The Butterworth identity – a namesake clue

Thomas Booth (b. 1870) is my great, great grandparent. He lived in Askwith, a small village near Otley in Yorkshire, farmed sheep, died of “farmers lung” in 1929 and was buried at Weston Church with his wife Sarah. He was father to Arthur Booth, who was father to Mary Booth, my maternal grandmother (known as Nana). This much my Nana shared with me over 30 years ago. Without reviewing any formal documentary evidence, I thought I knew his story. Yet I was missing a single critical piece of his identity which in turn enabled me to unlock the story of his illigitimate mother, Elizabeth Dean.

We are a family of amazing women so when I picked up family history research again, I chose to focus on the women. Thomas’s wife, Sarah Cooper, came with a tantalising snippet of a tale about a mother who married twice, the second time to an older man. Over time I was able to evidence this and came to know better the stories of both Sarah Cooper and her mother Hannah Demain. Those, however, will need to wait to be told.

I turned back to Thomas. In pursuit of Sarah, I had visited Thomas’s grave, ordered his marriage and death certificates, and studied censuses from his married life. In all of these he was listed as Thomas Booth. Then an odd bit of evidence. The 1871 census listed one Thomas B Booth and this in turn led me to a potential birth certificate. When it arrived plain old Thomas Booth transformed into the far more compelling Thomas Butterworth Booth and the opened up the Butterworth identity.

Back to the women. Thomas’s mother, Elizabeth Dean, was my original brick wall. Documentary evidence was sparse and didn’t add up to a coherent picture. She was illegitimate, so no father on the marriage certificate. She died quite young, and so I had just one census as a married woman. From what I knew she could have been born in 1844, 1845 or 1846 in “Lancaster” but was living in Wilsden in Yorkshire when she married – a domestic servant without obvious roots.

There were no matching Elizabeth Deans born in Lancaster and too many options across the whole of Lancashire & Yorkshire. Finally, I hit on an effective search strategy. In 1851 she was likely still to be living with her mother in Lancashire. Focusing on those without a father’s name listed narrowed it down to two options. “Betcy Dear” with a parent “Bellow” living in Tatham and born in Wray with Botton didn’t seem terribly promising information, but “stepdaughter” did. When I opened up the record to see that the head of the household was one Thomas Butterworth, I knew I’d cracked it and with it the origin of my Thomas Butterworth Booth’s name.

1851 census listing Betcy Dear, Bellow & Thomas Butterworth

I still don’t know exactly when Elizabeth Dean was born but I do know much more of her story and in turn much more about Thomas’s early life.

Elizabeth was the illegitimate daughter of Isabella Dean born in Wray-with-Botton in the city of Lancaster district. A few years later, in 1850, Isabella married Thomas Butterworth, a quarry man and, somewhat less than nine months later, their legitimate daughter, Anne Butterworth, arrived. By 1861 Elizabeth had moved out of the family home and was working as a domestic servant in her aunt’s household. Isabella & Thomas had moved further south to Warley in Yorkshire likely in pursuit of work.  By 1866 Elizabeth, too, had moved to Yorkshire where she met & married Samuel Booth. Elizabeth & Samuel had two children, John, born in 1869 and Thomas Butterworth a year later and shortly thereafter took over the Booth family farm, March Cote, near Bingley. Elizabeth remained close to her sister during this time. Anne’s first child was named after her aunt Elizabeth, and her second, Marian, was born during a visit to Elizabeth in Bingley.

Sadly, being the wife of a small tenant farmer could be a hard one. Elizabeth’s son, John, died in 1876, aged just seven years old. Then Elizabeth herself succumbed to a combination of diabetes and pneumonia on 3 February 1880 aged around 36 years old. Later that same year, whether as a result of grief or the general agricultural depression of the time, Samuel sold his farm livestock and implements.

He’d been peering through the window when the man in the suit arrived. He’d seen his father’s face grow pale as the man talked, watched his body shrink in on itself. Now the boy sat stiffly opposite his father, toes straining to touch the floor, eyes fixed firmly forward. His father started to speak, to tell him something important, but the words just tumbled around in his brain making no sense“. (Author’s supposition).

This was the point that Thomas dropped the Butterworth identity bringing us back to the beginning of this blog.

With much gratitude to my Nana, Mary Booth, to Elizabeth Dean for naming her son Thomas Butterworth Booth and also to Amy Johnson Crow whose 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge, this week on namesakes, encouraged me to publish this story (

Is Grandma related to Grandad?

Or how a family legend turned out to be true.

My Grandma was a Houseman before she married a Houseman”. This used to be my answer to that dreaded icebreaker conversation “share something about yourself that we might not know.”

Once past the weird questions like “do you have webbed feet” the most frequent question was the one that was also the subject of many family musings “were they related before they married?” To which my answer had been, I didn’t think so, but I’d love to know for sure.

My Grandma, Mary Houseman (born in 1921), was a family historian before family history was a thing. She knew three generations worth of ancestors for both her & her husband (George Houseman, also born in 1921) and she could, and frequently did, tell me how I was related to almost everyone within the local area (essentially Washburn, Wharfedale & Nidderdale valleys north and west of Harrogate). In my childhood we documented the family history together on long pieces of wallpaper lining which I am grateful to still own but as far as we knew there were three separate Houseman families in the neighbourhood and I was related, separately, to two of them.

Fast forward ten or fifteen years and a man called Gary Houseman (no apparent relation) contacted my Grandma. Gary was one of those dedicated genealogists who takes the time to map out a single name, in this case, Houseman. Gary & Grandma had a lot of conversations – it was always his research, but I like to think Grandma helped.

This time instead of wallpaper it was a paper bag from “Vera fashions”, carefully cut down one edge and across the bottom to give a wide enough piece of paper. On that piece of paper was the answer to the family question – Mary & George Houseman were indeed related with the same 3 x great grandparents, one Margaret Grange (born c. 1728) & George Houseman (born c. 1727).

Of course, Grandma being Grandma it wasn’t all black & white. There were the additions in red to note grandparents, great grandparents and even great, great grandparents of people I grew up who were closer relations than Mary & George had ever been!

So yes, Grandma was related to Grandad, but a lot less closely than I now know some of my other ancestors to be (and no doubt your own too)…. but that’s another story!

Biographical detail

Margaret Grange (b. c. 1728) and George Houseman (b. c. 1727) had 8 children. Their oldest child, Thomas (b. c. 1760) marred Mary Akers and had 15 children. Their 13th child, Robert (b. c. 1806), married Elizabeth (Betty) Beecroft and had seven children. Their fourth child, Michael (b. 1842) married Amelia Bradbury and had eleven children. Their 9th child, Jesse (b. 1885) married Amelia Bradbury and had three girls, the youngest of whom was my Grandma, Mary Houseman.  

Margaret Grange & George Houseman’s 6th child, John (b. c. 1769) married Mary Steel and they had five children. Their youngest child, John (b. c. 1832), married Sarah Stansfield and had four children. Their second child, Thomas (b. c. 1834) married Mary Downs and they had five children. George (b. 1868) was their second child. He married Mary Abigail Clapham and they had six children, the youngest of whom was my Grandad, George.

With much gratitude to my Grandma, Mary Houseman, to Mary Grange & George Houseman born in the 1720s, to Gary Houseman and also to Amy Johnson Crow whose 52 ancestors in 52 weeks encouraged me to publish this story.