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.

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