How I found my gateway ancestor
My Devonshire roots
One quarter (approximately) of my ancestry is from Devon, or perhaps I should say two eighths, for it was the fathers of both my maternal grandparents who had Devonshire ancestry. My researches started around the mid 1970s, prompted by a few notes taken and then a tiny amount of research done by my mother following her mother’s death in 1974. Her research consisted of writing to her aunt, and her response was maily about her South Hams ancestors. Thus in 2016 I have been researching this part of my tree for almost 40 years. By the time many Devon PRs went online on FMP in 2014 there were many lines on my tree I could follow up, and at the time of writing a number are still waiting.
A prompt to research Ally
It was a chance conversation on an email list in January 2016, about surnames people haven’t liked and have changed, that made me think of Ally, one of my 6 x great grandmothers. Bastard is clearly one of those surnames people wish to change; in fact Ancestry have replaced it with Bestard or Bostard or other similar names in many of their indexes, and when I tried to use it in a bookmark title on Discovery (TNA catalogue) I found I couldn’t as it was deemed profane! I am glad to say TNA responded well to my request and Bastard is now allowed – they can tweak the software they use to check for inappropriate language.
Our ancestors were less sensitive; the above Ally was given the name Bastard as a middle name, i.e. a second Christian name. Possibly ‘bastard’ was not seen in the past as any more rude than illegitimate, but even so rude or not it is hardly something most would now consider appropriate as a Christian name. The BMD registration index show that many parents thought like Ally’s, though, and gave it to their children. You may be wondering why, especially if you don’t realise that when ‘ordinary’ folk first started giving children more than one Christian name, the second was usually a surname re-purposed. Most were family surnames, most popular were mother’s or grandmother’s maiden names, but sometimes a name continued for a number of generations. Family surnames from gentry ancestors – or others a bit higher up the social ladder than the bearer – appear to have been particularly popular. When Ally SYMONS was baptised ‘Alice Bastard’ the Bastards were a prominent local gentry family and I guessed that her parents wished to hint at a link to the gentry, but with the surname not uncommon in the area I did not suppose there really was a close link. With few resources online when I found Ally, and lacking the time to visit the record office, she sat on my tree without any indication of where her middle name came from for several years.
Finding the ‘Bastard’ link
The chat about names people have changed though made me think that given all the resources now online I would take another look at Ally and I might find out after whom she was named. So it proved, though it was not quite straightforward. Ally’s father was Ænæas SYMONS. Ænæas is at the same time both a gift of a name and a problem name to research. ‘Symons’ (including variants) is too common to make it an easy name, so a rare Christian name can be a great help. The problem is, a lot of transcribers who index PRs etc. clearly lack the necessary knowledge of old letter shapes, and in any case some entries are such a scrawl that the few who are comptent cannot be expected to be sure. Added to that, Ænæas has been spelt in quite a number of ways. The incompetent and those faced with a scrawl are likely to think of a name that the general shape resembles, when it is a common one, but Ænæas is going to spring into the mind of few. Then there’s the dipthong (or 2) – for instance, should I search for Æneas or Aeneas? Most search engines seem to cope with either, recognising them as the same, though I’m afraid this website doesn’t (even a soundex search for ‘Aenæas’ doesn’t find ‘Ænæas’ – I’ll see if I can persuade the software author to fix that, or else write my own fix). The Cornwall OPC website told me firmly that only letters were acceptable!
When I had found Ally’s baptism and that her father was called Ænæas I had noticed that there was another Ænæas SYMONS (with a son Beville) in Plymouth, and I suspected a link. Was that Ænæas her grandfather? Searching for all sorts of variants of Ænæas, using wildcards in place of some of the name and some browsing has still not led me to her father’s baptism. So I thought if I could find the marriage of the Plymouth Ænæas that might help but searching for the marriage of an Ænæas SYMONS that could be the one for which I was looking proved fruitless.
I should have said, I had found Ally’s parents marriage, and I knew that her mother was Honor SHEPHERD, daughter of John and Catherine, so if Ally was named after a grandmother Alice BASTARD, as seemed a reasonable guess, it must be her paternal one. So I searched for the marriage of an Alice BASTARD. Bingo! I had it, the marriage of an Alice BASTARD, in 1706/7, shown on FMP as married to Enceas SYMONDS. To me it is clearly Ænæas, but I can see that the E could look like a correction to an A, and the second ‘æ’ does look like it could be ‘ce’. (I’ve also found the name with a ‘d’ in the middle, or misread as Andrew).
This marriage did not just bring together an Ænæas SYMONS and an Alice BASTARD, it also (more-or-less) made the Kingsbridge – Plymouth link, for it took place in Churchstow (just outside of Kingsbridge) and it described Ænæas as ‘of Plimouth’. To my mind this is sufficient to be sure that Ænæas SYMONS of Kingsbridge was at least closely related to Ænæas SYMONS of Plymouth, and since I have links to both Ænæas and Alice then it suggests very strongly that they were his parents. Of course it would be good to find a baptism record, but I think I can be more sure of this link than I can of some on my tree where I do have a baptism, but due to common Christian names I could have the baptism of the wrong one. Further evidence for the above then came in the form of daughters names; the younger Ænæas had 5, after 2 named after both mothers (if I am right about Alice) then 3 given the same names that the older Ænæas gave to his 3 daughters. Plus of course the younger Ænæas’s second daughter having his mother-in-laws name does suggest he will also have used his mother’s name. Lastly, an apprenticeship of Ænæas of Kingsbridge suggests an approximate birth date which fits well with him being the son of of Ænæas of Plymouth, from the latter’s marriage date.
For me, this was sufficient to continue researching with the assumption that Ænæas of Kingsbridge was the son of Ænæas of Plymouth. A couple of months later further evidence was to come in the will of a relation of Alice BASTARD’s mother, who left a bequest to Ænæas SYMONS, of Kingsbridge, barber.
Whilst it is possible that Ænæas of Kingsbridge was, say, a nephew of Ænæas SYMONS of Plymouth, brought up by the latter and Alice, and honouring the this Alice for her role in acting like a mother to him (and I have examples of names being given like this on my tree), if that were the case it is unlikely that a cousin of Alice would leave Ænæas a bequest, especially one that lived distantly (in Dorset) and so was not likely to have otherwise known Ænæas the younger well and hence been a close friend.
Of course, finding that Ally was the granddaughter of an Ænæas SYMONS of Plymouth and his wife Alice BASTARD does not show a link to gentry. Ænæas of Plymouth was probably comfortably off, I have seen him described as a grocer, and I suspect he was the same Ænæas SYMONS who was for a while a distiller of Wapping, before returning to Devon. He may well have left a will but it would probably have been proved in the Totnes Archdeaconry Court and have left no trace.
Further research has revealed his baptism (indexed as Andrew), but so far at least I have been unable to connect his Symons line to some with the surname in Plymouth who left PCC wills.
It is Alice (grandmother of Ally) whose ancestry has proved of great interest …
Grandmother Alice’s father
Being married in Churchstow, that was naturally the first place to look for Alice’s baptism, and failing that neighbouring parishes. A search of indexes quickly showed me none in Churchstow but led me to the baptism of an Alice, daughter of Edmond and Jone in Slapton in 1680/1. This seemed promising, a good date for someone married in 1706/7, and a good location especially given that granddaughter Ally married a Slapton man; though that wasn’t until 1761 perhaps a family link to the village led to their meeting. Luckily I dug more deeply. Why had she married in Churchstow, had the family moved there? I found a Sampson BASTARD was baptised there in 1696, son of a Beville BASTARD. This was interesting, because you may remember I commented earlier that Ænæas SYMONS of Plymouth had a son called Beville. Could Beville, and not Edmond, be my Alice’s father? Checking what PRs for Churchstow are on FMP, indeed what survive, I found there is a big gap in those that survive for the C17th; the gap includes the period during which Alice would almost certainly have been born. Beville is, like Ænæas, a usefully rare Christian name, and it seems to be a little less prone to mis-transcription. Trying to find out about Bevill(e) quickly led me to see that he did indeed have a daughter named Alice; she was named as one of the lives on a lease in 1683/4. (I know the next generation will have even more, but we are so lucky to have so much available online – this was found in an online catalogue entry). Younger children in a family were mostly chosen as one or two of the lives on 3 life leases, presuambly to ensure that the lease was likely to last for as long as possible. Sometimes a baby may not be named, I guess because of the higher mortality in the first year or so of life. A couple of years before Bevill named Alice and her (probably older) sister Johanna, he named two nephews, suggesting there weren’t older surviving children of Bevill’s own marriage, and that Alice may not have been born by 1682, and if Johanna had been she may have been in the precarious first year of her life. This Alice too, like the Slapton one, was about the right age too to have married Ænæas SYMONS of Plymouth, only in her case her father’s name Beville and the link to Churchstow (where, remember, the Alice I was looking for married) were two good reasons to think this was the Alice I was looking for. Alice of Slapton, it seems, was a red herring.
Having found that Alice’s father was Bevill, it was easy to find out more about him, including that he was a younger son of the gentry Bastard family of Gerston in West Alvington, and from there Vivian’s ‘Devon Visitations’ suggests a huge number of gentry ancestry, leading back to Royalty, Charlemagne …
Grandmother Alice’s mother
Whilst I could see that I was going to be able to learn a lot about Bevill BASTARD and his ancestry, I could not find his marriage. When his son Sampson was baptized he was married to an Elizabeth, and he was also survived by a wife Elizabeth. Quite likely the same Elizabeth, though with one of the most common of women’s names it would be unsafe to assume that – but it made little difference, neither reference gave a clue to her maiden name. Bevill had leased farm land in Churchstow. Although styled as a gent I suspected he had to work for a living, and maybe had married a farmer’s daughter. I had quickly found that his daughter Johana had married a husbandman, as well as Alice having married a grocer. Bevill was, as was the fate of younger sons, descending the social ladder. His parents very large family would have limited the provision they could make for their younger children. I suspected that Bevill had married in Churchstow during that period for which the PRs do not survive. With the BTs now online I checked the few that survive for that gap, but again, no joy. A marriage licence was my one remaining ‘to do’, or maybe I would learn who she was through the will of his wife’s father or other family member that had survived the WW2 bombing in some form and named her, but I held little hope of discovering such. I was resigned to quite likely never knowing who his wife was.
I had Bevill and his ancestors to explore. Living in Dorset I am not too near Kew, and usual train fares are too expensive, but I have made the most of a number of special offers to visit the National Archives. I made four visits during an offer from February to April 2016. The most efficient use of my time there is to photograph documents to study at home. Like I suspect most people I am interested in knowing about the lives of my ancestors, not just their names. Bevill’s life seemed a good place to start – unlike his oldest brother he does not warrant an entry on Wikipedia and the History of Parliament website, but I could seem that he had been involved in several cases in the equity Court of Chancery. I ordered and photographed them in March and April. I have started transcribing them, they add to my picture of his life, but in what I have looked at so far they tell me nothing about his family relationships. Although Susan Moore’s book ‘Family Feuds’ gives an example of how they can help, and I have found a little from the odd case I have looked at before, they mostly don’t help with the genealogy (i.e. the tree), just the family history, and so this was what I was expecting from the cases in which Bevill was involved.
Although I look wider than my direct ancestors, it is the latter who hold most interest for me, and with gentry leaving so much more documentation than ordinary folk I am probably going to have to limit looking as widely as I might have in the past. But I did decide that if I was researching Bevill’s life then a case in which his daughter was involved was worth a look – C 11/1764/5. If you follow the link you will see it does for some reason refer to Bevill and his wife (though from that entry appears it doesn’t even have his wife’s Christian name), which suggested it was more relevant to my study of Bevill’s life a case involving his daughter and son-in-law might generally be expected to be. Coming home, the train wasn’t crowded and I got a table, and so spent a couple of hours moving my photos to my notebook computer and then starting to look at them. I choose one document I had photographed that day to start transcribing, and picked on the above. And I couldn’t believe my luck! This Chancery case turned out to be an argument about a bequest to Johanna from her maiden aunt, Ann ROSE of Dorchester (Dorset). Thus it seemed probable that Bevill’s wife was an Elizabeth ROSE.
Dorset PRs are on Ancestry, not FMP. I had a subscription to Ancestry which was about to expire and from which I intended taking a break. When I say ‘about to expire’ I mean it literally – it expired that day. It was nearly 11pm when I got in so I spent an hour or so looking for Elizabeth’s family. Fortunately Ann named a number of siblings in her will, which was a useful start. Most were common names, though, and ROSE is not an uncommon name in Dorset, so it would not be impossible for another family to have a similar group of names. So it proved, the first family I lighted on proved to be another red herring, but the right family left so many wills, available online, mostly ones proved in the PCC, and with plenty of references to siblings and other family members that enables them to be linked up, that I have quite easily been able to establish Elizabeth’s family. A brother of Elizabeth, for instance, refers to his brother-in-law Mr Bevil Bastard, and as already mentioned a nephew of that brother to Alice’s son Ænæas of Kingsbridge. With Elizabeth being referred to as the mother of Johanna and as still living in 1689 seems to make it clear that it was this Elizabeth, and not another wife of Bevill with the same Christian name, who was the mother of Alice. Bevill hadn’t married down the social ladder, it is apparent that Elizabeth too has gentry ancestors.
Although I have ancestors from many parts of England, prior to this latest gentry Discovery from west Devon to east Kent in the south, and up to Northumberland, I previously knew of none from Dorset, the county in which I live so it seemed quite handy – until I looked at the will of Elizabeth’s grandfather, Richard ROZE of Lyme Regis – and found he left a bequest to the poor of a parish on Jersey ‘where I was born’! I have never been to the Channel Islands, so I suppose it is a good excuse for a visit there at some point in the future. In the meantime there are enough Dorset ancestors to explore, even if their records seem to be spread between the Dorset, Wiltshire and Somerset Record Offices!
If you have made it to the end of this probably over-long page I hope something in my approach may help you in your research.
I found neither gateway ancestor Alice nor either of her parents by the usual find a baptism, get parent(s) names, find their marriage … approach. Rather, lateral thinking about what to search for, and serendipity helped. In addition, I could not have done this without looking wider than the most commonly used documents, i.e. PRs and wills. Clearly being in England and able to visit archives has also been invaluable in finding Alice’s mother, but the rest has been found using online resources.
If you share an interest in Alice’s ancestors you are advised to read this page before exploring what I show on my tree; I outline what and why I have added them, and explain the limitations on the reliability.Last updated: 6 April, 2020