In Pictures: Father’s Day

Celebrating Father’s Day 2013 this weekend – check out my photo gallery of 14 of my ancestral fathers.

It’s Father’s Day here in the UK this Sunday, so in the same way that I marked Mother’s Day with a photo gallery, I thought that I would do the same for my paternal and maternal fathers.

Interestingly, there are fewer photographs of my male ancestors. This will of course be down to one or two instances where illegitimacy leaves them absent, but maybe the luxury of late-19th and early-20th century meant photography was only afforded for their wives?

Paternal Fathers

Maternal Fathers

Happy Father’s Day!

Surname Saturday: FREEMAN

Surname Saturday takes a look at the FREEMAN surname in Cambridgeshire.

An old name that stretches as far back as the Middle Ages.

Dating from at least the Middle Ages, it is widely believed that it was historically given to a person who was not a ‘serf’ (a slave) and were therefore quite literally ‘a free man’.


In 1881, there were 19,124 people with the surname in Great Britain, ranking the surname as the 197th most common surname. Current estimates suggest that it hasn’t changed very much at all, with 24,892 (an increase of just over 5,000), placing it as the 208th most common surname. Over in the USA, there’s an estimated 162,686 people with the surname.

1891 statistics from show that the distribution of the surname gave a few concentration areas in England.

Freeman in Cambridgeshire

The most recent Freeman ancestor in my tree was Mary Ann Freeman, born in Prickwillow – a village close to Ely, in Cambridgeshire in 1837. She was the oldest of ten children of John Freeman and his wife Mary Grey.

Mary Ann married Edward Moden, an agricultural worker of Coveney. Together they had six children, the last of which (my ancestor) was born four months after Edward’s death in 1867. Mary Ann, with a large but young family, remained widowed until 1871 when she re-married to David Seymour in Coveney. A few months later, the family had moved to Green’s Farm in Ely, and they welcomed their first child together, followed in 1874 by their last child.

Mary Ann’s parents, John and Mary, were from Prickwillow and Ely respectively. John was one of 11 children of John Freeman and his wife Phoebe of Coveney. John (snr) was in turn, one of seven children of William Freeman and his wife Sarah, again of Coveney. Prior to this generation, the family remain a little tricky to locate, with only a few speculative possibilities – but all in Cambridgeshire.

Freeman as a middle name

There are two occasions in my tree, one of which is an ancestor, where the surname has been used as a middle name. Whilst middle names were often the maiden name of the child’s maternal side, which fits for John Freeman Moden, whose mother was the Mary Ann Freeman detailed above. The same cannot be said for John Freeman Dewey.

John Freeman Dewey (b.1856) was illegitimate. Therefore, the use of the name could be a nod to his paternity, like in the case of Sabina Steadman Taylor. Alternatively, the choice of ‘Freeman’ could easily just hark back to the origins of the name – ‘a free man’ (of no master – or father). The identity of John’s father remains, and probably always will, a mystery.

The Baby and The Hornet

After giving birth to an illegitimate son, Sarah Dewey left for Australia aboard The Hornet.

A family rumour finally unravels into a story of difficult choices.

Years ago I recall being told about a story in my maternal Dewey family from Witchford, Cambridgeshire, that, although rather scant on details, was essentially a story of emigration and how its impact ‘broke up’ the family that were left behind.

Having researched the Dewey family group in which it was believed to have occurred, I had found nothing. No sign of anyone leaving for foreign shores, other than those in the First World War.

I gave up looking. Perhaps it was just an idle rumour with an element of ‘Chinese whispers’.

However, it was a message from fellow researcher and distant relative Craig Watson who gave me the piece of information that I needed – his ancestor had emigrated, and he had found one of my ancestors in the passenger lists.

The Baby

In 1856, 18 year old Sarah Dewey gave birth to a son. She was not married. Just days after he turned six months old, she left for Australia without him.

I can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like for Sarah, my Great Great Great Grandmother to decide to hand her son (my Great Great Grandfather) over to her ageing parents and leave everything behind to start a new life in Australia in the mid nineteenth century.

An illegitimate child brought with it a significant stigma. Not just for the mother, but also for the child, who would find it hard to escape from the negativity from the disapproving society around them. Illegitimate children were often brought up by their grandparents – making them appear to be a sibling to their own mother, or the mother would soon marry in a bid to avoid the ‘shame’ of being an unmarried mother.

As for the baby, John Freeman Dewey – my Great Great Grandfather, he married Elizabeth Boulter, a seamstress of the neighbouring village of Wentworth, and also a single mother. Together they went on to have nine children.

The Hornet

Hornet, an American clipper ship of the 1850s
Hornet, an American clipper ship of the 1850s

Perhaps Sarah knew that her son John Freeman Dewey would stand a better chance in England with his grandparents, rather than with her on a lengthy voyage at sea to an uncertain future in a ‘new’ country?

Was Sarah running away? Had she faced problems in England and thought that a new life was the best thing? Had she fallen out with her parents? Unless letters miraculously appear, I guess I’ll never know.

On 24th May 1857, Sarah boarded “The Hornet” – a clipper which was well known for its speed. Sarah is noted as ‘government assisted’. She arrived in Hobson’s Bay on Wednesday 2nd September, according to the ‘Shipping Intelligence’ column in The Argus newspaper.

I’ve found no record of her activities whilst in Australia – so far there’s no clue as to what she did, who she met, or whether she wrote home to her parents and son.

Her younger sister, Rebecca Dewey, followed Sarah out on an 87 day voyage aboard the ‘Commodore Perry’ to Australia in 1859, but unlike Sarah, Rebecca stayed in Australia. She married a Cornwall-born Joseph Kendall and settled with him in Geelong with a family of eight children. It is from her, that researcher and distant relative Craig Watson descends.

Coming Home

Something made Sarah return to her family in Witchford in 1861, just missing the census, aboard the “Donald McKay” clipper. Perhaps it was her mother’s ailing health that made her return?

Her mother, Mary (née Tabraham) died in 1866 although I do not currently know her cause of death. Her father re-married to widow Isabel Watson in 1878, and Sarah herself finally settles down to marry at 42 years old, to widower John Gooby in 1879.

Sarah died in 1896, just weeks before the birth of my Great Grandfather.

Further Reading: