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.

James Casbon, Farmer and Carrier, 1806-1871, Part 1

James Casbon of Meldreth (~1772-1833) had only one son, also named James, who is the subject of today’s post. He was born September 7, 1806 and baptized September 28 in the same year.[1]

Detail from Meldreth Bishop’s Transcripts, showing birth and baptismal dates for James Casbon, 1806 (Click on image to enlarge)

He was a first cousin to my third great grandfather, Thomas (b. 1803), and the nephew of Thomas’ father Isaac.

There is so much interesting information about James that I decided to break his story into more than one post. Of course, as always, I have more questions than answers.

The first record I have after his baptism is his marriage in 1827 to Ann Hitch, in Steeple Morden, a village about 6 miles west of Meldreth.[2]

Marriage record of James Casbon and Ann Hitch (Click on image to enlarge)

James and Ann had one child, Alfred Hitch Casbon, whose middle name was the subject of a recent post. Ann died 1833 in Meldreth, leaving James with their five-year-old son.[3]

James remarried soon thereafter, on August 22, 1834, to Susanna Hayden Sanders.[4]

Marriage record of James Casbon and Ann Hitch (Click on image to enlarge)

This record is most interesting because of the location: the parish of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, a famous church in Westminster, London.

“St.Martin’s Church from Charing Cross” engraved by J.Woods, published in Woods Views in London .., 1837; image courtesy of ancestryimages.com (Click on image to enlarge)

The question I have is, what was James doing in London? The marriage record says that both he and his bride were “of this parish.” This phrase usually means the individual(s) had resided in the parish for at least three weeks.[5] I can’t answer this question, unless it was related to James’ occupation as a carrier (more about this in the next post). His bride Susanna was not from London either, so her presence there is also unexplained.

There is another noteworthy detail from both of James’ marriage records. He did not sign with his mark, suggesting that he could read and write. This sets him apart from many if not all of the other Casbons in Meldreth.

Another logical question is, how do I know this is the right James? That will also be the topic of another post. For now, suffice it to say that there is a strong chain of evidence supporting my conclusion that the James Casbon who married Susanna Hayden Sanders in London is the same one born in Meldreth in 1806.

The next record I have of James is the 1841 census of England and Wales.[6]

Detail from 1841 Census, Meldreth Parish (Click on image to enlarge)

There are several interesting things to learn from this census record. First note that James’ age is reported as 34 and Susanna’s as 33. Census enumerators weren’t required to use exact ages in 1841. In fact, they were instructed to round ages between 30 and 34 down to 30.[7] Apparently the enumerator ignored the instructions. The “yes” on the far right of each page indicates that they were born in the “same County,” in this case Cambridgeshire. In Susanna’s case, this is incorrect. I have good evidence that she was born in Hertfordshire.[8]

We can see that by 1841, James and Susanna already had a sizeable family, including Hitch, age 12, from James’ previous marriage. The other children were: John, age 6; George, 5; Ann, 3; and Martha, 1.

What I find most interesting about this census is James’ occupation of Farmer. This term has a distinctly different meaning than Agricultural Labourer. A farmer either owned the land, or more likely was a tenant of the landowner.[9] Farmers hired Agricultural labourers, who were paid with wages or perhaps a share of crops. A farmer had at least some security because he had certain rights to the land and its proceeds. The agricultural labourer was at the mercy of the farmer and did not have guaranteed employment.[10]

James was clearly better off socially and financially than the other Meldreth Casbons at that time. This is supported by another detail in the 1841 census. The final name listed in James’ household is Martha Smith, age 19. The initials “F.S.” under profession, etc. stands for female servant.[11] The fact that James could afford to have a servant puts him in a different league compared to his “Ag. Lab” Casbon cousins.

This raises yet another question: how did James acquire this status? I don’t know the answer, but I recently became aware of a clue.

The Meldreth History web site has an informative article about the enclosure of Meldreth in 1820.[12] Enclosure (or inclosure) was a legal process by which previously open fields were closed off and allotted to individual owners.[13] Enclosure resulted in dramatic shifts in agricultural and labor practices. The Meldreth article provides a link to a transcript of the Award Book for the Meldreth enclosure.[14] This document details how the enclosure was to be accomplished and spells out individual land allotments, much like modern land titles.[15]

One entry in the 1820 Award Book is a copyhold allotment to James Casbourn.[16] The allotment is for “one acre three roods and twenty nine perches.” Copyhold is a term that goes back to the Middle Ages, and it means that the individual, or copyholder, is a tenant of the landowner, with specific rights and duties.[17] The copyhold allotted to James Casbourn was heritable, meaning it could be passed from father to son (or other legal heir).[18]

Who was the James Casbourn of the Award Book? According to my records, there was only one living adult named James Casbo[ur]n in the Meldreth area in 1820: James (1772-1833), the father of this post’s subject. As his only son, James, born in 1806, would almost certainly have been the heir and inheritor of the copyhold.

I don’t know this for a fact, and if correct, it still leaves the question of how and when the copyhold was granted to a member of the Casbon family. This information might be contained in the records of the (“Sheene”) manor, but I don’t have access to those records at this time.

James’ domestic life was shaken by tragedy when his second wife Susanna died in 1850. She was buried in Meldreth on March 29th of that year.[19] The cause of her death is unrecorded. By this time, two more daughters had been born: Sarah Sanders, born about 1844; and Fanny S., born about 1846.[20],[21] Once again, James was a single parent.

The next post will pick up where this one left off.

[1] Parish of Meldreth (Cambridgeshire), “Bishop’s transcripts for Meldreth, 1599-1862,” James Casbon baptism, 28 September 1806; browsable images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C9T9-NFMB?i=270 : accessed 5 November 2015).
[2] Parish of Steeple Morden (Cambridgeshire), “Bishop’s transcripts for Steeple-Morden, 1599-1855,” James Casbon – Ann Hitch marriage, 15 December 1827; browsable images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C9T9-CT2T?i=326&cat=110868 : accessed 4 August 2016).
[3] Parish of Meldreth (Cambridgeshire), Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877, Ann Carsbourn burial (1833); FHL microfilm 1,040,542.
[4] “Westminster Marriages”, images and transriptions, Findmypast (http://www.findmypast.com : accessed 17 January 2017), James Casbon – Susanna Hayden Sanders (1834); citing City of Westminster Archives Centre.
[5] Fawne Stratford-Devai, “English & Welsh Roots – Parish Records in England and Wales,” GlobalGenealogy.com, 11 June 1999 (http://globalgenealogy.com/globalgazette/gazfd/gazfd28.htm : accessed 19 January 2017), para. 17 [“1754”].
[6] 1841 Census of England and Wales, Cambridgeshire, Meldreth, p. 9 (stamped), James Casbon; image, Findmypast (http://www.findmypast.com : accessed 4 August 2016); citing [The National Archives], HO 107, piece no. 63, Book no. 19, folio no. 9, p. 12.
[7] Guy Etchells, “Directions 1841: Respecting the manner in which Entries may be made in the Enumeration Schedule,” 2005; Rootsweb (http://freepages.history.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~framland/census/1841directions.htm : accessed 19 January 2017), para. 11.
[8] “Hertfordshire Baptisms”, images and transcriptions, Findmypast (accessed 17 January 2017), Susnah Hayden Sanders (1808).
[9] “Agriculture and the Labourer,” Cambridgeshire History (http://www.cambridgeshirehistory.com/People/agriculturallabourers.html : accessed 19 January 2017), para. 31.
[10] “Agriculture and the Labourer,” Cambridgeshire History, para. 6.
[11] Etchells, “Directions 1841 … ,”Rootsweb, para. 15.
[12] Kathryn Betts, “Enclosure in Meldreth, 1820,” Meldreth History (http://www.meldrethhistory.org.uk/page/enclosure_in_meldreth : accessed 19 January 2017).
[13] “Enclosure,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org: accessed 19 January 2017), rev. 06:32, 17 Jan 2017.
[14] Arnold Stanford, transcriber, “Inclosure Act 1820 Meldreth Award Book,” 2014; PDF, Meldreth History (http://www.meldrethhistory.org.uk/documents/Meldreth_Award_Book_complete2.pdf ; accessed 19 January 2017)
[15] “England Enclosure Records, Awards, Maps, Schedules (National Institute),” FamilySearch Wiki (https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Enclosure_Records,_Awards,_Maps,_Schedules_(National_Institute) : accessed 19 January 2017), rev. 20:38, 4 Sep 2014.
[16] Stanford, transcriber; “…Meldreth Award Book,” p. 12, James Casbourn Copyhold Allotment; Meldreth History.
[17] “Copyhold,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org: accessed 19 January 2017), rev. 13:47, 3 December 2016.
[18] “Copyhold,” Wikipedia.
[19] Meldreth parish (Cambridgeshire), Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877, Susannah Casbon burial (1850); FHL microfilm 1,040,542.
[20] “England & Wales births 1837-2006,” database, Findmypast (http://www.findmypast.com : accessed 29 October 2015), birth entry for Sarah Casbon; citing Birth Registration, Royston, Hertfordshire, England, 2nd quarter, 1844, vol. 6, p. 610.
[21] “England & Wales births 1837-2006,” Findmypast (accessed 2 August 2016), birth entry for Fanny Casbon; citing Birth Registration, Royston, Hertfordshire, England, 1st quarter, 1846, vol. 6, p. 591.

Without a Hitch

What would you say is this first name?

Don’t feel bad if you don’t know. One of the major online genealogy organizations didn’t know either. Here’s a screen shot of how the record was transcribed in FamilySearch.

https://familysearch.org/search/record/results?count=20&query=%2Bgivenname%3Ajitel~%20%2Bsurname%3Acasbon~ : accessed 11 January 2017 (Click on image to enlarge)

Did you think the name was “Jitel”?

So, what is FamilySearch? Here’s what the entry in Wikipedia says:

FamilySearch is a genealogy organization operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was previously known as the Genealogical Society of Utah (or “GSU”) and is the largest genealogy organization in the world. FamilySearch maintains a collection of records, resources, and services designed to help people learn more about their family history. FamilySearch gathers, preserves, and shares genealogical records worldwide. It offers free access to its resources and service online at FamilySearch.org.[1]

FamilySearch is the website I used the most for genealogy research. It’s easy to use, has millions of records, and it’s free. I also have a paid subscription to Findmypast, and I use a version of Ancestry at my local library. According to one source, as of January 1, 2017, FamilySearch had 2,180 historical record collections online containing 1.2 billion searchable documents and 5.57 billion searchable names; Ancestry had 32,795 databases with over 19 billion records; and Findmypast had 2,049 databases with over 2.0 billion records.[2] In addition, there are many other companies and organizations that provide online genealogy data, either for free or by paid subscription.

Where and how do these genealogy websites get their data? They purchase or borrow it from archives and repositories. These data sources exist at the national, state, and local levels. Some belong to governments, some belong to private organizations. In the case of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they have copied and microfilmed vast quantities of records and stored them in a massive vault dug into the side of a mountain.

Most if not all of these archives consist of paper records. In order to make them available online the information in them has to be converted to searchable digital information. The process for doing this is referred to as indexing. At a minimum, indexing requires someone to transcribe the data from individual records and enter them into a database. Most often the records are scanned or photographed so that a digital image is created. Then someone transcribes the information into a database.

Records that are typed or printed might be scanned with optical character recognition (OCR) software. But OCR is not able to read handwritten records, so they must be transcribed by hand. FamilySearch relies on volunteers to do their indexing. I’ve done some indexing for FamilySearch. It can be challenging trying to read older styles of handwriting. Often the records are badly damaged from water, fire, sunlight, age, insects, etc.

Ancestry sends much of their data to other non-English speaking countries for transcription. Although they have good quality control mechanisms in place, you can see where errors might arise when non-native speakers try to interpret handwriting.

I’ve gone into this rather detailed explanation to try to make a couple points: 1) online genealogy databases are only as good as the quality of the indexing. This is not a criticism of the online providers – they provide a wonderful service and have made research much easier than the days when you had to visit the actual data repositories for research. 2) There is no substitute for being able to view the actual record, or at least a digital image of the record.

Which brings me back to the entry for “Jitel” Casbon. I originally found this entry when I was using FamilySearch to find descendants of James Casbon (1806-1871), son of James (“James Casbon of Meldreth (~1772-1833)”). This particular transcription is contained in a database called “England and Wales Non-Conformist Record Indexes (RG4-8), 1588-1977.” The index was “created by The National Archives in London as an online access to digital images created from the original records.”[3] Whoever transcribed the records for The National Archives came up with the name “Jitel.”

What is a nonconformist? In England, these are considered to be “people who did not belong to the established church,” i.e., the Church of England.[4] More specifically, in these records, nonconformists are members of other non-Anglican protestant denominations. “Jitel’s” parents (James and Ann) were nonconformists.

As you can see from the screenshot above, the FamilySearch entry did not have access to an image of the actual record. At the time, this was the only information I had, so I entered “Jitel” into my genealogy software program, hoping to get access to the actual record someday.

That day came this week, when I repeated my search in Findmypast, looking for anyone with the surname Casbon born between 1826 and 1830. It turns out that Findmypast has a collection named “England & Wales Non-Conformist Births and Baptisms.” Unlike FamilySearch, this collection includes digital images of the actual records from the National Archives. Here’s the record that turned up in my search.[5]

(Click on image to enlarge)

Also unlike FamilySearch, whoever indexed the record for Findmypast correctly transcribed the first name as “Hitch.” Can you see it?

Because of the handwriting, I can also see how the indexer for FamilySearch would have interpreted the first part of the “H” as a “J,” and the “ch” as “el.” The second part of the “H” looks like a small “l” to me. I might have transcribed it as “Jlitel.”

What kind of a name is “Hitch”? Well, it turns out that the child’s full name was Alfred Hitch Casbon. Hitch was his middle name. His mother’s maiden name was Ann Hitch. It was common at the time to use a family surname as a middle name. It was also common to use middle names or nicknames when registering births.

Of course, once I had access to the original record, and knowing the mother’s maiden name, it was easy to recognize the word “Hitch.” But without that information, it’s easy to see how a transcriber could make a mistake.

Another mystery solved. I’ll have more information about Alfred Hitch Casbon in a future post.

[1] Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.org : accessed 10 January 2017), “FamilySearch,” rev.14:26, 29 December 2016.
[2] Randall J. Seaver, “Genealogy Industry Benchmark Numbers for 1 January 2017,” Genea-Musings, 1 January 2017 (http://www.geneamusings.com/2017/01/genealogy-industry-benchmark-numbers.html : accessed 10 January 2017, items 1, 2, and 9.
[3] FamilySearch Wiki, (https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_and_Wales_Nonconformist_Record_Indexes_(RGA_4-8)_,1588-1977_(FamilySearch_Historical_Records) : accessed January 12 2017); “England And Wales Nonconformist Record Indexes (RGA 4-8) ,1588-1977,” rev. 13:00, 26 Oct 2016.
[4] “Nonconformists” (2017), The National Archives (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/nonconformists : accessed 12 January 2017).
[5] “England & Wales Non-Conformist Births and Baptisms”, transcriptions and images, find my past (http://findmypast.com : accessed 10 January 2017), entry for Hitch Casbon; citing The National Archives (U.K.) reference RG4/155.