The pop-up family of Boulter are the subject of this week’s Surname Saturday theme. Can you shed any light on this name in Cambridgeshire, England?
An unusual family name that stays in one village – simply popping up in records and then vanishing again.
My Boulter line came to an end when my maternal Great Great Grandmother Elizabeth Boulter married John Freeman Dewey in 1878 at the tiny village of Wentworth in Cambridgeshire.
Elizabeth’s parents were Robert Boulter and Mary Ann Moden who also married at Wentworth. After marrying in 1852, the couple went on to have 10 children with Elizabeth being the oldest. Out of the ten children, seven of them were daughters (one of whom did not survive infancy).
The earliest Boulter ancestors i’ve found so far is William Boulter and his wife Ann Covell – Robert’s parents. They married in 1815 (again, in Wentworth), and had at least four children – 3 sons and a daughter. I don’t yet know where William came from before his marriage to Ann – although she was from the neighbouring village of Witchford, so perhaps William was living in Wentworth in 1815.
The mysteriousness of the family continues, with only one part of the Boulter family (not ancestral) that I have photographs of in my collection (see above) – given to me by a fellow researcher (and distant relative). The photo shows John Boulter(right), the illegitimate first son of my Gt Gt Grandmother Elizabeth Boulter, who was born five years before she married my Gt Gt Grandfather John Freeman Dewey. John Boulter occasionally takes the surname of Dewey in census returns, but this may have been more an attempt to hide the stigma attached to illegitimacy than it might have been to suggest that John was actually his father. In fact, when John got married in 1896, he names his father as ‘John Boulter – deceased’ – did he ever know the truth, or was he using his step-father’s first name?
John Boulter moved to London when he was just 17 where he married Alice Watts and started a family of 11 children (the photo shows him with his third son Edward). Eventually, he joined the Corporation of London as a groom and often rode First Postilion on the Lord Mayor of London’s coach during the annual show.
Distribution of the surname
With Robert and Mary’s family consisting of a larger number of female children than male, it may go some way to explaining how/why the surname has struggled to survive in the area – with the name becoming redundant upon marriage.
Ancestry.com have plotted the 1891 census data for the surname, allowing me to see the distribution of 1,661 Boulter families (note – not individuals). According to this data, Cambridgeshire had just 21 families with the surname. Norfolk is the 4th highest concentration of Boulter families with 102 – with it being a neighbouring county, this data might suggest that the family went there or even came from there. Unsurprisingly London led the way with 310 and Leicestershire came second with 240 families. Wiltshire was third with 121.
Origin of the surname
John Ayto offers a couple of different origins for the surname, probably due to it’s common misspellings. In his book ‘Encyclopedia of Surnames‘
he suggests that the origin is either from a ‘maker of bolts’ (as in for arrows or crossbow); a name given to someone short and stocky; or to the name of someone who sifts flour (from the Middle English term ‘bolten’ – to sift flour).
Where next for research?
I hope one day to find a photograph of my Gt Gt Grandmother Elizabeth Dewey (née Boulter), particularly as I have a photo of her husband, and I know where her grave is. She is my closest ancestor of whom I don’t have a photograph.
As for finding the surname’s next generation back – I’ll be resuming the search in neighbouring parishes for clues (Witcham and Sutton are top of my list) on William’s parents, and I’ll be checking Wills to see if there are any clues left there.
If you have stumbled across this unusual name in your research, please do drop me a line!
The Dewey surname is my closest linking ancestral name after my own surname.
There are many Dewey name bearers in the world – including a decimal system for libraries and a cartoon duck.
My own branch have lived in the county of Cambridgeshire, England since at least the 1700s, inhabiting the villages of Wentworth, Wilburton, Witchford and Witcham.
The earliest ancestor that I have confirmed so far was Thomas Dewey, who in 1768 married Elizabeth Covell at Witchford’s church of St. Andrew (this is where my own name comes from!). The couple had at least 3 daughters and a son George, and it is this son who travelled to Witcham where he married Mary Long in 1790. Sadly by 1807, Mary had died. This led to George heading to Wentworth to re-marry to a Mary Payton and continuing his family. In all, he fathered at least 11 children – 6 with his first wife.
George’s first child, William born in Witchford, is my ancestor and he married Ellen Markerham of Waterbeach. The couple set up home in Witchford where they had 6 children – 5 of them sons. The Dewey family grew and soon those children were having children and grandchildren themselves – continuing to grow the family throughout the county.
The surname has many variants: Dewey, Douay, Duey, Doway, Dowee, Doweay, Dewe, Dowey and Dewy, although as literacy rates improve, the surname generally ends up as Dewey or sometimes Dewy.
It is believed to be of Welsh origin, from the River Dewi area, although none of my ancestors have revealed their Welsh connections yet.
The surname of Moden appears twice in my ancestry and several other times through marriage.
My two ancestral occurrences are both on my maternal side, and even though they only live less than 10 miles apart (sometimes less), I’ve yet to find any link between the two branches.
Branch One: Coveney and Ely
The most recent ancestor of mine with this surname was my Great Grandmother Susan Jane Moden (1896-1981). She was one of seven children born in Ely to Edward Moden and his wife Mary Ann (née Cross) (pictured).
Edward was born in Coveney, Cambridgeshire, about 4 months after his father’s death (also an Edward Moden) in 1867. It was his mother’s later marriage to David Seymour that brought the Moden branch to Ely.
Edward’s (junior) wife Mary Ann owned and ran a shop on the corner of Cambridge Road and Barton Road until her death in the 1950s. The building remained a shop until the 1980s when it then changed in to the private house that it is today.
The earliest Moden ancestor that I can find is in Coveney in 1792, marrying Margaret Nicholas.
Branch Two: Haddenham and Wentworth
The other Moden family appear to live in Haddenham during the 1780s. Like the Coveney branch, the history before this point remains unknown and perhaps this is where the connection between the two branches occurs.