Exploring That Rabbit Hole Again …

Whoo-hoo! Sliding down that rabbit warren again, and picking at etymologies like itchy pimples!

It started with “cousin”. I have hundreds of them, first, second and several times removed. I wanted to know the exact definition, and where the English word came from. Well, I never realized anyone could be so specific in the degrees of consanguinity.  Having studied Latin at school aeons ago, I remembered only pater, mater (mother and father), frater, soror (brother, sister) avus, ava and avunculus (grandfather, grandmother and uncle).

However, the following Roman family round-up made my eyes water! My informative website says of the word Cousin:

early 13c., “a collateral blood relative more remote than a brother or sister” (mid-12c. as a surname), from Old French cosin “nephew; kinsman; cousin” (12c., Modern French cousin), from Latin consobrinus “cousin,” originally “mother’s sister’s son,” from assimilated form of com “with, together” (see com-) + sobrinus (earlier *sosrinos) “cousin on mother’s side,” from soror (genitive sororis) “sister” (see sister).

Specific modern usage, “the son or daughter of an uncle or aunt,” is attested by c. 1300, but throughout Middle English the word also was used of grandchildren, godchildren, etc. Extended sense of “closely related thing” is from late 14c.

Italian cugino, Danish kusine, Polish kuzyn also are from French. German vetter is from Old High German fetiro “uncle,” perhaps on the notion of “child of uncle.” Words for cousin tend to drift to “nephew” on the notion of “father’s nephew.”

Many IE languages (including Irish, Sanskrit, Slavic, and some of the Germanic tongues) have or had separate words for some or all of the eight possible “cousin” relationships, such as Latin, which along with consobrinus had consobrina “mother’s sister’s daughter,” patruelis “father’s brother’s son,” atruelis “mother’s brother’s son,” amitinus “father’s sister’s son,” etc. Old English distinguished fæderan sunu “father’s brother’s son,” modrigan sunu “mother’s sister’s son,” etc.

Used familiarly as a term of address since early 15c., especially in Cornwall. Phrase kissing cousin is a Southern U.S. expression, 1940s, apparently denoting “those close enough to be kissed in salutation;” Kentish cousin (1796) is an old British term for “distant relative.” For cousin german “first cousin” (early 14c.) see german (adj.).

(Do follow those links – it’s fascinating!!)

OK,  so let’s look at some other relatives. The word uncle is clearly straight from avunculus and in English avuncular is still used, but there’s more:

late 13c., from Old French oncle, from Latin avunculus “mother’s brother” (“father’s brother” was patruus), literally “little grandfather,” diminutive of avus “grandfather,” from PIE root *awo-“grandfather, adult male relative other than one’s father” (source also of Armenian hav “grandfather,” Hittite huhhas “grandfather,” Lithuanian avynas “maternal uncle,” Old Church Slavonic uji “uncle,” Welsh ewythr “uncle”). Boutkan, however, says “the root probably denoted members of the family of the mother.” 

Replaced Old English eam (usually maternal; paternal uncle was fædera), which represents the Germanic form of the same root (source also of Dutch oom “uncle, grandfather, brother-in-law,” Old High German oheim “maternal uncle, son of a sister” German Ohm “uncle,” Old Norse afi“grandfather”).

Also from French are German, Danish, Swedish onkel. As a familiar title of address to an old man, attested by 1793; in the U.S. South, especially “a kindly title for a worthy old negro” [Century Dictionary]. First record of Dutch uncle (and his blunt, stern, benevolent advice) is from 1838; Welsh uncle (1747) was the male first cousin of one’s parent. To say uncle as a sign of submission in a fight is North American, attested from 1909, of uncertain signification.

So Uncles appear generally in a positive light. Now what about aunt? She’s a mixed blessing:

1300, from Anglo-French aunte, Old French ante (Modern French tante, from a 13c. variant), from Latin amita “paternal aunt” diminutive of *amma a baby-talk word for “mother” (source also of Greek amma “mother,” Old Norse amma “grandmother,” Middle Irish ammait “old hag,” Hebrew em, Arabic umm “mother”).

Extended senses include “an old woman, a gossip” (1580s); “a procuress” (1670s); and “any benevolent woman,” in American English, where auntie was recorded since c. 1790 as “a term often used in accosting elderly women.” The French word also has become the word for “aunt” in Dutch, German (Tante), and Danish.

Swedish has retained the original Germanic (and Indo-European) custom of distinguishing aunts by separate terms derived from “father’s sister” (faster) and “mother’s sister” (moster). The Old English equivalents were faðu and modrige. In Latin, too, the formal word for “aunt on mother’s side” was matertera. Some languages have a separate term for aunts-in-law as opposed to blood relations.

I heaved a sigh of relief that I didn’t grow up speaking one of those languages, and having to distinguish the bloodlines of all my aunts, uncles and cousins!

From families to orphans. Now that is a strange-looking word, and although I knew that it’s orphelin in French, that didn’t really help. Did you know that etymologically, orphans are linked to robots? (Just click on the word robot in the excerpt below.) Seems they have been exploited forever.

Here we go – and look out for the goblins!

orphan (n.)

1300, from Late Latin orphanus “parentless child” (source of Old French orfeno, Italian orfano), from Greek orphanos “orphaned, without parents, fatherless,” literally “deprived,” from orphos “bereft,” from PIE *orbho- “bereft of father,” also “deprived of free status,” from root *orbh- “to change allegiance, to pass from one status to another” (source also of Hittite harb- “change allegiance,” Latin orbus “bereft,” Sanskrit arbhah “weak, child,” Armenian orb “orphan,” Old Irish orbe “heir,” Old Church Slavonic rabu “slave,” rabota “servitude” (see robot), Gothic arbja, German erbe, Old English ierfa “heir,” Old High German arabeit, German Arbeit “work,” Old Frisian arbed, Old English earfoð “hardship, suffering, trouble”). As an adjective from late 15c.

The Little Orphan Annie U.S. newspaper comic strip created by Harold Gray (1894-1968) debuted in 1924 in the New York “Daily News.” Earlier it was the name (as Little Orphant Annie) of the character in James Whitcomb Riley’s 1885 poem, originally titled “Elf Child”:

LITTLE Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay,

An’ wash the cups an’ saucers up, an’ brush the crumbs away,

An’ shoo the chickens off the porch, an’ dust the hearth, an’ sweep,

An’ make the fire, an’ bake the bread, an’ earn her board-an’-keep;

An’ all us other childern, when the supper-things is done,

We set around the kitchen fire an’ has the mostest fun

A-list’nin’ to the witch-tales ‘at Annie tells about,

An’ the Gobble-uns ‘at gits you

Ef you

Don’t

Watch

Out!

 

Christmas Blessings

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View from my apartment today

To use those alliterative clichés much loved by TV weather people, it’s a wet and windy, misty and murky Christmas Eve. No hope of snow down here in the valley, which is probably just as well for the motorists. But it’s cosy indoors with my candles lit and adding to the peaceful atmosphere, and as I don’t have to go out today I’m quite content to sit in contemplative mood in my chair listening to traditional carols. I shall make another batch of mince pies to take to the family gathering tomorrow, and thanks to the Internet, I shall also be able to watch and listen to BBC1’s Carols from King’s this evening, a nostalgic touch to round the day off.

In Germanic countries, Christmas Eve is the main day of celebration so some of my friends were quite concerned to hear that I would be alone on this important occasion. I can reassure them that this is really not a problem for me, quite the contrary in fact.

We had a small congregation in our little international church fellowship yesterday, but everyone joined in heartily and once again I was very grateful for this tiny community where the Christmas spirit is still hale and hearty. We actually had a real straw-filled manger, brought in as a visual prop by our preacher who lives in an old farm house and found it in the barn. He also has four young children, and I was amused after the service to see that the youngest had honoured the occasion by laying her teddy bear to rest there. Another wry smile at the juxtaposition of lantern and tablet on our worship leader’s music stand!

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I am grateful for the opportunity last week to visit my Dear Middle Granddaughter and her Darling Husband near Geneva. I lived in that city for 8 years in the seventies, and though much has changed (it has expanded beyond belief) I still found much to be the same. The day I arrived was sunny and bright so I took a few photos, and it didn’t matter that it rained the rest of the time as the main purpose of the visit was to see my loved ones and inspect their new home. Yes, the home passed my inspection with flying colours of course! And we had a really lovely time together (at least, in my view – they may have been glad to drop me off again on Friday!)

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Proof I was in Geneva – the lake and jet d’eau

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Sunrise over the Jura  – view from DMG’s window

We shall meet up again tomorrow for the Big Family Turkey Dinner at my Dear Eldest Granddaughter’s house. The main reason for this is that having four children, she also has the biggest house and can get us all round the table, plus the kids can play happily in their own familiar environment. The meal will be a joint effort, with contributions from all of us so that takes some of the burden from her shoulders.

My very best Christmas wishes to all my readers, especially those who don’t have a family around them at this time. May the love, peace and joy of Christmas enfold you.

Birthday Tribute

I don’t have a huge following on my blogs – you are basically the same trusty few who comment regularly and one or two people who say shyly to me, “I read your blog sometimes.” And I say once more that I’m very grateful to you for your feedback and support, expressed or silent. At least I know I’m not talking to myself.

How surprised I was yesterday when WordPress suddenly notified me that my Nelly Sachs website was getting more traffic than usual. I looked at my stats and my jaw dropped. Almost 10,000 views, just under 5,000 visitors! Was it Holocaust Memorial Day? I checked – no, that’s in January. Then a message popped into my mailbox and all was explained. It gave me a link to http://isupdate.com/google-doodle-celebrates-nazi-germany-survivor-nelly-sachs-cnet/ and I realized that 10 December was Nelly Sachs’ 127th birthday.

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I was very touched that this was being commemorated and a bit overwhelmed to see that so many people had followed the link to my translation of O die Schornsteine (O the Chimneys). This is probably the most accessible of Sachs’ poems, but I was very pleased to find that several people had moved on to other pages, and left comments there (mostly complimentary). By the end of the day my site had been visited by over 12,000 people and there were more than 20,000 views.

Considering the millions of people still classed as refugees (which is fast beoming a dirty word) I feel it fitting to link here to two of Nelly Sachs’ many poems on the subject of displaced persons.

https://nellysachsenglish.wordpress.com/2013/04/29/chorus-of-the-wanderers/
and
https://nellysachsenglish.wordpress.com/2013/04/29/203/

 

 

Time to Ding-Dong Merrily

One of the things about being an expat is that you sometimes get a very skewed view of matters that you would never have questioned if you had stayed back home. I grew up in Middle England, going around on cold dark December evenings from door to door with my pals singing the old Christmas carols for pennies to the familiar traditional melodies, and never dreamed there could be any alternative (apart from Little Town of Bethlehem to which I knew at least 3 different tunes not including descants). So it was a shock to my true-blue British system to hear Away in a Manger sung by Americans.

“No, no, it goes like this,” I cried, and they gazed at me in amazement.

“Never heard THAT before!” was the response.

Even more incongruous to my ears is the tune that Americans use for It Came upon the Midnight Clear. Our British version thunders from the church organ, and dignified Baroque angels lean gracefully down through the clouds towards the shepherds.

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Photo credit: Wikipedia

The Americans sing the same words but their melody is in three-four time. These are Rococo angels waltzing around, maybe even bouncing up and down on carousel horses; certainly not playing golden harps, more likely keyboards with hurdy-gurdy harmonic effects. Yes, it’s a pretty tune, but I can’t take it seriously. Walt Disney should illustrate this, not Michaelangelo.

And look what our transatlantic cousins have done to Angels from the Realms of Glory. Once again, I prepare my full-throated version and after a couple of bars am stopped in my tracks.

“You’re singing Angels We Have Heard On High.”

“No I’m not. I don’t know that one.”

They sing their versions of the two slightly different carols, and I can see that there must have been a mid-Atlantic storm that shifted some of the notes around. Okay, I’m enriched by learning a new carol, and my Christmas angels are still pretty well Johann Sebastian  Bach rather than Johann Strauss.

They also add to my repertoire with a fourth melody for Little Town of Bethlehem, which is still lying pretty still amid its deep and dreamy streets. No waltzing there. But wait! Why am I being so stuffy about three-four time? Next up is the mediaeval carol In dulci jubilo  (Good Christian Men Rejoice): surely these angels must be skipping and lindyhopping, and I can’t blame the Yanks. Even the Putti must be bouncing about to this! I remember that wonderful jaunty rendering by Mike Oldfield – 1970-something, I think – and have to claim that there are some tunes that are immortal, and can stand up to virtually any treatment. Listen to Bach’s arrangement sung by a choir.

I’m off on a tangent now, looking for the origins of this joyful song. Thank you, Wikipedia! This is a great story. And I have learnt a new word: macaronic.

The original song text, a macaronic alternation of Medieval German and Latin, is thought to have been written by the German mystic Heinrich Seuse  circa 1328. According to folklore, Seuse heard angels sing these words and joined them in a dance of worship. In his biography (or perhaps autobiography), it was written:

Now this same angel came up to the Servant (Suso) brightly, and said that God had sent him down to him, to bring him heavenly joys amid his sufferings; adding that he must cast off all his sorrows from his mind and bear them company, and that he must also dance with them in heavenly fashion. Then they drew the Servant by the hand into the dance, and the youth began a joyous song about the infant Jesus …

The tune first appears in Codex 1305, a manuscript in Leipzig University Library dating from c. 1400, although it has been suggested that the melody may have existed in Europe prior to this date. In print, the tune was included in Geistliche Lieder, a 1533 Lutheran hymnal by Joseph Klug. It also appears in Michael Vehe‘s Gesangbuch of 1537. In 1545, another verse was added, possibly by Martin Luther. This was included in Valentin Babst’s Geistliche Lieder, printed in Leipzig. The melody was also popular elsewhere in Europe, and appears in a Swedish/Latin version in the 1582 Finnish songbook Piae Cantiones, a collection of sacred and secular medieval songs.

I have left all the links in this excerpt so that anyone with time to spare can also dig deeper down this rabbit hole.

A blessed and joyous Second Sunday in Advent to you all.

More About The Hardwicks

John Holdsworth / Hardwick 1815-1875

My Great-Great-Grandfather 

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?

I suppose I shall never know – how frustrating!

Still Hunting Hardwicks

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.

She was baptized on 22 February 1795 in Sutton in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, her mother’s home town, notorious for being the place where the last person to be publicly beheaded with an axe in Britain was executed in 1817. I wonder if Mary went to see that?

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.”

Those were hard times.

 

 

Collis Continued

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?