Dead end or new beginning?

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‘Is there a set way of working out who came from where’ was a question asked in the periodical Family Tree (UK) in 1998. The inquirer had, he said, traced himself back to Henry Knib(b)(s), a farm labourer, who married at Quainton in Buckinghamshire in 1753, but could get no further.

It is a very standard problem but, failing the direct evidence of place of origin that might come with someone in the professional classes, there are a number of standard research procedures that should always be carried out.

Look at a map[edit | edit source]

The first thing that anyone with a similar problem should do is to look at the one-inch to the mile Ordnance Survey map of the ancestral area to see how the parish lies in relation to the surrounding area. Look at the direction of the main roads, at the rivers and any unpopulated moor or higher ground. If there is a river or canal consider whether your ancestors were working on it or may have moved along it or perhaps were divided from other places by it. Those on the coast may well be involved in coastal trade and have links in other coastal places.

Look at the direction of the market town and the places regularly visited on that route. Similarly look at the direction of the county town, the whereabouts of the workhouse, the chief parish of the Deanery and the Hundred. Consider the movement of local officials and of others for trade.

Remember that people did not live in isolation from their contemporaries in the community. They were subject to the same influences. Thus the movement of one documented family may be an indication of the movements of another not so well recorded.

Extended family circles often existed across wide areas of the country and young people in search of work, even when not sure of a place, would at least be sure of bed and board in the household of a distant relative. If a migrant appears in an area where families of the same surname are following the same trade they should always be investigated. Much migration was of a circulatory nature and people frequently returned to the neighbourhood of places with which they were familiar. The census for the parish in question in 1851, though perhaps much later than your problem, will give a very good idea of the places in the area from which people came.

Quainton is just off the main road from Aylesbury to Bicester and would probably look towards Aylesbury and the south, rather than over the higher ground to the north, though Buckingham is only nine miles away. The road to Bicester leads on to Deddington and Banbury where the surname Knibbs is frequent, as can be seen from the printed Oxfordshire will indexes 1733-1857.

Read about the Parish[edit | edit source]

Read something about the parish, if only in an older Kelly’s Directory or in Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary. A more general history of the area giving details of its economic history and local population movements may be invaluable. Of course if your ancestor was a servant in the Rectory you will not need indications of this kind, but you will follow the previous movements of the Rector. The same applies to any domestic servant or labourer known to be working for a landowner with property in various places. It is thus important to see if the parish belonged mainly to one person or family that may have left estate records. The disposition of their property will need to be considered as well as the possible movements of the landowner to fashionable spa towns, for instance, or to London, particularly when a marriage is being sought.

Kelly’s Directory shows that the Pigott family of Doddershall Park in Quainton owned much land in the parish. If the Victoria County History has been published for the area, look at the account of the parish in that. Take note of the manors in the parish as the ancestor may have leased his house from the lord of the manor. The Land Tax records will not help in this case as very few survive in Buckinghamshire before 1780 (when occupiers begin to be listed) but in other counties there may be annual listings that show period of residence. Similarly some parishes may have useful tithe records.

Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary says that Quainton was in the archdeaconry of Buckingham and diocese of Lincoln and had a Baptist Chapel. The Buckinghamshire volume of the National Index of Parish Registers gives details of what is available for Quainton in the way of transcripts and indexes of parish registers and shows that the Baptist Chapel there was not founded until 1816. It was connected with the old Baptist chapel at Winslow where all the earlier registers are missing. That may be a point to bear in mind.

Search the registers[edit | edit source]

However, a wide search of the Quainton parish registers is now necessary. All the Knibb(s) or Nibb(s) entries should be listed, going back at least to 1700 and forwards until fifty years after the family left the parish. The baptism, marriage and burial registers will all need to be searched.

If Henry Knib came alone to Quainton as a young single man there will be problems, not so much perhaps in tracing a likely baptism, but in proving that one has found the correct one. One hopes that the register search will reveal some clues that may help to strengthen a possible identification.

Consider the first entry
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The first entry, if it is the 1753 marriage, is particularly important, and one needs to know if that marriage was by banns or licence. An entry at that date may not say if it was by banns, but the local marriage licences (of the archdeacon and/or bishop) should then be searched just in case. It is unlikely that a farm labourer would marry by licence from the Archbishop of Canterbury but in other circumstances the Faculty Office and Vicar General licences should always be searched. Banns books are unlikely to survive for 1753 but the point should always be checked.

Henry’s marriage to Ann Marriott took place at Quainton, in fact on 3 December 1752, and the entry shows that it followed the proclamation of banns. If the marriage had been after 1754, when printed form registers were introduced in most parishes, then the witnesses should be noted. Henry’s brother or a married sister may have been a witness. If her baptism and marriage elsewhere can be identified that would be a valuable link.

Kill them off
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It is important also that Henry’s burial be found, presumably at Quainton, and that of his wife, for possible mention of their ages. They must always be ‘killed off’ before their baptisms are sought. If a person is buried after 1813 the entry will usually show his or her age. If the burial of a wife or widow cannot be found then the possibility of re-marriage should be considered, with the further possibility of a marriage licence providing an age. Such ages may not be altogether reliable but at least they are a good deal better than nothing.

Even if there is no age at burial an indication of age may (in some counties) be calculated from the dates of a person’s appearance and/or disappearance in Militia Returns, if a good series survives for the parish. Henry may appear as a farm servant at Quainton after he reached the age of eighteen and prior to his marriage. In Buckinghamshire the printed Posse Comitatus of 1798, listing all able bodied men in the county, shows the distribution of the surname Knibbs and gives an indication of parishes that might be searched for Henry’s baptism if all else fails.

Henry was in fact buried at Quainton in 1766 and no age was given. He was probably a relatively young man. He was described as ‘a Labourer’ but one should not immediately assume that he was an agricultural labourer, though that might well be the case. His widow may well have married again.

Poor Law and Settlement[edit | edit source]

Henry’s widow was left with five very young children and is thus likely to appear in poor law or settlement material.

In 1601 all the parishes in England and Wales had been required to appoint Overseers of the Poor with a duty to maintain the poor and provide them with work. These Overseers, working with the parish’s Churchwardens, viewed with great suspicion the arrival of a new man, with or without a family, particularly if it looked as though he might not be able to support himself and might then become a charge on the Poor Rate of the parish.

Following an Act of Parliament in 1662 a stranger could be sent back to his ‘place of settlement’, usually his place of birth, unless he was able to rent a property to the annual value of £10 or more. The man was first examined by the local Justices of the Peace to determine his place of settlement, and the ages of his children would be recorded. The physical removal of the family could not, however, take place until it actually became chargeable to the Poor Rate.

The cost of the removal would be entered in the account book of the Overseers and a record of the examination retained. If there was an appeal or a dispute with the parish to which the stranger was returned, which there frequently was, this would be heard by the Justices at their Quarter Sessions and there recorded.

A further Act in 1697 allowed the parish of arrival to ask that the migrant bring with him from his original parish a certificate that he was settled there and that it would receive him back again if he fell on hard times. These Settlement Certificates were carefully kept by the receiving parish as its authority for returning a man. Apart from his place of birth and the renting of a house worth more than £10 a year, settlement could be acquired in a new parish by the payment of taxes on a house of that value, by formal apprenticeship by indenture in that place, or by being hired for service there for a full year, whichever happened most recently.

Such matters were frequently disputed and although the original settlement papers may long since have been destroyed some record may be found, as mentioned, in the appropriate Quarter Sessions records. The system remained in force until 1876 and although it mainly applied to the poorer classes it is unwise to assume that one’s ancestors will not appear (perhaps following bankruptcy or a period of ill health) or that the record has not survived merely because nothing remains amongst the parish records. The Quarter Sessions records must be searched.

Is there a name pattern?[edit | edit source]

Henry’s children were called Mary, William, Elizabeth, Martha and Ann, names that also appear in the next generation amongst William’s children. It is thus likely that Henry was himself the son of a William, perhaps by a wife Mary or Elizabeth. It might be worth looking for a marriage in these names prior to about 1732 in local marriage indexes. If an unusual forename appears then that should certainly be searched for amongst other families of the surname.

Look at the strays
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If there are Knibb(s) entries in the Quainton parish registers that do not fit into Henry’s known family they should be studied with the greatest care. There may be baptisms of children of people who turn out to be the married brothers of Henry Knibbs who also came to Quainton in the 1750s or later. The marriages of the parents of any such stray children should always be sought for, initially through the available marriage indexes and marriage licences.

There may be the burials of children not born in the parish that could be linked to baptisms elsewhere.

The burials may include one or both of Henry’s parents if they came to live with him late in life. Their marriage might be found through local marriage indexes. The father or his surviving widow may have left a will.

The Quainton parish registers, in fact, reveal that a Jonas Nibb with a wife Mary came into the hamlet of Shipton Lea in Quainton in the late 1770s and had three children baptised there before he was buried in 1781, after which his widow had at least two illegitimate children. This is important. His marriage and place of origin must be sought for. Fortunately the forename Jonas is very infrequent. It may suggest nonconformity. Jonas’s widow’s situation again suggests that settlement material may be useful. If there was an examination as to her place of settlement she will say where she married Jonas and name his place of settlement.

A Jonas Knibb was baptised at Kidlington in Oxfordshire in 1752 which may be this man. This place is just south-east of Woodstock on the road to Bicester and about sixteen miles from Quainton. His family now needs investigation.

Come down if you can’t go back[edit | edit source]

As already mentioned much migration in the past was of a circular nature. People went back to their places of origin, or to their parents’ places of origin, because they knew people there. Visits back and forth produced marriages in later generations. And so a major rule in genealogical research is ‘if you can’t go back, you come down’. You work out the lives and marriage connections of the migrant’s children and grandchildren and ‘kill them off’, in the hope that something will give an indication of the earlier movement.

The marriages and subsequent histories of all Henry’s children will thus need to be found, not just the history of the child through whom the descent comes. Henry’s first child, Mary, married Richard Chapman in 1775 and he came from Stowe, twelve miles north of Quainton beyond Buckingham. That may be a clue. Was the family that owned the great house and gardens at Stowe related to that at Doddershall Park? Did servants or labourers go from one estate to the other?

Fill the gaps
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If there are any gaps amongst the children and possible baptisms cannot be found then searches may need to be made in neighbouring parishes and in any local nonconformist registers. There is a gap, for example, in the children born to Henry’s son, William, between 1784 and 1789 that may suggest another child baptised elsewhere.

Look at all the wills
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The inquirer said that he had ‘even tried wills’ but he did not say what he had looked for or where. Apart from looking for the specific wills of Henry Knibbs or other members of his family in Quainton, one needs to look at all the wills of people called (K)nib(b)(s) proved in the local Archdeaconry Court of Buckingham, in the Consistory Court of Lincoln and in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, throughout the period of Henry’s life, again in the hope that some direct mention of his family may be found. A maiden aunt elsewhere may survive well into Henry’s later life and mention his children.

Having seen that the surname is frequent in Oxfordshire the Knibbs wills in the Consistory Court of Oxford will also be worth examining. Even if all these wills make no mention of Henry it would be worth taking short genealogical abstracts of the information they contain in case the families prove later to be connected. They may help to rule out or disqualify some of the possible Henry Knibbs baptisms if more than one is eventually found.

Were they nonconformists?[edit | edit source]

We have seen that there were no contemporary nonconformist registers for Quainton but the registers of other chapels in the area might repay attention, and any nonconformist burial registers for the place in question should always be searched as one never knows what they may contain. The entries in Dr Williams’ General Register of Nonconformist births effectively begin in 1716 and so would, at some stage, be worth considering in this case. Like of the registers of the Wesleyan Metropolitan Registry 1818-41 they are fortunately now indexed online.

Further information: Non-Parochial Registers in England and Wales

Was he apprenticed?
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Whatever Henry’s trade or occupation in later life the records of the tax on apprenticeship indentures, 1710-1804, should certainly be checked. If nothing of immediate value is found you will at least have another useful indication of the distribution of the surname at this vital period. Again if you find more than one possible baptism, an apprenticeship may help to rule one entry out, though the first search in such cases is always to see how many died young and appear in the burial registers.

Further information: Apprenticeship in England

Further ideas
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These suggestions have not all been followed through in relation to the origin of Henry Knibbs. They may not, of course, lead anywhere, but as the search develops it will itself suggest other avenues of approach.

The questions asked are some of those that everyone should address when they reach a ‘dead end’ of this kind. With many dead ends, however, it is probably true to say that it is not the discovery of a new source that solves the problem, but the most careful consideration of the material already assembled during the course of the search, particularly if it has been carefully done in the first place.

See also the articles Six Short Lessons in Family History and Proving a Pedigree in England.

Acknowledgment[edit | edit source]

Adapted with permission from Anthony Camp’s article ‘Dead end, or new beginning’ inFamily Tree Magazine (UK;, vol. 14, no. 9 (July 1998) pages 52-53.