Surname Saturday: Poll

This week’s Surname Saturday theme looks at the POLL family of Norfolk, their silk weaving roots, and fascination with Hebrew names.

This week’s Surname Saturday theme posting takes a look at the Poll family – one of the few Norfolk families in my tree.

My most recent ancestor to bear the surname of Poll was Elizabeth Poll, my Great Great Great Great Grandmother, who was born on 12th April 1796 in the market town of Wymondham, less than 10 miles from Norwich, in Norfolk.

Elizabeth was the oldest of the ten children of silk weaver Ishmael Poll and his wife Mary Fiddamont. Ishmael and Mary had married just 13 days prior to Elizabeth’s birth.

The couple went on to have 9 other children – including an unbroken line of 6 daughters before having their first son – then two more daughters – and ending on their youngest child in 1816, also a son.

Elizabeth married my great x4 Grandfather John Howlett in Wymondham, Norfolk on 17th May 1824, and my ancestry then passes through them and their son Thomas’s brief life.

Silk Weaving in 19th Century Norfolk

On the 1841 census, Elizabeth’s father Ishmael, is noted as a silk weaver despite his advanced years (he was 70yrs old). He dies in April 1847, predeceasing his wife Mary, who then appears on the following 1851 census living alone as a pauper.

Ishmael is most likely to have apprenticed for many years in the skills of producing beautiful quality silk weaving, and he would have most likely have worked from home, using huge weaving machinery.

It’s understandable to see why Mary was living in poverty after Ishmael’s death, as his trade was so highly skilled, that it is unlikely that she could have simply continued it on after his death without having had training.

By Hogarth (The Industrious and the Lazy Apprentice) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
A 1747 illustration of weaving from a series by Hogarth (The Industrious and the Lazy Apprentice) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Hebrew names

The Poll family is not only unusual in my research because it comes from Norfolk, but it also provides me with some of my most usual names (in comparison to the rest of my family tree) in the 18th Century – Ishmael (male) and Keranhappuck (a female name) – both featuring in the Hebrew bible.

What inspired the use of these names, when the rest of the Poll children were fairly common names?

Earliest Ancestors

The earliest ancestors in my Poll tree are my Great x 7 grandparents – Simon Poll and his wife Ann. They would have been born around 1720, seeing that their son (my next ancestor – Great x6) was James Poll, born in 1741. James married a Mary Syers and they were the parents of Ishmael.

Could the dead help you grow your family tree?

Hallowe’en Special: Could the dead help you grow your family tree by contacting you from beyond the grave?

So, as nights draw in on Hallowe’en, people will be telling ghost stories by candlelight in a bid to frighten others, but perhaps the spirit world may have much more to offer to family historians?

A group of people performing a séance.

Ghostly figures of Anne Boleyn and Mary, Queen of Scots are almost common sights through-out the country, appearing in all manner of stately homes and castles. These women must be busier in death than they were in life.

However, amongst all these claims of other-worldly connections with those from beyond the grave, it makes me wonder – has anyone ever managed to further their family tree by participating in a séance or by enlisting the help of a Medium?

Perhaps that sounds like a stupid question? But when there’s so many claims that spirits communicate with the living in various ways, why shouldn’t some of these encounters involve a topic of conversation?


Pat Peacock
Pat Peacock - Spiritualist Medium and Genealogist

As a Spiritualist Medium for more than 30 years, and a Genealogist for over 20 years, Pat Peacock from West Sussex has found that the two areas have often complimented each other.

“Sometimes I think I should call myself a ‘Reunionist’ as I am able to connect people with their loved ones in the Spirit World and reunite them with family members on the Earth.” – Pat Peacock

Pat who is President at Chichester Christian Spiritualist Church, explains that she has been contacted by many people who are trying to research their family tree or to find a family member who has disappeared;

“…[They] tell me that they have consulted a Medium or Psychic who has given them some information. They usually say that I may find them strange asking me to check information obtained in this way and I respond by saying I am a Medium myself.”

Pat, as an experienced genealogist knows that consulting vital records is crucial, but does go on to say that “The information they have been given is mostly accurate and has resulted in further information being found through genealogy research.”

Perhaps this suggests that a medium or séance could be on par with oral interviews – scattered with truths and opinions, but useful for leading the researcher towards vital clues?

A Familiar Visitor

Sally Holmes, a Spiritual Sensitive from Cambridgeshire, recalls an encounter that briefly re-connected some of her family members:

“Many years ago one of my cousins ran to her mum telling her to get ‘the man with the dark eyes and the hat’ away from her. She never knew my mum’s grandad, but it was him that she was describing. He was blind and wore dark glasses, and he used to sit in the very same chair. We can only conclude that he was there watching over her.. just as he would have done if he was alive.” – Sally Holmes

This encounter was shocking at first for the youngster, but the feeling that a late relative was present in their lives became somewhat comforting in hindsight.

Was it really who they thought it was, or did luck simply turn up a description that stirred up a match for an identity and associated memories of a long-gone relative?

Walking through brick walls.

Raynham Hall ghost
The 'brown lady' of Raynham Hall, Norfolk.

If there really are visitations from the spirit world, why do they rarely help to solve our family puzzles? Couldn’t they just give a hint where someone was born or where that great aunt moved to?

Maybe as Pat suggests, they do sometimes provide some pieces of information that can be corroborated with historical documents, leading a genealogist into new lines of research.

So, when you next hit that genealogical ‘brick wall’ and can’t find that elusive relative, just take a look over your shoulder.

Perhaps there is someone who could help you after all?

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