Surname Saturday: GILBERT

Surname Saturday: GILBERT – The Gilbert family of Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire are the focus of this week’s meme day.

This week’s Surname Saturday post is that of my paternal Gilbert family. My connection is through my paternal Great Grandmother, who was born in 1884, in Littleport, Cambridgeshire.

With the help of the research of distant relative Colin Tabeart, the tree has been found to stretch back through time as far as 1694 when the family turns up in Abbotsley, Huntingdonshire (now part of Cambridgeshire). It is here that they are noted in the parish records and taxation records.

It appears that the earliest Gilbert I’ve found (with, as yet, an unproven connection) was in Abbotsley, Huntingdonshire in 1605, when a John Gilbert takes his daughter Maria to be baptised in the parish church of St Margaret on 24th February.

Abbotsley Church
St Margaret’s church at Abbotsley, Cambridgeshire.

By the beginning of the 18th century, the Gilbert families in Abbotsley were booming with each seemingly having at least 9 children, and up to as many as 13 children over a 24 year period – as was the case of James and Anne Gilbert between 1752 and 1776.

In 1767 at Abbotsley, Elizabeth Gilbert (née Hale) – the widow of James Gilbert – is noted as paying a Land Tax of £1, 19 shillings to a Mr Robert Edsope.

In 1828, the son of my Gilbert line – William – leaves Abbotsley and heads about 40 miles North East to Littleport in Cambridgeshire, where he married Elizabeth Brightly. The couple settle down in Burnt Chimney Drove – an area of rich agricultural fenland just to the North West of Littleport, where William becomes a farmer. The couple bear 12 children, although sadly a few of these don’t survive their early years.

Whilst William’s relocation may well have been because of his love for Elizabeth, his parents – Edward and Susan Gilbert have fallen on hard times –  by 1851 they are both noted as ‘paupers’ and are living with their daughter Mary and her husband Thomas Cade. Susan has become blind, but goes on to live another 8 years. Edward only lived until 1852.

Elizabeth Howlett and James Gilbert
Elizabeth Howlett and James Gilbert

Despite this hardship, William and Elizabeth were making progress for themselves and managing to live outside of poverty thanks to farming. Their 9th child (also Edward and Susan’s grandson), James, was my Great Great Grandfather, and he survived his two older brothers. In doing so, and in an act not unusual or unlike primogeniture, he inherited his father’s farm in 1879, which by 1871 had grown to 40 acres and employed one family.

By this time, James had got married to Elizabeth Howlett – and they had already bore two of their eventual family of nine children.

The family still lives and farms in the area today.

The Big Family History Fair 2012

The BIG Family History Fair 2012 – the Huntingdonshire Family History Society event took place this weekend.

This weekend I went along to the BIG Family History Fair 2012 at St. Ives, Cambridgeshire (alright, Huntingdonshire).

The BIG Family History Fair banner
The demand for that ample free parking was a little underestimated.

The event, which was organised by the Huntingdonshire Family History Society took place at The Burgess Hall and soon packed out their car-park. Fortunately for me, my gym is right next door, so I arrived early for a workout before heading nextdoor for some serious browsing amongst the crowds.

For those of you not in ‘the know’, Huntingdonshire stood as an administrative county until 1974, when it was absorbed by its neighbour and became a district of Cambridgeshire. The up-shot of this is that researching the records means you need to remember that pre-1974 the county is Huntingdonshire, and its records are held in Huntingdon.

The event took place across two floors – two halls brimming with stands from those now familiar companies and societies like S&N Genealogy, the Cambridgeshire Family History Society,  the Fenland Family History Society, and My History. Upstairs were a series of talks organised by the hosts.

As you entered the venue, the team from Family History Magazine were by the door, and everyone was handed a Huntingdonshire Family History Society bag containing a free issue of the magazine (plus some leaflets, a Hunts FHS notebook and pencil – nice!)

Shoppers at family history stalls
Just a few of the stalls – a mixture of societies and commercial companies.

I went along to Maureen Nicholls‘ free ‘Illustrating Your Family History’ talk – a captivating and fun 40 minute talk on ways to bring interest to those data heavy trees, charts and documents that the genealogist spends their time producing. Some great ideas came to light – including the reminder that when you’re lost for a photo of YOUR ancestor doing something – show a representative image of the types of schools, costumes, work that ancestors lived through – instead of admitting defeat because you don’t have a photograph of THEM in that scenario.

Maureen’s delivery was as engaging as her ideas, and she offered an occasional glimpse of her own research – an aunt who died on-board the doomed SS Princess Alice, her family tree cross-stitch that went to the House Of Lords, and her penchant for jellied eels (yuck!).

Potton parish church, Bedfordshire
I bought the Potton parish church registers on CD-rom.

I’d already decided what my purchase of the day was going to be, and so having achieved the largest ‘tweet-up’ that Huntingdonshire has probably ever known by meeting up with fellow twitterer Jane ‘@RamblingGenes‘ Freeman – who proudly showed me her new Flip-Pal Scanner (see, told you I wouldn’t tell anyone you bought one), I moved over to my target – the Bedfordshire Family History Society stand which was busy but very helpful and where I managed to purchase the Potton parish registers on CD-rom.

I was really pleased to see the range of companies and societies represented here – it was always going to feel different from a Who Do You Think You Are? Live, but it seemed to be well organised and attended.

The goodie bag!
The goodie bag!

I did feel the venue was a bit hot and stuffy, and the bar-staff seemed a little surprised that people wanted drinks and food at the drink and food bar – definitely not the organisers fault here though.

The added bonus for me was that it was very local, and of course FREE to attend!

I look forward to next year’s show – hopefully it will one day be on for a whole weekend, or on for longer than 10am-4pm with lots more useful genealogy talks.

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.

Surname Saturday: FRANKS

Surname Saturday – the Franks family from Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire.

Sarah Jane Giddings (née Franks)
Sarah Jane Giddings (née Franks)

 The surname of Franks is part of my paternal family and my last direct ancestor to bear the name was Sarah Jane Franks, who was born in 1803.

Sarah Jane married my Great x 4 Grandfather Daniel Watson Giddings during 1825 at a church in March, Cambridgeshire. The couple settled down to produce eight children, which included a short-lived set of twins born in 1841.

Sarah’s sister, Mary Ann Franks (born in 1800) married Daniel’s brother James, but she died in 1824. James remarried, but then died in 1840.

A lost church

Sarah’s origins are a little ambiguous – looking back to the 1871 Census for March, Cambridgeshire, she states that she was born in that parish. However, go back 10 years to 1861, and Sarah states that she was born in “Coppenforth, Norfolk”, which does not appear to exist.

However, just a few miles from March is a parish called Coppingford – so this is likely to have been (or where she thought) her place of birth.

Coppingford’s parish church was destroyed prior to 1707, after which the villagers used the nearby church at Upton. It is likely that church records from Coppingford prior to this date were also destroyed.

By the time of Sarah’s birth, the population of Coppingford was just 53 persons. By 1931, this had dwindled to 29 persons.

Without church records or gravestone clues, the real identity of the origins of this surname are clouded, unless records for Upton can open a window on Sarah’s family.