Archive for the ‘Genealogy’ Category

The United States declared war on Britain in 1812 when all Britain’s attention was focussed on, and resources stretched, fighting Napoleon’s French, who had subjugated much of Europe. Many factors were involved but essentially it was an attempt by the Americans to grab more or all of British North America (Canada) while Britain was occupied elsewhere. So Britain had to fight a war on two fronts, on either side of the Atlantic. It’s a long and fascinating story, at one point the British captured Washington D.C. and burnt the White House; the Americans were only saved by a huge storm which forced the British to withdraw. The war dragged on the two and a half years before being formally ended by the Treaty of Ghent on 24 December 1814, although fighting continued into early 1815.

Throughout all this time the Royal Navy was actively involved, blockading the American coast, fighting American ships and landing troops on the coasts. One young Royal navy Lieutenant involved in all of this was a certain Charles Grisdale. Charles was most likely involved when a fleet of some 30 warships sailed out of Negril Bay, Jamaica on 26 November, 1814. ‘The fleet under command of Admiral Cochrane moved into the Gulf of Mexico ready to attack New Orleans. Cochrane’s fleet was transporting 14,450 British troops who had recently been fighting in the Napoleonic wars in France and Spain.’

Battle of New Orleans

Battle of New Orleans. January 1815

Perhaps Charles Grisdale was injured at the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815, whatever the case shortly thereafter Charles was back in Jamaica where he boarded the ‘postal packet’ Princess Mary bound for Falmouth in England.

But shortly after leaving Jamaica the ship ‘experienced the most dreadful weather’, in fact a ‘hurricane’, during which it ‘was struck by lightning… by which Lieutenant Charles Grisdale, of the Royal Navy, was killed, and several of the crew seriously injured’.

Princess Mary

Princess Mary

The newspapers reported the ‘instantaneous’ death after the Princess Mary arrived in England and mentioned Charles’ father, the Reverend Benjamin Grisdale of Withington in Gloucestershire. When Benjamin and his family heard of Charles death in their Rectory in Withington they must have been devastated. Whether Charles was buried at sea or brought back to England I don’t know, I presume the former.

Charles was only twenty-two and Benjamin’s first born child. He was named after Benjamin’s close friend General Charles Cornwallis, the commander of the British forces which had surrendered to George Washington’s Americans at Yorktown in 1781. Benjamin had been a long-time chaplain in the British Army and served throughout the American War of Independence; he was with Cornwallis at Yorktown. I wrote about him in a story called Rev Benjamin Grisdale and the siege of Yorktown 1781.

But in 1815 Benjamin still had three other living sons: Edmund (1799), Henry (1800) and William (1807), another son had died in infancy. He and his wife Elizabeth Unwin also had two daughters, all born in Withington Rectory. But before his death in 1828 aged eighty-four, Benjamin would have another tragedy. His next oldest living son, Edmund, had joined the Indian Army been made an Ensign then a Lieutenant and was shipped with his regiment to Bombay in 1819. But on 4 December 1820 Edmund died at Surat. We don’t know the circumstances of his death – I suspect he died of something like malaria rather than in battle.

Bombay 1820

Bombay 1820

Before I tell of the fate of Benjamin’s other children after his death I would like to say a little about his family and particularly that of his younger brother Browne Grisdale.

Both boys were the sons of Matterdale-born Benjamin Grisdale and his wife Anne Browne. They were born in Threlkeld, the next-door parish to Matterdale – Benjamin in 1744 and Browne in 1750. I don’t yet know which Grammar School they attended; it might have been St. Bees or Barton, or possibly Carlisle where Browne was later headmaster. But no doubt with the help of their uncle, Joseph Browne, who was both the provost of Queen’s College and the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, they both went to study to be priests at Queen’s College in Oxford.

Joseph Browne was elected Fellow 1 April 1731, and became a successful tutor; took the degree of D.D. 9 July 1743, and was presented by the college with the living of Bramshot, Hampshire, in 1746. In that year, he was appointed Sedleian Professor of Natural Philosophy and held that office until his death. He was instituted prebendary of Hereford Cathedral on 9 June of the same year (he was later called into residence), and on 13 February 1752 was collated to the chancellorship of the cathedral.

On 3 December 1756, Browne was elected Provost of Queen’s College. From 1759 to 1765 he held the office of Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University. He had a severe stroke of palsy 25 March 1765, and died on 17 June 1767.

In 1776, while his older brother Benjamin was still in America with the army, Browne by now a priest and schoolmaster in Carlisle, married Ann Dockray in St. Cuthbert’s church in Carlisle. Five children followed, one after the other: Joseph Browne 1777, named after the Rev Joseph Browne, Mary Ann 1778, Elizabeth 1779, John 1780 and Caroline 1782.

Carlisle Cathedral - where Browne Grisdale was Chancellor

Carlisle Cathedral – where Browne Grisdale was Chancellor

Of course this family had sprung from yeoman farming stock in Matterdale, but Browne and his brother had both gone to Oxford and entered the priesthood and so other courses were expected of their children. Both of Browne’s sons, Joseph and John, were pupils at Carlisle Grammar School where their father was first a teacher and then headmaster. Browne himself later became the Chancellor of the Diocese of Carlisle and a powerful local Justice of the Peace.

Son Joseph entered the army and became a Lieutenant in the 17th Regiment of Foot, which was posted to the island of Minorca in 1800 as part of the long struggle with Napoleon. And there he died in early 1801, aged just twenty-three. In April 1801 an announcement appeared in The Monthly Magazine which, under ‘Deaths Abroad’, reported:

At Minorca, J. B. Grisdale, esq, lieutenant in the 17th regiment of foot, much lamented by his brother officers.

I wrote of Joseph in a story called Death in Minorca.

Browne’s younger son John on leaving Carlisle Grammar School (where he was a bit of a star) had gone to Christ’s College, Cambridge and won the second highest prize in mathematics. John had first entered Trinity College in 1799 but switched the following year to Christ’s. His decision to move to Christ’s was probably connected with Dr William Paley. Paley had graduated from Christ’s in 1763 as “senior wrangler”, became a tutor at Christ’s and since 1782 had been Archdeacon of Carlisle Cathedral and a colleague and friend of John’s father Browne Grisdale.

I told John’s story in an article called Alas how false our hopes! – the short life of John Grisdale.

Christ's College, Cambridge

Christ’s College, Cambridge

Not to repeat the story here, but John became at lawyer in Lincoln’s Inn in London but died suddenly ‘in his office’ there in 1812, aged just thirty-two. His father Browne, the Chancellor of Carlisle, died two years later

Withington Rectory where Benjamin Grisdale lived

Withington Rectory where Benjamin Grisdale lived

Down in Gloucestershire, Browne’s brother Benjamin, the Rector of Withington, would have heard of his nephews’ deaths with sadness. But then as we have seen he was soon to experience the deaths of two of his own sons: Royal Navy officer Charles returning from Jamaica in 1815 and army officer Edmund in Bombay in 1820.

What became of Benjamin’s other sons – Henry and William?

Henry followed a career path I don’t yet know, but on 27 June 1829 the Oxford Journal reported that ’an inquest was held at Withington, Gloucestershire, by Joseph Mountain, gent. coroner, on the 10th..  (for) Mr. Henry Grisdale, who, in a fit of temporary insanity, destroyed himself with a razor’

When I get a copye of the inquest report we will know more of Henry and his suicide.

After attending Rugby School youngest son William had followed his father and uncle and studied at Queen’s College, Oxford. He became a curate at Cubberley in Gloucestershire where his brother-in-law William Hicks was Rector. (William Hicks had married Mary Grisdale in 1833.) But in August 1841 William died in Cubberley Rectory aged just thirty-four – I don’t know the circumstances.

Cubberley Church

Cubberley Church

So the upshot of all this tragedy and death is that not one of the six sons of the ‘successful’ cleric brothers, Benjamin and Browne Grisdale, had survived long enough to have families of their own! There are no descendants bearing the Grisdale name.

On another occasion I might tell something of the daughters. Brown’s daughter Mary Anne married the Reverend Walter Fletcher who became Browne Grisdale’s successor as Chancellor of Carlisle. Benjamin’s daughter Mary married the Rev William Hicks of Cubberley as already mentioned.

Advertisements

Some years ago a nice lady in the United States contacted me about her family. There were a couple of mysteries. One of these remains a mystery, but I can now shed some light on the other. Although I do try to write stories rather than genealogical exercises, this article is just that: a genealogical investigation. It is also the story of a line of Penrith cordwainers or shoemakers

Penrith Workhouse was exactly the same as Cockermouth Workhouse shown here.

Penrith Workhouse was exactly the same as Cockermouth Workhouse shown here.

Let’s start with a ninety-two year-old ‘pauper’ and former joiner called William Grisdale who died in the Penrith Union Workhouse in 1890. William had spent at least the last ten years of his life in this horrendous institution; which at least gave him food and shelter after he had fallen on hard times. William had married Hannah Butterworth way back in 1821. He spent his whole life as a ‘journeyman joiner’ in Penrith, and between 1821 and 1833 he and Hannah had had six children. Hannah died in 1849 aged just forty-six. Once William’s children had all left in the 1850s, he started to be a lodger with various families in Penrith before having to go to the workhouse sometime in the 1870s.

Nineteenth-century Workhouse 'inmates'

Nineteenth-century Workhouse ‘inmates’

One little mystery is that it is clear that William was the son of cordwainer (i.e. shoemaker) Thomas Grisdale and his wife Jane Dixon. But it seems that William was baptized Thomas in St Mary’s church in Lancaster on 15th December 1799 and was born on 30 November 1798. His parents usually lived in Penrith, where all their other children were born, but had come somewhat south for at least a year to work in Lancaster. Why Thomas had changed his name to William (which was his grandfather’s name) we still don’t know, but it seems he did.

There is more to tell of William’s children, but maybe another time. Here I want to go back and clear up one other mystery.

As noted, William’s father Thomas was a Penrith shoemaker. He born in 1766 in Penrith and when both he and his wife Jane died (in 1821 and 1845 respectively) he was said to have been a ‘shoemaker’. I keep stressing his vocation because it’s important later. Thomas’s father William was a shoemaker too. His father and his mother, Elizabeth Stewardson, were married in Kendal in 1762. We find William mentioned as a shoemaker in Kendal (probably while an apprentice) but shortly after their marriage the couple moved to Penrith where their children were born, including Thomas in 1766.

Cordwainers as the Grisdales might have looked in Penrith

Cordwainers as the Grisdales might have looked in Penrith

Now the mystery was this: Who exactly was William Grisdale? Where had he come from?

When William was buried in Penrith on 18 March 1800 the transcript of the parish registers say he was a ‘shoemaker aged 57’. I will show that either the age given by the informant was a mistake or it is a mistranscription of the original entry. This age led me initially to believe that William was the last child of Matterdale-born Joseph Grisdale and his wife Jane Robinson. Joseph had become the Miller at Pooley Bridge Mill in Barton in Westmorland, and his son William was baptized there on 5 June 1743, which given a few weeks delay from birth to baptism could easily fit William the shoemaker’s supposed age of 57 in March 1800.

But I was never happy with this identification. Millers were a step or two up the social ladder from simple shoemakers and none of the family names prevalent in Joseph’s family ever reappeared among the Penrith Grisdale shoemakers.

I then became convinced that William was actually most likely born in the parish of Watermillock, in which a good part of the valley of Matterdale lies – this as we will see is correct.

Cordwainers/shoemakers

Cordwainers/shoemakers

In the mid-1790s the Penrith Trade Directory listed only three Grisdales: Jacob, William and Thomas, all listed as cordwainers i.e. shoemakers. Surely there was a relationship between the three? Thomas (born 1766) called his first child Jacob in 1791 and the name appears again later. Now Jacob is a very rare Grisdale name. In fact there is only one earlier occurrence of the name and that is a Jacob Grisdale born in February 1748 in ‘High Lowthwaite’, which is geographically in Matterdale but in Watermillock parish. He was the son of Benjamin Grisdale and his wife Grace Railton. And this Benjamin Grisdale was a shoemaker too! And he too had moved to Penrith because when he wife Grace died in Penrith in 1774 she was said to be the ‘wife of Benjamin Grisdale shoemaker’. This Benjamin had another son called Benjamin in 1736 who also became a ‘shoemaker’.

It was pretty obvious that the cordwainers William and Thomas Grisdale in the Penrith Directory were the father and son I have already discussed. Was William perhaps the brother of Jacob the third Penrith cordwainer in the directory or maybe his cousin?

Back in Watermillock in the early 1740s three William Grisdales were baptized in Watermillock church in 1740, 1741 and 1743. The last two rather unhelpfully both being sons of different Benjamin Grisdales. We can exclude the William born in 1743 because we know what happened to him. The William son of Benjamin born in 1741 attracted me for some time but always seemed wrong for complicated reasons to do with exact places of birth.

Ulcatrow in Matterdale/Watermillock

Ulcatrow in Matterdale/Watermillock

That leaves only one William Grisdale who could be our man: William Grisdale son of Thomas Grisdale of Ulcatrow who was baptized on 16 October 1740. But can this square with his supposed age of 57 when he died in 1800? Well it can because rather stupidly I hadn’t looked at the second page of the marriage bond between William and Elizabeth Stewardson made in Kendal on 19 April 1762. Here it clearly says that William is ‘21’. The ‘and upwards’ which follows is part of the printed form, and Elizabeth’s age is clearly said to be 24, which it was. If William was 21 on 19 April 1762 he would have been born between 20 April 1740 and 20 April 1741, which fits precisely with the William son of Thomas Grisdale of Ulcatrow baptized in Watermillock church on 16 October 1740. Actually William can’t have been over 21 because there is no other William Grisdale who would then fit the bill.

This attribution now seems blazingly apparent to me but it wasn’t for a long time. William’s age of 21 makes more sense than say 19 if he had been the son of Joseph Grisdale the Miller. In addition William named his first son Thomas, no doubt after his father. Finally it explains why neither he nor his sons named a son Benjamin, which one might have expected if William were the son of a Benjamin.

Page 2 of marriage bond of William Grisdale and Elizabeth Stewardson in 1762

Page 2 of marriage bond of William Grisdale and Elizabeth Stewardson in 1762

So what was the relationship between shoemaker William and Thomas, father and son shoemakers, and father and son shoemakers Benjamin and Jacob Grisdale? There must have been one; it just depends on how far back we need to go to find it. Remember young Thomas Grisdale (born 1766) called his first son Jacob and the name crops up again later. It’s most likely that father and son William and Thomas worked with father and son Benjamin and Jacob – they were all shoemakers in Penrith. But what was the ‘blood’ relationship?

Here we enter another quagmire of various Benjamin Grisdales. Theoretically there are four Benjamin Grisdales who might be the shoemaker one: 1) Benjamin son of Thomas Grisdale and Mary Brownrigg, baptized in Matterdale in 1696; 2) Benjamin son of Thomas Grisdale of Dowthwaite, baptized in Matterdale in 1706; 3) Benjamin son of Edward Grisdale of Dowthwaite Head and Elizabeth his wife, baptized in Matterdale in 1711, and 4) Benjamin son of Joseph Grisdale of Townhead (Dockray) and Jane Martin, baptized in Matterdale in 1713.

Queen's College Oxford in 1675, where many Matterdale Grisdales studied

Queen’s College Oxford in 1675, where many Matterdale Grisdales studied

To cut a long story short, we can exclude the Benjamin (number 3) born in 1711, because we know he died at Brownrigg Farm aged 68 in 1779. While not as certain I believe we should exclude number 2 as well because most likely he was the father of the later illustrious Reverends Browne and Benjamin Grisdale, who both went to Oxford University. This Benjamin married Watermillock girl Ann Browne in 1738. She was the daughter of  a well-to-do George Browne of Tongue whose son Joseph (Ann’s brother) not only went to Oxford but was later  to become the University’s Sedleian Professor of Natural Philosophy and Provost of Queen’s College! To be honest I don’t see George Browne letting his daughter marry Benjamin Grisdale the son of the rather poor Joseph Grisdale and Jane Martin of Townhead, but I may be wrong.

I don’t know what became of Benjamin number 1 born in 1696, unless of course he is the ‘pauper’ Benjamin who died in Skelton in 1787 said to be 87 years of age. I admit there is a chance that this older Benjamin was the shoemaker we are looking for but for the moment I doubt it.

If all this is correct then the Penrith shoemaker Benjamin Grisdale was the child of Joseph Grisdale and Jane Martin of Townhead (Dockray) in Matterdale, a couple who are the ancestors of numerous people I have written about on this blog. When Joseph died in 1750 he left some money to his sons including Benjamin, who was thus obviously still alive at the time.

Dockray Matterdale with Dowthwaite Head in the distance

Dockray Matterdale with Dowthwaite Head in the distance

Returning to Thomas Grisdale of Ulcatrow, the father of the shoemaker William Grisdale who married Elizabeth Stewardson in Kendal; who was he? Well at the moment I have not the slightest idea. Could he be linked in some way to the very first Josiah Grisdale who married Sarah Atkinson in Greystoke church in 1735, and who was also living in Ulcatrow in 1737 when his daughter Ann was baptized? This first Josiah Grisdale (from whom countless Grisdales are descended) has always been a complete mystery, because as far as I can see there is no mention of his birth, baptism or even death anywhere. He was clearly a respected Matterdale man because he was a Churchwarden of Matterdale church and also a witness in 1747 to the will of Edward Grisdale the brother of the late Rev. Robert Grisdale, the founder of Matterdale School. He was also a witness in 1754 at the marriage of Joseph Grisdale and Dinah Todhunter. If we could find out anything more about his place of birth or death or his parents it would clear up a lot.

So still more questions than answers. However I think with some certainty we can push the family of the nice American lady I mentioned at the beginning back one generation to Thomas Grisdale of Ulcatrow, whoever he was.

Page 1 of Kendal 'shoemaker' William Grisdale's marriage bond 1762

Page 1 of Kendal ‘shoemaker’ William Grisdale’s marriage bond 1762

We know that there was a free tenant farmer called John Grisdale farming at Dowthwaite Head in Matterdale in 1524. As I have suggested before, either he, or possibly his father or even grandfather, had probably arrived in Matterdale sometime in the later 1400s (see here). We know too that Grisdale refers to where the family originally came from and when they moved from ‘Grisdale’ they would have been given the name ‘of’ or ‘de Grisdale’ by the locals to help identify which John or Edward or Robert they were talking about. I have discussed elsewhere which Grisdale this might have been (see here). My own view is that it was present-day Mungrisdale which for a long time was called simply Grisdale. But it is almost certain that the family was called Grisdale before it moved to Matterdale. Here I’d like to explore the question of when, and perhaps also where, the Grisdales first got their name.

In the future I’ll have a lot more to say about the sixteenth century Grisdales of Matterdale but let’s start with saying a little about English family or surnames – how and particularly when they arose and when they stabilized.

oxfordAs in many countries in England names were for centuries just first or ‘christian’ names: Robert or Richard or if we go back before the Conquest then more likely Alfred or Harold. There was a patronymic system, so you might have Robert son of John, from where might arise Johnson. The same was seen in Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Using anglicized names, in Scotland a Malcolm mac Donald, i.e. son of Donald might give the family name MacDonald; in Ireland Fergus O (son of) Neill could give the family name O’Neill; while in Wales the family name Price will have come from a son (ap) of Rhys.

I can’t help mentioning the two Irish homosexuals William fitz Gerald and Gerald fitz William. Fitz of course being the Norman-French designation for son. Hence Fitzroy – son of the king.

Before such surnames derived from ‘first’ names became fixed, simply calling someone Edward son of Alfred might not suffice so we find longer names such as Edward son of Alfred son of William.

Such a system of naming is still found in many countries. In Iceland: ‘A man named Jón Einarsson has a son named Ólafur. Ólafur’s last name will not be Einarsson like his father’s; it will become Jónsson, literally indicating that Ólafur is the son of Jón (Jóns + son). The same practice is used for daughters. Jón Einarsson’s daughter Sigríður’s last name would not be Einarsson but Jónsdóttir. Again, the name literally means “Jón’s daughter” (Jóns + dóttir).’ In Iceland too you can still find matronymic names such as Heiðar Helguson (Helga’s son). It must make Icelandic genealogy very hard.

I will later show early examples of this way of naming for real people in Matterdale and in Grisdale itself.

Another major group of English surnames derive from occupations: Wilfred (the) Smith, Henry (the) Tanner or even Margaret Thatcher. Of course Henry the Tanner’s father might not have been a Tanner, he might have been Edward the Butcher. But if you’re called Tanner then somewhere along the line the occupational name of one of your ancestors who was a Tanner became fixed and became the family name.

Then there are surnames derived from characteristics or nicknames: George Strongarm or Stephen Goodenough.

And then there is another large group of names which are locative i.e. they describe a particular place. In an existing stable community someone might be called by the house where he lived, for example Arthur (of the) Newhouse, or a very specific locality, maybe Thomas (of) Underwood. Such names when they were first used only made sense if the other members of the community knew where the ‘Newhouse’ or ‘Underwood’ was; they wouldn’t have meant much to people from elsewhere. This brings us to names such as Grisdale, names referring to slightly larger and further away places. If Jeremiah had moved to the area from Stafford he would often be called Jeremiah de Stafford. If the ‘de Stafford’ became stuck as the family name and the ‘de’ dropped as it often was we get a ‘Stafford’ family.

It is important to note that it made no sense whatsoever for some who lived in Stafford to be called ‘of’ or ‘de Stafford’, because everyone there was ‘of’ Stafford. Don’t get confused because lords of the manor often took a secondary (sometimes primary) appellation from their manor, i.e. Lord X of Stafford, or even in the late thirteenth century a certain John Lancaster de Grisdale (to whom I’ll return on another occasion). Calling someone ‘of’ or ‘de Stafford’ only made sense when someone moved from Stafford to somewhere else and his origin was used to identify him in his new home. This is the case with the name Grisdale.

One final point here: if a man moved to London from a known town such as Lincoln, Norwich or even Stafford there was a good chance that he would be given that name. But if someone moved from the tiny mountainous hamlet of Grisdale (now Mungrisdale) to London then calling him ‘de Grisdale’ probably didn’t make much sense as no one in London would have had any idea where Grisdale was. If however the Grisdale man moved to somewhere much nearer than London he might indeed have been called Grisdale – this is undoubtedly what happens with our Grisdale family. I’ll give two real examples later.

edward3port

King Edward the Third

Before I do this it might be quite instructive to actually look at the real names of the principal families in Matterdale and Grisdale way back in 1332.

Since the Norman Conquest in 1066, the French-speaking kings of England would continually tax their victims, i.e. the people of England, to pay for their luxuries and incessant wars. They periodically taxed both the clergy and the laity. The later taxes are known as Lay Subsidies and are recorded in ‘Rolls’, hundreds of which still survive. There was a Lay Subsidy in 1332, the sixth year of King Edward III, and luckily it includes Cumberland. Here we find the names of the inhabitants of all the parishes, villages and hamlets, as well as the value of their goods and how much tax they should pay (in this case a fifteenth). Both Matterdale and Grisdale (now Mungrisdale and spelt Grisedale in the lay subsidy) were in the Ward of Leath, and here are the inhabitants’ names:

Matterdale 1332:

Robert son of Alicia, Henry del Crokwath, William son of Richard, William de Blatern, Richard servant of Richard, Robert son of Robert, John Gedirwit, John de Burton, Adam son of Robert, John Dickson, Adam son of Richard, Waddle forestar, Adam de Withebathin and Robert son of William

Grisedale 1332:

William Skraghird, Peter son of Hugh, William Slegh, William Riotis,  Robert son of John, Robert son of Gilbert, William son of Robert, Adam son of Peter…… there were seven more names but the Roll was ripped after Adam.

Crookwath Barn

Crookwath Barn, Matterdale

What you can immediately see is how many families didn’t yet have a surname – notice all the ‘sons of’. But some family names had stabilized: William Slegh and John Dikson to name just two. It’s interesting to note that Wilfred Grisdale married Ruth Slee in Matterdale in the seventeenth century and Dickson was a common family name in Matterdale for centuries to come. And then we have the place names: further away places such as ‘de Burton’, ‘de Blatern’ and ‘de Withebathin (Wythburn?), and then local places such as ‘del Crokwath’ – Crookwath being a tenement near Dockray in Matterdale which was farmed by the Grisdales in the seventeenth century. We even find the occupational name Waddle forestar.

So in 1332 the process of stabilizing surnames in Cumberland was nowhere near finished, and you can find the same in all the other places covered by this Lay Subsidy Roll.

One point of parochial Grisdale interest is that while we can see that although families such as the Slees and Dicksons were already in Matterdale in 1332 the Grisdales clearly were not.

In England in general surnames were formed over the period of about 1250 to 1450. In the south of the country many had become fixed by 1350 but in the north, including Cumberland, it wasn’t until about 1450 that most families had a fixed name.

Now let’s return to the question: when and possibly where had the Grisdales become Grisdales?

As I have already said, it is my belief that the first Grisdales arrived in Dowthwaite Head in Matterdale in the second half of the 1400s or maybe as late as 1500. As we have seen even surnames in Cumberland had stabilized by this time and thus we can be reasonably sure that when they arrived they were already called Grisdale or just possibly still ‘de Grisdale’ and that therefore they had not come directly from Grisdale.

Where had they been before?

Are there any mentions of Grisdales before we hear of John Grisdale, the early sixteenth-century farmer at Dowthwaite head? There are just two.

In the year 1407 a certain Rowland de Grisdale held one burgage in the new town of Kendal in Westmorland from its lord Sir William Parr. He had held the same in 1404. Also in 1407 ‘Rolland de Grisedale’ held two tenements (i.e. farms) in Underbarrow/Bradley Field, just a couple of miles west of Kendal, of Sir William Parr’s son John. We know that he had held this tenement in 1390 as well.

Burgage is a medieval land term used in England and Scotland, well established by the 13th century. A burgage was a town (“borough”) rental property (to use modern terms), owned by a king or lord. The property (“burgage tenement”) usually, and distinctly, consisted of a house on a long and narrow plot of land (Scots, toft), with a narrow street frontage. Rental payment (“tenure”) was usually in the form of money, but each “burgage tenure” arrangement was unique, and could include services. As populations grew, “burgage plots” could be split into smaller additional units. Burgage tenures were usually money based, in contrast to rural tenures which were usually services based. In Saxon times the rent was called a landgable or hawgable.

Burgage Plots

Burgage Plots

It’s interesting to note that almost six hundred years later another Grisdale, Richard, was farming in exactly the same place as Rolland Grisdale was in 1407! I wrote about this later Richard here.

Bradley Field Farm. Here or near here Rolland de Grisdale farmed around 1400

Bradley Field Farm. Here or near here Rolland de Grisdale farmed around 1400

Now we don’t know if this Rolland/Rowland Grisdale was in any way connected with the Grisdales of Matterdale who first appear in the records about a hundred years later. But bear in mind two things. First, if Rolland de Grisdale of Kendal had children its most likely that they would have been called ‘de Grisdale’ too; the fact that we don’t find any children has to do with the paucity of the records not the fecundity of fifteenth century Lakeland people! Second, lo and behold, in 1571 in the Greystoke church records we find the burial of ‘Rolland son of John Grysdell of Matterdale’. It might of course be a pure coincidence, but it just might not.

Just try a thought experiment. If this Matterdale Rolland died as a young man in 1571 then his father John could well have been born in the first quarter of the 1500s, and indeed his father might have been the John we know was farming at Dowthwaite Head in 1524, who I think must have been born in around 1470 – 1480. If Rolland of Matterdale had been named by his father John after his own grandfather (as was often done) then we are within spitting distance of Rolland de Grisdale of Kendal. Of course this is pure conjecture, but the fact is the Matterdale Grisdales had to have come from somewhere before they arrived in Matterdale and Rolland of Kendal is the only person bearing the Grisdale name we find in any fifteenth century record.

Halton Lancashire on the River Lune

Halton Lancashire on the River Lune

But now let’s go even further back to the very first Grisdale I can find: Simon de Grisdale. Simon appears in the 1332 Lay Subsidy Roll we have already discussed, not in the Lake District but rather in the parish of Halton in Lancashire, a few miles from Lancaster. He held a tenement in Halton of its lord William de Dacre.

Now here’s another coincidence? Because Dacre lies immediately adjacent to both Matterdale and Grisdale in Cumberland. William was the lord of this Dacre.

He (William) was born on 12 March 1265/6 in Castle Naworth, Yorkshire, the son of Ranulph and Joan de Lucy. He first married Anne Derwentwater (Derwentwater is a lake in the Lakes district of Cumbria). Next he married Joan Garnet, the daughter and sole heir of Sir Benedict Gernet, the Royal Forester.

He obtained a charter for free warren of all his demesne lands at Dacre and Halton in about 1303/4 (actually he first got the manor 1297)…. He joined the expedition of Edward I, the “Hammer of the Scots,” in to Scotland the same year. He was also engaged in the wars in Scotland between 1308 and 1311. The family had neither been rich, nor members of the baronage, but the family’s fortunes rose with the success and booty gained by William in these wars.

‘Though the Dacres and their heirs held Halton for about three centuries, their history belongs to Cumberland and there is little trace of their interest in Lancashire.’

Dacre Castle in 1802, Built by the Dacres in the mid fourteenth century

Dacre Castle in 1802, Built by the Dacres in the mid fourteenth century

Remember too that Dacre was part of the barony of Greystoke as were Matterdale and Grisdale (Mungrisdale).

So is it too much too imagine that when William de Dacre wanted to find farmers for his new Lancashire manor he might have asked his Cumberland steward and he found a Simon living in Grisdale to whom he granted a tenement in Halton, and who then became known as Simon de Grisdale?

Again, I repeat, all this is pure conjecture. So what might we be able to say?

From what we know of English surname formation, and particularly in northern England, the most likely scenario is that sometime in the fourteenth or fifteenth century (and I would say more likely in the fourteenth) an ancestor of the Matterdale Grisdales had moved from Grisdale/Mungrisdale to somewhere else where they started to be called ‘de Grisdale’. The ‘de’ part would most likely have continued in use for quite a while before eventually disappearing – there are hundreds of examples of this. And then, I think, one of this family, called by now Grisdale (and its variant spellings), arrived to take up the farming of the tenement at Dowthwaite Head in Matterdale in the latter part of the 1400s. This might have been the John Grisdale we find in the records or possibly his father.

Could the person who originally left Grisdale have been the Simon de Grisdale we find in Halton in Lancashire in 1332? Could Rolland de Grisdale in Kendal around 1400 have been one of the family too? We don’t know but it’s certainly possible, after all if Simon and Rolland de Grisdale had sons where did they end up?

1576 Map of Grisdale/Mungrisdale

1576 Map of Grisdale/Mungrisdale

 

1747 Map of Grisdale/Mungrisdale

1747 Map of Grisdale/Mungrisdale

 

 

FT_Sept2013_pg75_X (2)-page-0

 

Trying to uncover all our ancestral lines is a labour of love taking many years, even decades, particularly if you really wish to gain a full understanding of your ancestors’ lives and share them with others having the same family interests. It is this fuller understanding of the social and economic history that our family lived through that enthralls Stephen Lewis and has helped him to make some touching discoveries…

For some people filling in the pieces of our family tree jigsaw-puzzle is enough in itself. Yet most of us soon start to become enthralled by the social and economic history of our family, even if we previously had no interest in ‘history’ as we might have been taught it at school. What was life like for one of our ancestors, or his/her family, at a particular time and in a particular place? Why did one of our ancestors emigrate? Why did so many children die young? We literally want to put some flesh on our forebears. We want in some small way to bring some of them back to life, perhaps for the first time in centuries.

How can we do this? And, importantly, how can we communicate and share what we discover? What I‘d like to do is simply offer a few suggestions derived from my own efforts in researching and communicating the social history of parts of my own family. Some of the results can be found on my family history blog grisdalefamily.wordpress.com.

First we need to make choices, but don’t agonise too much about where to start. If you’re most fascinated by those of your ancestors bearing your own name then start there. On the other hand if you’re more interested in certain places where some of your ancestors lived then research that. Or perhaps start with just one person that you’d most like to bring back to life.

How much flesh we can put on the lives of particular ancestors or families will of course vary. If they were rich or famous, if they emigrated, joined the church or accomplished heroic deeds then the records of their lives will likely be more extensive. However, even if some or most of your ancestors left little trace of their lives, besides a few events and dates, you can still tell an interesting story.

Our ancestors’ landscape

A good starting point is to research geography. Physically what was the environment in which your ancestors lived? Was it a remote mountain community where people tended sheep? Was it a maritime port heaving with merchants, sailors and fishermen? Or perhaps it was an industrial town full of ‘dark satanic mills’? Try to find out what the physical environment was and how it changed and evolved, and why. Try to be precise. Where exactly was Dowthwaite Head Farm in Cumberland? What did it look like? What surrounded it? What was a particular Lancashire cotton mill really like? How had the surrounding environment changed? Understanding the places goes a long way to understanding the lives of our ancestors.

 Making a living

Geography links to my second suggestion. Research what your ancestors did to make a living. The records might reveal that someone was a ‘waller’, a ‘chalker’ or a ‘cotton bleacher’. What did these occupations really involve day to day – in terms of travel, health, income and the precariousness of existence? Mariners by definition travelled far and wide, as did wallers (though more locally), whereas ‘yeoman’ farmers usually stayed put. You might have no personal records of your ‘waller’ ancestor but you can still start to reconstruct their life from what is known of the lives of others with the same job.

Class & cash

The next thing to consider is the important fact of class. All societies at all times have been stratified. The rich and powerful try to hold on to their privileges and extend them wherever they can. The poor try to survive. The ‘middling-sort’ tries to move up or arrest a decline of their family. A family’s class and economic position and its dealings with other classes in the vicinity can tell us much about their likely lives, their hopes and their decisions. Were your ancestors forced to quit the land because of the centuries-long rapacious land enclosures in England, or the brutal highland clearances in Scotland? Who exactly was doing the enclosing or clearing and why? What were the consequences for your ancestors? Once you understand this you can often make sense of why, to use an example from my own family, a family moved from rural Cumberland to the Bolton cotton mills, emigrated to Canada or joined the military. People tend to make such big moves only when they have to. What pushed them to it?

 Making your research relevant

All of these things: geography, work, class and economics play out at the local level. But it’s also interesting to try to place these events in a wider national or international context. One of my own family members became an Army officer and died in Minorca in 1801. What in heaven’s name was the British Army doing in Minorca? My research turned up a very interesting story covering the time of Britain’s four-year ownership of the island. Another family member started life as a cotton bleacher in Bolton in Lancashire, became a missionary in India and ended up a bishop in the Canadian prairies. Researching this opened up the fascinating history not only of Britain and its empire but also the history of the Canadian West.

Such research will take you down paths you might otherwise never have ventured. The social, political and economic histories you discover will start to have a real relevance because they involved and affected specific people you know and care about. You don’t need vast libraries and certainly not historical training to do any of this; you can find a great deal of what you need on the internet. When I started to research and write stories about my own family, not only did it open up vast areas of social and political history I had never thought about before, but it also elicited many unexpected, illuminating and often touching responses from all over the world. I am sure it will do the same for you.

 

 

FT_Sept2013_pg75_X (2)-page-1

 

When I started writing these family history stories I stated that the vast majority of people with the name Grisdale or Grisedale, wherever they might be in the world, could find their roots in Matterdale, indeed probably in Dowthwaite Head. However I also said that a few people might trace their origins to the other ‘Grisedale’ in the far west of the Yorkshire Dales, near the border with Cumberland. But is this true? Did any Grisdale/Grisdale family ever really originate in this Grisedale? I think perhaps not.

Grisedale Yorkshire

Grisedale Yorkshire

As I have discussed previously, Grisdale is a place name and it is beyond doubt the case that the Matterdale Grisdales had originally moved to Dowthwaite Head in Matterdale from a Grisdale in Cumberland, probably in the fifteenth century if not earlier. This Grisdale was most likely (Mun)grisdale rather than the Grisdale/Grisedale running down to Ullswater (see here). The third place in Cumberland of the same name is Grisedale Pike near Keswick, but this never was a settlement.

And then there is the Yorkshire Grisedale, often spelt historically without the E. It’s a tiny side valley of the small Garsdale and is situated a couple of miles from the town of Sedbergh – which is now in Cumbria but was historically a part of the West Riding of Yorkshire. Grisedale really is a miniscule place. In 1975 a Yorkshire Television producer called Barry Cockcroft made a documentary about Grisedale which caused quite a stir. It was called The Dale that Died. ‘The film focused on a 61-year-old former miner, Joe Gibson, who had begun a new life as a sheep farmer in Grisedale. This remote Yorkshire valley had once been the home to 14 families. But when the film-makers arrived Joe, with the help of his wife and son, was the only farmer still living and working in the dale.’ The Yorkshire Post more recently wrote:

Theirs (the people of Grisedale) was a hard life. From this depiction it was easy to see why Grisedale should have “died” with people moving out and leaving houses to become derelict..

Today, entering Grisedale from Garsdale is like stumbling upon a secret, semi-wild place. However, it’s clearly not dead. Some buildings are derelict but many have obvious signs of life. Closer inspection reveals that although not exactly thriving, the story of its death was greatly exaggerated.

Grisedale is a cul-de-sac dale off the Hawes to Sedburgh road bordered by Wild Boar Fell. It’s not the sort of place you pass through on the way to somewhere else. You have to have a reason for going there and that, it seems, is part of its attraction for those who have come to call it home.

But this is all pretty recent history. The question here is whether the valley ever gave its name to people who had moved from there, and that means going back much further. Given that in earlier times people bearing the name of a place, village or town usually got the name because their family had at some remote time come from there, it is perhaps unsurprising to find that there was never anyone called Grisedale/Grisdale who lived in the valley itself.

Sedbergh Church

Sedbergh Church

In the early 1600s, records suggest that there were maybe only a couple of families living in Grisedale. They would go to the church in Sedbergh for baptisms, marriages and burials. The Sedbergh parish registers start in the sixteenth century. In 1618 for example we find Anthony Dawson of ‘Grysdale’ marrying Isabell Bethom. In Sedbergh around the same time we find two Grisdale families, those of Richard and Edward Grysdale. The family name was usually spelt as Grysdale, but we also find Grisdale, Grisedall and Grysedale. At that time most of these rural families were illiterate and the parish priest wrote what he heard. Remember that Shakespeare would even spell the same word three different ways on the same page!

Richard Grysdale married Isabell Makereth in June 1611, but Isabell soon died. With a second wife called Alice Harrison, Richard had twins Agnes and John, who were baptized on 8 July 1616. But Alice herself died following childbirth and was buried a few days after her children were baptized. The family lived in ‘the Mosse’ in Sedbergh, which is most probably present-day The Moss House.

Edward Grysdale and his wife Agnes, who also lived in Sedbergh, had a son John in 1620 and a daughter Margaret in 1623.

Finally there was also a John Grysdale, whose wife Margaret died at Firbank, Sedbergh in 1618.

Two issues arise. First, it seems that the two sons called John eventually moved away from Sedbergh as there is no more mention of them in the records. Second, where had these Grisdales come from? Given the absence of any Grysdales in Sedbergh prior to 1611, it’s pretty clear they come from elsewhere, but, I would suggest, not from nearby Grisedale.

Sedbergh town and church

Sedbergh town and church

It is important here to remark that surnames deriving from places or trades or any other source had almost everywhere stabilized by the fifteenth century. By the time we get to the early 1600s, when we find Grysdales in Sedbergh, anyone who had moved from Grisedale to Sedbergh in recent years would already have had a family name that had become fixed decades, or more likely centuries, before – John (the) Tanner, William (the) Forrester or Richard Stafford. The ancestors of anybody who carried the name Grisdale because they had moved away from ‘Grisedale’ in Yorkshire would have had to have made the move way back in the remote past before names became fixed.

With only two exceptions there is nobody in any historical record called Grisdale (or variants) outside Cumberland in the 1500s, indeed no one outside Matterdale (or nearby locations such as Threlkeld). On the other hand there are a couple of dozen different types of records of sixteenth-century Grisdales in Matterdale, usually found to be living in Dowthwaite Head.

Given all this, it is my conjecture that although the two Sedbergh-born John Grysdales may have married and had children elsewhere, there is no evidence whatsoever that any Grisdale family got their name from this Yorkshire Grisedale.

Dowthwaite Head Farm

Dowthwaite Head Farm

Now it is quite possible, I would say even probable, that the Sedbergh Grysdales had in fact originated in Matterdale. This can’t be proved so what follows in conjecture. It’s reasonable to assume that Richard and Edward Grisdale of Sedbergh were related, even perhaps brothers. They both named their only sons John, so it could be that their father was a John, maybe the John whose wife Margaret had been buried in Sedbergh in 1618. Note also that Richard Grysdale had named his only daughter Margaret in 1623! Edward, Richard and John were three of the most common names of the Grisdales of Matterdale in the 1500s and into the 1600s and beyond. Among the nine Matterdale militia bowmen who were mustered in Penrith in 1581 there was a John, an Edward and a Richard. A Richard Grysdell of Dowthwaite Head married Janet Grysdell (also of Dowthwaite Head) in 1579. They had a son called John in 1583. The wife of Edward Grysdell ‘junior’ died in 1561 and an Edward Grysdell of Dowthwaite Head had two children in the 1560s. Robert Grysdell of Dowthwaite Head who died in 1584 had a daughter called Margaret, as well as sons called Edward, John and Christopher. Christopher Grysdell of Dowthwaite Head who died in 1597 was said to be the son of Edward Grysdell in his will. And finally there was a John Grysdell of Dowthwaite Head who died in 1579, and Robert Grysdell mentions his son John in his will of 1584.

So maybe the Richard, Edward and John Grysdale of Sedbergh came from Dowthwaite Head?

I’ll return to the possible fate of the Sedbergh Grisdales another time. All we know for now is that is that Richard’s daughter Agnes died in 1650 in Settlebeck in Sedbergh itself, while Edward’s daughter Margaret married Thomas Harrison in 1662 in Sedbergh and his wife Agnes died in Sedbergh in 1669. Where Richard and Edward and their sons John went remains to be discovered.

From its early days in Dowthwaite Head around 1500, the Grisdale family inexorably grew and spread out. Even in the sixteenth century members of the family had started to work and farm throughout the valley of Matterdale, and even further afield. They moved for instance to Hollas (Hollows), as well as to Matterdale End, Dockray, Crookwath, Mills, Ulcatrow and to nearby parishes such as Keswick and Threlkeld (to name just two). Some even ventured to London. In the eighteenth century they started to move to Penrith, Kendal, Carlisle, Patterdale and elsewhere, as well as to Lancashire and Yorkshire. And so it went on. By the nineteenth century the family started to emigrate overseas: to Canada, the United States, Australia, India and even South Africa. Many of the articles on this blog have been concerned with such families.

Dowthwaite Head Farm

Dowthwaite Head Farm

One of the upshots of this century-long process of birth and emigration has been that the number of people carrying the Grisdale name in Matterdale itself has fluctuated enormously. I hope to be able to provide some estimates of numbers in the future. But what is abundantly clear is that starting with maybe just 5 to 10 Grisdales in Dowthwaite Head in the early years of the sixteenth century, the family grew rapidly. During the seventeenth century and much of the eighteenth, the Grisdales were, it seems, everywhere. They were one of the most numerous and influential families in the valley. They were mostly yeomen farmers, but the family also produced innumerable clergymen (some famous, most not), some entrepreneurs who became rich, while, naturally, many joined the army.

Yet by the time we reach the late eighteenth century the exodus from Matterdale had really heated up; spurred it should be said by the on-going land grab called the ‘enclosures’. My own Grisdale family left Matterdale in around 1810-1815 and settled  in nearby Penrith. As the decades passed, more and more Grisdale families gradually left, until in 1891 there was only one person called Grisdale still living in Matterdale. He bore the common family name Solomon. Of course it wasn’t that there  weren’t many other people still in Matterdale who were descended from the hundreds of Grisdales who had lived in the valley for the last 500 years, there were. But in 1891 the 23 year old Solomon Grisdale was the last to carry the name.

Solomon was born in 1868 and christened on 22 September in Matterdale church. He was the illegitimate son of Elizabeth Grisdale (born 1842), who was herself the illegitimate daughter of Ann (born 1818). Ann was the first of nine children of the well-to-do Dockray yeoman farmer Solomon Grisdale and his wife Elizabeth Wilson. I won’t here tell the story of these two illegitimate births except to say that historically, while such births outside wedlock were not unheard off, they were in this family very rare. This family were descended from Joseph Grisdale (1687-1750) and Jane Martin (1687-1769), who were also yeoman farmers in Dockray, and from whom so many of the people I have discussed in this blog are also descended. Of course before that the family can be traced back to Dowthwaite Head.

At first Solomon’s mother Elizabeth had continued to live with her new son on the farm of her grandmother Elizabeth, with other members of the family. Solomon Senior had died in 1866. In 1878, when Solomon was ten, his mother married a Yorkshire road contractor called John Raine, and in 1881 the family were living just outside Dockray at High Row. They were still there ten years later and the 23 year-old Solomon was a labourer working building roads with his stepfather. By now, as I have said, Solomon was the only Grisdale in Matterdale.

In 1896 Solomon married Harriot Nicholson in the Church of All Saints in next door Watermillock. He was a ‘main road foreman’ or ‘contractor’ in his own right. The couple lived in Dockray and two children followed: Thomas in 1897 and Laura in 1905 (there may have been others who died young).

And here, finally, we do come to the last of the Matterdale Grisdales, for Thomas and Laura were the very last.

Matterdale Old School

Matterdale Old School

It is interesting to consider that both Thomas and Laura were christened in Matterdale church, a place with so many connections with the Grisdale family going back to the 1580s. Thomas would also have attended the old Matterdale School, founded in 1722 by the Rev. Dr. Robert Grisdale.

What became of them? Well their stories are very different.

Solomon decided that there were probably better opportunities for road building in the Cumberland town of Cockermouth than there were in rural Matterdale. He took his family there soon after 1905. A third child called Percy was born there in 1908, followed in 1919 by a daughter Edna. The family lived at ‘2 The Laurels’ until their death many years later. Would Solomon have known that just around corner the rather grand Cockermouth house now called Wordsworth House, where the poet William Wordsworth was born, had been bought with Grisdale money? I guess not.

Some of the 5th Battlion the Border Regiment in France

Some of the 5th Battlion the Border Regiment in France

Once Thomas was old enough he started to work with his father building roads. By 1915, when he was only 18, he had progressed to be an ‘Assistant Surveyor’. But Thomas had the misfortune to be born when he was. He was just coming to adulthood when the Great War broke out. Like countless millions of others throughout Europe, Thomas Grisdale volunteered to join the army. He enlisted in Cockermouth in the 5th Battalion of the Border Regiment on the 22nd November 1915. He had just turned eighteen. After some months training he was shipped from  Southampton to France on 6 May 1916. I won’t tell of Thomas’s military life here. Suffice it to say that he fought in many of the important battles of the Great War over the course of the next two years. After being wounded in September 1916 he spent some time recovering back in England, but he was soon back in the trenches in March 1917. After fighting at Paschendale, in March 1918 Thomas’s regiment found itself ‘based at Roisel, working on road and tramway construction and building large dug outs at Templeux’. This was unfortunate because this was where and  when the German army had planned a huge attack, now called the Kaiser’s Battle, which started on the 21st of March

On March 21, 1918, the Germans launched a major offensive against the British Fifth Army, and the right wing of the British Third Army. The artillery bombardment began at 4.40 am on March 21. The bombardment hit targets over an area of 150 square miles, the biggest barrage of the entire war. Over 1,100,000 shells were fired in five hours…

Although the British had learned the approximate time and location of the offensive, the weight of the attack and of the preliminary bombardment was an unpleasant surprise. The Germans were also fortunate in that the morning of the attack was foggy, allowing the storm troopers leading the attack to penetrate deep into the British positions undetected.

By the end of the first day, the British had lost nearly 20,000 dead and 35,000 wounded, and the Germans had broken through at several points on the front of the British Fifth Army. After two days Fifth Army was in full retreat. As they fell back, many of the isolated “redoubts” were left to be surrounded and overwhelmed by the following German infantry. The right wing of Third Army became separated from the retreating Fifth Army, and also retreated to avoid being outflanked.

One of the 20,000 British dead on this one day was Thomas Grisdale. There is much more to tell, another time I hope. Thomas was buried at the Pozieres Memorial Cemetery in France. Back home in England he is remembered on the Cockermouth War Memorial and on the gravestone of his parents Solomon and Harriot.

Thomas’s younger sister Laura Grisdale never married and stayed in Cockermouth for the rest of her life. She died in Cockermouth in 2006, aged 101! She was for sure truly the last Matterdale Grisdale.

Cockermouth gravestone of the last Matterdale Grisdales

Cockermouth gravestone of the last Matterdale Grisdales

Some aspects of genealogical relatedness.

It might seem an odd question to ask, but are you your child’s cousin? The answer, perhaps rather surprisingly, is that you well might be. In fact if you go back far enough the chances are high that you are. The only question being how far back you have to go. Understanding why illustrates some interesting features of family history and history in general.

In an article in Family Tree magazine I wrote about how many ancestors we have. The fact is that the numbers don’t keep on doubling in each generation (2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great grandparents etc), but rather at some point the number of our direct ancestors stops expanding and goes into steep reverse. The reasons for this have to with ‘cousin marriage’. Our ancestors married cousins of various degrees, and not just that but when they, just for example, married a second cousin they were most probably related in multiple other ways to their spouse as well, not just in one way.

One of the upshots of this is that any particular ancestor you have might be your ancestor several times over but via different routes. Your 6th great grandmother could be your direct ancestor by three or four quite separate routes. The frequency that this happens in your own family, and the timescale over which it happens, will depend to a large extent on whether your family came from a small, possibly remote, and certainly rather closed community, or not. The more cut-off or remote a community is, the more different degrees of cousin marriage would have been prevalent and thus the sooner in the past you are likely to find some people being your ancestors more than once by different routes.

Saxton's 1577 map of Lancashire. 'Meoles' is top left

Saxton’s 1577 map of Lancashire. ‘Meoles’ is top left

I’ll take one example from my own family. My paternal grandmother was called Mary Seddon. She came from a long line of farmers in the Lancashire parish of North Meols (pronounced Meals). The resort town of Southport developed there in the nineteenth century, but prior to this North Meols was for many centuries a small, isolated and very cut-off farming, fishing and smuggling community. There were only a limited number of families and they continually intermarried. These families included the Linakers, Blundells, Aughtons, Bakers, Hootons, Gregsons,  Rimmers, Abrams and Seddons; all of whom appear in my own family history. Indeed not only did these families marry each other, they also married within the same family, quite often first cousins with the same name! Nearly all the marriages were between cousins of some degree and involved several distinct relationships between the spouses. Because the community was so small and closed (people twenty miles away said they didn’t understand the accent), this inbreeding can quite readily be spotted in the records. Whereas with a family in a much larger or more open community, like a big city, this type of cousin marriage is likely to have been much less frequent and significantly harder to spot when it did occur.

On this side of my family I can clearly identify several cases where a direct ancestor is an ancestor by several distinct routes.

But what about a parent’s relationship with their child? Obviously you are your child’s parent by definition – the closest kinship relationship. Your own parents were your child’s grandparents and so on. Yet your child has another parent as well. It is because you might be related to your spouse or partner that your child can also be your own cousin. The ‘degree’ of the cousin relationship being determined by how far back you have to go till you and your spouse find common ancestors. With first cousins it’s quite clear. If you married your first cousin this means you share a common pair of grandparents. In turn this means that your child will be a first cousin ‘once removed’ of both you and your spouse.

In closed communities like North Meols where there were more often than not multiple cousin relationships between couples, then almost invariably any child will be a cousin of some degree of both of his or her parents – say a ‘2nd cousin once removed’.

Alberbury Shropshire

Alberbury Shropshire

In my own family this suggests that up until the time of my grandmother’s own parents (called Richard Seddon and Margaret Blundell), all parents and children in this line of the family were pretty certainly ‘cousins’. I can prove that this was the case. Yet North Meols did start to open up, and more and more people came in as Southport developed, including my Lewis family which arrived from Shropshire in about 1871. When my Southport-born grandfather married Mary Seddon and they had a son (my father), was he a cousin of some type of his own parents? In order for this to have been so my paternal grandparents’ lines would have needed to have crossed sometime back in history. Was there at some time a union between these lines of this Lancashire family and this Shropshire family? Over the period of time I can trace, roughly 400 – 500 years, I can’t see any such union, although it’s still possible. Yet if we were able to look further back into history we would very probably find some very ancient such union. While North Meols and western Shropshire were both pretty closed societies they weren’t hermetically sealed. But the fact remains that my father was not a cousin of his parents over any reasonable timescale. The same is even truer of the relationship between me and my daughter, because my wife isn’t even British.

What’s the answer for you? Is your child your ‘cousin’? If you and your partner come from the same small and relatively closed community then you very well likely are. You might not have to go back very far to prove this. If, however, you and your partner come from separate or much more open communities, or even from different countries, then any cousin relationship with your child would probably be only of immense antiquity or wouldn’t for all practical purposes exist at all.