My soldier ancestors: John Clarson, Peninsular War


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My 4GGF John Clarson was born in 1787 at Tamworth, Staffordshire, England, son of Joseph Clarson and Sarah, nee Gent (not to be confused with John’s brother Joseph who also married Sarah, widow of Joseph Bishop, nee Pallet). The Clarsons had been at Tamworth since at least 1739, when John’s grandfather James Clarson married Mary Bell. I have attached an image of a simplified descendant chart – I hope it is viewable. 

I have been doing a one-name study of the Clarson families originating in England since the 1970s.


Decades ago I paid a London researcher to look for a Clarson in the military records at the National Archives, Kew. I did so because in the 1970s my mother told me of a family story, passed to her by her great-aunt Ethel Clarson, that one of our Clarson ancestors was a member of Wellington’s Infamous Army who fought in the Peninsular War.  I initially ignored this, thinking it was fanciful.

However the Tamworth censuses included a John Clarson born ca 1818 at Sligo, Ireland. I eventually realised he must have been the son of a Tamworth local, given the extreme rarity of the Clarson surname. This opened my mind to the possibility that John born in Ireland may have been born to an English soldier while serving in Ireland. Irish-born John‘s 1845 marriage certificate identified his father as John, a bricklayer, so I was looking for a soldier named John Clarson.

At that time, I knew that I was descended from a Tamworth resident, Charles Clarson, who was baptised 1823 at Macclesfield, Cheshire, the son of John, a bricklayer, and Ann. I had no real evidence that Charles’s father was John born 1787 at Tamworth. Happily for me, the family story about a soldier ancestor was about to provide that evidence.

The London researcher found a soldier named John Clareson (sic), who  was born 1787 at Tamworth, according to the baptismal certificate on the army file. I was able to confirm this was the same man I suspected was my ancestor, as Clareson was how our John’s surname was spelt when he was baptised, and Clareson was a spelling variation for Clarson at the time. From this, I was sure we were on the right track.

The army record showed that John “Clareson” baptised 1787 at Tamworth was a bricklayer when he enlisted, that he fought in the Peninsular War, and that he was in Sligo in 1818. This confirmed that John Clarson born 1787 was indeed my 4GGF.

Ironically, within months of me paying for the army research, the National Archives put its catalogue online, and I was able to find a reference to John Clareson’s army record in the index myself, although of course the content of the file was not online.

As an aside, by searching the online catalogue, I found that John Boyer of Tamworth also enlisted with the 3rd Dragoon Guards in 1805, and was discharged in 1821 aged 33. Another Tamworth son, William Alsop, joined the Regiment in 1806, and was discharged in 1821 aged 32. They were a similar age to John Clarson.

In a sad turn of events, the London researcher died before fully completing her investigations. Nevertheless what she reported to me was sufficient for my purposes.  I was able to personally view the army file during a one-day visit to London many years later in 2002.

Although John Clarson was listed in the WO 97 series of records at the Public Record Office, Kew (and these records usually refer to soldiers who received pensions), there are no surviving pension records for John Clarson.  Long service pensions were not available until after 1823 – only disability pensions.  Perhaps John applied unsuccessfully for a disability pension, which is why he was in the WO 97 lists.


John Clarson was a Private with the 3rd Dragoon Guards, a heavy cavalry regiment, from 1805-1819. He was 17 (sic, he was 18 according to his baptismal age) when he enlisted on 3 July 1805, at which time he was a bricklayer, but not an apprentice (technically he was a bricklayer’s labourer).  It was not unusual for soldiers to have a trade, eg boot making, which they practiced as part of their army service.

John Clarson fought in the Peninsular War in Portugal, Spain and France against Napoleon from 1809 – 1813.  He did not fight at Waterloo on 18 Jun 1815, as he and his Regiment were in Leeds, England at the time being “re-horsed” (ie obtaining new horses).

By March 1816 the Regiment was stationed at Ballinrobe, co Mayo, Ireland. However John Clarson with several others were on detachment at Sligo, co Sligo, Ireland, from June 1816 to May 1818.  Sligo had a cavalry barracks, according to the French consul Coquebert de Montbret’s 1791 notebook.

I was told by a military historian that Cavalry Regiments in the 18th and 19th Centuries spent much of their time on Excise duties and other tasks in “aid of the Civil Power”, so it is quite possible that John’s bricklaying skills were being utilized at Sligo.

It cannot be a coincidence that the Sligo Gaol was built in 1818 and would have required more skilled craftsmen than could be supplied locally. The Gaol could hold 200 prisoners, and was closed in 1956.

In March 1818 the Regiment moved to Dublin, Ireland, but John remained on detachment. Throughout the remainder of 1818 John was at Philipstown (now called Daingean), then Tullamore. Both places were in Co Offaly, Ireland, or Kings Co as it was known then.

There is no known surviving evidence of John’s marriage in Ireland. We know his wife’s name was Ann from the baptismal records for his English-born children, but Ann’s maiden name is my first brick wall.

I believe it would have been a Protestant marriage, as Ann showed no indication of being a Catholic. Her English-born children were baptised in the Church of England, and she re-married and was buried at St Editha’s parish church, Tamworth. Furthermore there is no evidence that I have maternal Irish ancestry from my DNA matches at My mother’s first cousin has also done a DNA test, and as his mother was of German descent, his lack of ethnic Irish ancestry is apparent. This points to Ann being of English descent. Perhaps she was the daughter of another English soldier. She was 12 years younger than John, according to her age in the 1841 and 1855 censuses and her age 56 at death in 1855.

They are likely to have married at Ballinrobe, where he was posted prior to 1816; or at Sligo where his son John claimed to be born circa 1818 in English census records. There are no known surviving Irish marriage records for Clarson or similar ca 1817. A John Clarson marriage cannot be found in the Army registers, possibly because John was not with the rest of the Regiment – he was on detachment.

Of course, the chances of a Protestant marriage record surviving the 1922 bombing and subsequent fire at the Four Courts Record Office, Dublin, are small.

John snr was discharged aged 32, at Dublin in January 1819, after 13.5 years service. He returned to his home town of Tamworth, Staffordshire, England with wife Ann and infant son John.


The Military General Service Medal (MGSM), commonly called the Waterloo Medal, was issued in 1847-1848 to surviving soldiers who were present at one or more of these battles: Battle of Ligny (16 June 1815), Battle of Quatre Bras (16 June 1815), and the Battle of Waterloo (18 June 1815).

As John Clarson had died in 1830, he was not eligible to receive the MGSM. It is a moot point, but he may not have been present at any of the qualifying Battles, despite his long experience in the Peninsular War.

The MGSM was awarded to almost 39,000 Waterloo veterans. These soldiers were credited with two years extra service and pay, to count for all purposes.

At the time the granting of this medal was anything but popular in the British Army, the veterans of the Peninsula War feeling aggrieved that those who were present at Waterloo – many of them raw recruits, who had never seen a shot fired before – should receive such a public acknowledgement of their achievements; while they, who had undergone the labours and privations of the whole war, had had no recognition of their services beyond the thirteen votes of thanks awarded to them in Parliament. (Source: Wikipedia, The Waterloo Medal)


In civilian life, John Clarson returned to his trade as a bricklayer’s labourer. No doubt his recent experience in Ireland stood him in good stead.

John and Ann’s daughter Mary Clarson was baptised at Tamworth in 1821; and their sons Charles and David were baptised at Macclesfield, Cheshire in 1823 and 1826 (David was baptised privately, according to an entry in the Tamworth parish register dated December 1832 when he was aged 6). Macclesfield is about 100km north of Tamworth. I don’t know why they moved to Macclesfield, perhaps it was because John obtained work there on a large long term project. After 3 to 8 years at Macclesfield, they returned to Tamworth.

Son Thomas was born on 10 September 1829 at Tamworth, but was not baptised until he was aged 3, in December 1832, on the same day that his brother David was publicly received into the church at Tamworth. By then, their father John had been dead for two years.

John Clarson died at Tamworth in November 1830, aged 42. He was survived by his wife and children aged 12, 9, 7, 4 and 1.

Only two of his five children were known to have been baptised in Protestant churches while John was alive (ie Mary in 1821 at Tamworth, and Charles in 1823 at Macclesfield).  The eldest child, John jnr, was born in Ireland, and may have been baptised there.  John’s fourth child, David, was baptised privately in Macclesfield in 1826 according to his 1832 Tamworth baptism (private baptisms were sometimes carried at home out when the infant was not expected to survive. They were typically not recorded until the child was formally “received into the church”).  David and the fifth child, Thomas, were baptised in Tamworth during 1832, after John’s death.  This seems to suggest that John fell out with the church after David’s private baptism in 1826 at Macclesfield.

John’s widow Anne Clarson married Joseph Baker at Tamworth in 1834, but she was a widow again by census night in June 1841.

Their 4 surviving children all married young, aged 20. Thomas died young in 1834, a couple of months after his mother’s remarriage.


A Clarson family tree prepared in about 1883 by a descendant of John’s brother Joseph was aware of a related branch of Clarson brothers called “John, David and Charles who are now labouring men, men who never seemed to raise themselves to the original level of the family”. The 1883 genealogist did not know how they fitted in the family tree. This indicates that the name and war service of the father of these three men was not remembered –  only 70 years after John served in the Peninsular War and 53 years after his death at Tamworth.

I acknowledge that John the soldier may have been difficult for the 1883 genealogist to trace, given that John did not marry in Tamworth, and his older sons were not baptised there. But it is sad to think that these cousins were unaware of their relationship, and there was such a social gulf between them that they apparently did not talk to each other – even though they all lived in the same town. Surely if the 1883 genealogist had approached the surviving brothers Charles and David, who were in their 60s, they could have told him the name and birth details of their own father, ie John the soldier.

While John was soldiering, his brother Joseph Clarson must have become a very successful mason and bricklayer, because Joseph’s five surviving adult sons were all successful middle class men, with careers as builders (with one exception, Joseph’s youngest son was a draper). One son William died in 1835 aged 31, a builder. Another son John died in 1849 aged 40, a builder and a moderately wealthy man from his Will. For these sons to be so successful at a relatively young age, they must have had a good financial start in life from their father Joseph, who died in 1831 aged 57.

It is a striking comparison to John the soldier’s three sons, bricklayer’s labourers who all married young, at age 20. It was quite unusual for males to marry as minors, especially so for three brothers to all do so.  There were no signs of wealth, eg marriage licences, wills, houses or headstones, for these sons. Their father obviously did not provide them with a financial headstart – his death when they were very young must have soaked up the few financial assets he had, if any.

However, the three sons had long marriages, lived to a decent age and each raised many children. From a long term view, John’s family was quite successful.



MY IRISH ANCESTORS WERE GERMAN: The Fischel family from the Palatine became the Fitzell family of co Limerick


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(This is a more detailed version of my blog “DNA Matches and my Fitzell brick walls” dated 2 Jan 2019.)

My most recent Irish ancestor is my paternal great-grandmother Mary Anne Fitzell who was born 1828 at Millstreet, co Cork, Ireland – according to family stories; English census records; and her 1901 gravestone at Derby, Derbyshire, England. There is no surviving baptism. The Church of Ireland parish registers were likely destroyed in the 1922 bombing of the Four Courts, Dublin.

Mary Anne Fitzell married James Gill, a British soldier, in 1856 at Malta, at the end of the Crimean War. According to her grandson Richard Gill, she had been working as lady’s maid for the wife of James Eman, a senior officer in the 41st Welsh Regiment. James Gill, a Colour Sergeant in the 41st Regt, had been training recruits in Malta. Because they married overseas they did not have the typical British marriage certificate of that era, which would have named their fathers.

So for many years, I did not know the names of Mary Ann’s parents.

Luckily I had family stories from my English cousin John, who grew up in the same household as his grandfather Richard Gill, and knew many family stories. He spoke of Mary Ann’s Irish brothers Henry and Peter Fitzell who were a police constable and a coast guard respectively. From Henry and Peter’s Irish marriage records, I ascertained that their father was Adam Fitzell, a police constable. I also found a newspaper death notice from 1874 for Grace Fitzell, who died at Ballyheigue, co Kerry, at the residence of her son, Peter the coast guard.

Along the way I discovered that Fitzell was a Palatine surname. That was an eye-opener for me, as Fitzell sounded like an Irish name. Most Irish Fitzells are descendants of Hans Adam Fischel born 1649 at Essenheim, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. (I believe there is also a Fritzelle family who are Norman descendants.) There are many spelling variants for Fitzell. Hans Adam Fischel, his wife Ann and their three sons John, Adam and Peter, arrived at Rathkeale parish, co Limerick, Ireland in 1709 with several hundred refugees from Germany.

After a long journey from Germany via Holland and London, the Fischel and other Palatine families were settled on the Southwell Estate at Courtmatrix in the Rathkeale parish, with assistance from the British Government wanting to establish a Protestant stronghold in Ireland. The Palatine families soon developed a good reputation as diligent workers. They largely kept to themselves and married each other for about the first 100 years after arriving in Ireland.

That was all I knew of my Palatine ancestry for a long time.

I began building a database of Fitzell families, hoping to find an Adam who would fit my man. The trouble was, there were too many! Adam is a popular name in Palatine families, and particularly in Fitzell families. Although I started this project without much hope of it being worthwhile, it has proven to be very beneficial in the long run, as well as being an enjoyable exercise in itself.

The book “The Palatine Families of Ireland”, published by Hank Z Jones in 1990, was an invaluable resource for the early generations of the Fischels/Fitzells. It includes information about their German origins. I obtained this book direct from the author in California a couple of years ago.

I did an autosomal DNA test (atDNA) at in 2017. To help with my matches, I traced descendants of Henry and Peter Fitzell, Mary Ann’s brothers. Henry had no surviving descendants. However I found Albert in Canada, my 3rd cousin once removed from Peter Fitzell. He promptly agreed to do an atDNA test, much to my delight.

Albert and I matched! Other “close” DNA matches (ie predicted 4th cousins or closer) for me, my siblings and relevant paternal cousins, especially those that were a shared match with Albert, helped me to figure out my paternal Irish ancestry. The atDNA test turned out to be the breakthrough I had been hoping for.

From the many matches we collectively have with Dolmage descendants, I have concluded that my ancestors must be Adam Fitzell who married Mary Dolmage in 1755. Dolmage is another Palatine family name, sometimes spelt Delmage or Dulmage. In a “Eureka” moment, I realised that Adam and Mary had a grandson named Adam Fitzell who was approximately the right age for my police constable Adam, via their son John and his wife Dorothy (whose maiden name is not recorded).

This Adam Phizle (sic), son of John and Dorothea, was baptised in 1782 at Rathkeale, co Limerick. He had no known marriage or death, and was available for me to claim as my man. When I looked at trees online that did attribute a marriage to him, I was able to discount them due to my own research, and attribute their Adam to another Adam in my tree.

Obviously I had already considered this man as a candidate for my Adam, but was reluctant to claim him without further evidence, given that he was a little older than usual to be a father in 1828.

Further DNA matches made me realise that Adam the policeman had married twice, and that his first wife was Hester Power. Several of my matches were descendants of “James T Fowlks and Catharine E Bovenizar” who married in 1875 at Iowa, USA. Catherine Elizabeth Bovenizer was born 1858 at Indiana, daughter of John and Jemima Bovenizer. It seemed likely that John was a son of Peter Bovenizer and Catherine Fitzell. Catherine was a daughter of Adam and Hester.

Establishing Adam’s age also provided a possible explanation as to why he was not included in the index for the Royal Irish Constabulary. Only those who joined in 1816 or later had surviving records and were indexed. Adam must have joined prior to 1816, and being an older man, this is a feasible scenario. Adam’s son Henry is included in the RIC index.

The last record of Adam in co Limerick was when his daughters from his first marriage were born in 1805 and 1806. The Irish Constabulary (the “Royal” prefix was not added to the name of the Constabulary until the 1860s) preferred to recruit people away from their birthplace, so it seems likely he joined them around this time.

Adam’s daughter Catherine married at Kilnaughtin, co Kerry in 1820. Adam and Grace’s earliest known child Henry was born in co Cork circa 1824. Logically, Adam and family had left co Limerick prior to 1820. Adam’s second wife Grace was from co Cork, so it is likely that they married there between 1820 and 1824.

I have not found a death record for Adam, but as Grace was the head of the household at Millstreet, co Cork, in the 1851 Griffith Valuation, he must have died before then.

Given my large number of matches with Bovenizer descendants, I have wondered whether Adam’s mother Dorothy was a Bovenizer, but there are no known records to prove this. The fact that Adam’s daughter Catherine married a Bovenizer confused me for a while, until I realised that I would not be matching other Bovenizer descendants simply because of that connection.

Most online trees have Dorothy’s maiden name as Teskey, but there is no evidence for this. John’s brother Adam Fitzell married Ann Teskey, and I suspect someone mistakenly gave Dorothy the same surname as Ann. This error has proliferated among online trees. I have no known atDNA matches with Teskey descendants, which speaks for itself in an endogenous community like the Irish Palatines.

From other atDNA matches, I have ascertained that Mary Anne’s mother’s maiden name was Grace McCarthy of county Cork, and that she was not of Palatine descent. My findings in relation to Grace are outlined in my blog “DNA Matches and my Fitzell brick walls” dated 2 Jan 2019.

My Lincolnshire Ancestors: Two Candidates for Thomas Scholey


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Two Thomas Scholey baptisms ca 1768

My 5GGF Thomas Scholey (also spelt Scoley) married Susanna Bringeman in 1791 at Ancaster, Lincolnshire (Lincs), England. One of the marriage witnesses was John Scoley.

In the 1841 census Thomas Scholey was an agricultural labourer aged 70 and born Lincs (ie apparently born ca 1771 but ages were rounded to the nearest five years in 1841 so he could have been born between 1768 and 1774 if his age was recorded correctly). Unusually, Thomas and his wife Susan were recorded twice in 1841 – at their home in Ancaster, Lincs and also visiting their married son John at Kirkby Le Thorpe, 16km distant from Ancaster. Both their ages were recorded as 70 in both instances.

Thomas was recorded as aged 79 when he died at Ancaster, Lincs, four years later in June 1845, which makes his birth year 1764. Wife Susanna was baptised in 1770 and was correctly recorded as aged 77 when she died in 1847. Both deaths were informed by Mary Scholey of Ancaster, who is assumed to be their granddaughter, daughter of their son John.

In my experience when there is a difference between the 1841 census age for older persons and age at death, the age at death tends to be correct. However, “my experience” is not proof.

There are two candidates for Thomas’s baptism. One was Thomas Scoley, parents John and Elizabeth (nee Bark) Scoley, in 1764 at Dorrington, Lincs. The other was Thomas Scoley, son of John and Katherine (nee Smalley) at South Kyme, Lincs in 1771.

So the fact that a John Scoley was a witness to Thomas and Susanna’s 1791 marriage is not much of a clue, given that both these Thomases had living fathers in 1791 called John, and both also had brothers called John.

When I first did this research in the 1980s I assumed that Thomas born 1764 at Dorrington was my man, because of Dorrington’s geographical proximity to Ancaster where he married (ie 18km from Dorrington compared to 28km from South Kyme). In a time when the labouring classes were unlikely to own a horse and relied on their own two feet for transport, it has been long accepted genealogical practice that a labourer would be unlikely to marry further than a day’s return walk. However, many online trees have Thomas who married Susanna as the son of John and Katherine, ie born 1771 at South Kyme, presumably because that birth year fitted his 1841 census age. So I re-examined the situation.

I am still inclined to believe that my ancestor Thomas Scholey was born ca 1764 at Dorrington, the clincher being that my close relatives and I have DNA matches with Dorrington family descendants, but not with South Kyme family descendants.

The fate of the other Thomas born 1771 at South Kyme is not known. I cannot find a relevant marriage or death. He may have died unrecorded or emigrated as a young adult.

Two John Scholey baptisms ca 1735

I am therefore confident, based on best assumptions, that my 6GGPs were John Scoley and Elizabeth Bark who married in 1758 at Bloxholm, Lincs. One of the witnesses was Matthew Scoley. The surviving children of John and Elizabeth were Ann and Thomas, both baptised at Dorrington.

This John seems to have married a second time to Dorothy Stephenson in 1773 at Lincoln, Lincs, as the other couple John and Katherine Scholey were still baptising children after 1773. There are DNA matches between descendants of John/Elizabeth and John/Dorothy.

John and Dorothy named a second son Thomas in 1786 at Nocton, even though John’s son Thomas born in 1764 was still living. This is rare, but does happen. Indeed my own mother was given the same first name as her much older sister, although both were called by their third given names.

There were two baptisms for John Scholey – which one married my ancestor Elizabeth and which one married Katherine? The two candidates seem to be first cousins – one born 1733 at Potterhanworth to Thomas and Mary (Cheetham); and one born 1737 at Digby to Matthew and Ann (Markham). The two fathers, Thomas and Matthew, were brothers, sons of Matthew Scholey and Ann Creasey.

Again, the marriage witness is not a useful clue as John who married Elizabeth had a living father named Matthew; and the John who married Katherine had a brother named Matthew.

There are no clues except for proximity of the birthplace to the marriage place. Digby is less than 3km from Bloxholm where the John-Elizabeth marriage took place. Potterhanworth is 18km from Digby. I have therefore concluded that my ancestor John was the one born at Digby.

A word about DNA matches

I have not mentioned the size of the relevant DNA matches, mainly because the size of the match for 4th or more distant cousins is not an indication that one match might be closer than another.

The matches were for predicted distant cousins (ie more distant than 4th cousins), which fits the actual relationship.

My Scholey-descended cousin matches a descendant of Thomas’s half-sister Mary born 1775, daughter of John and Dorothy (Mary married John Gambles). Mary Gambles died in 1838 aged 62, which makes her too old to be Mary Scholey born 1783, the daughter of John and Katherine.

My brother matches a descendant of the younger Thomas, son of John and Dorothy.

Hopefully more matches will turn up in due course.

Which Ann Coad was my ancestor?


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I have been greatly assisted in my ongoing analysis of the parentage of Ann Coad by Joe Flood’s excellent 2013 book, “Unravelling the Code: The Coads and Coodes of Cornwall and Devon”. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in their Coad ancestry. One of his key findings, following Y-DNA tests, was that the different Coad families in Cornwall are not closely related.

While Coad is a rare name generally in England, it is relatively common in Cornwall. Because of this, I thought it would be easy to identify my Ann Coad’s birth. This has not been the case! 

Ann Coad is my 5G grandmother. According to the June 1841 census, Ann was aged 82 and therefore born circa 1759. Her age at death in March 1843 was 84, which accords with the 1759 birth date.

My Ann Coad was obviously going to be one of the “Border Coad” families (so-called by Joe Flood because of their proximity to the border between Cornwall and Devon), because she married John Harris at North Hill in 1780, and their ten children were born there 1782-1805. In 1841 Ann Harris aged 82, born Cornwall, was living with her married daughter at Linkinhorne, Cornwall, where she died in 1843 aged 84. 

Ann Coad births in Cornwall ca 1759

After consulting Familytree, FreeREG, Ancestry and Findmypast, there are four known births for Ann Coad 1756-1763 in Cornwall, all in the Border parishes identified by Joe Flood, and all are possible candidates for my Ann. None can be ruled out by a burial record, and my Ann’s 1780 marriage is the only known marriage in the right timeframe for an Ann Coad.  Their details follow, in order of distance from North Hill where my Ann married:

1. Ann CODE, 16 Jul 1758, South Hill, Cornwall, parents James Coade or Code (born 1722, Lezant) and Eleanor Bray (aka Petronella), who married in 1748 at North Hill. South Hill is about 10 km from North Hill. The Will of James Code of Linkinhorne was signed and proved in 1794, and named his daughters, Elizabeth, Mary, Ann, Catherine, and son George. The daughters’ surnames were not mentioned in the Will, which may be indicative that the daughters were spinsters, as it seemed to be usual practice to provide the married name of daughters in Wills, at least in my (admittedly limited) experience. If this was the case, then this Ann cannot be my Ann, as my Ann married in 1780. This Ann is a first cousin of Ann of Lezant, as their fathers were brothers. Joe Flood proposed in his book that this Ann was the Ann Coad who married John Harris. He no doubt selected this family on the basis that they were closest to North Hill, which is a valid assumption, but Lezant is only 2 km further.

2. Ann COAD, 6 May 1759, Lezant, Cornwall, parents William Coad (born 1717 at Stoke Climsland) and Catherine Blyth, who married on 29 Oct 1756 at Lezant, which is about 12 km from North Hill. While William Coad left a Will dated 1784, it was destroyed by bombing in WW2. This Ann was a great-granddaughter of William, son of Stephen born 1587. Spoiler alert: this Ann is now my preferred candidate. See below for my reasons.

3. Ann COAD, 3 Aug 1760, Stoke Climsland, Cornwall, parents Daniel Coade (born 1716 at Stoke Climsland) and Deborah Deeble, who married on 22 Nov 1755 at Stoke Climsland, which is about 13 km from North Hill. Daniel was likely a third cousin of Ann of Lezant, via Robert son of Stephen born 1587.

4. Ann COAD, 30 Nov 1759, Saint Stephens By Saltash, Cornwall, parents George Coad (born 1717 at Saltash) and Mary Colley, who married on 15 Jun 1758 at Saltash, which is about 30 km from North Hill. George was likely a third cousin of Ann of Lezant, via Robert son of Stephen born 1587. 30 km is probably too far for this Ann to be considered a viable candidate. It is accepted that working class people at that time did not marry further than a day’s return walk away, ie no more than 15 km apart. 

5. I also considered whether the resident North Hill couple, Samuel Coad (born 1702 at North Hill) and Ruth Granville who married on 16 July 1736 at North Hill, might have had a daughter named Ann. Baptism records do not always survive. The register may have been destroyed or lost, or the baptism not recorded – noting that it was the usual practice of clergymen not to record events as they happened, instead they relied on their memory, or kept notes which might be subsequently lost. My rationale was that my Ann Coad married John Harris at North Hill, and it was common practice to marry in the bride’s parish. However the groom John Harris was born at North Hill, so Ann was not necessarily born there. Samuel and Ruth Coad baptised six children at North Hill from 1739 to 1756 (William 1739, Samuel 1743, Samuel 1744, Nicholas 1751, Margaret 1754, William 1756). Ann’s birth year falls just outside that range, ie 1759.  Assuming Ruth was about 18-22 when she married, she could have been born circa 1714-1718. This would mean she was 41 to 45 years old when Ann was born, which is a typical age for the mother of a large family to give birth to her youngest child. If this North Hill Ann existed, she would be a second cousin to Ann of Lezant. Until recently, this hypothetical Ann was my preferred candidate, despite the existence of four other recorded candidates. 

Will Coad witnessed the 1780 marriage

In addition to proximity to North Hill, there is another possible clue to the identity of my Ann. Will Coad witnessed Ann’s 1780 marriage to John Harris at North Hill. I believe this Will Coad may have been Ann’s brother, as William Coad of Lezant, the only father of an Ann born ca 1759, had died in 1776.

Which of the five Ann’s had a relevant brother named William?

*Ann of Lezant turned out to be the best candidate, as she had an older brother named William who died in 1783, ie after Ann’s marriage.

*Ann of South Hill had a brother named William born 1770, too young to witness a 1780 marriage.

*Ann of Saltash did not have a brother named William.

*Ann of Stoke Climsland did not have a brother named William.

*The hypothetical North Hill Ann had two brothers named William, one died young and the second one baptised 1756 died 1810 at North Hill. He is also a candidate for being the witness to Ann’s 1780 marriage, brother or not, because of his residence at North Hill. He could have been a friend of the groom, John Harris, who was born at North Hill.

In brief, the witness Will Coad could have been the brother of either the Lezant Ann Coad or the hypothetical North Hill Ann Coad; or he was a friend of John Harris. 

Naming Patterns

Joe Flood has noted that it was not typical for Coad families to name their children after the maternal line. This may or may not apply to John Harris and his wife Ann Coad, but for what it is worth, their children were named William, Honour, Richard, Mary, Grace, Samuel, Mary, Daniel, Elizabeth and Catherine. The Lezant Ann Coad’s parents and siblings were named William, Catherine, Elizabeth, Honour, James, Mary and George. The parents and siblings of Ann’s husband, John Harris, were John, Mary and Catherine. Both of John Harris’s grandfathers were named Richard, and his grandmothers were Honour and Elizabeth.

In brief, John and Ann’s children’s names in common with the Lezant family were William, Honour, Mary, Elizabeth and Catherine. Crucially, John Harris and Ann Coad named their first son William, and this was not a Harris name.

What of the names for the other four potential fathers of Ann Coad?

* John and Ann Harris did not name a son James.

* John and Ann named their fourth son Daniel, and it is not a common name in the Border Coad families. Given that this was their fourth son, maybe they had run out of family names. 

* John and Ann Harris did not name a son George.

* John and Ann named their third son Samuel (as did their married daughter Grace Denboll). Samuel was widely used by all the Border Coad families.

I conclude that John and Ann may have named their first son after Ann’s father William; and their second son after John’s grandparents, both named Richard. They did not name any of their children John or Ann, for themselves. Perhaps they sensibly decided that it would create confusion to do so. 

Autosomal DNA tests

I have recently noted some small autosomal DNA matches between descendants of John and Ann Harris, and other Coad family descendants, as identified by their family trees. Because Coad is a relatively rare surname, I thought that these matches were worth examining.

All these matches are small in size, and are predicted by Ancestry to be “5th-8th cousins”, or distant cousins. Small matches are to be expected, when our Most Recent Common Ancestors (MRCA) would be, at best, my 6G grandparents, or several generations earlier. In other words, the matches are likely to be my 7th cousins at best, which is about the limit of autosomal DNA matching. 

This is what Ancestry says about distant cousin matches. “Enough DNA is shared with closer relatives that genealogical relationships can be determined with a higher degree of accuracy based on DNA … [however] determining exact relationships via DNA becomes less feasible the more distant the genealogical relationship is.”

Consequently, I am not going to analyse the size of the matches. All we can say is that the matches are small which indicates a distant cousin connection, and fits the paper trail of my family tree.

Thus, the DNA matches do not show clearly that I have a closer link with the Lezant family (William and Catherine) than with the other candidate families. In fact, I have a DNA match with a descendant of the North Hill family (Samuel and Ruth). But what these DNA matches have done is open my mind to the fact that my Ann could have come from elsewhere than North Hill, and helped me realize that there was an ideal candidate baptism at the next-door parish of Lezant (which is about 12 km from North Hill).

My two siblings, my 1C1R, my known 2C1R and I (all descended from my Ann Coad) have done autosomal DNA tests at Ancestry, and between us as at November 2018, we have six distant cousin DNA matches with people who have Coad/Coade/Code ancestors from the Boarder Coad families. Only two of the matches are mine. Several are shared matches between two of my relatives, which is crucial in establishing that these particular matches are not “identical by chance”, which is a possibility with small DNA matches.

Intriguingly, we have about 20 distant cousin DNA matches with people who have ancestors from other Coad families identified by Joe Flood, and as such, my relationship with these must be more distant than 9th cousin. 

Perhaps we have a “sticky segment” of Coad DNA which has survived for many more generations than would be expected. This is mentioned in DNA genealogy literature. Alternatively, we could have another, closer, unknown connection between our trees. . 

Just a reminder, that these matches were identified from those DNA testers who have online family trees, and have Coad ancestors in their family trees. We may very well have many more DNA matches with peole who have Coad ancestors, but without a tree attached to the DNA results, it becomes very difficult to identify them as such, especially when long genetic differences are involved. 


While there is no overwhelming evidence that Ann Coad of Lezant is my ancestor, I believe that the combination of proximity of birthplace to the marriage place; the likelihood of the marriage witness being Ann’s brother; and the naming patterns for Ann’s children – all add up to a strong argument in favour of Ann of Lezant being my ancestor.

Identifying William Marchant from DNA matches


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My distant cousin Ruth had a brick wall with her grandfather, William George Marchant, supposedly born 24 Sep 1856 at Croydon, London, and arrived in Western Australia in 1885 (I believe these details were from his 1938 death certificate, which I have not seen. It did not name his parents). According to Australian electoral rolls, he was a bootmaker. 

I was able to confirm his arrival in Australia from the following records. “The passengers per Chiselhurst, Captain J R Beckett, from London, 17th March, for Fremantle, included Wm Marchants [sic]” (Herald, Fremantle, WA, 16 May 1885, p2); and “W Merchant [sic]” was on a manifest signed James R Beckett, master, on 16 Jun 1885.

William Marchant was said to have married Lydia Ellen Buck in 1888 at Perth, WA according to the Victorian birth certificate of one of their children, but no one has found their marriage record in Australia.

William’s wife Lydia was born in South Australia in 1861; their children were born in Victoria and Western Australia. William died at Perth in 1938. 

However, there were too many candidates for the birth of a William and/or George Marchant in London circa 1856. Without further clues, identification of his birth record was not possible.

There were 20 William Marchant births in London/Middlesex 1850-1860, none of whom had a middle initial G; and 10 George Marchant births, none of whom had a middle initial W. There was only one William George Marchant birth in all of England, and that was at Newington, Surrey in the Dec 1850 quarter; and one George William Marchant at Dorchester, Dorset in the March 1851 quarter. 

Recently, we were contacted by Barbara, who had a predicted second cousin DNA match with Ruth, together with Marchant ancestry. Such a close DNA match was bound to produce a justifiable candidate for our William Marchant.

I was excited by the realisation that any William or George Marchant born circa 1856 in Barbara’s tree would very likely be Ruth’s grandfather. First I identified Barbara’s ancestor, Caroline Marchant born 1855. According to Barbara’s tree, Caroline had a brother called William born 1850. While this was not a very close match age-wise to 1856, it was close enough. I decided to focus on him, by first researching Caroline Marchant. Luckily, Caroline was not as common a name as William.

Caroline’s marriage record provided her father’s name and occupation. Marriage on 2 Feb 1890 at Newington, St Saviour Southwark district, Surrey: John Richard Pool 34, widower, painter, father John Richard Pool, dead, schoolmaster; and Caroline Marchant 33, spinster, father William George Marchant, bootmaker.

This led to the family in the 1861 census at Newington, Surrey: William Marchant 43, bootmaker; Elizabeth 43, wife; children Elizabeth 15; Criss 13; William 12; George 8; Caroline 5 – all born Newington.

At this stage I discovered that many online trees have Elizabeth Redman as the wife of William Marchant senior, shoemaker, based on an 1839 marriage between George [sic] Marchant and Elizabeth Redman. However, this marriage did not seem right to me, being for George Marchant, fisherman, at Brighton, Sussex. This did not fit William Marchant, shoemaker of Newington, Surrey.

When I found the family in the 1851 census, things became clearer. Elizabeth in the 1861 census was William senior’s second wife, Elizabeth Savin. They had married in 1859, and no children were born to them. This established that the 1839 marriage for George Marchant and Elizabeth Redman was not relevant to “our” family. 

In 1851 the family at Newington comprised Wm Marchant 34, shoemaker, Newington, Surrey; Mary 30, wife, Southwark; and children born at Newington: Ann 10; Mary 8; Eliz 5; Christina 3; Wm 6mo. 

William senior’s first wife was named Mary, and her maiden name was Wright according to the records for her children at the free GRO birth index at That unusual name for their daughter Christiana was key to identifying Mary’s maiden name. Mary died in 1858. 

It took me a while to discover William snr and Mary’s marriage, because it happened in 1849, AFTER William and Mary had already had three daughters, all registered with the surname Marchant, mother’s maiden name Wright, as if they were legitimate. 

Marriage on 25 Jun 1849 at St Mary, Lambeth, Surrey: William George Marchant, shoemaker, father George Marchant, shoemaker; and Mary Ann Wright, father John Wright, dead, carman; both full age, single, banns. Witnesses Henry Blackman & J L Gawler.

Weirdly, the banns for this marriage were recorded nine years earlier, on 6 Sep 1840 at St Mary, Lambeth, Surrey. There must be an interesting story here, if only we could discover it! William snr was 21 in Sep 1840, and he should have just completed his apprenticeship as a shoemaker (if he had undertaken one), so being bound by an apprenticeship should not have been an impediment. Mary was under-age, so her parents could have forbidden the marriage. But why would they have done so. Surely William, with a trade, was a good prospect? 

Eight months later in June 1841, William snr and Mary were at Roberts Place, Stepney, London, living as man and wife: Wm Marchant 20, shoemaker; and Mary Marchant 20 – neither born Mdx. 

The birth of William snr and Mary’s first child Ann Marchant was registered in the Jul-Aug 1841 quarter in the Stepney district, ie at least 11 months after the banns were published. Therefore, Mary Wright was not pregnant at the time of the banns. 

Subsequent children of William snr and Mary included Caroline Marchant, mother Wright, whose birth was registered in the Oct-Dec 1855 quarter in the Lambeth district; and her brother, William George Marchant, mother Wright, whose birth was registered in the Oct-Dec 1850 quarter at the Newington district. I have not found his baptism record. 

Having confirmed the parents of Caroline and William jnr, it was now time to see whether William jnr could be located in England after 1885. 

In the 1871 census, William Marchant 19, single, shoe finisher, born Camberwell, Surrey; was boarding with Isaac Johnson 63, shoe maker, and his wife. No doubt William jnr was learning his trade from Isaac. 

Marriage on 21 Oct 1871 at St Thomas, Stepney, Mile End Old Town district, London: William George Marchant, shoemaker; father William George Marchant, shoemaker; & Sophia Hutchings, father Richard Hutchings, shoemaker; both full age [sic], single, of Stepney, banns. Witnesses Joseph Chipchase & Alice Hutchings.

Sophia’s birth was registered as Emma Sophia Hutchings, mother Stevens, in the Apr-Jun 1853 quarter at the Whitechapel district. Emma Sophia Hutchings, born June 1853 together with her sister Anna Louisa Hutchings, born January 1855, were baptised on 31 Jan 1865 at Stepney, daughters of Richard Hutchings, shoemaker & Emma, of 26 Baker St. 

William jnr and Sophia had seven children born 1872-1882, at least four of whom died young. Their first child, who survived to adulthood, was registered as William Henry Marchant, mother Hutchins [sic], in the Oct-Dec 1872 quarter at the Mile End Old Town district. However, like his father, William III was always known as William George Marchant.

In 1881 at Shoreditch: William Marchant 29, bootmaker, Newington, Surrey; Sophia 28, wife, Whitechapel, Mdx; Sophia 8mo, dau, Old St Lukes; William 8, son, Mile End, Mdx.

Youngest child Horace was born 21 Apr 1882, and William departed London for Australia 17 Mar 1885.

So it was no surprise to find Sophia in 1891 at St Luke, London as follows: Sophia Marchant 57, head (deserted wife), provision dealer, own account; William 18, son, appentice compositor – both born Whitechapel; Sophia 10, dau, scholar, born Stoke Newington, London.

*** This record of Sophia as a “deserted wife” in 1891; William jnr’s disappearance from the English records after 1885; his occupation as a shoemaker and bootmaker in England and Australia; and the predicted second cousin DNA matches with Caroline’s descendants – all confirm beyond doubt that William jnr was Ruth’s grandfather. 

What happened to Sophia? Ten years after William jnr disappeared, Sophia remarried. At that time, if a spouse disappeared and nothing further was heard from them, the left-behind spouse could legally remarry after 7 years separation. So, in 1895 at the Holborn district: David Davies 58, father Evan Davies, farmer married Sophia Marchant 40, father Richard Hutchings, shoemaker; both widowed, both grocers.

David Davies died within six years of this marriage, as in 1901 at Spitalfields, London, Sophia Davis [sic] 47, born Whitechapel, was a widowed domestic servant. 

In 1911 at Bromley, Kent: Sophia Davies 58, head, widow, married 15y, 7 children of whom 5 dead, needlework, Devonport, Devon [sic] & Elizabeth Marchant 10, grandau, school, Hackney, London. Elizabeth was the daughter of Sophia’s son William III.

Sophia’s claimed birthplace in 1911 at Devon was somewhat out of left-field (although the Hutchings family was living at Stoke Damerel, Devon in 1861), but the presence of her granddaughter Elizabeth Marchant makes it clear that we have the right Sophia Davies. 

Sophia Davies died in 1925 at Hackney, aged 81. She was survived by her youngest child Horace Marchant, and (unknown to her) her first husband William Marchant jnr. 

So here we have justification as to why William George Marchant (jnr) claimed to be younger than his real age, slightly changed his birthplace, and failed to disclose his parents’ names while in Australia. He was a married man who had deserted his English family. No wonder he was a mystery! At least he did not change his name, as another one of my mystery men did. 

Interestingly, his youngest son born 1896 was named William, as was his oldest son born 1872 – although they had different middle names. 

After I determined William jnr’s ancestry, I have identified several other DNA matches for Ruth, with links to this same Newington family of shoemakers. 

If you are interested to know more about William jnr’s ancestry, read on.

His father, William snr, was baptised on 1 Jan 1822 at St Mary, Newington, Surrey: siblings William George Marchant born 17 Aug 1819 & Esther Elizabeth Marchant born 13 Dec 1821, parents George (shoemaker) and Ann, of Hyde Park, Walworth Common.

Another William George Marchant, son of George and Ann, was baptised in 1817 at Newington, but he must have died young. 

William snr’s parents married on 5 Mar 1810 at St Mary, Newington, Southwark, Surrey: George Marchant and Ann Cranch, both single, of this parish. Witnesses Charles Cranch and Ann Broadhurst.

William snr’s siblings were:

  • Mary Ann Marchant born 1811 at Deptford, Lewisham, Kent. She married Frederick Winch Cranch in 1845 at Lambeth.
  • Louisa Ann Marchant born 1813 at Newington, Surrey. She married William Buckett in 1835 at Lambeth.
  • Esther Elizabeth Marchant born 1821 at Newington, Surrey. She married William Collins Boyles in 1845 at Lambeth.
  • Agnes Maria Marchant born in 1824 at Camberwell, Surrey. She died unmarried in 1848.

William sn’r father George Merchant, son of George and Sarah Merchant, was baptised on 17 Apr 1786 at St George the Martyr Southwark, London.

William snr’s grandfather George Marchant, a shoemaker, died aged 94, on 5 Jun 1848 at Walworth, Newington district, Surrey. He was therefore born ca 1755.  I think George snr married twice, and both his brides were named Sarah.

Marriage on 12 Feb 1782 at St Mary, Newington, Surrey: George Marchant and Sarah Atkinson. 

Marriage on 10 Jul 1786 at St James, Clerkenwell, London: George Marchant and Sarah Webb, both of this parish, banns.

Sarah Marchant, aged 88, wife of George Marchant, shoemaker, died 16 Jan 1844 at Walworth, Surrey. 

DNA Matches and my Fitzell brick walls


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I know it is accepted wisdom that DNA is mainly a tool to help confirm your paper tree, but I have added to my tree based on DNA matches alone.

I had a brick wall with my paternal great-grandparents, Adam and Grace Fitzell of Ireland, whose children were born in co Cork in the 1820s. Fitzell is a Palatine name, and they were Protestants. This is my only paternal Irish line. 

My paternal close relatives and I had a couple of matches with people who had Dolmage ancestors. I knew Dolmage was a Palatine name, and I was aware that there was an early Fitzell-Dolmage marriage at Rathkeale, Limerick. I have therefore attributed my Adam as the grandson of that couple. The grandson seemed to disappear from the co Limerick records after his baptism, so he was an ideal candidate for my police constable Adam, who turned up in co Cork. 

I was able to make this connection because I had done a lot of research on the Fitzells in Ireland. Without that groundwork, I doubt that I would have recognised the significance of the Dolmage matches, and immediately perceived that there was a descendant who would fit my Adam. 

Even more rewarding was being able to attribute a maiden name to Adam’s wife Grace. We were getting dozens a matches with Americans who had Bell and Shannon ancestry originating in Ireland. So I knew that they had to be connected to my Fitzell ancestry. One day I sat down and traced this Bell-Shannon family and discovered they descended from a Catherine McCarthy who married a Shannon in co Cork. McCarthy was a familiar name to me. A McCarthy was a witness at the marriage of one of my Fitzells; another McCarthy provided a reference when one of my Fitzells joined the Royal Irish Constabulary; and one of Adam and Grace’s grandchildren’s given names were Grace McCarthy. 

I had long suspected that McCarthy might have been a family connection, but could not be sure that the McCarthys were not just influential friends. With these DNA matches, I can now confidently say that Grace was a McCarthy (most likely Catherine’s sister, given their similar ages, and the relatively close DNA matches). As they were a co Cork family, this meant I could rule out the McCarthys as being one of Adam’s ancestors, having confirmed his co Limerick background. 

If I had not done the groundwork of tracing all of Adam and Grace’s children, whose names I knew from family stories, the significance of the McCarthy name would probably have escaped me. 

I realise that these examples do not comply with strict proof genealogical standards, but in the absence of surviving records, it is better than nothing. I am very pleased with my experience, and hope one day for similar success with my two maternal brick walls – one in Ireland and one in Scotland. 

UPDATE. I have posted a more detailed blog on this topic called “MY IRISH ANCESTORS WERE GERMAN: The Fischel family from the Palatine became the Fitzell family of co Limerick”, 2 Nov 2019.

The Cotterill families of Tamworth: Bringing them together with DNA matches


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For several decades I have been carrying out a mini one-name study of the Cotterill families who were living at Tamworth, Staffordshire, England, in the 19th century. It is a common surname in England, and there are many spelling variants. I have used the standardised spelling Cotterill in my Ancestry tree and in this article. 

Here is some ancient background on the surname from one source on the internet: “Cotterill is one of the many new names that came to England following the Norman Conquest of 1066. The name Cotterill is for a serf or bond tenant who held a cottage by service. The name is derived from the Old English cote, which means ‘shelter’, or ‘cottage’. The surname Cotterill was first found in Derbyshire where they held a family seat from very early times and were granted lands by Duke William of Normandy for their distinguished assistance at the Battle of Hastings” (

My 4G grandfather John Cotterill was born ca 1802 at Redditch, Worcestershire according to census records; was baptised in 1802 at Redditch, son of Nathaniel and Jane; married Hannah Pearson in 1822 at Tamworth; and raised his family at Tamworth. 

There were at least 4 other Cotterill-related families in Tamworth: William and Daniel Cotterill, born ca 1795 and 1797 respectively at Canwell (which is a tiny hamlet in the Tamworth parish); and Sarah and Susannah Cotterill, both born ca 1805 at Bolehall (also in the Tamworth parish) – birthplaces from census records. 

There were no baptisms for these Cotterills in the St Editha parish church registers for Tamworth. Were their parents non-conformists? There are Methodist and Wesleyan records for Tamworth prior to 1825, but there are no Cotterill records in the relevant indexes at (batch numbers C084571 and C084581). Were their baptisms overlooked or did the parish clerk forget to record them? This might explain one omission but seemed too much of a stretch to apply to 4 children. 

On the face of it, William and Daniel were brothers, given that they both claimed to be born at the tiny hamlet of Canwell. Likewise, Sarah and Susannah seemed to be sisters, possibly twins, as they both claimed to be born at the village of Bolehall.

William Cotterill married Ann Genders, also known as Nancy, in 1817 at Birmingham (a popular choice for Tamworth couples who wanted a private wedding); Daniel Cotterill married Mary Betteridge in 1819 at Tamworth; Sarah Cotterill married William Betteridge (Mary’s brother) in 1826 at nearby Aston; and Susannah married Samson Charnels in 1823 at Tamworth.

Often I have found that genealogy is about developing a hypothesis, and trying to prove it. I had a hunch that these Cotterills were related to my John. Prior to 1817, there were very few Cotterills at Tamworth, then were was a population explosion of Cotterills. My John and the other four families settled in Tamworth between 1817 and 1826; they lived near each other; and some were witnesses to other Cotterill marriages. These connections are outlined below..

*Sarah Cotrell (sic) was a witness to the 1823 marriage of Sampson Charnels and Susannah Cotterell (sic). 

*Susannah Cotterill was a witness to the 1822 marriage of John Cotterill and Hannah Pearson. 

*Sarah and Daniel Cotterill married Betteridge siblings. 

*On census night in June 1841, John Cotterill 21 and Sarah Cotterill 17 were living in the same house as Sarah Betteridge (nee Cotterill) 36, and her family, at Spring Gardens, Gungate. There were no married couples called John and Sarah Cotterill at Tamworth in 1841. 

@John Cotterill aged 21 was the son of Daniel and Mary (nee Betteridge), who was not with his parents on census night 1841. He was the only John Cotterill born in Tamworth between 1815-1825. He would have been visiting/boarding with the Betteridges as they were part of his mother’s family. There may have also been a Cotterill connection. 

@Sarah Cotterill aged 17 was the daughter of John and Hannah (nee Pearson), who was not with her parents on census night. Sarah was pregnant with her illegitimate daughter Hannah, who was born in September 1841, father not known. There was another Sarah Cotterill born ca 1822 at Tamworth, but on census night 1841 that Sarah was with her parents William and Anne (nee Genders).  Sarah’s presence in the Betteridge household was either a coincidence, or she was related to John Cotterill aged 21 and/or Mrs Sarah Betteridge, nee Cotterill. 

*In 1841, John and Daniel Cotterill; Mary Betteridge; and Susanna Charnell all lived separately at Gungate St. William Cotterill lived at Bow Bridge St (sic, Bolebridge St). Note, Gungate is a very long street, which runs into Bolebridge St. They might not have been close neighbours, but they did not live far apart. 

*In 1851, John Cotterill and Susanna Charnells were still at Gungate St, and William and Daniel Cotterill were next door neighbours at Bolebridge St. Sarah Betteridge and family had moved to Bolehall. 

*My ancestor John Cotterill was at Bolebridge St when he died in 1867. The informant of his death was Ann Cotterill of Bolebridge St, who was the widow of William Cotterill. As John was not with his wife Hannah in 1861, and apparently she was not with him when he died, I suspect they had separated. 

Despite these hints, I could find no evidence of relationships between the other Cotterills and my ancestor John. 

One sticking point was that my John was born at Redditch in 1802, whereas the other Cotterills – older and younger than John – claimed to be born within the Tamworth parish. 

There was a promising baptism for William Nathan Cotterill, son of Nathan and Jane, at Redditch in July 1796 (on the face of it, this proved that William was my John’s brother), but I did not feel I could confidentally attribute it to William of Tamworth when he claimed birth at Tamworth, 50 km away. 

There was a baptism for Daniel Cotterill in 1797 at St Martin, Birmingham, son of William and Mary (nee Martin). Likewise I was not comfortable attributing this baptism to the Tamworth Daniel when Birmingham is about 30 km from Tamworth. It was not uncommon to get married out of your own parish, but quite unusual to baptise a child out of parish. If this was our Daniel, he obviously was not my John’s brother, as John’s father was Nathan. 

Susannah Charnels, a widow, married a second time to John Collins at Birmingham in 1853, post civil registration, and the certificate named her father William Cotterill. [Wouldn’t it be grand if all our early ancestors married again after 1837, so we could confirm the names of their fathers.] The marriage record seemed to rule out the possibility of her being my John’s sister, as John’s father was Nathan.

So I left all these Cotterills in my tree, unconnected to my John, but with William and Daniel as brothers with an unknown father; and Sarah and Susannah as sisters with an unknown father. Sarah was connected to Daniel by virtue of being married to his brother-in-law. That is as far as I could go in the days before DNA genealogy.

Last year I did an autosomal DNA test at Ancestry. It was, and is, a steep learning curve, and I spent a lot of time and effort establishing how I was connected to my closest matches. But within the past few months I have had the most amazing success in confirming “predicted distant cousin” DNA matches between me, my siblings, and my Cotterill-related cousin; with several descendants each of William, Daniel, Sarah and Susannah. 

I am now confident that the 1796 Redditch baptism applies to William Cotterill of Tamworth, thus making him a brother to my John. Also, while I still don’t have a baptism for Daniel, I believe I am justified in claiming him as a brother for William based on their shared, obscure birthplace, and thus also a brother to my John. Daniel’s baptism could have been overlooked or was not recorded; the record did not survive, or he was baptised in a parish whose records are not (yet) available online. 

But what was the connection between Tamworth and Redditch? Belatedly, I decided to do some more research on the geography of these places.

I discovered that Canwell was an extra-parochial place, ie outside the jurisdiction of any parish, including Tamworth. People resident at Canwell could attend a church of their own choosing. Nathan and Jane obviously took the option to baptise their children outside of the Tamworth parish, even though they were born in the Tamworth parish, except for John.

At this stage, it is relevant to mention that my John’s parents, Nathaniel Cotterill of St Martin and Jane Hawthorn of Tardebigg, Worcestershire, married in October 1785 at St Martin, Birmingham. With a little more research, I realised that Redditch was formerly a chapelry to Tardebigg parish, from which it was separated in 1855. Nathan and Jane must have decided to maintain ties with her original parish, just because they could by virtue of living at Canwell.

Even do, it must have been a huge effort to baptise your children 50 km from their place of birth. Perhaps the canals made travel easy between Tamworth and Redditch? If they regularly travelled to Redditch, that might explain why my John was born there, instead of at his parents’ usual place of residence. 

This experience illustrates how an understanding of the geography of your area of interest can be helpful with interpreting your genealogy.

I should also mention that for a while, I went down the wrong track with John’s parents, Nathaniel and Jane. I originally assumed that John’s parents were Nathaniel Cotterill and Jane Parry of Himbledon, Worcestershire. However I eventally realised that this Nathaniel was born, married and died at Himbledon, and he signed a Will in 1814 which made it clear that he had no surviving children. Furthermore he was a “gentleman”, ie someone who did not have to work for a living, which did not fit with having a coal miner for a son.

While I have a DNA connections with Sarah and Susannah’s descendants, their origins have not been so easy to resolve. I have not been able to identity their baptisms, either at Tamworth or Redditch. Strictly speaking, if they were born at Bolehall in the Tamworth parish ca 1805, they should have been baptised at Tamworth. Perhaps they were actually born at Canwell, but as it was such a small place, they preferred to say they were born at Bolehall. If so, their baptisms could have been recorded anywhere. I note that Canwell is about 9km west of Tamworth, and Bolehall is 2km east of Tamworth, so that explanation does not make a lot of sense. Perhaps the sisters meant to say they were born at Bonehill, which is 6km west of Tamworth, and thus closer to Canwell. 

I tried finding baptisms for sisters Sarah and Susannah Cotterill with father William, but none made any geographical sense. All possibilities were over 100km distant from Tamworth and/or each other.

My latest hypothesis is that Sarah and Susanna were twins, father William (or Nathaniel, as another possibility is that Susanna got her father’s name wrong on her 1853 marriage record), whose baptism at Tamworth was not recorded through mischance. This scenario must have been more common than is generally supposed. When you realise that clergymen or parish clerks made notes on scraps of paper or relied on their memory, before writing the record in the parish registers weeks, or months later, the miracle is that so many records were made!  It seems very careless if Nathan and Jane had three children (including Daniel) whose baptisms were not recorded. 

Sarah and Susannah are still in my tree as sisters, with their father named William. I have made William a brother to Nathan who married Jane Hawthorn, even though I could not find any supporting evidence. I have therefore assumed that supposed brothers William and Nathan were the sons of Nathan and Jane (nee Stubbs). 

The trouble with distant DNA matches is that it gets more difficult to identify the relationship with any certainty, so it is not possible to say how many generations distant Sarah and Susannah are, compared to William and Daniel. 

In summary, these DNA matches have validated my hunch that the five Cotterill families of Tamworth were connected, and have helped descendants of William and Daniel to add earlier generations to their trees. Not being able to find baptisms for Sarah and Susannah continues to be a drawback, but we can assume that they do have a common ancestor with the brothers. 

Alternative Route between Kalgoorlie and Cocklebiddy, Western Australia


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We are a retired couple, and have just completed a camping trip around Australia.

We were travelling east from Perth, and decided to drive along the unsealed (ie dirt) road which is closely parallel to the Trans-Australian Railway Line, some 150 km north of the Eyre Highway. We had travelled the Eyre Highway in 2013, and wanted to see a bit more of the region. 

We understood that the Trans Access Road or TAR, is open to the public only as far as Rawlinna Siding from the west. It may be that another small section is open from the east as well.

We spoke to the Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie-Boulder Visitor Information Centres, but this route is not actively promoted. A nice guy called Murray in the Kalgoorlie-Boulder Shire told us that a grader was currently about 90 km along the road. He also provided us with approximate driving times to Rawlinna and from Rawlinna to Cocklebiddy.

It is about 400 km from Kalgoorlie-Boulder to Rawlinna, which took us 6 hours 30 minutes to drive; and about 150 km from Rawlinna to Cocklebiddy, which was 5 hours 15 minutes driving – a total of 550 km, and 11 hours 45 minutes driving. The Eyre Highway route to Cocklebiddy is longer, ie 620 km, but according to Google Maps, takes only 6 hours 15 minutes to drive.

No fuel is available along the way, but we figured we would make Cocklebiddy on one tank in an Isuzu D-Max (which we did), assuming there was no excessive use of low-range 4WD or that we did not get lost (which did not happen). Nevertheless we carried spare fuel, to be sure. 

We spent two nights camping on the road. Contrary to expectations, we did find a flushing toilet next to the Railway Station at Rawlinna Siding. We had good mobile reception (Telstra) whenever we were near one of the main sidings.

We left in the afternoon, taking the Mt Monger Road from Boulder. The first 25 km was bitumen. Then we turned left onto an unsealed road, which was in reasonably good condition. There were a few potholes, but no significant corrugations, sandy patches, washouts or rocks.

At about 3.30 pm, we stopped to help a couple of people (station workers) with a flat tyre. Some young men (construction workers) also came along and generously helped out.

As navigator, I used the Google Maps app (the one which is overlaid on satellite images); a tourist map of the Nullarbor; an older HEMA South-West Deserts map (which provided mileages which were not included in the tourist map); and a 2009 Guide to the Nullarbor which described the TAR in very general terms, as its focus was the Eyre Highway. 

I could see on Google Maps that there were many side tracks going about 300 metres from the TAR to the railway line itself. We drove down one and set up our tent fairly close to the railway line, on a flat patch of bare ground. On that first night, we had a lovely camp all to ourselves. Plus the train drivers! While the Trans-Australian passenger train travels only twice a week, freight trains went by at approximately 3 hourly intervals. Every driver except one blew his horn, which was fun – except at 3am!

We had a lazy start on the second day, not hurrying to break camp. What did we see along the way? Trees, rocks, kangaroos, parrots, lizards (shinglebacks?), trains, and car wrecks. Most wrecks were burnt out, and a couple were in trees! The local idea of humour, I suppose. The only other vehicles we saw were people working along the TAR, ie railway or station workers. We did not see anyone else doing what we were doing, travelling the TAR just for the experience. There were lots of trees along the way, no “nul arbor” here!

There are several sidings, but some appear to be more important than others. Very few were signposted. We noticed a turnoff to Chifley. The ones with nearby airstrips were more obvious, eg Zanthus and Kitchener. 

Our 2009 Guide said the country changed after Zanthus, and while it was less treed, the change was not dramatic. An Aboriginal Reserve at Cundeelee was marked on the map, but we did not see the turnoff. 

We arrived at Rawlinna Siding at about 4pm on the second day. We were greeted by a horse, who had the run of the town. Compared to the other sidings, Rawlinna was a metropolis, albeit an uninhabited one. I believe that train passengers can get off for a while at Rawlinna to stretch their legs, and check out the railway station. There were lots of long tables with bench seating, so maybe they get refreshments provided by train staff. The station looked old and quaint, but was in need of a coat of paint. Did I mention the toilet? Of course I did. There were several houses, many buildings associated with the railway, and an airstrip. No shops, no food, no fuel, etc.

We understood that the Rawlinna-Cocklebiddy Road (RCR) might be problematic, with online comments saying that the northern part was not well-signposted. So with some trepidation, we typed “Cocklebiddy” into Google Maps, and set off. We went two kilometres back down the track we had just driven, turned left at the sign pointing to The Muster, and came to a gate. Signs said that it was private property and we had to seek the owner’s permission before entry. This conflicted with what we had read online, ie that the RCR was public. By now it was 5pm so we decided to set up camp and phone the owners.

As trees were few and far between around Rawlinna, there was nowhere relatively private to camp. We put the tent up within the “streets” of Rawlinna Siding. We did not see anyone, although lights came on in a nearby house once it got dark.

That night, I phoned the Rawlinna and Arubiddy Station proprietors (thank you, and received the necessary permission.

We set off early on the third day, and headed through the “private property” gate. There were at least three signs pointing the way to Cocklebiddy along the way, so the station was obviously trying to help travellers. Even so, there were several intersections which were not marked. Luckily the Google Maps app (with satellite images) worked wonderfully. There was one moment of angst when there was a station sign pointing one way, and Google Maps wanted us to go another. We went with the sign, and within a few kilometres the Google Maps route merged with the one we were travelling. Sighs of relief from me!

Most of the RCR was very rough, with lots of rocks. We really had to travel very slowly, mostly at under 30 kph and much of it at 20 kph. The road improved after Arubiddy Homestead (which is 30 km north of Cocklebiddy). It took us five and a quarter hours to drive 150 km from Rawlinna to Cocklebiddy, and the only stopping we did was to open and close gates – about 21 of them! Google Maps estimated the trip would take 7 hours.

Along the RCR we saw rocks, kangaroos (lots), sheep (in good condition), rocks, wildflowers, gates, rocks, Pipits and Wedge-tailed Eagles. It was a lonely road – we did not encounter any oncoming vehicles, nor were we overtaken. The weather was kind in late September 2018 – not too hot, not too cold. It was dry and sunny. 

If you want to get to Rawlinna from the Eyre Highway, you won’t find any road signs to help you. There are a couple of dirt roads turning north off the Eyre Highway in the Cocklebiddy vicinity. If you look at the satellite image on Google Maps, you will see a U shaped drive-through for the Cocklebiddy Hotel Motel Service centre on the south side of the highway. The road to Rawlinna is the well-defined one opposite the western end of the U shaped drive. 

There are no signs on the southern gates to Arubiddy station saying that permission was needed to enter the property. I did not notice any signs saying we had entered Arubiddy Station from the north. 

The Nullarbor Muster website and Facebook page are worth checking for semi up-to-date information about Rawlinna.  This annual event usually takes place in April or May. 

So ended our little adventure, with the luxury of a night at the Cocklebiddy Motel. 

If you want to spend an extra night at Cocklebiddy, you can do a day trip on the exciting 4WD road to the Eyre Bird Observatory. We did that trip in 2013. 

Bird Photography with my Nikon B700

I absolutely love my Nikon B700 ultra-zoom bridge camera, as an aid for bird identification. I am not trying to take brilliant, professional bird photos, but even so, I am very happy with the quality of most of my photos for my own enjoyment.

What amazes me with this ultra-zoom or super-zoom camera (24mm-1440mm) is that I can photograph a bird that I can scarcely see with my naked eye (plus my prescription glasses!), and the result on maximum zoom is equivalent to using my binoculars. HOWEVER, I can then zoom again on the photo, and there the bird is, clearly visible. The camera has a specific setting for bird photography, which I use, but I don’t know what it does! I think it might use a faster shutter speed. The manual refers to framing. 

The other pluses to this amazing camera are its lightness (570 grams), compactness, and its ability to be handheld on max zoom (after a bit of practice) and still get a photo useful for bird identification purposes. I thought its price was reasonable too – about AUD650, from memory. I have had it for about 18 months.

It also takes insane pictures of the moon, and while it look me a while to figure out how to take close-ups of flowers and insects, I think I have it sorted now. Rather than actually getting close to the subject, I take a photo from a comfortable viewpoint, and then I crop the photo. Not for purists, but it works for me.

The B700 is sold as having the ability to download your images. I thought this would be great for putting selected photos online without having to first download them to my computer. However I haven’t been able to get it to work. From what I have read online, the photo needs to be low resolution, but for me that would defeat the whole purpose of the camera. If I really cared about it, I guess I might be able to copy the image at a lower resolution using the camera, but it is too fiddling for me to bother with.

There are a couple of downsides to the B700 for me. It is not fast to turn on and get to max zoom, thus I miss some shots of passerines who usually don’t sit around nicely waiting for me to get ready! But I doubt any camera is going to be fast enough in this situation, without making compromises about weight or price.

It has a proprietary battery, unlike my previous camera which worked on AA batteries. Nikon does not sells a recharger for the B700. While travelling, I get through a battery every day, and have to recharge it each night. I have a spare, which I use when the other one goes flat. Inevitably I get in a situation where they are both flat, because I have forgotten to recharge overnight. It is annoying to have to recharge them in the camera, which cannot be used while recharging.

I wish that bridge cameras would allow you to use filters. I would love to have a plain UV filter to protect the lens. And I do miss the polarising filter I used to have on my old film SLR for landscape shots.

Overall, this camera is the perfect aid to my bird watching.