The Sole Society, a Family History Society researching Sole, Saul, Sewell, Solley and similar names

So Where did it all Start?

and Why? and How?

by Di Sewell

This article was originally published in the August 2006 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society


Around 1985 my youngest son got his first PC and bought a magazine with a free disk that included a Family Tree programme. I knew my grandfather had written a family tree chart and I borrowed all his information from my sister so that it could all be put on the programme.


My son had complained that with so many SEWELL cousins, it was confusing to know who was who, so next I added my husband’s parents [deceased] and all his brothers and sisters, and all the children and grandchildren.


Jane Elizabeth [nee Page] SEWELLBut the programme asked for parents…who were my husband’s grandparents? Where did they come from? Dave did not know, he had only known the one grandmother SEWELL and she had frightened all her grandchildren with her fierce looks and strict ways. I asked her last surviving daughter, Joyce for information and she sent me my first family chart. It consisted of her parent’s names, a couple of Aunts and Uncles and her own brothers and sisters and their children.


This photo shows Jane Elizabeth Sewell (nee Page) aged 18 years and looking less fierceHer mother was JANE ELIZABETH [nee Page] 1879-1957 and father WILLIAM FREDERICK SEWELL died in Romford in 1937.He had been a Bricklayer and had worked in Ilford, building the row of houses where Joyce still lives. This photo shows Jane aged 18 years and looking less fierce.      


I then started visiting my mother in London, so that I could go to the Record’s Office and trawl through the big books looking for the Births, Marriages and Deaths, often without much success. I was also researching my own family at the same time.


I was meanwhile learning how to use the computer and had added photos that had been given to me from various members of the families. Sadly Dave had no interest in what I was finding out, but his eldest brother, two of his sisters and Joyce were very interested so I kept on looking.


FREDERICK WILLIAM  SEWELLIn 1999 I bought the 1871 Birth Certificate for my husband’s grandfather, shown in photo, FREDERICK WILLIAM  SEWELL [note he had changed his name around!] and found his mother’s name was EMMA THURSTON, and surprise…he was born in Hingham, Norfolk, not London.


His father was JOHN SEWELL an Agricultural Labourer in Hingham.  I later discovered that EMMA THURSTON had four babies before she married JOHN SEWELL, and the one that survived, ALBION THURSTON married in Ireland and has descendants in America, including an Elder of the Latter Day Saints, ED HESSLER who unfortunately added a lot of wrong information for our SEWELL family on the IGI! [so confirm anything you find on IGI.] I am now also in touch with him. EMMA had a total of 13 children but only 7 of them survived to adulthood.


I joined the ‘NORFOLK LIST’ on Rootsweb - and straight away got an answer to my query from a distant cousin, COLIN LAWS researching the THURSTON line! Wow! I thought it would all be easy now!


He told me John’s brother ROBERT SEWELL married a LYDIA THURSTON and wanted to know if they were sisters marrying brothers. [We later found that they were.] He told me John was born c1841in Hingham and his parents were WILLIAM SEWELL born c1806 in Hardingham, Norfolk, a farmer & ROSANNA [nee HEAD] born c1805 in South Pickenham, Norfolk. He gave me names and dates for the rest of their children, which tied in with Joyce’s Aunts and Uncles, all born in Hingham, Norfolk. He also told me about the IGI at 


A member of the Norfolk Family History Society contacted me and offered to do some research for me at the Norfolk Records Office, he duly sent me several pages listing Parish Records of baptisms, marriages, burials and Census reports…I had never seen a Census Report before. He had left if for me to work out if any of it was relevant to my family and it took many years for me to confirm which of those he gave me were, but it was a great start.


The 1851 Hardingham, Norfolk Census he gave me listed ROSE SEWELL widowed. All the children were listed as initials only. I do not know where her husband was at the time but I later found farmer WILLIAM PAYNE SEWELL did not die until 1861 aged 55 years, cause of death flu.


I was also contacted by others connected to the THURSTON side of the family who used the Norfolk List and I gradually built up my knowledge of that side of the family. This included EMMA & LYDIA THURSTON’s Great Uncle and his sons being sent to Australia’s Penal Colonies. The father had been sentenced to death, commuted to transportation for Life, having stolen clothing and a couple of spoons, in 1809. Three of his sons were sentenced for other thefts and followed in 1810/11. One had stolen a horse and cart!


I added all my interests on another web-site and was contacted by more researchers, many not connected, but some were, and my various lines grew as we swapped information.


I discovered that the main Library in Leeds had a ‘Local History Archives’ which has microfiche copies of all those big books in London, so I was able to search for Births, Marriages and Deaths and bought more certificates.


I also found out about researching at the Family History Centre and there was one not too far away. I hired and viewed microfiche films of the Parish Registers from Norfolk, confirming information I already had as well as finding new.


My Family Tree programme was getting too small for the amount of information I was adding, so with Dave’s help, I downloaded the Personal Ancestry File from which has unlimited space for Notes for each person, so I have been able to  include all the relevant Census reports too.


Although no longer a member of the ‘NORFOLK LIST’ I was still getting the weekly ‘Rootsweb Review’ and they wanted everyone to ‘upload’ their family tree gedcom on   [The tree stays the property of whoever puts it on and it can never be copied and added to a disc etc without your permission. You control how much can be downloaded by others]. Rootsweb advise that you can put everything on their site, but only show the bits you want to show, meanwhile it can be used as a back-up to retrieve all the work if the PC fails. [ I back-up everything at home –and I have needed it!]


I now had a reasonable Family Tree for my SEWELL line and other families, so decided to put it on the web site. I made sure that it showed that the work was of several cousins who had given their permission. I was then contacted by more ‘researching cousins’ on several lines, and starting putting them in touch with those who had done the research. Of course many queries were not connected at all, but we could often help each other anyway.


On my own mother’s line, I was sent a photo of her Aunt at Bisham School in the early 1920’s and I recognised Dave’s mother in the same photo!! I had no idea I had family living in the same village that his mother was born in!


My husband agreed to visit Norfolk for a few days, combining his interest in Birdwatching and my wish to see Hardingham, Hingham and Hackford. We had an interesting few days as roads listed on the Census were still there [unfortunately house numbers had not been included]. We visited the churchyards and found the grave of WILLIAM PAYNE SEWELL Snr aged 96 years 1776 -1872 at St. Georges Hardingham and then Dave found the grave of his great-grandparents, JOHN 1841-1909 and EMMA’s1833-1908  in the Graveyard of  St Andrews in Hingham. Unfortunately we were unable to look around the graveyard at Hackford as the stinging nettles were taller than the graves.


I discovered and found lots of interesting web-pages to help with my research.  I had also been told of  but did not bother to contact the society for quite a while. When I did I was given the helpful information that WILLIAM  P. SEWELL had made a Will. When I sent off for this Will, I discovered that he was not WILLIAM SEWELL who was missing from the 1851, but his 96 year old father, who had owned a large farm and several cottages. This Will gave me lots of information, listing all the children and some grandchildren.


By this time I had been contacted by another cousin, MARIAN SEWELL  descendant of WILLIAM P SEWELL & ROSANNA [HEAD]’s youngest son SAMUEL SEWELL bap 1847 [never found his birth!] who married ANNA MARIA LAWS in 1874.[ANNA was related to my very first contact!] Marian transcribed the whole document to be easily read. We then became a team, working together by e-mail and using various web sites, including Free Birth Marriage and Deaths pages and using the free-trials on  we more than doubled our family, cross-referencing and checking each others ‘finds’.


Marian was searching the Burial Records and we were both using microfiche Parish Records. I also had the use of the Sole Society Disk where I found more information, including Military Records that were ‘ours’ and more Wills which I purchased. Diana Kennedy at the Sole Society also helped a lot, she also told me about which has the complete Births, Marriages and Deaths as listed at the Family Records Office in London.


We now know that WILLIAM PAYNE SEWELL senior, born 1776 in Hackford, Norfolk was married to MARIA PAYNE in 1800 at Hackford.   Their first child, JAMES PAYNE SEWELL died at the age of 8 years from a Small-pox inoculation in 1810.


His father, JOHN SEWELL [SOWELL/SUEL in some records] born c1734 married ELIZABETH PAYNE in 1761 in Hardingham…I still do not know if there is a connection with the PAYNE wives. I have also not yet found where JOHN was actually born c1734.


The Sole Society passed on all information that fitted with my fast growing family, and then put me in contact with BERNARD PRICE who descends from STEPHEN HEAD SEWELL baptised 1830, son of WILLIAM P SEWELL & ROSSANNA [HEAD].


STEPHEN HEAD SEWELL and his wife MARIA TAYLOR lost a son at 20 months old when little JAMES SEWELL was kicked by a horse in 1863.


Since then I have contacted GILLIAN THATCHER in Spain, who descends from AGNES CHRISTINA CANNELL and JAMES SEWELL bap 1842 another son of WILLIAM P SEWELL & ROSSANNA [HEAD] Then January this year JOHN KILLIP contacted me from Australia, and turned out to be her first cousin, and I suggested he got in touch with her!


I now know all [?] the siblings in each generation and who they married and their children. My database is now quite huge, including the cousins from these distant branches. I have also managed to meet MARIAN SEWELL and have since been contacted by her nephew, JON GRIEVES who found me on-line as he started his family research. JON now shares Dave’s interest in Birdwatching and they have managed to birdwatch together!


In April I went to my first Sole Society Meeting as it was held so close to my home, and had a very interesting and informative day, meeting Diana Kennedy and all the other ‘faces’ from the Magazine.


Since then I have been contacted by SANDRA DANIELS who descends from the brother of DINAH CANN who married WILLIAM SEWELL [distant relative] in 1851 at Wicklewood. She lives in Norfolk and has offered to look at the Norfolk Record Office for me….back where this all started!


I am hoping she can find JOHN born 1734. I still have names of possible siblings for him from that original search done for me at the Norfolk R.O. but without finding baptisms for them and confirming their parents, I only have the information that they were all in the village of Hardingham at the same time.


And so the search goes on……I am hooked!!


Return to The Sole Society Home Page