The search for my Collis ancestors has been another example of the frustrations and small victories that constantly accompany any family tree explorations. These are very real people to me and the more personal information I can glean, the more alive they become.
In some places, records were kept faithfully by the ministers of the Church and passed down from generation to generation. In other places, a minister took his parish registers away with him when he left so there are sometimes gaps of decades. Sometimes, the registers were not well looked after, went mouldy, were nibbled by mice, written from memory years after events, or simply not kept up to date. Eighteenth century records tend to be better preserved than seventeenth century ones, not only because they are more recent but also because of upheavals such as the Civil War and Cromwell’s Protectorate (1642-1661) when in many parishes no written records were kept at all.
I still have a number of mysteries to solve.
It’s always a good principle to work from the known to the unknown, and in genealogy that usually means going backwards, from child to parents to grandparents. At the beginning of the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution was only just starting in rural Leicestershire, so people were less mobile than later. So we can be pretty sure of finding forebears in the villages around the town of Market Harborough.
Anne Collis’s marriage certificate of November 1836 tells us her father was a shepherd named William Collis, and her baptismal record in 1818 shows her parents were William and Alice (my 3rd great-grandparents). Her mother, Alice Collis, is aged about 55 in the 1841 census so she must have been born between 1784 and 1789. William doesn’t figure here, so was he away or had he died before April 1841? Who was this Alice?
We have the record on 9 November 1812 of a marriage in Theddingworth between William Collis and Alice Seal. A search for the baptism of Alice Seal shows she was baptised on 1 August 1787 in Great Bowden, a few miles from Theddingworth. Her parents are named as Joseph and Alice, and it isn’t difficult to find the marriage of Joseph Seal to Alice Clarke on 25 August 1775 in the same village of Great Bowden. Joseph Seal’s baptism is recorded in Great Bowden on 24 March 1744, the son of William Seal (1710-1723) and his wife Mary (1682-1762). William Seal is the son of John Seal and Mary Darnall, married on 24 November 1702. The same register records the baptism of Alice Clarke, daughter of John and Elizabeth Clarke, on 12 March 1755. And there also in Great Bowden is the marriage of John Clarke to Elizabeth Neal on 5 June 1751. My 5th great-grandparents! Triumph! That was easy!
Anne’s father, the shepherd William Collis, is more difficult to pin down. I can’t find him in the 1841 census, so we have scant information. He may have been out and about with his sheep on the day of the census.
However, his father, William Collis Sr, lived to a ripe old age and appears in the 1841 census. I bought his death certificate which tells me he was 88 when he died of “old age” on 1 December 1841 and that he had been a schoolmaster. That gave me his year of birth as 1753, and the Theddingworth parish registers record his baptism on 5 August 1753, son of Joseph and Elizabeth Collis. (I also found more previous Collis generations, back to about 1600 and my 10th great-grandfather. My list is beginning to look like the “begats” in the King James Bible!)
But here, my 4th great-grandparents, was William Collis’s marriage to a girl called – yet again – Alice, making two generations both called William and Alice Collis, so we have to be careful not to confuse them.
This marriage to Alice Vace startled me: 19 October 1769. William would have been only 16 at that time. Possible, but not really likely. Then I saw another entry for the marriage of William Collis to Alice Vice on 19 October 1779. Much more likely, but this really looks like sloppy record-keeping! Or has it been mis-transcribed? It is sometimes quite difficult in these registers to know exactly what year it is and names aren’t always spelled consistently.
Baptisms of children belonging to William and Alice Collis start with Eliza in 1779, and once again I’m scratching my head. This first baby’s baptism is 5 April 1779, her birth is November 1779 and her death is 21 April 1780. Baptised before she was born! It would make more sense if the baptism were April 1780. That would also make her legitimate. Somebody is definitely very careless in these records!
I couldn’t find a record for the baptism of William Collis Jr – it should have been roughly 1785 to 1790 – but the last child baptised belonging to William Sr and Alice is Samuel on 12 November 1794, i.e. after William, so that indicates that Alice must also be William’s mother. I have no information about Alice’s death, and also closed the book on her shepherd son William.
However, going back to the 1841 census, William Collis Sr (88) is living with Elizabeth Collis (70). This Elizabeth Collis also appears in the 1851 census, where she is recorded as an 80-year-old widowed schoolmistress, born in Great Wigston (another Leicestershire village) about 1771, so I suppose she was William’s second wife. However, I can’t find a marriage record, so I don’t know her maiden name, nor when she died: there are several women of this name but the death records available to me online don’t state the age.
I’m intrigued by the fact that this couple are schoolmaster and schoolmistress. This Theddingworth history website says (my emphasis):
“There was a schoolmaster in Theddingworth in 1634. The present village school appears to originate from the generosity of J. G. Cook (d. 1856), vicar 1810–41, although the building and schoolmistress’s house were erected in 1844 after he had resigned from the living. His brother John Cook (d. 1867) of Hothorpe Hall, the patron of the church, may also have contributed to the cost. The first known trust deed was dated 1856, the year of the vicar’s death, but as early as 1819 he had been paying for the education of 12 children in a small day school of 25 children run by a woman in the village. The status of this school is uncertain. In 1832 the archdeacon reported that there was only a Sunday school containing 40 children, but the parliamentary return describing conditions a year later referred to a day and Sunday school for 35 children, educated partly at their parents’ expense and partly by charity. The building of 1844 was extended by the addition of an infants’ room in 1902.”
Perhaps my 4th great-grandfather and his wife were the pioneer teachers of this little school?