Surname Saturday: The Crisp family

Today’s SURNAME SATURDAY themed post takes a look at the CRISP family of Cambridgeshire, and unravels an old family story.

Today’s Surname Saturday theme follows the CRISP family, and it’s also home to one of the earliest verbal family stories that I ever heard in my research, some 19 years back.

The story went something like this:

“Your great great great grandmother was married to a Mr Crisp. They had a son, and then Mr Crisp died. She remarried to your great great great Martin grandfather, and that’s where we descend from.

Their son, married a woman called Selina. They had a number of children, moved up north, and most caught measles. Mr Crisp Jnr and most of the children died. His widow Selina, returned and lived near Soham, Cambridgeshire.”

Fairly vague, and probably not an uncommon style of storytelling of family rumours. But, there’s some interesting story details in there, and considering that this would have happened so long ago, it’s interesting to see that it survived into living memory.. so there must be something in it, and someone who has reason to believe it, right?

Putting it on the back-burner, as it’s a ‘sideline’ family, from whom I don’t descend, I parked it for about 19yrs whilst I focussed on the addiction that is tracing ancestors.

I was tidying up some old files again, and a slip of paper summarising the story above fell out. In all those years, the amount of, and types of, records available online has absolutely snowballed, and so i thought that I would casually go rummaging.

Finding Crisps in the records

(Face it, you knew I was going to put that pun down here somewhere).

A photograph of Mary Crisp (née Tingey, later Martin and Watling), with copies of her marriage certificate to John Crisp, and the birth certificate of their only son, William Crisp.
A photograph of Mary Crisp (née Tingey, later Martin and Watling), with copies of her marriage certificate to John Crisp, and the birth certificate of their only son, William Crisp.

I already had Mr Crisp Jnr’s (William Crisp) birth certificate from 1846, and the marriage and death certificate of his father John Crisp (m: 1846, d: 1847). By July 1850, widow Mary Crisp (née Tingey) had married her second of three husbands – my great great great grandfather – James Martin.

William Crisp remains with his mother for the 1851 and 1861 censuses in Little Downham, at the household of his step-father. In fact, the 1861 census lists him as William Martin, rather than William Crisp.

Things get rectified by 1871, when his Crisp name is reinstated. Here, he’s living in the fenland parish of Isleham. This village isn’t far from Soham, and is not a parish that any of my other relatives appear to have passed through (hence having not stumbled across him before).

With the census found, it told me that he was now 24yrs old, living at Lark Farm Cottage, with his wife Tabitha, and their 2mth old son John (in memory of both of their fathers). A quick dig on Ancestry, and FreeBMD showed that Tabitha was most likely Tabitha Large.

Where was the Selina that the story had spoken of?

Another census shows the family at the West Bank of River Lark in the parish of Isleham, Cambridgeshire for 1881. William was ’30’, and heading up a family of 6 children (John, James, Rosetta, Eliza Ann, Susan, and Mary) with Tabitha.

However, by the 1891 he’s missing, and so is Tabitha. Was this the tragedy with measles?

The North?

A little further digging, and some of the Crisp children turned up – still living at West Bank, but this time, George Butcher is head of the household, with Tabitha (now Butcher). A young Alfred Butcher is also included in the household, born about 1890.

Next stop was the Isleham parish registers to find out what’s been going on.

Here, I find that Tabitha Large (confirmed!), and William Crisp, having married on 20th May 1869 at Isleham parish church, went on to have eight children between 1871 and 1886.

FreeBMD notes that William died in in 1886, but Isleham and Soham don’t contain his burial. I shall have to explore this further. His burial did not take place in his native Little Downham, Ely Cemetery, Wicken, Fordham, or a number of other nearby churchyards.

Having lost William for now, I continue after Tabitha, but I soon find that she’s missing too… only to find her in 1901, aged 47 years, up at 29 Charles Lane, Milnrow, Lancashire, England.

There’s that ‘move up North‘ then.

Into the mills

At this time, George is noted a labourer at a Brickyard. Tabitha’s son Isaac Crisp is noted as a ‘Cotton Presser’, Rosetta Crisp as a ‘Woolen Weaver’, Eliza Ann Crisp as a ‘Pattern Card Room Hand’, and Mary Crisp is noted as a ‘Bread Maker’. It’s possible that the children were employed at the nearby Ellenroad Mill. Clearly the mills were putting a roof over the family’s head.

By the time of the 1911 census, it’s revealed that Tabitha has had 4 children and that 3 of them died. This must surely refer to her children with George Butcher, but i’ve not yet checked for their names.

The Traveller’s Rest

Whilst I lose George after 1911 (was this the measles?), Tabitha ends her days back at  the aptly named ‘The Traveller’s Rest‘ in Towns End, Soham, Cambridgeshire on 29th June 1921. She was 69 years old. Why was she back there?

Well, her second child, James Crisp (known as ‘Jim’) is noted as Publican – presumably of The Traveller’s Rest. He is noted as an executor of her estate.

But what about Selina?

Twenty-five years before Tabitha’s death at James’ pub in Soham, he had walked the aisle on 17th October 1896…. when he married Selina Collen. Selina outlived James (who died in 1944), having raised a family of at least five children with him.

Unravel those stories and memories

So, what turned out to be a snippet of oral history, handed around and down my branch of Martin family, which is vaguely related to the Crisp family (William Crisp is apparently my Half Great Great Great Uncle!), it turns out to be loaded with facts… albeit somewhat jumbled.

There’s still a few loose ends – death certificates will, or newspaper articles might, reveal details of whether the measles story is true. The identity of Selina was also generation out, and the wrong bit of family went ‘up North’ – it was all in the story.

For me, it proves that those little oral snippets, or those scribbled notes, are just as important as those official records. In fact, they are often more interesting. Using official records to help untangle these family stories is the trick…. regardless of how long you take to start work on them!

Happy hunting!

Andrew

2 Bishops, 7 weddings and 9 funerals

A story of 2 Bishops, 7 weddings, and 9 funerals – the struggle of life and love in the 19th century.

If you’re not a fan of Hugh Grant films, then don’t worry – today’s blog post is actually a story of a struggle for life and love in the 19th century.

As the title suggests, this probably isn’t going to be the most cheerful thing you’ve read today.

Only just a few weeks ago, some incomplete ‘parked’ research into two ancestors of mine (a father and a son), had suddenly moved from two male ‘Ag Labs’ in Cambridgeshire whose wives predeceased them, leaving them with several children, to two men who between them, married a further 5 times, and traveled across three counties.

I’d previously parked these two: John Bishop and his son Simpson, as the names connecting to ‘John Bishop’ in the small group of villages that he lived in, were all very similar and seemingly overlaping.

Similarly, Simpson Bishop occasionally appears as ‘James’ or ‘James S Bishop’ or variations on ‘Simpson’ (eg. Simson, Samson etc).

Whilst trawling through the Soham registers, I decided that I needed to map this puzzle out, so took each event with similar names and close dates and used a kind of card-sorting technique with post-it notes, each carrying a name, date, and event.

Breaking down a complicated set of names and dates using 'card sorting' via Post-Its.
Breaking down a complicated set of names and dates using ‘card sorting’ for John Bishop’s timeline via Post-Its on a wall.

Having written all the names and event dates onto the post-its, I used each piece of evidence in turn to get them into order. The baptism, marriage, and burial registers were useful, as well as census returns.

Also invaluable here, was to keep an eye on the witnesses at marriages – as these also helped sort the events into an order.

With this done, and post-its on my wall, i realised that I’d just grown some new branches where I thought there were none.

Bishop #1: John Bishop (1795-1868)

John Bishop was born on 1st May 1795 in the Cambridgeshire town of Soham. He was the second of the eight children of Joseph Bishop and his wife Elizabeth (née Clements). He was also my 5x Great Grandfather.

Like his father, John worked in agriculture – a manual labour in the dark, flat, rich and fertile fenland that surrounded where he lived. In 1818, when he was about 22 years old, he married 24 year old Elizabeth Simpson (also of Soham) and the couple settled down to life together.

It’s pretty clear that at the time of marriage, Elizabeth was already pregnant with their first child, my 4x Gt Grandfather, Simpson Bishop.

Soham St Andrew's, Cambridgeshire. Photo: Steve Day via CreativeCommons.
John Bishop would become a frequent visitor to Soham’s St Andrew’s Church. Photo: Steve Day via CreativeCommons.

With Simpson being born in the latter part of 1818, the couple remained in Soham, where they went on to have a second son, John, in 1823.

Elizabeth fell pregnant again in 1825, this time with the couple’s first daughter, but by the time that she (Elizabeth) was born in 1826, her parents’ lives were about to change for the worse. Seemingly, either during or shortly after baby Elizabeth’s birth, Elizabeth, the mother, died. She was just 34.

She was buried at Soham on 11th June 1826, on the same day as her daughter’s baptism. This left 31 year old John Bishop as a widowed labourer with three young children in need of his care.

The grief must have consumed him, but it didn’t stop there – by the August, baby Elizabeth followed her mother to the grave.

Five months later, in January 1827, John walks down the aisle of Soham church with his second wife, Elizabeth Saunders. She fell pregnant shortly after their marriage, but again, bad luck was set to strike. Elizabeth gave birth to baby Elizabeth Saunders Bishop in 1827, but again, it appears that Elizabeth died during or shortly after childbirth. She was buried on 23rd October 1827 at Soham, once again – the same day that her baby Elizabeth was baptised.

Sadly, within a year, this baby also followed her mother to the grave. John, at the age of 33 had married twice, been widowed twice, fathered four children, and buried two of them.

Four months after his second wife died, John returned to church, this time to marry Sarah Leonard, who was fifteen years his junior on 8th February 1828. Their first child, Henry Bishop, was baptised at Soham in April 1829.

Thankfully both he and Sarah survived, with Henry going on to move from the fens of Cambridgeshire, getting married, and moving to Great College Street in Islington, London by the 1880s. John and Sarah continued to have three more children; Mary (who died as an infant), William (who survived and lived next-door to Henry in later life), and Sophy (who died as an infant).

After 8 years of marriage to Sarah Leonard, John (now 41) was widowed again in 1836 – when Sarah was just 26 years old. She was buried in Soham on 17th October 1836.

Less than a year later, John appears to embark on his fourth and final marriage – this time to Martha Earith, 17 years his junior – on 7th August 1837.

However, 8 months later, Martha died, aged 26 years. There is no indication of whether the couple had a child, or whether Martha was pregnant, but it appears that after 42 years of life in the fens, John never remarried. He died in May 1868, aged 73 years.

Bishop #2 : Simpson Bishop (1818-?)

Sadly for Simpson, that oldest child of John Bishop and Elizabeth Clements above, he didn’t escape his own share of bad luck.

By the time that his father had remarried 3 times, and he’d witnessed the deaths and burials of 3 step-mothers, and three half-sisters, Simpson was 20 years old. A few years later, in December 1840, he married Elizabeth Taylor, also of Soham, and by 1842, they became parents to my 3x Great Grandfather, James Simpson Bishop (a nod to the baby’s grandmother). Six further children were born to the couple, during which Simpson worked as a labourer, and a malster.

During 1851, Simpson takes his family to Little Wapses farm in Twineham, Sussex (presumably as tenant farmers), but they return to Cambridgeshire by 1861, by which time Simpson has become a shepherd.

However, Elizabeth dies at some point between 1858 and census night in 1861, in her early forties. There’s a few certificate options here, so i’m busy looking for more clues (newspaper reports, marriage witnesses etc) before ordering a certificate. On 19th June 1861, at Newmarket Register Office, Simpson marries his second wife, Elizabeth Ellinor, a 36 year old daughter of a labourer from nearby Burwell.

Whilst researching, I jumped ahead to 1871 to see where Simpson and Elizabeth were, but couldn’t spot them. I eventually found widower Simpson and his four youngest children living in Reedsholme near Crawshawbooth, Higher Booths, Lancashire – and all employed by the local cotton industry at Reedsholme Works.

Reedsholme Works where Simpson took his family. Photo: Robert Wade via CreativeCommons
The remnants of Reedsholme Works, where Simpson took his family to work by 1871. Photo: Robert Wade via CreativeCommons.

Life would undoubtedly been hard for the Bishops at the mill, and maybe it wasn’t the new life that they might have originally bought into. By the time of this 1871 census, two of Simpson’s children that had joined him in Lancashire had married:

  • William to Sarah Swann, who went on to have at least 5 children, and at the time of the 1871 census are living in Little Marsden, Lancashire.
  • Ann Elizabeth to George Eve.

It even seems that in 1875, whilst the family were up in Reedsholme, daughter Keziah died aged 22. I’ll order her death certificate out of curiosity to see whether it was due to work – as on the 1871 census, she is noted as a ‘Cotton Weaver’.

I found that Simpson, returned to church when on 25th January 1868, he married his third wife Sarah Washington. However, she’s missing from the 1871 family group (presumably dead too), and it’s not clear whether Simpson is married actually on the folio.

Simpson joins Sarah in my research as ‘currently missing’ after the 1871 census, but I hope to find the final steps of his journey.

Did Sarah survive or did Simpson marry again?

A journey that I thought I’d finished with him and his father a long time ago, back somewhere in Cambridgeshire… but which then proved to take me through unexpected twists and turns.

Thanks for reading… I’ll post an update once i’ve got further with Simpson and Sarah, but in the meantime; have you ever used card-sorting to solve a family tree puzzle?

Do you have ancestors who worked at Reedsholme Works, or in the cotton weaving industry?

Leave me a comment below – as i’d love to hear from you.