What wonderful places are digital genealogical sites! You meet all kinds of interesting people and dig up some fascinating facts and stories you would like to think are true, but often turn out to be family legends. That doesn’t make them any less interesting, though. Sometimes there’s a grain of truth there. I’m still hot on the trail of my Dear Son-in-Law’s Egg ancestors.
As I reported here on 4 December 2019, our earliest known Humpty-Dumpty was a certain Rudolf Egg who purchased the mill in Ellikon around 1630. From my online research, I had discovered that this Rudolf was a scion of the miller family in Heitertal, Schlatt, a tiny village not so very far away from where my DD and DSIL live, so at the end of December 2019, we visited the water-mill there, first documented in 1361, that has been grinding away nonstop for at least 650 years.
We were informed that several years previously, a local historian had written a monograph on the history of this mill and the families associated with it. That was exciting news, but we were then very disappointed to hear that the owner of the mill had lent this little book to someone – and as so happens with borrowed books, it never came back. And that was the only copy in existence! So we had no further information on Rudolf’s background.
However, someone up there apparently likes us: a little more online research brought me to a family tree that included some of these jolly millers. I contacted the owner of the tree – who lives in California – and struck gold: she had also visited the mill in 2014, and actually had photographed every page in the lost book! Hallelujah! And she was willing to share her treasure with me. It’s all in German, so in return I have promised to send her a translation that will hopefully be superior to her mangled Google-translate version. The author celebrated his 94th birthday in December 2018. I’m hoping he is still alive and that we can make contact with him.
This very carefully researched and annotated account not only gives the genealogy of the Eggs, but also includes some fascinating factual information about many of the individuals. Thus we now know from the State Archives that
“Rudolf Egg, the miller at Heitertal, bought the lower or “front” mill in the village of Ellikon on 20 October 1628 from Ulrich Singer for 7,100 guilders which he paid off in instalments. Even the wealthy miller didn’t have that much cash in his safe, so he took out a bridging loan of 1,000 guilders from the architect/builder Andreas Künzli of Winterthur in May 1629. The purchase of the mill in Ellikon included wagons, a carriage, all the old mill documents, the associated water rights, and a right of first refusal on the upper or “back” mill. In 1630 Rudolf Egg, Molitor (= miller), also bought this mill from the miller Isaac Fischer. Certainly by 1644 both mills were in the hands of Rudolf Egg.”
Milling was a very lucrative occupation, and soon the Ellikon millers, Rudolf’s sons and grandsons, were doing very nicely thank you.
What is of particular interest to us, however, is that this little history book traces the family back to Ulrich Egg who bought the mill at Heitertal in 1536 and died in 1550, so we have been able to go back another century. Records prior to that time are scant, so we may have to accept that we’re unlikely to find out much more about his origins.
The book gives a colourful picture of life as a miller in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Yes, millers often became rich and held high office, but there was also the threat of disease, especially plague, brought in by rats infesting the corn and flour sacks. This was rife in the early years of the seventeenth century: on 28 April 1611, the Heitertal miller’s wife and son both died of the plague and his father followed in the autumn. Then a few months later another son and daughter-in-law died in rapid succession leaving their two babies orphans.
Nevertheless, the Eggs were very prolific, and in the heyday of milling they seemed to occupy most of the mills in the region, marrying and intermarrying with other miller families, some of whom were actually named Müller (= miller). Unscrambling “our” Eggs from their siblings and cousins promises to be fun! And I still haven’t found a link to the gunsmith Eggs or the Goshenhoppen Eggs, although I’m sure there must be one somewhere.
Leonz Egg (born in 1718) stayed in the Gäu area, married Maria Burkhard and had five children. He was naturalised as a citizen of Oberbuchsiten on 1 January 1746, and was able to buy property there. Like his father, he was a talented gunsmith and locksmith, and taught his sons the same trade. Apparently widowed, he remarried on 18 April 1768.
Was this the cause of friction between him and his grown-up sons? The elder son, Hans Jakob, moved quite early to Upper Alsace near the Swiss city of Basle, where the French had built a fortress with an arsenal near Hüningen, obviously an attractive opportunity for a gunsmith. He married the widow of a well known French gunsmith, which probably also helped his career. Soon, his younger brother Urs Christian, who had fallen out with his father, turned up on Hans Jakob’s doorstep, where he found a welcome and work.
However, “der Urs” was an ambitious young man. in 1770 he appeared in London “with 3 shillings and 6 pence in his pocket” and found work with the then famous British gunsmith Henry Nock. By 1772 he had his own business with rented premises in the Haymarket, Panton Street, under the name of Durs Egg. On 3 June 1776 he sold two “Ferguson Rifle Guns” to the British army for £31, the first of many regular orders for arms, and by 1778 he was ensconced at St James, Piccadilly, where he counted the Prince Regent among his customers.
Among the numerous Durs Egg weapons which are shown as masterpieces in the weapons collection in Windsor, is a pair of pistols on which the trademark “Gun Maker To His Royal Highness” appeared for the first time. The prince’s esteem for Durs Egg was revealed in a letter to his brother Prince Ferdinand of Hanover:
“… the rifle barrel gun was made by the best workman we have here; he is a Swiss German and his name is Egg. This gun is made after Ferguson rifle, it is almost the neatest piece of workmanship, ever was made.”
One of these weapons is also kept at Windsor Castle.
At the age of 35, Durs Egg married Ann Mary Salomon, daughter of a London merchant of German descent, and had seven children with her. On 29 August 1791 he became a British citizen. At this time a conflict with France began to emerge, which he could survive better as a British citizen than as a national of a country which soon had to come under French influence.
In 1792 his father Leonz Egg died in Oberbuchsiten, leaving Durs the relatively modest sum of 900 guilders (approx. £70 ). From 1799 Durs Egg was allowed to call himself “Gun Maker To His Majesty, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York”.
During the war years against Napoleon Bonaparte, Durs Egg produced a large number of rifles and pistols for the army and he also supplied the French royalists, who had established themselves on the Channel Islands, with a large series of carbines. The historian John F. Hayward mentions in his work “The Art of the Old Gunsmiths” that Durs Egg was particularly famous for his double-barrelled shotguns and duel pistols, which he produced in large numbers.
Having made his fortune, Durs Egg participated in various companies and buildings and himself bought a few properties. At this point, he made the acquaintance of a fellow Swiss, equally if not more ingenious than himself, who fired his imagination with a totally new project. The inventor Samuel John Pauly (born Johannes Samuel Pauli near Bern) had arrived in London from Paris. Please read his fascinating story on Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Samuel_Pauly as I can’t do him justice here.
Although penniless, Pauli brought with him the blueprints for an airship that he had developed with support from Maréchal Ney. Durs Egg was enthusiastic about Pauli’s airship plans and became a partner investing large sums of money, from £5,000 (statement Pauli) to £10,000 (statement Egg). Together they entered a patent specification for the construction of the airship “Dolphin”. Pauli was to prepare the plans and supervise the construction. The length of the hull was approx. 29 m and its largest diameter approx. 8 m. The hull was made from the dried intestines of 70,000 oxen sewn together in several layers into the shape of a dolphin, with a second hydrogen-filled balloon inside and it had a moveable tailfin as a rudder. It was driven by a steam engine, since the combustion engine had yet to be invented. It took a long time to develop, but plans were announced for regular flights between London and Paris carrying 15 to 20 passengers at a time, and the public poured in to pay a guinea per person for a peep inside the hangar where this aircraft was being constructed.
Unfortunately for Durs Egg, the defeat of Napoleon and the ensuing peace meant that in 1815 his income fell from around £90,000 pa to about £2,300. He was also beginning to lose his sight at this time, and clearly getting cantankerous, involving lawsuits with family and business partners. He fell out with Pauli, dragged him to court, and work on the Dolphin was stopped. His airship was later sold to the American showman Phineas T. Barnum who exhibited it as an attraction with his famous midget General Tom Thumb in the gondola in the zoological garden of Surrey. It was an irony of fate that this was the only use of the costly but captivating project, wrote J. E. Hodgson in 1924 in “The History of Aeronautics in Great Britain”.
From 1822 Durs Egg was blind. He lived until 1831.
Only one of his sons, John Egg, born 1795, followed his father in the gunsmith profession but the economic situation forced him to give up until 1837 when, with the support of his family, he was able to reopen his own business. He chose an address three doors away from his father’s former shop (No. 4 Pall Mall, In the Opera Colonnade) and was successful, although as a gunsmith he wasn’t in the same class as his father. John Egg was probably the supplier of arms for the last known pistol duel in England in 1843.
He was married and had two sons and two daughters. One of his sons, Georg D. G., born in 1842 and died young in 1870, is mentioned in the annals of the gunsmiths of London, but no further information can be found. It seems that he left no children. His brother John chose another profession and remained unmarried. One hundred years after Durs had set foot in London his line died out.
However, Jean Joseph Egg, a son of Hans-Jakob Egg – the brother of Durs Egg who had emigrated to Hüningen in Alsace – became a gunsmith like his father and followed his uncle to London. Joseph Egg worked for Henry Tatham from 1801 and later co-founded the company Tatham & Egg. In 1814 he opened his own shop at Piccadilly Circus. In addition to his professional successes, Joseph Egg’s personal references are sparse, as he is not included in the traditional family chronicle written by a daughter of Durs Egg.
What is certain is that Joseph was probably the most creative of the entire gunsmith dynasty. His speciality at first was a new type of miniature pistols (pocket pistols) of the highest quality, whose precision is reminiscent of the work of watchmakers. They have one or two barrels and fittings made of engraved silver, in some cases even gold. This was followed by a whole series of inventions and patents. Joseph Egg’s weapons can be found in Windsor Castle, the Leningrad Hermitage and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Augustus Egg, born 2 May 1816, the son of Joseph Egg, inherited the creativity and considerable wealth of his father and became an important artist of the Victorian age. He was admitted to the Royal Academy in 1835 and his works can be seen in numerous museums and galleries in England (Leicester; London: South Kensington, Tate, Birmingham, Preston; Sheffield). He was also an excellent actor in the amateur group around Charles Dickens, the most important writer of the time. With Charles Dickens he travelled around Italy in 1853. Because of his fragile health he spent the last years of his life in southern climates, in Italy, France and finally in Algeria where he died in 1863.
Claude Blair, the weapons historian and author of a newspaper article “The Egg family” described the significance of the Egg gunsmith dynasty as follows:
“Among the outstanding gunsmiths of the late 18th and early 19th centuries in Great Britain, Durs and Joseph Egg were among the most important. Most English collections contain weapons from their hands that are much sought after and valued for their great reputation.”
Egg Jakob abt. 1690-1748, from Blüemlismatt, Solothurn, emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1745, father of Leonz Egg Leonz 1718-1792, naturalised in Oberbuchsiten, gunsmith, father of Hans Jakob and Urs Christian . Egg Hans Jakob 1745-1815, born in Oberbuchsiten, gunsmith in Hüningen (F), father of Jean Joseph. Egg Urs Christian (Durs) 1748-1831, born in Oberbuchsiten, gunsmith in London, father of John Egg John 1795-1870, born in London, gunsmith in London, son of Durs
Egg Jean Joseph 1775-1837, born in Hüningen (F), gunsmith in London, son of Hans Jakob. Egg Charles 1811 – 1867, born and lived at 1 Piccadilly, London, gunsmith, son of Joseph Egg Henry 1815-1869, born and lived at 1 Piccadilly, London, gunsmith, son of Joseph.
How do these Eggs tie in with my daughter’s in-laws, the millers in Schlatt and Ellikon? The Solothurn Eggs were Roman Catholics, registered as “peregrini”, non-residents, in the Gäu region of Solothurn in 1718. Where had they come from in those turbulent times? So far, I haven’t been able to identify a connection, but I’m pretty sure there is one if I can get back to the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.
Maybe Easter would be a more appropriate time for this post, but I have been collating all this information in the last few days, so am bursting to get it down in black and white.
My dear son-in-law’s grandmother was born an Egg – that is, her surname before marriage was Egg, which I’m afraid made me giggle. However, I have to take the Eggs more seriously now as he has inherited some family portraits and genealogical details. Hence we have been delving into the history of the Swiss Family Egg and come up with some very interesting findings. My daughter actually has enough material to write a book about it all, if she can ever find the time and I hope she doesn’t mind my intruding on her domain by my summary here.
The first Egg we could positively identify in my DSIL’s line is a gentleman called Rudolf Egg from the village of Schlatt near Winterthur, Canton Zurich, who purchased a mill in the village of Ellikon an der Thur in 1630. Mills being very lucrative in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Eggs were among the wealthiest families in the Zurich dominion, and became very important people in Ellikon. The miller and Chief Magistrate Hans Kaspar Egg (1740-1792) and his wife Ursula née Arbenz had at least four sons, Hans Kaspar, Johann Jakob, Johann Konrad and Johann Rudolf (helvet. Grossrat – Cantonal Deputy in the parliament of the Helvetian Republic 1798-1803) from whom my DSIL is descended.
The eldest son, Hans Kaspar (b. 29.1.1764 Ellikon an der Thur – d. 8.12.1846 Ellikon an der Thur) became Municipal President of Ellikon and then from 1803 to 1830 was a member of the Zurich Parliament. His brother Johann Jakob (b. 9.6.1765 Ellikon an der Thur – d. 18.8.1843 Naples) was a shrewd businessman, who set up a mechanized spinning mill in Ellikon in 1803 (later taken over by another brother Johann Konrad and sold in 1868) and in 1812 established the cotton spinning industry in the Kingdom of Naples, importing 100 workers recruited in Zurich. This rose to over 1,000 by 1840 mainly from poor houses and prisons.
These two great-uncles both led very full and interesting lives but remained without issue. Now, their portraits – one a jolly, chubby judge, the other a slim, sophisticated dandy – are watching over my daughter and her husband, and I’m leaving the task of writing their fascinating biographies up to her.
Still, point me at a family tree and whoosh – you can’t hold me back! For once, the question of who came first, the Chicken or the Egg, is irrelevant. What other Eggs are connected with the Ellikon nest? Google is always good for a starter and I also have ancestry.com at my fingertips.
There’s a Rudolf Egg, marriage 13 December 1707 in Ellikon an der Thur to Gottlieb Zimmermann, daughter Gottlieb Egg born about 1708 but no other information. Are they related to us?
Another Rudolph Egg was born in Ellikon on 17 February 1717 and arrived as a hopeful nineteen-year-old in Philadelphia on 29 May 1736. He settled down, married a girl called Anna Catharina and started a family in the township of Upper Salford, Pa, as shown in the church records of Goshenhoppen (delightful name!). A family tree I found online but have not been able to verify claims that Rudolph’s parents were Hans Rudolph Egg and Barbara née Bachmann, his grandparents Ulrich Egg and Regula née Frei, all from the Winterthur area. The family tree shows the descendants of his daughter up to the present day.
However, Rudolph and Anna Catharina are not the only Eggs of Goshenhoppen. There is also Jacob Egg and family, who arrived in Upper Salford township in 1745. Are they related to Rudolph or to any of “our” Ellikon Eggs? It’s hard to say. But there’s plenty of information about them.
Jacob Leonz Egg and his family were Roman Catholics originally from Blüemlismatt above Egerkingen, at the foot of the Jura in the protestant canton of Solothurn, where their religious affiliation was a disadvantage forbidding them to own land or to graze cattle on the common. The Jura is well known for its precision engineering, producing not only watches. In the seventeenth century, the names of Pfluger and Egg were famous gunsmith dynasties.
Jacob Egg was born about 1690 and married Anna Maria Margaret Kilcher in about 1715. Their eldest son, also Jacobus Leontius and known as Leonz, was born on 15 April 1718 and baptized in Hagendorf/Gäu under the heading “Non-residents” (peregrini). Eleven more children followed, all baptized in Gäu.
There could be several reasons why they were considered non-residents. One, being Catholic, the family could have been uprooted because of the recent conflict. Two, his occupation, gun maker, may have required the move in order to master the trade and become a journeyman, or master gun maker. Three, he or his wife might have had relatives in the Gäu area of the canton of Solothurn and they were on their way there.
In any case, they eventually moved from Blüemlismatt and tried to make a living in the area around Basle before undertaking the great and dangerous adventure of emigrating to America. Sons Leonz, Joseph and Durus stayed behind. The family that arrived in Pennsylvania was reduced to Jacob, his two daughters and three sons. There’s no record of what happened to his wife and the other children but they probably perished on the long, arduous voyage
Jacob was able to purchase 125 acres of land in 1746, but died only two years later. As a Roman Catholic, he may have chosen the homestead site for the express purpose of being near a church and neighbours of his own faith. There was only one Catholic Church in Pennsylvania outside of Philadelphia at that time, St. Paul’s Mission at Goshenhoppen (now Most Blessed Sacrament Church at Bally, Berks Co.) which had been established only a few years earlier in 1741. The Goshenhoppen Register, church records for St Paul’s Mission, do not mention Jacob Egg specifically and the church records are very incomplete for the early years but it does have information about some of his children and later descendants up to the present day.
In the list of Jacob Egg’s children there is a repetition of names for some of them. Giving more than one child the same Christian name was a common practice during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. An example is that three sons were named John Paul, John Peter and John George. Usually one son would be called John and the others were known by their second name. The same principle held for daughters who had the Christian name of Mary or Anna. There may be other reasons for this practice but Jacob Egg presented a real problem for researchers of family history because two of his sons, Hannes and Johannes, were both known as John Eck. They attended the same church and lived in the same general area of Pennsylvania.
Jacob Egg, realizing that his death was near, almost certainly asked one of his children to write his will as he dictated it. In it, his children are all named except for Leonz, Catherine, Anna Maria Barbara, Jacob Christian and the son who died in infancy. The court could not accept the will as valid because his children, or heirs, signed the document as witnesses. Letters of administration were issued. Hannes Egg and Valentine Wiebel, Jacob Egg’s future or new son-in-law, were appointed administrators. It is a very interesting document as it shows, on the single piece of paper, the handwriting of one of the children as well as the signatures of all six family member who were present. Here is the English translation of Jacob Egg’s will:
February 13, 1748
Because of an extended illness, I, Jacob Egg have to distribute my belongings in the presence of witnesses. If it can be executed, I will to Hannes Egg and Jacob Egg and Johannes Egg, each one 33 pounds, to Durus Egg and Joseph Egg each one 25 pounds. And Hannes Egg and Jacob Egg and Johannes Egg are to draw for six years the interest from the sale once it is carried out. If one or the other of the two brothers should come, he must receive his appropriate share. Anna Maria Eggin and Anna Eggin shall each receive 25 pounds and each one the bed she is sleeping in and each one her dishes.
Everything is to be sold, horses and cattle, hogs and household goods and everything there is. If at all possible, each one should receive an equal share. If, however, the final proceeds are smaller, each one should proportionately take a lesser amount. And once the six years have passed and neither of the two sons has appeared, then the other five shall receive everything in equal parts.
Witnesses: Hannes Egg, Jacob Egg, Johannes Egg, Anna Maria Eggin, Anna Eggin
The final inventory totals approximately £200. The daughter’s names appear with the feminine form of the surname, Eggin. Jacob Egg died some time between 13 February 1748, the date of the will, and 28 April 1748, the date of the estate inventory. Although the exact date is not known it is probable that he expired shortly after the date of the will in February or early March. I’m indebted for most of this information to ECK FAMILIES, A Compilation of Eck Families Primarily Listing Descendants of Jacob Egg/Eck and Anna Maria Kilcher compiled by Helen E. Arkey,plus some amendments of my own.
The eldest son, Leonz, is not mentioned in the will but I was able to follow him and his descendants up from a detailed account in the 1996 article Die Solothurner Büchsenmacher Dynastie Egg by Hans R Degen. And that will have to be another post!
Figuratively and literally, in the West Midlands and Shropshire if you take the long way around you are going all round the Wrekin.It had been a long time since I’d seen this peculiar hill rising out of the fairly flat landscape – legend claims it was originally a Welsh mountain picked up and dumped by a giant, a story which doesn’t seem too fanciful when you contemplate this mound.
Now here I was, back in the old country after a two-year absence, and there in the distance was the familiar hump of the Wrekin with its little sister the Ercall, visible from the ruined keep of Stafford Castle and from the wooded hillsides of Cannock Chase.
The Wrekin, an old acquaintance from my childhood, our constant companion on fishing trips to the River Severn with my father, seemed to beckon me to come closer and say hello again.
One of the places I wanted to see on this visit to the UK was the village just over the border in Wales where Jeremiah and Sarah, my 5-times great-grandparents lived, and William, my 4-times great-grandfather, was born. To my childish delight this entailed driving past the Wrekin. It would have been nice to have taken the more scenic route and gone all round the Wrekin, but time was pressing so we returned the same way we had gone. Maybe next time!
Once you reach the border, of course, there are hills galore. What has changed in the 200 years since my ancestors lived and worked in this rural setting?
If they came back now, could they find their way around? Actually, I think they probably could, Of course, they would be amazed at the business park, but they would only have to walk a few metres further and I’m sure they’d recognise the old bridge and wharf with its limestone kiln.
Jeremiah and Sarah were married in Buttington parish church, the same building that stands at the entrance to the village opposite the coaching inn, which was surely also there in 1800. Inside the church, the font is most likely the one in which my 4x great-grandfather William was christened. There was nobody available to answer my questions, and not enough time to inspect all the ancient gravestones, but there was a list of names of some of the parishioners buried there. No Jeremiah Williams, but could John Williams (1830-1894) be his younger son?
In the 1841 census, Jeremiah is listed as an agricultural labourer and his son William as a male servant at the farm of Maurice Jones in the township of Hope. Nowadays, this seems to be just a country lane, with a few attractive houses in it – not what I would call a township, more a hamlet.
One of these houses is now the headquarters of a travel operating company, but it’s based in an original black and white half-timbered building so I marched in and enquired about its history. Yes, this had been Hope Farm, and it was there well before 1800. In fact, I was informed, it was probably the only one in Hope in 1841, as the next oldest was not built until 1850. I explained my interest and was allowed to take a photo of it.
I felt connected to this place, and as the coaching inn opposite the church was open, we had lunch there – and I have no hesitation whatsoever in recommending the Green Dragon to anyone with an appetite. Being in “traditional” mode, I ordered fish and chips and mushy peas, and wasn’t disappointed.
Did my 4th great-grandfather William start his journey to the coalfields of the Black Country on a coach from this inn? Why not? He wouldn’t recognise the modern road, of course, but I don’t think the scenery on either side would be totally unfamiliar. And he certainly must have gone past the Wrekin, if not all around it.
Was this a man with a chip on his shoulder? Right from the start, he was marked: “Spurious son of Mary Holdsworth” it says on his baptismal record of 10 May 1815, and although his parents married and had eleven more children in their 40 years together, he was branded as “he being illegitimate” on his marriage certificate on 9 June 1851.
I wonder about his relationship with his parents, brothers and sisters. How did he feel in his early years? Did he suffer his illegitimacy as a stigma? He presumably spent his first three years alone with his mother and grandparents, so her marriage and the arrival of his first siblings may well have put his nose out of joint. Did he resent his situation? Feel angry with his father? Is that why he used the name Houldsworth rather than Hardwick? How was he affected by the death of his grandparents and two siblings, all within 3 months, when he was eleven? And then the loss of three more little siblings during his teens?
The 1841 census shows him as a 25-year-old living at home, an agricultural labourer like his father, helping support the hungry mouths of his younger brothers and sisters. The Hardwicks’ home stood between those of his mother Mary’s 70-year-old Uncle Henry Holdsworth, a framework knitter like many others in the village of Heath, and her brother John Holdsworth, 5 years older than Mary. Did our John identify more with his Holdsworth relatives than with his Hardwick family? Although he had obviously been acknowledged as a Hardwick like the rest of his family, in his adult life he preferred to call himself Houldsworth which is the name used for all the entries in his family Bible and in all official documents, right to the end of his life.
He didn’t marry until his mid thirties, and his wife Elizabeth Moody was 12 years younger than he was, only 23 at the time of their wedding on 9 June 1851 at the Church of St Stephen’s, Woodville, Ashby de la Zouch. They lived in Common Newbold. Their first child, a little girl named Frances, was born almost exactly a year later on 7 June 1852. Sadly, she died 9 months later in March 1853.
Was there some consolation in discovering that Elizabeth was expecting another child? Alas, death struck yet again. The new baby, another little girl born on 8 November 1853, survived but her mother died just a few days later and was buried on 18 November 1853 at Holy Trinity Church, Chesterfield. John named his new little daughter Elizabeth, in memory of his wife.
What did he do then, a bereaved widower with a tiny baby on his hands? I doubt if he turned to his mother-in-law, as she herself died in 1855. His parents and many of his relatives were still in Heath, so did he go back to his parents’ house?
There’s a gap of 15 years from November 1853 to August 1868 where I can find no information as to the whereabouts of John or his daughter. When his father was killed in 1859 John may have returned to help his mother out as his other brothers and sisters were now all married and had their own families to care for, but I have no way of finding this out.
The 1861 census ought to give some indication, but so far we haven’t been able to find John, Elizabeth or Mary anywhere. Perhaps they were together somewhere? They weren’t in Heath, although they must have gone back there at some point because John Houldsworth reported his mother’s death, at which he was present. Also, 16-year-old Elizabeth Hardwick was a witness at the wedding of her friend Jane Probert in Heath on 19 December 1869.
A 55-year-old John Hardwick is recorded as resident in Heath in the 1871 census, but this may not be our man who called himself Houldsworth to the last: the first entry for the year 1875 in Heath parish register is the record of John Houldsworth’s burial on 15 February.
I have so many questions.
Where did Elizabeth grow up?
Did John Houldsworth return to Heath after his wife died leaving his baby daughter Elizabeth with one of his siblings? She seems to have preferred to be called Hardwick rather than Houldsworth, although Houldsworth is the name she was registered under at birth, so that could indicate that as she grew up she felt closer to her Hardwick relatives. However, she didn’t show up among the Hardwick siblings and their families (Elizabeth, William, Joseph, Henry George, Hannah) in the 1861 census and by the time of the 1871 census she was married.
Now an interesting discovery:
In the 1871 census, John Houldsworth’s youngest sister Hannah née Hardwick, with her husband Charles Fletcher and their three daughters Mary, Jemima Lucy, and Sarah, are lodgers in the home of a young couple called Isaiah and Jane Jones and their baby Harriet. These names rang a bell for me. Isaiah Jones was born in Gornal, Staffs, and his wife Jane in Oswestry, North Wales. None other than Jane Probert, sister of Joseph Probert who married Elizabeth Hardwick in February 1871. (You can find out more about Elizabeth, my father’s grandmother, here and here
Is this a clue to Elizabeth’s whereabouts in the 1860’s?
How did the Fletchers and the Joneses meet?
Did Elizabeth introduce her Aunt Hannah to her friend and sister-in-law Jane?
Or were Hannah and Jane friends before she married Isaiah, and did Hannah introduce Elizabeth to Jane?
Mary Holdsworth 1795 – 1868: My 3rd Great-Grandmother
(This links to my previous posts of November 2017 about my Hardwick ancestors)
My third great-grandmother – that is, the grandmother of my father’s grandmother – was Mary Holdsworth, daughter of John and Elizabeth Holdsworth. She spent most of her life in an obscure Derbyshire village, and from the few facts I have been able to glean about her, it was not an easy life.
Mary was the sixth of eight children, most of them born in Sutton in Ashfield. Her father was from the Derbyshire village of Heath, about 7 or 8 miles away, and the family appear to have moved back there, as Mary’s youngest brother was born in Heath in 1803. Perhaps it had to do with the death in 1802 of her father’s mother, who had lived in Heath.
On 6 May 1815 twenty-year-old Mary gave birth to a son, John. His father was Samuel Hardwick, the 26-year-old youngest son of a prosperous local farmer. Why didn’t they marry at that time? Parental disapproval? Was Mary not good enough? Or were the young couple uncertain of their feelings?
Whatever the reason at the time, the relationship remained strong and Mary became pregnant again. They married on 24 November 1818 and their daughter Priscilla was born five months later in March 1819. She was followed in August 1820 by little Samuel, in March 1822 by another daughter, Elizabeth, and then another boy, Joseph, in February 1825.
In October 1826 Mary’s parents died and were buried a week apart, and then early in 1927 both Priscilla (7) and little Samuel (4) died. What was the cause of their death? Was it a very harsh winter? I don’t know, but the children were buried on the same day, 27 January 1827.
Later that year, Mary had a sixth child, William, christened on 11 November 1827. He lived. But in January 1830 she gave birth to twin girls, Mary and Priscilla Ann, who were christened on 12 January and were buried aged 3 weeks on 4 February. As twins they were probably very small babies, and again, maybe the cold weather took its toll.
The name Priscilla was presumably in honour of Samuel’s sister, who had married a grocer and tea dealer in Chesterfield and was probably well off – maybe they wanted to flatter her, or perhaps Samuel was close to his sister. The name Ann may have been for Samuel’s mother, Ann née Turner, or his sister. When Mary’s daughter Elizabeth grew up, married and had children, she also called her daughter Priscilla Ann. That Priscilla had a long life and passed the name on to her daughter.
In January 1832 Mary had another little girl, Sarah: she didn’t have to worry about this one, she lived to be 82. And in May 1835, when she was 40, Mary produced another boy, Henry George. That made five children who had survived. Sadly, her next baby Thomas lived only two days, from 10 to 12 April 1838.
How must Mary have felt when her last little girl Hannah arrived just about a year later? Thankfully, Hannah also survived. By this time Mary was 44. She had brought 12 children into the world, and suffered the death of six of them.
Her husband Samuel was a labourer working on his brother Joseph’s farm, and life in the 1840’s must have seemed more peaceful at last. But the 1850’s once again brought tragic blow after blow. Her son John – who continued to call himself Holdsworth rather than Hardwick ; didn’t he get on with his father? – married and had a little girl in June 1852. Sadly, this little girl died the following March, and in November of that same year 1853 his wife died a week after giving birth to another baby girl, Elizabeth (who was my great-grandmother).
Mary’s husband Samuel (72) was killed in a dreadful accident, crushed by a horse and hay cart in August 1859. Nine years later, on 1 August 1868, Mary herself died aged 73 at Heath Common. Her son John was present and reported her death. The cause as stated on her death certificate is “Decay of nature”. She was buried in Heath on 3 August.
The entry in the parish register following Mary’s burial caught my eye. It says:
“Man, unknown – found in a well in Heath – buried 14 August 1868.”
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?
I’ve been asked how I find relatives and ancestors as I build up the family tree, especially for people long dead and forgotten. Before the Internet made it a lot easier, you had to physically go out and pore over archives and parish registers. Nowadays, much has been digitised and it’s mainly a matter of armchair detective work. It can be time-consuming, which probably explains why so many amateur genealogists are retirees.
In England and Wales, the registration of births, marriages and deaths in the national index began in 1837, and the first nationwide census was conducted in April 1841. These usually provide enough information to allow personal histories to be followed back to the beginning of the nineteenth century, so that in most cases the last 200 years are not too difficult to reconstruct, and there is enough evidence to back up the course of events, often in surprising detail. Prior to those dates, though, a lot depends on good luck!
Here, for instance, is the story of my sleuthing in the case of my great-great-grandmother.
The widespread tradition of giving a mother’s maiden name as a child’s middle name has proved useful in tracking and verifying relationships. I have traced siblings as well as children and grandchildren, simply because they bore a familiar second name.
A name that has been – and still is – frequently used as a second name in my mother’s family is Collis. My mother’s eldest brother was known in the family by his middle name of Collis, and it has been passed on to his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, without any of them really knowing where it came from. They are happy to perpetuate the memory of a much beloved (great)grandfather.
I was intrigued by this name, which I like (I was fond of my uncle, so I’m biased), and it isn’t overly common. At least, not as common as Smith! If I had had a son, he might well have been called Collis.
I knew that my uncle had been named for his maternal grandfather, Charles Collis Cheney, and I discovered that Charles Collis Cheney had a son who died in infancy, also named Collis. This indicated that the name held real significance for him, but where did it come from? Was it his mother’s maiden name? Disappointingly, records showed that his father Eli Cheney was married in the last quarter of 1841 to a young woman named Anne Knight, not Collis. I wasted a lot of time trying to find baptismal or birth records for Ann(e) Knight but drew a blank. However, thanks to census records, I did know her approximate year and place of birth, a vital factor: about 1818 in a Leicestershire village with the lovely lisping name of Theddingworth.
Unlike later censuses, the first UK census of 2 April 1841 gives only basic information, and it usually rounds the ages of anyone older than 15 up or down to the nearest multiple of 5. My great-great-grandmother would have been 23 in 1841 and on page 5 of Theddingworth, the village of her birth, I found a 20-year-old Ann Knight employed as a servant to a grazier. That seemed plausible.
As it was such a small village, I glanced through the other pages and suddenly discovered two 55-year-old women called Elizabeth Smith and Alice Collis living with a 4-year-old girl named Elizabeth Knight. Collis and Knight in the same household: was this a coincidence?
It dawned on me that although Ann Knight was so young at the time, she might possibly be a widow. A servant girl with a child would have to find someone else to care for the little one, and an elderly relative would be the obvious solution. These names fitted this theory. Was Alice Collis related to Ann Knight?
Well, yes: further research uncovered a marriage in Theddingworth on 8 November 1836 between Anne, daughter of William and Alice Collis, to James Knight, son of John Knight and Mary Turner. So my 2nd great-grandmother was born Anne Collis. This seemed to be evidence that the Alice Collis named in the census was Anne’s mother, and little Elizabeth Knight was her daughter. At last I knew the origin of the name! It was indeed the maiden name of my great-great-grandmother.
More research was needed, and I struck lucky: a marriage between William Collis and Alice Seal on 9 November 1812 in Theddingworth, and a baptism on 7 June 1818 for Anne, daughter of William and Alice Collis, showing she would have been about 18 when she married James Knight.
Theddingworth is a very small place, and the Collis family seem to have been established there for many generations so it was quite easy to trace the line back to my 6th great-grandparents, John Collis and Martha Sprigg, both born around 1700. Prior to that, parish records become less informative, and I may have found my 6th and 7th great-grandparents, too, but there’s no way of telling for sure. Maybe one of these days I’ll get to Theddingworth and be able to discover more on the spot, including the maiden names of the other grannies. Meanwhile, I’m happy to have solved a family mystery. What a pity that my Uncle is no longer alive to hear where his name came from.
Just to spoil the fun of speculation, here – at last – are the facts. And the moral is that just because something is written down in black and white, it ain’t necessarily so.
Two old men, brothers, one of them a farmer and the other his labourer, are working on the harvest. Joe, the elder, dies. I don’t have his death certificate, so I don’t know the cause, but he was 79 and in 1859 that was a ripe old age. Maybe he simply over-exerted himself. He’s buried a couple of days later, on 14 August, and no doubt younger brother Sam was upset at losing him. But the harvest has to be brought in, so Sam and Joe’s son Charlie get on with it.
Maybe Sam is grieving and his concentration isn’t so good that morning. After all, he’s 72 and he’s had to get up at 5 am to start loading the wagon. It’s a big wagon, and with a full load needs 3 dray horses to pull it. Sam takes the rein of one of the shaft horses, and off they go. At a bend in the road he stands back to make way for the horse, but there isn’t enough space and the horse steps on his foot. That’s a few hundred kilos of horseflesh, and Sam doesn’t stand a chance: he falls, and the wagon runs over his chest. An inquest is held, and two days after the accident, on 24 August, Sam is buried. In the parish register, his burial immediately follows that of brother Joe ten days earlier.
The newspaper reporter got the results of the inquest right, but he conflated the brothers and got the name wrong. To add to the confusion, the clerk who copied the details of the Probate inquiry into Joe’s estate six months later wrote the date of his death as 12.9.1859 instead of 12.8.1859. Easily done. And there we have it.
I’m sorry to disappoint my readers: no foul play, no conspiracy to rid the village of its Hardwicks, no evil characters lurking in the hedges to push old rustics under the wheels of wagons. Just a sad way for an old man to end his days.
This is a post script to my last post, and concerns a strange coincidence.
As I recounted, the two brothers Joseph and Samuel Hardwick died within weeks of one another in the summer of 1859. Samuel, who was 72, died when he was run over by a horse and wagon, according to his death certificate.
I have been aware of that fact for a long time. However, it was only now, as I was delving into what had happened to the family farm, that I have been sent a newspaper cutting describing the death of his brother Joseph, aged 78, just a few days later. And this is what it says:
HEATH: FATAL ACCIDENT: On Wednesday an inquest was held at the house of Mr Rome, The Elm Tree Inn, on the body of Joseph Hardwick, farmer, of Heath. The deceased left his home about five o’clock in the morning to assist in the harvest field. They were leading corn from the field to the stackyard about eight o’clock. They had come with a load out of the field with a four-wheeled wagon and three horses. There was a turn in the road, and the deceased was in it. He had hold of the head of one of the shaft horses. The horse turned round sharply, knocked him down and trod upon his foot, and the wheels passed over his chest. He breathed thrice and died. A verdict of “Accidental death” was returned.
As my informant says, it looks like a case for Miss Marples – or is this a nineteenth century version of Midsomer Murders?