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.

Elizabeth Webster (1832 – 1903) & Charles Scott (1834 – 1897)

The Reynard-Scotts were the smartest of our Victorian great great grandparents. The Reynards were one of the first couples I wrote about intrigued by stories of a spice loaf and a wig so it seems apt for the Scotts to be one of the last, bookending tales of mining, farms and grinding poverty with two stories of the Victorian middle-class.

Elizabeth Webster & Charles Scott are my 3xgreat grandparents, Grandma’s mother’s father’s parents and for this tale we are moving into what is now North Yorkshire, to the village of Minksip just south of Boroughbridge.

Last year, for my birthday, Mum took me to the Wild Swan pub for dinner. It’s one of her favourite “local” pubs, local being defined as anything within a twenty-mile radius so long as it’s not in a town. The food and the company were wonderful and the trip had the added benefit of being able to wander down the village high street trying to work out exactly which home had belonged to Elizabeth & Charles.

A model of the White Swan pub, Minskip, now known as the Wild Swan. Own photo.

Minskip is one of those immaculate North Yorkshire villages with solid brick-built houses and well-tended gardens strung along a main road. The location is key to that well-heeled vibe. Harrogate, York and even Leeds are all within reasonable commuting distance for those with a car. Without a car, you are much more limited. I did discover the existence of a once daily bus which would take me from Mum’s direct to Minskip but none which would bring me back!

Minskip’s location was just as important to its economic prosperity in the early to mid-1800s for the Great North Road ran close by and stagecoaches were in their heyday. The White Swan coaching inn opened for business in 1832 bringing an increased number of travellers (and their coins) to the village. This wasn’t to last as within three decades trains had decimated the stagecoach trade, but by then the Scott family were already established.

Elizabeth Webster was born the same year as the pub was opened in the village of Kirby Hill, about three miles north of Minskip, just the other side of Boroughbridge. She was the daughter of Ann (Williamson) & John Webster, a cordwainer. Elizabeth’s exact birth date was unknown, but she was baptised at All Saints church, in Kirby Hill on 6 May 1832 and a birth date in mid-April would fit with most documentation.

Charles Scott was born in Boroughbridge a couple of years later, the second child of Jane (Drury) and Thomas Scott. Jane is another of those wives hidden by lack of records and propensity for the widowers in my family to choose a second wife with the same name as the first. For a long time, I thought Charles’s mother had died in 1872 until another person’s research alerted me to the death of a Jane Scott on 18 June 1838. As is also the way with the widowers in my family, Thomas didn’t hang around, remarrying the following year, to a woman named Jane Kendrew……

Like John Webster, Thomas Scott was also cordwainer. I imagine a mini guild of cordwainers in Boroughbridge, a rural remnant of The Company of Cordwainers of the City of York which had been disbanded in 1808. In addition to the Websters & Scotts there was also the Barker family of Dishforth. Dishforth is another small village in the vicinity of Boroughbridge, now mainly associated with the airfield. It also happened to be where Thomas Scott had been born and where he sent his son Charles to be apprenticed to one Francis Barker. The heads of all three households were small business owners and likely met regularly over a pint of ale to critique the latest shoe fashions, complain about the price of leather, and even share business opportunities during peak periods. Like any good fraternity, I expect they also drawn to each other at larger social gatherings such as the Barnaby horse fair bringing their families with them, meaning Elizabeth & Charles would likely have known each other as children.

So it was, on 3 May 1856 that the Webster and Scott families were united in marriage. By this time Charles had completed his apprenticeship and Elizabeth was earning her own money as a dressmaker giving them the means to set up home together. More pertinently, Elizabeth was in the early stages of pregnancy….

Thomas Scott had left the area by this point and was living with a nephew, John (son of his brother William), close to Bradford. This explains the birthplace of Mary, Elizabeth & Charles’s first child, although it is not clear whether this was a short family visit, the place where the couple first set up home together, or a deliberate attempt to disguise a child conceived out of wedlock by moving out of the local area. Scott is simply too common a surname for me to be able to follow this up.

A postcard of Minskip c.1900 from the facebook page Boroughbridge then & now.

By the end of 1860 (before the birth of their second child, Arthur), Elizabeth & Charles had moved to Minskip where they were to spend the remainder of their lives. Charles’s occupation was given as a cordwainer in both the 1861 & 1871 censuses. More unusually, Elizabeth continued to have her occupation listed too, as a dressmaker in 1861 and a milliner in 1871. These complimentary trades could have helped the Scotts attract a more fashionable elite. Certainly, their third child, John (my great, great grandfather) cut a fashionable air in his youth.

John Scott (right, standing) taken c.1890. The seated man could be his father, Thomas. Although Thomas would only have been in his late fifties by this point, many of Grandma’s relations sported white hair from an early age. From the Maria Reynard family album. Own collection.

Elizabeth & Charles had two more children, Alfred Herbert & Annie. Mary married a farm labourer, Joseph Dobson and moved to Easingwold. Arthur trained as a joiner, before eventually becoming a farmer and milk dealer in Menston. John, trained as a bricklayer, and then worked as a grocer before moving into farming in Topcliffe, eventually putting those bricklaying skills to good use by building his own home there. Alfred, trained as a joiner and ended up in Harrogate. Annie did not marry, but became a butter factor in her own right, leaving an estate worth £188 when she died in 1903, a decent sum for a single woman.

What the children’s occupations tell me is that this is a family who understood the value of being skilled in a trade and were also astute at business, knowing when to switch to alternative ways of making money. In this they were following their father’s example. By 1881, Charles had switched career to become a fruiterer. Later that decade he also became a landlord. At a major property sale in 1889 he “secured two cottages, with outbuildings and gardens, occupied by Mrs Taylor, for £160,” a major outlay for the time.

But not everything was as rosy as business, for at some point in the mid-1880s, Elizabeth became a “hemiplegic.” Whilst most commonly caused by a stroke, it can also be the result of some other brain trauma, an accident or a tumour. This would have been devastating for an intelligent, active woman such as Elizabeth. For the next seventeen years, until she died from heart failure on 28 June 1903, Elizabeth would have been reliant on others. I’m guessing this was when Charles invested in a horse & some sort of carriage, adding carrier to his portfolio career.  Her granddaughters (Mary’s children) took on the domestic work.

Still, paralysed as she was, Elizabeth outlasted her husband by six years. For, like his son and two grandsons after him, Charles fell afoul of a random tragic accident.

The met office monthly weather report for March 1897. From the met office archive.

On the 24 March 1897, yet another spring storm hit northern England. The met office report for the month focused rather more on the south of England and on Scotland, but did note that “elsewhere, however, the conditions remained very unsettled, with frequent, and in some cases heavy falls of rain.” Local newspapers help to provide a better picture of the day’s weather. Whilst the Knaresborough Post chose to focus on a local football match writing that “This match took place at Ashville in very stormy weather. Trinity, who won the toss, elected in the teeth of a perfect gale,” the Hull Daily News took a wider view reporting on the overturning of a tramcar in Bradford (no serious injuries), and the loss of at least one member of a dredger crew off the west coast. This was serious weather.

Charles and his daughter Annie braved the storm. Wednesday was and still is market day in Knaresborough. There were goods to transport and butter to be sold. Charles Mackintosh had long since patented his waterproof raincoat providing protection from the rain if not the cold on the six-mile journey into town. However, the market was uncovered and by the end of the morning the pair would have been chilled to the bone. I really hope they had chosen to partake of a cooked dinner before they set off home in the early afternoon.

There again, it would have been better if they hadn’t, for just as they were passing Mrs Collins’ house on the high street, a tile flew from the roof and struck Charles on the head, “scattering his brains” (to quote The Knaresborough Post, in its rather graphic description of events). Charles was killed immediately, a death subsequently found to be accidental, but I can imagine Mrs Collins was careful to keep her roof properly maintained from then on. I cannot begin to imagine the impact on Annie.

A report of Charles Scott’s death in the Knaresborough Post, 27 March 1897 downloaded from www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

It’s rather a sad and abrupt end to this tale, so let us finish back in the White or Wild Swan with a toast the couple who rode the Victorian wave of prosperity and, of all my 3xg grandparents most effectively set their five children up to continue that journey. RIP Elizabeth & Charles.

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.

Unlocking Maria Reynard’s family photo album

Maria Reynard c. 1902, perhaps on her 40th birthday. From Maria Reynard’s album. Own collection.

I inherited the beautiful leather-bound album from my Grandma, Mary Houseman. She is turn had inherited it from her mother, Hilda Mary Scott. Beyond that, I knew almost nothing of the pictures within. How old was it? Who had put it together? Who were the photos of? Whilst the clasp itself was broken, the people inside were strangers, their connection to our family locked away, with the key lost forever.

There was one exception. Thanks to the apparent beauty of a small child, captured by a travelling photographer and subsequently enlarged, followed a few short years later by the same child’s tragic death, I could identify one person with absolute certainty. Walter Scott was to be the key. Walter was Hilda Mary’s brother and that meant that the album likely belonged to either Maria Reynard, Hilda Mary & Walter Scott’s mother or her mother Mary Ann Gill.

What better thing for someone living alone in lockdown 1.0 than to work away at that lock? I carefully extracted and scanned the photos, scribbled down possible family trees, studied the later pictures of Hilda Mary’s siblings, aunts, uncles & cousins and dived into the world of Victorian photography. Some ideas emerged, I started making educated guesses but was uncertain and didn’t feel I was really doing the album justice.

Then up popped professional dress historian, portrait specialist and photo detective Jayne Shrimpton on Who Do You Think You Are? and I realised it was time to turn to an expert. It took a few more months but finally I was sitting in Jane’s beautiful Lewes garden on a hot, sunny July day slowly unlocking the album’s secrets. Who knew that leg-o-mutton sleeves could date a photo to within three years? Or that a red line around a photo meant it was twenty years older than others on the same page? Several “educated guesses” proved to be out by a decade or two but my earlier research combined perfectly with Jayne’s dress expertise to put many names to faces.

Now, finally, Maria’s album can be unlocked and shared without doubts. The album opens with her husband John Scott likely with his father Charles not long before Charles died. Next are two portraits of Maria aged 21 and 40. Turning the page we see Maria & John’s infant children possibly including the only photo of a son, Charles, who died just three years old, followed by Maria’s siblings and their partners. And so it continues.  

There is still a lot more work to do to identify all the people in this album and whilst it’s likely there will always be gaps, I am hopeful that by sharing this story others may spot their ancestors.

Maria was born in Ellerbeck on 16 December 1861 the second child of Mary Ann Gill & William Reynard. The Reynard family moved to Topcliffe when Maria was about five. Maria married John Scott, the son of Elizabeth Webster & Charles Scott, in 1885. The Gill family were from Norwood, the Reynards from Hampsthwaite, the Websters from Boroughbridge and the Scotts from Minskip. Maria & John had eight children. Two sons died as children leaving just William Richard (b. 1889) to carry on the Scott name. Hilda Mary (b. 1891) (my great grandmother) married Jesse Houseman, Laura (b. 1895) married John Taylor Houseman (Jesse’s nephew), Gertrude (b. 1899) married William Clarke, Clarice (b. 1900) married Malcolm Pennock and Marjorie (b. 1906) married Harold Millington Shutes. If this album was a wedding gift, I am sure it won’t have been the only one.

With much gratitude to my great, great grandmother, Maria Reynard, for creating this album, to Hilda Mary Scott & Mary Houseman for keeping it safe and to Jayne Shrimpton for helping me unlock its contents!

Walter Scott (1893 – 1900) – the tragic story of a boy shot by his friend

The portrait of Walter Scott, aged four, hanging in my mother’s living room, own photo

I can shoot you” said the elder friend as he picked up the gun the boys found lying around. And so, he did.

Thus goes the family story of Walter Scott, passed down from Walter’s sister, Hilda Mary Scott, to her daughter Mary, my Grandma, and then to me. My Grandma loved to tell the tales of tragic death but it’s the beautiful, almost life-sized portrait of four-year-old Walter that has made his story so compelling. It is thanks to this portrait too, that I know so much about Walter’s story. My Dad inherited this picture from his Grandfather, Hilda Mary’s husband, Jesse, following Jesse’s death in 1977 and Aunt Clarrie, Walter & Hilda Mary’s younger sister wrote to my Grandma to tell of its history.

Walter was born on 27 March 1893 above the family grocer’s shop in Langthorpe near Boroughbridge. He was the fourth of the eight children of Maria Reynard & John Scott. The Scott family were relatively prosperous for the time although not without their own sad tales. The first-born son, Charles, had died aged just two from an infection caused by a scratch on a rusty nail in his playpen (another of Grandma’s tales).

It was also a close and happy family. Maria’s sister, Aunt Nellie (Sarah Ellen Reynard who married a distant cousin, William Reynard) was unable to have children and asked if she might adopt one of Maria’s. “Mother said No, she couldn’t spare any one of us” records Aunt Clarrie. Nellie & William were later to adopt a boy, William Watson, at some point after 1901.

When Walter was four, a travelling photographer, C Watson from Ripon, arrived in the village. Aunt Clarrie picks up the story. He was a beautiful little boy of 4 years old when that photo was taken. A traveling photographer came to the shop & asked my Mother if he could take his photo, so she said yes. It was so good, so later on, he asked if he could paint & enlarge it, in colour. It would cost £5 which was a lot of money in those days. However, they agreed & this picture was so beautiful it was sent to an exhibition & shown all around. My Mother was getting anxious about it, but eventually it came back & it was our pride & joy.

The original photo of Walter Scott, aged four, taken c. 1897 by C Watson of Ripon. Own photo.

In the summer of 1900, Aunt Nellie asked if Walter might come and stay for a holiday and Maria agreed so Walter went to stay with his Aunt & Uncle at Birstwith. On 16 August, Walter asked his aunt if he might go with his friend, Edward Fraser, to collect eggs from the stable and cowshed and his aunt agreed, presumably thinking the thirteen year old Edward would take good care of the seven year old Walter.

Unbeknown to Aunt Nellie, one of the Reynard’s farm labourer’s George Smith, had been having trouble with his gun, a breech-loader, when he had been out shooting rats earlier in the month. The extractor had broken, the cartridges were too tight to remove and so he’d left the loaded gun by the door of one of the outbuildings. Edward, being a curious teenage boy found the gun and picked it up. Walter, being a frightened child, pleaded with him to put it down then turned to scramble over the railings to get out of the way. Too late, the gun went off shooting Walter in the back.

Uncle William ran to the barn after hearing the report, he picked Walter up and ran back to the house. The doctor arrived to examine Walter and found him in a sorry state with both flesh & ribs blown away. Walter’s mother, Maria, was also sent for. Walter, loyal to the end cried “Tell Teddie I forgive him. He did not know it would go off” as he died, we believe, in his mother’s arms.

The funeral card to Walter Scott, own records

Walter was buried at Kirkby Hill on 19 August, later joined by his parents, and the inquest the following day returned a verdict of “death by misadventure killed by the discharge of a gun” and the tragic end of a beautiful child.

West Yorkshire County Coroner’s records, 1900

With much gratitude to Walter Scott, my great, great Uncle, who, despite his short life left a story that has lasted a hundred years, Clarice Scott, my great, great Aunt, who told the story of Walter’s portrait, to my Grandma for passing on the tale and to Amy Johnson Crow whose 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge encouraged me to publish this series of stories.

Four generations

Christine Mary Houseman, Mary Houseman, Hilda Mary Scott & Maria Reynard

From young to old: Christine Mary Houseman, Mary Houseman, Hilda Mary Scott & Maria Reynard. Own collection

It was Christmas 2002. Grandma (my Dad’s Mum) was known for mostly standard presents, with an occasional inspirational one dropped, unexpectedly, into the mix. This year, it looked like a box of chocolates. I was gracious in my thanks and then I realised it wasn’t in a cellophane wrapper. I opened it up and inside was a photo album working backwards through my life and beyond, from that very summer to the 1940s. Right at the back was photo you see here.

I don’t know exactly why Grandma decided to do this. My best guess is that I was her eldest grandchild and was two years married. I think, perhaps, she was looking to inspire a new generation.

I have loved this photo since I have first seen it. It is August 1947 outside Prospect Farm, Lindley. My Aunt Christine is the baby, her mother, my Grandma, her mother, Hilda Mary nee Scott, Grandma’s mother, my great grandmother and finally Maria nee Reynard, Hilda’s mother and my great, great grandmother. A fellow family story blogger shared their three Grandma photo and story last week and made me want to share this story. It’s a super brief summary of four “mothers” that I plan to share much longer stories about.

Christine Mary Houseman, the baby in the photo, is a very special person in my life. She was born on 13 June 1947. Her older brother, George Christopher, lived just two and a half days, so she was de-facto oldest child. I always got the sense she was encouraged to stay at home, the daughter who would look after her parents. Whether this is true or not, Christine never married. She was a farmer, a caterer, a WI produce judge and a Sunday School teacher at Norwood Bottom Methodist Chapel. Her twin loves that I witnessed were Young Farmers and us, her nieces & nephews. When my Dad, her brother, died in 1984, she was a constant support. The best epitaph for me, though, came many years later when talking to some ex-Young Farmer friends, who said “We still ask ourselves what Christine would have said” – she was as important in their lives as she was in ours. Sadly, Aunty Christine lost her battle with cancer on 1 April 1999.

Mary Houseman, the new mother, my Grandma, was born in 1921. This being the 100 year anniversary of her birth I plan to write a more fulsome story. She married my Grandad, George Houseman, in 1945. This photo, though, tells something of her life. It’s taken on the front doorsteps of Prospect Farm, Lindley. Grandma moved here when she was a young child. She left, briefly, when she married and had returned by the time of this photo. As she writes it

One Monday when Thomas [Grandad’s brother] and George [my Grandad] went to Otley auction they had been talking to my Dad and he told them that George Baxter had got other work as an apprentice joiner in Otley. That just left Dad, Mother and George Barker to start hay time. Would we consider coming back home and taking over the farm? They would find somewhere else to live as soon as they heard of something near and suitable (what a decision for us to make). It was coming back home for me BUT I was now married and felt that I could not please both my husband and Dad. It was harder for George to leave home where he was born and Thomas at the face of hay time. What had we to do? Mother told me that Dad had been so sad and lost without me at home. He was not the only one. Meg my little dog from being a pup just whined and wouldn’t do anything for anybody else. Thomas and George had been to look at other farms previous over the past but never found anything that they liked. So we decided it was an opportunity not to be missed. We came back home to live here at the beginning of July.”

We have photos of Grandma and her own great grandchildren on her 90th birthday just a few steps away from this photo. Grandma didn’t leave Prospect Farm until she was too ill to live without full time specialist nursing care. She died on 31 March 2020 aged 98.

Hilda Mary Scott is stood to the right of the photo. Hilda was born on 31 August 1891 and grew up in Pickhill near Thirsk. She was a beautiful young woman who knew her own worth. She married Jesse Houseman on 28 September 1915 and moved, originally to Haverah Park and then to Prospect Farm. Everything I have read suggests this was a love match, like the postcard from Jesse to Hilda that reads simply “Dear Hilda, hope you are keeping alright, it seems very queer without you. Love from Jesse.” Hilda & Jesse had three daughters, Muriel born in 1916, Jessie in 1918 and my Grandma, Mary, in 1921. She was a champion butter-maker, competing and winning in a number of local shows. Her death on 9 August 1954, of cancer, left her family heartbroken.

Maria Reynard sits at the front of the photo. Maria was born on 16 December 1861, daughter of Mary Ann Gill & William Reynard. She married John Scott in 1885 and together they had eight children, Hilda Mary being the third child and first daughter. The family prospered moving into a detached property, Prospect House in Pickhill, that John had built. By the time this photo was taken, Maria, 85, was already a great grandmother several times over and yet she still looks delighted to be holding baby Christine in her arms. You can read more about Maria’s family photo album and her son, Walter Scott.

Four generations captured together in love and motherhood.

With much gratitude to my Aunt Christine, my Grandma, Mary, my great grandmother, Hilda and my Great Great Grandmother, Maria, in who’s arms the generations have been nurtured, to Joan Weise who’s three Grandma’s blog inspired this one and to Amy Johnson Crow whose 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge encouraged me to publish this series of stories.

A spice loaf & a wig

Photo of a Yorkshire spice loaf from Traditional Yorkshire recipes

For the first 23 years of her life, Mary Ann (my great, great, great grandmother) was the daughter of Richard Gill, tailor. In 1859 she married and became Mrs William Reynard, the blacksmith’s wife. These are typical of the identities ascribed to our ancestor mothers. We track the women through their fathers, their husbands and their children and then we pass by. What makes this story different was one short reference to a spice loaf, baked regularly by Mary Ann in her kitchen, a glimpse of a woman behind the men.

Mary Ann was born between 7 June & 13 July 1836, the sixth of Maria (nee Spence) and Richard Gill’s eleven children. We can assume she was baptised at Fewston church, like her siblings, although there is no record of this. Instead, her date of birth is derived from her age on later records.

The Gill family lived at Bland Hill in the village of Norwood close to the beautiful river Washburn in Yorkshire. It’s where I went to primary school, regularly passing R Gill & Sons, Joiners, without any inkling of our potential relationship.  

Richard was a tailor, likely sourcing linen, worsted or cotton from one of several mills sited along the river Washburn. The Gills were relatively prosperous. There was work enough for at least three of the sons to join the family business and a small farm to retire to. Richard was perhaps also a man very much aware of his social status even beyond death. Richard died in 1883 aged 76. His grave in Fewston churchyard is marked with a large granite obelisk instead of a simple slab of york stone like most of the others.  Perhaps most fascinatingly of all, when his grave was excavated in 2009/2010 as part of the building of the Washburn heritage centre, Richard was found to have been buried in his socks and wig, surely the sign of a man with pride.

The Reynard family lived on a farm in the nearby village of Hampsthwaite. William (born in 1833) was three years older than Mary Ann and it is quite possible they knew each other from an early age. As the second of three sons, William had little chance of inheriting the family farm and so, by the age of 18, he was working as farm servant at a large farm in Allerton. At some point over the next few years, he trained to be a blacksmith and moved to Osmotherly, over 40 miles away.  

Whether Mary Ann & William had stayed in touch over that period, or whether William bumped into a newly grown up Mary Ann on a trip back to see his family, it was at this point that the 27-year-old William felt sufficiently secure in his station to approach Richard Gill for Mary Ann’s hand. They married in Otley on 13 July 1859.

Children quickly followed. Sarah Ellen (1860), Maria, my great, great, grandmother (1861), and Annie (1865). Then a move to the village of Topcliffe, perhaps to take over a more prosperous blacksmiths business. Mary was born in 1867, Hannah in 1871, John William in 1873 and finally George Gill in 1879. They were a close family – I’ve inherited a great deal of warm correspondence between the children in later years although, sadly, none with or about their mother, Mary Ann. Maria’s family album contains many pictures of the family.

A daughter, a wife and a mother. Then I chanced upon “Topcliffe. A history by Mary Decima Watson” written in 1970 and here was my glimpse into Mary Ann herself.

It was a custom at the turn of the century for the tradesmen of the town to send out their accounts once per year. The joiners, the sadlers, the shoemakers and the village blacksmith. The farmers sold their livestock for the year, and would then settle their accounts with the tradesmen. The village blacksmith’s wife had her own special custom, she made a very nice spice loaf, so that when the farmers called to pay their accounts to Mr Reynard, the blacksmith, she would cut a piece of this loaf for the farmers, or anyone paying their accounts to eat while her husband attended to the business side.

An excellent baker, a custom-setter and, I like to think, a thoughtful and generous woman.

Sadly, Mary Ann died of influenza and jaundice on 2 April 1895, aged just 58. Dead, but not forgotten, thanks to that spice loaf.

Mary Ann was mother of Maria Reynard who was mother of Hilda Mary Scott who was mother of my maternal Grandma, Mary Houseman.

With much gratitude to my Mary Ann Gill for her spice loaf, my friend Andrea for the photo of the memorial, the Washburn heritage centre for their work on the graves at Fewston and thanks also to Amy Johnson Crow whose 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge encouraged me to publish this series of stories.