family tree

George Marsh Halliday

A long, long time ago (or at least that’s what it seems like to me) I mentioned in passing one George Marsh Halliday, the (half) brother of my 3 x great-grandfather, Thomas Halliday Hurcombe. I know I’ve talked about Thomas and George’s mother, Ann Adams otherwise Hurcombe formerly Halliday before now (on more than one occasion, I’m sure!), but George has remained a footnote … until now …



Mr. DNA Brings New Surprises; or My Mother’s DNA Results!

A little over a year ago I shared the results of my Ancestry DNA test and how it laid to rest one of the family legends my mother had grown up with. As time has marched on and Ancestry gathered more and more participants (recently surpassing the 2 million mark), the amount of matches I was able to access grew and grew. The vast majority of these were in America – but without a full view of the American ancestry of each of my parents it wasn’t always possible to gain a sense of which side the matches were. Consequently, when an offer reducing the price of the costs to only £60 each (instead of the standard £80) came online a week or so before my parents were due to spend time back in the UK, I decided to take advantage of the coincidence and hopefully find some clarity on these results.

Despite being posted at the same time, my mother’s saliva sample arrived at the lab and was processed about a week ahead of my father’s … and today I received her results …


Yorkshire Puddephatts, or The Surname Conundrum

It’s no big surprise that on one side of my mother’s family there’s a surname that I’m more concerned with than any other. That is, my grandmother’s maiden name: Holborow. Part of the reason for this – I’m not going to say obsession – bias is that it’s a pretty rare surname. It’s no Smith, Jones or Taylor. Consequently when I come across another surname that seems … striking in some way it causes my inner onomatologist to sit up and take notice. Therefore when I started working with someone with a distinct last name I was intrigued …


My DNA Test

About a week ago, the lovely Alex over at Root To Tip blogged about the results of her DNA test performed via Ancestry, and it got me thinking as earlier in the year at the end of last year I also spat in a tube and sent it back to Utah (all via a family member in the States as Ancestry had not yet started testing via the UK), but had never publicised the results. (In case you’re worried I’m going to get all science-y and talk about haplogroups, haplotypes, single nucleotide polymorphism or allele frequencies – I’m not.)



Do you ever find a family line that has a mix of occupations – and you wonder how much the behaviour of one generation has affected the subsequent ones? I came across one such line recently.

A cousin of mine (7th cousin once removed but, hey, who’s counting?) recently shared a link to an online digital archive of American newspapers, as part of the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America collection. As I always do when faced with a ‘new’ searchable database, the first name I type in is ‘Holborow’. As its such a unique surname I’m always pretty sure that any results have a link back to my family – and I came across some fantastic articles in this archive.


More Australian Shenanigans!

In my previous post about Australian migration, I mentioned a lady who had (possibly/probably) married her (possibly/probably) deceased first husband’s (half) uncle. I don’t want to leave you thinking that this kind of thing was present in only one side of my family. Oh no. My father’s side has an interesting tale to tell too …

William Fisher and Hannah Perry were married in Collingbourne Kingston on 10 March 1806. They already had one son together before the marriage, but would go on to have another 10 children. I am descended from Jacob (3 x great-grandfather), born in 1813, but amongst his 3 younger sisters was Jemima, born c.1815 – she was christened on 24 March of that year in the parish church, St. Mary’s.

St. Mary's church, Collingbourne Kingston. © Graeme Harvey

St. Mary’s church, Collingbourne Kingston. © Graeme Harvey

On 05 October 1833, Jemima married William Smith in Collingbourne Kingston church. The couple had a daughter, Emma, born out of wedlock, and then another 10 (much like her own parents).:

  • Emma Fisher
  • George Smith
  • Jane Mary Smith
  • William Smith
  • Henry Smith
  • Louisa Smith
  • Thomas Smith
  • Martha Smith
  • Jemima Smith
  • Daniel Smith
  • John Smith

In early 1855, Jemima and William left England aboard the  Asiatic, bound for Australia – perhaps prompted by the gold rushes of the 1850s – as “assisted immigrants” (that is, people whose passage was subsidised or paid for through one of the several assisted immigration schemes which operated to New South Wales from the United Kingdom and other countries). They arrived in Sydney (or possibly Newcastle) on 25 May 1855.


They had travelled with a number of their children, but not Emma or Jane who were by this time married with families of their own. Emma married George Romans in Hounslow (then Middlesex) on 23 September 1860. Emma’s sister Jane married William Annetts on 29 May 1855 in Collingbourne Ducis.

It was Jane and William who were the next to travel to Australia. On 24 February 1857 the pair – and their two children, Mary Jane and Charles – left England. Approximately 90 days later the Herefordshire arrived in New South Wales.


Around this time a number of William Annetts’ siblings made the journey, including his brother Thomas. Thomas married Martha Smith, Jane’s sister, on Boxing Day 1864 in Gundagai, and they had 8 children before his death in October 1886.

LA HOGUE - From a painting by Jack Spurling illustrated in "SAIL: The Romance of the Clipper Ships"

LA HOGUE – From a painting by Jack Spurling illustrated in “SAIL: The Romance of the Clipper Ships”

By this time Emma, Martha’s eldest sister, and her husband George Romans and their children had arrived in Australia (on 21 October 1878 aboard the La Hogue). As you will see, 18 year old William Romans is present.


Three years after the death of her first husband, 42 year old Martha Annetts nee Smith, married her 24 year old nephew, William.

I feel that I need to reiterate that this is not a nephew-by-marriage. William was the son of Martha’s elder (half) sister, Emma. I am a firm believer in that we, sat here today, cannot truly judge the actions of our ancestors as we do not know them, their lives or their struggles. However, occasionally you come across something that truly makes you sit and wonder.

And I have to say, this is one of them. How did that happen? How was it received in the family? In the wider community? How did they overcome any ‘opposition’? Its one of the down sides of family history – especially when its half a world away! – that you’ll  never know all the answers (unless you’re incredibly lucky) … which in this instance is a crying shame.

They went on to have two daughters (bringing Martha’s total number of births up to 10 – in league with her mother and grandmother!), Albertha Muriel and Letha Marion.

Martha Smith with husband/nephew William Romans

Martha Smith with husband/nephew William Romans

Who’s The (4 x Great-Grand) Daddy?

On 14 January 1852 my 3 x great-grandfather, Thomas Halliday Hurcombe, was born.

When I was first researching my family history – apart from putting out feelers regarding my American grandfathers – the Holborow/Hurcombe lines of my mother’s ancestry marked my initial steps into this world. My mother was very close to her maternal grandmother, Edith May Holborow nee Hurcombe, and also to Edith’s parents, Alfred William Hurcombe and Harriet nee Robins, so it seemed fitting that I started here.

Back row, l-to-r: Eva, Edith, Ver.  Front row, l-to-r: little me(!), my brother Alex

Back row, l-to-r: Eva, Edith, Ver.
Front row, l-to-r: little me(!), my brother Alex

I’ve always relied on the kindness of strangers (especially about 2am when the lights come on, but that’s a different story), and starting the genealogy journey I was somewhat suckered in to the use of other people’s information over finding things out on my own with the actual records. Consequently, I was happy enough when I found information regarding Alfred’s father, Thomas Halliday Hurcombe.

Alfred & Harriet Hurcombe, near Devizes

Alfred & Harriet Hurcombe, near Devizes

Thomas’ mother was quickly identified as Ann Hurcombe, formerly Halliday, and his father as Stephen Hurcombe. Stephen was somewhat older than Ann, being born on 13 January 1799 in Leighterton, Gloucestershire. In fact, records show that he had been married before. On 13 December 1823 he first married spinster Jane Davies and they had two children: David (27 February 1825 – 8 May 1857) and Mary (10 December 1826 – 12 May 1846). Four months later, in April 1827 Jane died.

After several years, the 36-year-old Stephen married 19-year-old Ann Halliday on 12 October 1835 in Leighterton. Ann brought another child into the family – a one year old son, George Marsh Halliday. Ann hadn’t been married before Stephen, but there was a prominent farmer in the village called George Marsh. Whilst I can’t prove anything, it may be a case that George senior fathered a son on the young Ann who then named the son after the purported father.

Stephen and Ann went on to have a number of children:

  • Elizabeth: 21 Aug 1836 – 1918
  • Emanuel: 03 Feb 1839 – 1922
  • Emily: 11 Apr 1841 – 08 Jun 1851
  • David Henry: 24 May 1845 – 10 Jan 1919

…and it was during this research, after tracing the Hurcombe line back a further couple of generations, that I came upon the death entry for Stephen: 28 March 1850.

As Thomas wasn’t born for another almost two years, it would be extremely unlikely for Stephen to be his father – as so many people had presumed and slavishly copied down (and, in fact, Stephen can still be found listed as Thomas’ father in online trees despite this glaring error in mathematics – and I doubt that Ann concentrated on the wallpaper that hard for two years …).

Other than using both her maiden and married names in her son’s name, there is no additional clue as to the identity of his father. Ann would go on to have another illegitimate son, Alfred Thomas Halliday, in 1859. Despite having been registered as a Halliday at his birth, in 1889 when Alfred married, he did so under the name Alfred Hurcombe, and appears in all of the relevant census as such. His children were all baptised with the surname of Hurcombe.

Aged almost 60, in January 1876, Ann married a Chelsea pensioner named Peter Adams – who was 13 years her junior, reversing the earlier age difference with her first husband!

Descendant Chart for Ann Halliday

Descendant Chart for Ann Halliday

So who was the father of Thomas (and Alfred)? His birth certificate simply has a line in place of father’s name. Contact with other Hurcombe/Halliday researchers mooted that at least one of the fathers may have been a younger brother of Stephen’s called David – but that is sheer speculation, and without anything such as bastardy papers we will perhaps never know how much of a Hurcombe Thomas and his (half) brother Alfred were.

Thomas went on to marry Emily Raines in the Tetbury Register Office on 17 February 1974, and the pair had 7 children – their third child (and third son) was Alfred William, my 2 x great-grandfather. He passed away on 13 March 1927 in Leighterton, with Emily following on 26 January 1938.

Gravestone of Thomas Halliday Hurcombe

Gravestone of Thomas Halliday Hurcombe


Coats of Arms, Visitations & Pedigrees – a Guest Post from Alex at Root to Tip

Here’s the second of the promised guest posts – this time from Alex at the wonderful Root to Tip! You may (or may not) wish to read this article on gateway ancestors first, but in this article Alex discusses heraldry …

If you wish to submit something as a guest post – either here or over at A Wiltshire Garden – then please get in touch! I’d love to hear from you!


Sometimes it helps to have had rich ancestors. I’m not just talking in terms of wealth and property being handed down through the generations but in terms of the potential wealth to be found with the records relating to them.

If, like me, most of your ancestors are pretty salt of the earth, hard-working labouring types, often without much more than a couple of pennies to rub together, then you might struggle to get your line back further than when parish registers began. You might find the odd mention of the family surname in records such as manorial records, tax lists and the like, but sometimes the years spanning these types of records can span generations and make it more like guesswork and theory to link the names together to prove a line going back beyond the 1600s.

In England and Wales it became a requirement to keep records of baptisms, marriages and burials through parish registers from 1538 but few survive back to this period. Many local areas were growing in populations so some parishes were not formed until after this date, and it is always worth taking a look at information on websites such as GENUKI about the area you are interested in, it’s parish churches and dates for the commencement of their records and where you can find transcriptions or digitised copies of the registers in question.

Wealthier ancestors are much more likely to have left a paper trail behind them, they probably owned land, property and made wills. Going further back in time they might have been recorded as being part of the Civil War, fighting for the Royalist Cavalier side or the Parliamentarian Roundhead side for example.

Wealthy families were likely to have been armigers – that is – bearing arms – specifically a coat of arms. I think most of us have all seen coats of arms depicted on various articles such as stained glass windows, shields, buildings and even plastered all over names websites – trying to get you to buy a scroll with your surname and a coat of arms.

Royal Coat of arms of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland - adopted in 1837

Royal Coat of arms of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – adopted in 1837

Coats of arms belong to a tradition going back to the 12th century, coming from a time when knights in battle were covered in armour from head to foot and the only way to identify themselves was to adopt a range of easily recognisable symbols and designs on their shields and on the surcoats they wore over their armour. It is from this word surcoat that the coat part from coat of arms comes from.

The designs picked ranged from pretty simplistic to very complex. They could be something like a red diagonal stripe on a silver background, or combine different patterns in a complex array of stripes, crosses, chevrons, circles, animals, plants and anything else that appealed! The arrangement of the items on the shield gave rise to the central element known as an escutcheon. As families merged with wealthy heiresses marrying into families with arms they would often split the arms from both families to incorporate them both into one new one or show the husbands arms ‘impaled’ with the wife’s.


Knights also used their helmets and crests as a way to distinguish themselves, especially when jousting when they would often lay their helmets out in a line so everyone could see who was present and whom to challenge. Often these helmets and crests would be shown at the top of a coat of arms. Tournament officials – known as heralds – had to be able to recognise knights by their arms. They would proclaim the start of the proceedings, including the identities of the combatants and then the victors. In this process they were able to check that knights were not using arms that they knew were already in use by someone of status.

By the 14th century, heralds were the experts in coats of arms and it became known as heraldry. In order to assist their work, heralds drew up lists – rolls of arms – of all the arms they saw at tournaments and other such gatherings, they were assembled into collections called armorials.

Heraldic Banners of the Knights of the Garter mid-16th Century. From The Oxford Guide to Heraldry

Heraldic Banners of the Knights of the Garter mid-16th Century. From The Oxford Guide to Heraldry

In 1415 Henry V tried to formalise the controlling of the use of arms but it wasn’t until the reign of Richard III that the College of Arms was established and overseen by a King of Arms. In 1530 Henry VIII sent his heralds out all over England and Wales to register all rightful coats of arms and eradicate the rest. These were known as visitations. During these visitations everyone claiming to be a gentleman and using a coat of arms had to appear before the heralds and justify his claim. Some of them could show an official grant of arms from an earlier King of Arms, while others had to prepare a pedigree of their family showing how the arms had been passed down over the centuries. Those who had adopted arms to seem important were ordered to renounce them. These visitations happened every 20 to 30 years until 1686 and provide a fabulous record of wealthy families, often going back three to five or more generations. The records also retained the details provided by the people who were using arms without the right to bear them so you could find some not so wealthy people detailed.

Original Heralds Wiltshire Visitation notes - 1623. Image from the website of Bryant G Bayliffe

Original Heralds Wiltshire Visitation notes – 1623. Image from the website of Bryant G Bayliffe

It is worth remembering though that some of these pedigrees were not entirely accurate. They were often compiled using memory rather than detailed source material. There have been many instances where a pedigree misses a whole generation out because the compiler may have been confused with ancestors with the same names (like a father and son by the same name) or got confused with names of uncles and cousins who shared the same names. I’ve seen details where they have stated that a sibling died sine prole(without issue) when in actual fact they might have had quite a large family. Sometimes it might seem like a couple only had one child, when in reality they might have had several but only listed the eldest son.

Section of Pedigree of the Philpot family, drawn in 1620. Source

Section of Pedigree of the Philpot family, drawn in 1620. Source

I often use pedigrees as a guide, not as the gospel truth. Where possible I try to confirm details from the pedigree with information from other sources such as parish registers, wills, tax lists, manorial records and anything else I can get my hands on – like militia lists.

If you are lucky enough you may find you are descended from a royal or aristocratic line which is much more fully documented and been thoroughly researched by historians, however often with some royal pedigrees as they start to go back much further in time the details do become rather more fantastical and sketchy and of course go back to Adam and Eve and therefore God – to prove the King had holy descent.

I never hold much sway in the coats of arms touted on websites trying to get you to buy the one for your surname as of course there is no guarantee that your family name truly relates to that coat of arms, and different families had different takes on their arms – while you may have had one set of arms relating to the main family originally, as eldest sons and second sons and third sons etc. branched out they would have changed their arms slightly to denote where they came in the family and of course changed if they inherited arms from a wealthy spouse.

Although this isn’t exactly an exhaustive expert guide into coats of arms, visitations and pedigrees, there are some great websites that can be of help when looking into heraldry, records of coats of arms and medieval ancestors.

College of Arms

Medieval English Genealogy

Harleian Society

The Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies

UK Genealogy Archives

Medieval Sources: Guide from The National Archives

To Err Is Human…

An excellent post by Alex at Root To Tip regarding owning up to mistakes in research and the pitfalls of ‘open source ancestors’.

Root To Tip

To Err Is Human…To Forgive Divine – Alexander Pope.

This week I got to thinking after a post over on thegenealogygirl’s blog asking what you wished you had known when you started researching your family tree. To me I didn’t necessarily wish I had known all the secrets of this great hobby/profession, because I enjoyed the process of learning all about it. From simple beginnings to gradually learning more and more and eventually making something of a career from it. However, in the early days I made mistakes, there were small errors and at times whole chunks of trees that had to be deleted and then started from scratch again, and I gave myself such a hard time about it. I felt so stupid, especially if I had found out something really interesting and had yabbered on to all and sundry about it, and then to find out that…

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