Girl versus family: Kate Fitzgerald 1824-1911


Another relative has agreed to take a DNA test for me, so I’m updating a branch of the tree that I haven’t looked at for a while. In doing so, I reconnected with Kate Fitzgerald and her plight struck me all over again. She deserves a blog post.

Her full name was Isabella Kate Johnston Fitzgerald, but she was always known as ‘Kate’. She was – according to a later note – born in Trinidad on the property of her Uncle Andrew Johnston who had a plantation. Her father was Robert Appleyard Fitzgerald, a self-centred Irishman of good family, keen to improve the family fortunes and create his own empire.

Robert Appleyard Fitzgerald

Not that his family fortunes were bad – he was born at Geraldine House in Limerick, the son of a silversmith of decent income who had married a wealthy woman. But the family lived in the shadow of former glory – a grandchild, it seems, of one of the Dukes of Leinster. Possibly by an illegitimate liaison, it’s hard to know. The point here is that Robert Appleyard Fitzgerald possessed a strong belief that he was born to greatness and all he had to do was make the right decisions and everything would fall into place.

He made a good start by marrying Isabella Forrester Johnston, daughter of Henry Johnston and Henrietta Ogilvie. They moved out to Trinidad, the plan being that Robert would purchase a plantation and make his fortune.

Yes, they undoubtedly had slaves. There are very few details about this location. Robert and his wife Isabella were, from all we know, very happy.

Believed to be Isabella Forrester Johnson

Kate’s little sister was born on 1st January 1826, also in Trinidad. But the family wasn’t settled.

That is, Robert wasn’t settled. Always with an eye to the next great thing, Robert was inspired by the Americas and the gains that could be made there.

They moved to Woodbridge, New Jersey. We know this from the births of two sons, William Henry Fitzgerald in early 1830, and little Robert Appleyard on 8th August 1832.

Sickness struck the family here. Little William died of cholera on the 17th August. It might even have been brought to the household by the doctor attending the baby’s birth.

The baby lived two weeks. He took his last breath on 28th August 1832 and was buried the following day. Cholera was given as cause of death.

After the baby’s death they made another move. By the end of that year the family was in New Orleans.

They were just in time for the Black Cholera outbreak of 1833.


There’s no indication of Kate and Ellen’s presence in New Orleans – or even in New Jersey for that matter. Possibly because of their mother’s health after the death of little Robert, they were sent back to England with Uncle Andrew.

It was, as events show, a decision that saved their life, but I’d like to point out that this might not have been the reason the family was separated. Robert was like this. He was not an evil man, he cared very much for the people around him. But he was entirely without empathy and at the heart of everything he did was himself. A true narcissist, not malevolent at all, very generous and pleased with himself for being so, but with no concept that what suited him might not be best for anyone else.

If he was truly concerned for his family, he’d have sent his wife as well.

The girls were quite possibly sent to England just because it was easier to travel without them. And because Isabella could be an engaged social partner if she wasn’t overburdened with family.

Here’s a quote from an academic article about the 1833 epidemic.

Local merchants tried unsuccessfully to calm panic by suppressing information. Cholera was not good for business. Business was depressed. Organized religion thrived. National and state days of prayer were appointed to appease an angry God.

During these frightening times, the people learned nothing about the infectiousness of cholera or about its prevention through sanitation. Their experiences tended to reinforce their belief in miasmas or divine retribution.


I think that explains the situation very nicely.

I found a wonderful snippet in the Boston Morning Post on 29th May 1833.

extract of a letter dated ‘Mobile, May 8’

“On my way to this place from New Orleans, I put up at a hotel near the Landing below the town. A Mr Fitzgerald, formerly a merchant of New York, but now of New Orleans, slept with his lady in a chamber next to mine. The next morning I heard him tell Mr B, a gentlement who accompanied me, on the piazza, that his wife had been sick all night with retching and cramps. I at once suspected cholera, and got out of bed to offer my services, but was told a physician had been sent for and would be there immediately. My suspicion proved correct, and she died in a few hours. The husband appeared very disconsolate. He has buried four children, two here, by cholera last summer, and has two living in England.”

For a random newspaper correspondence it’s remarkably accurate. I’m not aware of two more children dying elsewhere but there is time in their marriage for it to occur, so maybe that is true also.

I haven’t found an exact registration for Isabella’s death or burial, but this article matches dates in the family tree drawn up by Isabella’s grandchild fifty years later.

Back in England, Kate and Ellen must have been informed of their mother’s death. And eventually – for short spells only – their father joined them, and took them out to his parents at Geraldine House in Rathkeale, Limerick.

How I imagine Kate and Ellen at this time in their life.

Their father wasted no time finding a new mother for his daughters. With his suave confidence and good looks, his stories of travelling the world, his incessant but skillful namedropping and no doubt sophisticated social skills, he presented himself as a real catch. And it’s true, he came from a good family, there was money behind him. And he had all the mystique of past tragedy into the bargain.

The lucky woman was another Isabella and she was twenty years younger than he.

Isabella Stevenson was British. Born in 1814 to a family of good name but diminishing finances, she was just ten years older than Kate, twelve years older than Ellen. Her journals and letters show her to be a very kindhearted girl, quite sensitive, but one who had never experienced true hardship or tragedy. There was no sorrow in her but the sadness she felt for others. And being very deeply in love with her mesmerising husband, she took his opinon on everything as her own.

How the girls felt upon meeting her can only be guessed. Kate and Ellen were barely out of mourning.

The marriage was a lavish affair on 6th May 1835 and the whole family moved into premises in Dublin.


Two children were born to Robert and his second wife while here. Caroline in 1836 and a baby boy who died in his first day of life in 1837.

Robert was as restless as ever. After the death of their son they went back to New York. They were living here when little Frances was born in 1838. But like all of Robert’s business ventures, they ended up in trouble and returned to Ireland where the family could help them out.

At the age of fifteen, Robert felt it was time that Kate blossomed into full adulthood. A good marriage, that was clearly his thought, to the most useful son in law he could find.

Kate was launched on society. She hated it. It was not a success.

This takes us to 1840.

Kate was fifteen at the start of 1840. Her stepmother’s letters describe her as a solemn girl who rarely showed any emotion and rarely said a word. Taciturn, some said. But it’s clear that she spoke to Ellen and to her father at times. It’s clear that she and her stepmother never found common ground. Kate’s inability to communicate and Isabella’s inability to comprehend the effects of grief were insuperable barriers. The two were civil, but that was all.

Kate wasn’t really alone: she and Ellen were inseparable. The two had suffered together and had come through together. She could talk to Ellen. And Ellen didn’t really need words anyway, Ellen understood everything about her sister. Could speak for her at social functions, at the table. In return, Kate was a pillar of support for Ellen, took on the role of mother so completely that Ellen overcame the shock of their loss.

By now Robert was feeling the pinch again, his finances in poor order. He couldn’t throw a dowry behind her, not the way that would secure her a husband no matter what.

He turned his attention back to the world at large. Listened to stories about the antipodes, about the great need for educated men in senior administrative positions in the colonies. In Australia.

The girls were not part of this decision, but they seem to have coped with everything while they were together. So the plan was made; the two of them, their father, their sociable, cheerful and once-more-pregnant young stepmother and their little sisters (aged five and three) were to leave everything they knew and go out on an adventure.

Unlike the bounty immigrants and convict families, they were not leaving home forever. That was never the plan. They’d be back. But it still meant leaving everything they held dear. It would be an absence of some years.

Isabella’s day book gives a few details.

They went by ferry from Dublin to Hennor House in Hertfordshire, Isabella’s childhood home where her widowed mother and her brother still lived. Isabella was about seven months pregnant.

Kate turned sixteen on 24th June 1840, around the time of this journey.

4th July 1840 Left Hennor for London accompanied by dear Con [her sister Constance] after having paid my farewell visit to ????

In London they stayed with Constance. I’m a bit confused about that since Constance was a single woman at the time. I’m thinking they were actually all with their Aunt Frances Middleton, wife to Lambert Middleton who certainly had a town house. But I’m not quite sure. Isabella was very close to ‘Aunt Middleton’ and many of the surviving letters are correspondence between the two.

Kate’s new baby sister was born on 8th August 1840, mere days after their arrival. She was baptised Constance Dundas Fitzgerald in London. And on the 7th of September they were on board the ship Alfred.

The voyage was against the advice of Isabella’s brother-in-law doctor , and her mother, it seems, said some almost-harsh things about Robert and his lack of responsibility in putting a newly confined woman through such an arduous journey.

Through her months on the boat Isabella pointedly includes any meagre evidence she can find to ‘assuage’ her mother’s fears on that matter.

I know this post is about Kate, but Isabella’s journal gives some very telling details.

Keep in mind that she wrote the journal with a view to mailing it back to England for family to read, in lieu of letters. So she’s phrasing things carefully.

7th Sept 1840 Much engaged during the day in arranging state rooms, and securing trunks, boxes, books etc secure in their places. The sea smooth, a light fair wind, lovely evening, a glorious sunset, closed this first day of our long, long voyage and retired to bed at 9 o’clock fatigued in mind as well as body …

Journal of Isabella Fitzgerald nee Stevenson

She describes their embarkation in greater detail later, but I’d like to point out that this woman gave birth to her fourth child just four weeks earlier and she’s also caring for the other two, while tackling these settling in tasks. No wonder she’s fatigued! She does have two servants to help, but they are a pair of Irish girls working for their passage who have never acted in that capacity before, and the whole voyage is a matter of training them in the duties she needs them for, so she is actually doing most of the care herself.

It shows the family dynamics. She’s in a weakened physical state, she’s basically cabin bound, her husband is off hobnobbing with the Captain and other guests. And nobody is spending much time with Kate and Ellen. Not that they need it. They’re very self sufficient. And they have each other.

I wish to reinforce that fact. They have each other.

From Isabella’s diary.

I’ve skipped a lot of fascinating events in an attempt to keep it focused on Kate:

8th Sept Our meal hours are, B/fast 8; Luncheon 12; Dinner 3; Tea 6 and Supper 9 o’c. My seat at table is next to the Captain at his right hand; next to me, Robert /of course/; and then Ellen, close to her cabin door, Kate opposite to me between Mr Brett, first mate, and Mr Massy, a young Irish man, acquainted with the Limerick folks; Kate’s remarks as usual – few and far between!

12th Sept No incident worth recording, except  a severe fall of a poor woman by which she fractured her skull, bled, blistered on the head and cupped on the neck.   Robert assisted the Doctor.  Another woman in the hospital with slight fever – great attention paid to cleanliness and fumigation to prevent disease; our Doctor – very gentlemanlike, intelligent, active and decided – keeps the people in good order.

18th Sept. Fresh breezes and squalls going our course towards Madeira, which we expect to make tomorrow; opened the piano and found the sound much deadened by the case, the ocean up to this time has rolled too much to attempt it; it is with difficulty we keep our seats at table, all holding on by our neighbours!

21st Sept To bear the heat; Kate and Ellen play and sing, occasionally, but the Piano being in the public Cabin or Cuddy, they cannot with any pleasure to themselves practice regularly.  People continue healthy, only two in the hospital, the woman with the fractured skull and the woman with slight fever before mentioned, both mending slowly; several children have whooping cough.

28th Sept On Sunday night a heavy fall of rain with tropical lightning, such as is never seen in England, but no thunder; on its departure it took from us our lovely “trader” [wind] and we are now quietly moving with that lazy motion, so very undecided, that we are apprehensive of a calm, a calamity indeed, to our crowded ship, and without a breeze to give a circulation of air between decks we cannot expect to be entirely exempt from the visitation of fever, which but too often afflicts Emigrants in this Torrid Zone and frequently carries off numbers.

29th Sept Since Sunday the heat has been oppressive.  The thermometer varying from 80 to 84.  The hot winds from the coast of Africa are blowing upon us, making us all weak and languid.  We sleep with our Cabin windows all open, have all left off our night caps, not excepting little Con, who suffers from the heat as much as any of us; she only wears the day caps when she goes on deck.  Kate and Ellen /wonderful to tell/  have left off two garments; Carry and Fanny trot about in their frocks and “first things” only and no socks;  the Doctor’s children the same.  They are terribly burnt, so are we all, as we sit writing and reading on deck, without our bonnets but there is an awning put up every day.

30th Sept Kate and Ellen spend most of their time on Deck, working or reading, they also have regular lessons from Robert, in geography; and Robert often reads to us, while working.  This plan tho’ has been a little broken in upon by the heat.

Oct 12th Lat 4.34 Lon 23.53 . Thermometer 80 by which it appears that we have only made 200 miles southing, during the last eight days, this is rather melancholy, still, we ought not to repine, but rather be thankful that we are all still preserved from sickness. The people [284 bounty emigrants in steerage] are lively and as happy as circumstances will permit, the poor creatures having many troubles and deprivations which they bear remarkably well, their greatest being the want of good water, a thing which time only can remedy by self-purification; it is really most loathsome and affects for tea so much that sometimes we can scarcely drink it. It is fortunate for us that we brought a filter, what we should have done without it, I know not; we are limited in the quantity of washing and drinking water, but with a little care find it quite sufficient. We have a good luxury, … a shower bath in our greater gallery or closet .. however, I have not partaken ; it has lately been put in order and Kate, Ellen and Robert take one almost daily before breakfast.

Nov 28th Our good fortune continues and we are making rapid progress but the vessel rolls terrifically at times, so much so that we have been obliged to have stanchions put up in our cabins by which to hold on, before which, we could not keep our seats, but were continually sliding up or down the window seat and lockers tumbling one over the other and I have adopted an excellent plan of securing myself when Baby is in my arms by tying myself to one of the posts by a rope around my waist! It is quite amusing to see Carry and Fanny balancing themselves with the motion of the vessel; when a heavy roll comes they lie down on the floor until it is over! You can easily imagine what uneasy, restless nights we often pass, with the exception of Kate, Ellen and Baby! All of whom sleep sounder the greater the motion! The rolling I spoke of in my letters from the Cape was nothing compared to what we have suffered from since we left it and it is only on a quiet day now and then that I can proceed with my journal, besides which it has now become cold, and our cuddy looks comfortless enough without fire and carpet.

Dec 8th 1840 The appearance of Cape Town from the bay is not very striking, being situated in a hollow at the entrance of a valley and the best part of it being hid by the termination of a hill, still, several good houses could be discerned thro’ the telescope, all being painted white and green, many of them having flat roofs; also two churches with spires, the one Lutheran and the other belonging to the Church of England. The scenery is magnificent, the Table Mountain, 3500 feet high, overhangs the town, rising almost perpendiculously at its back, its sides being flanked with beautiful hills, with immense ranges of rock of great height in the distance. …

On Saturday we went on shore escorted by Mr Bennet and Mr Massey, the town contains two or three handsome buildings, with a valuable library, and fine reading room, but the place was too Englified …

I took dear little Carry with me, who was much amused with the children, and talked much of being at the “Cape of Good Hope”, laying such stress on each word. The sensation of walking on solid ground was delightful at first, but the sun was very powerful, and we soon got tired, having been long without exercise, and I glad enough to get back on board again where I had more enjoyment from the recollection of my visit to Cape Town, than I had whilst there, particularly as dear Robert was not with me, whom I reluctantly spared to accompany Captain Crawford in a gig to “Constantia” about 12 miles from the town, where there is a vineyard producing about 5000 gallons of dark, sweet wine …

Dec 26th 1840 On Christmas Day the emigrants were treated with a dinner of fresh meat, plum pudding and wine; our treat was to be startled out of our sleep at 12 o’c on Christmas eve by the Band, playing in the cuddy and the Captain wishing us the compliments of the season thro’ his speaking trumpet! Our latitude was 45 deg 9 mins East Lon 95 deg 37 mins – bringing us within a few days sail of the South Western point of Australia; being the Swan River settlement. Thus our Christmas Day was passed at sea, contrary to the expectations of many of us, who had hoped to partake of Christmas fare with there friends, but for ourselves, who have no one to welcome us, or make merry with at the new home to which we are going, we did not regret it.

Jan 1st 1841 New years Day was ushered in by music at midnight, and a similar ceremony gone through that took place on Christmas eve.  It being Ellen’s birthday, it was the Captain’s wish to have a sort of fete in compliment to her, but Robert requested that he would not notice it, as it might give opportunities for freedoms which we should wish to avoid; her health was however proposed by the Doctor, and drank in champagne. [NOTE: Ellen turned fifteen]

Jan 18th 1841 (Sydney) The anchor is dropped and we are once more quiet so far as the motion of the vessel is concerned; the harbour is extremely beautiful, appearing like a large lake enclosed with wooded hills and we have a peep of the town at a little distance; the vessel will be hauled up to Walker’s wharf in a few days. 6 o’clock. Robert and a few of the gentlemen have been ashore looking for quarters, which by all accounts are very difficult to be procured, and rents exhorbitant, which news does not tend to raise our spirits; lodgings of some description must be got immediately as it is expected that we leave the vessel in 48 hours from the time of arrival; the heat coming so suddenly upon us is almost overpowering.

A letter from Isabella to her mother the following day (19th Jan 1841).

My dear, dear Mother,

After hard work we have left the Alfred and got into lodging for which, we must pay 4 pounds per week, and we are considered exceedingly fortunate in getting them, even at that price.  Robert has seen the Governor and the Colonial Secretary and has been received in the most flattering manner.  May God grant him success.  We are only this moment got in. I have much to do before night. Farewell dear Mamma.


The end of a long and difficult journey, but Isabella’s version was that of a cabin bound mother. Out on deck, things were different. For Kate, they were simultaneously better and worse.

The cabin passengers became quite well acquainted on this journey. They came from similar backgrounds, and among them were some of more impressive families than the Fitzgeralds, including Alexander and Thomas Crawford, Superintendent Cartwright and his family, a Mr John Bennet, Miss Harnett, and brothers John and Rawdon McDouall.

John Crichton Stuart McDouall was twenty one at the time of this voyage, his brother Rawdon was nineteen. They struck up a friendship with the Fitzgeralds.

To be more precise, John McDouall and Ellen Fitzgerald struck up a friendship, with the blessing of Ellen’s father who for whatever reason failed to say a thing about it to his wife.

Things came to a head upon their arrival in Sydney. Here is another letter from Isabella to her mother.

28th January 1841

My dearest Mother,

Having settled ourselves so far as to be able to turn around and look about us, my objective is to give you, in whose thoughts and fond solicitude I know I have so large a share, some account of our proceedings and prospects. The latter, judging by the very friendly receptions my dear Robert has met with, are promising, and I thank God. He who has so mercifully upheld us through so many trials and difficulties, and raised up a friend to help us, from whom Robert has borrowed money, but He only knows when we may be enabled to repay it. Business now is greatly depressed, and two or three large houses have failed; everywhere there is the same tale of distress; farms are given up and sold at a sacrifice; cattle can be purchased at 3 Pound a head, sheep 5 shillings and lambs into the bargain, any person having money here now could double it in twelve months, but alas we have it not. From all we have yet heard, it seems most likely that New Zealand will yet be our destination; there is nothing to be got here but a Police Magistracy with from 250-300 Pounds a year, all other situations being and to fill which we should be obliged to go three or four hundred miles up in the country, entirely cut off from society and without any prospect of advancement, whereas in New Zealand some of the best appointments are yet to be made and Government has been on the lookout for persons competent to fill them. Six months ago he could have got the best appointment the country affords, that of Colonial Secretary, still, from Robert’s knowledge of business and his having held the above named situation in the West Indies, I have every confidence he will yet get a good one. He will have another interview with the Governor on Saturday; he has seen the Attorney General and Postmaster-General and will soon have delivered all his letters …

And another letter to follow:

10th February 1841

All that we have heard is in favour of going to New Zealand, which we have finally decided. We go to Auckland on the ‘River Thames’, on the eastern coast of the northern Island .. carrying letters from the British government to the Governor Captain Hobbs, one of which is from Lieutenant John Russell which is considered as good as an appointment.

I go to encounter great inconveniences doubtless, and probably hardships situated as we are without means, still having firm confidence in Him who has so mercifully supported us thus far.

But I must hasten to communicate what, tho’ left to the last is the most important news I have to tell .. it is this: Ellen is going to be married. To a gentleman who came out with us of very good family and independent means, the son of a Clergyman, who is a Prebendary of the Cathedral of Peterboro .. and he is first cousin to the Marquis of Bute. But I am happy to say that his high connection is not his only recommendation; though very young, only 23 years, he appears very steady, sensible and intelligent, his manners quiet but pleasing and has been accustomed to female society having several sisters; altogether. He was a favourite with us long before we suspected anything, which was not until a week or two before we landed, thou’ I believe they have pretty well understood each other from the time we left the Cape. They are to be married on Tuesday the 23rd. When matters were first arranged we had no idea of it taking place for a few months, which would have given Mr McDouall an opportunity of purchasing an estate in the country, but when we finally decided to go [to New Zealand] without loss of time the gentleman did not much relish the idea of his intended bride being taken away from him, so Robert proposed our waiting a fortnight in order that the marriage might take place.

Kate is to remain with them on a visit for three or four months, thus our expenses down to New Zealand will be much lightened ..

Similar region to that settled by John and Ellen

It was the best arrangement for Kate, in a circumstance that couldn’t have been easy. A few months to ease the parting blow, to step back from that formerly inseparable companion and allow a stranger to move right into her place. However kind Ellen might be, it was going to be tough. However generous Kate was, however much she wanted Ellen’s happiness, it was going to be sad in some ways. But at least she was still valued for herself here .. not just an additional expense ..

The next details also come via Isabella, from her day book this time. (Ellen married to John McDouall at Sydney. Accompanied by Kate to Parramatta.)

23rd February 1841

(Sailed from Sydney for New Zealand.)

18th March 1841

In the end Kate spent several months with her sister. Long enough for a lot of letters to pass between family members in England, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, many of them written on scraps of paper with densely crossed lines. Robert had secured a position as Registrar of the Supreme Court and Manager of Intestate Estates. Jobs for a general clerk, and in a brand new colony, how many Intestate Estates were there likely to be? But they were desperate by then, and in debt. And the society was high.

Kate knew little of that, just the optimistic letters sent by her father and stepmother. In the surviving records the only letter came from her father and was addressed not to his daughters but to Ellen’s husband ‘Mac’. Paper was very scarce. In this letter he asks his son in law to pass on a message to Kate.

Perhaps she had her own and it has been lost in time.

On the surface, all was fine. She stayed in Parramatta with her sister and brother in law, and others of his family. And when John purchased his rural property at New Freugh, she boarded a ship for New Zealand and went off to her new home. Back to her father.

She was on her own for the first time and still very young, still a girl who scarcely spoke, who gave no hint of her feelings. No doubt missing her sister. It must have struck her that she was finally, truly, alone.

William Hobson, first Governor of New Zealand

She just after Christmas and must have missed Ellen’s sixteenth birthday by a matter of days.

They met her with warmth, according to Isabella. And introduced her to their new friends. To Governor Hobson and his wife who had become a good friend to Isabella, and to Colonial Secretary Willoughby Shortland who had come out with Hobson and was – like Robert Appleyard Fitzgerald – angling for a decent promotion. Robert’s competition, but far better connected, the heir to a large estate in Devon. A man from a good school who was not only educated, but understood social nuance in a way that Robert did not.

When Kate first met Willoughby Shortland he was thirty seven years old. Kate was seventeen.

There used to be a lot more data out there about Willoughby. And much speculation. Online trees link him to a Maori woman with whom he may have had three children. I have no idea what facts support this, if any. But I shall place those details here in the hopes that someone who reads this can confirm or repute.

So, Willoughby’s official background:

He served on Jamaica Station from 1829–33 where he was associated with Captain William Hobson, and where he attained his first command, HMS Monkey, in 1830. He was invalided home in 1833, but six years later accompanied Hobson to Sydney, where he was appointed to New Zealand as Police Magistrate. Shortland became New Zealand Colonial Secretary on 3 May 1841 and on Hobson’s death (10 September 1842) succeeded him as Administrator pending Governor FitzRoy’s arrival 15 months later.

An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand

And the New Zealand oral history that is believed to refer to him:

Mordechai was of Jewish descent. Te Ruki Kawiti wed him to his only daughter to lift the Tapu of the Puhi that he had put on her. After they had three children two of which were twins (Hoterene and Riria) the people of the Rohe told Kawiti that Mordechai had to leave so that Tuwahinenui – (Kawiti’s Daughter) could be tomo to Ruatara (One of Kawati’s main warriors). Upset by this, Mordechai left for Australia with his two sons Hohaia and Hoterene. Whilst gone Riria fretted for her twin and her health took a turn for the worst. Kawiti sent people to search for him and to ask for Hoterene to be brought back to save the life of his sister. They found them and Hoterene was brought home to his sisters side. Her health returned, however nothing was heard of Mordechai after this. It is uncertain as to weather he remained in Australia or returned to Israel. (Yes, not a very credible source. But there are a variety of sources listed there that are no longer accessible, so it can’t be discounted yet.)

And another oral history:

When Lt. Willoughby Shortland in his role as Colonial Secretary took the Treaty of Waitangi to Tuahine’s father Te Ruki Kawiti after all else had signed in the north, Kawiti told him that the cost of his signature was Willoughby’s name. Willoughby married Tuahine, Te Ruki’s daughter and fathered birth to twins who carried his Shortland name. Te Ruki took Shortland, translated it into “Hoterene” and gave it to Tuahine’s son, who then became known as Hoterene. All Shortland lines of descent in Ngati-Hine come from him.

It’s true that there are Maori people with the surname Shortland. Willoughby’s brother Edward had a strong interest in the Maori language and lived with a tribe for some time. But the three abovementioned children were born around 1833 to 1840, before Edward arrived in the country.

Anyway, it gives a clue as to the Shortland involvement in local affairs.

Why is this relevant?

Because on the 8th of January 1842, one week after he first met Kate, Willoughby Shortland proposed to her.

Kate said no.

And that is the event that prompted me to write this post.

Poor Kate. She’s lost her sister, the only one who truly cared for her. She has no mother but overworked Isabella who sees the proposal as an ideal solution to the Problem of the Difficult Stepdaughter. It’s perfect for Robert who knows he’s not going to get a promotion without better family contacts.

I think it was set up between Robert and Willoughby. I think someone was pushing Willoughby to shake off his Maori connections, and whatever other sordid entanglements he’d formed. And Robert always saw his daughters as magnets for useful sons in law. I think the second she disembarked from that boat her father was deciding how to bring her thoughts round to a marriage. And Willoughby sized her up the second he met her, knowing he already had her father’s approval. And probably the approval of William Hobson and his wife who was Isabella’s friend.


In a letter to her Aunt Middleton, Isabella mentioned the fuss. How astounded they all were at Kate’s obstinacy, how embarrassed they were. How Robert had had several long discussions with her and how strange it was that Kate couldn’t see what a wonderful opportunity was before her, especially when she’d just spent time with Ellen and could see the advantages of a good marriage.

I feel so, so sorry for Kate.

Yes, she did know the advantages of a good marriage.

Ellen’s was a fairytale romance, swept off her feet by a young man who adored her. A linking of like minds, two equals with great respect for each other. And that comes through larger than life. John McDouall treated his wife with complete respect. In his letters he acknowledges her opinion. Her likes and dislikes. It’s clear they discuss matters and form mutual agreements.

And here’s Willoughby – formal, somewhat arrogant, seeing her as a way out of a difficulty. I mean, it’s possible that he fell in love with her. But if he did and she then said no, would he have pursued the matter further?

It’s hard to know what’s in someone’s head. But I don’t think that was it. Especially looking at later years. And whatever his feelings, Kate said no!

But her family were so blinded by the brilliance of the marriage that they didn’t care.

A lot of my ancestors were in arranged marriages. It can work. I don’t personally have a problem with it. Only with this one because poor Kate said no. But she had no friends to take her side. And she was just seventeen and her mother was dead and her sister was an ocean away.

Willoughby Shortland

In the end, Kate said yes.

A superseded version of the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand (1966) says the following about Willougby. Note there’s some bias here. But I particularly wanted to show that this opinion is out there.

In office, Shortland by his pomposity, flamboyancy of character, and lack of tact, quickly made himself obnoxious to the colonists, while his abruptness in dissolving the Port Nicholson Settlers’ Council aroused resentment throughout the New Zealand Company’s settlements. His abysmal ignorance of financial matters, and his recourse to the questionable expedient of issuing unauthorised drafts on the Imperial Treasury, added considerably to the colony’s public debt. Governor FitzRoy chose to blame all the shortcomings he found in the New Zealand Administration upon Shortland, whom he accordingly dismissed from office on 31 December 1843.

The Colonial Office did not share FitzRoy’s view in this matter, and considered his dispatches were at the least satisfactory, factual, and to the point. Accordingly he was appointed President of Nevis in 1845, and Governor of Tobago (1854–56). He retired from the Navy with the rank of Commander on 1 July 1864, and thereafter lived on his family property, Courtlands, Devonshire, until his death on 7 October 1869.

I don’t think Willoughby was a bad person. To me, he seems to be another troubled man whose family were determined to rule his life. Not an individual, pushed into a career path that didn’t suit him. Somewhat entitled, perhaps. It’s hard to look behind the official facade. Maybe he didn’t want to get married either.

Maybe he and Kate actually had that in common. And for different reasons neither dealt well with people.

On the 19th April 1842, Willoughby and Kate were married in Auckland. They settled in their own place, held parties, dinners and basically lived it up. And this did not change after the Hobsons left and Willoughby acted as Governor.

Isabella complained in a letter to Ellen that she was never invited to Government House. That her daughter Connie had scarcely set foot inside those walls. And that Kate showed no signs of ‘starting something’ months after the wedding.

Which shows that Isabella was not in Kate’s confidence.

There never were any children. When Willoughby moved on to Nevin, Kate went to Courtlands, the family estate in Devon. Later, Ellen’s daughter Isabella McDouall moved in with her so she was not alone. In fact, she may have had some happy years.

But she never again had the close companionship that she’d had with her sister in those early years.

In my tree, she looks like this. Larger than life, and yet faceless in the midst of a family of assertive individuals. Maybe I’ve corrected the imbalance with this blog post. I hope so.

One of Kate’s books from her final year of childhood.


  1. Matt Lemmon from Colorado, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  2. Cartoon by Grandville: Cholera Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images “Chut! Il souffre horriblement du cholera.” Cartoon By: GrandvilleMoeurs Intimes, Series 5 Cabanes Published: 1910 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0
  3. ‘The Black Cholera Comes to the Central Valley of America in the 19th Century – 1832, 1849, and Later’, Daly, Walter J., published in ‘Transactions of the American Clinical and Climatological Association’ via website
  4. Dublin Four Courts Alphonse Dousseau, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
  5. Botany Bay National Park. Maksym Kozlenko, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  6. Winterslow mountains Michal Klajban, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Walters of Warbleton


On the 22nd May 1777 a young man named Thomas Walter married Elizabeth Potter at St Mary the Virgin Anglican Church in Warbleton. They settled there and raised a large family. Their descendants can still be found in the district today.

If my DNA matches are anything to go by, their descendants can be found EVERYWHERE. A few generations on lots of them left England and went all different ways.

But it all began back in 1777, with that marriage, with those two. At this church:

ST Mary’s Church in Warbleton. Creative Commons 2.0 Creator: Winniepix_Sue Winston, Winniepix_Sue Winston | Credit: ©Winniepix_Sue Winston

Their parents are mostly lost in obscurity.

Thomas was possibly the first born child of Richard Walter and Betty nee Washer who married in Selmeston in 1749. They then settled in Rotherfield near Crowborough where Thomas and his little brother Richard were baptised a year apart. Tragedy struck the family in 1754 when first Betty, then toddler Richard were buried within two months.

That’s all we know. The death of his son is the last reference to Richard that I’ve found. Maybe he married again. Maybe he left young Thomas with grandparents and went off adventuring. Hopefully one day he’ll show up again, in some yet-to-be-digitized record.

My rough map of the relevant localities from a public domain outline.

The Potter family are a little more visible. Elizabeth was baptised in Warbleton on the 29th October 1749 in the church of her later marriage, the daughter of Stephen and Ann Potter. Another daughter, Mary, was baptised in that same church two years later and buried the year after that.

Stephen was an overseer of the poor in Warbleton. After his death in 1809, Stephen Potter’s will was proved in 1810 to a value of less than £1500. Which is pretty decent for those days.

All of this hasn’t made him any easier to find, but it does gives clues regarding his status and education. He had some authority. In turn, this possibly gives some clue about Thomas Walter.

Elizabeth and Mary were probably younger children in the family. I’m guessing there are missing records.

So that’s the family background. They were working folk, but whether farm labourers or craftsmen is not known.

There’s a lot of detail out there about this region, but it’s very hard for a novice to pull apart. Warbleton was in a magical part of England. It’s on the oldest road in the country, an ancient track known as The Ridgeway. It seems in prehistoric times people moved about by travelling along the ridges of hills, that being more navigable and perhaps safer than the heavily forested valleys. Then later the ridge roads were used by soldiers, and merchants, and itinerant workers and many others, so some of the older roads stayed in use for centuries until towns popped up beside them, and the roads were widened and strengthened and bridged and fenced.

Many of those roads vanished, but the Ridgeway can still be walked on today.

Heathfield was a major stopping point on The Ridgeway. Warbleton was the next village along.

It’s a region known as the High Weald, anciently a near impenetrable forest and the home to bandits and wild animals.

Why does anyone need to know this? Because if you go researching anywhere outside of subscription sites, you’ll come bang against all these local names for things and it’s very, very hard to spot the place you want.

I found some interesting details in books from the late 18th century.

The above comes from ‘The Rural Economies of the Southern Counties’ by Mr Marshall, dated 1798. There was a lot of this at the time, I think these authors were commissioned by parliament to report on all the counties so their objective is to see if more value could be extracted from the region.

Mr Marshall really didn’t like the Weald.

A final description, this time of roads.

That’s enough of Mr Marshall and his attitude, but he did give us a good idea of the place away from the main roads, even as recent as 1798.

A lot of produce came out of the High Weald down to the coast for transport, both legally and otherwise. It was sheep and cattle country with some crops thrown in.

Smuggling was a longstanding problem all along the coast of England, it seems. After 1703 the military presence was increased along the Sussex coast to help deal with it. Wool, skins, leather and some metals were transported from the High Weald to the coast to be sent off. In March 1737 a skirmish between soldiers and smuggling gangs resulted in several deaths and an inquiry was held. The report stated:

There was no foreign persons at this business, but were all Sussex men, and may easily be spoken with.

Letter at British Treasury quoted in ‘Smugglers and Smuggling in Sussex’,W J Smith 1749

The Walter family might have had nothing to do with it, but even so, it was there in the background, in their communities. It was an interesting time.

Thomas and Elizabeth (also known as Betty in some records) were the proud parents of nine children.

Only one child did not live to adulthood, and he lived till he was five so that would have been a sad loss.

There’s something odd in the records. It shows Philly and Betty marrying on the same day in different churches, in different towns. Catsfield and Warbleton. Both on 22nd February 1803.

Unlike most counties, we only have transcription data for Sussex. I can’t check for myself. I don’t know if there’s a location error, a date error. Ten miles apart. I’m highly skeptical. But until I learn more it holds. The husband’s names are correct, they haven’t mixed up one girl for another.

It’s just .. odd.

So the record shows Philly marrying John Benge in Catsfield in 1803, after which they settled in Warbleton and raised a family.

On the very same day, Betty married Thomas Head at St Mary’s in Warbleton. A couple of children were born to them in Warbleton before they moved to Cranbrook in Kent.

Mrs Elizabeth Walter nee Potter was buried in the St Mary’s churchyard at Warbleton on the 29th of September 1803. She got to see two of her daughters safely married and the rest turning into healthy adults.

Stephen married local girl Hannah Booth. They spent some years in Warbleton before moving to Uckfield in their later years. In the 1841 census, Stephen was a widower working as a male servant and living with son Stephen and daughter in law Eleanor.

Jane was the single mother of Thomas Walter in 1810. A few years later she married Thomas Skrase and they settled in Portslade where they raised a large family.

Winifred was the only one who did not marry, she lived in Warbleton her entire life and was buried at St Mary’s Churchyard on 28th January 1829. Most likely she did as other maiden aunts did, traveled between the families to assist wherever needed.

Henry became a gardener. He and his wife moved around a bit while the children were being born, but by the 1851 census he was in Lower Beeding where he seems to have stayed.

Dinah married Robert Colbran in Warbleton, but they eventually settled in Herstmonceux.

And last of all, Eleanor married James Martin. They lived in Heathfield for some years where nine children were born to them. And then the whole family moved to Australia. Eleanor was buried in Lochinvar, New South Wales, in 1868.

Thomas Walter, I suspect after the death of his daughter Winifred, moved to Cranbrook with his daughter Betty and her husband. He was buried in Cranbrook on the 21st November 1830.

It has taken years to glean even those details about the Walter family. They became more important to document because of the colossal number of DNA matches I have through the various descendants.

I am a descendant of Betty Walter and her husband Thomas Head. Their fourth child Walter Head (presumably given his mother’s maiden name) is my third great grandfather.

Thomas and Elizabeth Walter are seven generations distant from me, and yet I share DNA with the descendants of Philly, Stephen, Henry, Jane and Eleanor. If it wasn’t for DNA matching Eleanor’s line would have stayed hidden for much longer.

Hopefully this will help other Walter researchers.

(1) Image from Snappygoat, purportedly Warbleton region. CC0

William Dudden of Chewton Mendip – The First in a Long Line

Once upon a time, in England, there was a forest called Mendip.

It was referred to through the 17th and 18th centuries as ‘The Ancient Forest of Mendip’. It can be found in Somerset, although apparently there isn’t as much forest now as there used to be. The region has hills and caves and dips and hollows and all those wonderful things you see in British television shows. A place that remained embedded in the past when other parts of England modernised and industrialized. Bristol and Bath moved somewhat sluggishly with the times, but these hills and holes held onto the old days as if they’d never heard of any new way.

Because of this, the region captured the imagination of many writers and romantics in the 18th and 19th century. But this blog is about an earlier period than that. My William Dudden was born round about 1580.

Here is a map of Somerset, nearly a century after William’s birth.

Richard from USA / CC BY ( Maps_of_England_circa_1670

That map is kind of meaningless at this scale, it’s just to show the shape of Somerset. The region that concerns William Dudden is as follows:

Richard from USA / CC BY ( Maps_of_England_circa_1670

Chewton Mendip, to the east of the Mendip hills. Deep in the Ancient Forest of Mendip, until the forest thinned and shrunk and ceased to be the great beast it once was. But in the 1500s it was still fairly dense and Chewton Mendip was a village surrounded by trees. A place of seemingly fertile soil and good rain and wildlife and narrow tracks leading in and out.

John Collinson described it this way in 1791:

The History and Antiquities of the County of Somerset: Collected …, Volume 3 By John Collinson 1791 p 376

When William Dudden first went to Chewton Mendip, it was more forest than plain. The deer would have been there still.

Collinson says this about the Mendip Hills:

The History and Antiquities of the County of Somerset: Collected …, Volume 3 By John Collinson 1791 p 376

“So very cold, that frost and snow inhabit these heights longer than they do almost any other parts of the country’ ..

No wonder the place stayed in the past. It was a challenging place to live, even in the foothills where Chewton Mendip is. A place that required a livelihood – a home and a form of heat. Good food and thick clothes. You couldn’t really be a beggar in a place like that. You’d just die.

Some did. The parish burial record contains many traveler and vagrant deaths. But if you could support yourself and your family, it was undoubtedly a good place to live.

Footpath from Chewton Mendip to Ford

To finish this long description, Christopher Greenwood describes it as follows in ‘Somersetshire Delineated’, 1821.

Somersetshire delineated, by C. and J. Greenwood, p 62, 1821

Parish records have been digitised for Chewton Mendip from 1554. Having scoured these records from the beginning up to 1726, I am pretty sure there is no mention of a Dudden before our William’s arrival, probably some time around 1609, and only his descendants thereafter.

I presume this because there is no death of anyone older who might be a parent living in the region, and no marriage of any other Dudden around the time that might indicate several siblings. He was the first.

William Dudden enters the register on the 10th of December 1610 when he marries local girl Alice Savidge.

William Dudden & Alicia Savidge; married Dec 10

That’s all it says.

The surname Savidge is right through the register. Even in the first year, 1554, there are three Savidge men producing youngsters. I suspect Alice’s father was either John or Robert, but the register is faded in places and I haven’t located her birth. She was probably somewhere between 15 and 25 at the time of marriage.

They were married by license. The license can be accessed via but it’s written in a sort of Latin Vulgate crossed with English, in a flowery script, and I haven’t unravelled the words just yet. It looks to me as if William Duddin was recorded as ‘William Dudding’ and that he came from Frome (Froum). Hence my circling that place in the above map. I might be wrong, but that’s my current theory.

The certainty is that he married by license, which means he was wealthy enough to pay the fee, and connected enough and knowledgeable enough to make it happen.

After their marriage, William and Alice settled in Chewton Mendip.

I’ve found the following children:

Fellow Dudden researchers will recognise some of these names. Valentine Dudden is a name carried right down to the 20th Century, as is William.

Thomas died in 1622, aged seven, which must have been hard since he was old enough for them to have truly become attached. He was buried on 16th June, maybe around the time of little Henry’s birth.

Henry was buried on 22nd July the same year. Maybe a week old, maybe a month, but unlikely to be older. Two sons gone in a flash.

I’ve found no other children. Possibly they moved away for a while, but I don’t think so. I think they stayed where they were and no more children were born. Joan, William, Valentine and Robert grew up, probably in Chewton Mendip, and all reached adulthood in good health.

Near Chewton Mendip

Having said that, the first to be married was William and he was not in his home town but in Wells. He married Dorothy on 13th October 1635 in St Cuthbert’s Church.

St Cuthberts, Wells, Celiakozlowski at English Wikipedia / CC BY (

What a fantastic church to be married in! I’m not sure of Dorothy’s last name, the record is very faded but it looks like Boyte or Boyle.

After their marriage, William and Dorothy settled in Chewton Mendip.

I’ve located the following children, all in Chewton Mendip. Question marks denote difficulty reading the parish record.

Dorothy was buried on 7 Jul 1665 in Chewton Mendip. At some time possibly ten years later, William Dudden the second remarried. I have not found the marriage and have no idea of his second wife’s name, but they had at least two children

I deduce from this that Robert born 1654 died sometime before 1678, but I haven’t found a death that I can be sure is his.

So back to the main family.

Joan Dudden married Stephen Calforde at Chewton Mendip on 3rd October 1636. She was aged 25 and Calforde is not a common name for Chewton Mendip, popping up very occasionally. I believe they moved away, one of these days I’ll find them and follow that line down. For now I only know of one child, a boy called John who was buried in Chewton Mendip on 24th October 1659. The baptism registers are easy to read in this period, I am pretty sure his wasn’t there. I do wonder if he was visiting his grandparents or cousins at the time of his death.

Then comes Valentine Dudden, who married Joan Parsons on 30 Jul 1640 in Chewton Mendip.

Valentine and Joan were the parents of the following children. They must have lived elsewhere for a while. I’ll find the early children one day.

A year after the marriage of William Dudden’s son Valentine, his wife Alice died. She was buried on 2nd May 1641.

It was a bad couple of years for the family, and for Chewton Mendip in general. The register is full of burials, about double the number of deaths as there are births for some months. Some sickness must have struck the community.

Alice lived long enough to meet perhaps five grandchildren (three through William and possibly one each through her children Joan Calforde and Valentine Dudden) and to lose two of them- Frances and Joan.

Were they all buried in the same part of the graveyard? The same plot maybe? I don’t think their headstones have survived, but I like to think it is possible. Alice, young Thomas and Henry and grandchildren Joan and Frances , all together.

St Mary Magdalene, Chewton Mendip, where all the Dudden baptisms, marriages and burials occurred.

Maybe that was the end of the hard times.

In 1642 the family celebrated two marriages. One was that of Robert Dudden, youngest son, with Joan of unknown surname. I don’t think they married in Chewton Mendip, I’ll keep an eye out in neighbouring parishes. But after the marriage they lived in Chewton Mendip for at least five years.

Three children were born to them in this time:

It’s always hard to know how to write the name Joan. In earlier years it was clear. Sometimes it was written as Joane, sometimes Joan. But this girl was written as Joanna while the same registrar wrote other girls as Joan. It might be Joan. But I will stick with Joanna for now. Even though she was probably named after her mother, maybe they pronounced it differently to differentiate?

The second marriage was our original William Dudden. A mere thirteen months after the death of Alice (on 27th June 1642), William Dudden aged approximately sixty married Jane Carpenter.

I don’t know much about Jane. I don’t know if she was older or younger, if she was a widow or a spinster. Possibly one or more of the children I have attributed to William and Dorothy were actually the older William and Jane’s.

But the baptisms for the children of William Dudden came regularly, two years apart, and all the names were different. I think it’s most likely that Jane was slightly older too. Probably still younger than William, but maybe at the end of her child bearing years.

It seems to have been a happy marriage. And it’s another indication, in my mind, that William Dudden the elder was financially comfortable. It’s easier for older men to find wives if they have a lot of security to offer. Of course, I might be well out here.

For the next thirty five years, life ticked over in Chewton Mendip. The grandchildren grew up. Great grandchildren came along. William Dudden’s son William became known as William Senior, after Valentine’s eldest son William married Susanna Blandon in Wells and settled back in Chewton Mendip. I’m very, very grateful to that wonderful registrar for differentiating between the sons and daughters of William Dudden Senior and William Dudden Junior, up until the time when the mother’s Christian name was required to be entered. It helped a lot.

William Dudden Senior’s son John became a churchwarden. (William Dudden Senior being the son of our original William Dudden. Yes, that’s confusing). John Dudden also married a woman named Joan. Honestly, it was getting beyond a joke at this time, and I’ll have to go search all the Somerset registers for that marriage too. So many Mrs Joan Duddens all having children.

And then on 23 Jul 1674, Jane the wife of William Dudden was buried in Chewton Mendip. At this time they were not giving age at death, so we have little idea about her. But I can tell you, because of the law passed not long before her death (1666), that she was buried in woollen. That is, wrapped in a woollen shroud, British grown and sewn, as legally required, and an affidavit sworn that it was done.

British sheep

William Dudden, the first of Chewton Mendip, was a widower once more. I think he liked marriage. I don’t think he managed very well alone, even with all those children and grandchildren and great grandchildren around. He only outlived his second wife by eighteen months.

William Dudden’s burial was recorded in the parish records on the 6th of January 1675 – which means, by our calendar, the 6th of January 1676, the new year beginning in March not January in those days.

I’d love to insert an image of that burial record but I’ve only found it on and I don’t think copyright allows it. So I’ll transcribe instead.

(1675) William Dudden a very old man, buried January the 6th

Somerset, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, 1531-1812, page 49 via

His descendants still live near Chewton Mendip today. And everywhere else in the world as well.

Postscript: I’m still sorting through the later generations of Duddens as they show in the Somerset Parish records. William Dudden the first of Chewton Mendip is my 10th great grandfather. His descendant George Dudden is my 5th great grandfather. But there are a couple of George Duddens who are second cousins, and while I think I know which is mine, I cannot be quite sure until I compile the entire family tree.

Post postscript: Not many of these records show up in an search, though others in the same register have been indexed. I found most of them by straight reading. They are recorded in a variety of spellings – Dudden, Duddin, Duden, Dudin, Dudding, Duddon – and the Christian names are often abbreviated (Wm, Tho, Jn), while Robert is consistently spelled as Robbard.

A Quick(ish??) Post about the Ancestry DNA Match change

A lot of people have written very well about this. It impacts every researcher who uses DNA matching and everyone has a different opinion. Which interests me as much as the event itself.

I’m no kind of expert. This post is about what the change means to me and the way I do my research.

So for context – if you do a DNA test with Ancestry, and you have a family tree on their site, and you link your DNA test to yourself in your tree, then Ancestry will compare your tree with the trees of your matches to see if it finds any common ancestors. It will then highlight these common ancestors so that you can compare the trees and see if you agree. If it’s correct then yes, you’ve found a cousin.

It looks like this:

The above match is female, has a linked tree with 79 people in it, shares 7cM with me which is a reasonably small match, and apparently has a common ancestor. I can then click on the tree link and check it out.

The suggestions go all the way down to myself and my match. I’ve cut off the lower ones for the sake of privacy.

I have several matches to these ancestors, one of whom is through an ancestral daughter who I’d never managed to trace. The common ancestors are definitely the same people. The paper trail verifies their movements. These are genuine matches. Two share 7 centiMorgans with me, one shares 6 centiMorgans.

Is it actually a DNA Match? I don’t know, because Ancestry doesn’t give us access to a chromosome browser. To me, it doesn’t necessarily matter. Well – it does and it doesn’t.

And this, I think, is where all the confusion and different opinions and complexity comes in.

On Family Tree DNA you do get a chromosome browser.

I picked two matches who also match each other and here’s the place that we all match. Same place on the same chromosome, that’s what makes it a real match. Of course, chromosomes are paired – there are two ‘number nine’ chromosomes, one that we got from our father, one from our mother. It takes a bit of comparing with known matches to determine which of that pair these matches are actually matching with. If they match in the same place on different chromosomes they are not a match, but if it’s the exact same one they are. Working it out can be done, and many of us enjoy that game.

If you can figure out which ancestral line a specific segment was inherited from, that’s useful. For the above ancestor John Peard and his wife Bridget Woodley, I could look for that precise segment match among the unidentified hordes who also match me, but haven’t got a tree – and I could say positively ‘This person also descends from John Peard and Bridget Woodley’. Or maybe I could say, ‘this person descends from a sibling of John Peard and Bridget Woodley’.

My example match is so far back, it takes a solid paper trail and a lot of time and a lot of matches with trees to even begin. I’ve been lucky with this one.

This is Ancestry’s ‘thrulines’ facility. It has pulled together every DNA match with those same ancestors – or with enough ancestors that some tree in the system can bridge the gap – and it shows them to me. I have twelve matches on Ancestry who also descend from John Peard and Bridget Woodley. It’s quite amazing, because I rarely stumble across Peard researchers. I’d never have found these guys were it not for DNA matching. I have another four on FtDNA who haven’t tested with Ancestry at all, including one who descends from John Peard’s brother. That’s sixteen matches back to my 3rd/4th/5th great grandfather in this family line.

The one on the far right is a genuine match but their tree is slightly wrong, so they don’t show up in the correct place.

Onto the harder ones:

The magic number in Genealogical DNA is 7 centiMorgans. Some scientists determined several years ago that a match of this length (or longer) is more likely to be genuine. If you go smaller, some will be genuine, some might not. And then you get what is called a ‘false match’.

I hate that term. It’s misleading. But that’s what everyone calls it.

A false match isn’t actually a false match. It’s not like a ‘false positive’ in a medical test. It’s not saying there’s a match when there isn’t. There really is a match.

Someone else’s chromosomes could have accidentally come together in the same sequence as yours – that can happen, and since they don’t share your ancestors at all it’s useless to spend time looking for a connection. This is the most genuine form of ‘false match’. It’s like the two boys in ‘The Prince and the Pauper – they looked identical, but they were not actually related at all. In a perfect world, there’d be some way of spotting these and filtering them out so what we could see were just the real ones.

Accidental similarity

But there are other sorts of ‘false matches’. You might match in much smaller segments from different ancestors that have ended up next to each other so it looks like a bigger match than it really is. A 4 centiMorgan segment from your father’s side next to a 5 centiMorgan segment from your mother’s looks at face value like a 9 centiMorgan match, until you check the matches in common. With the massive endogamy coming out of little villages across the world where cousins married second cousins and their children did the same, century after century, you end up with a lot of third/fourth cousins emigrating to the Americas or Australia or Canada who actually share enough DNA to look like first cousins. So we can look closely related when we aren’t.

That is, if I have an ancestor from West Limerick and you do too, we’re likely to have a very small DNA match whoever our ancestors were. And if I have an ancestor from Isle of Harris in Scotland and so do you, we’ll share DNA from there too. Just think how many people must have one ancestor from West Limerick and another from Isle of Harris. If those two segments are next to each other it looks like a different match to the one it really is.

Cottage at Isle of Harris

It is still a genuine match though, really. Just way too hard to identify, and there’s always the chance that one portion is an accidental resemblance even if part is by descent. That one takes some untangling.

The next ‘false match’ is where the match has come down unchanged for so many centuries that the common ancestor is way before written records. This happens more often than anyone first imagined, and those segments are known as ‘sticky segments’. Since they have come down unchanged to so many people, you end up matching thousands of people who seem like fifth cousins but are really twenty fifth cousins. You’ll hear this multi-match chromosome region referred to as a ‘pile-up’ region.

Once again it’s a genuine match. But at this point we can’t use them. Nobody has the trees. I think in time we’ll get there, with enough people testing, enough records coming on line, enough chromosome painting. But not yet, and the process is fraught with error. So for now it’s a ‘false match’.

That’s the background.

DNA testing at Ancestry has really taken off. The site is groaning under the strain of all those testers, stuck at home now due to lockdowns, isolated and diligently exploring their match. Site response times are very slow. We often get error messages saying their backend servers are overloaded. It can’t go on this way.

So they’ve decided to remove all those 6 and 7 centiMorgan matches, because most are ‘false’. And the remaining 8+ matches will be far clearer.

So, what do I think about that?

A lot of people are utterly appalled. Even more people, I think, are happy about it. My knee jerk reaction was horror, because I hate to let anything go before I’ve had a chance to look at it for myself.

Now, I’m lucky. I come from Tasmania, a small island settled by convicts and soldiers. Every step my immediate ancestors took was recorded. Not only that but the records were deemed to be part of our heritage and were digitized and made available to us all for free. Civil registrations, convict files and newspapers. And being an island, all entry and exit was recorded too, in shipping records. We have excellent paper trails back to England, to those 7th/8th/9th great grandparents. So we – like most others – can really make use of small matches. But most people can’t. So to most people, those tiny impossible hints really are ‘false matches’.

I would prefer that it didn’t happen so soon, but they just might be right. In some respects.

I have a total of 38,047 matches on Ancestry. 410 are close matches (fourth cousin or closer). I know just how I connect to every close match that has a tree with the exception of four, and for those I at least know the region/ancestral branch. I can take a guess at many close matches without trees, but a few of them are a complete mystery.

What would I have lost had I never looked at my 6-7cM matches?

Actually, a lot!

I have identified twenty cousins through 6-7cM matches. Some were the Peard matches mentioned above. Another is the sister of my Irish Catholic ancestor Mary Woulfe of West Limerick, born in Sugar Hill at the cusp of parish records. Others are descendants of the Brown family, subjects of my last blog post.

Yes, some of my most exciting discoveries have been made through matches at this level. No, I’m not sure if they are DNA matches, but DNA matching has brought me paper-verifiable matches that I’d never have found because they moved to districts I could not have predicted.

So if you want DNA purity, then yes, this is probably the best idea. And Ancestry’s common ancestor feature only works back to about eight(?) generations, if you match at the ninth you have to put in the legwork yourself and look at trees, search for names. It’s a good idea for Ancestry, they can reduce their server overloads and keep us genies focused on more accurate data, not screwing up our trees making fake cousins fit when they don’t. I get it.

All the same, I wish I could have looked through my 30,000 or so 6-7cM matches before it happened. But if I’ve missed some amazing breakthrough, I’ll never know. So I’ll let it go.

It’s a pity, but it’s not the end.

An image showing ‘The Last Mile of England’ (Shropshire). It seemed appropriate.

A Family in Cambridgeshire in the late 1700s


This is the story of a family named Brown.

There’s a struggle most family historians will know. You spend years poring over records, identifying the ancestor, working on that jump back to the previous generation. Hoping that the unknown parents will turn out to be Winterfink or Albercoyle, something searchable that will stand out in lists and newspaper articles and interment records. Names like Brown or Smith can doom an ancestor to permanent obscurity.

My ancestors were John and Mary Brown, married 1760 in Fordham, Cambridgeshire.

As it happens they were more visible than expected, partly due to their grandson Robert born 1818. He was transported to Australia as a convict so we know a lot about him. Not only that, he lived a very long life among family equally blessed with longevity so the oral history is good. Robert Brown died in 1911, his son died in the 1950s.


Tracing the family back from Robert to his father Benjamin was simple. Benjamin (born 1785) married Susan (Susannah) Sargent, the names are unique enough, we have them in every British census and could build their family with ease. They spent their entire lives in the same region, which helped a lot. They were labourers, farmers, ploughmen. Agricultural pursuits right through. Our Robert seems to have been the only black sheep, the others appear fleetingly through births, marriages, death and census. A quiet and excessively numerous family.

The complication was Suffolk. Fordham is right there by the border and while Cambridgeshire records are available online, Suffolk is a great challenge for anyone not on the ground. Benjamin came from Fordham, his wife Susan from Exning. Susan was a brick wall for many years because of this.

Focusing on Fordham, Benjamin was the son of John and Mary Brown nee Boon.

Here is the whole family:

This may be incomplete. Eleven children seems like quite enough but there is a suspicious gap between Sarah No. 2 and John. There’s room for two more children there.

It’s complicated from here on in. For clarity, John Brown’s parents are referred to as ‘Granddad John’ and ‘Grandma Sarah’. John and Mary’s same name children are John Jr and Mary Jr.

We can only guess at the size of their house. Granddad John lived for some years in Landwade but was buried 1772 in Fordham, so he might have lived with them too.

A few generations earlier the Browns owned land and had wills, so our John Brown might have lived on his own land too. But his children clearly lived in rental places and there’s no indication land was passed on to any of them.

It was probably lucky that the eldest children in the family were girls. By the time their mother reached her less energetic middle years when pregnancy is harder and childbirth even more risky, she had a group of capable youngsters able to take the load on their own shoulders.

The first Sarah died at the age of six and was buried on 1st December 1767 in Fordham. She was the only child they lost.

John Junior was baptised on 27 November 1774, not long after the death of Granddad John. There was probably some rejoicing or at least relief that the head of this household would finally have someone to help with heavy work and take over the household if need be. Maybe they held their breath until he survived that dangerous first year. But the baby was hale and hearty, it seems, and grew up just fine.

Baby John had a bevy of personal carers in Mary (12), Elizabeth (10), Ann (8) and Sarah (6). That’s if Mary was still around; girls in this region were commonly out at work by the age of 11.

John was the only son for some time. His birth was followed by Hannah and Martha, and by now the eldest daughters were young adults, probably doing farm work or in service around the district.

Child number nine was Jane, baptised on 30th June 1782. She was six months old when her eldest sister was married.

The marriage was straightforward like everything else in the life of this family. Mary Jr was about to turn twenty. No doubt a capable home manager, experienced in childcare, she knew how to cook and sew and milk cows and nurse children through fevers and all those things required of a farmer’s wife in 1782. So when local man John Munns looked for a wife she was going to be a strong contender.

The Munns family, like the Browns and the Sargents, jumped across the county border between Fordham, Landwade and Exning. I’m not sure which side of the border they began on. I actually think we’ll find an earlier Munns link, maybe they were connected to Mary Boon. There’s a good chance young Mary Brown and John Munns knew each other their entire lives.

I imagine they announced their engagement and made plans. The marriage took place on the 18th November 1782. Everything respectable and straightforward.


I learned about Mary’s marriage through DNA matches with three of her descendants.

Two years later, Ann Brown formalised her union with farmer John Burling of Swaffham Prior, a village six miles from Fordham, three miles from Exning. It wasn’t a big move, but a good one socially and economically. John was a landowner in a modest way and his farm was quite successful.

I discovered Ann through another DNA match.

From this point on, the generations are slightly muddled. John and Mary Brown’s tenth child – their second son Benjamin – was baptised in the same week as Mary Jr’s apparent first child Henry Munns, and also John and Ann Burling’s first child Susannah.

At a calculated guess based on ages and proximity through the decades, I would say Benjamin Brown grew up playing with his nephew Henry Munns and his cousin William Brown. And the Sergeants/Sargents were there too, not yet married into the family but at all the social events. As were the Burlings.

This is the time to introduce William and Mary Sergeant of Exning.

William Sergeant and Mary Levett were married in 1778 and their eldest son John was born the same year. George, Susannah, William and Mary were born over the next few years, followed finally by Elizabeth, James and Eleanor. They lived in Exning and mostly stayed there, but they attended Brown weddings and the families knew each other well.


This, as far as I can see, is what English village life really was. Not individual families as we do it today, the whole population personally connected again and again. I’ve kept it simple so far.

In 1787, Susan Brown’s birth completed the family of John and Mary Brown. In this same year, little Susannah Burling was buried and a new Burling daughter was given the same name.

By 1788, Elizabeth Brown must have felt like an old maid. There she was aged 24, nieces and nephew popping up everywhere (Mary Munns and Isaac Burling came into the world this year). But finally it was time for her own wedding. She married John Frost in Isleham, Cambridgeshire.

I have DNA matches with Elizabeth’s descendants too.

Sarah may have married in Isleham too, there is a plausible marriage with John Peachey on 24th October, 1787. But I cannot be sure of it.

So having introduced all the characters now, we can pull the whole thing together. Mary Munns, Elizabeth Frost, Ann Burling and Sarah Peachey(?) are settled. There’s a gap now, which matches that six year child gap between Sarah and John. The four married daughters increased their families significantly. The Sergeant children are likewise growing up

On 27th September 1798, John Brown Junior was married to Ann Shinn in Fordham. He may have felt some pressure to do so, his father was sixty years old and probably starting to ail.


It was another time of rapid change. Hannah married Thomas Bishop in 1799 (DNA matches brought this to light), then came the death of John Brown, father and grandfather to this giant family. He was buried in the Fordham cemetery on 10th April 1801.

A year later was the first union with the Sergeant family through the marriage of Martha Brown and John, the eldest Sergeant boy. They spent a couple of years in Suffolk before moving to Fordham.

I discovered Martha through DNA matches too.

To conclude this part of their history, Benjamin Brown married Susan(nah) Sergeant in 1810, while Jane married William Durrant four years later. I have not located a marriage for Susan.


There’s just one more marriage to add.

The fifth Sergeant child was Mary, born a year later than my Benjamin, baptised 09th October 1786 in Exning.

Mary Sargent married Henry Munns, the eldest son of John Munns and Mary Brown.

It is confusing. John Sergeant married Martha Brown. Susan Sergeant married Benjamin Brown. Mary Sergeant married Henry Munns. You can see how I might have strong matches with other descendants of this family. But I also have matches with descendants of Eleanor Sergeant who married an Andrews, and with Burlings and Frosts and Bishops so it’s not just endogamy from that particular grouping.

In conclusion, this is the family of John and Mary Brown as I now know it, a long way ahead from my first post about the family. I wrote this first to help others researching this family, and second to show what DNA matching can achieve.

Now I’ll get on with more research.

Image captions:

1 Image by Bob Jones : Track near Fordham, from Wikimedia CC BY-SA 2.0 .No changes made.

2 Robert Brown born 1818 with grandchildren Lucy, Amy and Mary in Australia.

3 George Stubbs: Haymakers 1785 (public domain)

4 John Constable’s Wivenhoe Park, Essex showing rural features. There are very few paintings featuring Cambridgeshire.

5 Old man Family Hour Magazine 1854

6. I chose this image for the mud. Very much a part of British farming.

Francis and Fanny Eliza Burleton – A Fresh Start #52Ancestors Week 1

Bristol 1840 (John Chilcott)

On the 6th June 1851, Francis Burleton and his wife Fanny Eliza lived in a small house in Bristol. It was a terrace house in a long row. Not the worst place to live, but a huge change from the rural highlands of Somerset and Wales where each had grown up.

On this date the family consisted of 6 people. There was 36 year old Francis, his 24 year old wife Fanny Eliza and 3 year old Mary Ann at the core. Francis was a corn dealer following in his father’s footsteps. With his uncle Robert’s good training behind him, he had every chance of succeeding where his father had failed.

Seven years ago Francis lost his father in a tragic shipwreck which robbed the family of a chance to redeem themselves in the eyes of society. William’s story concludes here.

Six years ago, Fanny Eliza’s father passed away in Bristol. He may have died in the very house they were in for the 1851 census. His story concludes here.

One year ago, Francis and Fanny Eliza buried their son Albert. I’ve written about the event here.

It had been a decade of loss for them both, but as the family grew smaller they grew closer.

On 6th June 1851, they lived at 3 York Street, Bristol. The house is still there.

Photographer’s child taken out of picture. Posted with permission, taken 2014.

With Francis, Fanny Eliza and Mary were three others. Francis’ mother Elizabeth nee Dudden aged 67. his brother William aged 32, and his sister Sarah aged 38.

By June of 1851, plans were already afoot. Perhaps Francis’ father wrote back about great opportunities in the colonies. Maybe it was just a way to escape struggle and death. Whatever the reasons, Francis and Fanny Eliza had made their decision.

Their fresh start was a move to the new improved colony of New South Wales.

It was probably a move of desperation for the Burletons. The British colony was seventy years old. But this was a giant region and the discovery of gold brought swarms upon swarms of hopeful new immigrants to the shores. Whole towns sprang up over night. Existing villages surged to city size. Transport problems, shortage of resources, the absence of law enforcement all culminated in the splitting of one giant colony into two more manageable ones.

On 1st July 1851, Victoria was born. Wealthy from the beginning, it settled down to pass laws, open immigration to those with skills that the colony required, and reap the benefits of their geographic location, the hub between three flourishing colonies with a lot of movement between.

It wasn’t such an easy time for New South Wales. They were in the middle of an economic slump and were losing valuable residents every day to the shiny new lands down south. But in 1852 they were starting to rally. It wasn’t such a bad time to be in Australia.

So it wasn’t only a fresh start for the Burletons. It was a fresh start for the Australian colonies too.

Map of the eastern Australian colonies. Adapted from the map of Australia by NordNordWest [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]

They travelled on the Neptune. Francis described himself as a ‘farm manager’ but the immigration records rephrased, presumably in a way that made him the most useful. He is shown as a ‘brewer or farm labourer’. The shipping record confirms the details we have for him. His age, his birthplace, his parents (William and Elizabeth Dodding, a small confusion there as he presumably provided his mother’s maiden name). That his father is dead and his mother residing in Bristol.

Fanny Eliza is likewise confirmed. A house servant born in West Harptree, parents Thomas Wookey and Hannah. Mary aged 4.

I add this detail in their ‘remarks’ section which may be more decipherable to others than to myself. I can see they have five pounds. But there’s more.

Detail from New South Wales Immigration records, ship’s list for the Neptune dated 19th February 1852

Also on board was Francis’ brother William. The two of them were close for their entire lives. William’s details corroborate all other records nicely.

They said goodbye to their mother and sister and boarded the Neptune at one of its British ports.

The journey was recorded in a couple of places:

The Neptune left Deptford on the 9th of September, the Nore on the 10th, and Plymouth on the 26th September. She experienced very heavy weather in lat. 46-46 North long., 10 degrees West. A heavy sea struck her and carried away fore and main topmasts, all three topgallant masts, fore top-gallant yard, and she had to put back to Falmoutb, where several of the emigrants left her.

She resumed her voyage on the 23rd October. She has on board 42 married couples, 56 single men, 70 single women, 31 boys, and 24 girls under 14 years of age, and 10 infants. Seven births occurred during the passage, and eight deaths. Three of the latter were adults.

Empire (Sydney, NSW : 1850 – 1875), Saturday 7 February 1852, page 2

Poor Francis and Fanny must have felt as if everything they touched turned to disaster. But they stuck it out, and they arrived safely at Port Jackson on 19th February 1852.

They came to a country very different to the one they left behind. They arrived in the height of summer. They found mosquitoes, giant spiders and poisonous snakes and the stories of these were brought on board ship before they even set foot on the land.

The Heads, Sydney, picture by David Edwards [CC BY 3.0 (]

I’ll conclude this blog with the announcement of the ship’s arrival, as Francis, Fanny, William and little Mary waited on board to see what the future might hold for them.

Empire (Sydney, NSW : 1850 – 1875), Thursday 19 February 1852, page 2

Francis and Fanny Eliza Burleton

It’s a busy time of year and I’m cheating a bit. I’m going to publish some flash fiction instead of a something factual. I’m still conflicted about fictionalizing the past. I wish to state very clearly that it might not have happened this way at all.

That said, the facts are verifiable. It’s the conversation and the thoughts and some physical descriptions which are not. We can’t know. But I do have some idea of their personalities and their views on the world. Francis had a strong sense of responsibility and a great deal to prove to himself. Fanny Eliza was a wonderfully strong woman who always found a way forward. Many records still exist about this couple. Their personalities have left a mark.

My 3 times great grandparents Francis Burleton and Fanny Eliza Wookey were married in 1844 in East Harptree, Somerset. On 20th March 1850 they lost their son Albert Edward Burleton. I’m hoping to move out of the death theme by Christmas Day with their arrival in Australia, but I like to maintain accurate chronology. Although this is the story of a funeral, it’s the beginning of a new approach. A point at which, I’m fairly sure, they looked at their circumstance and their future and decided that something needed to change.

East Harptree in Somerset England, the ancestral region of the Burletons and Wookeys

A Funeral In East Harptree (March 1850)

On a balmy morning in spring when new leaves budded on the trees, Francis Burleton followed slowly behind a tiny coffin destined for the East Harptree churchyard.

Fanny Eliza, black clad and very contained, walked at his side carrying their daughter. Her haunted poise wrenched the breath from his chest. Mary was settled deep into her mother’s arms, very aware that catastrophe of some sort had struck the family.

At the churchyard he waited with his wife and his brother Will, lost in thought.  Would the sunny girl he had married emerge again?  Or was she now a different creature?

Here was the grave of John Burleton, his grandfather.  He remembered a solid man of stoic demeanor and poker face, the last of the old style of yeoman farmers.  Church warden, local magistrate and of impeccable reputation.  John Burleton had even entertained aristocracy at Eastwood Farm. His excellent husbandry added wealth to local importance. It meant something here in Somerset to be a Burleton.

But Francis also remembered that time when he was just a boy where he had no place to be, overhearing a tirade of abuse hurled at his Papa by this great man. John Burleton with florid cheeks and booming voice in the parlour at Eastwood Farm.  And his own Papa, six inches taller but cowed and silent, accepting the abuse.

“A bankrupt! A Burleton in the bankruptcy courts?  How DARE you show your face on this property now!  I might have known you’d throw it all away, boy,  but I’ll be damned if I’ll permit you to take us with you.”

Even then, afraid to move for fear of being spotted, Francis marvelled at the difference between the two men. Grandpapa so black and stiff. Papa so ethereal, tall and thin with light wispy hair.  His grandpapa with rigid routines and his papa with a new grand scheme every day.  But Francis did not, back then, know what bankruptcy was.

They moved to Wales, escaping whispers and recriminations.  Mamma was staunchly supportive of Papa, as always. The Burletons had not approved of her and she was happier in Wales. Until Papa was transported to the colonies as a common criminal.

It really wasn’t Papa’s fault. Setting the Welsh town against him with his criticism and grand schemes, he upset the natural order of things as he always did. And they’d taken action, got him shipped off.  Exiled for being a fool. And the family was separated forever.

Their uncle called Francis and Will back to Eastwood Farm where they could learn good management. Where any influence of their father could be undone. Uncle Robert was a good man who liked to do right by his family.

Coming back to East Harptree made sense. But it was an uneasy home now. Everybody knew. Nobody said a word, you could imagine the secret had been kept successfully. But the truth was there in the glances, the careful words – they way some families chose not to mix with the returned young men.

But that was in the past. He was married now. He had his own commitments. He understood loss and gain. Had hope for his own future and that of his children.

And now Will was heeding the call for emigrants and leaving them.

Uncle Robert stood alone, solid and poker faced just like the old man. He wasn’t happy with the funeral arrangements.  Little Albert should have been buried in the Burleton plot, but Fanny Eliza had put her foot down and she was a Wollen. 

Wollen. An old name, true aristocracy.  They’d daughtered out now and Fanny’s mother had been one of the last. Francis had married her for herself, not her family name.  Yet she had a power over the Burletons that he could never have imagined and she was not in awe of them at all. 

He watched her move quietly to her mother’s grave and place a finger lightly on the headstone as she always did.  Just a quiet ‘hello Mamma’ to the woman who died to give her birth.  It was Fanny Eliza’s decree that her first born son would be buried here, with his grandmother to watch over him for all eternity. 

The tiny coffin was lowered.  Francis and Fanny Eliza cast the first sod. They watched their cherished son vanish from view forever.  Francis had the distinct impression that Fan was burying her innocence in that little grave with her boy.  When it was done she looked at him. Serene. Peaceful. Determined. Changed.

“Will has the right idea,” she said.  “We have nothing here. Mamma will care for Albert now.”

Francis looked at her in puzzlement. 

Fanny Eliza looked across the churchyard.  “I want to move to the colonies.  This place is not good for children.”

Move to the colonies. Will had suggested it weeks ago and he felt a stirring of curiosity. What might it be like?

But if Fanny Eliza had decided there was no question.

“Yes.” He looked solemnly at her.  “Let’s do that.”

They walked across the churchyard to rejoin the mourners.

At the Time of Death .. Please Don’t Bury the Family Bible!

Some of my readers may know that I work for a family based funeral service. We are in a small city on the edge of the Australian outback and our nearest competitors are almost 100km away. Because of this we become very personally acquainted with the local families. Along with the doctor, their church and their teachers, we see them regularly when we bury their loved ones. It’s not like the big cities where this is just a job. It’s a true vocation for us.

We are never off duty. We meet our families every day at the shop, at the hairdresser, at the doctor’s. We are on call seven days a week and we don’t stop for any public holiday. We feel very privileged to be playing the role that we are and whatever we have agreed to do as part of the burial, we do – to the very letter.

Among other duties, I prepare bodies for burial or cremation. I take the clothes and objects that the family brings to us, I spread them out on a table to see what I have, I review any special instructions. Then I follow those instructions to the letter.

As long as nobody will be harmed and there is no legal obstacle, whatever is given to us to include with the deceased person will be placed in that coffin.

His favourite handkerchief in his pocket? Absolutely.

The gold ring on her left index finger, the pearl ring on her right ring finger and the topaz anklet on her right ankle? Not a problem.

Hair brushed back with a left parting, wearing a kilt with all his military badges pinned to his tie? Easy done. A photograph of the family dog in his hands and a sprig of rosemary under his chin? Even easier.

It’s a pleasure to prepare a loved one exactly as the family would like.

But the family bibles break my heart. We don’t see many, thank goodness, but it does happen.

I would very much like to suggest to everyone that a family bible should not be buried with a body.

I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but I need to get this off my chest. A family bible is a family commitment. It’s a vote of confidence in the family by those earlier generations. It’s the manifestation of a belief that this family has value and longevity. That all the sacrifice and hardship that one person does will be worth it, because those who will be born in future generations can reap the benefits.

Someone, sitting there writing their child’s birth in the 1860’s into that bible, imagined that child’s great grandson or daughter writing in their own child’s birth in the same way. I guarantee it. Writing in a family bible is an exercise in connectedness. One sees the continuum of life.

Being a family historian I’d personally go further and suggest that any memorabilia not specifically requested to be interred with the person should be kept. Cards, prayer books, letter’s from great grandma, handcrafted lace tablecloths, pocket watches, original photographs – to me, all such items belong to a whole family, not a specific member of it.

I certainly understand that some items have particular significance to the newly deceased and there is a case for that object going with them. There’s no more to be said in this case. And it can be very healing for whoever is left when this is done.

But that’s not what I see most of the time. This is often a decision by younger members of the family, not a request from the deceased.

So this is a brief post to tell everyone – if you don’t have reason to believe they wanted it buried with them, it’s all right to hold on to an item. It’s a respectful memory to keep of the deceased person. I’m particularly speaking to those reluctant executors who are bowing to pressure from more aggressive family members. Who want to do the right thing but are not sure what the right thing is.

Having responsibility for organising a funeral is harder than anyone can imagine if they haven’t experienced it. You will be feeling uncertain. You will be anxious. You will be overwhelmed and feeling pressured from fifty directions at once. But some of you would like to keep that family bible only there’s so much going on that you can’t withstand the one or two vocal proponents for encoffining with the deceased.

If the item is of great value, you are not being a vulture. People don’t say that as often as you might fear. The legacy of the family is important, do frame your desire to keep an object in these terms if you are concerned.

Don’t be too sure that the deceased really wanted it with them. If they kept it safe for the last seventy years, they possibly hoped someone else would take over their cherished duty.

And – this is a contentious one – don’t think it’s best to send it with the deceased to avoid family from squabbling over it. Or to prevent Cousin Jack from taking the item and selling it on ebay. Yes, that would be an utter tragedy and yes, your deceased family member might turn over in their grave. But as long as it’s out there in the world you have the chance to get it back. Awful that it would come to this, but – it’s still better than losing it altogether. Maybe you can buy it at great cost in twenty years time for a lot of money. An dreadful thought, I know. But still better than allowing it to vanish from the world altogether.

Even in these days of excellent records, we are likely to vanish. All of our digital records can be wiped at the press of a button. In Australia companies are obliged to hold records for seven years only. After that, many are automatically deleted. We receive bills and financial statements by email, we make unrecorded phone calls. How can our family members of 2050 connect themselves with their ancestors of a hundred years earlier?

It’s easy to imagine that those bibles and other objects from fifty years ago are nothing special. It’s just not true. We really, really need them.

Thank you to all for considering this matter in your own lives and for acting as custodian to those valuable physical records of your heritage.

George Devon Doo

In my tree, I have a rather unbelievable class change across two generations. So unbelievable that I often come back to it, thinking it must be a mistake. That I’m wrong in the tree, that I found the wrong father for this ancestor.

I still don’t know. I still come back to it. DNA has given me no confirmation at all. Maybe it’s wrong. But I’ll place the whole conundrum here and maybe someone will be able to help.

George Devon Doo was born on 21st November 1794, the eldest child of John and Harriet Doo. His mother Harriet was a Devon, the daughter of George Barker Devon. I’ve written about her line here and here .

The family was very respectable. John Doo descended from a long line of Anglican reverends and gentleman farmers in Hertfordshire. His mother traced back to aristocracy, just out of living memory. The men in his family were magistrates and church wardens, sat on local boards and played a large part in local affairs.

Harriet Devon, on the other hand, came from flamboyant and uneducated London wealth. Flung into the ranks of the millionaire (or 17th century equivalent) through a somewhat questionable inheritance, the Devon family lived opulantly and to some degree imploded while Harriet was still a child. But the money was still there and the younger generation had enough skills to hold on to some of their birth advantage. Harriet made a sensible marriage. George Devon Doo was born into comfort and security.

He was still a baby when the family returned to Buckland, Hertfordshire. His mother was pregnant with a second child and his father was possibly ill. I’ve found no reason for the move, but John Doo died on 31st March 1797 in Hertford.

I have not found a death record. Just a newspaper report:

The ‘Oxford Journal‘ 08 April 1797, page 4: ‘Died: Mr John Doo, of Buckland, in Hertfordshire, Son of the late Mr John Doo, of Chipping.

Six months later, George’s little sister Fanny was born in Hertfordshire.

No records have been located about George’s childhood. The next event of note is his mother’s remarriage to Peter White on 7th February 1805. George was aged eight at the time.

I have a suspicion that this was the beginning of bad times for George. I’m guessing here, but given his later actions, and that of his descendants, I’d say he was a difficult child. There’s a strain of high functioning autism in our family that comes down through that branch, along with sensory sensitivity, anxiety and a need for lots of personal space. I’ve wondered if it went back this far. But this is mere speculation.

At the age of ten, George was placed in the British Navy while his sister Fanny went back to her father’s relatives at Buckland. Peter and Harriet White moved to Devon and had seven children. There is no indication that the two Doo children ever mixed with them.

George wasn’t alone in the navy. He was placed on the same ship as his young half-uncle, then sixteen-year-old Frederick Devon. Just like George, Frederick had joined at the age of eleven , as had his eldest brother Thomas Barker Devon. With all the family money behind them and probably different personal skills, both Thomas and Frederick achieved high rank.

The family circumstances were odd. After two children with his wife Ann Lovelace, Harriet’s father had abandoned her to move in with a new partner Elizabeth Willis. The two lived in society with no apparent loss of status. Their ten children were Harriet’s half siblings, but it looks as though Harriet did not associate with them. Exactly like George with his own half-siblings.

Perhaps George’s placement was coincidence. Or perhaps the families were more united than we knew?

George started in the navy just in time for the Napoleonic wars.

The navy during the Napoleonic wars was no place for a sensitive child. There are awful stories about life on board those ships, especially for the lowest rungs in the hierarchy. We don’t know much about his Naval career. I suspect it wasn’t good.

The next record is the birth of a baby girl named Clara Doo, daughter of George Devon Doo and Jane Rapier. It’s a transcription made in the last century and the original has not been located. But it’s a reputable transcription.

Supporting that birth record is another from London on 15th December 1813. It’s a rather faint baptism record, variously transcribed as Clara Rapier Doo and Clara Seraphim Doo. Personally, my vote is Clara Sophia Doo, but it’s very hard to tell. A middle name of Rapier makes so much sense. But I’m just not seeing it. Also, this baptism shows a mother named Ann.

This is the point to mention the OTHER Doo family.

They were farmers, victuallers and waterfront workers. They have the same family names – George, John, Ann, Jane, Harriet – all those names appear in that family. They lived in the rough part of town and had no education at all.

So many times, I’ve wondered if they are my ancestors and not George Devon Doo. And maybe they are the same family if we could go back just a few more generations. Because little Clara was baptised in Soho among a very different congregation to George Devon Doo.

On 20th September 1814, George Devon Doo was married to Ann Forester at St Mary Newington in Surrey. This, presumably, is the Ann of Clara’s baptism.

Is Ann Forester the one called Jane, the apparent mother of baby Clara? There’s no record to show. Maybe.

On 29th January 1815 in Soho, Surrey – the same church that baptised little Clara – a son was baptised. George Foster (Forester?) Doo, son of George Devon Doo and his wife Ann.

George Devon Doo is listed as a gentleman, so to this point I’m sure we have the same person.

After this, George went to India to serve in the military. Possibly the family went with him. They vanished. There are no details of later children at all.

And here is the problem point. I’ve no further information about either Ann or Clara. But both George’s – father and son – appear again in different places. I think.

Darlinghurst Gaol

In 1856, George appeared in a record from New South Wales, Australia. He was in gaol in Darlinghurst. He’s shown as a labourer but it’s clearly the same person. He arrived on the Elizabeth, direct from India.

And at last in 1865, we have a marvelous if tragic record. His very own words, as relayed by a third party. Along with some scandalous mistreatment of a vulnerable person.

To summarise: George was a patient in Yass hospital, addicted to alcohol and opium. Under the influence of strong craving he was in the habit of promising to write the various staff into his will if they brought him the narcotic.

The event, as reported by the ‘Maitland Mercury‘ on 06 Jun 1865:

The evidence of the wardsman of the Yass Hospital taken at the investigation on the death of George Devon Doo who died on the morning of the 25th May reveals a state of affairs in connection with that institution that is by no means calculated to raise its prestige in the eyes of the public.

The facts are briefly these: –G D Doo was subject to a complication of diseases, amongst which were disease of the heart and cancer of the jaw, in addition to which he suffered from a constant craving for strong drink. He was seen before under the influence of liquor and caught, if we may so use the term, in possession of a bottle of “painkiller”. It was known that a spirituous debauch or overdose of narcotic stimulant would most likely prove fatal, and that his medical attendant had strictly forbidden any indulgence beyond that prescribed by him. All this was known to the wardsman and yet, on removing the body, after death, almost the first things which were brought to light were two bottles containing brandy, and two others which had been lately filled with a compound the most unsuited of all others tor a man in a state of health such as was that of Doo for some time previous to his death. These, evidently the causeof death, were found beneath his pillow, but no one can state how or by what means they came there. Dr O’Connor, one of the medical attendants of the hospital, said, “I allowed Doo three glasses of wine, to be taken in small quantities during the day and a glass of brandy and water at bed time, as stimulants. On the night of his death, I am told, he did not take the brandy and water prescribed. I saw the body of deceased the morning after death, I believe he died of disease of the heart, accelerated by an overdose of brandy, or very likely a narcotic, such as I believe this .pain killer. to be” -Goulburn Argus.

Here is the trial as reported in the ‘Goulburn Herald‘ on 17th June 1865:

YASS. (From our correspondent.) On Tuesday forenoon, the subcommittee consisting of Mr. Allman, Mr. Pearse, and Mr. Hassett, met in the committee-room for the purpose of pursuing the inquiry into the wardsman’s conduct. The specific charge was that he had allowed brandy and wine to be admitted into the hospital and consumed by a patient in excess of the quantity ordered by the medical attendant.

Patrick O’Donnell’s evidence was to the effect that on his visiting the patient, George Devon Doo, the wardsman came into the room where they were with a square bottle of brandy, that he gave four glasses of the spirit to Doo during the time the witness was there, some four or five hours, and that he (witness) partook of some of it. Mr Goodman … had [a conversation] with George Devon Doo, during which the latter said that he was not half the man he had been since he and the wardsman drank a case of gin, and another of old tom together. The wardsman was not present at this conversation. Dr. O’Connor spoke as to the fracture of the knee-cap, for which George Devon Doo had been admitted for treatment, and that soon after he came to the hospital it was discovered that he was suffering from disease of the jaw; that he was seventy-six years of age, had served twenty-one years in the Indian army, during the last four years of which period he was in hospital under treatment for dysentery, and that he was a man of very feeble constitution. …

The evidence being concluded, the wardsman made a statement denying the charge implied in O’Donnell’s evidence, and explaining the time and where the patent medicine was found by him. He further stated that he never gave George Devon Doo any wine or brandy except what was ordered by his medical attendant, Dr. O’Connor.

The wardsman handed in several high testimonials connected with his conduct in the Sydney infirmary for many years … the sub-committee … had come to the unanimous conclusion that the present wardsman, Edmond Sidney Plunkett, was not a fit and proper person to hold the office, and recommended his dismissal. Some considerable discussion ensued, Mr. Allman giving it as his opinion that although O’Donnoll’s evidence might be suspected, he being somewhat disappointed at not being a legatee under Doo’s will, the sub-committee could not exclude his evidence .. of a large amount of grog having been given to Doo by the wardsman. .

Finally, here is the final will and testament of George Devon Doo, made in May 1865.

In the name of God Amen this is the last will of me George Devon Doo at present a patient in the Yass Hospital New South Wales. I give and bequeath unto Michael Cassidy of Yass in the said Colony, freeholder (who I hereby appoint as the Trustee and Executor of this my Will), the sum of five hundred pounds now lying in my credit at the Commercial Bank, Yass in trust for the sole and separate benefit of Elinor Plunkett the wife of Edward Sydney Plunkett, wardsman of the said hospital, and I swear that the sum of five hundred pounds, so given to the said Elinor Plunkett, shall not be given to the debts or control of her said husband and shall be payable to her by my said Executor on her receipt only, independent of her said husband.

I revoke all former wills by me at any time heretofore made.

The story of George Devon Doo is straightforward. Sad, but all the records fit together well. All my genealogical problems come with his son.

On 30th August 1830 in Richmond, Surrey, England, George Dennis Doo, plasterer, married Harriet Hammerton. George stated that his father was a clerk in a banking house. Harriet’s father was a smith.

That’s a sketchy record which looks to have no relevance to this family at all. George signed his own name.

There is a transcription of the baptism record for their son George Charles Doo in 1840, still in London. I haven’t found them in the 1841 census at all.

Their son Alfred J Doo was born in December 1845 in Mortlake, Surrey. His father is listed as a labourer at the baptism.

Their daughter Ann was baptised in September 1850 in Mortlake, Surrey. Her father is listed as a labourer.

How could this possibly be the same family as George Devon Doo? It makes much more sense for this George to connect to the waterfront Doo family.

This is one of the complicating records. The 1851 census for George Doo, labourer and husband of Harriet, in which he calls himself George Devon Doo. Through all the census records he has a different middle name. Dennis, Foster, Forester, Devon – there’s no consistency at all. But each name belongs with the other George Devon Doo. And I’ve found no connection to the waterfront Doo group either. There’s no baptism to fit him. At no point does he live near them or have any of them appear in his household.

I am very clearly a descendant of this George Doo, the bricklayer one. But is he a son of George Devon Doo? Probably not? If not, then who is he and where did he come from?

Generally speaking, you don’t get this kind of class plummet. Not this fast. But George Devon Doo was clearly estranged from his family. His sister Fanny and his mother Harriet did not mention him in their wills. He had a bequest from his father to live on, that was all. So the family may not have known anything about Clara and George.

And we don’t know what Ann’s social class was. Perhaps she was a servant and he married her so there was someone to care for baby Clara? And then dumped her and went off to India?? If the records exist, they have not yet been digitized.

DNA proves my lineage back to Harriet Hammerton and to her father John Hammerton.

I also have matches to the surname Forester, military family in India in the 1830s. Coincidence perhaps.

Ann Forester continues to be no more than a name on a few records from a two year period.

So this is the puzzle. I’ll be very happy to hear from anyone who might have researched the same families.


Wikimedia Commons File:Darlinghurst_gaol_new_south_wales.jpg

“ECCLESIASTICAL JURISDICTION.” New South Wales Government Gazette (Sydney, NSW : 1832 – 1900) 2 June 1865: 1189. Web. 5 Dec 2019

Robert Edwards / Public Footpath, just west of Buckland, Herts.,just_west_of_Buckland,

1851 British Census General Record Office, London schedule 180, piece 461, Folio 16 Page 31

Surrey Parish Register Transcripts via FindMyPast

Michael Devon – Weaver of London

St Giles Cripplegate

This is a short post about a man with very few records.

Michael Devon was born around 1668 and grew up in Oxfordshire. His father was also Michael Devon and only one record – so far – provides this detail. Michael Devon Senior was not illustrious in any way. Respectable, but quietly so. Although he is listed as ‘Michael Devon of Oxford’, his surname is uncommon there. He may have come from elsewhere.

It’s very likely that Michael Senior had sons Samuel and William since men of this name are in the city of Oxford at the same time. But it’s not certain.

Portion of Michael Devon’s indenture document

Michael Devon Junior moved to London in the late 1690s and was apprenticed as a weaver. He completed his apprenticeship and entered business on his own. At around this time he married Mary Sambrooke on 29th December 1698 at St Giles, Cripplegate.

Record from marriage register St Giles Cripplegate

They had fourteen children, many of whom died in infancy.

The survivors were Michael (1703), James (1704), Thomas (1708), possibly Bartholomew (1710), George (1712), possibly Josiah (1717), William (1720) and Samuel (1727).

There are a few records of a Bartholomew Devon in Massachussetts who might be this man, but I’ve not found a way to confirm that. James, Thomas, George and Samuel remained in London.

In the majority of his children’s baptism records, Michael is listed as a weaver of Parson’s Lane.

Mary appears to have been a daughter of silversmith Samuel Sambrooke and his wife Mary, cousins to the Vanacker Sambrooks who held a baronetcy through the 18th century. It makes sense. How else did the family of a lowly weaver move up in the world so fast? And the family certainly did just one generation later. Michael Devon could read and write and had the wherewithal to send all of his sons to school. It seems likely that Mary’s family assisted.

My own line is through Michael’s eighth son Thomas, the third child to reach adulthood. I’ve written about Thomas here.

And really, this is all I know about Michael Devon. He was buried on 26th February 1730 and buried at St Mary Abchurch, London, in a vault.

His widow then married Walter Partridge.

Image: St Giles, Cripplegate. John Salmon / St Giles, Cripplegate, London EC2 – Sanctuary ,