Posts Tagged ‘parish registers’

People who are as ancient as me will remember the Andrews Sisters singing “Is you is or is you aint my baby?” It jumped into my mind from the darkest depths of childhood memory, just now, as I mouthed curses at my brickwall Danforth ancestor or rather the baby born in 1684/5 who SHOULD be him.

Every family researcher will recognise the agony. A brickwall that’s stood for a decade or more and when you find what you think is the right baptism…. there’s an inkblot in just the wrong place, the second crucial line has been eaten away by mice, or the vicar forgot to write the year or the father’s name… you can guarantee there’ll be something. And so it is for me.

The brickwall in my paternal Danforth line for nearly 15 years has been my 6xgreat-grandfather John Danforth, currier, of Kexbrough in Darton parish, West Riding of Yorkshire (nowadays in South Yorkshire) who married Mary Hinch in Rotherham on 30 December 1712. He even got himself a licence to seal the deal which, for a modestly placed person like him, was unusual at such an early date. That licence raises eyebrows just on its own.

When John obtained the licence, he gave his abode as Darton, but when he married Mary, the Rotherham register entry recorded his abode as nearby Thornhill. That makes sense because John was the first Danforth ever to appear in Darton while Thornhill was fit to bursting with Danforths (actually Dunforths to begin with) from the start of the PRs in Tudor times onwards. So there we have a nice neat link between Darton and Thornhill which, surely, should solve all the issues.

But of course, there is no suitable baptism for John in Thornhill. Well, a John Danforth was baptised there at the right time period but he seems to have stayed put, married and died in Thornhill, so can’t be the one who wandered to Darton.

I was overjoyed a few years ago to find on Ancestry a baptism on 1 February 1684/5 at Darton for John Danforth, son of John… until I checked the original. Reader, this is the classic example of the ACTO rule, the number one rule of Genealogy: Always Check The Original!

In an image of the page in the register which shows baptisms of February 1684/5, I found this:

It reads: “John Danforth son of John ^Danforth (ie. inserted above the line, followed up by a squiggle) Sladen. Bapt: Feb: first (1684/5)

Seldom in the history of genealogy has a squiggle been so crucial.

After huge amounts of lip-chewing and comparison between this and the vicar’s signature (who always signed ‘Ric. Smethurst, vic.’), I’ve concluded the squiggle says ‘vic’ and is an indication that the vicar made the change, signing to show it’s legit. This was vital in the days when a parish register entry was usually the only way to prove identity. The only other word I can read into the squiggle is ‘viz’ (or where we would nowadays put ‘ie.’)

So the logical reading of the entry is: John Danforth (surname Sladen) son of John Danforth Sladen.

But… in the 15 years before that entry in the parish register (which I have today gone through inch by inch), there is absolutely no other entry where a middle name or a double-barrelled surname appears. It just didn’t happen in those days, not even among the rich. What used to appear instead were ‘aliases’, and there are a number of those in Darton’s register, eg. Baptism 8 November 1682 for the son of Joshua LEE alias HAIGE.

We tend to assume in our modern world that when an alias appears, it’s associated with crime or deception but that didn’t apply in 1685. It might indicate an out-of-wedlock birth, with the alleged father’s surname thrown in beside the mother’s, but most often it was to do with inheritance. Many early deaths in those days, and many remarriages… it could be crucial to be known legally by both or all heritable surnames.

Considering that possibility I tried every squint and magnification in my power to turn that crucial squiggle in the baptism entry into ‘als’ for ‘alias’ but no can do.

So now what I’m left with is the most mysterious entry in the Darton parish register (so far at least), about half a dozen different possible interpretations of it and a perfectly solid Danforth brickwall still standing.

Any help or suggestions gratefully received.


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It helps when looking for your ancestors’ baptisms, marriages and burials, to know which parish they lived in and which registers to check.  That said, it ought to be easy to find out which parish was where – shouldn’t it?  I thought so until I tried to locate the parish of Osmaston by Derby.

It has that awkward name because there is another Osmaston in Derbyshire which is by (or near) Ashbourne, so that’s the first difficulty to overcome : making sure you’re looking at the right Osmaston.  Geographically, the Osmaston I’m interested in (for research into BARNES and PARKER families) is now a heavily residential suburb of Derby but before the industrial revolution was a quiet rural area with a small village and a big house – Osmaston Hall – first built by the Wilmot family in 1696.

To find its parish, I first checked my trusty booklet, the Society of Genealogist’s National Index of Parish Registers for Derbyshire which told me the parish was Osmaston St James and its registers start in 1743, having previously been part of Derby St Werburgh’s parish.  It also said St James’s later became St Osmund’s.  At Derbyshire Archives in Matlock, the file of parish reference sheets, which tell you which microfilm to look at, have no sheet for Osmaston St James, only one headed Derby St Osmund (Osmaston by Derby), with registers starting 1743.  That’s confusing especially as it turns out a second church was built in Osmaston by Derby, called St Osmund’s, in 1905 – that information came from the church database website, which quotes a source saying the church of St James was also known as All Saints, and that the later St Osmund’s got moved around between parishes, ending up in Derby St Andrew’s.

Head spinning?  Mine was, and it got worse when a couple of reference sources online stated that Osmaston by Derby (variously called All Saints or St James) was in Derby St Peter’s parish, not St Werburgh’s, before 1743.  There was even some confusion about this starting date – was it 1733 or 1743?  To top it all off, the Derbyshire Marriage Index includes marriages at Osmaston by Derby before 1743, back to the 1660s, taken from Bishop’s Transcripts (BTs) held at Lichfield Record Office.

I had made the assumption that a definitive, factual, parish history of Osmaston by Derby would have been written a very long time ago and that I could find it, if only I knew where to look.  Seems not, and none of the available experts – human or textual – have so far been able to tell me the full truth of it.  So, for the sake of anyone else trying to find ancestors in Osmaston by Derby before 1905, this seems to be the situation (with thanks to Becky at DRO for providing new, clarifying details):

  • A chapel or chantry was first built in Osmaston by Derby about 1127, modified over the centuries, and at some point dedicated to St James [the Less(er)].  It served as the only parish church through to 1905, when a second church, St Osmund’s, was built.  At that point, St Osmunds became the parish church for Osmaston by Derby, taking over and continuing the old registers previously kept at St James’s.  Meanwhile, St James’s church was still standing and occasional services were held there after 1905.
  • Osmaston St James was a chapelry in the parish of Derby St Peter until either 1733 or 1743.  However, it seems to have had its own incumbent (probably a curate under Derby St Peter’s administration) and to have kept its own separate registers, which have now been lost.  The only copy of them still available is the BTs held at Lichfield Record Office, dating from 1662 (to 1860 for baps and burials; to 1837 for marriages).  In other words, there is no extant parish register information for Osmaston St James before 1662.
  • In either 1733 or 1743, Osmaston St James became a parish in its own right and the registers it kept from that date are available on film at Derbyshire Archives in Matlock (original registers are also held there).
  • When the WILMOTs built Osmaston Hall in 1696-1703, they built it up against the old chapel so that it was perceived by some to have started as the family’s private chapel and integral to the Hall, but that is not the case – the chapel, though dinky in size, was Osmaston by Derby’s parish church until 1905.  The Hall was demolished in 1938 but the chapel survived until 1952.

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