Could it be possible? Was there another family genealogist amongst my distant ancestors?
Sometimes we are left treasures from the past, not in the form of trinkets or jewellery but in handwritten snippets and notes. I have been fortunate to locate some of these with a distant cousin early on in my family history journey. One such treasure is notes from my 2 x Great Grandfather, Dr Frederick Williams Cadwalleder Beavan (1808 – 1867). Along with some notes about the Beavan side, he wrote down that:
John Thurston married Mary and they had three daughters –
Sarah married a distant relation, ? Symons.
Mary married 1777 John Beavan and they had three sons.
Margaret married Tho’ Cook
The notes (pictured) say that Sarah & Mary, the eldest daughters were incorrectly registered as the daughters of John Thurston & his second wife Sarah instead of John & his first wife Mary. However, their sister, Margaret was correctly registered as the daughter of John & Mary Thurston.
The note is a little confusing as it uses the term “registration” when registration, as we understand it, did not exist in the 18th century in either the UK or Australia. Dr Beavan, though, was a district registrar in Victoria Australia and perhaps that is why he used that particular word and, perhaps, it is a means of dating the document to post 1852 when the family arrived in Melbourne and his death in 1867. So, I assume registration actually means baptism and, at the time, I thought that they may have been baptised some time after birth as I have seen baptisms of older children and adults before in parish registers. Indeed one of the daughters of his second marriage was baptised a second time at 4 years of age.
I imagined though, that if Mary had died, and the children were not baptised until after John’s marriage to Sarah, then assumption may have caused the confusion over the mother’s name in the parish registers. Only it didn’t explain how Margaret came to have been assigned the correct parents, but twists like that make a puzzle even more interesting.
The National Archives at Kew is a fascinating place to visit http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ I could spend weeks there but their online catalogue Discovery can equally entertain. I used it to determine which records I would look at when I was able to visit but I did also order some online. Amongst the entries in the catalogue, I discovered, there was a Bill of Complaint.
It was dated 15 November 1786, being a complaint from John Beavan of Chelsea Co. Middlesex, gentleman and Mary, his wife, regarding the Will of John Thurston that had been proved on 5 July 1782. John, on behalf of Mary was complaining that his wife was being denied her rightful inheritance by the Administrators of the Will – William Thurston of Dymock, Gloucestershire and William Dalfy of the parish of Sidbury, Herefordshire. The Bill of Complaint was, I think, written on parchment and measures approximately a metre wide and is almost as long. I have a scanned photocopy and it is very cumbersome to handle and a very monotonous legal document but, in summary, the following information was revealed –
John Thurston had died before 5 July 1782. He was of Tirly, also Turley, Co. Gloucester. He had 3 daughters to Mary his first wife – Mary married John Beavan, Sarah married John Simmence and Margaret who had married Thomas Cook.
This part was confirmation that the notes were actually correct regarding wives and children from the first marriage of John Thurston from which we are descended. Mary Thurston was my 4 x Great Grandmother. I now had a place as well – Tirley in Gloucestershire.
With Sarah, his second wife, there was one son, John and two daughters, Esther and Diane/Dinah who were both spinsters at that time (1786). According to the Bill of Complaint, John Thurston had vast real estate assets both freehold and leasehold in Gloucester and Hereford and other places. He also had a vast personal estate including household goods and furniture, money in bonds, notes, mortgages, stock and grain, utensils of husbandry, as well as rents and profits from his real estate. The complaint was regarding the fact that the children of John Thurston and Mary his first wife were not receiving their share of the estate.
OK so they fought for the money – love my Beavan family, they appear in Chancery records several times. If they hadn’t, I would still be scratching my head at my 3 x great grandfather… although it is still a bit itchy. 🙂
The Tirley parish records were my next port of call. In the year 1756, Sarah, a daughter of John Thurston and his wife Sarah was baptised on 19th August. In the same year, on 17th October, Mary, a daughter of John Thoston and his wife Sarah was baptised and in 1759, Margaret, a daughter of John Thurston and his wife Mary was baptised on 10th December.
Transcriptions have this last baptism as Mary, but I believe an abbreviation for Margaret – Marg has been mistaken for Mary by the transcribers. I am sure that when I looked at the film I saw it as Margaret and Familysearch also has Margaret. So, just as my notes predicted, the first two daughters were “registered” as the daughters of John and Sarah and Margaret, the youngest, was correctly described as the daughter of John and Mary?
How can that be?
How on earth did my Great Great Grandfather know this? It seems reasonable he would know their names, even who they married, but details about their baptisms??? Admittedly, if it were true and the family knew about it, it would be something, along with inheritances lost and won, that would stick in an oral tradition – all rather scandalous and good for stories by the fireside. He also got the baptism dates for the children of John and Sarah almost correct. They were Esther 1762, John 1765 (out a year) and Dinah 1775. Esther and John were baptised at Staunton, Dinah was too in 1770 but her 2nd baptism was in 1775 as a 4 year old in Tirley.
Further research revealed that Mary Thurston, the mother, was buried at Staunton, not far from Tirley, in March 1759. Why would this mix up happen when the second wife was not in the picture until around 1762, when her first child was baptised at Staunton?
Something just doesn’t gel.
Now, I know the family was interested in their family tree in the mid 1800s – they were still arguing for the money from an inheritance on the Beavan side that was originally bequeathed in Chepstow in 1692! There were records in Chancery and I even found a hand written family tree of my Beavan family in the Durham Record Office from c.1851 – very handy even though few place names are mentioned. Slowly, I am proving it to be correct, however, it has nothing to do with the Thurston side and the John Beavan/ MaryThurston marriage doesn’t even get a mention but his death does.
What I am wondering is, did they also look into the Thurstons? Did they somehow know to go to Tirley even though it was 100 years later when they couldn’t name many places on their own direct line? Since then they had never stayed in one spot much more than the time it took to create one vital record, it seems odd they would know the exact place to look for these particular events. Did they find what I found and assume that those 3 baptisms all belonged to their family and left it at that? Try as I might I can’t find any alternatives in the nearby parishes where they also had links. Was there a family Bible and it was originally recorded there?
Red Herrings? Wrong tree? Will I ever know?