By Roger Sutton
This article was published in the December 2015 edition of Soul Search, the Journal of The Sole Society
When my grandmother (born Florence Mary Hainsworth) died in September 1963 in Brighton, East Sussex I inherited her great grandparents’ marriage certificate. It was dated 12 September 1837, was in a very fragile state and the writing was faded and barely legible. It showed that John Lord and Mary Donnelly got married on that day at St Mary’s Episcopal Chapel, Glasgow. Both were residents of Kilsyth. The certificate fired up my 21 year old imagination. Did I have Scottish ancestry? Did the name Donnelly mean I had Irish ancestry? I would have to start researching my ancestry.
I wrote to my surviving grandmother (born Florence Amy Gerrett in 1877). I also wrote to my great uncle Sidney Sutton who lived in Dover and this resulted in a trip to Dover. Neither of the sources provided a great deal of information because my family had never done any family history research. In the case of my grandmother it was thought that Gerrett was a Huguenot surname. This has still not been proved. It seems more likely that the Gerrett family came from what is now known as Belgium.
Since I had left school in 1961, aged 19, I had worked in the Export Credits Guarantee Department in Gresham Street in the City of London. This meant a two hour commute from the family home in Worthing. Although registration didn’t start till the following year I discovered that, since 1836, the General Register of Births, Deaths and Marriages had been in Somerset House in the Strand. I used to visit Somerset House in my lunch hour. In 1965 family history research was very much a minority occupation, with virtually none of the family history societies and magazines that exist 50 years later. The Births, Deaths and Marriages indexes were in huge ledgers as described by Rosemary Bailey in the last issue, but in 1965 there were far fewer people using the ledgers. In those days it cost two shillings and six pence (half a crown) to order a certificate. At that time I concentrated solely on ordering birth certificates and marriage certificates.
In the case of my great grandfather George William Sutton born (1849), I remember being very puzzled that I was unable to find his parents’ marriage certificate. What I had not appreciated was that in those days it was nothing unusual to have as many as ten or twelve children and that births could sometimes take place over a period of 15-20 years. George Williams Sutton’s parents had got married in 1832 well before the general registration of births, deaths and marriages although I didn’t find this out till much later, probably from the East Kent Marriage register which definitely was not available in 1965.
I found the marriage certificate at Somerset House of my great great grandparents James Ward and Elizabeth Boteler; they had married at St Andrew, Holborn (in fact very close to my office) on 21 November 1858. I was unable to locate Elizabeth’s birth certificate because she was born very early in 1837, just before general registration began. I also was unable to find her baptism. Her mother was a Roman Catholic from Dublin, so it could have taken place at a Roman Catholic church. From Elizabeth’s marriage certificate I noted that her father was William Coram Boteler. Although I suspected William was a bigamist with two large families this was confirmed when I made contact with another researcher in the 1990s. She was descended from William and had detailed information on all his children. As far as I am aware he was never prosecuted for his bigamy. I also discovered that William’s father was illegitimate. Quite by chance I found an article on the famous Coram Foundling Hospital, but on writing to them was told William wouldn’t have been a foundling but was likely to have had an important connection with the Foundling Hospital. It was then that I found an entry on the IGI for John Boteler at the foundling Hospital. The surname Boteler is particularly associated with East Kent.
In 1967 I was promoted to Higher Executive Officer, which meant that suddenly I became far busier and no longer had time to visit Somerset House in my lunch hour. Fortunately I kept all my research together and was able to resume my research in 1997, after having spent five years at Sussex University.
With regard to other types of records, although the censuses for 1841, 1851 and 1861 were available at the Public Record Office in the 1960s I didn’t use them. They were not indexed meaning locating a family, even at a known address, was difficult. A researcher would have to order up a box of returns, which could often involve a wait of an hour or more and this was not something I could do in my lunch hour. The IGI was not available until 1973 when it was known at the Computer File Index (CFI) and I think it was this that prompted the start of a lot of Family History Societies. I continue to write my family history charts by hand on A3 sheets of paper. They contain a lot of very detailed family history information.
I have been fortunate that my Sutton family is from East Kent, where records are more comprehensive than elsewhere in Britain. Sometime in the 2000s I discovered I am descended from Peter Solly who owned lands and tenements in Ash, Wingham and Elmstone. His will is dated 4 January 1495. I am also descended from Margerie Sole who was born in Woodnesborough in about 1585. She married Edward Knight on 16 May 1607 at St Paul’s Canterbury. Both families will be familiar to members of the Sole Society and if you ‘search’ Roger Sutton on the society’s website, www.sole.org.uk, you will find articles I have written about them.