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 ( (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.

Was my Third Great Grandfather a Convicted Thief?

Sometimes there are long gaps in records, especially for people who lived before censuses were taken. You might only have records for birth (or baptism), marriage, and death (or burial)—commonly referred to as “BMD” records, with no information about what happened in the intervals between these major life events.

Such is the case with my third great grandfather, Thomas Casbon. Thomas was born November 3, 1803 in Meldreth, Cambridgeshire. He married Emma Scruby October 9, 1830 in nearby Melbourn. The 27-year gap between his birth and marriage is a silent period in Thomas’ life.

Or at least it was.

Here’s an interesting record I found on the Findmypast website:[1]

(Click on image to enlarge)

This is a register of criminal court proceedings for Cambridgeshire held in the year 1822. I’ve marked the pertinent items. Thomas Casborn was tried during the October Sessions, convicted of larceny, and sentenced to seven years’ transportation. Sessions were courts that met quarterly to try a variety of civil and criminal offenses.[2] They were generally held in the county seat – in this case, Cambridge.

The sessions were also reported in the local newspaper:[3]

Cambridge Chronicle, 25 Oct 1822; Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive ( (Click on image to enlarge)

I’ve included the entire article, as I think readers might find it interesting, but here is the paragraph in question.

(Click on image to enlarge)

There are a couple of interesting terms in this report: harvest home – a festival traditionally celebrated on the Sunday nearest the harvest moon in late September or early October;[4] haulm – “the stems or tops of crop plants (such as peas or potatoes) especially after the crop has been gathered.”[5]

You can see that Thomas’ surname was spelled Casburn in this report. Was he my ancestor? Spelling of surnames was still highly fluid at that time, so minor variations do not rule out anyone with a similar name. The fact that the stolen watch was located in Bassingbourn possibly points to “my” Thomas, because Bassingbourn is quite close to Meldreth. (Thomas’ father Isaac and mother Susanna (Howes) were married in Bassingbourn in 1800.[6]) But this is weak evidence at best.

To complicate matters further, there were quite a few men named Thomas, with similar surnames, living in Cambridgeshire at the time. These included the names Casborn, Casbourn, and Casburn. As a matter of fact, if you read the entire Cambridge Chronicle article, you will see that another man named Thomas Casburn was charged with disturbing the peace in the parish of Burwell. (The Casburn spelling is strongly associated with Burwell.) How can we tell if the man convicted of larceny was my ancestor?

Fortunately, there are other records that help to narrow down the field.

(Click on image to enlarge)

This is a partial page from a register of prisoners on the convict hulk Leviathan.[7] A hulk was a decommissioned ship used as a floating prison.[8] Masts, rigging, and other components necessary for sailing were removed, rendering the ships unseaworthy, but still able to float.[9] They were used to house prisoners in England from 1776 until 1857, when the practice was finally banned.[10] Many convicts were placed on hulks temporarily, while awaiting transport on convict ships to Australia and other Commonwealth lands. But a few served their entire sentence aboard the hulk.

HMS Leviathan was first launched as a 74-gun ship of the line in the British Navy in 1790. She fought in the battle of Trafalgar. She was decommissioned and converted to a prison ship in 1816, and anchored in Portsmouth harbor.[11]

Prison Hulks in Portsmouth Harbour, oil on canvas, Daniel Turner; © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London (Click on image to enlarge)

The register of prisoners shows that Thomas Casborn was the 6,072d prisoner registered on the ship’s book. He was one of four prisoners brought aboard from Cambridge on October 31, 1822. All four were convicted of grand larceny (“G.L.”) and received seven-year sentences. If you look back at the Cambridge Chronicle article, you will find the other three names. All except Thomas were transported to New South Wales (“N.S.W” in the last column) on May 8, 1823. Thomas served his entire sentence aboard the hulk and was discharged October 18, 1829. I believe the reason Thomas was not transported is that this was his first offense.[12] The other three men were repeat offenders.[13]

Most importantly, this register shows that Thomas was nineteen years old at the time of his conviction. This gives him a birth year of about 1803 and helps us to narrow down the list of men who might have been Thomas. I can only find two potential candidates:

  • Thomas Casbon, my third great grandfather, and
  • Thomas Casburn, baptized October 3, 1802 in Burwell, Cambridgeshire.[14]

There were also Thomases baptized in 1792 and 1808, but these are too far outside the margin of error to be listed as nineteen years old in 1822.

So, the list is down to two. But which one was the prisoner on the Leviathan? I needed more information.

With a little research, I learned that the records of the Cambridge Quarter Sessions are maintained at the Cambridgeshire Archives. I emailed the Archives, along with a copy of the news clipping, to see if they could tell me anything more about Thomas Casborn who stole the silver watch. I received this polite reply on October 4th.

I have looked at the Quarter Sessions order book for 1822-1826 (ref QSO/14) and there is indeed an entry for the trial and conviction of Thomas Casborn. There is no personal information about him other than that he was “late of the parish of Melbourn [my emphasis].” This may help you identify whether this is the Casborn you are searching for or not.[15]

He also mentioned that other supporting papers for the October 1822 sessions are located in the archives, but to access these I would have to hire a professional researcher for a fee. These papers might contain additional background information about Thomas Casborn, but they might not. I’m hoping to visit the archives myself in a couple years, so I decided to forego the professional researcher.

Besides, I think the information I received answered my question. Thomas Casborn, the convict, was from the parish of Melbourn. The parishes of Melbourn and Meldreth are next-door neighbors, and my ancestors lived in both at one time or another. As I mentioned already, “my” Thomas was married at Melbourn. There are no records of other men named Thomas with this surname living in or near Melbourn at the time.

Have I proved that “my” Thomas was the man convicted of larceny in 1822? I think the evidence is pretty strong. What do you think?

It might sound like I’m celebrating the fact that I’m related to a thief. Although it does add a bit more color to the family history, I think what I’m really celebrating is that I’ve been able to link my ancestor to these records, and because of that I now have a more complete picture of his life.

What was life like for Thomas on the hulk? Some generalities can be made. Prisoners were required to do hard labor at the dockyards or river banks.[16]

This work was backbreaking, exhausting and very public; convict chain gangs provided a moral spectacle and example for all who saw them. The rations … were inadequate, in that they did not provide the convicts with the energy or nutrition required to perform such arduous work. This was done on purpose – the parliamentary act authorizing the use of hulks stipulated that convicts were to be fed little other than bread, “any coarse or inferior food”, water and small beer.[17]

Discipline was said to be severe and convicts were frequently locked in irons. Mortality rates were high, although this does not seem to be the case on the Leviathan.[18] Of the 444 prisoners brought onto the Leviathan in 1822, only eight died while in captivity.[19]

These would be considered extreme and inhumane conditions by today’s standards. In Thomas’ time, harsh punishments were the norm, although criticism of the hulk system did occur.[20]

© The British Library Board (Click on image to enlarge)

I have another set of records from the Leviathan, known as Quarterly Returns. These list the prisoners on board at any given time, and they include entries about prisoners’ “Bodily State” and “Behavior.” Most of Thomas’ entries list his bodily state as “good” and behavior as “very good.” However, in 1827 his behavior was listed as “indifferent.”[21] After five years imprisonment, this would not be surprising. In 1828 and 1829, his behavior was once again “very good.” Perhaps by then he was seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

How does this change how I think of and feel about my third great grandfather? I don’t know if I have an answer. I never knew him, so everything I know about him is based on limited information. Now I know that he committed a criminal act, when he was old enough to know better, and was punished accordingly. Did he “learn his lesson” after serving his sentence? It would seem so. He married Emma Scruby one year after his release from the Leviathan. After another sixteen years he was somehow able to come to the United States, where his family was able to prosper in ways that would have been impossible in his mother country. There is nothing to suggest he was anything but a model citizen after coming to America. The balance sheet seems to be in his favor.

Nothing of this has been passed down in our family history that I know of. Who knew about it? His wife Emma would have surely known. The children, who ranged in age from thirteen to two years old when they emigrated, might have had an inkling. If they did know, it seems that they kept it to themselves.

His conviction and imprisonment on the Leviathan must have influenced his decision to emigrate. By coming to America he was able to put the past behind him and start over with a clean slate.

[1] “England & Wales, Crime, Prisons & Punishment, 1770-1935,” database with images, Findmypast (subscription site) ( : accessed 26 September 2018), entry for Thomas Casborn, October Sessions, 1822, Cambridge; citing The National Archives, HO 27, piece 23.
[2] “England Quarter Session Records,” FamilySearch Wiki ( : accessed 10 October 2018), rev. 26 Dec 15, 02:53.
[3] “Cambridgeshrire Quarter Sessions, October 18 and 19, 1822,” Cambridge Chronicle and Journal, and Huntingdonshire Gazette, 25 Oct 1822, p. 3, col. 4; online image, The British Newspaper Archive ( : accessed 26 September 2018).
[4] “British harvest: how long does the season last, when is harvest day, plus history and traditions,”Countryfile Magazine ( : accessed 11 October 2018), 9 Aug 2018.
[5] “haulm,” Merriam-Webster ( : accessed 11 October 2018).
[6] “England Marriages, 1538–1973 ,” database, FamilySearch ( : accessed 4 November 2015), Isaac Casbill and Susannah Howes, 15 Oct 1800; citing; FHL microfilm 1,040,367.
[7] “HO 9. Convict hulks moored at Portsmouth: Portland, Captivity, Leviathan: Register of prisoners,” p. 213 (stamped); PDF download, The National Archives ( : accessed 10 October 2018). (file HO-9-8_1.pdf).
[8] “List of British prison hulks,” Wikipedia ( : accessed 10 October 2018), rev. 31 Aug 18, 08:44.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] “HO 9. Convict hulks moored at Portsmouth: Portland, Captivity, Leviathan: Register of prisoners,” p. 145 (stamped).
[13] Ibid, pp. 154, 163 (stamped).
[14] “England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” database, FamilySearch ( : accessed 10 October 2018), Thomas Casburn; citing FHL microfilm 887,403.
[15] Alan Akeroyd (, to Jon Casbon, email, 4 Oct 2018, “Cambs quarter sessions, October 1822”; privately held by Casbon [(e-address for private use)].
[16] “Convict Hulks,” digital panopticon ( : accessed 11 October 2018).
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Jon Casbon, review of Leviathan prisoner register, cited above.
[20] “Convict Hulks,” digital panopticon, previously cited.
[21] “England & Wales, Crime, Prisons & Punishment, 1770-1935,” database & images, findmypast ( : accessed 26 September 2018), quarterly returns from Hulk Leviathan, Mar 1827, p. 192 (stamped), no. 6072, Thomas Casborn; citing The National Archives, HO 8, piece 11.


CHATTERIS, a parish and market town in the hundred of North Witchford, in the county of Cambridge, 26 miles N.W. of Cambridge, and 7 S. of March. It is a station on the Ely and Peterborough railway, and is situated on the river Ouse. Alwina, wife of Athelstan, and niece of King Edgar, founded a convent of Benedictines about a.D. 980, which was in Henry VIII’s. reign wholly suppressed. The place is mentioned in Domesday Survey under the name of Cateriz, or Cetriz. Tho living is a vicarage in the diocese of Ely, val. £1,500, in the patron. of W. Hawkins, Esq. The church, dedicated to SS. Peter and Paul, is a handsome edifice. … The town was made a market town in 1834; and a court-leet and petty sessions are held here. The Bishop of Ely is lord of the manor. A large number of Roman coins and curious relics have been found at various times, and not many years since part of the skeleton of an elephant.[1]
OS map 16 1903 Detail from Ordnance Survey of England and Wales, Sheet 16, 1:253,440, 1903. Chatteris is near the top of the map. This work incorporates historical material provided by the Great Britain Historical GIS Project and the University of Portsmouth through their web site A Vision of Britain through Time ( (Click on image to enlarge)

Partial map of England showing approximate area encompassed by detail map, above; adapted from Google Maps™ (

In my wanderings through various online archives, I discovered a number of Casbon entries from the parish of Chatteris. The name first appears in the 1851 census with an entry for Sarah Casbon, age 30, and her four children.[2] It turns out that this is a misspelling of their correct surname, Casburn, which appears in almost every other available record. The Casburn spelling is strongly associated with the parish of Burwell in Cambridgeshire. It turns out that Sarah’s husband, John Thomas Casburn, was born in Burwell.[3] He served as the butler to the principal landowner and member of Parliament for Chatteris.[4] I have not found any connection between the Casburns of Burwell and modern-day Casbons.

But then, the Casbon spelling pops up again in three separate entries in the 1881 England census.[5],[6],[7]

Details from 1881 England Census, Chatteris, Cambridgeshire (Click on images to enlarge)

These 3 entries show respectively: Lester (misspelled) Casbon and his family; Harry Casbon in the home of Emma Allpress; and Harriet Casbon and her children, Rosa, Mary A, Harriet and Arthur, in the home of Ann Weaton. We can see that Lester is listed as the head of his household. Harry is Emma Allpress’ grandson, and Harriet is Ann Weaton’s daughter. It will take some backtracking to show how they are related.

It starts with a man named John Casbon, who married Emma Taylor in 1841.[8] John was a cordwainer, or shoemaker.[9] John and Emma had three children: Lester, born in 1842;[10] Sarah Ann, in 1844;[11] and John, in 1846.[12] Later census records tell us that all three children were born in Colne, Huntingdonshire (see map above). John, the father’s, death at age 30, was registered in 1848.[13] I haven’t found any record of John’s birth or birthplace, so the trail goes cold there.

After John’s death, Emma married a man named John Allpress.[14] The expanded family appears in the 1851 census, living in Somersham, Huntingdonshire (see map above).[15]

Detail from 1851 census, Somersham, Huntingdonshire (Click on image to enlarge)

Lester, Sarah Ann, and John are all shown with their surname spelled Casbey.

Sometime before 1861, John and Emma Allpress moved from Somersham to Chatteris.[16] Emma’s sons, Lester and John, raised their families and remained in Chatteris the rest of their lives. Daughter Sarah Ann is lost to follow up after 1861, although I have an intriguing theory about her fate (teaser for a future post!).

Lester married Julia Ann Mould, a Chatteris native, in 1871.[17] Lester and Julia had the following children:

Elizabeth Ann, born 29 Jan 1872[18]
Charles William, born 1 Sep 1873[19]
Emma, born 14 August 1873[20]
Alfred Lester, born 1880, died 1880[21],[22]

Lester and his entire family are seen in the 1881 census entry, above. Lester died in the Chatteris area in 1925; his wife Julia had died one year earlier.[23]

John married Harriet Davis, also a Chatteris native, in 1868.[24] They had the following children:

Rose Ann, born 1868[25]
Mary, born 1871[26]
Harriet, born 1874[26]
Arthur, born 1878[27]
Harry, born 1882[28]
William, born 1887[29]

John’s wife, Harriet, is seen in the 1881 census, above. John’s whereabouts in the 1881 census are unknown, but he is present with the rest of the family in subsequent censuses. John and his wife Harriet both died (probably) in 1931.[30],[31]

To the best of my knowledge, none of the male descendants had children of their own, so there are no living Casbon-surname descendants of this branch of the family. However, there are likely many descendants from Lester and John’s married daughters. My father corresponded with a descendant of Rose Ann (Casbon) Foster, 20+ years ago. If any descendants are reading this post, I hope they will contact me.

Since I haven’t been able to trace the origins of Lester and John’s father, I don’t know whether or how this branch of the Casbon-surname family is connected to other branches of the family. Burwell is a potential point of origin, considering that many records use the Casburn spelling. There is also a strong geographic connection to the Peterborough Casbons. Thomas Casbon (~1776–1855), was living about 5 miles from Chatteris in 1812, and was living in Colne, Huntingdonshire (where Lester, John, and Sarah Ann were born in the 1840s) in 1851.[32],[33] His son, Thomas (1807–1863), lived in Warboys, about 5 miles from Colne, in 1841, before moving to Peterborough.[34] His wife, Jane, was born in Chatteris.[35] DNA testing would be necessary to determine whether the Chatteris and Peterborough branches are related.

The observant reader will note that I have not discussed Harry Casbon, shown in the 1881 census, above, with his grandmother Emma (Casbon) Allpress. He is not the son of either Lester or John. Who does that leave? I will save his story for a future post.

[1] Adapted from: N.E.S.A. Hamilton, ed., The National Gazeteer of Great Britain and Ireland; or, Topographical Dictionary of the British Isles (London: James S. Virtue, 1868), vol. 3: 541; online image, Hathi Trust Digital Library (;view=1up;seq=91 : accessed 28 January 2018).
[2] “1851 Census of England,” database with images, Ancestry ( : accessed 25 January 2018), Sarah Casbon (age 30), Cambridgeshire, Chatteris, Wenney(?) End, schedule 65; citing The National Archives, HO 107, HO 107, piece 1765/337, p. 17.
[3] “1861 Census of England,” database with images, Ancestry ( : accessed 26 January 2018), John Casburn in household of John Dunn Gardner, Middlesex, St George Hanover Square, schedule 152, 122 Park St; citing The National Archives, RG 9/45/76/30.
[4] “1861 Census of England,” Ancestry, John Casburn in household of John Dunn Gardner.
[5] 1881 Census of England, population schedule, database with images, Ancestry ( : accessed 25 January 2018), Lecester Casbon, Cambridgeshire, Chatteris, Bridge St, schedule 23; citing The National Archives, RG 11/1689/34/5.
[6] “1881 Census of England,” Ancestry ( : accessed 27 January 2018), Harriet Casbon in household of Ann Weaton, Cambridgeshire, Chatteris, Bridge St., schedule 36; citing The National Archives, RG 11/1689/35/7.
[7] 1881 Census of England, Ancestry ( : accessed 25 January 2018), Harry Casbon in household of Emma Allpress, Cambridgeshire, Chatteris, Bridge St. schedule 35; citing The National Archives RG 11/1689/35/7.
[8] “England & Wales Marriages 1837-2008,” database, findmypast ( : accessed 13 Feb 2017), John Casbon & Emma Taylor, 3d quarter, 1841, St. Ives, Huntingdonshire, vol. 14/263.
[9] “Cambridgeshire Marriages,”database, findmypast ( : accessed 13 February 2017), John Casburn, father, in marriage of John Casburn & Harriet Davis, 19 Jul 1868, Chatteris, Cambridgeshire; citing transcription by Cambridge Family History Society.
[10] “Search the GRO [General Register Office] Online Index,” database, HM Passport Office ( : accessed 3 January 2018), birth, search terms: “Casbon” (or similar) “1842 +/- 2 years,” Lester Carbon, S[ep] qtr, 1841, mother’s maiden name Taylor, St Ives Union, vol. 14/197.
[11] “Search the GRO Online Index,” HM Passport Office (accessed 24 Jan 2018),birth, search terms: “Casbon” (or similar) “1844 +/- 2 yrs,” Sarah Ann Caston, S qtr, 1844, mother’s maiden name Taylor, St Ives Union, vol. 14/8.
[12] “Search the GRO Online Index” (accessed 24 January 2018),birth, search terms: “Casbon” “1846 +/- 2 yrs,” Casbon John, J[un] qtr, 1846, mother’s maiden name Taylor, St Ives Union, vol. 14/239.
[13] “Search the GRO Online Index” (accessed 4 January 2018), death, search terms: “Casborn” “John” “1848,” Casborn, John (age 30), M[arch] quarter, 1848, St Ives, vol. 14:178.
[14] “England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1837-1915,” database, Ancestry ( : accessed 29 January 2018), search terms: “Emma” “Cas*” “1850,” Emma Caseby, 2nd qtr, 1850, St. Ives, Huntingdonshire; citing General Register Office, London.
[15] “1851 Census of England, Wales & Scotland,” database with images, findmypast ( : accessed 11 November 2016).
[16] 1861 Census of England, population schedule, database with images, Ancestry ( : accessed 25 January 2018), Emma Allpress, Cambridgeshire, Chatteris, Slade End, schedule 51; citing The National Archives, RG 9/1043/34/8.
[17] “Cambridgeshire Marriages,” database, findmypast ( : accessed 13 February 2017), Lester Casburn (signs Casban) & Julia Ann Mould, 5 Jul 1871, Chatteris, Cambridgeshire.
[18] “Cambridgeshire Baptisms,” database/transcriptions, findmypast ( : accessed 30 January 2018), Elizabeth Ann Casburn, born 29 Jan 1872, baptized 25 Feb 1872, Chatteris, Cambridgeshire; citing transcriptions of parish records by Cambridge Family History Society.
[19] “Chatteris Baptisms 1600-1955,” database with transcriptions, accessed via “Ancestry Finder,” on Cambridgshire Family History Society ( : accessed 30 January 2018), search terms: “Casburn” “Chatteris” “Chatteris Baptisms 1600-1955, additional search terms: “Charles” “1873,” Casburn, Charles William, b. 1 Sep 1873, baptized 17 Apr 1878; citing parish records. This is a subscription web site that provides transcriptions of parish records in exchange for tokens which can be purchased.
[20] “Chatteris Baptisms 1600-1955,” accessed via “Ancestry Finder,” on Cambridgshire Family History Society ( : accessed 30 January 2018), search terms: “Casburn” “Chatteris” “Chatteris Baptisms 1600-1955, additional search terms: “Emma” “1878,” Casburn, Emma, b. 14 Aug 1877, baptized 17 Apr 1878.
[21] “Search the GRO Online Index” (accessed 20 January 2018), birth, search terms: “Casburn” “male” “1880,” Casburn, Alfred Lester, D[ec] qtr, 1880, N. Witchford, vol. 3B/544.
[22] “Search the GRO Online Index” (accessed 20 January 2018), death, search terms: “Casburn” “1880,” Casburn Alfred Lester D[ec] qtr, 1880, North Witchford, vol 3B/374.
[23] “Chatteris Burials 1600-1946,” accessed via “Ancestry Finder,” on Cambridgshire Family History Society ( : accessed 31 January 2018), search terms: “Casbon” “Chatteris” “Chatteris Burials 1600-1946,” Casbon Julia Ann (age 74), 12 Feb 1924, and Casbon, Lester (age 84), 13 Aug 1925; citing transcriptions of parish records by Cambridge Family History Society.
[24] “Cambridgeshire Marriages,”database, findmypast ( : accessed 13 February 2017), John Casburn & Harriet Davis, 19 Jul 1868, Chatteris.
[25] “Search the GRO Online Index” (accessed 25 January 2018), birth, search terms: “Davis” “Rose” “female” “1868,” Davis, Rose Ann, M[ar] qtr, 1868, North Witchford, mother’s maiden name (blank).
[26] “Search the GRO Online Index” (accessed 25 January 2018), birth, search terms: “Casbon” “female” “1872 +/- 2 yrs,” Casbon, Mary Ann, S[ep] qtr 1871 and Casbon, Harriet, M[ar] qtr 1874, North Witchford, mother’s maiden name Davis.
[27] “Search the GRO Online Index” (accessed 25 January 2018), birth, search terms: “Casbon” “male” (mother’s maiden name)“Davis” “1876 +/- 2 yrs,” Casbon, Arthur, S[ep] qtr, 1878, North Witchford.
[28] “Search the GRO Online Index” (accessed 25 January 2018), birth, search terms: “Casburn” “male” “1882 +/- 2 yrs,” Casburn, Harry, J[un] qtr, 1882, North Witchford, mother’s maiden name Davis.
[29] “Search the GRO Online Index” (accessed 25 January 2018), birth, search terms: “Casburn” “male” “1886 +/- 2 yrs,” Casburn, William, M[ar] qtr, 1887, North Witchford, mother’s maiden name Davis.
[30] “Search the GRO Online Index” (accessed 27 January 2018), death, search terms: “Casbon” “male” “1931,” John Casbon (age 88), M[ar] qtr, 1931, Peterborough, vol. 3B/286.
[31] “Search the GRO Online Index” (accessed 27 January 2018), death, search terms: “Casbon” “female” “1931,” Harriet Casbon (age 87), M[ar] qtr, 1931, Peterborough, vol. 3B/286.
[32] “England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” database, FamilySearch ( : accessed 15 Dec 2016), Sarah Caseben, 1812, Bluntisham cum Earith, Huntingdonshire; citing , index based upon data collected by the Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City, FHL microfilm 1,040,598.
[33] “1851 Census of England,” population schedule, database with images, Ancestry ( : accessed 31 January 2018), Thomas Casbon in household of William Harrop, Huntingdonshire, Colne, Church Lane, schedule 85; citing The National Archives, HO 107, piece 1749, folio 233, p. 20.
[34] “1841 Census of England, Wales & Scotland,” database with images, findmypast ( : accessed 31 March 2017), entry for Thomas Casbourn, Huntingdonshire, Warboys, Mill Green, line 1; citing [The National Archives], HO 107, piece 449, book 5, folio 25, p. 6.
[35] “1861 Census of Engand, Wales & Scotland,” database with images, findmypast ( : accessed 5 August 2016), entry for Jane Casbon in household of Thomas Casbon, Northamptonshire, Peterborough, Marquis Grandby, schedule 187; citing [The National Archives], enumeration district 12, RG 09, piece 966, folio 21, p. 35.

“a term of reproach …”

I was pleased when I got an email from the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) yesterday, informing me that they had purchased the online version of The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland. This book was published in 2016 and is the result of the FaNBI project (Family Names in Britain and Ireland), an ongoing research endeavor “building on foundations laid by previous scholars but using new methods, new principles, and new resources.”[1] The book has more than 45,000 entries, listing every name with more than 100 occurrences in the most recent (2011) UK census, and those with more than 20 occurrences in 1881.[2],[3] The print version of the book costs $600, so I was especially happy to have access to it though my NEHGS membership.

The first thing I did was look up Casbon (sorry, there were no entries for Casban or Casben). This is what it says:[4]

  • Current frequencies: GB 71, Ireland 0
  • GB frequency 1881: 44
  • Main GB location 1881: Cambs, Herts, and Northants [Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Northamptonshire]

(English) : see Casbolt.

In other words, there were 71 people with the Casbon name in Great Britain in 2011, and 44 in 1881. The 1881 geographic distribution matches my data, in which the main concentrations are Meldreth/Melbourn (Cambridgeshire), Barley (Hertfordshire), and Peterborough (Northamptonshire). I assume they used the 1881 geographic distribution because people were less likely to have migrated from their places of origin at that time.

Next, I looked at the entry for Casbolt, since the first entry directed me there. Here is a synopsis:[5]

Variants: Casburn, Casebourne, Casbon

  • Current frequencies: GB 133, Ireland 0
  • GB frequency 1881: 149
  • Main GB location 1881: Cambs

English: nickname from Middle English casbalde ‘bald head’, apparently a term of reproach: ‘Go home, casbalde with þi clowte’ [thy cloth] (about 1440 York Plays). [bold print for emphasis]

Well, what do you think of that? The geniuses at Oxford think our name comes from a nickname, a “term of reproach”! Actually, I think it’s pretty interesting – a great conversation starter.

The entry gives the following additional information:

This surname became highly variable in its second syllable, despite being strongly localized to E Cambs. The variants with -n- seem to have arisen in the SE of the Isle of Ely. There is no evidence that the modern name is ever from the place-name surviving in Casebourne Wood in Hythe (Kent), exemplified by John de Caseburn, 1275 in Hundred Rolls (Kent).[6]

I’m curious why the editors chose Casbolt as the principal spelling. It’s probably because it is/was the most common variant, edging out Casburn only slightly. In my research, Casbolt is strongly associated with the village of Linton, 11.5 miles due east of Meldreth. Casburn is strongly associated with the village of Burwell, about 18 miles northeast of Meldreth and 12.5 miles north of Linton. See my map of births & christenings in the UK at

So, was there once a bald man in Linton, whose descendants kept his nickname as their surname, and gradually migrated to surrounding villages? We’ll never know, but I find the concept appealing.

There are other theories about the origin of the name. One is the idea mentioned above, that our name is related to the place name of Casebourne Wood in Kent. This theory is expressed on The Internet Surname Database.[7] I agree that this explanation is unlikely. The geographic clustering in Cambridgeshire is too strong to support an origin in Kent. Ancestry says that Casbon is “French: probably a reduced form of Casabon, a topographic name meaning ‘house in good condition’.” This explanation might apply to the Louisiana Casbons (see The French Connection), but I don’t think we can apply it to those of us whose origins were in England.

I’ll stick with the bald man theory for now. After all, I have Oxford University to back me up.

[1] “The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland: Introduction,” Oxford Reference ( : accessed 27 April 2017).
[2] “The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland: Introduction.”
[3] “The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland,” Oxford Reference ( : accessed 27 April 2017).
[4] “The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names … Casbon,” Oxford Reference ( : accessed 27 April 2017).
[5] “The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names … Casbolt,” Oxford Reference ( : accessed 27 April 2017).
[6] “The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names … Casbolt.”
[7] “Last name: Casbon,” The Internet Surname Database ( : accessed 27 April 2017).