Happy 120th Birthday Ethel

Today (January 28th) is the 120th anniversary of Ethel May Martin’s birth – my great great aunt, to whom I am indebted with memories that helped power my early research into my family tree.

Today would have been the 120th birthday of my Great Great Aunt Ethel May Martin.

Ethel May Martin with bike circa 1908
Ethel May Everitt (née Martin) with bike circa 1908.

I sadly never met her, but her memories were able to feed in to my early family history research, via phone calls to my father’s uncle and my 1st Cousin twice removed, and verbally to my own uncle. She also had a huge box of family photos, stretching back to her own childhood, and a few of those family members from earlier generations.

She died on 4th June 1999 at the age of 104.

Ethel May Martin was born on 28th January 1895, in the fenland to the North West of the village of Little Downham, Cambridgeshire, England. She was the penultimate and eleventh child of railway platelayer, James Martin, and his wife Sarah Elizabeth Giddings.

When she reached 101, she was featured in local newspaper, The Ely Standard. In their piece, she explained that she was born during a severe snow blizzard.

“When I was born, my father had to walk through the snow storm to fetch the doctor”.

“My father came back and had to sit by the fire to thaw the icicles which had formed on his whiskers. The doctor then arrived on horseback.”

The article also sees Ethel recall that ‘one of her earliest memories is playing in a garden with a skipping rope with her brothers around her’.

In her working life, Ethel appears as a Domestic Servant in 1911, living at home on census night. She went on to work in domestic service in Littleport, Ely, and London, often alongside her older sister Rose, before returning to care for her elderly mother. Her first annual wage was £6.

She also spent some time working as a fruit picker, before marrying Ebenezer Everitt on Christmas Eve 1931.

The couple had one daughter.

Without Ethel’s memories, writings, and photograph collection, my family tree research may never have grown green shoots.

Happy 101st Birthday, Percy

Today would have been my paternal grandfather’s 101st Birthday. Here’s a little ‘happy birthday’ nod to him, and some photos from his life.

Today would have been my paternal grandfather’s 101st birthday.

Percy Martin was born on the 1st October 1913, as the third of four sons of Daisy (née Burnell) and Herbert Martin of Little Downham, Cambridgeshire.

In 1917, during the First World War, when he was only a little over 4yrs old, his father was killed in a train accident in Boulogne, France.

Paternal Grandfather, Percy Martin (1914-1991)
Percy Martin (1913-1991), outside St Owen’s School, Third Drove, Little Downham.

Percy appears to have gone to St Owen’s School on Third Drove of Little Downham Fen, alongside his Martin brothers and cousins.

The Martin family in about 1916.
L-R: Sydney James, Daisy (née Burnell), baby Cyril, Percy, Herbert, and Herbert George Martin – circa 1916. Within months, Herbert would be killed in a train accident in Boulogne, France.

The photograph above shows the four sons and their parents – within less than a year, his father was dead.

His widowed mother, now with four sons all under the age of 8yrs, eventually re-married in 1919, and had three further children – half-siblings to Percy.

Edna and Percy, with Percy's half-sister Edith Shelton, visiting the seaside, circa 1935.
Edna and Percy, with Percy’s half-sister Edith Shelton, visiting the seaside, circa 1935.

Percy married my Grandmother Edna in 1937, and together they had four children, although they later divorced. Percy re-married to Irene.

He worked mostly for the Great Ouse River Authority in Cambridgeshire.

I was fortunate to know my grandfather for about 13 years (both grandfathers as it happens), and whilst it saddens me that I never really got to know him, and not at all as an adult, I’m pleased that we were able to spend a little time together.

Percy died on 9th September 1991 in Ely.

Happy 101st Birthday Grandad.

Tombstone Tuesday – The Harrison family grave

Today’s TOMBSTONE TUESDAY post returns to Little Downham and finds a delightful example of 19th century headstone for the Harrison family.

It was wonderfully sunny on Sunday, so I went for a short drive to Little Downham – a village synonymous with my paternal ancestry – to re-tread my steps from years ago, and photograph the gravestones that match my ancestral surnames.

I always find it interesting to see how the headstones have changed in the preceding years too, some look much the same, other’s have become more lichen and mossed over.

William, Mary and Sarah Harrison headstone
The 19th century headstone commemorating William and Mary Harrison, and their daughter Sarah stands in Little Downham parish churchyard, and is almost 200 years old.

This stone, which I don’t remember seeing before (perhaps I was yet to uncover my Harrison roots), stands on the West side of St Leonard’s church, against the perimeter wall. Whether this is it’s original place of standing, or whether it’s been moved, is a mystery, but having noticed that a lot of stones are around the edges, then I’d suspect this to be the case.

It’s a delight in colour, typography, and of course design. I just wish that the long piece of prose at the bottom of the stone had survived. The legible part reads:

IN MEMORY OF William Harrison who died Nov 8th 1819 Aged 73 years.

Also of Mary his wife who died Nov 3rd 1836 Aged 69 years.

Also of Sarah their daughter who died April 22nd 1828 Aged 24 years.

And, actually, as I write this blog article, a strange shape has caught my eye on the top left of the photo – is that a horseshoe resting on the top of the left corner of the stone, or a metal brace to keep this stone standing up? It was a fair few inches away from the wall… I’ll have to return and check!

As for the occupants of this gravestone, William Harrison was born circa 1746 to William Harrison and his wife Anne Leaford. He was baptised on 27th July 1746 at Little Downham. He married Mary (surname not discovered), and the couple had at least five children, with Sarah seemingly being the youngest born around 1802. She was baptised on 25th September 1803. She died aged 24 years, on 22nd April 1828, and was buried with her father (who had died in November 1819) 3 days later. Her mother joined them in November 1836.

At the moment, these Harrison family members seem to be eluding my own William Harrison branch, who seem to alternate between this family group in the Little Downham registers. It is pretty certain that these were ultimately the same family.

Research continues…. and i think i need to get my timeline/whiteboard out again to solve this puzzle.



Surname Saturday – the Harrison family

Surname Saturday: Today’s Surname Saturday post takes a look at the HARRISON family, who lived in Cambridgeshire during the 18th Century.

This week’s Surname Saturday themed post looks at the Harrison family who have lived in the Cambridgeshire village of Little Downham since at least the 18th century.

Finding Frances Harrison

The most recent brush with the Harrison family is through my Great x 4 Grandmother, Fanny Harrison – often also named ‘Frances’.  She first appears in the village of Little Downham in Cambridgeshire in 1802, and was the fifth of eight children to Richard and Esther.

Fanny married Robert Tingey on 17th December 1820 at the Little Downham parish church. She was illiterate and signed the marriage register with an ‘x’. Robert was about four years older than her. The couple settled down to grow a family of at least 12 children over 28 years. My Great Great Great Grandmother, Mary, was their oldest child, born in 1820.

All seems well documented for Fanny and Robert, but when it comes to the 1861 census – right in the middle of a documented run – they’re missing. Both appear in the same street that they were in in 1851, and remain there in 1871, but where did they go for 1861? Searches on Ancestry and FindMyPast have proven unsuccessful, and in my attempt to avoid the simple transcription errors, I’ve also view the entire scanned set of folios for that area.

The 1861 census for Ely was destroyed in floods, and unless the couple are hiding under a different surname for a census (which happened for another part of my family), then maybe they were visiting someone and are recorded as so on the now lost Ely census. The mystery continues.

The 1970s Harrison Red Herring

Fast forward for a bit to about 1974, and my sister’s baby record book. In this keepsake is a family tree. This was probably the first family tree I ever saw (although not the one that got me into family history), and noted on it, is a mystery Harrison relative as my paternal great grandmother.

A family tree in a baby's keepsake book
A mystery and erroneous Harrison relative appears too recent in this tree from my sister’s baby keepsake book from 1974.

This Harrison appearance was two generations too late, and the role here belongs to Daisy Burnell.

Whilst the appearance of an error here is a red herring, it does at least suggest that the knowledge of a Harrison connection was there, handed down the family.

The 18th Century Harrisons

Let’s head back in time again, to Fanny’s parents – who appear to have been Richard Harrison (b.c.1770) and Esther (b.c.1772, d.c.1826).

Fanny was the fifth of their eight children – all christened at Little Downham, Cambridgeshire:

  • Elizabeth (b.c.1791)
  • Mary (b.c.1793)
  • Hannah (b.c.1796)
  • Richard (b.c.1798)
  • Fanny (1802-1881)
  • Sarah (1804-?)
  • Esther (1806-?)
  • Rebecca (1808-?)

Richard’s parents (Fanny’s grandparents, and my 6x Great Grandparents), appear to have been William Harrison (bc.1746, d.c Nov 1819) and Margaret Granger (d.c. March 1798).

I’ve yet to locate their marriage, but they themselves became parents in about 1764, when the first of their eventual nine children (William) was born.

  • William (b.c.1764, d.c March 1810)
  • Granger (b.c.1766)
  • Elizabeth (b.c.1767)
  • Francis (b.c.1768)
  • Richard (b.c.1770 – and the Richard mentioned above)
  • Mary (b.c.1773, d. July 1774)
  • Mary (b.c.1775)
  • Ellin (b.c.1777)
  • Margaret (b.c.1779)

Granger Harrison

Of this group of children, you’ll notice that the second child (a son) has fortunately been given the maiden name of his mother as his first name. With it being unusual, it makes him fairly easy to spot in records, and even turns up in google search results.

Come 2nd February 1816, Granger Harrison, who now appears to be living in the nearby hamlet of Pymoor, but ‘is about to quit his farm’, is having a live and dead stock auction. Everything from standing crops, to land, to animals through to a ‘large heap of manure’ is listed for sale in this notice published in an edition of the Cambridge Chronicle.

A Sale Notice for Dead and Live Stock belonging to Granger Harrison in 1816.
A Sale Notice for Dead and Live Stock belonging to Granger Harrison in 1816. Click image for original.

It seems that Granger probably remained in Little Downham, where his grandchildren were baptised. One of which, was also named Granger Harrison (b.c.1841, d.1910) – and who is equally blessed with turning up in census returns and search results.

This Granger Harrison is my own 2nd Cousin, 5 times removed… so pretty darn distant.. but with my own connection to the Harrison family being a little distant, and entirely photo-less, I’ll cast the net wide.

Here, Granger junior appears on the online family tree of Pete Bradshaw and Wendy Often. The site seems like it hasn’t been updated for a while, but I’ve sent them an email in a bid to expand my Harrison tree further.

If you have Harrison, Tingey, or Granger ancestors, drop me a line!


Surname Saturday: TINGEY

Surname Saturday – TINGEY or TINGAY. A look at the Tingey surname in Cambridgeshire.

An unusual surname with seemingly disconnected family groups turns up in both my maternal and paternal families.

Mary Tingey (1821-187?)
Mary Tingey

The Tingey name turns up twice in my family tree. Once as ancestral in my paternal tree, and the other as a husband of a maternal great aunt.

My earliest record of a bona-fide Tingey ancestor is Ann Tingey, who appears at the parish church in Witcham, Cambridgeshire in 1769 where she went to baptise her illegitimate son Thomas.

By 1771 she had returned, to marry James Toll with whom she had at least two children.

Thomas remained in Witcham, where he married Mary Barber in 1794 and together they had three children – Robert, Elizabeth and Sarah. It appears that the family moved just a few miles away to Oxlode in 1841 – a tiny hamlet close to the village of Little Downham, Cambridgeshire – which is where they ended up by the time of the 1851 census.

Robert went on to marry Fanny Harrison and together they had a family of 12 children, with their oldest (Mary Tingey) being my ancestor, born in 1820.

Amongst family photographs is a photograph of Mary in later life. By the time that this photo was taken, she would have either have been Mary Martin, widow, or Mrs Mary Watling(ton). She was married a total of three times.

Another photograph is somewhat of a mystery – a carte de visite with the words ‘Aunt Tingey’ written on the back. It remains unclear as to whether this was an elderly maiden aunt, or a  wife of a Tingey uncle.

Aunt Tingey
The mystery ‘Aunt Tingey’

Other family groups

Whilst my own branch was busy living their lives and growing in the Little Downham area of Cambridgeshire, just four miles away in Ely appears to be another family group which I’ve never found a connection to.

Another group of Tingeys appear in Henlow, Bedfordshire. For many years I have been in correspondence with another researcher – but as yet there appears to be no link between the family groups. According to the researcher, there are many gravestones for Tingey name-bearers standing in the parish churchyard.

This unusual surname does have a few variants through the years – ranging from: Tingey, Tingay, Tingye, Tangye, Tyngy Tyngie.

Origins of the name

According to John Ayto’s ‘Encyclopedia of Surnames’, Tingey/Tingay are derivative of Tangye. He says that:

“Tangye from the Breton personal name Tanguy, a contracted form of Tanneguy, literally ‘fire-dog’.”

According to The House Of Names.com:

“First found in Cambridgeshire where the name first appeared in the early 13th century.”

The Mystery and The Monkey

James Martin (1851-1934), originally uploaded by familytreeuk.

The December issue of the BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ magazine features my photograph in their ‘Over To You’ section (page 36).

I’m pleased to see it in print – it’s such an interesting/amusing photograph – showing a real mixture of characters. There appears to be four railwaymen (like my Great Great Grandfather, James Martin who appears at the top of the photo with the monkey on his shoulders), but also some sailors too (their hats read ‘Albert’).

I think that the photo was taken in 1887. My reasons for this are that this was the year of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee (hence ‘Albert’ on the hats) and the jumpers of the ‘sailors’ appear to have “RTYC” (Royal Thames Yacht Club?) embroidered on them and they raced in 1887…..

“Ocean races officially organised by clubs were unknown until 1887. That was the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, and a race ‘the like of which had never been known in the annals of yacht racing’ was announced by the Royal Thames Yacht Club over a course of 1,520 nautical miles round the British Isles. Later meetings at the Albemarle Street Club House refferred to this event as the Jubilee Yacht Race.” – Royal Thames Yacht Club history

I also think that my Gt Gt Grandfather looks like he’s in his thirties.

I’m amused by the ‘dwarves/smurfs’ at the front of the photo and also of the very scary looking ‘black beard’ pirate character lurking towards the back.

Who were they? What was going on? When was this? Where was it taken?

Hopefully the magazine will throw up some answers in the show’s web forums.