Archive for the ‘Derbyshire’ Category

In my last article, I described my new hunt for the family roots of Edward Starbuck, first of the name in America. A few weeks ago, I took a trip to the Starbucky area of Derbys-Notts-Leics where he probably lived before departing these shores about 1635. I walked around Draycott then drove one of the little lanes alongside the Derwent, imagining Edward fishing or ferrying there. Suddenly, without warning this church appeared in front of me…DSCF8394

In the middle of nowhere, the ancient church of St Chad in Church Wilne. A Saxon church was here first. The present one has parts built in the 13th century! I explored all round in the sunshine, sad but not surprised that I couldn’t go inside. If you fancy knowing more about it, try this link.

St Chad’s parish registers start in 1540 and in that year Agnes Starbuck was baptised. So there were probably Starbucks already there in Medieval times and they continued to appear in the register until the 1590s. Just one or two families who I could easily imagine walking the paths across the river plain from Draycott and Breaston a mile or so away, sometimes with a small baby for baptism, sometimes a happy procession for marriage, or a sad one bearing a coffin.

Luckily there was a car park opposite the church and I read signs telling me that just beyond some trees was a nature reserve, a former gravel pit, called St Chad’s Water, with walking paths all round. I took my lunch with me to a seat in the sun looking out at this prospect.DSCF8411

Perhaps if you zoom the picture, you can see a small white dot in the far distance (right up against the trees)? That is a swan and it clearly thought the whole of St Chad’s water was its job to police, even against a solitary human half a mile distant from its brood of smaller white dots which I saw darting about. That swan set off in a straight line towards me as I munched. I munched faster as it got closer. It never veered from its line, directly towards me. It was ten yards out when I got truly spooked. I’d heard of what swans could do. Grabbing my things, I ran up the path. Turning round briefly, I saw it, standing tall with its wings spread in the classic aggressive pose, right next to the bench where I’d been sitting.

Of course, it might just have wanted a share of my sandwich but I was taking no chances. Fearing it might follow me up the path I ran to my car and sat inside with a racing heart, before I began to laugh.

Now, encouraged by my Starbuck-descendant friend Keri-Lynn, I thought I ought to warn unsuspecting genealogists… there are more unlikely dangers out there in heaven and earth than we dream of.Image result for swan with wings spread


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Exactly three years ago, I posted an article about research into the Wilcockson family of Biggin near Wirksworth and especially Quaker George who migrated to Pennsylvania around 1718. The spur to the project was the theory among Americans that George Wilcockson had fathered a son John in about 1720 who went on to marry Sarah Boone, sister of famous frontiersman Daniel. Only no-one knew who “1720 John” was or had any proof that George and wife Elizabeth Powell were his parents.

The 2013 article showed that it was possible to trace the English origins of migrant George through Quaker records, Duffield Fee manorial records and Wills, and to rule out all the candidates for “1720 John” known here in the UK. Since there were no strong alternative candidates in the USA either, it looked ever more probable that “1720 John” had been fathered by George and Elizabeth Wilcockson in Chester County, Pennsylvania.

But definite proof was still lacking.

Over the years of the project, the use of DNA testing in genealogy grew fast and one US member of our research group, a male descendant of “1720 John”, had been Y-DNA tested. So in 2013, I set out to look for living descendants of Quaker George’s family in hope that others would undertake Y-DNA tests for comparison. A great deal of anticipation, especially in the USA, hung on this venture!

Through Yorkshire Quaker records held by the Brotherton Library at Leeds University, it was a straightforward job to trace what happened to migrant George’s younger brother David Wilcockson. He married Quaker Alice Anderson in 1724 and their middle son Isaac went on to produce a prolific Quaker dynasty across the Pennines in Lancashire with the first of his three wives, Mary Gilpin. Through contacts made online I was able to correspond with two male descendants of David who both agreed to do the Y-DNA test (kits provided by our project group).

After the usual weeks of anxious waiting for results to arrive, we received the happiest of news for the US descendants of “1720 John” who’d been seeking this answer for decades. The Y-DNA of the two men alive here in the UK who descended from David Wilcockson matched as exactly as possible with the Y-DNA of the US descendant of migrant George. No better proof could be found that “1720 John” did indeed spring from the same family as migrant George and their relationship was surely father and son.

I am told by US genealogists that this result, the successful crossing of the pond to identify origins of migrant ancestors in the USA, almost never happens. It’s a lovely triumph in the family history world and a text book example of how traditional paper research and DNA testing can work together to produce delightful results.

The Wilcox-Wilcockson project can be found on Facebook.

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Back in 2011 and 2012, I posted three articles about ‘Scotch Chapmen’ who settled in the 17th century lace centre of Newport Pagnell, Bucks. Despite knowing that these merchants and dealers travelled throughout England, it came as a surprise to find in an 1872 Trade Directory for my adopted town of Chesterfield this list of Travelling Drapers (grouped separately from Drapers who were clearly non-travelling):

BELL James, 30 Spencer Street
BROWN David, Lordsmill Street
FINDLEY David, 23 & 25 St Mary’s Gate
McKAY Benjamin, 13 Holywell Street
McLACHLAN Hugh, 19 Knifesmithgate
McNAE William, 77 Saltergate
MILLIGAN George, 11 Eyre Street
MULLARKY James, 66 Soresby Street

My immediate thought: those are all Scottish names! Yesterday, I looked for them in the Chesterfield 1871 and 1881 census and found vindication – every one in the list except James MULLARKY was born in Scotland (and he was born in Ireland). I even found an extra one in the 1871 census: Fergus WILLIAMSON, travelling draper born Scotland. There could easily be more.

So, 200 years after the ones I researched in Newport Pagnell, the ‘packmen’ were still on the trudge. These had all married English girls from Chesterfield, Sheffield or Nottingham and had children locally too. It will be interesting later after more research to see if they trudged (or more likely steam-trained) away again, or if they put down permanent roots.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise to see this tradition maintained for so long. Going backwards in time from the 17th century, histories of Scottish trade and economy report that the Scots merchant families were sending their young bucks off peddling throughout Europe, as well as south into England, at least from medieval times. One commentator in 1620 said there were 30,000 Scottish families in Poland. There were also significant Scottish communities in Scandinavia and across the German states. Another historian comments that the 16th century word in German for ‘pedlar’ was ‘Scot’.

At the point of Union between England and Scotland in 1707, nearly three thousand Scottish pedlars were plying a gainful trade over the English counties.

Packman & horse

You might start to think that travelling about to make a buck was built into Scottish DNA. You had to be rough, tough and determined to trudge through all weathers and terrains before roads were invented, often with your shop on your back, or the back of a single packhorse, or (more often than is usually imagined) with a string of up to a hundred horses behind you. So maybe it was the most itchy-footed and enterprising genes that won out over many generations of trudging, and which brought Scottish drapers to Chesterfield.

Sheffield, it turns out, was the bigger hub for packmen, especially in the 18th century at the start of the industrial revolution before roads were turnpiked and canals dug. They provided the essential transportation for raw materials and finished goods to and from the west coast across the Peak, east to river landings for Hull and London and down all routes south. Anyone who enjoys a bevvy after a bracing walk in the Hathersage area will know the Scotsmans Pack public house, a present-day reminder of those lost days in the Derbyshire Peak, and a good study of the county’s tracks has been written by local historian David Hey – Packmen, Carriers & Packhorse Ways, published by Landmark 2004.

As far as I know, however, no-one has researched and written any detailed histories of the Scottish men and women (yes there were packwomen too) who passed through and stayed in Chesterfield… so a new challenge awaits.

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My creative writing group recently held a workshop at Chesterfield Museum. Arriving late, I had only a few minutes for the task in hand, to write about something interesting in the museum, so I looked around for what was nearby. Immediately I spotted a portrait hanging on the wall opposite, a head and shoulders of a middle-aged woman looking directly at me. There was nothing dramatic about the picture but the eyes were arresting and have haunted me since. In the two minutes available, all I could note was:Self-portrait1

“She stares from a featureless landscape
Flat green grass stretches behind her, two trees on the horizon
Her gaze is hard, slightly fearful
As though she says ‘I’m not really here,
Don’t capture me, pin me down, there’s more to me than meets the eye,
more than you will ever see.’”

Our tutor told us the artist was Phyllis Hanson and her biography, on the wall behind me, spoke of how her father Fred refused to let her attend art college. Instead he took her into his saddlery business, which she continued after his death. But she produced her art anyway, proving by the collection on the walls that there was indeed plenty more to her than first meets the eye.

Phyllis Annie Hanson (1910-1994) spent her life in Chesterfield, though her parents Fred Hanson and Lizzie Ann Parish were both from Lincolnshire. After marriage in 1902, they moved to Chesterfield, where Fred worked as a saddler. They had two children: Phyllis and her older sister Kathleen May, who married Edgar Ernest Sharp in 1938.

In 1924, Fred Hanson bought up the Bennett saddlers and leather-working business at 49 Beetwell Street and operated there until its demolition in 1939. Fred and Phyllis then ran the business from 19 Cavendish Street until his death in 1952, when she took over, selling up thirteen years later. Throughout these years, Phyllis practised her art and continued to work from home at 24 Albion Street until her death in 1994, when her art collection was donated to Chesterfield Museum. Their biography of her continues:

1996.1967Phyllis was a talented artist and she became part of a local group of artists which included James Arundel Massey. Some of her most interesting works are the narrative sketches and etchings she made of everyday happenings in Chesterfield. She was also a violinist for Hasland Hall String Orchestra. She was a familiar figure in the town, and in later life was often seen selling produce from her allotment on the WI Market stall in New Square.’

I found it fascinating to learn more about this woman artist I hadn’t heard of before, whose eyes had held mine on that day in the museum, and to learn that Chesterfield had a thriving cultural scene in the 20th century. There should be plenty more to learn about that.1996.2011

Chesterfield Museum provided the images of Phyllis’s pictures which are reproduced here with their kind permission. You can see the display of her collection at the Museum in a room up the stairs from the main galleries.

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The Harpur-Crewe family who, amongst other things, were Baronets of Calke Abbey near Melbourne in Derbyshire do not speedily jump to mind as one of the county’s great families, but at one time they were second only to the Cavendishes, Dukes of Devonshire, in quantity of lands owned, spread mainly across Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Leicestershire.

I have to admit I have only just discovered the vast Harpur-Crewe archive collection at Derbyshire Record Office, and I suspect I am not alone.  Investigation of this collection, DRO ref. D2375, tells a story that is all too common in archives around the country.

Firstly, despite its size and importance to family and historical research, you won’t find any details of the D2375 collection online.  We await the arrival of a fresh clean copy of the existing catalogue currently being typed into spreadsheet by volunteers for the National Trust, which runs Calke Abbey, after which it will be put online.  Until then, the only way to access any information about D2375 is to consult the printed, on-the-shelf catalogue while visiting DRO, or to ask staff to do that for you.

Secondly, even when you can lay eyes on the print catalogue, you’ll be very lucky indeed if the details provided help you much in your research.  DRO staff generously provided me with a pdf copy of the printed catalogue : it is 570 pages long.  When you consider that, for most of the collection’s contents, only the barest minimum of catalogue description has been given, you start to get a picture of how huge this archive is.  The catalogue introduction explains how the collection arrived at DRO:

“The surviving Harpur Crewe papers comprise… estate, family and personal documents from the 16th to mid-20th centuries, with some medieval deeds.  On their transfer to DRO at various dates from 1988, many early documents were found to be irretrievably damaged by neglect and damp and a number of series were substantially fragmentary or discontinuous…  In 1996, these papers were… officially allocated to DRO.”

This acquisition of the collection created a formidable cataloguing and conservation task for DRO’s hard-pressed resources.  Consequently, only basic listings of most of the deposits have been possible since they arrived at DRO, and the print catalogue is full of entries like this:

D2375/27/1 : Breadsall Court Rolls about 14 items (but too frail to examine closely) incl. early 17th c. rentals and one court roll 1761.

D2375/189/6 : Bundle 1. Bundle of leases for Alstonfield, Quarnford, Warslow, Heathilee and Hollinsclough (not examined)

D2375/277/2 : Account book of Richard ROUGHLEY for rents collected and payments made… on behalf of the guardians of Sir John HARPUR incl. Arleston and Sinfin, Repton, Milton, Alvaston and Boulton, the manor of Alstonfield… (fragile & damaged), 1681-2.

Cataloguing and conservation have been ongoing at DRO but nowhere near the amount necessary to open up one of their biggest archive collections to all levels of research.

If you think there might be such a thing as a surname index, dream on.  At best, there is a  broad-brush subject and location index, currently only accessible on the shelf.  Once the new spreadsheet version of the old catalogue is uploaded online, it will be possible to search that, much better than nothing, but there are far more people mentioned in the documents than get noted in the catalogue entries.  I’m told that DRO hope to find  funding soon to properly catalogue the collection, but with so many uncatalogued archive collections around the country, competition is fierce, so there are no guarantees.

By now you may be bored into snooziness, wondering what interest the dry and dusty tale of a forgotten family’s papers can supply.  The fact is that the historical papers of the big landed families, who were the employers and landlords of most of our ancestors, are often the only available source of historical information about them, particularly in the centuries before civil registration and censuses.  The fact that our archives are traditionally starved of skilled and expensive cataloguing and indexing/digitisation resources makes us all the poorer, fenced out of our own history as much now as when their bailiffs and gamekeepers watched the boundaries.  The problem is not faced by DRO alone but by all archives nationally, whether state, county or private.  For example, the Devonshire collections still held at Chatsworth also lack complete catalogues and indexes.  They cannot even put online those they do have because, though their staff are immensely helpful, there are not enough of them to respond to higher levels of enquiries.

So, if you think an ancestor of yours might be hidden within D2375, what can you do?  At present, about the only option is to contact DRO and ask them to check the Harpur-Crewe subject index for any surname, topic or location you can provide.  If they locate anything of interest, it’s virtually certain you’ll need to visit personally to view original documents or pay for research to be done on your behalf.

You can also sign up to the DRO blog where information about progress on indexing and cataloguing D2375 is bound to be posted in future.

And never ever imagine that any archive’s online catalogue is “comprehensive” – it will be a very long time before that becomes universally true.  And vastly longer before  record office holdings round the country have been widely digitised and made available online.

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The Manor and its customs dictated the lives of our ancestors for centuries, yet we don’t often talk about this part of our national history in the online genealogy world.  It is only in the last year that I have started to explore “manorial documents” myself.  I have discovered that, though difficult in many ways, they can sometimes be goldmines of family information, particularly when looking for people in the 18th century and earlier, sometimes very much earlier.  Many manor records are Medieval in date.

As an example of an information goldmine I found recently, here is part of a record for the SOMERS family of Duffield in Derbyshire, taken from the Duffield Fee Court Books held at Derbys Record Office (the Fee was a number of manors in and around Duffield that were managed collectively like a single large manor):

At the Manor Court held on 21 May 1657, it was presented to the Court that a Robert SOMERS had died, who held a messuage and a couple of crofts in Duffield Manor “and that George SOMERS of the age of 16 yeares and upwards is the Kinsman and next heir of the said Robert SOMERS to witt the only Son of George SOMERS his father who was Sonn of Geo: his Grandfather who was Son of George his Great Grandfather who was Son of Thomas his Great Great Grandfather which Thomas was Eldest Brother of Bartholomew who was Father of Robert which Robert was Father of the said Robert SOMERS lately deceased, And the said George SOMERS the heir then being present in Court did then make choise of Henry NOTON his uncle to wit his Mother’s brother to be his Gardian dureing his minority”.  The entry goes on to say that a counter-claim to the holding was made by William SOMERS a brother of the lately deceased Robert by a different mother (his claim didn’t succeed).

 A record like that can suddenly take a family line back into Tudor or Medieval times.

In general, manor records don’t give as much detail for a family as this but even small nuggets can help when tracking people in early centuries.  In Duffield Fee, it certainly seems that some people used the ‘Surrender-Admission’ system of the manors for passing on property as a substitute for Wills and probate.

The biggest problems with manor records, and the reasons why they haven’t gone to the top of the hit parade of genealogical resources, are:

  • They can be hard to locate.  Manor records were private documents held by the Lord of the Manor, passed on (if we’re lucky) when manors were sold and inherited.  Many have not survived; many that do exist are held a long way from the manor itself, and may still be in private hands, unavailable to general researchers
  • Until 1733, like all other legal documents, they were written in Latin (except briefly between 1652 and 1660 when we had a Republic and English was its legal language)
  • The further back in date the records go, the harder they are to read.  They were often written, not just in Latin, but in heavily abbreviated Latin and, of course, old handwriting
  • Manors are a lost world to us now – for more than 1000 years they had their own customs and vocabulary which can be hard to understand today

However, I’ve found it worthwhile tackling these difficulties and great fun learning about the everyday lives of our ancestors recorded in these documents.  Here are some tips for making a start:

  • To locate manorial records, start with the National Archives’ Manorial Documents Register: www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/mdr.  This register is nowhere near complete but TNA are funding projects in additional counties to update and digitise their records, including one for Derbyshire that should start up in the summer 2013.  The next best port of call for locating manorial documents is the county record office
  • Check county library catalogues for published transcripts of manor records.  In Derbyshire, those available include Staveley and Eckington (http://www.thamesweb.co.uk/books/eckington.html).
  • To help you tackle the Latin, there is “A Latin Glossary for Family & Local Historians” by Janet Morris, and “Latin for Local History, An Introduction, 2nd ed” by Eileen A Gooder.  A Latin grammar/dictionary from the library or bookshop will also help.  If you begin research into manor records by reading (and copying out) entries after 1733 that are in English, you will have verbatim ‘cribs’ for how the earlier Latin entries were written.
  • Search about online for introductions to manorial history and customs.  Examples are at NottinghamUniversity: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/ManuscriptsandSpecialCollections/ResearchGuidance/Manorial/Introduction.aspx and the National Archives: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/looking-for-place/manors.htm.  Eve McLoughlin’s introductory booklet “Manorial Records” is also an easy, informative and amusing read.  You will soon be able to impress others with your knowledge of essoins, amercements etc.

Life under the manors has largely been lost and so has our knowledge of its records, but I think it is worth tackling the difficulties in finding and reading the documents that do exist, often full of fascinating detail about the lives of our ordinary ancestors that we won’t find anywhere else.


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Once upon a time, in the 1960s, there was a TV programme about Daniel Boone.  He was one of the most famous of America’s frontiersmen and in the USA he’s still a person of great interest to family researchers.  There’s even a Boone Society.

Round about 1742, Daniel Boone’s sister Sarah married a man called John Wilcockson.  He was probably born about 1720, either in the UK or in America.  As a result of this prestigious link to Daniel Boone, there are hundreds of American Wilcockson descendants who dearly want to know the origins of their “1720 John”.  Over the last year, largely because of my special interest in non-conformity, I have been helping a small group of them to track down some evidence…

What was already known about “1720 John” : Not a lot actually.  No suitable birth or baptism record has been found for him in the USA.  However, there’s a working theory that John was the son of a George Wilcockson who married Elizabeth Powell at a Quaker marriage in Exeter, Chester County, Pennsylvania in 1719.  George gave his fellow Quakers a ‘clearness certificate’ from Breach Monthly Meeting in Derbyshire stating that his father was John Wilcockson resident in Cossall, Notts, on the Notts/Derbys border (we call him Cossall John for ease of reference).

Sadly George and Elizabeth both died fairly young in 1739 and 1740.  They left no Wills and guardianship of their youngest child Mary was granted to another Quaker named Philip Yarnall, who appears to be unrelated.  Philip’s request for guardianship mentions that George and Elizabeth had older children but does not supply their names or details.

Through extensive research in Derbyshire, Notts and Staffs Quaker records (held at Notts and Staffs Archives), in Wills (held at Lichfield Record Office) and in Duffield Fee manorial records for Biggin near Wirksworth (held at Derbys Record Office), we’ve now established that migrant George and his five siblings (Ann, John, Dorothy, Isaac and David Wilcockson) were all born in Staffs between 1687 and 1699, their births recorded at Leek Monthly Meeting.  Their parents were John Wilcockson (Cossall John) and Dorothy Hall.  Cossall John and Dorothy married at a Quaker meeting at Dorothy’s home in Morrige near Leek in 1686, and we know from Quaker Sufferings that John was living nearby at a hamlet called Ford in Grindon parish, Staffs, in that year.

One telling point is that the children of first and second generation Wilcocksons in the USA also included David, John, George and Isaac as given names.  With David and Isaac being rare names among Wilcocksons and, in the UK, almost entirely confined to the Biggin family and its descendants, this naming pattern lends significant weight to the theory that migrant George was a close relative of 1720 John, and most likely his father.

Cossall John, Dorothy and the children all moved from Staffs to Biggin near Wirksworth in Derbyshire in about 1710, and John appears in the minutes of Breach Monthly Meeting between 1711 and 1718.  He died at Cossall in 1719.  Information from probate records proves that, despite his sojourn in Staffs, Cossall John was a native of Biggin, born there in about 1660 to parents John Wilcockson (called Ould John) and his wife Dorothy (surname unknown).  Ould John and Dorothy were not Quakers and Ould John wasn’t over-happy with son Cossall John’s choice of wife, even though she was also a Dorothy.  The  Breach MM minutes record his dissatisfaction with the proposed marriage and two Friends were despatched to his farm in Lower Biggin to persuade him to agree.

Duffield Fee manorial records have helped us take the Biggin Wilcockson family back another generation so the line to migrant George looks like this:

George Wilcockson (1585-1660) & 2nd wife Agnes Maddock (c1602-1667) m. 1622 Wirksworth (4 known children).  George’s first wife was widow Catherine Bonsol – they married in 1608 but do not appear to have had children before she died in 1622.


Ould John Wilcockson (1633-1694) appears to have had a first wife Alice BAGNALL, daughter of Ralph BAGNALL and Alice MOOREWOOD, a family originally from the Alstonefield area of Staffs, and his oldest son Cossall John was perhaps born to her; he certainly had a wife Dorothy (c1639-1724) (5 known children in total)


Cossall John Wilcockson (1660-1719) & Dorothy Hall (1655-after 1728) (6 children)


Migrant George Wilcockson (1695-1739), who migrated to Pennsylvania and married Elizabeth Powell (1696-1740) in 1719 – the probable parents of 1720 John Wilcockson who married Daniel Boone’s sister Sarah Boone.

What’s left for us to discover? : The frustrating issue for American descendants of 1720 John and Sarah Boone Wilcockson is that no unarguable evidence has emerged to prove John’s parentage, either in the UK or  the USA.  The children of migrant George Wilcockson and Elizabeth Powell do not appear in any Quaker records in or around their abode in Chester County, Pennsylvania.  This may be because George and Elizabeth did not remain ‘in unity’ with the Quakers, or their birth records for this period may be lost.  Early birth or baptism records from other faiths in the area at that time are also few and far between.

There are other John Wilcocksons born in Derbyshire, Yorkshire and Cheshire at suitable dates to be candidates for 1720 John, but research so far suggests they all stayed put in the UK and did not migrate to the USA in time to marry Sarah Boone about 1742 (though this needs additional confirmation).

There is also an ongoing family myth in the USA that 1720 John “came from Wales” about 1740.  However, there are no signs of any Wilcocksons in Wales before that date, and it seems likely that descendants have been mixing up “Wales” in the UK with “North Wales”, an area in Pennyslvania settled by the Welsh Quaker families that migrant George married into.

It would be good to hear from anyone who’s descended from Derbyshire Wilcocksons, in particular anyone with an ancestor among the Breach Quakers, in hope that additional information might have been passed down the family lines to help illuminate this quest for 1720 John.  It may be of interest too that migrant George’s younger brother David Wilcockson married a Yorkshire Quaker Alice Anderson in 1724.  Many of this line remained Quaker over several generations.  In Yorkshire, they appear in Monthly Meetings for Skipton, Rylstone & Airton, Settle, Brighouse, Knaresborough and Bradford.  David and Alice’s son Isaac (born in Burnsall in 1727) moved across the Pennines to marry Mary Gilpin of Wray.  They and their descendants appear in the Quaker records of Wray, Fylde and Preston in Lancashire.

If you have a Wilcockson interest, please leave a comment at the end of this post, or contact me on celiarenshawATgmail.com.   In return, you might find you have a link to the famous Daniel Boone!  And definitely there’s a large amount of Wilcockson information ready to share from both the UK and the USA, including details available online at the Planet Murphy website.

[This post is based on an article published in the Derbyshire Family History Society Journal, March 2013]

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