Posts Tagged ‘Yorkshire’

After sixteen years researching my families on three sides – mother, father and stepfather – there’s no doubt the folk I enjoy discovering the most are the naughty ones. Those who broke society’s rules, willingly or not.

Many of my researcher friends say the same, but there are plenty of others who find ancestral transgressions hard to think about. It’s interesting to consider why there’s such a need for rosey specs when we build the lives and characters of our relatives beyond the bare bones of BMDs.

I guess we all prefer to feel proud of our kin and often that means being able to tell positive stories of work success, personal achievement, happy marriages, warm homes and plenty to eat, much like the Christmas Round Robin.

For people my age, born in the fifties, and particularly for the next generation back, there’s still a powerful fear of social shame even though society has changed so much since our childhoods. The old stigmas that tainted so many lives in the past can still hold sway: being ‘illegitimate’, an unmarried mother, divorcee, deserted wife, on the dole – or simply poor. Not to mention gay. Or criminal – lugged to court or serving time. Women who ‘slept around’ or left their husbands were scandalous, even when escaping violence (which of course was never spoken of).

All these pulls of shame can still operate when we discover an ancestor was one of the above – there can be an anxious urge to tug a curtain over vintage shame. But I’ve found myself becoming increasingly proud and happy with my family transgressors. Maybe that’s because I’ve found so many of them, especially on my father’s side. First in the league is my great-granny Isabella Clavering, whose life was so eventful I’m currently writing a novel based on her life.

As a taster (far from the complete story), I now know that Isabella’s second husband, William Danforth (a south Yorkshire steelworker) married her bigamously, that his first wife Elizabeth Ellen had run off with another man, steelworker Richard Price, and lived with him ‘as married’ until his death. I’ve found that Isabella’s sister Dora ran off to Scotland with another steelworker, Charles White and also lived with him ‘as married’ until her death, while he stayed in contact with his legal wife and three children in Sheffield.

Effectively triple bigamy in one family. Maybe it was part of a steelworker’s job description.

To add to that, Elizabeth Ellen returned with ‘husband’ Richard to her birthplace Hoyland Nether in Yorkshire, and he died there (what?). Her legal husband Bigamous Bill Danforth returned there too from Glasgow after Isabella’s death, to live with his son from his first marriage (what?). For the last few years of his life, Bill and Ellen were living within a few doors of each other in Hoyland (what?). As for Charlie White, after Dora died, he married twice more in Glasgow, the last one, Annie, being only 22 when he was 62. And Annie went to visit Charlie’s Sheffield family in the 1930s, probably at the time of his death in 1938 (what?).

All those whats relate to the fact that bigamists and family-deserters never normally returned to their old haunts or kept contact with those left behind. My family seem to have made a habit of it.

I’m delighting in all this non-conformity, and it certainly makes for good plot-lines in the novel, but I do wonder how other descendants of Bella, Bill, Richard, Ellen, Dora and Charlie might feel about their ancestors’ transgressions being laid bare with scant rosiness applied. It comes down to a question all family researchers have to face – how much truth to tell.



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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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Last week, it finally arrived, after nine horrendous months – the day I settled into my new home. I’ve made the tremendous leap north of twelve miles from Chesterfield to the leafy S11 area of Sheffield. I am extraordinarily happy to be in a city again, with all its buzz and opportunities, but especially THIS city.

Here’s why. Not just because it has the reputation as one of the safest cities in the country. Or because its residents are so friendly. And there’s real feminist activity going on (Feminists Over Fifty overflowing with members), and the independent cinema shows all the latest films WITH SUBTITLES every Monday…

For my research addiction, archives and local studies library are just a bus ride away. But most of all, I’m following my forefathers’ footsteps. Or more accurately, their short sojourn here, but it was a significant one. On 16 August 1878, my grandfather Ernest Danforth was born here, at 23 Sussex Street (in the south-east area of Darnall/Wicker near the present-day Cobweb Bridge). That was just seven months and a bit after the (bigamous) marriage of his parents William Danforth and Isabella Tamplin nee Clavering on 5 January 1878. We probably don’t need to ask why they married, in a Register Office, with unrelated witnesses.

The reason they were in Sheffield at all was only because Isabella, a Gateshead girl by birth, moved here from Manchester with first husband Joe Tamplin, an early Sheffield policeman. By the time she fell pregnant with grandad Ernest, Bella had lost Joe to TB only six months before, and all three of her previous children to scarlatina in 1875. A destitute widow, she brought in some pennies by running a little shop from her front room in Sussex Street. Perhaps Bill frequented her shop. As a steel puddler from Hoyland Nether just up t’road near Barnsley, he may have worked in the steelworks on Sussex Street (a decidedly industrial location) and called in to Mrs Tamplin’s shop for small purchases. More likely they met in the North Pole inn.

They didn’t stay long. By the 1881 census, they were in Brinsworth in Rotherham and Bill was a mill labourer, no longer using his muscles for steel-puddling. Local newspapers report devastating levels of poverty and destitution in Sheffield in the 1870s-80s as its steel manufacturers lost out to works in other parts of the country. The family’s further move to Glasgow a year or two later was probably a search for work (Bill had been there before in the 1860s with his first wife), although the long arm of the anti-bigamy law might have been a push factor too. As a result, grandad Ernest grew up a thoroughly east-Glasgow lad, reportedly with such a strong Glaswegian accent, no-one knew his Yorkshire roots. And for the rest of his life, his was the only Danforth family in Scotland.

In fact, the Danforth name is pretty rare in the UK generally. Thick on the ground in the USA because of two Danforth pilgrims from Framlingham in Suffolk who migrated in the early 17th century. But they are not related to my lot. In Thornhill, south Yorkshire, the name was first Dunforth, locational after a small habitation in that area, and probably pronounced in the local accent something like D’nf’d, so Dunford and Danford are regular variants, as well as many stranger ones.

Moving back to my Yorkshire roots at the start of the new-old year (March 25th) seems an appropriate time to launch a Yorkshire Danforth One Name Study. Well, more of a gentle push into the genealogical boating pond. Later I’ll set up an ONS website or blog but now is the start of data-gathering, and contacting potential Danforth matches via DNA test results (more about that to come).

Anyone reading this who is a Yorkshire Danforth, Danford or Dunford, please get in touch! Leave a comment below, or email me: celiarenshawATgmail.com.

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My father’s Danforth family came from Yorkshire, via Clydebank and Glasgow.

It was always rumoured that despite possessing the thickest of Glasgow accents, dad’s father, Ernest Danforth, was born in Yorkshire, and that proved to be true. Ernest was born to William Danforth and Isabella (nee Clavering) on 16 August 1878 in Sheffield, at 23 Sussex Street. Sadly, by the time I held the certificate in my hands, there was no-one to share the news. All my Danforth family had passed on, my grandparents, my dad, his two brothers and adopted sister, all by then interred in Scottish cemeteries. My two uncles, Robert and Ernest, had no children and my aunt Margaret, who was a Kemp by birth, bestowed her husband’s French name on her children. So, in the Scottish tradition whereby wives retain their maiden name as well as married name, for years I believed I was the only Danforth left from my grandad Ernest’s line.

But I’m far from being the only blood-descendant of Ernest’s father William Danforth.

Bill arrived on 25 May 1838 in Hoyland Nether near Barnsley, the third of ten rumbunctious children born to John Danforth and Hannah (nee May). Eight were girls – two died young and three thought little of producing baby Danforths without benefit of marriage. The eldest, Mary, had three, in the space of 13 years, and never married. But none of these out-of-wedlocks produced male descendants. From William’s generation, only his brother, my great-great-uncle Daniel, was fated to keep the Danforth flag flying in the Hoyland area.

Bigamous Bill

Bill meanwhile, ventured far away from Hoyland, to the steelworks and tenements of east Glasgow, before retiring back home again. He married a Hoyland girl first (Elizabeth Ellen Greenwood) and produced two sons with her – John William and Walter. But before the 1881 census, Ellen had disappeared, resurfacing in Cumbria in 1891 with a ‘husband’ named Richard Price. Both sons ended up there too, in Workington and Maryport, and the sizeable dynasties of Danforths they produced have scattered around the world, though some returned to Hoyland before spreading into other parts of Yorkshire.

I strongly suspect that first wife Ellen did a runner, for reasons we can only guess, leaving her grown sons with Bill. She must have left before 1878 because on 5 January that year, at Sheffield Register Office, Bill remarried to my great-grandmother Isabella. Bill lied that he was a widower and Isabella must have been just pregnant, since grandfather Ernest was born in early August. Strictly speaking therefore, grandad was ‘illegitimate’.

Bill, Isabella and Ernest were in Rotherham in 1881 but by 1885 they had settled in the east end of Glasgow where Bill no doubt puddled steel in the vast works at Parkhead Forge. Perhaps he was escaping the law. Bigamy, it turns out, was very common in the Victorian era when most people were unable to obtain divorces. Desertion, never to be seen again by the family left behind, was considered the ‘poor man’s divorce’ – but those caught were still severely punished by the law. Second wife Isabella died in Glasgow in 1906. Bill stayed on for a few years, and saw son Ernest respectably employed as a Postman and married to my grandmother Cecilia, but then came the strangest development. By the 1911 census, Bill had returned to Hoyland Nether, to live with son John William in Elizabeth Street – and just a few doors away in the same street was none other than first wife Ellen, still calling herself Price.

They must have continued in this close proximity until their deaths, Bill in 1914 and Ellen in 1920. Both died in son John William’s house. The big surprise is that they weren’t buried together. They had separate graves in Hoyland church’s burial ground – but John William buried his mum as a Danforth, not Price. I have never heard of any other story of desertion or bigamy where the parties ended up back in the same place together.

So now, my great-grandfather William Danforth is always ‘Bigamous Bill’ to me, and stories of his life and my great-grandmother Isabella’s could surely spawn a thick family saga or two.

Inspired by them, I have now reignited my Danforth research, treating the Yorkshire Danforths as a one-name-study, so look out for plenty more articles to come.





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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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I was born a DANFORTH and for long years before marriage I was none too pleased about it.  No-one it seemed could understand the name on first hearing.  Add to that the given name Celia and I spent much of my life carefully spelling out both names to people.  I used to receive letters addressed to DAVENPORT, DUMFORTH, DUNFORD, BAMFORTH and even – the best of all – BUMFORTH.

When I changed my name with relief to RENSHAW, little did I know I had chosen another one that could be spelled a hundred different ways.  Family research into both names is therefore fraught with difficulty but DANFORTH has its particular challenges. 

For a start, a couple of men called DANFORTH from Framlingham in Suffolk, England, left for the New World and managed to populate half a continent so there are now huge numbers of their DANFORTHs in the USA, none related to me.  Some have been prominent though.  One DANFORTH was the witch-hunting presiding judge at the Salem witch trials and Joe Dan Quayle was actually Danforth in the middle there.  Examples to be proud of.

Secondly, two variants of DANFORTH are DANFORD and DUNFORD.  While DANFORTH is quite a rare name in England, DANFORD and DUNFORD are anything but.  There are thousands.

For both these reasons, I have chosen not to go for a formal One Name Study of DANFORTH as one of the requirements set by the Guild of One Name Studies (GOONS) is that the researcher must encompass all variants of the name worldwide.  Instead, I am limiting myself to a search for the DANFORTHs of Yorkshire and their descendants, though with a sinking heart I’m being forced to accept that the earliest version of the name was probably DUNFORTH and, in Yorkshire dialect, it probably sounded more like DUNFORD…

It’s impossible to know the origin of the name though surname dictionaries suggest the ‘forth’ part is locational, derived from a ford across a river.  But ‘Dun’ or ‘Dan’ at the beginning could come from anything.  One theory is that ‘Dan’ stems from ‘Dane’ and relates to the time when Danes (ie. the Vikings) occupied large parts of England, including Yorkshire.

The ancestral location for my own DANFORTHs is around Barnsley in the West Riding of Yorkshire.  My great-great grandfather William DANFORTH was born in 1838 in Hoyland Nether, 5 miles south of Barnsley and he was a steel puddler, which means he had big muscles.  He had an interesting life, a story that I will tell later, and it took him with my great-grandmother Isabella (nee CLAVERING) and small son Ernest DANFORTH (born Sheffield in 1878) up to Glasgow in Scotland.  Isabella died there in 1906 and a few years later William returned to Hoyland Nether where he died in 1914, leaving Ernest behind in Clydebank with his new wife Cecilia and first son Ernest jnr.

Ernest and Cecilia (always known as Mammie) went on to have two more sons, Robert and Walter John (my dad) and a daughter Margaret.  I’ve been told that, despite his Sheffield birth, Ernest had the broadest of Glasgow accents and no-one could tell he wasn’t a native.  From my research I now know that until recently mine were the only DANFORTHs to live in Scotland and it’s pleasant to own that small piece of uniqueness.  It certainly makes Scottish research a darn sight easier than the English, especially as Scottish birth, marriage and death certificates are vastly more informative than English ones.  For a start, the death certificate for my grandfather Ernest of 1951 told me his father William’s name and occupation and that his mother Isabella was born CLAVERING and had had a first marriage to someone named TAMPLIN.  That kind of detail never appears on English death certificates and it took me a very long and encouraging way as I started out down my first line of research.

Sadly because my two uncles did not produce sons and my aunt Margaret took her husband’s surname, I turned out to be the last Scottish DANFORTH (quarter-Scottish anyway).  I think that’s a good reason for keeping the surname alive through my DANFORTH study.

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