I was on Peter Holmes’ BBC Essex show this morning, talking about the wonderful snippets of history I’ve found in parish registers. In the UK, you can listen again (I’m 11 minutes in) until early May, or you can listen to the clip.
Another blog based on the notes in Langham‘s parish register.
A certaine person
When Nathaniel Hinds got married in 1702, rather than just state that his wife was Martha Harris, the vicar instead phrased it as “Nathaniell Hinds & a Certaine person called Martha Harris.” When their child was baptised the following year, again, the usual format wasn’t used. The entry doesn’t say “Martha of Nathaniell and Martha Hinds” but “Martha of Nathaniell Hinds whose wife is called by ye name of Martha.”
It sounds to me like the vicar is deliberately throwing shade Martha’s way. There were several couples called Harris living in Langham at the time, with children being baptised from 1645 onwards. But no Martha. Perhaps her family weren’t living there then or perhaps Martha hadn’t been baptised, hence the vicar’s recourse to calling her “a certaine person” and going round the houses to say her name is Martha. Was she a Quaker? I’ve checked the Quaker records and can’t find a suitable candidate, but it’s a possibility. But it wasn’t uncommon for people to not be baptised – the rules of the Commonwealth in the mid-1600s were that baptisms were no longer to be carried out and only births recorded, and Anabaptism had its adherents – people who don’t baptise infants as they believe that the person being baptised needs to be old enough to confess their faith and agree to their baptism.
Martha may well come from a Langham family who objected to infant baptism.
There’s a baptism in 1701 in Langham for “Anna of James Went & his wife called Ann who was afterwards Baptized herself.” It’s possible that the vicar didn’t see people as “named” until they had been baptised. Ann Went was baptised along with two other “adult persons” – Dorothy Cave and Mary Harris. Mary was about 24-years old, the daughter of William Harris. I wonder if Mary was Martha’s sister?
It wasn’t until July 1718 that Martha was baptised, on the same day as her son Jonathan. The register tells us that she was “about ye age of 40,” which would mean she was born in about 1678. And that would make her the same age as Mary Harris, and therefore likely they were sisters. They might even be twins, as female sets were sometimes called “Mary and Martha”, after the Biblical sisters.
That same year, three adult members of the Talbot family were baptised: Grace, aged 60, William aged 40 and Grace junior aged 30. Three years earlier, six members of the Appleby family were baptised – 47-year-old Mary, then Elizabeth, Edmund, Daniel, Sary [Sarah], and Mary junior, as well as 33-year-old Susan Harris – perhaps a sister of Martha.
Adult baptisms are not uncommon in the late 1600s and early 1700s. They can present problems as they often don’t have the parents’ names, but sometimes you might be lucky and other documents like wills, Poor Law records, property records etc might throw some light on who their parents were so that you can take your family another generation back.
There’s some very interesting notes in Langham‘s parish registers, which revive moments in the lives of Langham’s long-dead inhabitants. This is the first in a series of blogs based on some of these finds.
Two weddings and a baptism
In November 1697, Ambrose, son of Splanden Rand and his wife Sarah was baptised at the age of 20. Aside from his father having a somewhat unusual first name (possibly a family surname), there’s nothing that unusual about adult baptisms, especially around this period for people who were babies at the time of great upheaval around the time of the Civil War and Commonwealth. Although Ambrose would have been born in the 1670s, ten years after the Restoration, his parents might still have expressed issues with for the form of baptism.
But in November 1697, Ambrose was baptised – possibly at home, as the register tells us that he “was Baptized being about 20 yeares of age & very sick.” His father had died by this time, and the register helpfully tells us that his mother had remarried and was now the wife of Joseph Downes. A useful additional piece of information for anyone researching this family, who might have had trouble tracing what became of Splanden’s widow.
I expected to see Ambrose Rand’s burial not long after his emergency adult baptism, but it seems he recovered from being “very sick” – he is likely to be the Ambrose Rand, single man of Langham, who in October 1699 married Susannah Shearman, a spinster from the neighbouring parish of Dedham.
A very old man… and his comparatively young wife
On 31 October 1699, Robert Wenlock was buried in Langham. We’re told he was “aged about” one hundred. A remarkable age to reach at this period. And the very next entry, on 6 March 1699/1700 is the burial of Jane, his widow – aged 55!
I wonder if the name in the burial register is wrong and it should actually be Richard Wenlock. He and his wife Jane appear multiple times in the baptism register between 1668 and 1686. There is a Richard Wenlock of Langham who wrote his will in 1693 and it wasn’t proved until 1701. The will left everything to his wife Jane “for her natural life” and it might be that if she died very soon after him, before his will could be probated, it caused a further delay in the will being proved.
If Robert and Jane should in fact be Richard and Jane, then it means that Jane was born in about 1644 and was about 24 at the time of the baptism of her first child by Richard. And he was 69.
A deed at the Essex Record Office from 1655 admits Jane Wenlock, under the will of her previous husband William Starling, to an 8-acre property called Pilburrow and Moores which was copyhold of the Manor of Langham. Could she be Richard Wenlock’s wife? But the deed gives no information on who Jane’s husband is, and in 1693, Jane wife of Ralph Wenlock was buried in Langham – aged 75. Looking at the baptisms again, we can see Ralph and Jane Wenlock baptising their children in 1657 and 1659, which suggests that William Starling’s widow, Jane, may have married Ralph. And if Richard’s widow really was 55 in early 1700, then she would only have been 11 at the time that the deed was written – extremely unlikely therefore to be her.
Imagine how annoyed you’d be if the graveyard you were buried in was repurposed as a car park? Everyone else who had laid beside you for over a hundred years was disinterred, but because you had been buried deeper than all the others, your body was missed. The car park was built over you, and still you laid there, silent, uncomplaining and forgotten, as for sixty years cars drove over where you lay.
Now imagine your body is discovered, and you’re misidentified.
This has happened to a lady called Elizabeth Cookworthy, who was buried in the Quaker burial ground in Plymouth in 1833. I was curious about this story partly because my father was an undertaker so I find strange burials interesting, and partly because as a genealogist, I was intrigued by the headlines which said she’d been identified. How had this been done?
Nearly 700 burials added for Bradfield, Essex, from 1564 to 1695.
Nearly 1,000 baptisms for Toppesfield, Essex, from 1813-March 1844 now online.
Transcriptions of over 200 marriages for Toppesfield, Essex, from 1813-1843, now available.
I’ve finished transcribing the earliest register for Bradfield, Essex, from 1564 to 1695. I’ll be adding spreadsheets of baptisms, burials and marriages over the next few days, so stay tuned.
Please make sure you check the “Notes” on the Bradfield page, which explains gaps in the register in the mid- to late-1600s.
A guest blog for Wivenhoe’s History about a sailor who drowned in the River Colne in 1850. But all was not as it seemed.
(A shorter version of this text was published in Fortean Times a couple of years ago).