George was the youngest brother of my Great Grandmother Susan, whilst Lily was also related – being a distant cousin to Susan’s husband (and my Great Grandfather) Ernest Dewey.
This wedding also provides me with the largest photograph in my collection – an entire family group – featuring everyone from parents to bridesmaids, to best man and the vicar.
The great thing about these wedding photos, is that it’s perfect for finding photos of relatives that you might not otherwise ever discover. A photograph of a great aunt for example, might never materialise because her own family have kept those.. but with these kind of group wedding pictures, you get a wide net with which to catch a family (and most smile).
In this example above, i’m fairly confident that nearly all of the people in this photograph are relatives of mine – from both the bride and groom’s sides.
The couple enjoyed 54 years of marriage until Lily died in 1983. George survived her by 15 years – dying in 1998 – not long after I began my research. I never met him, but his recollections were crucial to my early Moden research.
The pop-up family of Boulter are the subject of this week’s Surname Saturday theme. Can you shed any light on this name in Cambridgeshire, England?
An unusual family name that stays in one village – simply popping up in records and then vanishing again.
My Boulter line came to an end when my maternal Great Great Grandmother Elizabeth Boulter married John Freeman Dewey in 1878 at the tiny village of Wentworth in Cambridgeshire.
Elizabeth’s parents were Robert Boulter and Mary Ann Moden who also married at Wentworth. After marrying in 1852, the couple went on to have 10 children with Elizabeth being the oldest. Out of the ten children, seven of them were daughters (one of whom did not survive infancy).
The earliest Boulter ancestors i’ve found so far is William Boulter and his wife Ann Covell – Robert’s parents. They married in 1815 (again, in Wentworth), and had at least four children – 3 sons and a daughter. I don’t yet know where William came from before his marriage to Ann – although she was from the neighbouring village of Witchford, so perhaps William was living in Wentworth in 1815.
The mysteriousness of the family continues, with only one part of the Boulter family (not ancestral) that I have photographs of in my collection (see above) – given to me by a fellow researcher (and distant relative). The photo shows John Boulter(right), the illegitimate first son of my Gt Gt Grandmother Elizabeth Boulter, who was born five years before she married my Gt Gt Grandfather John Freeman Dewey. John Boulter occasionally takes the surname of Dewey in census returns, but this may have been more an attempt to hide the stigma attached to illegitimacy than it might have been to suggest that John was actually his father. In fact, when John got married in 1896, he names his father as ‘John Boulter – deceased’ – did he ever know the truth, or was he using his step-father’s first name?
John Boulter moved to London when he was just 17 where he married Alice Watts and started a family of 11 children (the photo shows him with his third son Edward). Eventually, he joined the Corporation of London as a groom and often rode First Postilion on the Lord Mayor of London’s coach during the annual show.
Distribution of the surname
With Robert and Mary’s family consisting of a larger number of female children than male, it may go some way to explaining how/why the surname has struggled to survive in the area – with the name becoming redundant upon marriage.
Ancestry.com have plotted the 1891 census data for the surname, allowing me to see the distribution of 1,661 Boulter families (note – not individuals). According to this data, Cambridgeshire had just 21 families with the surname. Norfolk is the 4th highest concentration of Boulter families with 102 – with it being a neighbouring county, this data might suggest that the family went there or even came from there. Unsurprisingly London led the way with 310 and Leicestershire came second with 240 families. Wiltshire was third with 121.
Origin of the surname
John Ayto offers a couple of different origins for the surname, probably due to it’s common misspellings. In his book ‘Encyclopedia of Surnames‘
he suggests that the origin is either from a ‘maker of bolts’ (as in for arrows or crossbow); a name given to someone short and stocky; or to the name of someone who sifts flour (from the Middle English term ‘bolten’ – to sift flour).
Where next for research?
I hope one day to find a photograph of my Gt Gt Grandmother Elizabeth Dewey (née Boulter), particularly as I have a photo of her husband, and I know where her grave is. She is my closest ancestor of whom I don’t have a photograph.
As for finding the surname’s next generation back – I’ll be resuming the search in neighbouring parishes for clues (Witcham and Sutton are top of my list) on William’s parents, and I’ll be checking Wills to see if there are any clues left there.
If you have stumbled across this unusual name in your research, please do drop me a line!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Dewey surname is my closest linking ancestral name after my own surname.
There are many Dewey name bearers in the world – including a decimal system for libraries and a cartoon duck.
My own branch have lived in the county of Cambridgeshire, England since at least the 1700s, inhabiting the villages of Wentworth, Wilburton, Witchford and Witcham.
The earliest ancestor that I have confirmed so far was Thomas Dewey, who in 1768 married Elizabeth Covell at Witchford’s church of St. Andrew (this is where my own name comes from!). The couple had at least 3 daughters and a son George, and it is this son who travelled to Witcham where he married Mary Long in 1790. Sadly by 1807, Mary had died. This led to George heading to Wentworth to re-marry to a Mary Payton and continuing his family. In all, he fathered at least 11 children – 6 with his first wife.
George’s first child, William born in Witchford, is my ancestor and he married Ellen Markerham of Waterbeach. The couple set up home in Witchford where they had 6 children – 5 of them sons. The Dewey family grew and soon those children were having children and grandchildren themselves – continuing to grow the family throughout the county.
The surname has many variants: Dewey, Douay, Duey, Doway, Dowee, Doweay, Dewe, Dowey and Dewy, although as literacy rates improve, the surname generally ends up as Dewey or sometimes Dewy.
It is believed to be of Welsh origin, from the River Dewi area, although none of my ancestors have revealed their Welsh connections yet.