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Hunting the English - Part One

Posted 11 January 2016 by Kirsten English

I'll let you into a secret, I am not an English, I am, in fact, a Thomas. I'm also not even really fully English, I'm half English. My mum is German. English is my married name and I am very proud to have it. For a start, it is easier to research 'English's' than 'Thomas's' simply because there are far fewer of them.

I took over the research of the English family tree from my 'uncle-in-law'. He had already taken the tree quite far back and done it the old fashioned way, travelling to the various record offices. He had researched back to Robert English born in Messing, Essex in 1787.

Being a 'professional' genealogist I thought I'd easily get the tree back much further, after all I had done so many client's trees. But no...

I easily found the baptism of Robert English in 1787 and that his parents were Robert and Ann. I found the marriage of Robert English and Ann White in Messing on 7th October 1785. They had 3 children, including Robert junior, and they were all baptised in Messing, Essex:

Robert senior died and was buried in Messing on 28th May 1794. At the time Robert junior was aged about 7, Samuel aged 5 and Mary aged just 3. Robert junior married in 1818 in Messing and Mary married in 1807 in Messing. I have so far not been able to find Samuel. I have also not been able to find a death or remarriage for Ann.

Now to take the line further back and find the baptism of Robert. The information I had so far did not give me any indication of Robert's age. The parish register entries do not tell us how old he was when he married and they do not tell us how old he was when he died. So I searched by quite a wide range from 1720-1770.

I know this could either make him incredibly old or incredibly young when he married, but you never know.

He was not baptised in Messing. He was also not baptised in any parishes surrounding Messing. In fact there are no English's at all born in or around Messing in that time frame. And no English's were married or died in that time frame, in that area. It was looking unlikely that he was from the Messing or surrounding area. So where was he from? How far did our ancestors travel in those days? Had he come from further north, south, east or west?

I spent days in the Essex Record Office looking at wills, manorial records, indexes, settlement records and anything else the staff could suggest, but in the end the only thing left to do was to keep ploughing through all the parish registers. And that is what I did. Continuing out in ever increasing circles from Messing, I went through the parish registers. I found loads and loads of English's but not Robert. Maybe he wasn't baptised, maybe the cleric forgot to write his name in the book, maybe he was baptised under another name. Who knows? Now here's something genealogists don't often admit.

Going through endless parish registers with no results is BORING! In the end I had to put it down and walk away.

But I didn't forget. I turned to the children, Robert, Samuel and Mary. Mary married George Newman in 1807 which prompted me to note that Robert, marrying in 1818 was actually marrying quite late. This wasn't unheard of but maybe he had been married before? I went back to the Messing parish registers and found some burials:

James English - Buried 1807 (infant)
Sarah English - Buried 1817

Could these burials be part of a first family for Robert junior?

At this point, I was also searching through Settlement Records. If a person fell on hard times it was the parish church's duty to provide for them. Funds had to be accounted for and were finite so the church had to make sure they were only providing for people who were legitimately 'settled' in a parish. As well as being born there, you could be settled by way of work. If someone wanted to settle in a new parish they had to undergo a Settlement Examination to give their reasons and the permission was or was not granted. If it was granted a Settlement Certificate was issued which the person could take with them to prove they had a right to live in that parish.

I found a Settlement Certificate for a Robert Inglish (English and Inglish are interchangeable in all the records) who wanted to move with his wife Sarah and children John, aged 3 and Thomas, aged 14 weeks. He wanted to move on the grounds that his father, Robert Inglish, had worked for 5 years for Joseph Sewell in Messing. Permission was granted.

This was my Robert! He was moving from Tolleshunt Darcy in 1811 with a wife called Sarah and their children. This parish borders Messing, so I looked in the Tolleshunt Darcy and surrounding registers and found Robert Inglish who married Sarah Lynne on 30th September 1805 in Tolleshunt Knights (the neighbouring parish to Tolleshunt Darcy). So he did have a first marriage. Unfortunately, she died in Messing soon after the move. He did have a son James with her in Tolleshunt Darcy and this could be the James who was buried before their permanent move in Messing.

But his sons John and Thomas survived - ancestors we had known nothing about. Robert later remarried to Mary Pit in 1818 and they had further children, one of which our family is descended from.

This find gave me another piece of information about Robert senior, he worked for a man name Joseph Sewell, so I set out to find out anything about Joseph Sewell. I found his will, he died in 1787 in Messing and at the beginning of his will it states that he was originally from White Colne which is about 10 miles north of Messing, near the Suffolk/Essex border.

Could Robert have actually come from that far away and travelled with his master down to Messing and settled there?

My parish register search had reached that far away so I looked at the registers in and around White Colne. And couldn't find him. But it did open my eyes to the possibility he really could have travelled from much further than I thought. I went back to hunting through the registers.

I also went back to Robert English senior's burial record and noted that it had a 'P' next to the entry. This meant he was a pauper and that the church had therefore paid for his burial. There are documents called the Overseers Accounts which details any payments to the poor of the parish. I found the one for Messing and found several entries for 1794. These are some of them:

There were more entries about the payments they had for relief between these dates. What this tells us is that Ann English became ill and the church helped Robert care for her financially. She must have recovered and Robert became ill and died. The church paid all his burial costs and then financially assisted Ann.

However (do you remember what I wrote about settlements and the right to live in a parish?), when Ann's husband died she lost her rights to live in Messing. If she had been born there she would have had the right to remain, but it seems, she wasn't. So she was 'removed' back to the parish of her birth. Unfortunately we are not told where this was. So one month after her husband's death she was sent away, presumably to her parents, with 3 children under the age of 7. Because Robert junior was later trying to move from Tolleshunt Darcy and this parish borders Messing, I would assume this was where she was sent. I have not been able to find a remarriage or burial record for her as yet.

It staggers me how much we can find out about our ancestors. This was 220 years ago!

Part two to follow...