I’ve only GOON and registered a surname

On the second day of the 2014 Who Do You a Think You Are? Live show, I joined The Guild of One-Name Studies, and registered the surname of Yarrow.

On Day Two of the 2014 Who Do You Think You Are? Live show, I joined the GOONS (the affectionate acronym for The Guild Of One-Name Studies).

Not only that, but their Secretary Jan Cooper did such a good job, that I even registered as the worldwide name research point for a surname. I challenged them with three of my more unusual surnames in my ancestry, and they only had one of them (Dewey). I chose to register Yarrow (the other was Moden, and in hindsight, I could probably have tested a few more like Tingey).

GOONS badge
My GOONS badge

I’ve been aware of their work (which began in 1979), and have often seen them at talks, but this was the first time I’d actively talked with them.

Minutes after becoming their newest recruit, I discovered that I had joined the ranks of a number of genealogy chums who are also fellow GOONS surname registrants. All were hugely positive of the Guild, and of the supportive approach between members, and registrants.

Armed with the induction pack and a detailed guide titled ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom‘, I shall endeavour to record and data crunch all Yarrow name-bearers that I can find, or that find me. I shall be absorbing the guide over the next week, and start my data trawling.

In the meantime, if you’re a Yarrow, have Yarrow ancestors or relatives, or have information about Yarrow surname bearers, then I’d like to hear from you (feel free to leave comments below).

I’ve just set up @YarrowGOONS on Twitter, to help me reach out and connect with the surname connection.

Check out the Guild’s registered one-name study surname list to see if your surname is included (if not, sign up for it, just like i did!)

From beer to an Indian Mutiny

The story of Thomas Yarrow (1832-1914) who went from being a Beer Seller in a small Cambridgeshire village, to being a Sergeant in the Indian Mutiny, and then into poverty in London.

A long-standing puzzle quickly and suddenly unravels to reveal a story of a beer seller from a Cambridgeshire village, who became a Sergeant for his role in the Indian Mutiny.

Thomas Yarrow, born circa 1832, was the youngest of the two children of John Yarrow, a farmer of Little Thetford, Cambridgeshire, and his first wife Ann Whiten. His older brother Owen, was born just two years earlier.

Little Thetford, Cambridgeshire in 1906.
Little Thetford in 1906. The Three Horseshoes on the left, and the Yarrow home in the foreground (right) until it burnt down in 1930.

When Thomas was about 11 years old, his mother Ann died in 1843 at the age of 34 years old. This left her widower John with two growing boys to care for. It was a little over a year later that John re-married to Miss Elizabeth Jeffery of Ely and the couple soon found that they had a baby on the way. Together John and Elizabeth had four children – James, William, Albert and Maria, until John died in 1858 at the age of 52.

By this time, the 1851 census had already shown the Yarrow family holding a number of business in the village, and the family are shown as living at ‘The Wheat Sheaf’ – long since closed. It was here that a 19 year old Thomas Yarrow, beer retailer, was to make what seemed like his final census appearance.

Missing presumed…….?

By the time of the 1861 census, there’s no sign of Thomas, yet his siblings including his older brother Owen could all be found. All of the usual alternative spellings revealed no trace of him in the census, leaving me to assume that he’d either died, or that he’d moved to Ely where a data black-hole was hiding him (the 1861 census for Ely was destroyed in flooding and therefore leaves a hole in most of my family branches).

I checked the 1871 census, in case he had been missed or had indeed been ‘hiding’ in Ely, but there was no sign of him. So then I checked for a death and found one in 1853 in the right district. Ordering the certificate, it arrived a few days later….

Rather than seeing a 20-something Thomas Yarrow, it was a certificate for a 3 day old premature baby Thomas Yarrow from a nearby village.

With Thomas not indexed as dying, and not appearing on the 1871 census it led me to start thinking that maybe he had gone overseas. A quick check on familysearch.org soon found some records that seemed to match, spanning 1867 to 1874 (an explanation why he didn’t appear on the 1871 UK census) and that’s when I noticed the mention of Allahabad.

This came as a surprise as the rest of the Yarrow had stayed local to Little Thetford or at least within the UK. After a few more searches, I found that Thomas was married with at least four children. This was swiftly backed up by the Families In British India Society (FIBIS) who had online records of Thomas and his marriage to Catherine O’Keefe (née Lambert) in Bengal.

Thomas and Catherine Yarrow and family
Above: Thomas Yarrow (2nd from left) with his wife Catherine (4th from left). Catherine's daughter from her first marriage stands between them, third from left.

The FIBIS site also revealed that Thomas was part of the 35th Foot (Royal Sussex) regiment and was made a Sergeant during the 1857-1859 campaign, and received The Indian Mutiny Medal.

Indian Mutiny Medal
An Indian Mutiny Medal.

I soon located discharge papers dated from 10th March 1875 where it describes Thomas’ conduct.

“his conduct has been very good and he was when promoted in possession of two good conduct badges and would had he not been promoted have been now in possession of five good conduct badges. He is in possession of the Silver Medal for long service and good conduct with our gratuity” – Gen. Hon. A Upton

The papers also describe Thomas as being just 5ft 7″ tall, with a dark complexion, grey eyes, dark hair and fit. The documents also state that he would return to Little Thetford to work as a Labourer.

Coming home

By the time of the UK 1881 census, Thomas and the surviving children of his family have returned to England. A daughter, Frances Maud Yarrow, is listed in 1881 as having been born in 1877, in the village Little Downham, Cambridgeshire. However, at the time of this 1881 census, the family have moved to number 6 Georgina Gardens, Columbia Road, Hackney, London. The youngest child of the family, John, was born in 1879 in Bethnal Green.

Leopold Buildings
Leopold Buildings in 2007 where Thomas lived in 1891 was built on land leased by 'Queen of the Poor' Angela Burdett-Coutts.

By the time of the 1891 census, Thomas is living alone with his youngest son John. Catherine had died and they are living in Leopold Buildings – a block of densely populated tenement flats built by The Improved Industrial Dwellings Company on land leased by the wealthy ‘Queen of the Poor’ Angela Burdett-Coutts . Just 20 years earlier, Bethnal Green was the poorest parish in the whole of London – conditions must have been harsh.

Thomas remarried by 1901 to a woman called Edith Emily Rawlings, who was much younger than himself, and they appear in 1901 in Soho, London.

Thomas also outlived his second wife, and appears to have ended his days in 1914 at about 82 years, living in Forton, Gosport, Hampshire.

John Yarrow
Thomas' son, John Yarrow (1879-?)

Whilst Thomas’ children seem to vanish, just as he had in 1861, it’s only his youngest son John (pictured right) who seems to stick around, appearing in Portland, Dorset as an attendant at a Special Naval Hospital, Castletown.

The Little Thetford Yarrow family are not known to have made contact with Thomas after his departure to the Indian Mutiny. Whether there was a feud, or they didn’t agree with his choice of army career, or simply just lost contact – it will remain lost in time. There was certainly no reference made to his existence by his siblings’ descendants.

Surely a story of a sergeant in the family and the battles he fought in would have been handed down, regardless of how people felt towards it?

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.


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.


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.