It’s time for some parish register finds which show black people living in Essex hundreds of years ago. Last year, it was coincidentally in October that I spotted William Essex, “a black native of Madagascar” in Wivenhoe’s baptism register – so these are the people I’ve found since, in Harwich and Boreham.
Hurrah for free stuff! If you’ve ever been curious as to what you might discover about your ancestors on Findmypast, then now’s your chance, with the Findmypast free weekend.
Even though the parish registers for Essex and Suffolk aren’t transcribed in their entirety on any commercial sites yet, you’ll still find lots of records which are relevant. Here’s a run-down:
- Suffolk Family History Society have many parish register transcriptions on Findmypast for you to search, although the accompanying images aren’t available (you’ll need to send off for the microfiche to see the original)
- National Burials Index: covers some parishes from Essex and Suffolk
- Wills: Essex and Suffolk are covered by the England & Wales Published Wills and Probate Indexes – find out how to use this collection for Essex and Suffolk.
- Wills: Essex Wills Beneficiaries Index. Brilliant resource from the Essex Society for Family History, this index can be searched for people who appear in a will with a surname other than the testator’s. So for instance, very handy for tracing a married daughter.
- Boyd’s Marriage Index: Quite good coverage for Essex and Suffolk. I find it useful to look someone up on Boyd’s and then go to ERO’s digitised registers to find the original, just to check it’s “my” person. Also see Findmypast’s London records as quite often Essex couples would marry in London (to avoid parental approbation or for the opportunity to go on a jolly?)
- British Newspaper Archive: although this exists as a discreet website, you can access it via Findmypast too. It’s full of local newspapers from across Britain and fuelled my book, Poison Panic, and it’s amazing what comes up just by throwing in an ancestor’s name (yes, including murders…). Give it a whirl!
- Merchant Navy Seaman Records: Being coastal counties, if you’ve got Essex and Suffolk ancestors then there might be some sailors somewhere among them. From about 1920, the records include photographs, but some earlier ones will include date and place of birth, level of education and even physical description of eye and hair colour and height.
- Criminal registers: these are handy used alongside the newspapers. Includes petitions against transportations and executions. Again, came in handy writing about my poisoners!
- Apprenticeships: this might help you trace an ancestor back to their place of birth if they moved on becoming an apprentice. Sometimes the apprentice’s father’s name is mentioned.
- Essex Memorial Inscriptions: compiled by the Essex Society for Family History. Look up the name and it’ll tell you which cemetery they are buried in. For the full transcription, however, you’ll need to send off for the CD from ESfFH’s shop.
- Censuses: I find the 1851 census for some parishes in the Tendring Hundred (particularly Wix) so faded that the Ancestry transcriptions are mostly inaccurate. Findmypast have boosted the scan of it so it’s been easier to read and therefore transcribe correctly. If you can’t find someone in censuses at one site, it’s always worth trying on another.
This barely breaks the surface but should hopefully give you some pointers for searching for your Essex and Suffolk ancestors on Findmypast this weekend.
Note: if you don’t want to subscribe to Findmypast, make sure you cancel your account, as you’ll need to set one up in order to participate in the free weekend.
All are welcome and it’s free.
I’ll be taking you through Wivenhoe’s burial registers, which show that the village was visited by plague, small pox and possibly cholera, from 1603 to 1849.
As you might have noticed, notes in parish registers fascinate me. One I came across the other day seemed to pack quite a story into just one sentence.
In the earliest register for Little Bromley in Essex, there’s a baptism on 8th April 1593 for a child called Elizabeth, daughter of Robert Myller “of Bryghtwell in Suffolk, mattmaker, borne in Staceys? grounds as his wyf travayld from Manytry towards Wevenho.”
Whilst researching the Cardinall family, I got slightly sidetracked with Thomas Bowes’ family. In 1603, Charles Cardinall, widowed, married Bridget Bowes, and they had one son, James, who, it seems increasingly possible, is one of my ancestors. Born in Dedham in about 1561, the daughter of Ralph Starling, Bridget had been married to Thomas Bowes of East Bergholt (just over the border from Dedham in Suffolk). The 1634 Visitation of Essex shows that Thomas and Bridget had two children: Thomas, who became Sir Thomas, the magistrate who prosecuted “witches” found by the infamous Matthew Hopkins, and Elizabeth. 1)Note that Thomas mentions two more daughters in his 1598 will – Judith and Anne. Elizabeth, according to this Visitation, married Martin Salter of Flowton in Suffolk.
|1.||↑||Note that Thomas mentions two more daughters in his 1598 will – Judith and Anne|
An interesting note from 1745 in West Bergholt‘s parish register shows us that the vicar got muddled up with some of his parishioners’ surnames. Understanding the accent of your ancestor’s region can be really helpful if you want to trace them back further. In this video I talk about certain features of the accent(s) found in the north of Essex and the south of Suffolk, delivered in my authentic north-east Essex twang.
I’m currently transcribing the earliest register for Ramsey St. Michael in Essex. Although the very early register is lost, entries survive from 1645 onwards. I was intrigued to see if Ramsey was as affected by the plague of 1665 as had neighbouring Great Oakley. There certainly appear to have been an increase in burials that year, particularly in August, September and October – this is the same period as plague deaths were noted in Great Oakley’s register.1)At this point, there’s about twelve burials a year in the Ramsey register. In just those three months of August, September and October, there were ten burials, and those three months are also the same period for plague deaths appearing in Great Oakley. But there’s no notes in the Ramsey register, so we can’t say for sure what those people died of.
But moving into 1666, something unusual appears. From 5th August to 26th August, the Ramsey parish register records the burials of nine sailors. By why?
|1.||↑||At this point, there’s about twelve burials a year in the Ramsey register. In just those three months of August, September and October, there were ten burials, and those three months are also the same period for plague deaths appearing in Great Oakley.|
What? All that in one blog post? Erm… no… however, there’s been a couple of jumps forward with regards to the availability of wills and will indices recently, especially for Essex but for Suffolk in a way too, so that’s my topic for today. And because I’m a librarian who spends a lot of time trying to extract information from databases and catalogues, I want to share some of my search skills with you.
Dying is rather unfortunate anyway, but in Beaumont-cum-Moze, the causes of death are given far more often than they are in other burial registers that I’ve seen. So here, then, are unfortunate ways to die in Beaumont-cum-Moze.1)Before 1678, Beaumont and Moze were two separate parishes.
|1.||↑||Before 1678, Beaumont and Moze were two separate parishes.|
Photo by Cindy Lilley.
I’ve nearly finished transcribing the baptisms and burials register for Wivenhoe St. Mary the Virgin, 1695-1751.
It’s not unusual at all to find people being buried in a parish that they don’t usually live in – either because it’s where they’re originally from and they want to be buried beside their family members, or because they died too far from home.
I found one burial from 1718, and two from the 1730s for men from Sunderland, County Durham – James Dun on 22nd October 1718, John Whitfield on 16th June 1735, and Timothy Ruston on 23rd August 1739. Not long after Timothy’s burial, on 24th Feb 1739/40, John Richardson from Scarborough, Yorkshire was buried.1)More from the 1752-1812 register: John Richardson from Sunderland, aged 36, buried on 30 March 1776, William Hardcastle, aged 13, from the ship William of Sunderland, buried 23rd December 1808.
These seemed rather odd – Wivenhoe is nearly 300 miles away from Sunderland by road, and 250 miles from Scarborough. Of course, with Wivenhoe being a village which had a port and ship yards for centuries, it’s possible that these men were sailors, involved with transporting something down the North Sea coast. But what?
|1.||↑||More from the 1752-1812 register: John Richardson from Sunderland, aged 36, buried on 30 March 1776, William Hardcastle, aged 13, from the ship William of Sunderland, buried 23rd December 1808.|