The Mystery of Elizabeth Yarrow’s Gravestone

Elizabeth Yarrow’s death spans two years. Her age at death spans 8 years. Two churches registers, and a gravestone all give conflicting and some corresponding information. What’s the real answer?

I have a mystery to solve and hopefully the death certificate of an Elizabeth Yarrow, whose death is recorded in the June quarter of 1838 in St Pancras, will unravel it.

This gravestone stands in Stretham churchyard, Cambridgeshire, amongst many other Yarrow gravestones. There is something engraved near the foot of the stone but I can’t make it out now, and perhaps didn’t spot it at the time.

However, this stone appears to have some errors.

The Stretham burials transcript gives William Yarrow as being 71, and Elizabeth Yarrow (née Wright) as having been buried in 1837.

The Little Thetford burials transcript (Little Thetford being a hamlet of Stretham and it’s common for inhabitants to be buried at Stretham), gives a different story: “YARROW Elizabeth otp 50 wife of William farmer, died in London was carried home and buried at Stretham” (Nov 23 1837).

This gives two positive mentions of 1837, rather than the stone’s 1839. The Stretham transcript gives the right age for her, but not for him.

There’s no mention of William in the Little Thetford transcript.

Looking at FreeBMD, there’s only an Elizabeth Yarrow death (so far) available, and that’s the one registered in the June Quarter of 1838 at St. Pancras!

The GRO certificate is ordered… so lets see what it uncovers.

What do you think happened? Here’s a couple of my ideas…

  1. Maybe the stone was erected many years after William and Elizabeth deaths, and so family couldn’t quite remember?
  2. Elizabeth’s death was registered in the June 1838, because certification was new in late 1837 – perhaps they were resisting it (like some), or simply didn’t know that certificates had to be issued or how to go about it?

UPDATE June 2011:

The 1838 death turned out to be the death of an 11 month old child. No further along with solving this one.

UPDATE UPDATE: September 2017

I’ve got the appetite to revisit this case now, and now that the General Register Office offers a searchable index, I’ve spotted an ‘Elizabeth Yerroll’ who dies in The City of London Union, in the December quarter of 1837, aged 58.

Elizabeth Yerroll's death listed in the GRO index.
‘Elizabeth Yerroll’ died in London in the right year, at the right age. The dead can’t speak – so was she really ‘Elizabeth Yarrow’? Maybe I’ll find out…

That’s a tick for age, quarter, year, and location. If she was visiting London at the time and died, or was taken ill, would those with her have been able to convey a correct spelling of her surname in 1837, and would those writing it down have known any different or understood a fenland accent of the informant enough to realise it wasn’t ‘Yerroll’ but ‘Yarrow’?

It’s another £9.25, but I’m going to gamble and order this certificate. Fingers crossed!

Surname Saturday: YARROW

Surname Saturday: The Yarrow family.

An unusual surname lives on through large families and a drive for business.

My maternal great grandmother gives me my connection to this unusual surname of Yarrow. She, Maude Yarrow, was born just over 110 years ago, living to the ripe old age of 104 – an age that is not unlike those reached by her many siblings – some of whom are still alive today.

Yarrow siblings
Six of the 15 Yarrow children during the 1930s.

Occupations

During the Victorian era, my Yarrow relations were concentrated in the villages of Little Thetford and Stretham, just a few miles outside of Ely, Cambridgeshire. Here they seemed to have dealings in practically every business going – pubs, shops, farms, church, school, dairy, brewing, charities for the poor, musicians, railways, parish council and even the parish’s census returns.

The Yarrow family owned and ran both The Wheat Sheaf and The Three Horseshoes pubs over the years, often alternating ownership between them and the Dewsbury family. Neither pub is operating now.

The Yarrow name, despite being unusual, was relatively common in these fenland parts due to large families. Despite riots in Little Thetford during 1833, then inclosures in 1844 benefited the family when they gained large areas of land – with William Yarrow receiving the second largest chunk of land (45 acres) after Mary Hammond (60.5 acres), and another Yarrow member receiving a smaller chunk. This event would inevitably set them up as major land owners and employers, as well as influential people in the parish.

A Victorian boy-band?

William Yarrow in Liverpool Cathedral
William Yarrow (far right) at Liverpool Cathedral.

During the late 1800s my Gt Gt Gt Grandfather, James Yarrow, is well recorded as having performed and travelled with his “fine alto voice” accompanied by his equally able brothers, Owen, William and Albert. Newspaper reports praise their regular performances and fine singing voices. I can only assume that they were some kind of early boy-band! Whilst Albert is noted as being an organist at one point, William eventually moves north, where he is a key member of the choir – performing for Kings at Liverpool Cathedral.

Both myself and my mother both have musical skills and it’s a nice thought that perhaps this is where it comes from.

Large Families

In my ancestry, it is the Yarrow family that appear to have had the largest families. My own Gt Grandmother was one of 15 live-born children – none of whom were twins, and most survived into adulthood. She claimed that there were 21 children, but church records don’t support this (although this might not cover still-born or miscarriages). Meanwhile, her aunt and uncle – John ‘Jack’ William Yarrow and his wife Amy Ann (née Howard) had a family of nine children too. Of those that did survive their first years, reaching the ages of 90 and 100 is very common, which suggests that perhaps the Yarrow genes have an air of longevity to them.

Looking at the Yarrow families of the late-Victorian era, there is a higher frequency of female births, which may suggest a reason why the surname has become uncommon/unusual, with daughters adopting married names.

Origins

It is unclear as to what is the true origin of the Yarrow surname. It could be from the Achillea plant, a river in Lancashire, a place in Scotland, or a Viking target in South Tyneside.