Surname Saturday: Levitt

This week’s Surname Saturday focuses on the Levitt family of Swaffham Bulbeck in Cambridgeshire, England.

This week’s Surname Saturday theme posting looks at the Levitt family, who lived in the village of Swaffham Bulbeck in Cambridgeshire during the 18th and 19th century.

Swaffham Bulbeck, Cambridgeshire
St Mary’s Church, Swaffham Bulbeck

My most recent Levitt ancestor was Emma Levitt, who was born in 1825 as the oldest of at least nine children of John Levitt (a blacksmith) and Elizabeth (née Skeels). She went on to become my Great Great Great Grandmother when she married Charles Newman (also of Swaffham Bulbeck) in 1847, with whom she had six children.

The earliest Levitt name bearer in the Swaffham Bulbeck parish registers appears on 12th November 1750 when my Great x6 Grandfather James Levitt married local girl Frances Roote (she was about 16 at the time).

James and Frances settled down to have nine children over a 22 year period. Their fourth child, and oldest son, born in 1758 was James Levitt – my 5x Great Grandfather. With this James having married Elizabeth Fabb and bringing three sons into the world, the youngest – John Levitt – was born in 1797. By 1824, John was married to Elizabeth Skeel, and his father was dead.

The faux-Hardings on the 1871 census
John and Elizabeth Levitt appeared as ‘Hardings’ on the 1871 census for Swaffham Bulbeck.

Swaffham Bulbeck was still home to the Levitt family, and would remain so during through the 19th Century census returns (including a stint where John and Elizabeth were disguised by their married daughter’s name on the folio – proving a small challenge to find them) whilst John and Elizabeth rear a brood of nine children – all of whom appear to have survived into adult life. The oldest of these is where the Levitt family name ends (at least for me), when their oldest child – Emma Levitt (born in 1825) married my Great Great Great Grandfather Charles Newman.

Emma’s Levitt siblings appear to have married and bore their own families, helping to keep the family alive.

Swaffham Bulbeck


There seem to be a few variants of the surname’s spelling, but the main ones that I have seen are: Levitt, Levit, Levet, Levett and Livett.

John Ayto‘s book “Encyclopedia Of Surnames” notes that Levett may have come from a few different origins.

(i) ‘person from Livet’, the name of various places in Normandy, of unknown origin; (ii) from the medieval personal name ‘Lefget’ (from Old English ‘Leofgeat’, literally ‘beloved Geat’ (a tribal name)); (iii) from a medieval Norman nickname based on Anglo-Norman leuet ‘wolf cub’.

Why keeping up with the neighbours is important in genealogy

If you’re not examining your ancestor’s neighbours, then you could be missing some key information.

These days, quite a lot of people have no idea who their neighbours are – their names, what they do, where they work etc, and the only interaction may be a quick ‘hello’, a nod, or occasionally collecting parcels from each other.

It’s just a sad sign of the times that as our lives become busier, and as families become more geographically spread, that we just don’t have the time or inclination to socialise with the people who live just a few feet away.

It’s not always been like this though – looking to the censuses of at least the early 1900s, you may discover that your ancestor’s neighbours play a much more significant role in your family.

‘Neighbours. Everybody needs good neighbours’

When the 1861 census took place, the enumerator for Swaffham Bulbeck in Cambridgeshire, England, visited Village Street and noted down the names and details of everyone there including four families who were all living nextdoor to eachother – each with different surnames.

1861 census return for Village Street, Swaffham Bulbeck, Cambridgeshire.
The 1861 census of Village Street in Swaffham Bulbeck, shows a number of families.

The enumerator may well have known the Newman, Skeels, Fordham and Levitt families seen in the example above, but the census does not shed any light onto the significance of the proximity of these 18 people.

The 18 people on this census folio are actually four generations of the same family, and this folio is a snapshot of how they had stayed together as the families grew. By trawling back to the 1851 census, you are able to find the core family again, in a much smaller family group.

The seventy-seven year old widow, Elizabeth Skeels, née Richardson, is the great grandmother and matriarch of the family. She appears here in 1861 as living just feet away from her daughter’s (Elizabeth Levitt, née Skeels) family, and is surrounded by the families of her daughter’s oldest children (Emma Newman, née Levitt and Harriet Fordham, née Levitt) whilst the younger children are still at home.

At first glance, I would have spotted Skeels, or if i had been in Newman or Levitt ‘research mode’ I’d have seen them and not necessarily spotted or realised the importance of the families around them.

So, keeping an eye on what’s happening nextdoor on the census returns can help you in your research.

Four families in a row is probably my best when it comes to related neighbours – can you beat that? Or have your ancestors had a famous/infamous neighbour? Let me know in the comments below.

SOLVED: Elizabeth Levitt Where Are You?

Genealogy solved! John, Elizabeth and Richard Levitt have been found – hiding as a ‘Harding’ in the 1871 Swaffham Bulbeck census from Cambridgeshire.

Last night, after posting about how I was struggling to find some Levitt relatives on the 1871 census, I stumbled across them.

I’d spent quite some time trawling through records on sites like, and FindMyPast. I even manually went through each folio scan one-by-one, courtesy of my copy of the 1871 census for Cambridgeshire from S&N Genealogy. There was no sign of them at all in Swaffham Bulbeck.

Assuming that all three had perhaps eluded the census enumerator (as a few people did), despite being in the same place before and after this census, I gave up and put them aside for another rainy day.

One last little search on just before retiring for bed saw me searching very vaguely for any John and Elizabeth in Cambridgeshire 1871 with a John being born in 1838 or 1839.

A list of search results appeared and nothing remotely Levitt, Livett, Levet, Levit etc stood out. So I thought that I would just work my way through a few and started clicking to view the census returns regardless of the surname it had turned up – after-all I had exhausted all other search ideas.

The faux-Hardings on the 1871 census
The Levitt family were 'hiding' as Hardings.

John and Elizabeth Harding were just one of these, and after clicking through and staring at the census return for a few seconds, I noticed that Elizabeth Skeel was living immediately next-door aged 90.

This was significant as Elizabeth Skeel was an ancestor – that was certain. She was the mother of the Elizabeth Levitt that I was looking for.

I then noticed that one of the Hardings was a 27yr old unmarried Richard S Harding. Again, Richard Skeel Levitt never married and would have been 27yrs old.

I’d found them!

So who were the Hardings? Well, amongst John and Elizabeth Levitt’s children was an Ann Maria Levitt born about 1841. She went on to marry a George Hunt Harding. This fact help me unravel what I was staring at.

John ‘Harding’ was noted as the ‘Head’ of the household, with Elizabeth ‘Harding’ noted as his wife. Then, the unmarried Richard S ‘Harding’ was listed as the son. Following him was the married Ann Harding noted as the daughter, and lastly two children noted as ‘grandson/granddaughter’.

This doesn’t exactly make sense. At first glance, you might have thought that Richard and Ann were married with two children and were living with his parents. If Ann was Richard’s wife, then she would have usually been noted as something like ‘son’s wife’ or ‘daughter-in-law’. Noticing Richard’s marital status was the final piece of the jigsaw.

One question here is though, and maybe it was one that confused the enumerator, was that whilst Ann Harding is noted as married, there’s no sign of her husband George. I’ve started looking for him, but as yet, he’s missing… so the search starts again!


WANTED: Dead Or Alive

Killing off your relatives is a crucial part of your work…. as a genealogist, not as a marauding tyrant.

I’m hoping that aside from in genealogy, that there’s nowhere else where the mark of a successful day is one where you’ve killed off a load of your relatives.

Anyone tracing their family tree is sure to stumbled across at least one elusive relative at some point in their research. That relative will cause them to spend many hours following potential leads and plenty of head scratching and brow creasing before either solving or putting it off until a rainier day.

This is a routine I know well.

Help! My Grandmother was a zombie

William Yarrow and his wife Elizabeth
Elizabeth Yarrow (née Wright) seems to have died and been buried more than once.

I’ve recently struggled to kill off a maternal 4x Great Grandmother called Elizabeth Yarrow (née Wright), who appears to have died twice (about 2yrs apart) and been buried – in neighbouring parishes (!). Her death(s) fall right at the start of Death Certification in England and Wales. One of them is even noted as being in London and that her body was carried back on the train.

However, there’s seemingly no death certificate for her (the only one that matched in name turned out to be a baby), and parish records and the gravestone all contradict eachother.

The hidden Grandparents and Uncle

I’m currently struggling to find a my paternal Gtx4 Grandparents John Levitt with Elizabeth (née Skeel), and one of their sons Richard Skeel Levitt, during the 1871 census. I can find the rest of their children, but for some reason in 1871 they vanish.

I have them living in the same parish in all the censuses before and after this particular one. So, did they elude the enumerator? Were they away somewhere? – and if so, why don’t they appear somewhere else?

The surname has many variants but having done some pretty vague searches and very specific ones too, they remain elusive. Richard never married and seems to stick with his parents until their death, after which he goes to live with his other unmarried brother. It’s odd that all three seem to be missing.

The Serial Bride

Mary Watlington (formerly Martin, formerly Crisp, née Tingey)
Mary Watlington (formerly Martin, formerly Crisp, née Tingey)

Okay, to be fair, three marriages is probably nothing compared to some, but Mary Tingey surprised me. Born in 1820, she married to John Crisp in 1846. He died soon after their son was born. Within 4 years she had remarried to widower James Martin (my Gtx3 Grandfather) in 1850 and the following year they started their own family. After 5 children – with seemingly just one surviving (my ancestor) tuberculosis and scarlet fever, and then the tragic train accident that claimed her husband, Mary lived alone as a widow.  I’d hunted for her death for some time, but the searches were unsuccessful.

I hadn’t considered that instead of being buried somewhere out of step with the rest of her family or that she had been recorded for some reason under an earlier name, that she had remarried. One evening I stumbled across the marriage in 1877 with 57yr old widow Mary Martin, formerly Crisp (née Tingey) becoming the second Mrs Matthew Watlington. To add to the confusion, the new surname occasionally appears as Watling.

Check, check, check and then cross-check…. again…

These are just three of several situations where I’ve struggled to solve a puzzle. Whilst I know that checking and cross-checking is absolutely crucial to accurately recording your genealogy, it can be all too easy to accept even documentation and gravestones of the time as being accurate.

I’d like to say that I’ve learnt my lesson the hard way… but I say that every time it happens.

Surname Saturday: NEWMAN

The Newman family of Cambridgeshire are this week’s Geneabloggers topic for ‘Surname Saturday’ – a story of illegitimacy, windmills and dinosaur poop.

A killer windmill, illegitimacy and dinosaur poop all play a part in shaping my paternal Newman family of Cambridgeshire.

Alfred and Harriet Newman
Alfred and Harriet Newman

My earliest known ancestor (so far) was John Newman, the husband of Hannah (née Squire). They lived in and were married in Fenstanton, Huntingdonshire (as it was then in 1750). There’s no record of any earlier Newmans before this date and after parenting my ancestor Philip in 1760, there doesn’t seem to be another mention of them again.

When Philip reached 19yrs old he marries Lydia Ingle in Haddenham, Cambridgeshire in 1779 and they begin a family together. However, after their sons Thomas and Philip are born, baby Philip and Lydia die – both being buried on the same day in Somersham. This appears to leave Philip (senior) with his young son Thomas.

In September 1785, Philip re-marries, to Elizabeth Whitehead of Haddenham. The couple soon grow their family – having six children, although sadly their first (William) and fourth and fifth (Robert and James) children do not survive infancy. This leaves two daughters (Ann and Rebecca) and William.

The Windmill

In 1809 tragedy struck as Philip, working as a Miller at the mill of William and Robert Pate of Haddenham on 20th July 1809 “was caught in the works of his mill, and unfortunately killed” – as reported by the Cambridge Chronicle, dated 22nd July 1809. Philip was promptly buried the following day at Haddenham parish church where the register notes him as being both a miller and a baker. He was 49 years old.

The mill (known most recently as ‘Neville’s Mill’) no longer stands, although the windmill (The Great Mill) opposite the site is still standing and is being lovingly restored – well worth a visit to see what working in a mill may have been like.

Elias Dann

Having lost her father to the horrific sounding windmill accident at the age of about 5yrs, Rebecca Newman gave birth to a son Charles Newman in Somersham at only about 16 years of age. Whilst she was not married, parish records name an ‘Elias Dann’ as the father.

Rebecca does not go on to marry Elias, as it would seem that Elias may have already been living with his wife in nearby Wilburton. Being a fatherless teenage single mother must have been excruciatingly difficult for Rebecca in the 1820s. However, by 1826 she had married  John Seymore of Haddenham and bore him two daughters.

It appears that illegitimate Charles Newman was fully aware of who his father was, as he names him when he marries Emma Levitt at Swaffham Bulbeck, Cambridgeshire in 1847. The couple also name their youngest son ‘Elias Newman’. The couple remain in the village, with Charles becoming a blacksmith, and have six children.


Coprolites (fossilised animal dung) were found to be excellent sources of fertilizer in the 1840s. Digging them soon became big business in the fens during the mid 19th century, although it began to decrease by the 1880s. Massive manual labour forces were needed to trace and dig out the seams of dung (you can even buy them today on ebay!) and my Newman relatives briefly became part of the workforce.

The 1871 census lists Alfred Newman (the son of blacksmith Charles Newman and Emma Levitt), along with his brother Charles as a ‘Coprolite Digger’. By the time of the next census though, the industry has downsized and neither are digging for dung.

In 1877, Alfred Newman marries Harriet Cooper in Ely, Cambridgeshire. It is here where the Newman family has reached today – with many descendants of their large family still in the city and surrounding villages.

The Newman family faced terrible tragedies, but they have survived.