What surnames can add to the knowledge of our beginnings

We begin our family history journey at the end. There are many logical reasons for this, for after all, what would be the beginning? The generationally oldest ancestors? I believe I know something about eighteen 12x great grandparents who lived in the 1500s but far from enough to make their life interesting and what about the other 8,174 of them (endogamy aside)? DNA? Mine simply supports what I already know – my ancestors are mostly from Yorkshire. However, there is one other angle, that of surnames which can provide an insight into ancestors much further back than we will ever be able to prove.

In this article, the numbers born refer to the period from the start of civil registration, currently transcribed on freebmd (1837 – 1992 approx). The counts for the first seven surnames were taken on 3 August 2022, for more distant ancestors on 29 November 2022.


Jesse Houseman (Grandma’s Dad)’s signature at the end of a letter to his landlord. 1920. Own collection.

Born a Houseman, like my Grandma, I plan to die as one. Although I’m resorting to changing my name back by deed poll whilst my Grandma just married a Houseman. As the subtitle to my website notes “it’s who I am.” It is, though, only my second favourite surname. Largely, I think, because it’s already been well-researched and I am forever grateful to Gary Houseman who proved the link between my two paternal grandparents.

Whilst this surname is believed to originate from an occupation, from someone working at or associated with the local “great” house, it is relatively uncommon and highly geographically concentrated. 43% of the 2,651 Housemans born in England & Wales between 1837 and 1992 (as counted on 3 August 2022) were born in Yorkshire counties and of these there is only one branch who are not directly related. I was delighted to find that the one family in Yorkshire who are not related by blood can still be connected into my tree as William Shaw Houseman (b. 1848) who’s father, Robert, was born in London, married Hannah Smith, who’s mother was a Houseman!


Grandpy’s entry in my autograph book. 1985. Own collection.

By contrast, I’ve never felt the same connection to my mother’s maiden name. It crops up too often for me to be sure I’ve found the right family. There’s even a shoe store which carries the name. Our Barretts had the audacity to originate from Gloucestershire and it’s Norman in origin. Sorry Grandpy, I love you, but it’s not a surname that holds my attention.


Nana’s Booth signature at the front of her own autograph book. c. 1939. Own collection.

Nana’s birth name.

Many years ago I spotted a beautiful seventeenth century wooden tray painted with the names of a Booth family. £400 was an awful lot of money but I was severely tempted, convinced the family would be related somehow. Whilst I still hold a slight sense of regret the chances that the tray family were in anyway related is slim to non-existent for there were nearly 50x as many Booths born as Housemans.

Booth is considered to be a northern name (over a quarter of those registered births were in Yorkshire) originating from the old Danish word “bōth” meaning a temporary shelter such as a cattle-herdsman’s hut. We were cattle keepers, probably the most appropriate of our surnames throughout my paper history. It also accounts for the 2% of Swedish & Danish ancestry in my Mum’s DNA profile.

Booth is also one of the two surnames I planned to use if I was ever to write under a pen name, which leads me onto….


Ernest Moody (Nana’s grandfather)’s autograph from Nana’s book. 1939. Own collection.

Nana’s mother’s birth name and the other pen name I would choose.

From the Middle English mody meaning ‘proud, haughty, angry, fierce, bold, brave, or rash’ not grumpy as it is now.

I broke freebmd trying to work out what percentage of people had been born in Yorkshire, but in the 2021 census, Yorkshire was home to about 9% of the population of England & Wales so essentially anything over 10% represents a northern bias and Moody, at 14% is no exception.

But as for Moodys being proud & haughty? This was the most unassuming branch of our family tree. We’d obviously not inherited those genes.


Mary (Pollie) Wellock, Grandpy’s mother. From her date book. 1907. Own collection.

Grandpy’s mother’s birth name.

I love the Wellock surname. Most recently it’s enabled a wonderful Canadian adventure. Every Wellock alive today can be traced back to just two men. They are either descendants of Henry (born in the late 1500s in Kirby Malham) or of Robert (b. c. 1546 in Linton in Craven). The two are undoubtably related but I am always disappointed when a Wellock is descended from Henry.

Common thinking is that Wellock is a derivation of de Wheelock suggesting Norman ancestry, but given that the Wellock (or Walock) name is only held by those from Craven, Yorkshire, my interest stops there.


John Scott (Grandma’s grandfather) from his will dated 1920. Own collection.

Grandma’s mother’s birth name.

Ultimately it’s a man from Scotland. Which could mean anything. Weirdly, my Mum’s DNA contains a lot of unexplained Scottish DNA whilst my paternal Uncle’s contains none. It’s also the most common surname amongst my great grandparents. Combine it with John and you’ve got a genealogical nightmare. So I just feel grateful that I’ve been able to trace this line as far back as my 6x great grandfather, John Scott, born in the early to mid 1700s in Branton Green, North Yorkshire.


Martha (Handley) Clapham (Grandad’s grandmother)’s signature from the 1911 census. Own collection.

Grandad’s mother’s birth name.

The last of my great grandparents surnames is slowly gaining my attention. Growing up there were a lot of Claphams and I thought it must be a common name. But there were under 10,000 of them born between 1837 and 1992 and of those, over 40% were born in Yorkshire. Which explains why there were a lot of them about when I was growing up.

More interestingly (for me), I have Claphams on my maternal side too – my 5x great grandmother, Elizabeth Clapham was born in Lawkland about three miles from the village of Clapham.

Given that Clapham is believed to originate from the name of a village that could suggest a connection for whilst there are Clapham villages and (different) family branches originating as far away as Bedfordshire, Surrey, Sussex and even Devon, my Grandad’s mother’s family had been slowly tracking south and east away from the original Clapham village. 

Could this be the elusive connection between my Mum & my Dad’s family trees?

Earlier generations

Going back to my 3xG grandparents adds a further twenty-four surnames. It seems I’m unlikely to ever find a familial connection to my friends Sarah Walker & Helen Cooper (being the two most popular surnames in my tree with over 300,000 of each of them born). There were fullers and coopers in almost every village from which these surnames derive.

There are some though which will be worthy of further exploration.

  • Stansfield, Furniss and Hinchcliffe are all relatively rare. They are locational surnames recognising people from Stansfield (near Todmorden), Furness (Cumberland) and Hinchliff (near Holmfirth) so it is not surprising that around 50% of these births were in Yorkshire. Each one might give me a hint as to where the families originated from. Each also has a number of different variants and the exact spelling could be useful in tracing my line.
  • I grew up surrounded by Beecrofts and they pop up on both sides of my tree so was surprised to learn how uncommon the name was both generally and in Yorkshire. It’s a locational name based on an apparently “lost” village named “beo-croft” meaning bee farm. Tracing potential locations in the region could help me bring together the two sides of my family.
  • Down to those names with fewer than 5,000 children born. Teal has my favourite origin story, as it is thought to be a nickname, meaning like a water-bird. One of my distant ancestors must have been graceful in their deportment. The Teal variant of the name is also strongly associated with Yorkshire with over half those born being from Yorkshire.
  • There were fewer Reynards born than Housemans. Reynard does not in fact mean fox-like, but rather a popular medieval story book fox character was given this name and it stuck. It’s a surname with a number of variants, but 64% of the people born carrying the surname in this form were from Yorkshire meaning I stand a good chance of bringing them together in one tree.  
  • And finally, my favourite 3xG Grandmother, Hannah Demaine, keeps on giving. Surprisingly, given it means someone from the ancient French province of Maine, it’s a surname even more rare than Wellock and just as heavily concentrated in Yorkshire. The variant Demain, which I have also seen, only adds a few hundred births. This family of agricultural labourers are about as far from a Norman knight as it is possible to be and has whetted my appetite to research further.

There are a few more ancient names I should mention as being gateway surnames that have enabled me to reach back much further than I would otherwise have done: Wigglesworth, Hebden and Swale are all locational from Yorkshire. Pettyt leads me to a cousin, William, appointed Keeper of the Records in the Tower of London in 1689, who invented a wonderful family history claiming descent from King Arthur and might provide a connection to my oldest friend, Andrea (nee Petty). Finally, there’s Inglesant is a rare example of a surname derived from a woman demonstrating the strength of my female ancestry right back into the medieval ages.   

And so it is that my beginnings reflect the end. It’s an (almost) Yorkshire story.

With much gratitude to Natalie Pithers for her two prompts, beginnings & surnames, which led to this blog and to all my ancient ancestors for picking such wonderful surnames.

What the 1921 census told me that I didn’t know

I’ve been cautious about the 1921 census. £3.50 for each page. Half the price of a GRO certificate, double that of a will. And unlike both of those I know that it will be available within a standard subscription at some point in the future. (I am still considering taking out a premium subscription for findmypast – had they made this clear a couple of years ago I was ready to transfer my allegiance from ancestry, but since then I’ve invested even more in building my family tree on that platform, so it’ll be even more of an effort to transfer over).

I also had to manage my own expectations about what I would find. It wasn’t a helpful year for our family. Grandpy was a few months old, but none of my other grandparents had been born. Grandad arrived just five days later and Grandma the following month. Nana’s parents were not yet even married. All my great grandparents were around, but I knew where they were. Four of my great great grandparents would be missing, being four of the least well researched. I am grateful that the general strike which postponed this census did not affect the possibility of seeing the last of my great, great, great grandparents in the census as Martha (Handley) Clapham died on 29 March 1921. In other words, this census, unlike previous censuses, only really covered three generations about whom I already knew quite a lot.

I narrowed my purchases down to just the ten relating to direct ancestors alive at the time. One grandparent, eight great grandparents and twelve great great grandparents. Twenty one in total which is kind of apt.

Richard Walker, Mary (Wellock) & George Thomas Barrett

1921 census from findmypast including Richard Walker, Mary (Wellock) & George Thomas Barrett

Grandpy (Richard Walker Barrett) was always going to be the first person I searched for. And yes, it was super cute to see him recorded for posterity aged just three months. It also allowed me to tick off his parents Mary (Wellock) and George Thomas Barrett. But I already knew they had lived at Scalebar Farm in Gargrave when Grandpy was born and it wasn’t either Toft Gate, Greenhow Hill nor Upper West End Farm, Stainburn the two farms with which this family is most closely associated. I didn’t know that Uncle Henry had been born at Greenhow Hill which gives me a possible date for when they might have taken on the tenancy of Scalebar, but the rest of the data on this page is all well documented elsewhere.

Mary (Walker) & Richard Wellock

1921 census from findmypast including Mary (Walker) & Richard Wellock

Possibly the least interesting was that relating to my Wellock great great grandparents. I could have filled in this entire form myself.

Jane (Brooks) & Henry Barrett

1921 census from findmypast including Jane (Brooks) & Henry Barrett

Whilst there was nothing new to be learnt about Grandpy’s Barrett grandparents, Jane (Brooks) & Henry Barrett, it was lovely to see a reference to William Henry Barrett. William served his country during WW1. It was only a couple of years ago that I learnt of his existence for he died from tuberculosis in 1924 and may have disappeared were it not for census records.

Then there are visitors. Amy, a niece of Henry’s went on to marry her fellow visitor, Henry M Chambers, thirty-four years her senior, but not until 1930, by which time, Henry was 74 and Amy had been his domestic help for at least twenty years. Amy suddenly made it onto my list of sibling & cousin stories to explore.

Marion, Annie (Bentley) & Ernest Moody

1921 census from findmypast including Marion, Annie (Bentley) & Ernest William Moody.

Unlike our other grandparents, Nana wasn’t even a twinkle in 1921. Her parents weren’t even to marry for another four years.

The Moody family (Nana’s maternal side) was the second census I looked for, mainly to check out the lodger. There’s a family rumour that the youngest son, George, may not have been Ernest’s and whilst I have a different interpretation it was rather satisfying to find the same Tom Atkinson, who was with the family in 1911, still living with the family on Lodge Terrace. George was born in between the two censuses so if a lodger was the father, then this was certainly he.

Edith Moody at work. Colourised using myheritage. Own collection.

More excitingly still (and that which I consider to be “the” finding of the 1921 census) was the listing of Aunty Edie’s occupation and workplace as blanket weaver for Clayton Brothers, Coxley, Netherton. Finally, I was able to put some context to the photo I had inherited. These were factory girls.

Arthur, Sarah (Cooper) & Thomas (Butterworth) Booth

1921 census from findmypast including Arthur, Sarah (Cooper) & Thomas (Butterworth) Booth

On to Nana’s father’s family, the Booths. Whilst there is very little here which I didn’t know, it was good to have further confirmation of certain details such as Sarah’s birthplace where I had previously considered different options. However, Arthur’s workplace on a nearby farm is new and something worth doing further work around. Scales Farm clearly couldn’t support the whole family. I have an intriguing photo of Arthur as a young man together with a group of men of varying ages. As much as I would love this to be of Arthur, Thomas & other relatives, it is just as likely to relate to his 1921 employer.

Mary Abigail (Clapham) & George Houseman, Mary Ann (Wilkinson) & Samuel Clapham

Figure 52: 1921 census from findmypast including Mary Abigail (Clapham) & George Houseman

Switching sides to my Dad’s parents.

I perhaps shouldn’t have such low expectations of Grandad’s family given that it is through Grandad that I have found both a proven link to women’s suffrage through Martha Clapham (aka Maria Greevz) and a rather more spurious link to royalty but the 1921 census did nothing to help change my opinion. If only Grandad had been born five days earlier.

Mary Abigail (Clapham) & George Houseman (Grandad’s parents) are to be found at Fairfield Farm with their children. George was the oldest of my great grandparents by some fifteen years, so it is no surprise that both his parents had died more than a decade earlier. Mary Abigail was the next youngest and her parents Mary Ann (Wilkinson) and Samuel Clapham are both to be found farming at North Rigton.

1921 census from findmypast including Mary Ann (Wilkinson) & Samuel Clapham

Hilda Mary (Scott) & Jesse Houseman

1921 census from findmypast including Hilda Mary (Scott) & Jesse Houseman

Grandma was born just over a month after the census was taken. I do rather smile at her mother, the rather smart Hilda Mary, being caught on paper at eight months pregnant – I feel certain she would never have allowed herself to be photographed at this stage. But rather more importantly are the birthplaces of Grandma’s older sisters, Muriel (born in Thirsk, home of Hilda’s parents) & Jessie (born in Birstwith) plus the actual recorded address (Park Head, Norwood). There’s potentially more movement in Hilda & Jesse’s early married years than Grandma either knew or properly recorded.

Maria (Reynard) Scott

Figure 55: 1921 census from findmypast including Maria (Reynard) Scott

Of all my great, great grandparents, Maria (Reynard) & John Scott were the only pair who came close to being upper middle class. Remember this was the generation who were born twenty years into Queen Victoria’s reign, class mattered, and Maria epitomised this age. It is from her I have inherited the classic middle-class Victorian photo album (for which I am very grateful!). Hilda, her daughter, though always smart, was also quoted, by my Grandma, to have “married down”. Here, in 1921, we see Maria in her element. She’s my only female ancestor to head a household in this census, proudly describing herself as “head” and “farmer” and her son as only “farm manager” working for “Mrs Scott.” Her husband, John, had been dead for a year and there was no sense of handing over control here.   

This census also neatly links in the Housemans. Whilst I already know that Maria’s daughter, Laura, married her sister’s husband’s uncle, future generations may not and the 1921 neatly demonstrates a sister who is also an aunt.

Amelia (Bradbury) Houseman

1921 census from findmypast including Amelia (Bradbury) Houseman

I am pretty certain that Grandma inherited her matriarchal tendencies from both her Grandmothers but Amelia (Bradbury) Houseman’s appearance in the 1921 census completely cloaks this.

I end this tour with the most unfairly represented of all my ancestors in the 1921 census. Amelia was rightly recorded as retired and living with her daughter and son-in-law, at Lime Street in Harrogate, where she was to live for the remainder of her life. The census says nothing of the thirty years following her husband’s death during which she continued to run the family farm both alone and in partnership with one or more of her sons. It is also silent of her fight against the 1920 rent increases which ultimately forced her to retire and left her, as a woman, disenfranchised in the 1922 election, the first in which women could vote.  

Are the 1921 censuses worth the money? I can only speak to someone who knew a lot about her twenty-one ancestors who were living at the time.  Two (Maria (Reynard) Scott & Amelia (Bradbury) Houseman) reinforced the impression I have held, that the women in our family have always been matriarchs. Two (Hilda Mary (Scott) & Jesse Houseman and Arthur Booth) will lead me to better map the places my ancestors lived and worked). One (that of Jane (Brooks) & Henry Barrett containing Amy Barrett) leads me to an intriguing story, albeit of a cousin, and one (that of the Moodys) was pure gold – helping both confirm the lodger of family legend and explain an intriguing photo.  

With much gratitude to Natalie Pithers who runs the Curious Descendants for setting twenty-one as today’s challenge.

The naming of our grandparents

My siblings & I have never quite agreed how to spell Grandpy (my mum’s dad). Is it Grandpy, Grampy or Granpy?

It seems, from recent consumer research into the names we Brits call our grandparents, that Grampy is now the more popular. Whilst I may have to concede Grampy is, in fact, a legitimate spelling, he’ll always remain Grandpy to me! Reading the research further I discovered that Grampy is particularly popular in Wales and the South West and my curiosity was piqued for Grandpy’s own great grandparents, Elizabeth Prout and Thomas Barrett, were born in Pembrokeshire and Gloucestershire, respectively. Could the name have echoes of distant ancestors? And what other grandparent names have we used in our family?

My sister Anna’s christening in 1979 taken in the garden at Hill Top Cottage, Lindley. From right to left, back row: Grandpy & Grandad, middle row: Mum, Grandma & Nana, front row: me, Helen & Anna. Own collection.

I was the first grandchild on both sides, so Mum was able to decide what our grandparents would be called. She had a Nan & a Grandma herself so decided on Nana instead for her mum. Grandpy was not, sadly, a historic echo but rather chosen simply as a name which was different and more fun. (As an aside Nana’s sister, Hilda, became Gam, which I also love). Mum’s relationship with her in-laws was undoubtably more formal and she avoided calling her in-laws by any name until I was born when she could refer to them as Grandma and Grandad. My nieces and nephews know Mum as Gran (as Nana will always be Nana, and Nan felt far too old), Dad as Grandad Bob and Mum’s husband as Papa Joe (of Charlie and the Chocolate factory fame).

An extract from Mary Wellock’s date book showing use of “Granma Barrett” to describe Jane Brooks. Own collection.

Mum’s grandparents were Nan & Grandad Booth (Marion Moody & Arthur Booth) and Grandma & Grandad Barrett (Mary Wellock & George Thomas Barrett). Grandpy, in turn, called his own Barrett grandparents Granma & Grandad Barrett (Jane Brooks and Henry Barrett), demonstrating conclusively that the name Grandpy did not pass from our Welsh forebears.  

An extract from Grandma’s memoires “The Changing Years” referencing Grannie Houseman and Grandad Michael. Own collection.

Dad only really knew two of his grandparents. According to my uncle, my grandad’s mum (Mary Abigail Clapham) was Grandma and my grandma’s dad (Jesse Houseman) was Grandad. As there were only two grandparents, there was fortunately no need to add a surname. Fortunate as confusingly both would have been Houseman! Grandma always called her own parents Mother & Dad, perhaps reflecting their respective family status which is also seen in how she referred to her own grandparents. Her father’s parents were Grannie Houseman & Grandad Michael (Amelia Bradbury & Michael Houseman) and her maternal grandmother was simply Grandma (Maria Reynard) “a refined lady.” Strangely there is no note in Grandma’s memoires of her maternal grandfather, John Scott. He had died just before Grandma was born so she never knew him, yet her other grandfather, Michael, had died almost thirty years earlier and he was still warrented a mention.

With seven Grandads, a Grandpy and a Papa, four Grandmas, a Gran, a Granma, a Grannie, a Nan and a Nana in our family we seem to mirror the modern research. Whilst 68% of men are known as Grandad the women show more diversity with Nan coming in at 33%, Grandma 32% and Nana 24%. Once again, I am grateful to Mum for choosing a more unusual option as a name!

With much gratitude to my grandparents for all their love and to Amy Johnson Crow whose 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge encouraged me to publish this series of stories.

Infographic presenting the main research findings on what we call our grandparents, from the original press release.

Are we a political family?

Growing up I didn’t consider us to be a political family. We didn’t join a party, deliver leaflets, or spend time debating the political issues of the day. We voted of course although those votes counted for very little in a first past the post system. Skipton & Ripon (where I first voted) is one of the safest Conservative seats in the country. Leeds North East (where I moved in 1997) has returned a strong labour majority for the last twenty-five years. Holborn & St Pancras (my current constituency) is another staunch labour stronghold. The MP in each case is chosen not by the electorate but by party members long before the election.

Our thinking has changed as we have grown older. Whilst Mum may still refuse to tell us how she actually voted, family lunches regularly stray into political debate and even Mum became an active campaigner during the EU referendum. It was at that point I decided to gift my youngest sister, Sharon, a rather unusual birthday present which I’ll come to later.

This week’s #52ancestor hint “voting” is the prompt I needed to bring together a few short stories of how our ancestors have long engaged in politics, demonstrating that we are much more of a political family that it might have once appeared.  

How the men in our family voted in the 1868 general election

Poll book for the election of two Knights of the Shire for the Eastern Division of the West Riding of Yorkshire on Saturday November 28th 1868.

The snappily named “Poll book for the election of two Knights of the Shire for the Eastern Division of the West Riding of Yorkshire on Saturday November 28th 1868” records the actual votes cast in the 1868 general election. It also provides clues as to the voters’ relative wealth. The Reform Act 1867 had significantly increased the number of enfranchised men. In the Shires this right had been extended to all male heads of household occupying property with a rateable value of at least £12. The poll book also splits the electorate into those who either owned property or paid more than £50 a year in rent and those who did not.

It was a narrow Conservative victory over the Liberals.

What of our ancestors? William Clapham, Thomas Wellock and Joseph Furniss occupied property with a rent of £50 or more and voted for the conservative candidates. Joseph Demaine, Richard Gill and Thomas Bradbury occupied smaller properties and voted for the liberal candidates. It’s a small sample so I’ll ignore the temptation to draw conclusions about the link between wealth & party. More critically John Howson, John Handley, George Brooks & Thomas Houseman were clearly missing from the voters list. All four headed up their households in 1868 and were likely disenfranchised due to poverty. Then there’s poor Matthew Wilkinson, who’s voting card was blank as he died less than a fortnight before the election. Not that his vote would have made a difference. To a man, Rigton voted for the conservative candidates.

Extract from the above Poll Book showing a blank entry for Matthew Wilkinson

Michael Houseman and the Harrogate Liberal party

Michael is my great, great grandfather (Grandma’s Grandfather). Born in 1842, Michael would have been old enough to vote in 1868 and there is a possible conservative candidate voting match in the poll book. Unfortunately, there was more than one Michael Houseman living in Darley at the time making it impossible to know if he is ours. Indeed, later evidence would point to the opposite, for Michael was an active member of the Harrogate Liberal Party in the late 1880s, the first member of our family for whom I can evidence a political party connection.

Report of a Harrogate Liberal Party meeting, Knaresborough Post, 23 April 1887. From the British Newspaper archive.

Michael was an elected official within the Liberal Party, the Divisional Association Delegate (Haverah Park). Which might sound impressive until you consult the census and see that there were just 71 people living in Haverah Park in 1891! There’s also little evidence of Michael contributing to the party meetings which were faithfully covered in detail by the Knaresborough Post. Perhaps Michael felt he should defer to those with more education or wealth or perhaps he felt he had nothing relevant to say about Irish Home Rule which dominated the discussions through this period. (It makes me sad to write this at a time when a hard border on the island of Ireland is back causing conflict). Still, it’s wonderful to find an ancestor who was actively involved in party politics more than 130 years ago.

Marie Greevz, our first political activist

A year or so ago, my sister Sharon suggested I needed to find a suffragette in the family. Ha, I said, we are not a political family. Then I stumbled on Marie Greevz, born Martha Clapham.

Martha Clapham aka Marie Greevz (front centre) outside Leeds town hall. From William Hudson’s collection

Martha was the daughter of the previously mentioned William Clapham (my great, great, great grandfather) and their politics couldn’t have been more different for Martha was a militant feminist and active suffragette. Unlike her generational peer, Michael, Martha spoke out in meetings, wrote letters to newspapers, marched on demonstrations and was elected as the first female president of the Leeds Philatelic Society. She was a political activist and a woman I am looking forward to learning much more about.

Sharon Slinger and an unusual birthday present

Sharon & Natasha on a climate march in 2015. Own photo.

My sister Sharon and I are both political campaigners in our different ways. After many years of debate, we have learnt to wholeheartedly support each other on most issues and to respect the right to have conflicting opinions where we don’t agree. We both care deeply about people, personal integrity, community, (in)equality and climate change. We both put the work in behind the scenes to make things happen and have both learned to be pragmatic where needed. If we’d grown up in a different family we may have both engaged in party politics from an early age. But we didn’t, so we didn’t.

We’ve often voted differently, and it took the EU referendum for me to absorb how close our politics really were. Which led to the unusual birthday present. I joined Sharon up to the Lib Dems. Most inspired birthday present ever. She dived right in. For we are a political family. Earlier this year Sharon became (as far as I know) the first in our family to stand for election as a city councillor (for Weetwood in Leeds). I had to watch wistfully from London, pride in my heart, as my entire family took to the streets in support of Sharon. Labour felt nervous enough to bring in the big guns. 2,207 votes was a pretty credible result, but sadly not enough to take the seat. This time.

In short, we are a political family

250 years ago, an act of parliament allowed the majority of our ancestor households to have at least one vote. 130 years ago an ancestor first joined a political party. 100 years ago a female relation demonstrated how women could be incredibly effective political campaigners. This year my sister has proved herself as a credible candidate in a hard-fought city council election. Our next generation may or may not decide to engage directly but they will at least know that they are from a political family and they have every right to step forward should they so wish to do so.

With much gratitude to all those of my ancestors who voted and especially to Michael Houseman, Martha Clapham & Sharon Slinger who taught me that we are a political family. Also to Amy Johnson Crow for the 52 ancestors hint.

Martha Handley (1830 – 1921) & William Clapham (1829 – 1893)

Martha Handley, from Justin Clapham’s collection

This is part of a series of brief biographies of earlier ancestors.

On Monday, 1 March 1920, Martha would have been celebrating her 90th birthday. It had been a fair February that year so perhaps Martha sat on her front doorstep of Blaeberry Croft cosily wrapped in her woollen shawl and headscarf with her faithful dog by her side. How might she be reflecting on those past ninety years?

Martha had lived her whole life in North Rigton, a compact Yorkshire village situated towards the top of a hill. It’s a popular place these days, just a few miles to Harrogate, close to Weeton station giving easy access to Leeds and beyond, with an excellent primary school and a welcoming pub.

The Square & Compass today, own photo

During Martha’s childhood it would have felt very different. Yes, the Square & Compass served ale of course, to the men of the village, but it also acted as the place where inquests and other village meetings were held. The church wasn’t built until 1911 . A methodist chapel had been built in 1816 but was replaced in 1932. Farming was hard and winters bleak. Harrogate and Leeds would have felt another country.

Early twentieth century postcard of North Rigton, from www.northrigton.org

Martha was the youngest of five girls and, for a period of time, very much the baby of the family until joined by her illegitimate niece, Matilda. Her older sisters ranged in age from five to sixteen and when she was born in 1830 Martha’s parents, Sarah Halliday & John Handley, likely despaired at the arrival of yet another girl. John was a gamewatcher and farmed a few acres, a precarious existence which relied on sons for labour in their youth and the “pension” for parents in their old age.

Baptism record of William Clapham at Kirkby Overblow, 1829, showing parents as Henry & Hannah Clapham. Note: there was a second William Clapham baptised at a similar time, but 1841 census & William’s marriage record ties to this one.

Then there was William. Likely also a baby of the family as his parents, Hannah Hardcastle and Henry Clapham were aged around 45 and 60 when he was born on 12 March 1829. The Claphams were tenant farmers also living in North Rigton where their family had lived for many generations.

William & Martha were close neighbours, listed on adjoining pages in the 1841 census, and on 4 November 1850, with William having both become the head of household following the death of his father and attained the age of twenty-one, the pair were married at Kirkby Overblow church.

Marriage certificate of Martha Handley & William Clapham,. Kirkby Overblow, 1850

Martha’s reflections likely moved on to her married life and that of her family. Nine children arrived in quick succession all surviving to adulthood. Samuel, the eldest, born in 1854, married to a local woman, with four children all already married, ten grandchildren and more to come. Martha might even have had a letter in her hand from Samuel’s son, William, who had emigrated to Canada a few years ago. Joseph, her baby, born in 1871, had got married in Hartlepool, but had thankfully chosen to come back to nearby Fairview Farm, so Martha would have regularly seen his six children. Samuel & Joseph were doing just fine.

It was the middle children Martha worried about. Henry (b. 1856), Hannah (b. 1858), William (b. 1861), Abigail (b. 1866) and Mary Grace (b. 1870) had all remained unwed. Henry had died in 1902, but the others were all still living close by. They supported each other with the sisters acting as housekeepers for the brothers and Mary Grace still living at home with Martha, but was that a life? And of course Sarah (b. 1859) – did she marry, die or disappear after 1881? I haven’t been able to trace her, but Martha would have known.

Then there was Martha or Marie as she now liked to call herself. Born in 1863, she’d always thought differently. As a young country girl she used to tramp the 12 miles to attend the meetings of Charles Bradlaugh.” Marie was married to John Greevz Fisher and living in Leeds. Her five children, Auberon Herbert, Wordsworth Donisthorpe, Constance Naden, Spencer Darwin and Hypatia Ingersoll were named after anarchists and radical philosophers. Marie was a militant feminist and active suffragette and deserves her own story but right now, sat on her Rigton doorstep, Martha must have wondered how on earth she’d come to raise such a daughter.

The time for sadness would come later, when, perhaps one of Martha’s children would take her on the short trip to Kirkby Overblow church. After more than forty years of marriage, William had died on 13 December 1893 and was buried where the couple married, in Kirkby Overblow together with their son, Henry. That would be the time for sadness and in the meantime, Martha could be happy with her ninety years, surrounded by her family in the village she was born. Martha was to die the following year on 29 March 1921 and was buried with her husband at Kirkby Overblow.

Martha Handley, from Justin Clapham collection

With much gratitude to Martha Handley & William Clapham, my great, great, great grandparents through my paternal Grandad, for bringing up such a wonderful family.

A brief addendum

Sarah didn’t, as it turns out, disappear. She married Richard Hallewell, moved to Armley and had two children, Mary Ellen & Richard Bertram. Indeed, Mary Ellen was staying with her grandparents at the time of the 1891 census which is a reminder to double check all the available evidence. Sarah was widowed sometime between 1909 and 1911 and ultimately moved back to the area.

In 1909, Mary Ellen married one William Houseman and moved to Felliscliffe looping right back into our family. It possible the two would have met when her cousin and my great grandmother Mary Abigail Clapham married George Houseman in 1906. William & George were both second cousins through William’s father, John Houseman, and third cousins through his mother, Ann Houseman. Incidentally this also makes William as closely related to Jesse Houseman, my Grandma’s father as it does to George, my Grandad’s father.

A diagram helping to illustrate the connectedness between cousins Mary Abigail & Mary Ellen’s husbands.

Although I have now identified Mary Ellen she was still absent from Martha’s 90th celebrations as she had sadly died the previous year.