Saturday, 24 November 2012

National Tree Week

No, not National Family Tree Week - this is a week, starting today, marking the start of a new season for planting real trees. There are however good reasons for writing about this event in a family history blog, reasons which go beyond the similarities between family tree diagrams and the patterns of real-life roots and branches (patterns mirrored here in this detail from a close-up photograph of a backlit birch leaf).

Today, surrounded as we are by brick, concrete, metals and plastic, it is difficult for us to fully appreciate just how much trees meant to our ancestors. Yet our forebears would have found it difficult to live without trees: and I would argue that even in this modern, technological age, we too need trees, almost as much as those who went before us.

For many hundreds of years trees have provided raw materials not only for the construction of our homes, but also for making the furniture within them, many household utensils, the clogs on our feet, the leather (tanned with tree bark) from which shoes, clothing and other items were crafted, and dyes used to add colour to cloth.

An Autumnal oak beside a Shropshire lane.

Coppicing generated many more stems or trunks to harvest.
Trees were a source of fuel for the fires we needed for warmth and for cooking, and a source of wood for hurdles and fences; tubs and barrels; spears, bows, and arrow shafts; handles for knives and axes; wagons, carts and their wheels; bridges; yokes; moulds for glass-making; brooms; spinning wheels; printing blocks; and many more essentials from cradles to coffins. Smoke from burning wood was used to cure fish, while charcoal was used to smelt metals.

When we took to the water, trees provided us with our rafts, canoes, boats, the oars with which to power and steer them, and eventually our ships: vessels which brought new food supplies, and in time new lands and their raw materials, within our reach. It took over 2,000 oak trees just to make HMS Victory - imagine how many millions of trees were used to build the fleets of ships which defended us from seaborne attacks. No wonder our ancestors sang about hearts of oak.

Trees also gave us fruits, berries and nuts - apples, pears, elder flowers and berries, sloes, plums, juniper berries, haws, cherries, acorns, chestnuts, and hazelnuts - which were (and in most cases still are) used for food, or for making drinks, or both.

Trees not only provided food and drink for us, they fed our livestock too. People with the right of pannage, for example, were able to release their pigs into their local woods to fatten up on acorns and beech mast (shown above) in the Autumn. This custom continues today in the New Forest in Hampshire.

It is perhaps not surprising that trees were the stuff of folklore and legend as well as being sources of vital raw materials. Yew trees have an association with churchyards which goes back to time immemorial, and it is said that at least 500 such churches are younger than the yews growing alongside them. Rowan trees were thought by many to give protection from witches. Legends of old tell how the sweeping branches of a riverside willow saved a litter of kittens from drowning; each spring from that time on the trees were  adorned with furry catkins - hence the name pussy willow. (Picture above)

Over the centuries, people have brought many new trees to Britain, some for practical purposes and others as ornamental trees. In the latter category, horse chestnuts were introduced in the late 16th Century; the photo above shows leaves and flower bursting from the characteristic 'sticky bud' in early Spring.

Another species imported from much further afield is the monkey puzzle tree, also known as the Chilean pine. Although the tree is an evergreen and does indeed come from Chile, it is not a pine.

The Cedar of Lebanon, once common in its native Middle East, is a popular specimen tree in UK parks. The one pictured above can be seen at Fawsley Park in Northamptonshire, which was landscaped by 'Capability' Brown.

Falling into the 'utility' category of tree imports are various species of conifers, fast-growing and ideal for timber production. The planting of large swathes of our uplands with these trees has been decried by many, the forests so formed generally regarded as dark and largely lifeless 'blots on the landscape.' These days more thought tends to go into the creation and management such plantations, making them visually less intrusive and more wildlife-friendly.

Ladybird on cherry blossom.
Today, woodlands still have a role as sources of timber and other raw materials. Increasingly however, with more and more land being swallowed up by urbanisation and intensive agriculture, woodlands are seen as havens for wildlife, and as semi-wild places where people can escape from the concrete jungle and connect with nature.

Ash keys.
Our surviving trees and woodlands need all the protection they can get, especially with new threats such as as ash dieback. With so much of our ancient woodlands felled, we also need more trees and woods to be planted. The Tree Council's National Tree Week is a great way of drawing attention to this need. The Woodland Trust also does a great job both in protecting existing woodlands and creating new ones. I would urge everyone who loves trees and woodlands to support either or both of these organisations. Our ancestors would, I am sure, understand.

All photos in this article ©Steven Jackson.

"A lamentable meagreness of taste"

Have you ever wished that some of your ancestors were, shall we say, more imaginative when it came to choosing names for their children? Even in the study of a family with an uncommon surname, such as Atcherley, it can be difficult to know which record relates to which person when so many of them were named Ann(e), Elizabeth, John, Mary, Richard, Roger, Sarah or Thomas.

If you too have come across 'repetitive forename syndrome' while attempting to assemble your own genealogical jigsaw puzzle, you might find consolation in the fact that this problem is one that has been complained about for well over 150 years. For your reading pleasure I repeat below, verbatim, a short article entitled Names, written by William and Robert Chambers and published in their Chambers' Edinburgh Journal on 17 October 1841 (No. 455, pages 308-9). Naturally, I add the disclaimer that the views expressed by authors are their own. I for one am very grateful to those people in the Atcherley family tree who gave their children more than one forename, and/or used a surname as a forename!

A lamentable meagreness of taste is displayed in this country in giving Christian names to children. The usual custom seems to consist in naming the infant after some friend or relative, no matter how offensive or prosaic the name may be. This is perhaps done by way of compliment, but, generally speaking, it is treated very lightly by the person supposed to be complimented, and the favour might as well be spared. Where the name is euphonious or well-sounding, there can be no harm in the practice, but where it is a harsh or too common appellation, a positive injury is inflicted on the child for life, all to satisfy a passing whim, or pay an imaginary compliment. It can be from no other cause than this that there is such a limited range of Christian names amongst us. We have Johns without end, and then in numerical proportion come James, William, George, Thomas, Robert, and two or three others, all which being repeated in nearly every family every new generation, there is the greatest difficulty in tracing descents for the sake of inheritance; and in those cases in which each male member of a family has several sons, all with precisely the same names, an utter confusion is introduced into the genealogy. We have thus, for example, known five cousins, all possessing the name John Thomson, and similar absurdities must be continually occurring within every other person's knowledge.

What we should propose being done in the matter of naming children is, for the parents to look about for a new and well-sounding name for their child, whether male or female, without any regard to the stupid old custom of calling infants after uncles, aunts, grandfathers, or grandmothers. Why not introduce more liberally into the common stock of Christian names some of the fine old Anglo-Saxon appellatives, such as Arthur, Athelston, Alfred, Swynfen, Albert, Edmund, Egbert, Ethelbert, Edgar, Edwin, Cedric; or for females—Adela, Adeline, Agatha, Amanda, Alice, Matilda, Eleanor, Constance, &c. The fund of Roman, French, and other names, might also be drawn upon, as Adrian, Adolphe, Hortense, &c.

On a former occasion, we showed the impropriety of giving children two Christian names, or of giving a surname for a Christian name. But it indicates a much greater meanness of taste to call any child by the name or titular appellative of any member of the royal family. We lately heard of a gentleman in the metropolis who had called his three sons, respectively, Kent, Cambridge, and Sussex, a thing no doubt done for the purpose of creating a sensation among strangers. "Sussex, my dear, will you come this way!" or "Cambridge, I'll trouble you to hand me that book," sounds well when uttered by an elegant mamma in a promiscuous company, and for the moment raises the notion that one of the royal family is present. Such are the mean motives which sometimes influence parents in the naming of their children.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Tracing Thomas Cureton

Back in 2011, I took a photo of the gravestone of Thomas and Elizabeth Cureton in the churchyard at Waters Upton in Shropshire. I found the Curetons on the 1871 census, tracked down their baptism records, found an 1877 probate record for Tom, then posted picture, MI transcript and a brief bio at Find A Grave. And there my interest in Thomas Cureton and his family ended ... until now.

Thomas and Elizabeth Cureton's monumental inscription at Waters Upton . Image © Steven Jackson.

I had actually gone to Waters Upton to find and photograph the grave of my 3x great grandmother Mary Titley, nee Atcherley. I knew she had a grave marker there thanks to the Shropshire Family History Society's MI (monumental inscription) transcripts for the church, which I had looked up at Shropshire Archives in Shrewsbury. I found the gravestone, and took my photos. It was late in the day and the churchyard was quite small. A thought occurred to me, and I have to make the most if it when that happens! Why not photograph all the other MIs (up to the limit of my camera's memory card) before heading back to where I was staying?

So I snapped all the stones I could, included the one dedicated to Thomas Cureton and his wife Elizabeth (see pic above). The next question was what to do with all the pictures? Find A Grave, where I had found several Atcherley gravestone photos, seemed a good place for them (even though the site insists that Waters Upton is actually Waters Upon). All I needed to do was transcribe the inscriptions (enhancing the images where necessary to make the the words on them more legible), resize the photos, and upload everything to the website. That's all I needed to do, but the family historian in me wanted to know who all these people were. Hence the research on Thomas and all the others, and the eventual uploading not just of photos and transcriptions, but also of additional information linking the deceased to census, parish and other records, and to each other where possible. The end result was a sort of virtual Waters Upton graveyard, and a satisfying feeling of having given a little something back to the genealogical community from which I had so often taken.

A query about the Curetons

Fast forward to November 2012, and an enquiry from a descendant of Thomas Cureton wanting to know if I have any more such images? I haven't. But I do have Curetons in my Atcherley family tree, as there were two Atcherley-Cureton marriages, the second involving cousins of the couple who wed first. Was Thomas of Waters Upton connected to 'my' Curetons, from Hordley?

To find out I would have to carry out some further research. Part of that involved looking for more records of Thomas at Ancestry, which led me to a profile for him in a family tree, almost certainly created by the person who had contacted me. There was Thomas, born 1802 at Waters Upton (he was baptised there on Christmas Day that year according to a transcript of the parish registers), and his wife Elizabeth Buttrey (whose surname was subject to some variation in the records relating to her), born at Rowton in the neighbouring parish of High Ercall in 1800 (the parish is also known as Ercall Magna and extracts from its registers show Elizabeth's baptism there on 30 March). Linked to them was the 1871 census record and the probate calendar entry which I had also found, plus census records for 1851 and 1861.

Out of curiosity I had a closer look at the additional census records - only to find that they both showed a Thomas Cureton whose birthplace was given as Windsor, in Buckinghamshire, and wife Elizabeth born in .... Spain! These were not looking at all like census records for Thomas and Elizabeth of Waters Upton and Ercall Magna. But if these were the wrong records, where were the right ones? It was time to go back to basics and track the family down in all the pre-1871 census returns.

Success with the census

My first success was in 1841. Selecting the 1841 England census record set at Ancestry [£] and searching just for the surname Cureton in Waters Upton was an unsuccessful strategy. The reason for this was revealed when I looked instead for the surname Cureton in Shropshire - there was Elizabeth Cureton living in a place which Ancestry had recorded as "Caters Uptan, Upton Waters"! With her was Thomas Cureton, an "ag lab", along with Cureton children John aged 10, Richard aged 8 and Thomas aged 5. The ages of Thomas senior and Elizabeth were given as 35, but ages of adults were usually (though by no means always) rounded down to the nearest 5 years on the 1841 census. Another feature of that year's census was that relationships between household members were not recorded. However the probate calendar entry for Thomas named two of his sons as John and Richard Cureton, so all in all this was looking to be a good match.

Searches for the family in 1861 and 1871 were a little less straightforward. Using the surname Cureton was yielding no good results, just the Thomas and Elizabeth from Windsor and Spain. Looking for their son Richard, using just his forename, an approximate year of birth (1833 according to the 1841 census) and a birthplace of Waters Upton, Shropshire located him in 1851 with his surname transcribed as Carlton. But at the age of 18 he was already independent of his family, and was living and working (as a servant) in Newport, Shropshire. Checking the image of the census schedule confirmed that he was a Cureton. I submitted a surname correction to Ancestry and moved on.

Lost in transcription

Knowing that the surname Cureton was subject to transcription errors, I searched Ancestry's 1851 England census record set [£] using just the surname c*ton and a birth parish or place of Waters Upton. (For newbies, an asterisk is a "wild card" and in searches it represents one or more characters of any kind. It's a useful tool for picking up variant spellings of names, and in this case for finding incorrect transcriptions of a name which was actually written - a little unclearly perhaps - as Cureton, but read and recorded by a transcriber as something different.)

Success! In 1851, Thomas and Elizabeth, their surnames (like their son Richard's) transcribed as Carlton, were living in Forton, just over the Shropshire county border in Staffordshire and not far from Newport. I actually found them because of their children, as the birthplaces for both Thomas and his wife were recorded as Ercall Magna (correct in Elizabeth's case, but not in the case of her husband). Actually, none of the children recorded with them in 1841 were in the household ten years on, but several pieces of evidence confirmed the match. First, Thomas was by now working as a coachman, the occupation recorded in his probate calendar entry. Second, there was a niece living in the household, and her surname was Buttery (Elizabeth Cureton's maiden surname). Finally, there was a 7 year old daughter named Sarah. From my work on the Waters Upton MIs and from the 1871 census, I knew that Tom and Elizabeth had a daughter named Sarah who was born about 1844 in Waters Upton (and who married William Abraham Richard Ball in 1870). I submitted further corrections to Ancestry, to help others find the family should they look for them. More were soon to follow!

Trading places

The same search, applied the Ancestry's 1861 England Census record set [£], provided a result both surprising and curious. This time, the family name was transcribed as Cueston. (Cureton is not that common a surname, and being unfamiliar it is evidently prone to transcription errors unless written very clearly.) The surprise was finding Tom and his wife living even further away from home than they were ten years earlier. And what was curious, bearing in mind the birthplace of the other Thomas Cureton (whose 1851 and '61 records were attached in error to the tree I found on Ancestry) was their specific location: Sunninghill, Berkshire, which was part of Windsor registration district. Thomas, recorded as a coachman born at Waters Upton, was living about 8 miles from the Berkshire birthplace of his namesake, who was then living about six miles from Waters Upton!

After all that, I was not able to find any evidence connecting Thomas Cureton of Waters Upton to the Curetons in my Atcherley tree. But at least I have been able to reply to my enquirer with some useful information about his Cureton ancestors.

St Michael's Church, Waters Upton, Shropshire. Image © Steven Jackson.