The Issell Family

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My second particular interest, although I am much more remotely connected to the name than to the name Goatham. My closest direct ancestor born an Issell was Florence, a 2 x great grandmother. but of course I am just as likely to have genes from her as from my Goatham 2 x great grandfather.

This name has actually died out in England, though there is a healthy population in Australia and New Zealand, all descended from a second cousin of the above-mentioned Florence, Thomas Efford Issell (the link between the two can be seen on this relationship chart).

I have and am concentrating on the English family though if there is a website with a tree of Antipodean Issells I would be pleased to add a link, or I would consider add them to the tree, providing the research seemed sufficiently robust, if anyone wished to send me a gedcom file. (I do know of a site or 2 with a few of them and will be adding links)

Issells in Stokenham

My above mentioned ancestor, Florence Issell, lived in Stokenham until her marriage. Her father was a shoemaker, like many Issells, and her mother ran the post office in the village for over 40 years. Although Florence was one of 5 children she was the only one to have children. All of the others pre-deceased their mother, Tryphena, and so it was Tryphena’s death in 1909 that brought to an end almost 300 years of Issells living in the parish.

The first to appear there was John and his wife Agnes, who had children baptised there from 1628/9.

Before Stokenham

Some Stokenham PRs survive from the C16th; there are no entries for Issell or similar. In addition, there are no entries with the name in ‘Elizabethan Court Rolls of Stokenham Manor in South Devon, 1560-1602’ (W. A. Roberts, 1984). It seems safe to assume John had moved from elsewhere. But where?

John may have been the John Issell baptised in Dartington in 1596. John died in 1638, when his oldest child I know of was aged just 9. There seems to have been a dispute about his will and a debt on an obligation of £26. This case was brought in the Court of King’s Bench in 1642 (ref. KB 27). The plaintiff was one Joan Issell. Images of the part of the roll with the details can be seen here and the following image. Unfortunately with it being all in Latin I cannot readily read it, my knowledge of Latin being minimal, though I hope to discover the main gist. I have not noticed a mention of how Joan was related to John; I suspect she may have been his mother, acting on behalf of her grandchildren, to stop John’s wife Agnes’s new husband Thomas Winter getting his hands on John’s property.

Looking at the index on FMP for Devon PRs, for Issell and variants (i.e. variants I am aware of, and their variants, not just those found by searching on ‘Issell’ and ticking the variants check box) suggests most Issells in the late C16th were in Dartington, but such results can be misleading. For many Devon PRs do not survive from the C16th; for some, there aren’t even any from the C17th. BTs can fill in some of the gaps from about the first decade of the C17th but often they survive only for a few years, and then are frequently not intact and some or many names may be missing.

It is worth, therefore, looking at a wider range of sources with surnames. Even if the names can often not be tied to individuals, they can give a good idea of where people with a name were to be found. Looking at transcripts of a range of C16th sources, mainly lay subsidies, Dartington is the one where Issells (etc.) can most regularly be found, from the 1540s onwards. None was recorded there in the 1520s, but a number at that time were in Staverton.

The Dartington family

The 1544 recorded three ‘Issell’s in Dartington: Leonard [senior], Margaret and Edward. From none in the 1520s to 3 in the 1540s: possibly Margaret was the mother of Leonard and Edward?

From 1556 baptisms appear in the PRs of children of Laurence, the second of whom was named Leonard [junior]. Laurence may well have been too young / not set up his own home at the time of the 1540s lay subsidies: was he the son of Leonard [senior] or a younger brother? – we will probably never know. Leonard did leave a will but like most Devon wills it does not survive. It is referred to in a case in the equity Court of Requests, but no details are given (other than his wife Alice, the plaintiff in the court case, was his executrix).

It seems likely but by no means certain John the Stokenham family patriarch was a grandson of Laurence. Leonard [junior] had a son John baptised in 1596. He was probably the John who married Jane in Dartington in 1621. After a son baptised in the parish 1622 there is no evidence of any more children; did they move away and the evidence not survive OR did Jane die leaving John to remarry? It is worth noting that the mother of this John from Dartington was called Joan i.e. she could be the plaintiff in the aforementioned Court of King’s Bench case.

Laurence’s son Thomas married Anstice in 1589/90. After two sons baptised in Stoke Gabriel in 1591 and 3, I know of no more children till two more sons, baptised in Dartington in 1602 and 7. A nine year gap? – there were probably more children I haven’t found. Was one a John? Similarly, one of Laurence’s four other sons could have had a son John.

Not only were the other parishes where ‘Issell’s have been identified in the C16th clustered close to Dartington and its immediate neighbour, Staverton, but Thomas, son of Stokenham patriarch John, married in Staverton. Staverton is about 17 miles from Stokenham, a far greater distance apart than most non-gentry brides and grooms came from at this time. How would they have met each other? An obvious explanation is that this is the area from which Thomas’ father (and maybe mother) came, and with which the family still had contact.

Im summary, I think:

  1. It is as near certain as can be that the Stokenham patriarch John was from the Staverton / Dartington area;
  2. I think it likely he was descended from Laurence of Dartington;
  3. Another strong contender as John’s father is Richard baptised in Ipplepen in 1558. Richard was baptised as Rychard Yselighe although almost certainly from the family whose surname was recorded as Issell in a Chancery Court case. Richard was the name John of Stokenham gave his eldest known son, adding weight to this suggestion. (Ipplepen is only a mile or 2 further from Stokenham than Staverton, and very close to both Staverton and Dartington).

I have to admit I may be biased in my second point by having a couple of items of information about Laurence’ family, which open windows into life in Dartington at this time. (I try not to let this sway me, but it makes me hope there is a link and it is then hard to know if I am judging the evidence for a link impartially).

Given that both the Ipplepen and Dartington Issells, like the Stokenham family, used the variant Estley (and similar phonetically) as well as Issell, I would suggest they were fairly closely related.

Research into the Devon Issells

My research so far is quite limited.

Parish Registers

For a long time an obstacle was my inability to find the baptism of the Hugh Issell baptised in 1719. I had looked very carefully at the microfiche of Stokenham PRs, as had another descendant. It was not there. Then modern high quality images were published on FindMyPast and there it was – the last line of a page, very close to the bottom; the old LDS imaging just wasn’t up to including these entries in a legible form – or even making it clear there was an entry there!


Most the wills left by Issells were no doubt amongst those lost in the bombing of Exeter om 1942, and with Dartington, Staverton, Stokenham and most other parishes where Issells lived being in Totnes Archdeaconry there is not even a calendar naming those who left wills proved in the Archdeacon’s Court.

More about Issell wills


With vol. 1 published in 2015 and vol. 2 in 2017 I was hoping volume 3 of ‘Devon Taxpayers: 1500- 1650’ by Todd Gray would be published in 2019 as I assume it will include Dartington parish (the parishes are being covered alphabetically – it seems it will be a somewhat longer wait for some of the parishes where Issells lived – Stokenham, Stoke Fleming, Staverton).

Miscellaneous documents

Miscellaneous documents discovered so far recording Issells are described on this page.

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