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.

James Casbal of Therfield

Much of today’s post is based on supposition. I will try to distinguish between firm conclusions and those based on weaker evidence.

Our story begins with a marriage that took place 23 November 1778 in the village of Therfield, Hertfordshire. James Casbal, a cordwainer (shoemaker) and bachelor, married Sarah Crouch, a spinster (unmarried woman).[1]

Excerpt from Therfield parish records, showing marriage of James Casbal and Sarah Crouch, 23 November 1778 (Click on image to enlarge)

The marriage record tells us that both James and Sarah were from the parish of Therfield. We can also see that both signed with their mark, an indication of some degree of illiteracy. Therfield is a small village in Hertfordshire, located about 2 ½ miles southwest of Royston, and more importantly, about 6 miles from Meldreth, Cambridgeshire. Meldreth is the ancestral home of many of the today’s Casbons, Casbans and Casbens.

Detail of a map of England showing southern Cambridgeshire (green), northern Hertfordshire (red, bottom center), and adjacent counties; the relative locations of Meldreth, Therfield, and Litlington are indicated; adapted from John Cary, “A new map of England, from the latest authorities” (London: John Cary, 1809); downloaded from David Rumsey Map Collection (davidrumsey.com); Creative Commons License

The marriage of James and Sarah is the first instance where “Casbal” or related surnames appear in Therfield records, so we can make a safe assumption that James was not born there. Casb—l was an early variant of the Casbon surname and appears in various parish records during the late 1700s. Members of the Crouch family had been living in Therfield for several generations.

James and Sarah had a daughter, Ann, who was baptized at Therfield 24 January 1780.[2] However, the birth apparently caused Sarah’s death, since her burial was recorded on
21 January.[3]

James was soon remarried, this time to Martha Crouch, on 13 August 1780.[4] Sarah and Martha were probably cousins. James and Martha had a daughter, Lydia, who was buried on 24 October 1782, just 10 days after her baptism.[5]

Lydia’s burial marks the last record of this family in Therfield. This suggests that the family might have moved to a different location.

I believe that location was Litlingon, Cambridgeshire. Litlington is another small village, located about 3 ½ miles north of Therfield and 4 ½ miles from Meldreth (see map, above). Litlington parish records reveal that James Causbell, a shoemaker, was buried there on 31 August 1804.[6]

Burial record of James Causbell; detail from Litlington parish registers, 1804 (Click on image to enlarge)

Although I can’t be certain, the fact that he was a shoemaker provides circumstantial evidence that James of Litlington was the same man who was married at Therfield in 1778. There just weren’t that many men with that surname or its variants and I have been able to account for most of the others.

Where did James come from? I believe he was the son of John (about 1721–1796) and Ann (Chamberlain) Casborn of Meldreth. We have met John before. Born in Orwell, he served his apprenticeship in Meldreth and presumably stayed there for the rest of his life. He was also appointed as the parish clerk in his later years. John is one of the earliest identified ancestors of many of today’s living Casbons (also Casbans and Casbens). John and Ann had two sons named James; the first died in infancy. The second was baptized at Meldreth
6 November 1748.[7]

Detail from Meldreth parish registers showing the baptism of James Casbull in 1748 (Click on image to enlarge)

It is notable that John Casborn was also a cordwainer. This is part of the reason I believe James of Therfield to be his son. The other reason is that I can find no other records—no burial or marriage record—of James in Meldreth. My theory is that James learned the shoemaking trade from his father and then moved to Therfield, where he was married and started a family. He moved to nearby Litlington some time before his death in 1804. Unfortunately, his age is not given in the burial record, so this cannot be used as another point of comparison.

There is one other piece of evidence that supports the theory. It is the record of baptism for James Causbell at Litlington 29 March 1819.[8]

Detail from Bishop’s Transcripts, Litlingon Parish, Cambridgeshire, 1819, showing the baptism of James Causbell 29 March 1819 (Click on image to enlarge)

The record tells us that James was the “baseborn [illegitimate] son” of Ann Causbell. The father’s name is not given, but other records suggest that his name was Thomas Taylor, a labourer. Remember that James of Therfield had a daughter named Ann from his first marriage. The fact that the child’s name was James is also significant. Traditionally a first son would be named after the father’s father and the second son would be named after the mother’s father. But this was not a hard and fast rule, and in the case of illegitimacy, using the mother’s father’s name would be understandable.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any other records relating to Ann or her son James, so their story ends in 1819. Nor have I been able to find any other records of James’s (of Therfield) second wife, Martha.

It’s a circumstantial case, but I think it’s reasonable to believe that the men named James Casbal/Causbell of Therfield and Litlington, and the child baptized as James Casbull at Meldreth in 1748 are the same person. If so, he would have been the brother of Thomas Casbon (about 1743–1799), my fifth great-grandfather.

[1] Hertfordshire, Therfield Parish, Register of Marriages, 1778, p. 27, no. 112; imaged as “Hertfordshire Banns & Marriages,” Findmypast (https://search.findmypast.com/search-world-Records/hertfordshire-banns-and-marriages : accessed 15 Feb 2017).
[2] “England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/1473014 : accessed 19 Mar 2020).
[3] Hertfordshire, Therfield Parish, general register, “Burials 1780”; imaged as “Hertfordshire Burials,” Findmypast (https://search.findmypast.com/search-world-Records/hertfordshire-burials : accessed 15 Feb 2017).
[4] “England Marriages, 1538-1973,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/1473015 : accessed 19 Mar 2020).
[5] Hertfordshire, Therfield Parish, general register, “Burials 1782”; imaged as “Hertfordshire Burials,” Findmypast (https://search.findmypast.com/search-world-Records/hertfordshire-burials : accessed 15 Feb 2017).
[6] Cambridgeshire, Litlington, Bishop’s Transcripts, 1804; browsable images, “Bishop’s transcripts for Litlington, 1599-1864,” FamilySearch (catalog) (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007561135?cat=976865 : accessed 19 Mar 2020) >DGS Film no. 007561135 >image 186 of 460.
[7] Parish of Meldreth (Cambridgeshire, England), General Register Volume P118/1/1 [1682–1782], n.p. (baptisms 1746-50), James Casbull, 6 Nov 1748; accessed as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007567609?cat=210742 : accessed 29 August 2017) >DGS film no. 007567609 >image 110 of 699.
[8] Cambridgeshire, Litlington, Bishop’s Transcripts, baptisms, 1819; browsable images, “Bishop’s transcripts for Litlington, 1599-1864,” FamilySearch (catalog) (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007561135?cat=976865 : accessed 19 Mar 2020) >DGS Film no. 007561135 >image 231 of 460.

Back to the future—the book is finished!

My entire year has been devoted to writing a family history about the Casbon family—specifically the American branch of the family with English origins. I’m happy to say the book has gone to press and is now available by a private link to the Lulu.com website.

Screenshot of the book’s product page on Lulu.com

Since my main intention in writing the book has been to share my research with living descendants, I’m selling it using a private link to the Lulu.com website. It does not appear using the website’s search function (or Google, for that matter). This also ads a layer of privacy protection, since the book includes names and birth dates of living people. Anyone interested in purchasing a copy can contact me through the Contact section of this blog and I’ll be happy to send the link.

That’s all I will say for now. Writing and self-publishing the book has been quite a learning experience. I will provide details of the process in upcoming blog posts. I’m happy to be back and looking forward to working on the blog again!

Welcome to ‘Our Casbon Journey’!

This is the first post of what I hope will be many. Our Casbon Journey is primarily a family history blog, dedicated to everybody with the Casbon family name. I’m including Casban and Casben as closely-related variants, since many of them share common ancestors with Casbons.

According to Forebears.com, as of 2014, our surname is the 594,917th most common in the world. There are approximately 365 people with this surname, most of whom live in the United States (286) and England (75). That would put us between the Asiatic Lion and the Northern Right Whale if we were an endangered species![1] Forebears.com also says there were only 49 Casbans (Indonesia!, England) and 31 Casbens (Australia) in 2014.

Most, but not all of us, are related (i.e., a connection through common ancestors can be shown). Even if not related, many of us can trace our ancestry to Cambridgeshire and nearby parts of East Anglia in England. Most of my research has involved my family line, which can be traced to the vicinity of Meldreth, a small village near Cambridge, as early as the 16th century. Along the way, I’ve encountered other branches from nearby locations.

Here’s a diagram of my Casbon ancestors going back to the early 18th century. Earlier than that, it gets more difficult to prove who is descended from whom.

my-ancestry-chart_28902667393_o(Click on image to enlarge)

My personal ancestry journey began in the early 1990s. after my father received an offer in the mail to purchase The World Book of Casbons, along with a family crest and a mailing list of other Casbons. He bought the book and started contacting Casbons located in the USA, England, and Australia. I got involved a short while later, bought some early genealogy computer software, and started doing research on my own. I’ve been at it off and on ever since.

My goal is to share what I have learned, in the hope that some of my enthusiasm will rub off on my readers, and that they will want to learn more about their origins. I’ll be writing a lot about my branch of the family, but I intend to write about other branches as well. I hope others will feel welcome to contribute comments and posts about their own families, whether we are related or not. Who knows, maybe we’ll find a connection!

Part of my inspiration for this blog has come from meeting other Casbons on the Casbon Family and Casbon Family History facebook groups. Since there are so few of us, it has been great way to find others outside of my immediate family. I hope these groups will continue to grow, so we can keep up to date with the various Casbon ‘clans.’

So…let the journey begin!

[1] “Endangered Species Statistics.” (2015). Statistic Brain http://www.statisticbrain.com/endangered-species-statistics/ [accessed 7 Sep 2016]