Nearly 2,500 baptisms and nearly 2,000 burials for St Andrew’s church, Halstead, now added – from 1813-1844.
While transcribing the marriages for Kirby-le-Soken, I found a surprising note left in the margin by the vicar:
5th wife! Buried 20th March 1831.
This was the marriage of George Butler, a widower, to Mary Ann Norgate, a widow from Walton, on 23rd October 1828.
Needless to say, I found this intriguing, and decided to find out more.
Let me take you back to 1771, when Joseph and Sarah Butler baptised their son George in Thorpe-le-Soken. Aged 23, on 26 August 1794, George married Wife #1 in Little Clacton – a woman called Elizabeth Webb. Unfortunately there are no marital statuses in the register, but we do know that both of them were Little Clacton residents. On 31st May 1795, they baptised their child James. Elizabeth Butler was buried at Little Clacton on 11th January 1802, aged 25.
Almost eight years later, on 18th April 1802, George was strutting down the aisle of Little Clacton St James, to marry his second wife, a spinster called Elizabeth Lucas. At least, with both wives having the same first name, he couldn’t cause a drama if he accidentally called Wife #2 by Wife #1’s name. Evidently quite taken by the name Elizabeth, the couple’s daughter by that name was baptised on 6th April 1803. Susan, their second daughter, was baptised in 1822 just before her confirmation, but she had been born in 1805. Mary, a third daughter, was baptised on 11th June 1807.
Sadly for George, his second wife died at the age of 29, and was buried in Little Clacton on 16th July 1807. So, on 26th January 1809, less than seven years after his last wedding, George stood at the altar rails of St James once again, taking another spinster, Sarah Taylor, to be his lawfully wedded wife.
His third marriage was short-lived1)The burial in Thorpe-le-Soken for a Sarah Butler in October 1809 may well be that of George’s third wife. as he was married for the fourth time on 10th December 1810. Now a resident of Kirby-le-Soken, George married a widow called Frances Maldon. Their son Thomas was baptised on 19th January 1812. Frances was buried at Kirby-le-Soken on 12th October 1827, aged 57. At seventeen years, this was George’s longest marriage.
Then came his fifth marriage in 1828, to Mary Ann, when George was 57 – thirty-four years after his first. They don’t appear to have had any children, and on the 1841 census, it’s possibly “George Buttler” who appears as our serial groom in the Little Clacton household of a farmer called Maria Sanson, as a male servant. Having lost his fifth wife in 1831, only three years after their marriage, George evidently didn’t chance his luck a sixth time. Mary Ann was 39 when she was buried in Kirby-le-Soken on 20th March 1831.
Twenty years after his fifth and final marriage, on 19th January 1848, George Butler, a man who clearly liked a wedding but sadly lost five wives, was buried at Little Clacton, where his matrimonial adventures had begun.
The five marriages
26 Aug 1794 Little Clacton
George Butler otp & Elizabeth Webb otp (marital statuses not given)
18 Apr 1802 Little Clacton
George Butler, widower, otp & Elizabeth Lucas, spinster, otp
26 Jan 1809 Little Clacton
George Butler, widower, otp & Sarah Taylor, sw, otp
10 Dec 1810 Kirby-le-Soken
George Butler, widower & Frances Maldon, widow
23 October 1828 Kirby-le-Soken
George Butler, widower, otp, & Mary Ann Norgate, widow, of Walton
Footnotes [ + ]
|1.||↑||The burial in Thorpe-le-Soken for a Sarah Butler in October 1809 may well be that of George’s third wife.|
Another update to day.
Nearly 400 marriages from Lawford‘s earliest register, from 1560-1753.
A few burials for Manningtree Wesleyan Methodist chapel – that’s seventeen from 1823-1837.
And three wills added, for John Constable of Little Bromley (1701), John Constable of Wix (1720), and Hugh Josselyn of Mount Bures (1809). The John Constable who died in 1701 was an ancestor of the well-known artist of the same name. Josselyn’s will mentions two daughters he had by his wife, and, because he was a Georgian gent, no less than nine “natural” children he had by his housekeeper.
I’m finishing off the transcription of Brightlingsea‘s burials, in a register covering 1765-1812. It’s not a very interesting register, and is frustrating for genealogists because it rarely gives any information other than a name and the date of burial. There’s hardly any ages, and very rarely does it give the dead’s relationship, so no “son of” or “wife of” as we often see. Although there are some occupations given – as this is Brightlingsea, it’s no surprise that there’s some dredgers among the dead.
Each year, Brightlingsea produced between 20 to 40 dead:
1800: 21 burials
1801: 38 burials
1802: 38 burials
Then, in 1803, the number of burials leapt, more than doubling to 86 in just one year.
There was an influenza epidemic in 1803, and the spike in deaths that we see in the register is likely to have been caused by it. Looking at the burials by month, comparing those of the three years before, gives us an idea of when the epidemic was at its worst.
I’ve finished transcribing the earlier parish register (1558-1764) for Lawford in north-east Essex. It’s right by the Suffolk border, so you might find some ancestors wandering across.
I’ll be adding the transcriptions to this site over the next few days. Baptisms 1558-1764 – that’s over 1,500 in total – have been added. Look out for burials and marriages – which includes the marriage of Princess Diana’s 10 x great-grandparents.
Then I’ll return to Lawford, and transcribe the register covering baptisms and burials 1764-1812.
I have my eye on Langham’s earlier register at the moment, or will I do more Dedham records? We shall see what I transcribe next….
It’s a week until Britain’s biggest family history fair, Who Do You Think You Are? Live, kicks off at Birmingham’s NEC.
There’s a wealth of family history societies, genealogy companies, and DNA-testing businesses hoping to catch your eye, and there lots of talks and workshops and goodness knows what else for you to sample.
If you’re planning to seek out some help with the trickier corners of your family tree, make sure you bring print-outs or even original documents.
I’ll be there on two days.
Friday 7th April
- 2.20pm – 3pm: I will be giving two “Ask an Expert” sessions. My areas are old handwriting, wills and (no surprises here) Essex!
- (And when not doing that I’ll be buying archival storage materials and checking out the CDs that the family history societies have to offer)
Saturday 8th April
- 11.15am-12pm: my workshop session Turn your family tree surprises into a book will be taking place in Theatre 2. I’ll be talking about resources you can use to enrich your research, and the many way there are to share your writing.
- 12pm-2.30pm: I’ll be at the Pen & Sword stall (number 290), where you can ask questions about my talk, and… well… let’s just say there’s books available to buy. Lots of them.
- 3pm-4pm: I’ll be giving three “Ask an Expert” sessions.
Sunday 9th April
- Collapse into an exhausted heap.
Ahhh, see, I told you that notes left in parish registers are endlessly fascinating!
Not only is it possible (at least I think so) that Charlotte Brontë got the surname of her heroine from the printer who manufactured parish registers, but Jane Austen, another vicar’s daughter, was actually writing in the marriage register.
The BBC has reported this as “‘Mischievous’ Jane Austen faked Steventon marriage records” which makes her sound like Sir Percival Glyde in The Woman in White. And there’s more: “Novelist Jane Austen created fake entries in a marriage register linking herself with two separate men, it has emerged.” Blimey! The strumpet! She’s committed both bigamy and fraud!
Well… no. Had she filled out a form in the parish register like so:
She would have been in rather a lot of trouble. From 1754 and the Hardwicke Act, marriages were far more regulated than they had been. At least one of the couple had to be resident in the parish they were marrying in, and the marriage had to be by banns or by licence. Banns were called on three consecutive Sundays in church, or a licence had to be paid for and would involve a fine if it turned out the marriage was illegal. If you were so rich that you owned half the British Isles, you could of course get a special licence and marry wherever the heck you liked. You’d also need two witnesses and a clergyman to perform the marriage, and then the spouses either signed or marked the register. The example above (the marriage of my 6 x gt-grandparents) shows that they got married by licence (Elizabeth was pregnant at the time, so the licence sped things up without having to wait for banns to be called), and they both marked – although note that Elizabeth signed with an E, which suggests she wasn’t quite as illiterate as it might at first appear.
If you look at the BBC article, you can see one of Jane’s works.
She’s written the groom’s name as “Henry Frederic Howard Fitzwilliam” where it says “AB” and added “London” as his abode, and then her own name where it says “CD”, and her home parish as her abode. Would Mr Fitzwilliam, bearer of such a grand name, want to marry by banns, though, one wonders?
Look at that example from 1767, and you’ll notice they’re different forms. On the page that Jane Austen graffitied, you can see the other side of the leaf – the title page of the register – showing through. What she “edited” was the example which was printed at the front of every marriage register, so that clergymen would understand how to follow the new layout. And it’s showing how to lay out the publication of the banns – it’s not a marriage entry.
Perhaps she didn’t expect her father to see it, or perhaps he spotted it and laughed.
It’s certainly a fun thing to find – but it was found, in fact, some time ago (“it has emerged” is rather misleading. This “emerged” years back). It is quite the hyperbolic headline – she falsified a marriage record! Well… she did, but not in quite the way you’d assume from the breaking-news tone.
It does go to show though, what you’ll find in parish registers. Poisonings, death by a bell falling out of a steeple, children born in barns, locals trashing a pulpit, extreme weather, and maybe the graffiti of a vicar’s imaginative teenager daughter.
You’ll be able to see this on display in Winchester from May.
Saturday 3rd December 2016, 10am-2pm
What: Book-signing at St Mary’s Christmas St Nicholas Fayre
Where: St Mary’s Church, Bearwood, B66 4BX
Entry fee: None! Just turn up. You can buy a copy of Poison Panic from me on the day for £12. And I’ll sign it for you.
Sunday 12th March 2017, 3pm-4.30pm
What: Essex Book Festival 2017. Criminally Good Afternoon Tea. In the county where the poison panic took hold, we’ll eat scones and I’ll tell you about the lives of Sarah Chesham, Mary May, and Hannah Southgate.
Where: Park Inn Palace Hotel, Church Road, Southend-on- Sea, SS1 2AL
Entry fee: TBC. Booking details to follow.
Saturday 8th April 2017, 11.15am-12pm
What: Who Do You Think You Are? Live. Workshop: “Turn your family tree surprises into a book.”
Where: NEC, Birmingham.
Entry fee: Workshops are £2 in advance, or £3 on the day. There is a ticket required to enter Who Do You Think You Are? Live as well. Book in advance.
News! I’m doing a talk at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017 at the NEC in Birmingham.
In “Turn your family tree surprises into a book”, I’ll explain how I pieced together alarming discoveries from my own research and turned it into a book. I’ll talk about the sorts of historical resources that you might find helpful for your research, and then I’ll take you through different ways to share your writing.
It’s on Saturday 8th April from 11.15am to 12pm. There’s a full list of all the workshops running over the three days, and remember that there’s loads of stalls from all sorts of family history societies, and vendors selling archival storage materials (I can’t be the only person who finds that exciting), and lots of knowledgeable and interesting people to speak to – photograph daters, heirloom detectives, etc etc etc.
Have you heard “The Reclusive Skeleton of Fingringhoe” episode of Punt PI? In this Radio 4 series, comedian Steve Punt puzzles his way around cases of high strangeness, such as the Mull Air Mystery and The Crying Boy Paintings. It’s like Fortean Times on the radio. You’ll hear my dulcet tones chiming in, to talk about some of the research I did into the mystery of the skeleton. When a skeleton turns up, as they sometimes do – the image at the top of the page is from the 1857 Waterloo Bridge Mystery1)It wasn’t strictly a skeleton as there was some flesh accompanying the bones – although not very much. – they exert fascination. How can we identify a person just from bones? Without the flesh, can we find out how they died?
The skeleton in the Fingringhoe case was found in 1949, in the apparently abandoned cottage of an actress called Ada Constance Kent, who hadn’t been seen since March 1939. She was reclusive and rather eccentric, so was the skeleton hers? But what about the children who had got inside her house and played there? I’ll leave you to listen to the programme, and if you’re interested in reading about what happened in the 1940s, then see the chapter in Patrick Denney’s Foul Deeds & Suspicious Deaths in Colchester (Patrick pops up on the radio programme too!).
I looked into Ada’s family background, tracing her in the censuses. I went off-piste a little and traced her mother, aunt and grandmother. These bits weren’t used on the programme, but it helped me to see Ada in context, as an ordinary girl from a riverside village in north-east Essex, who apparently came to an extraordinary end.
Footnotes [ + ]
|1.||↑||It wasn’t strictly a skeleton as there was some flesh accompanying the bones – although not very much.|