In Memoriam: David Lawrence Casbon (1940–2021)

I was saddened this past weekend to learn of Dave Casbon’s passing. He was my first cousin, once removed, one of my father’s only three first cousins.

Dave and I corresponded a fair amount over many years because of our shared interest in Casbon family history. We had some good conversations about our history and Dave filled in some details that I didn’t have.

I have happy recollections of Dave from my infrequent childhood visits to Valparaiso and the Casbon Electric store there. In recent years, when I travelled to “Valpo” to do research, I would usually meet Dave for breakfast or lunch.

Dave liked to post on Facebook. He had an avid interest in Porter County History. He was also a talented cartoon artist. Most of all, he loved his family and he loved University of Michigan sports.

(Left) “The Arrows” in concert; Dave is playing sax on the right; (Right) Dave (right) and friends at Casbon Electric Company; images are from Dave’s Facebook page

(Left) Dave and Harden; they were married 17 October 1961; (Right) One of Dave’s cartoons; images are from Dave’s Facebook page

I’ve been given permission to share this obituary, written by his daughter Carissa. We will miss you Dave.

David L. Casbon, 80, of Valparaiso, Indiana passed away peacefully on Saturday, April 10th at his home, surrounded by his family. Dave was born May 21, 1940 in Valparaiso, IN, to Lynnet M. Casbon and Alice B. Casbon. Dave is preceded in death by his parents, his beloved wife Harden, and his sister Mary Benninghoff. He is survived by his four daughters: Tacy (Peter) Borgman, Wendy Casbon, Carissa Casbon (Larry LaTourette) and Erin (Christopher) Sachse; his grandchildren: Stephanie (Caylin) Younger, Elizabeth Borgman, Samuel LaTourette, Lillian LaTourette, Alexander Sachse, and Kate Sachse. He is also survived by his niece, Julie Trager, nephew, Steven Benninghoff and many wonderful friends and extended family members.

Dave was born and raised in Valpo and graduated from Valparaiso High School in 1958. While in high school, he played saxophone in the rock band Leroy Bowman and the Arrows. The band recorded two singles, “Graveyard” and “Uh huh,” both of which are still available on major streaming services.

Dave attended the University of Michigan, where he became a member of Delta Upsilon Fraternity and served on the Michigan Student Government Board. He earned his degree in Business Administration from U of M in 1962, but remained a lifelong Wolverine fan. During his senior year at Michigan, he married the love of his life, Harden Walton Freeman.

He and Harden returned to Valparaiso after college, where he worked at his family’s business, Casbon Electric Company. Under his direction, Casbon’s became a pioneer in technology, becoming the first store in Northern Indiana to sell VCRs. Dave trained and taught himself about personal computers, helping Portage Schools become computerized. He was also instrumental in helping the Porter County Sheriff’s Department create one of the first server-based PC networks in county government.

Dave was a pillar of the community, serving in leadership roles in a multitude of community organizations. He served as the President of the United Way, President of the Better Business Bureau of Northwest Indiana, President of the Valparaiso Merchants Association, and Director of the Greater Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce. He was named to the Action Council of the National Federation of Independent Businesses representing the needs of small businesses across the country. He was a Paul Harris Fellow of the Valparaiso Rotary Club, an arbitrator, a Scottish Rite Master of the Order of Demolay, a member of the Saturday Evening Club, and an enthusiastic contributor to the Porter County Historical Museum.

Dave was one of the founding members of the Kankakee Valley Job Training Program that has positively impacted the lives of thousands and eventually became the Indiana Center of Workforce Innovations, on whose board he served until a few months ago. In his capacity as Chair of the Kankakee Valley Job Training Program (a private industry council), he also served as Chair of the State Association of Private Industry Council Chairs. The Kankakee Valley Job Training Program was so extraordinary, it was one of 10 private industry councils in the nation selected for a United States Department of Labor study on exemplary Private Industry Councils in 1991.

Dave won several awards for his public service contributions, including the Outstanding Director Award from the Northwest Indiana Better Business Bureau and the Dorothy M. Porter Award in recognition of “his unique commitment to the principles of volunteerism and service above self-service.”

By far though, Dave’s proudest achievement was his four girls, Tacy, Wendy, Carissa and Erin, their husbands, Peter, Larry, and Christopher, and his six grandchildren, Stephanie, Elizabeth, Samuel, Lillian, Alexander and Kate. In fact, one time, when the family traveled to Washington, D.C. so Dave could speak with lawmakers about the Kankakee Valley Private Industry Council, he blew off a small audience with President Ronald Reagan so he could sightsee with his family. Dave attended every single play, concert, event and game in which any of his four girls participated. His girls will miss his advice, his love, and his wicked sense of humor.

Visitation is Thursday, April 15th from 4:00-7:00 PM at Bartholomew Funeral Home, 102 Monroe Street, Valparaiso, IN 46383, Funeral services are Friday, April 16th at 12:00 PM at the First Christian Church, 1507 E. Glendale Boulevard, Valparaiso, IN 46383. There will be an interment service immediately following the funeral at Graceland Cemetery, Valparaiso. Per the family’s request, masking and social distancing protocols will be observed at these events. Masks will be provided, should you need one. Donations in lieu of flowers can be made to the United Way of Porter County, Indiana.

Forebears: Melbourn

I’ve been exploring the Casbon family’s origins in Cambridgeshire, England. With this post I will begin looking in more detail at those parishes where early forebears of the family once lived. I’m starting with the village and parish of Melbourn, since it has some of the earliest records of the family and is the closest location to Meldreth (where the modern family is known to have lived).

Map detail showing the villages of Meldreth and Melbourn; (Ordnance Survey, England and Wales, Revised New Series, Sheet 204 Biggleswade (Hills), 1896 Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) licence,  National Library of Scotland, “Map Images,” https://maps.nls.uk/index.html (Click on image to enlarge)

Melbourn lies immediately southeast and adjacent to Meldreth parish. A narrow stream, the Mel, separates the two parishes and gives them their names. Melbourn lies along the important Royston-to-Cambridge highway, now known as the A-10. It has always been the larger of the two parishes.

Melbourn was home to Casbon ancestors for probably 150 years or more before their appearance in Meldreth. Their baptisms, marriages, and burials are recorded in the parish registers of All Saints Church.

All Saints Church, Melbourn; © Copyright John Salmon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License: https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/File:Melbourn_All_Saints_Cambridgeshire.jpg

Early Records

The earliest available parish records in Melbourn begin in 1558. The first record with a variant of the Casbon surname is the marriage of John Smithe and Katherine Casbolde on 3 October 1560.[1] The next is the marriage of John Slipper and Alys Casbolde on
4 November 1574.[2] The third is the marriage of William Casbolde to Margrett Saybrocke on 22 September 1577.[3]

The marriage of William Casbolde to Margrett Saybrocke at Melbourn, 22 September 1577; Melbourn parish registers, FamilySearch (film 1040540, image 635, https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007567610?cat=210722 : accessed Jun 2016) (Click on image to enlarge)

Since the records only go back to 1558, we don’t know the origins of Katherine, Alys, and William Casbolde. They were probably born and raised in Melbourn and they are probably siblings, although Katherine could be a young aunt of Alys and William instead. At any rate, it’s evident that the family was present at Melbourn by at least the mid-sixteenth century, and might have been there much earlier.

William Casbolde (?­–1598/99)

Note: readers are welcome to download these documents: The Descendants of William Casbolde (d. 1599) of Melbourn and Timeline of Casbon Families in Melbourn up to 1681. They provide more detailed information that what is contained below.

According to the parish registers, William and Margrett had at least five children: Thomas (baptized and buried 1578), John (baptized 1579), Thomas (1582), Robert (1586–1588), and Barbara (1589).[4] Of the sons, only John and Thomas (1582) survived to adulthood. Barbara was married to Edward Draper in 1616.[5]

We know nothing about William’s occupation or social status. He was buried at Melbourn on 14 February 1598/99.[6] (This date is an example of dual dating. Prior to 1752, England used the old Julian calendar. Each new year began on Lady Day, 25 March, not 1 January as we are used to. Dates between 1 January and 25 March before 1752 are often recorded using dual dating, in which the year is recorded using both the old Julian year and the modern Gregorian year.)

William’s widow, Margrett, is probably the “widow Casbould” who was buried 10 April 1626.[7]

A family tree showing William and Margrett (Saybrocke) Casbolde and the first two generations of their descendants (Click on image to enlarge)

John (1579-1641) and Thomas (1582–1642)

As the family entered the seventeenth century, William’s sons John and Thomas married and continued the family name. As was typical for the era, both infant and maternal mortality were high. Both brothers lost their first wives and several of their children. (Refer to the family tree, above)

John married Joan Deere in 1607.[8] The couple had five children, of whom at least two survived to adulthood. Their daughter Joan (probably) married Thomas Yong of Langford, Bedfordshire at Bassingbourn in 1641.[9] The fates of Benjamyn and Thomas (baptized 1616) are unknown.

After Joan’s death in February 1617/18,[10] John married Grace Fox in September 1618[11] and the couple had two children: Richard (baptized 1619[12]) and Grace (baptized 1621/22[13]). Richard had at least three and possibly four wives. Only one of the marriages is recorded in the parish registers[14] and the other three are imputed either by the baptisms of children to them or the burial of one of them. The daughter, Grace, was married to John Hall at Cambridge St. Edwards Church in 1642.[15]

John was buried at Melbourn 28 April 1641 and Grace 26 September 1649.[16]

John’s brother Thomas was married to Edith Grystocke in 1606[17] and the couple had two daughters before Edith’s death in 1613.[18] He married Ellen Campion one year later.[19] Thomas and Ellen had four daughters and three sons. All but two daughters and one son died in early childhood. Of the remaining daughter, Elen (baptized 1619/20) died unmarried in 1649[20] and the fate of Mary (baptized 1631) is unknown. The remaining son, William (baptized 1621) is discussed below.

Ellen (Campion) was buried at Melbourn in November 1639 and was followed by Thomas in March 1641/42.[21]

William (1621–1681)

William’s first marriage took place at St. Edward King and Martyr, one of the oldest churches in Cambridge, about 9½ miles north of Melbourne. The parish register tells us that “William Casboult, of Melbourne & Mary Cooper of Meldred [sic]” were married there by license 15 September 1642.[22] The baptisms of seven children to William and Mary are recorded in the Melbourn parish records. At least two of the children died in childhood; the fate of the others is unknown. Mary was buried at Melbourn in April 1667.

There is no record of William’s marriage to Ann _____, but the baptisms of three children to this couple are recorded. They are William (21 January 1669/60), John (1 July 1672), and Mary (12 October 1675).[23] Mary’s fate is unknown, but William and John might have settled in Meldreth and had families there (see below).

The family of William Castbolt (baptized 1621) and his two wives (Click on image to enlarge)

The burial of William, the father, at Melbourn 1 September 1681, is the last entry in the Melbourn registers for almost the next 50 years.[24] His wife, Ann’s, burial is not recorded (unless she is the widow Anne Cassbell who was buried at Meldreth in 1718/19).

After William?

With William’s death, the family seemingly disappeared from Melbourn. Where did they go? I think there’s a good chance that William’s youngest sons, William and John, ended up just across the stream at Meldreth.

The earliest records of the family at Meldreth begin with the births of two boys—John and William—in 1701 and 1702/3 respectively, to William Casbel and his wife Anne.[25] There is no record of William’s marriage to Anne, but this might have taken place in the late 1690s when there are gaps in both the Melbourn and Meldreth records. Given his age, the fact that this family appears in Meldreth shortly after the name disappears from the Melbourn records, and the proximity of the two parishes, I think it’s likely that William was the child baptized at Melbourn in 1672. Although I can’t prove it, this theory fits well with the known facts.

William of Meldreth was buried 27 March 1707, when his two sons were still children.[26] Anne, the mother and widow, was probably buried in March 1718/19, although this burial might be that of the widow of William (baptized at Melbourn 1621).[27]

In 1712 we have the baptism at Meldreth of a daughter, Ann, to John and Ann Cassbell, the first of several births to this couple.[28] Once again, there is no marriage record for John and Ann. For the same reasons described above, I think John was the child baptized at Melbourn in 1772. John may be the man described as “a poor shoemaker” who was buried at Meldreth on 26 March 1727, followed by his widow, Anne, in 1732.[29]

Even if my assumptions about William and John are correct, the link between the Melbourn family and today’s Casbons, who trace their ancestry to Meldreth, is unknown. The latter appear to be descended from John Casborn, who was born in nearby Orwell and came to Meldreth as an apprentice cordwainer (shoemaker) in 1735. He was apprenticed to William Casbill, who might be the child born 1702/3 and baptized in 1707. If nothing else, there is strong circumstantial evidence that the family that lived in Melbourn in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is related in some way to the one that arose in Meldreth in the eighteenth century.


[1] T.P.R. Layng, compiler, Melbourn, Cambridgeshire, parish register transcripts 1558–1851, typescript, 1975, p. 140; browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog/78897 : accessed 8 Apr 2021) >film 990296 >image 394 of 1113.
[2] T.P.R. Layng, compiler, Melbourn, Cambridgeshire, parish register transcripts, p. 142; image 396 of 1113.
[3] Layng, Melbourn parish register transcripts, p.. 143.
[4] Layng, Melbourn parish register transcripts, pp. 10–12, 14–15, 230.
[5] Layng, Melbourn parish register transcripts, p. 149.
[6] Layng, Melbourn parish register transcripts, p. 236.
[7] Layng, Melbourn parish register transcripts, p. 248.
[8] T.P.R. Layng, p. 148.
[9] T.P.R. Layng, compiler, Bassingbourn, Cambridgeshire, parish register transcripts 1558–1851, typescript, 1975, p. 184; browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/008048581 : accessed 9 Apr 21) >film 8048581>image 258 of 695.
[10] Layng, Melbourn parish register transcripts, p. 244.
[11] Layng, Melbourn parish register transcripts, p. 149.
[12] Layng, Melbourn parish register transcripts, p. 31.
[13] Layng, Melbourn parish register transcripts, p. 33.
[14] Layng, Melbourn parish register transcripts, p. 154, Richard Casbolt & Ann Hall, 28 Jun 1658.
[15] W.P.W. Phillimore & Evelyn Young, eds., Cambridgeshire Parish Registers: Marriages, vol. 1 (London: Phillimore & Co., 1907), p. 39; image copy, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007561578 : accessed 8 Apr 21) >film 7561578 >image 28 of 697.
[16] Layng, Melbourn parish register transcripts, pp. 254 & 257.
[17] Layng, Melbourn parish register transcripts, p. 147.
[18] Layng, Melbourn parish register transcripts, p. 242.
[19] Layng, Melbourn parish register transcripts, p. 149.
[20] Layng, Melbourn parish register transcripts, p. 257.
[21] Layng, Melbourn parish register transcripts, pp. 253-4.
[22] W.P.W. Phillimore, Cambridgeshire Parish Registers: Marriages, vol. 1, p. 38.
[23]Layng, Melbourn parish register transcripts, pp.53, 55.
[24] Layng, Melbourn parish register transcripts, p. 265.
[25] Parish of Meldreth (Cambridgeshire), General Register, n.p., (baptisms 1701, 1702, & 1708), John Casbel (born 5 Oct 1701) and William Casbel (born 6 Mar 1702/3), both baptized 8 Jun 1707 ; accessed as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007567609?cat=210742 : accessed 29 August 2017) >images 100–101 of 699; citing FHL microfilm 1,040,542, item 2.
[26] Parish of Meldreth, General Register (burials 1707); FamilySearch, >image 47 of 699.
[27] Parish of Meldreth, General Register (burials 1718); FamilySearch, >image 48 of 699.
[28] Parish of Meldreth, General Register (baptisms 1712); FamilySearch, >image 102 of 699.
[29] Parish of Meldreth, General Register (burials 1727 & 1732); FamilySearch, >images 50–51 of 699.

Recent Activities

I haven’t posted in a while, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been busy. Here is a brief summary of what I’ve been up to.

The Descendants of Isaac Casbon in America, Abridged Edition

The family history book that I published in late 2019 has now been updated with an abridged edition. Unlike the original, this edition, only includes the first five generations of the family and does not contain personal information about any living descendants. These changes make the book more suitable for the general public—not that I expect it to be a best-seller! I created this edition so that the book could be available to people and locations outside of the family, such as family history libraries.

Since it does not include private information, I’ve published it on Amazon.com using their Kindle Direct Publishing service and it is available here.

The book is also available on Amazon’s international sites.

Article: “The Casbon Family of Meldreth”

This article was just published as a page on the Meldreth History website. It can be viewed here.

The article covers two centuries during which the Casbon family lived in the parish of Meldreth, Cambridgeshire and includes images of several documents as well as links to a timeline, a summary of descendants, and two previous articles that I have written. The Meldreth History website is a rich source of information about the parish and recommended for anyone with Meldreth ancestors.

Updated Documents and Data

I have added four new items to this page of the blog (see the Documents and Data link, upper right):

The first two are the same documents included in the Meldreth History article. The last two are similar, except that they concern the early family history in the adjacent parish of Melbourn. Viewers are welcome to download these documents.

“Enhance your One-Name Study Web Page or Blog using Google Maps™”

This is the title of an article I just had published in the April–June edition of the Journal of One-Name Studies. The journal is available for free to members of the Guild of One-Name Studies and also available for purchase through their website. The article describes various techniques I have applied in this blog using Google Maps™.

Now that these tasks are completed, I hope to get back to regular blogging soon!

Forebears: Cambridgeshire

My last post began an exploration into the early English origins of Our Casbon Journey. I presented data from parish (church) records from 1560 through 1699, showing where baptisms fitting a particular spelling pattern were reported throughout England. Baptisms in Cambridgeshire were recorded earlier and far outnumbered those of any other county. This post will examine Cambridgeshire baptisms in more detail.

Let me begin by explaining a little bit about England’s counties and parishes. Counties can be defined in several ways, but for the purposes of this discussion, they are considered historic administrative and geographic divisions that date back many centuries. The word shire is an older term for county and we frequently see it used as a suffix in the formal names of many English counties. Thus, Cambridgeshire means Cambridge County.

The historic counties of England; Cambridgeshire is highlighted in yellow; this image made use of data provided by the Historic County Borders Project (http://www.county-borders.co.uk) (Click on image to enlarge)

Parishes were the basic geographic and administrative unit of the Church of England (and the Roman Catholic church before that). Parishes were associated with individual towns or villages, except in cities, where there could be multiple parishes. Parishes carried out both religious and basic governmental functions within their boundaries. They were responsible for tasks such as law enforcement, maintenance of roads and highways, and relief of the poor. In the nineteenth century, civil parishes were created to take over the secular responsibilities previously carried out by the ecclesiastical, or church-related, parishes. Both types of parish coexist today.

In 1538, during the time of Henry VIII, parishes were required for the first time to record every baptism, marriage, and burial that occurred within their boundaries. Before this, there had been no universal or systematic method for recording vital events. The earliest records were kept on paper and many of them have been lost. In 1558, Queen Elizabeth ordered that the records be written on parchment. These were more durable and more of these have survived. During the time of the English Civil War and Commonwealth, 1642–1660, many records were lost or destroyed. These gaps often make it difficult to trace family connections beyond the mid-to-late seventeenth century.

In Cambridgeshire, most parish records are available online, either as transcriptions or actual digital images (copied from microfilm). I have tried to find and save a copy of every record with the Casb___ spelling pattern that is available. As mentioned in the previous post, I found records of 255 baptisms that occurred in Cambridgeshire between 1560 and 1699. Let’s look at these in further detail.

The following map and table show the parishes where these baptisms are recorded. In addition to the name of the parish, the number of baptisms (in parentheses), earliest year of baptism, and predominant spelling(s) of the surname are provided.

Interactive Google map showing the parishes in Cambridgeshire where Casb___ baptisms are recorded. The red outline is the approximate county border during the 16th and 17th centuries. Click on a marker to see more details. See below for descriptions of color coding and different markers

Parish (# of baptisms)Earliest baptismPredominant Surname(s)
Babraham (2)1595Casbolt(e)
Balsham (1)1691Casbout
Barrington (4)1682Casbolt
Bartlow (1)1699Casebolt
Bottisham (4)1672Casbone
Burwell (52)1565Casburn, Caseb(o)urn(e), Cawsb(o)urn(e)
Cambridge (6)1613Casboll, Casbone, Casbolt
Ely (8)1622Casborn, Cas(e)bo(u)rn(e)
Fowlmere (21)1582Casbolt(e), Casbourne
Fulbourn (3)1661Casbon
Grantchester (2)1584Cas(e)bowle
Great Abington (4)1685Cas(e)bolt
Hildersham (6)1571Casbolt
Isleham (23)1567Cas(e)born(e)
Linton (57)1560Casbo(u)lt(e)
Little Wilbraham (4)1673Causbone
Littleport (3)1686Cas(e)bo(u)rne
Melbourn (34)1578Casbold(e), Cas(t)bolt, Catsbold
Orwell (1)1580Casbold
Stow cum Quy (2)1696Cazborn, Caseburn
Stuntney (1)1653Casborne
Thriplow (15)1575Cas(e)bo(u)lt
Wendy cum Shingay (1)1563Casbolde
A table showing parish (# of baptisms), year of earliest baptism, and predominant surnames

While summarizing this data, I noticed that there are regional differences in how the surname is spelled, and identified four distinct areas. The names always begin with the same Cas(e)b– pattern, but the ending is different in each area. These areas are depicted by the four marker colors on the map.

I’ve selected an “epicenter” for each area. This is the parish where the greatest number of—and usually the earliest—baptisms were recorded. The epicenters are represented on the map by the markers with stars.

Here are the four patterns and areas:

  • rn(e) ending: Casborn, Casbourn, Casborne, Casbourne, Casburn, etc. These are the predominant spellings in the parishes indicated by black markers. The parishes are: Burwell, Ely, Isleham, Littleport, Stow cum Quy, and Stuntney. All are located north of Cambridge city. Both the greatest numbers and earliest records of baptisms in this area come from Burwell, the epicenter. Burwell is unique in that Cas(e)b– is usually followed by urn or urne as opposed to orn(e) or ourn(e) in the rest of this area. The –urn spelling is still associated with Burwell today. There is even a Casburn Lane in Burwell!
Number 1, Casburn Lane, in Burwell; Google Street View image
  • lt(e) ending: Casbolt, Casboult, Casbolte, Casboulte, etc. These parishes are represented by the blue markers and are found in the southern and southeastern parts of the county. They are: Babraham, Balsham, Barrington, Bartlow, Fowlmere, Great Abington, Hildersham, Linton, and Thriplow. Linton is the epicenter, with both the most (57) and earliest (1560) baptisms. The Casbolt spelling is most often seen today.
  • ld(e) ending: Casbold(e) and Catsbold; represented by grey markers, the parishes are Melbourn, Orwell, and Wendy cum Shingay in southwestern Cambridgeshire. Although the earliest record is found in Wendy (1563), many more records (34) are found in Melbourn, so I have marked that parish as the epicenter. Surnames ending in –olt are also common in Melbourn. Melbourne is adjacent to the –olt area, so it’s not surprising that there should be overlap between the areas. Linguistically, –ld is much closer to –lt than either one is to –rn, so perhaps the surname in these two areas (-olt and –old) have a common origin.
  • on(e), –owle and –oll endings: Casbon, Casbone, Casbowle, and Casboll. These surnames, indicated by orange markers, occur in Bottisham, Cambridge, Fulbourn, Grantchester, and Little Wilbraham. The parishes are in the near vicinity or a bit east of Cambridge City, which I’ve named as the epicenter. In general the surname came to these parishes later than the other areas, so perhaps the name changed as people migrated. the –n and –l endings seem to be a mix of the northern and southern areas. This area also has the smallest number of baptisms—19 total.

What does all this mean? I can only guess. One possibility is that the surname developed independently in at least two parts of Cambridgeshire—the -rn(e) variant in the north and the -lt(e) and -ld(e) variant in the south. Or maybe there was one point of origin, long before church records came into being, and the spellings and pronunciation changed as descendants migrated to other parishes. I would dearly like to know. It would take a detailed Y-DNA study to find an answer.

Future posts will look focus on individual parishes in Cambridgeshire.

Forebears: England

fore·bear also for·bear  (fôrʹbâr′)
n. A person from whom one is descended; an ancestor.
(American Heritage Dictionary https://ahdictionary.com/)

Who were the Casbon/Casban/Casben forebears?

One thing the COVID pandemic has done is given me plenty of time for online research. I’ve been using this time lately to explore the origins of the Casbon surname in England.

I’ve traced my branch with reasonable certainty to William Casbolt, who married Martha Cauckett at Barrington, Cambridgeshire on 6 November 1692[1] and was buried there in 1714.[2] William’s son Thomas (~1693–1774) was the father of John Casborn (~1721–1796), who moved to Meldreth, Cambridgeshire as an apprentice cordwainer (shoemaker) in 1736 and established the family line there. I’ve also traced the Peterborough line to another William—William Caseborne of Littleport (d. 1699).

Although I’ve traced these two family lines into the late 1600s, the trail goes cold at that point. There are too many gaps in the available records and not enough information contained in those records to connect the families any further back in time.

Nevertheless, there is abundant evidence of families who were probably or possibly related to today’s Casbon, Casben, and Casban lines.

The modern spelling of Casbon, along with closely related surnames of Casbolt and Casburn, arose from a kind of primordial soup of names that had certain elements in common. They all started with the letters C and (almost always) a. These were followed by s and b, which were sometimes separated by an e. B was usually followed by o, ou, or u. The names ended with a limited set of letter combinations: lt, lte, ld, lde, rn, or rne or occasionally just n or ne. Thus, some of the most common variants were:

Casbolt, Casboult, Casboulte
Casebolt, Caseboult, Caseboulte
Casbold, Casbolde, Casebold
Casborn, Casbourn, Casbourne
Caseborn, Caseborne, Casebourne
Casburn, Casburne, Caseburn, Caseburne
Casbon, Casbone

Sometimes there are oddball spellings such as Casbal, Casbell or Casbelt. Many of these variants can be connected through genealogical records.

Why so many spellings? There are two main reasons. First, English spelling was not standardized at that time. Individuals spelled words whichever way seemed best to them. The second reason is that illiteracy was widespread. Most people, especially the working classes, could not write and therefore could not spell their own names. The names we see in older records were written by a select few, such as government officials, clerks, and clergy, who had some degree of literacy.

The spelling of surnames was especially variable because they weren’t common everyday words. Regional dialects might have also resulted in different pronunciations. When recording baptisms, marriages, and deaths, the clergy and church scribes had to puzzle out the best way to spell each name. In old church records, the spelling of a name often changes with changes in handwriting, indicating that a new person had started keeping the records.

Here are several examples of baptismal records showing variant spellings (and handwriting styles!)

An unusual spelling from Burwell, Cambridgeshire, 1565: 22 die July bapt Agnet Cawsbourne (FamilySearch) (Click on image to enlarge)
From Linton, Cambridgeshire, 1599: “Helen the daughter of Wm Casboult bap – 26 August” (FamilySearch) (Click on image to enlarge)
From Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, 1615: “Lott Casbone the sonne of William Casbone baptized the last December” (FamilySearch) (Click on image to enlarge)
From Melbourn, Cambridgeshire, 1631: “Mary daughter of Tho: Casbould – [baptized] 11 October” (FamilySearch) (Click on image to enlarge)
From Melbourn: “William the sonn of William & Ann Castbold, was baptized Januarie the 21th: 1669” (FamilySearch) (Click on image to enlarge)
From Littleport, Cambridgeshire, 1687: “William son of Wm & Alice Casborne bap’d Nov’r.-04” (FamilySearch) (Click on image to enlarge)
From Barrington, Cambridgeshire, 1693: “Thomas the sonn of Will Casbolt was baptized November 26th” (FamilySearch) (Click on image to enlarge)

Searching individual records for each different spelling would be a tedious task. Fortunately, most family history websites—Ancestry, FamilySearch, Findmypast, etc.—allow searches using wildcards—special characters used to represent unknown characters or a sequence of characters in a search term. For example, a question mark “?” can be used to represent a single character and an asterisk “*” can be used to represent one or more characters. Therefore, a search for all the variant spellings above can be accomplished by using C*s?b* as the last name in a record search.

Screen shot of a search result using C*s?b* as the last name in FamilySearch (Click on image to enlarge)

Using this method, I searched online records in England for baptisms of possible Casbon ancestors between 1538 (the first year English parishes were required to keep records of baptisms, marriages, and burials) and 1699. I chose 1699 as the cutoff both to limit the number of records and because I’ve traced the modern lines back to the late 1600s.

This search yielded almost 350 individual baptisms throughout England with names that fit the general spelling patterns described above. The map and table below summarize the results, subdivided by English counties. Each shows the name of the county, the number of baptisms recorded, the predominant spelling variants, and the earliest occurrence of the surname.

Interactive Google map showing the counties (with county seat marked) where baptisms with early variants of the Casbon surname are recorded between 1560 and 1699; click on individual markers to see county name, number of baptisms (in parentheses), predominant surname variants, and earliest occurrence of the surname in that county

CountyPredominant SpellingsEarliest Occurrence
Bedfordshire (12)Ca[s/z]bolt, Cas(h)bolt1579
Bristol (3)Casborn1653
Cambridgeshire (255)Cas(e)bo(u)lt(e), Cas(e)bo(u)rn(e), Cas(e)burn(e)1560
Cheshire (1)Cusball1649
Durham (1)Caseboult1667
Essex (7)Casbo(a)te, Cas(t)bolt1569
Gloucestershire (20)Cosborn(e), Cosburn(e)1619
Hampshire (1)Cas(e)born, Causabon1639
Hertfordshire (17)Cas(e)bo(u)lt, Casebull, Caseball1670
Kent (18)Ca(u)sabon(e), Cas(e)born(e)1605
London (4)Cassabone, Causabon, Cosborne1652
Norfolk (4)Casburne, Cosbon1628
Somerset (2)Caseborn(e)1698
Suffolk (7)Casbo(u)rne1629
Sussex (1)Caseborne1667
Wiltshire (1)Cosburn1691
Yorkshire (1)Casseborne1658
A table showing the data represented in the map above: county (number of baptisms), predominant spellings, and earliest occurrence of the surname in parish records

What does this data tell me about these potential Casbon forebears? First, during this timespan, surnames with the C_s_b_, etc. spelling pattern were fairly widespread, especially in the southern and eastern counties of England. That said, Cambridgeshire accounted for far more of the baptisms—72 percent—than any other county. The percentage goes up to 85 percent if you include five counties bordering on Cambridgeshire—Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Essex, Suffolk, and Norfolk. The earliest record (1560) also comes from Cambridgeshire. These findings suggest that the surname might have arisen in or near Cambridgeshire. The number of baptisms and geographical diversity suggest that the surname arose a long time—perhaps a few centuries—before parish records were being kept. Was there a common ancestor in the Cambridgeshire area? Or was there a common factor unique to the area that led multiple families to adopt a common surname?

It’s likely that the surname arose independently in some counties. I’m most certain of this in the county of Kent, where the name is likely of French origin, possibly brought by Huguenot refugees (more about this in a future post, perhaps). In Gloucestershire, the name is spelled with an initial o instead of a: Cosb___, with the earliest record in 1619. This variant might have arisen independently; or perhaps someone with the Casb___ spelling migrated from elsewhere, with the spelling and/or pronunciation changing in the process. Later dates of first occurrence might also indicate migration from another region.

It’s theoretically possible to test whether the families represented by these baptismal records are related using Y-DNA, which is passed through the paternal line. Doing so would require tracing the families forward and getting DNA samples from surviving male descendants. I have done partial Y-DNA testing on myself and have close matches with two individuals named Casbolt and Casebolt. This might mean that we have a common ancestor, but it would require more extensive (and expensive) testing to find out if and how closely we are related.

In future posts, I will focus on possible forebears in Cambridgeshire, first with a general overview, and then a parish-by-parish breakdown.


[1] Church of England, Barrington (Cambridgeshire), Bishop’s Transcripts, 1692; digitized as “Bishop’s transcripts for Barrington, 1599-1864,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007562691?cat=672635 : accessed 24 January 2019) >film # 007562691 >image 324 of 1174; citing FHL microfilm 1,818,360.
[2] Church of England, Barrington (Cambridgeshire), Bishop’s Transcripts, 1714; (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007562691?cat=672635 : accessed 29 December 2018) >film # 007562691 >image 390 of 1174.

William Caseborne of Littleport and His Descendants, Part 2

My previous post explored the origins of the “Peterborough Casbons,” a line that I’ve traced back to William Caseborne, who died at Littleport, Cambridgeshire in 1699. A chart outlined the first five generations of the family line, beginning with William and his wife Alice. The line of descent from William through the fifth generation is as follows:
1. William Caseborn (married Alice _____) → 2. Thomas Caseborn (baptized 1695, married Ann Kendale) → 3. Thomas Casborn (baptized 1732, married Mary Diamond) →
4. Thomas Casborn (baptized 1776, married Ann Dolby) → 5. Thomas Casbon (born about 1807, married Jane Cooper).

The following chart picks up where the previous one left off, beginning with generation five.

Outline chart showing the fifth through ninth generations of William Caseborn’s descendants; numbers before each name denote the generation, with each generation represented by a different color (Littleport Bishop’s Transcripts; UK, General Register Office; assorted parish records) (Click on image to enlarge)

Although the chart begins with Thomas (born about 1807), I’ll start by going back to his father, Thomas Casborn (~1776­–1855). Thomas’s line includes the only descendants of William Caseborn (generation one, died in 1699) who carry the Casbon surname today.

Thomas departed from Littleport with his family sometime between 1808 (baptisms of his children Elizabeth and Thomas) and 1812 (baptism of his daughter Sarah), when he was residing at Bluntisham, Huntingdonshire, some 14 miles southwest of Littleport. Thomas was the first member of the family line known to have the occupation of gardener.

Detail from 1841 census of Needingworth, Huntingdonshire (now Cambridgeshire) showing Thomas’s occupation as “Gardener”; the letter “N” in the right-hand column denotes that Thomas and his wife, Ann (Dolby), were not born in Huntingdonshire (source: The National Archives via Ancestry)

Thomas’s last known residence was at Colne, Huntingdonshire (1851 census).[1] His death was registered at St. Ives (which includes Colne) in 1855.[2]

Thomas’s only male child was also named Thomas, born about 1807 at Littleport (baptized 1808).[3] He is at the head of the chart above. Thomas, also a gardener, is noteworthy as the first member of the family to live in Peterborough. I have written several posts about Thomas and his descendants. These can be accessed by clicking on “Peterborough” in the tag menu to the right of this post.

The Casbon surname would have died out in this family line were it not for just one of Thomas’s descendants. In the chart above, you will see that every member of the ninth generation was born to Charles Arthur Casbon (1880–1945) by one of his two wives. The family name did not continue through other family members due to a predominance of female offspring or absence of children born to any male offspring.

The line of descent from Thomas to Charles Arthur is as follows: 5. Thomas Casbon (born about 1807, married Jane Cooper) → 6. John Casbon (born about 1832, married Rebecca Ann Speechly) → 7. Thomas Casbon (born 1854, married Elizabeth Pettifor) → 8. Charles Arthur Casbon (born 1880, married first, Grace Parker; second, Eliza Kate Harvey; third, Ethel Wright).

Wedding portrait of Charles Arthur Casbon to his second wife, Eliza Kate Harvey, 1915; courtesy of Charles “Tony” Casbon

Charles broke with the family tradition and became a baker instead of a gardener. He served as a horse keeper (groom) for the Army Veterinary Corps and rose to the rank of Corporal during World War I.[4]

I have only limited information on Charles’s children, all of whom are now deceased. Joseph Arthur Casbon joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and achieved a high position within the church. Leslie David Casbon was headmaster of a British School in Ethiopia and started the British International School in Cairo, Egypt. He was awarded the Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (M.B.E.) and later the Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.), the latter presented by the Queen during a state visit to Ethiopia.

Although the chart ends with the ninth generation, William Caseborne’s descendants now extend to at least thirteen generations, many of whom now have the Casbon surname.


[1] 1851 England census, Huntingdonshire, Colne, ED 13, p. 3, line 23; imaged at Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=8978 : accessed 11 Jan 21) > Huntingdonshire >Holywell Cum Needingworth >ALL >District 13>image 3 of 17; citing The National Archives, HO 107/448.
[2] “England and Wales Death Registration Index 1837-2007,” database, FamilySearch https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2NLY-2KB : accessed 31 Dec 2014); citing General Register Office (Southport), vol. 3B/160.
[3] Church of England, Littleport Parish (Cambridgeshire), Bishop’s transcripts for Littleport, 1599-1857; browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-892X-H3Y1 : accessed 13 Sep 2016) image 511 of 872.
[4] Discharge documents for Charles Arthur Casbon, service no. 3283, 12 Apr 1919; database and images, Findmypast (http://search.findmypast.com/record?id=gbm%2fwo363-4%2f7266171%2f141%2f1926 : accessed 12 March 2017); citing The National Archives, series WO 363.

William Caseborne of Littleport and His Descendants, Part 1

Happy New Year from Our Casbon Journey!

The Casbon families living in present-day England come from two separate lineages. My line can be traced back to the vicinity of Meldreth, Cambridgeshire from the late 1600s to early 1700s. A separate line that I have labeled the “Peterborough Casbons”—because several generations settled and grew up in the vicinity of Peterborough, Northamptonshire in the mid-1800s—can be traced back to Littleport, a large village about five miles north of the cathedral city of Ely.

Interactive map showing relative locations of Littleport and Meldreth in Cambridgeshire (Google Maps)

In today’s post I will review the earliest known records of this line and trace the line forward to modern times.

The earliest records of the Casb___ surname in Littleport are of the marriage of “William Jhonson” to “Elsabeth Casburn” on 8 July 1612 and the burial of “Robert Casborne Widower” on 29 February 1620.[1] There is a 66‑year gap before another record appears, this being the baptism of “William son of Wm & Alice Casborne” on 4 November 1687.[2]

The baptismal record of “William, son of Wm & Alice Casborne” at Littleport, 4 November 1687 (FamilySearch, Littleport Bishop’s Transcripts) (Click on image to enlarge)

Because of the absence of details as well as gaps in the records, it is impossible to know whether or how William Casborne (also spelled Caseborne), the father, is related to Elsabeth or Robert from the earlier part of the century. However, a continuous line of descent can be traced from William to the present-day Peterborough Casbons.

The origins of William and Alice are not recorded. Given the timing of their son William’s birth, it is likely that they were married in 1686. However, the records for that year are missing.

The baptisms of four more children of William and Alice are recorded: Alice (1692), Thomas (1695), John and Mary (both baptized and buried in 1699).[3] William’s—the father—burial is recorded at Littleport’s St. George parish church on 5 September 1699.[4]

The first four generations of William’s known descendants are summarized in the chart below. Only the marriages of female descendants are shown, as the chart is intended to show the continuation of the family surname.

Outline descendant chart of William Caseborn of Littleport, Cambridgeshire; numbers before each name denote the generation, with each generation represented by a different color (Littleport Bishop’s Transcripts; UK, General Register Office; assorted parish records) (Click on image to enlarge)

I can’t guarantee the accuracy of this chart. For example, Sarah Lee (line 16 of the chart) might have been married to William, baptized in 1716 (line 5) instead of William, baptized 1721 (line 15). However, no baptisms of children to William and Sarah are recorded, so a mistaken connection might be of little consequence. Researchers should review the records and draw their own conclusions.

From the chart, it appears that only Thomas, baptized 1776, and Ann, baptized 1778, had descendants beyond the fourth generation. However, it’s possible that some descendants departed from Littleport and continued their family lines elsewhere. For example, Abraham Casebourn, of Downham Market, Norfolk—only ten miles north of Littleport—had several children, born between roughly 1763 to 1775. He could well be the same Abraham who was baptized in Littleport in 1738, but there is insufficient documentation to prove a connection. It’s possible that he has living descendants today, although their surname must be something other than Casbon.

The line of descent from William to the present-day Casbons is as follows: 1. William Caseborn (married Alice _____) → 2. Thomas Caseborn (baptized 1695, married Ann Kendale) → 3. Thomas Casborn (baptized 1732, married Mary Diamond) → 4. Thomas Casborn (baptized 1776, married Ann Dolby) → 5. Thomas (born about 1807, married Jane Cooper).

The next post will follow the line of descent from generation 5, Thomas (baptized 1807) through 9.


[1] “England Marriages, 1538–1973 “, database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NN1M-D9F : accessed 3 Jan 2021), Elisabeth Cas… in entry for Wm. Jhonson, 1612. “England Deaths and Burials, 1538-1991”, database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:JZCR-8NB : accessed 3 Jan 2021), Robert Casborne, 1620.
[2] England, Cambridgeshire, Bishop’s Transcripts for Littleport, 1599–1857 (with gaps); browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/004034506?cat=976859 : accessed 4 Jan 21) >image 194 of 872; citing FHL film, item 1.
[3] England, Cambridgeshire, Bishop’s Transcripts for Littleport, 1599–1857 (with gaps); images 199, 201, and 213 of 872.
[4] England, Cambridgeshire, Bishop’s Transcripts for Littleport, 1599–1857 (with gaps); image 213 of 872.

Iowa Airplane Tragedy

Sunday, June 8, 1941 was a beautiful day for a picnic at the farm rented and occupied by Claude Eldridge a few miles northeast of Waterloo, Iowa. Claude’s wife, Emma (Casbon), was a good cook and people tended to gather at their place on Sundays. This was going to be a special Sunday gathering, as Claude’s oldest brother, Clarence, was getting ready to move to Washington State. Many of Claude and Emma’s siblings were in attendance.

Among the guests were Emma’s sisters, Josephine (“Jo”) and Genevieve (“Gen”). Jo had been married to Christopher Kraft for three years. Their daughter, Dixie, was born in 1939. The young family was living at Claude and Emma’s house while Christopher worked on local farms. Gen was engaged to 28-year-old Walter Fox, who owned a radio repair shop in Waterloo.

Fox was eager to show off the new airplane he had purchased in partnership with another man just one week earlier. The plane was a 1938 Taylorcraft two-seater. Fox had obtained a student pilot’s license two years earlier and had done some solo flying. He flew the plane to a hayfield on the Harry Northey farm, just across from the Eldridge farm.

Detail from map of Black Hawk County, Iowa, with exploded view showing location of the Harry Northey farm in Bennington Township; source: Plat book of Black Hawk County, Iowa (Rockford, Illinois: W.W. Hixcon & Co., 1930); imaged at “Iowa Digital Library,” Iowa University Libraries (https://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/islandora/object/ui%3Ahixson_101) (Click on image to enlarge)

Walter took his fiancée for a ride shortly before noon. About 1:45 p.m., presumably after a picnic lunch, he took Christopher Kraft for a ride. While the families and guests watched, Walter performed loops over the nearby field. He was said to be coming in for a landing when something went wrong about 200 feet above the field. The plane plummeted down, hitting nose first before settling back down into a normal upright position. The Waterloo Daily Courier reported that “the impact broke the engine loose from its mountings; crumbled up the seating compartment, crushing the two occupants fatally.”[1]

The cheerful family gathering instantly became a scene of shock and grief.

Source: Waterloo (Iowa) Daily Courier, 9 Jun 1941, p. 1 (Newspaper Archive) (Click on image to enlarge)

Federal investigators were dispatched to the crash site. Their preliminary findings, reported three days after the crash, were critical of Walter Fox. He was said to have violated nine federal aviation regulations, including: flying without a pilot’s license (his student license had expired one year previously), flying with a passenger without the required license rating, flying acrobatically over an assembly of people, flying acrobatically with a passenger, and flying acrobatically below the minimum altitude.[2]

Eyewitnesses reported that Fox was “looping … at an altitude of less than 500 feet when he apparently lost control of the machine.”[3] Federal regulations prohibited acrobatic maneuvers at an altitude less than 1,500 feet and prohibited stunting with any passenger except a licensed flight instructor. The investigator stated that “not even a highly skilled pilot would have assumed he could loop safely with that type of plane at an altitude of 500 feet.”[4]

The report did not state whether these violations caused the crash. This would be determined later by Civil Aviation Board officials in Washington. (The report can probably be found in the National Archives, but is not available online and I haven’t investigated it further.)

Jo and her daughter Dixie continued to live in the Eldridge home until she bought a house in Waterloo. She got a job with the Rath meat packing plant and continued to work there for 30 years.[5] She married Owen Gray in 1945. They raised Dixie together and had another daughter. Jo died 5 August 2005 at the age of 95.[6] Gen also worked at the Rath packing plant and lived with Jo in Waterloo for some time. She married Robert L. Burman, a local farmer, at Waterloo on 26 August 1951.[7] Gen died on 28 January 2004.[8] She was 86 years old.

Most of the facts for this story were obtained from the articles in the Waterloo Daily Courier of 9–11 June 1941. I’m also indebted to Claudia Vokoun, daughter of Claude and Emma (Casbon) Eldridge, for additional details.


[1] “Plane Crash Probe Delayed: Two Killed as Ship Dives into Ground,” Waterloo (Iowa) Daily Courier, 9 Jun 1941, p. 1, col. 1; online image, Newspaper Archive (accessed through participating libraries: 10 July 2017).
[2] “Two-Death Crash Pilot Declared Breaking 9 Rules,” Waterloo Daily Courier, 11 Jun 1941, p. 6, col. 1; online image, Newspaper Archive (accessed 10 Dec 20).
[3] “Two-Death Crash Pilot Declared Breaking 9 Rules.”
[4] “Two-Death Crash Pilot Declared Breaking 9 Rules.”
[5] “Josephine ‘Jo’ E. Gray (1915-2010),” obituary, The (Waterloo, Cedar Falls, Iowa) Courier, 8 Aug 2010; html edition, (https://wcfcourier.com : accessed 4 May 2019).
[6] “Josephine ‘Jo’ E. Gray (1915-2010).”
[7] “Repeat Vows,” Waterloo Daily Courier, 27 Aug 1951, p. 8, col. 5; image, Newspaper Archive (accessed through participating libraries: 4 May 2019).
[8] “Genevieive [sic] Burman Obituary”, Kaiser Corson Funeral Homes, Inc (http://www.kaisercorson.com/obituary/Genevieve-R.-Burman/Denver-IA/152498 : accessed 17 March 2019).

Inventors

I recently discovered an interesting database called Espacenet. It is an online service for searching patents and patent applications. According to their website, “Espacenet offers free access to information about inventions and technical developments from 1782 to today.” I typed in “Casbon” to see what would happen. Lo and behold—several patents showed up! So, today’s post will recognize two inventors in the family.

The earliest patent dates from 1908 and is titled “Improvements in Safety Labels or Tags or Tag Attachments for Game, Parcels, or Horticultural or the like uses.” The applicant was “Charles Casbon of 5 Rathcole Gardens Hornsey in the County of Middlesex Gentleman.”[1]

In his application, Mr. Casbon explains that, previous to his design, “much labour and material has been expended in order to produce a safety tag which could not be torn from the article to which it was fastened and at the same time would bear the impress or imprint of the name or destination or description of the article.”[2] His improved tag is cut or stamped from a single piece sheet metal, consisting of a tag, a strap, and slots for securing the strap.

Charles Casbon’s design for a safety tag; Espacenet.com

I have written about Charles Casbon before. He was the son of Thomas Casbon (1840–1889) and Emily Cantrill (1846–1891) and was born at Peterborough, Northamptonshire
18 June 1866.[3] Thomas and Emily were legally separated in 1868 and Charles was raised by his mother. He became a professional photographer. Charles died in France, 6 August 1930.[4]

I don’t know what led Charles to design a new and improved method of producing safety tags. Perhaps it somehow related to his photography work. I also don’t know whether he profited from his invention in any way

The second inventor was William Casbon. His name appears on several patents dealing with gas an electric lights and heaters. The earliest of these was titled “Improvements in Incandescent Gas Burners” and was applied for in December 1915.[5] This was followed by applications for “An Appliance for Attaching Shades to the Holders of Electric Light Fittings,”[6] “Improvements in Inverted Incandescent Gas Burners,”[7] “Improvements in Atmospheric Gas Burners for Heating Purposes,”[8] and “Improvements in Incandescent Gas Burners,”[9] (apparently an improvement on the earlier patent of the same title). I also found a U.S. patent granted to Yagerphone Ltd. in 1929, listing William as the inventor of a tone arm for gramophones.[10]

William Casbon’s and Arthur James Dunkinson’s design for improvements in inverted incandescent gas burners; Espacenet.com
William Casbon’s design for a gramophone tone arm; Espacenet.com

Most of these patents gave the names of William Casbon and Arthur James Dunkinson as co-inventors. William described himself as a “gentleman.” Dunkinson’s occupation is written in one application as “General Foremen, Architects Department” for His Majesty’s Office of Works.[11]

Who was William Casbon? Although there were two adult men of that name living at the time of the patent applications, only one is the likely candidate for our inventor. He had a most interesting life. He was born at Meldreth in 1860, the son of William Casbon and Sarah West.[12] Based on census listings, his occupations included “railway signalman” (1881),[13] “baker” (1891),[14] “golf club manager” (1901),[15] and finally, in 1911, “catering.”[16] The latter occupation is understated, as William was serving as Superintendent of the Refreshments Department of the House of Lords. I believe William was also the man who sought a position as a footman in 1884.

I’m confident about William’s identity because of his relationship to his co-inventor, Arthur James Dunkinson. It turns out that Mr. Dunkinson was married to William’s niece, Emily Casbon, daughter of William’s brother, Walter. Emily was listed as a member of William’s household in the 1901 census, so she must have had a close relationship with her uncle.

I don’t know what William did for a living after retiring from the House of Lords position; I have found him listed is residential directories for both Hitchin, Hertfordshire—the location given in the patent applications—and in London. Perhaps he had residences in both locations. Nor do I know how he came to be interested in gas fixtures, electric lights and gramophones. He must have been a man of many interests and an active mind. He died in London 8 September 1939.[17]

It’s interesting that both Charles and William described themselves as gentlemen. In earlier times, the term gentleman referred to a particular social class, associated with the aristocracy, the right to bear arms, and perhaps with independent means. It was understood that manual laborers and tradesmen could not describe themselves as gentlemen. This meaning of the word seems to have become obsolete by the end of the 19th century, and anyone with sufficient means and good manners might be considered a gentleman.[18] Still, it seems odd that Charles and William chose to use the term rather than their professions as photographer and caterer. Perhaps they felt that it would give their patent applications greater standing.


[1] C. Casbon, patent certificate no. GB190803244A (27 Aug 1908); text and images, European Patent Office, database (http://ep.espacenet.com: accessed 8 Nov 2020).
[2] C. Casbon, patent certificate no. GB190803244A.
[3] Emily Casbon, Petition for judicial separation, 9 May 1868; image included in “England & Wales, Civil Divorce Records, 1858-1918,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/2465/ : accessed 1 Dec 20) >1868 >00781-00790 >00787: Casbon >images 7-8 of 9; citingThe National Archives; Kew, Surrey, England; Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes, later Supreme Court of Judicature: Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Files; Class: J 77; Piece: 84; Item: 787.
[4] Commune de Levallois-Perret, Saint-Denis, Seine, France, Extract du Registre des Acts de Décés pour l’année 1930 (death on 6-8-30 at Levallois-Perret of Chares Wheeley Cas[b]on); imaged at “UK, Foreign and Overseas Registers of British Subjects, 1628-1969,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/1993/ : accessed 1 Dec 20) >RG 32: Miscellaneous Foreign Returns, 1831-1969 >Piece 16: Miscellaneous Foreign Returns, 1927-1931 >image 209 of 716; citing The National Archives, RG 32/16.
[5] W. Casbon, A.J. Dunkinson, patent certificate no. GB191517089A (30 Nov 1916); text and images, European Patent Office, database (http://ep.espacenet.com: accessed 8 Nov 2020).
[6] J. Doble and W. Casbon, patent certificate no. GB109706A (27 Sep 1917); European Patent Office, database (http://ep.espacenet.com: accessed 8 Nov 2020).
[7] W. Casbon and A.J. Dunkinson, patent certificate no. GB107359A (28 Jun 1917); European Patent Office, database (http://ep.espacenet.com: accessed 8 Nov 2020).
[8] W. Casbon and A.J. Dunkinson, patent certificate no. GB126818A (22 May 1919); European Patent Office, database (http://ep.espacenet.com: accessed 8 Nov 2020).
[9] W. Casbon and A.J. Dunkinson, patent certificate no. GB151393A (30 Sep 1920); European Patent Office, database (http://ep.espacenet.com: accessed 8 Nov 2020).
[10] W. Casbon, assignor to Yagerphone Ltd., patent certificate no. 1,713,419 (U.S.A., 1929); European Patent Office, database (http://ep.espacenet.com: accessed 8 Nov 2020).
[11] W. Casbon, A.J. Dunkinson, patent certificate no. GB191517089A.
[12] Transcript of birth registration, William Casbon, mother’s maiden name West, GRO reference 1860 S[eptember] Quarter, Royston, vol. 3A/205; found at “Search the GRO Online Index,” database, HM Passport Office (https://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/certificates/indexes_search.asp : accessed 1 Dec 20).
[13] 1881 England census, Derbyshire, Breadsall, p. 2, schedule 9, William Caskan in household of Joyce Bailey; imaged as “1881 England Census,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/7572/ : accessed 1 Dec 20) > Derbyshire >Breadsall >ALL >District 11 >image 3 of 24; citing The National Archives, RG 11/3393/67.
[14] 1891 England census, London, St. George Hanover Square, Mayfair, ED 14, p. 20, schedule 56, William Caston in household of William Bryceson; imaged as “1891 England Census,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/6598/ : accessed 1 Dec 20) > London >St George Hanover Square >Mayfair >District 14 >image 13 of 42; citing The National Archives, RG 12/69.
[15] 1901 England census, Hertfordshire, Chorleywood, ED 11, p. 19, schedule 136; imaged as “1901 England Census,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/7814 : accessed 1 Dec 20) >Hertfordshire >Chorleywood >ALL >District 11 >image 20 of 24; citing The National Archives, RG 13/1322.
[16] 1911 England census, Westminster, St. Margaret & St. John, ED 24, schedule 10; imaged as “1911 England Census,” Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=2352 : accessed 1 Dec 20) > London >St Margaret and St John >St Margaret and St John >24 >image 76 of 227; citing The National Archives, RG 14/489.
[17] “England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995,” database with images, Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1904 : accessed 1 Dec 20) > 1944 >Cable-Dziegielewski >image 36 of 395; Wills and Administrations, 1944, p. 70, entry for William Casbon.
[18] Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Edition, “Gassendi, Pierre” to “Geocentric,” Vol. 11, Slice 5, “Gentleman”; downloaded as EPUB, Project Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/37282 : accessed 1 Dec 20).

A Minor Mystery Solved

A more appropriate title for this post might have been “The Many Wives of James Casbon.” However, I’ll stick with the current title because it was finding the answer to the “minor mystery” that prompted me to write the post.

This is a cautionary tale. The caution is that one should be very careful about trusting “facts” that are listed in online family trees unless the evidence supporting those facts is documented and credible. In this case, the facts in question are the identities of the women who were married to James Casbon (~1813–1884).

When I did a search on Ancestry for James, listing his parents as Isaac and Susannah (Howes) Casbon, I found that he was included in 66 family trees. Six different women were named as his wives in these trees. Some trees only listed one of them while others listed up to five. A few of the trees simply said “unknown spouse”—a safe and reasonable approach. Several of the trees were private, meaning the names of James’s wives could not be viewed. Here are the names of the women, in order of frequency, in those trees I was able to view.

Elizabeth Waller             26 trees
Mary Cooper                   17 trees
Mary Payne                       7 trees
Mary Harper                     5 trees
Mary Jackson                    5 trees
Ann Mitch                         5 trees

How many of these women did James actually marry and which ones? I can say with confidence that only three marriages have been documented. I have copies or extracts of the marriage records of James to Elizabeth Waller in 1835,[1] Mary Jackson in 1866,[2] and Mary Payne in 1876.[3] There is no evidence that James married Mary Cooper, Mary Harper, or Ann Mitch. In the family trees where they are listed, no sources are provided other than other family trees. One could posit that James married another woman in the interval between Elizabeth’s death in 1852 and his marriage to Mary Jackson in 1866, but there are no records to support this (and no children born during this time listing James as the father).

Census and birth/baptism records show that all of James’s children were born to either Elizabeth Waller or Mary Jackson. (Alice Casbon’s birth in 1871 is not registered but given that it occurred just one month after the arrival of James and Mary in America, there is no reason to believe that anyone besides Mary Jackson was her mother.)

The marriage of record of James Casbon to Elizabeth Waller at Meldreth, Cambridgeshire, 25 July 1835; Meldreth parish records (Click on image to enlarge)
The marriage record of James Casbon and Mary Payne, Porter County, Indiana, 15 January 1876; Porter County Public Library (Click on image to enlarge)

So how did these other women come to be listed as James’s wives? There are several possible reasons. In the case of Ann Mitch, it is a matter of mistaken identity. There were two men named James Casbon in the early 1800s, both born in Meldreth, Cambridgeshire. One was born 7 September 1806.[4] He was the first cousin of the James of this post. The elder James married Ann Hitch (whose name has been incorrectly transcribed as Mitch in both Ancestry and FamilySearch) at Steeple Morden, Cambridgeshire on 15 December
1827.[5] Ann died in 1833 after bearing James one child (Alfred Hitch Casbon). It can be easy to make mistakes in family trees when two people have the same name. Although the younger James would have been only about 14 years old when the marriage to Ann Hitch occurred, some family historians have gotten around this discrepancy by assuming that there was only one man named James. However, this is not supported by later census records.

The case of Mary Cooper is harder to explain. James’s older brother William married a woman named Mary Cooper in 1829.[6] My best guess is that the name of William’s wife was incorrectly attached to James in a family tree and the incorrect information was passed on to others.

That brings me to Mary Harper. Where did the name come from? This was the minor mystery I learned the answer to this week.

I was updating some of my documentation and came upon the marriage license application of James’s and Mary (Jackson’s) daughter Alice Hannah Casbon to her second husband, Charles Hicks. Alice and Charles applied for the license at Starke County, Indiana on 4 March 1936 and were married the same day.[7] The application requests the names of the bride and groom’s parents. Alice wrote “Mary Harper” as her mother’s maiden name.

The marriage license application of Alice (Casbon) Edwards to Charles Hicks, 4 March 1936, Starke County, Indiana; FamilySearch (Click on image to enlarge)

This naturally raises the question: Wouldn’t Alice know her own mother’s name? In fact, there is good reason for her not to. Her mother died before Alice was 5 years old, and probably much earlier than that. (The date of Mary (Jackson’s) death is not recorded). Her father, James, died when Alice was 13. Mary Payne, her stepmother, might not have known the correct maiden name. Alice might have been told incorrectly that her mother’s surname was Harper or she might have misremembered what she was told.

At any rate, it appears that Alice herself was the source of the misinformation that was included later in family trees.

As I said earlier, one must be very careful about accepting genealogical “facts” at face value. Once incorrect information is made available in an online family tree, others might copy it to their own tree and it takes on a life of its own. A useful rule of thumb is to carefully review the source attributed to any “fact” in an online tree. If there are no sources attached or the only source is another family tree, one should not accept the fact as proven unless more reliable sources can be found.

Unfortunately, I must confess that I am one of the guilty parties here. I saw the names of Mary Cooper and Mary Harper in family trees many years ago and included them in my own tree. I even included them as possible wives in my first blog post about James in 2016. When I posted my tree to Ancestry I was still a relative beginner at genealogy and did not yet understand the need for careful source documentation or how easily misinformation could be spread. I kept the names in my tree for much longer than I should have after realizing that I had no evidence to support them. It’s likely that others copied the information from my tree and perpetuated the misinformation. I am much more diligent now.


[1] Cambridgeshire, England, Meldreth Parish, Register of marriages (1813–1867), p. 34, no. 100, 25 Jul 1835; accessed as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007567609?cat=210742 : accessed 29 August 2017), image 363 of 699; citing FHL microfilm 1,040,542, item 8.
[2] “Stretham Marriages 1558 – 1952,” PDF extract, Cambridge Family History Society (https://www.cfhs.org.uk/tokens/tokpub.cfm : downloaded 2 September 2017), >Casben >Stretham >Stretham Marriages 1558 – 1952, 3 Nov 1866; citing Stretham (Cambridgeshire) parish records.
[3] Indiana, Porter County, Marriage Record, vol. 4 [Sep 1871-Jan 1875], p. 348, 8 Jan 1876; browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/005014495?cat=608739 : accessed 8 Apr 2020) > Film # 005014494 >image 693 of 928.
[4] Cambridgeshire, England, Meldreth Parish, Register of baptisms (1806–1812), baptisms 1807; accessed as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/search/film/007567609?cat=210742 : accessed 28 April 2017), image 137; citing FHL microfilm 1,040,542, item 3.
[5] “England Marriages, 1538–1973 ,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:N2QC-7QV : accessed 19 October 2015), James Casbon and Ann Mitch, 15 Dec 1827; citing FHL microfilm 990,377.
[6] Cambridgeshire, England Melbourne Parish, Bishop’s transcripts for Melbourne, 1599-1847, (marriages beginning 1814) unnumbered page, no. 160, Wm Casbon & Mary Cooper, 14 Mar 1829; browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007672882?cat=1109075 : accessed 12 Jul 2016) >image 529 of 682; citing FHL microfilm 2,358,010, item 2.
[7] Indiana, Starke County, marriage records, v. 10 (June 1934-January 1937), pp. 392–3, marriage license application; imaged in ” Marriage records, 1850-1957″, browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007742312?cat=574765 : accessed 27 Mar 19) > image 392 of 716; citing FHL film 2447544, item 3.