey in Calne. 
Wiltshire History Centre record 2176/1

Fanny Elizabeth was buried on 12 Mar 1824 and her record has been out there for years in transcription form.  I’ve looked at it in the past, mistakenly thinking it referred to my Fanny Eliza.  I once added the baptism record then realized that it came too far before the marriage to be right.  But somehow, because it was in Wiltshire not Somerset and because I’d fixed on the wrong Thomas in the first place, it never even occurred that this could have been the sister of my own Fanny Eliza.  It must have been a terrible time for Thomas.  I may be wrong again, but I get the impression that he didn’t deal well with death.  He certainly saw more of it than many families did.  

He had two more months with his wife before she, too, lost her struggle with life and passed away.

Portion of burial of Elizabeth Wookey Non-parochial Register RG 4; Piece Number: 3061

It was after this that Thomas found his way to East Harptree. He was a Wookey of Rowberrow not of Harptree, so what took him there?  My guess is that he met young Hannah Wollen somewhere else while she was visiting relatives.

Thomas’ mother Ann Wookey was the younger sister of Walter Clarke Wookey who by this time had married Mary Wollen.  It’s likely that Mary Wollen was a relative of Hannah’s, though I haven’t found the exact connection.   Hannah lived with her mother and stepfather, her own father having died when she was a baby.  The Wollens were of good name and her father was listed as ‘Esquire’ in her baptism record. She had a moderate amount of money from her father’s will to help keep them.  

On 9th June 1825, Thomas Wookey and Hannah Wollen were married at the church of St Laurence in East Harptree.  Thomas was 37 years old, Hannah was 18.  They settled in West Harptree and a year after their marriage a daughter was born to the couple.  The little girl was baptised Fanny Eliza on 15 Oct 1825 and she was my four times great grandmother.  Two years later in 1828, a son named Alfred Wollen Wookey joined the little family.

Then in August 1830 Hannah died, apparently of pregnancy complications.  She was buried in West Harptree.

St Marys Cemetery West Harptree

Thomas never tried again to have a family of his own.  His two children were sent to private boarding schools from a rather young age.  In the 1841 census he can be found living with his mother-in-law’s widowed second husband (Hannah’s stepfather) and he is shown as an invalid labourer. 

He lived long enough to attend (presumably) the wedding of his daughter Fanny Eliza with Francis Burleton in 1844, but not long enough to meet any of his known grandchildren. After their marriage, Francis and Fanny moved to Bristol and it looks as though Thomas went with them, so his final few years were possibly in just the sort of family group that I think he always wanted.

On 29 Oct 1845 Thomas Wookey died probably in Bristol and was buried in the cemetery at West Harptree with his second wife Hannah.  His two surviving children each married and raised families of their own, but for some strange reason neither gave any son his name.  

There are still a lot of holes in my research regarding Thomas Wookey, but everything I have now fits together very well.  So hopefully this sets the story straight.  

Burial of Thomas Wookey at West Harptree, showing his residence as Bristol

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