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.
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)
Casburn, Caseb(o)urn(e), Cawsb(o)urn(e)
Casboll, Casbone, Casbolt
Great Abington (4)
Little Wilbraham (4)
Casbold(e), Cas(t)bolt, Catsbold
Stow cum Quy (2)
Wendy cum Shingay (1)
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!
–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.
I have written about James Casbon (~1813–1884) many times, but most of my focus has been on his later years in England, his emigration to the United States, and his children who grew up there. However, he lived most of his life in England and had a large family there by his first wife, Elizabeth Waller. I have never told the stories of James’s and Elizabeth’s children. They would have been adults by the time James departed from England with his second family (wife, Mary, and their children) in 1870.
Technically, James’s living descendants in the United States—some of whom I know and correspond with—are closer in kinship to their English cousins than they are to me, since I am descended from James’s brother Thomas.
I’ll begin with a brief review of James’s and Elizabeth’s lives in England. James’s birthdate is not recorded, but from census records, it seems that he was probably born at Meldreth, Cambridgeshire in 1813 or 1814. Elizabeth Waller was born at Meldreth 11 September 1815 and baptized 15 October of that year, the daughter of William and Sarah (Johnson) Waller. James and Elizabeth were married at Meldreth 25 July 1835. Elizabeth died of consumption (tuberculosis) 16 August 1852 at the age of 36. James’s whereabouts after her death are unknown until he appears in the vicinity of Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, sometime in the 1860s. He married his second wife, Mary Jackson, at Stretham, Cambridgeshire, in 1866.
The immediate aftermath of Elizabeth’s death is unknown, but there is reason to believe that it had a catastrophic effect on the family. At least two of the children, and probably more, ended up at the local workhouse, a destination reserved for destitute families and paupers. By 1861, the first census after Elizabeth’s death, there is no trace of the family as a unit. Only one of the children can be found in that census with certainty. By then, many of them would have been old enough to enter the workforce, so it is not surprising that they cannot be found together. However, it is odd not to find them at all.
Here is a chart showing James, Elizabeth, and two generations of their descendants, followed by biographical sketches of their children.
William Casbon (~1836–unknown)
I held off on writing this post until I knew the answer to the two-William problem. Now that I have the answer, I can be more confident in what I say about James’s eldest son, William.
The only certain records we have of William are the 1841 and 1851 censuses of Meldreth and Melbourn, respectively. His age is given as 5 in 1841 and 15 in 1851, giving an estimated birth year of 1836. The 1851 census also tells us that William had already entered the workforce as an agricultural labourer.
After the 1851 census, the trail for William goes cold, or at least cool. I have found a few records that might pertain to him. The first is in a collection known as the “1861 Worldwide [British] Army Index” (Findmypast.com). The collection includes a record for William Casbon, a private assigned to the 1st Battalion 20th (East Devonshire) Regiment of Foot in Gorakhpur, India. I think this was probably James’s son, especially since he does not turn up elsewhere in the 1861 England census. Given the likely disruption of the family following his mother’s death, it’s plausible that William could have enlisted in the Army, perhaps after a stint in the workhouse.
There are two more interesting records. The first is the baptismal record of William Casbon, son of William Casbon and Lydia Lovely, at Whaddon (a village 1 ½ miles from Meldreth) in 1867 (no date given). The child appears to have born out of wedlock in about 1860, based on his name being listed as William Lovely, age 11, in the 1871 census. It’s plausible but not possible to prove that James’s son William was the father.
The second record is an 1869 criminal court record describing the conviction of Eliza Bacon, age 29, for “feloniously marrying Robert Bacon, her husband William Casbon being alive.” This record might also refer to our William, but there is insufficient information to connect it to him with certainty. I have been unable to find any record of marriage or death for William.
Sarah Casbon (~1837–unknown)
The oldest daughter of James and Elizabeth, Sarah was baptized at Meldreth 8 October 1837. She appears in the 1841 and 1851 censuses and then disappears from view. She would have been 14 years old when her mother died. I haven’t been able to find any further marriage, death, or census records for Sarah.
Lydia (Ann) Casbon (~1840–1885)
Lydia was baptized at Meldreth 20 December 1840. She married, at Chester, Cheshire, 28 August 1859, Daniel Cross. What was Lydia doing at Chester, more than 140 miles from Meldreth? One can surmise that she had found a position of some kind there, either as a servant or dressmaker (her occupation in the 1861 census). The parish marriage record gives Lydia’s father’s occupation as “farmer.” This was an exaggeration, since James was an agricultural labourer, a far cry from one who farmed his own land.
Lydia and Daniel had one son, William, born in 1867. Although I have not traced the family any further, it is evident from other Ancestry family trees that William had a large family. Thus, it is likely that Lydia and Daniel have living descendants today. Lydia’s burial is recorded at Chester on 8 May 1885.
Mary Casbon (~1841–unknown)
Mary was baptized at Meldreth 19 December 1841. Like several of her siblings, she disappears after the 1851 census. Given her age at the time of her mother’s death—about 11 years old—she might have spent some time in the Royston Union workhouse. While researching for this post, I came upon an 1861 census listing for Matilda Casbin, age 19, housemaid at a private home in Westminster St. Martin in the Fields, London. Matilda’s birthplace is listed as Meldreth, Cambridgeshire. Given the last name, the birthplace, the fact that there are no other records for Matilda Casbon, and no other Casbons of that approximate age from Meldreth who are unaccounted for, I think this could be Mary.
In 1878 Thomas married Sarah Ann Wyers, a former domestic servant from Mepal, Cambridgeshire. The couple had eight children—all but one of them boys—ensuring continuation of the family name. Thomas worked as an agricultural labourer and lived the remainder of his life at Brangehill (possibly a farm), near Sutton, Cambridgeshire. His death was registered in October 1924. He was 80 years old.
George Casbon (1846–1897)
George was born at Meldreth 28 November 1847 and baptized 16 March the following year. George was sent to the Royston Union workhouse, probably shortly after his mother’s death. I wrote about him recently, describing his arrest and brief imprisonment for running away and stealing clothes from the workhouse. I have found entries in the 1861 census listing for the Royston workhouse that I believe are for George and his younger brother, John. They are represented by the initials “C.G.” and “C.J.” (last initial/first initial) on the census form.
I believe he can be also found in the 1871 census as “George Carswell,” age 24, birthplace Meldreth, Cambridgeshire, residing in the Army barracks at Stoke Damerel, Devonshire. This suspicion is supported by the description of George’s occupation in the 1881 census as “formerly a soldier.”
George married Sarah Pearse in 1881 and the couple settled in Fowlmere, a small village about 3 miles from Meldreth. He was listed there as a farm labourer in 1891. George and Sarah had a son and four daughters. Notably, all four of the daughters became domestic servants, one of the few options available to girls from the lower classes. One of these daughters, Hilda Mary Casbon (1887–1921), being unmarried, gave up her son, George, for adoption. George was later shipped to Canada as one of thousands of “British Home Children.”
George, the subject of this sketch, died at Fowlmere 18 October 1897 at the age of 51.
John Casbon (1849–1935)
John was born at Meldreth 10 February 1849, three years before his mother’s death. I believe he was also sent to the Royston Union workhouse, where he is listed as “C. J.” in the 1861 census. In the 1871 census, he is listed as an agricultural labourer at Meldreth. In 1890 he married Sarah Pepper, a local woman who previously worked as a servant and cook in London. John and Sarah lived on Drury Lane in Melbourn, Cambridgeshire, for their entire married lives and had no children. By 1911, his occupation was listed as “shepherd.” John died in 1935 and Sarah in 1938.
Emma Casbon (1851–1853)
Emma’s birthdate is not recorded, but her age was recorded as 2 years old when she died of “fever” at the Royston Union workhouse on 4 November 1853.
Her baptismal record of 13 August 1852—three days before her mother’s death—is marked “Private,” meaning the ceremony was performed somewhere besides the parish church—most likely at home. Given the timing, this was probably done so that her terminally ill mother could be present at the ceremony, perhaps as a dying wish. The location of Emma’s death—the workhouse—is the most visible and poignant indication of the consequences of Elizabeth’s death. Without his wife, James, a poor labourer, no longer had the resources to care for his family. We don’t know when or how many of James’s children were admitted to the workhouse, but in Emma’s case, it was probably quite soon after Elizabeth’s death.
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England, General Register Office (GRO), death registration (unofficial copy), Royston & Buntingford/Melbourn, 1852, no. 117; PDF copy, author’s collection.  “Stretham Marriages 1558 – 1952,” PDF extract, database, Cambridgeshire Family History Society (https://www.cfhs.org.uk/tokens/tokpub.cfm : downloaded 2 September 2017), >Casben >Stretham >Stretham Marriages 1558 – 1952, James Casben & Mary Jackson, 3 Nov 1866; citing Stretham (Cambridgeshire) parish records.  “British Army, Worldwide Index 1861,” database, Findmypast (https://www.findmypast.com/transcript?id=GBM%2FSOLIDX%2F00170082 : accessed 11 Nov 2016).  “England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NBFC-TLQ : 6 December 2014).  1871 England census, Cambridgeshire, Bassingbourn, ED 4, p. 13 (65 stamped), schedule 60, William Lovely in the household of John Willshire; imaged at Ancestry ((https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/7619 : accessed 29 Sep 20) >Cambridgeshire >Bassingbourne >ALL >4 >images 13-4 of 26; citing The National Archives, RG 10/1361.  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