Discovering my 7th cousin

I got into family history ten years ago. After Mum died, Dad became very reflective and began to look back over his life and talked about his times as child in Lowestoft. Both his parents had died before I was five and his grandparents long before that, two of whom had died before Dad was born. All he knew of them was from what his siblings and parents had told him. He couldn’t remember the maiden name of one of his grandmothers. I knew Coventry Library had the General Register Office (GRO) indexes, so I said that I would find out for him.

Thus began a very long journey and an all-absorbing hobby. Part of my interest was in the hunt for the ‘asthma gene’. Our son had chronic asthma, as did many of my cousins and their children. Dad knew that it had been the cause of several premature deaths in his family. The long journey has taken many twists and turns along the way and this is the story of a particularly complicated one. I won’t detail the many false trails I followed, the right path is complicated enough.

The journey wasn’t difficult to start with and I followed the certificate trail backwards fairly quickly. My great grandparents on one side were William Capps Cooper and Eliza Ann Howard. Eliza Ann Howard was born in 1848, the child of Jeremiah and Sarah Ann (nee Spurden). William was the son of John and Elizabeth (nee Capps). I couldn’t find a marriage for Jeremiah and Sarah Ann, but I did find the marriage in 1840 of William and Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s father was Isaac Capps.

I was still very new to genealogy, and like a lot of people, wanted to get back as far as I could as quickly as I could, so only bothered buying birth and marriage certificates, ignoring deaths. BIG mistake – as will be seen.

I started going to a family history workshop at that time and was advised to try the International Genealogical Index (IGI) on the Family Search website, which is run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), and was given the usual health warning about its accuracy. I set about exploring it and found a lot of information had been entered on my various Lowestoft families. I found a marriage of an Isaac Capps to Mary Woods in 1785 in Lowestoft. The IGI also provided the information that John Spurden and his wife Elizabeth baptised a Sarah Ann in 1811. I also found a lot of inaccurate information about my other families, so I left it there for a while.

I bought the 1881 census discs and spent some time padding out the information I already had on my ancestors, so it was a year or so later that I bit the bullet and decided to go to Coventry LDS family history library and order a film of the parish registers (PRs) of St Margaret’s church. This did confirm the marriage and baptism mentioned. Isaac Capps was baptised in 1783, the son of William and Lydia, who were married in 1771. Lydia’s maiden name was Spurgeon and both were said to be ‘of this parish’. I found William’s baptism and a trail of Capps going back many years, but couldn’t find a baptism of a Lydia Spurgeon. There was, however, a likely looking marriage – Isaac Spurgeon married Mary Thurgate in 1739. Unfortunately, Isaac was described as a sojourner, so that particular trail was cold.

I found a lot of details of my other Lowestoft families and had to keep renewing my loan of the film as it took so long to record it all. Sarah Ann Spurden’s father, John, married Elizabeth Gurney in 1808. He was baptised in 1785, the son of John Spurden and Mary Butcher, who married in 1773. I also found the baptism of John, to a John and Elizabeth in 1754, but there this trail went cold. I could find no marriage for a John Spurden and Elizabeth, and there was no likely baptism for John sr.

Dad and I took a short holiday to Lowestoft to visit his family and I was able to spend a few hours in the Lowestoft branch of the Suffolk record Office. I had a very long list of things to look for and very little time. I discovered that there are very few surviving settlement records for Lowestoft, but ordered up the book from the vault anyway. I struck gold twice. There were two settlements of my ancestors in the book – one of which was the settlement of John Spurden his wife and child in 1750. They had relocated from nearby Oulton.

When I got home I ordered the film of the Oulton PRs from the LDS. Sadly the film was practically illegible for the years I needed, but I was able to make out a marriage in 1747 of John Spurden to Elizabeth Nuby. I had to give up on the film as the years likely to contain John’s baptism were unreadable.

Soon afterwards Suffolk Family History Society indexed the 1851 census, so I sent for the booklets covering Lowestoft. This was long before censuses were online, so I ordered the film at the LDS. I had to visit the LDS three days a week in order to extract all the information on my families, because the film was only available on short term loan, such was the demand. It cleared up a few mysteries about other dead ends and I discovered that one branch originated in Blundeston, just up the road.

Fortunately, the LDS had filmed the PRs so I ordered the film and was able to collect a few more generations of those branches. An added bonus was that I discovered the 1748 baptism of Lydia Spurgeon, daughter of Isaac and Mary. Isaac and Mary were also buried in Blundeston. Isaac was described as ‘of Corton’. So that was another film that needed to be ordered. Sadly, there was no baptism for Isaac in Corton, but I did find the marriage and burial of his son Isaac.

The National Burial Index contains the burials of St Margaret’s Church and I had been slowly making my way through the list. I had also come to realise that death certificates can be useful. I hadn’t ordered many for my Lowestoft ancestors, apart from premature deaths, as I had details of their burials anyway, which often mentioned the date of death. However, I decided to have a look at the FreeBMD website  for the registration of the deaths I had found from the burials, so that I could order the certificates one or two at a time, as finances allowed.

I had found a burial for John Spurden jr in 1860, but there was no sign of him on the FreeBMD site. Next time I was at the LDS I searched the full index and found the death of a John SPURGEON in the right year and quarter. I sent for the certificate and it was my John. His death was registered by his daughter Susanna, described as a schoolmistress.

Spurden/Spurgeon ……. hmm. Geographically Lowestoft, Oulton, Blundeston and Corton are very close together and there was a lot of population movement between them. Coincidentally, not long afterwards Suffolk FHS produced a CD of transcriptions of Oulton PRs which I sent for with alacrity. I found the baptism of my John Spurden on 19th March 1719, the son of Thomas and Elizabeth. I also found the baptism of an older son – Isaac on 27th April 1713.

That date of birth ties in with Isaac’s age on burial. Two of my great x5 grandfathers were brothers and it took me eight years to find that out. As well as being Isaac and John’s great x5 granddaughter, I am also their great x5 niece, and thus my own 7th cousin.


© Guinevere 2008