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.

Elizabeth Hornby (1823 – 1858) and “Rogue” Robert Walker (1823 – 1873)

In all the history of our Yorkshire born ancestors only two have chosen to leave “God’s Own County”. The first was Isabella Dean who crossed the border into Lancashire, had an illegitimate daughter Elizabeth (Nana’s great grandmother), married and then promptly crossed back into Yorkshire. The second was Robert Walker.

I thought of him as being a bit of a rogue. Three wives is, well, either careless or greedy. And honestly who would want to leave Yorkshire for the environs of London? (Says the woman whose postcode starts NW1).

If anything, it was Robert’s wife, Elizabeth Hornby, who had left the mark on our family as at least three grandchildren and two great grandchildren were given her maiden name as their first: Ellen Hornby Parker (b. 1882), Hornby Wellock (b. 1888), Hornby Walker (b. 1892), Hornby Moor (b. 1899) and lastly Hornby Wellock born in Canada in 1905.

Yet settling down to review the documentary evidence, I was presented with a very different story. For Robert was a man (& a boy) who’s life was beset by tragedy and emigration yet time and again he picked himself up and carried on.

So, who were Robert Walker & Elizabeth Hornby?

Robert was born in Hebden in 1823, the fifth of ten children of Anne Pratt (1793 – 1855) & Thomas Walker (1793 – 1835), nine of whom were boys and, all of whom (bar the twins, Thomas & Elizabeth born in 1826) survived infancy. Thomas & his growing brood must have felt confident. They were descended (through Thomas’s mother) from the Hebdens, Bollands & Inmans, families who had run liveable farming tenancies in the area for centuries and with an expanding free workforce, his main worry was most likely that of securing decent tenancies for his sons when they came of age. Indeed the Walker brothers had all been schooled in an age when schooling was a sign of relative affluence in the village.

1844 tithe map of Hebden from www.hebdenhistory.uk. The highlighted plots were those occupied by James Walker and, therefore I assumed also by his father, Thomas before him and his brother Robert after. Own picture.
A close up from the 1844 tithe map of Hebden from www.hebdenhistory.uk showing the village. Again, the highlighted properties are those occupied by James. Own collection.

A note to help with the rest of the article, the ten Walker siblings were: John (1815 – 1868), James (1817 – 1848), Richard (1820 – 1843), William (1822 – 1863), Robert (1823 – 1873), Thomas (1826 – 1826?), Elizabeth (1826 – 1830), Thomas (1829 – 1842), Edward (1831 – aft. 1910) and Joseph (1835 – 1927).

Then on 6 December 1835 life changed.

At the comparatively young age of 42 and just three days after the birth of his youngest son Joseph, Robert’s father, Thomas Walker, died. Frustratingly it was just before all the best records kick in, so I have no way of knowing what happened although B. J Harker provides a potential clue in his book Rambles in Upper Wharfedale “Previous to the year 1862, Hebden was very subject to typhus fever, and other epidemic diseases, through want of drainage and a proper supply of water”. This was to become a theme for the Walker family.

Life for the twelve-year-old Robert & his brothers would never be the same.

John (Robert’s eldest brother) took the opportunity to emigrate to the US leaving eighteen-year-old brother James to head up the household, together with his mother Anne (at least until 1840 when she took the only truly sensible option for a middle-aged widow at the time and married local widower, William Waddilove).

By 1841, two of the boys, Richard & Robert, had left the family farm. Richard was probably the “17-year-old” manual labourer working for the Pettys in Scosthrop, Kirkby Malham. Of Robert we can be more certain as he went to work for his maternal grandfather, James Pratt, at West Side House, Malham Moor. James ran a farm of 290 acres with two of his sons, James & William, William’s new wife, Margery Hornby, and a female servant Elizabeth Simpson (possibly also a relative). Robert would have known he had no chance of inheriting the tenancy, but for a fatherless sixteen-year-old this was a much better deal than his brother’s.

Map from archiuk.org showing the relative locations of West Side House and Capon Hall in Malham Moor. Scosthrop, where Richard could be found in 1841, is just off the south side of this map

Malham is a beautiful place – the tarn & the cove attract thousands of visitors (including my sister last year). But the moor? It’s a remote place. A sprinking of stone farmhouses can be found hunkered down in slight hollows in an attempt to escape the worst of the weather. No chance of meeting a match. Unless of course your uncle’s new wife had a younger sister, Elizabeth, living a mile down the road at Capon Hall. And if Elizabeth & Margery had only one sibling, a sister, Ellen, there had to be a shot at inheriting that tenancy? (see my sister is also my aunt)

So it was that on 23 December 1844, Elizabeth Hornby & Robert Walker were married at St Michael the Archangel, Kirkby Malham witnessed by Elizabeth’s older sister Ellen & Robert’s cousin John.

As Robert moved in with his wife & her family it’s time to talk about Elizabeth. Elizabeth was the youngest of the three daughters of Mary Coates & John Hornby. John had been born in Giggleswick & Mary in Gisburn and they’d moved to Capon Hall at some point between the birth of their first daughter, Ellen, in 1816 and their second daughter, Margery, in 1819. The Capon Hall tenancy was about 200 acres of desolate moorland. Glorious when the sun was shining, harsh when the wind and snow blew through in winter.

Capon Hall, Malham Moor, taken from a property listing in 2022

The first two of Robert & Elizabeth’s children were born at Capon Hall: Mary (my great, great grandmother) in 1845 and Thomas in 1847.

Birth certificate of Mary Walker in 1845 showing her birthplace of Capon Hall.

Their third child, John, born in 1849, was baptised back in Hebden.

So, what had happened? Well, the 1840s hadn’t been good to the Walker brothers. Thomas had died first, of measles, aged 13 in 1842. Richard died the following year, aged 23, this time the cause of death was consumption. When this same highly infectious disease killed James on 5 July 1848, a vacancy for head of Walker household appeared. Would it be 27-year-old William or 24-year-old Robert who took up the role?

Had William & his new wife had already booked the transatlantic tickets that would deposit them in New York on 6 November 1848? Where they seduced by tales of gold from their older brother John or scared away from Hebden by the infectious diseases which seemed to plague the family? Or had the two remaining older brothers sat down and amicably discussed the decision between them? I certainly hope it wasn’t a hostile takeover by Robert forcing William’s emigration.

These movements also paved the way for a much more joyous occasion – the marriage of Elizabeth’s eldest sister, Ellen, to the younger James Howarth. I can’t be sure if this was before or after the girls’ father, John Hornby, died on 12 March 1850 but no doubt both father and husband had the future of the Capon Hall tenancy in mind.

The Old School House, Publisher: Walter Scott, Bradford. Code: 21030. Date: 1930s? From the collection of Peter Hodge. From www.hebdenhistory.uk. Believed to be the home of the Walker family from the 1830s to the mid 1860s before it became the School House and then the Old School House by which name it is known today. The windows look towards Church Lane.

By 1851, Robert & Elizabeth were established in Hebden. Robert farmed 60 acres and worked as a butter factor too. Three more children, James (b. 1852), Ann (b. 1853) and Elizabeth (b. 1856) followed. The growing family was surely the prompt for the two remaining Walker brothers, Edward & Joseph, to follow John & William across the Atlantic leaving Robert the sole remaining Walker brother in Hebden.

All was going well until June 1858 when the couple’s seventh baby, named Robert for his father, was born. Peritonitis, an inflammation of the abdomen, is commonly caused by a hole in the bowel or a burst appendix. It is more rarely a complication of childbirth but the quick succession of birth and the onset of the condition which was to cause Elizabeth’s death two weeks later would suggest these were connected. She is buried, without a marker, in St Wilfred’s church in nearby Burnsall. Baby Robert was to follow just nine months later spending just the same amount of time inside Elizabeth’s womb as out of it. I hope he lies by his mother’s side.

What was a successful man in his thirties with seven children going to do? Well marry of course!

Hannah Fawcett Whitaker was twenty-nine, illegitimate, living between relatives, with no apparent occupation. Love at first sight or a practical solution for both? Robert & Hannah married on 15 November 1859 at St Michael’s and All Angels and Linton, fifteen months after Elizabeth died. Baby Edward arrived around a year later. By 1861, the family should have been prospering, Robert having doubled the size of his farm to 116 acres. He was, or was about to become, church warden for St Peter’s handily located just a couple of minutes from the farm and was respected enough to be asked to judge the butter classes in local agricultural shows.

Robert Walker as the butter judge at Netherdale [Nidderdale] Agricultural Show. Article from the Leeds Mercury, 19 October 1850 accessed via www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

But early death seemed to stalk the Walkers of Hebden. Robert’s daughter, Ann, died from diphtheria, aged just eight on 2 October 1861 and his son Thomas, who had reached the age (fourteen) at which he might almost be considered a man, followed just two months later. Then the birth of a son on 23 January 1863 almost immediately caused Hannah’s death from a uterine haemorrhage and nor did the second baby Robert survive beyond the night.

If all that wasn’t enough, Robert, in his capacity as churchwarden, was taken to court in November of the same year in a “case of unusual character, being the first that has even been tried by this [Sheriff’s County] court” (Yorkshire Gazette, 21 November 1863). The moorland enclosures in Hebden in 1857 had been contentious as had been the distribution of various charitable funds for the poor. So much so, that the charity commission had stepped in to change those who were entitled to their receipt.

Yorkshire gazette, 21 November 1863 – the “case of an unusual character” which may have been the final straw for Robert. From the British Newspaper Archive.

I believe it was at this point Robert felt Hebden just didn’t want him. He’d buried two wives and four children three siblings in less than six years. His remaining brothers had all emigrated and now village politics seemed to be against him so in 1864 Robert left Hebden for good.

What else to do but hotfoot it down to Hampshire? I really couldn’t believe this marriage – Walker is too common a name – but the later evidence fully stacks up. On 16 June 1868, when Robert is apparently living in Long Ditton, Surrey, he married one Harriett Jones at Ellisfield church on 16 June 1868. (Yup, Walker marries a Jones….)

By 1871 they were living on Wellington Road, Heston, somewhere between Flowerpot Cottage and Berkhams farm & dairy. I am guessing that latter address had more to do with the location as Robert was either a Coisman or Cowman and grocer during this period. That butter factoring knowledge is proved useful (although what exactly butter factoring and butter classes are will have to wait as I have a whole blog on butter to write).

Robert seems to have had little if any contact with any of his surviving children. His youngest child, Edward, had died in 1866 at the Anchor Inn, home of his great aunt Sarah and he doesn’t appear in any of the family records I have inherited. Indeed his grandson, Benjamin Wellock, brother to my great grandmother, who as the last surviving family member wrote some family history down in 1960, remembered only that his  grandfather’s name was James…..

Living down South wass evidently not any better for his health than Hebden and he died, aged 49, on 22 April 1873 of typhus, the disease he perhaps fled to escape and was buried at St Leonard’s church in Heston. Our one and only ancestor buried in London. It would take me just over an hour (and five changes) to get there. It takes me two hours on one train to get back to Yorkshire.

Was he Rogue Robert? Maybe. But in the mid-1800s men had the pick of wives and maybe he was forced to be responsible, to take over the farm after his father died and his elder brothers died or emigrated. Hebden was undoubtably fractious in the early 1860s and it had not been happy place for the Walkers. Robert has left me wanting to find out more, especially in relation to the last decade of his life. Perhaps this blog is just the start of reinstating Robert back into his rightful place in our family history.

Robert Walker’s death certificate in the County of Middlesex, 1873

I could not have written this blog without the wealth of wonderful resources at https://hebdenhistory.uk/ invaluable to those of with ancestors from the village. Thanks to must go to https://curiousdescendants.co.uk/ who provide endless encouragement and guidance to “storify” these bios. Finally I must beg forgiveness of Rogue Robert, our one ancestor who moved out of Yorkshire and whom I underestimated for so long.

My sister is also my aunt

Atticus: Double first cousin. Scout: How can that be? Atticus: Two sisters married two brothers.” (From To Kill a Mockingbird).

Eric Houseman (the young boy in the photo) is both my Grandma’s cousin (Laura, his mother, being Grandma’s mother’s sister) and my Grandma’s first cousin once removed (John Taylor, his father, being Grandma’s father’s nephew). Own collection.

It’s the stuff of fairy (or scary) tales – pairs of siblings marrying either together in a double wedding or perhaps with the second relationship arising as a result of the first union.  

Whilst we have at least one example of this classic tale in our tree – the marriage of Elizabeth Furniss & George Downs (3 x great grandparents) in 1866 followed on from that of their siblings Mary Downs & John Furniss in 1859 – I’ve just this week come across a third example of a different double relationship – two sisters marrying an uncle & a nephew.

It’s not as strange as it seems. Mothers frequently bore children for up to twenty years meaning uncle and nephew could be much closer in age than the uncle was to his own sibling. In larger families, children would often go to work as farm servants on their relatives’ farms. And in remote villages there wasn’t always a great deal of choice of partner….. Add to the mix a deceased or otherwise missing father and which requires elder siblings to look after their younger ones and I am only surprised I haven’t found more cases of these dual relationships where one man is both uncle and brother-in-law to another.

Here are the stories of those three double relationships.

Elizabeth Hornby & Robert Walker

I am currently researching our 3x great grandparents Elizabeth & Robert’s story. They are Grandpy‘s mother’s mother’s parents. In short, Robert’s father died when he was just twelve. By 1841 he was living at West Side House, Malham Moor with his maternal grandfather, uncles and his Uncle William Pratt’s new wife, Margery. In this instance, Robert was over twenty years younger than his Uncle, but then so was William’s new wife – generationally Margery & Robert were very similar.

Malham Moor is a bleak remote place but fortunately Margery had only moved a mile up the road from her family home and she likely saw a lot of her younger sister Elizabeth which means Robert probably saw a lot of her too. They married in 1844.

The Bentley girls and the Greenwood boys

A slightly more complex set of relationships underpins not just two, but three linked marriages between the Bentleys & the Greenwoods.

The Bentley side is straightforward: Abigail (b. 1882), Ada (b. 1883) and Florence (b. 1886) Bentley were all sisters of my great great grandmother (Nana‘s mother’s mother), Annie. Abigail was the first of the three sisters to marry a Greenwood (Richard, b. 1879) in 1908. Florence was next in 1909 marrying Richard’s brother, John (b. 1881) at which point Florence and Abigail became both sisters and sisters-in-law.

It was the third Bentley – Greenwood marriage in 1910, between Ada and Hanson (b. 1883), which left me stumped. The Bentley family and the two Greenwood brothers all lived in the same parish, Sitlington so their marriages made sense. Hanson, however, came from Wadsworth some thirty miles away and past the major urban centre of Halifax. There had to be some sort of family connection.

1891 census showing the Greenwood clan. Charles with his second wife Alice, mother to Richard & John (Richard is missing from this census) and his grandson Hanson. From ancestry.com.

The 1891 census furnished a vital clue as Hanson was living with his grandfather, Charles Greenwood and Charles’s son, John, who’s vital statistics matched those of Florence’s Greenwood husband. After a lengthy bit of research I discovered that Alice, mother of John & Richard, was Charles’s second wife. They had a much half sibling, Mary Ann (b. 1862) who had an illegitimate child named Hanson! Whilst I haven’t been able to discover much about Mary Ann, Hanson appears to have grown up with his uncles and this no doubt led to him meeting Ada. This makes Abigail & Florence both sister & aunt to Ada as well as sister & sister-in-law to each other!

Hilda Mary Scott & Jesse Houseman

Hilda & Jesse are my Grandma‘s parents and as such I know a lot more about them and their relationships including that Hilda’s sister Laura married Jesse’s nephew, Jack.

Hilda (b. 1891) had a particularly close relationship with her younger sister Laura (b. 1895) as these two photos clearly demonstrate.

What intrigued me more was Jesse’s relationship with his nephew John Taylor “Jack” Houseman (b. 1894), son of Jesse’s oldest brother, Robert.  Three of Jesse & Robert’s middle siblings had died from scarlatina in 1882 and I believe this had almost created two generations within the one family: Robert (b. 1867), Thomas Bradbury (b. 1869), Betsy Jane (b. 1871) and John Charles (b. 1873) being the first and then Alice (b. 1882), Jesse (b. 1885), Beatrice Maud (b. 1888) and Emma (b. 1892) being the second. This would have been more pronounced after the death of Robert & Jesse’s father, Michael, in 1892 when Jesse was just seven. It would have been natural for Robert, as eldest brother and with three children of his own of similar age to the younger group, to have stepped in.

These WW1 postcards from “Jack” to his Uncle Jesse give a glimpse of the warm relationship between the two.

Hilda & Jesse were the first to marry on 28 September 1915. Five years later Laura married Jack. I wonder if Hilda & Jesse were responsible for setting the pair up?

This was not only the marriage of two sisters to an uncle & nephew but the marriage between two sets of close friends which is perhaps why the relationship between the two couples and then their children stayed strong. Aunty Laura became Grandma’s godmother for example. However, the final, sweetest tribute to this double relationship was to come at the end. Both Hilda & Laura died relatively young, Hilda aged 62 in 1954 and Laura aged 61 in 1956. On can only assume that Jesse & Jack took comfort from each other as they chose to bury their wives in next door plots. Both Jesse & Jack outlived their wives by almost 30 years with Jesse dying aged 91 in 1977 and Jack was the last to die aged 87 in 1982 bringing to an end this incredible dual relationship.

The twin gravestones of Hilda Scott & Jesse Houseman (right) and Laura Scott and John Taylor “Jack” Houseman (Left) at Otley Cemetery. Own photo