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,Mary Jackson in 1866, and Mary Payne in 1876. 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.)
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. 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. 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. 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. The application requests the names of the bride and groom’s parents. Alice wrote “Mary Harper” as her mother’s maiden name.
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.
 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.  “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.  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.  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.  “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.  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.  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.
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.
 Parish of Meldreth (Cambridgeshire, England), register of baptisms (1813–1867), p. 8, no. 57; accessed as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/search/film/007567609?cat=210742 : accessed 28 April 2017), image 201 of 699; citing FHL microfilm 1,040,542, item 5.  Parish of Meldreth, register of marriages (1813–1837), p. 34, no. 100; accessed as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007567609?cat=210742 : accessed 29 Aug 2017), image 363; citing FHL microfilm 1,040,542, item 8.  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.  Central Criminal Court Calendar of Prisoners in Her Majesty’s Gaol of Newgate, Third Session, Commencing Monday, 20th of September, 1869, p. 10, no. 20; imaged in “England & Wales, Crime, Prisons & Punishment, 1770-1935,” Findmypast (https://www.findmypast.com/transcript?id=TNA/CCC/CRIM9/015/28981/3), image 171 of 236.  Parish of Meldreth, register of baptisms (1813–1867), p. 49, no. 390.  Parish of Meldreth, register of baptisms (1813–1867), p. 54, no. 430.  Holy Trinity parish, Chester, Cheshire, England, p. 173, item 2; imaged as “Cheshire Diocese of Chester parish marriages 1538-1910,” Findmypast (https://search.findmypast.com/search-world-records/cheshire-diocese-of-chester-parish-marriages-1538-1910).  Parish of Christleton, Burials 1885, Refe. item 2,, p 15 Record group Part 1 – 1; imaged as “Cheshire Diocese Of Chester Parish Burials 1538-1911,” Findmypast (https://www.findmypast.com/transcript?id=GBPRS%2FD%2F767404785%2F1 :accessed 8 Nov 2016).  Parish of Meldreth, register of baptisms (1813–1867), p. 55, no. 437.  1861 England census, Middlesex, Westminster St. Martin in the Fields, Charing Cross, ED 10, p. 12, Matilda Casbin in the household of Lydia A. Knight; Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/8767 : accessed 1 Oct 20) >Middlesex >Westminster St Martin in the Fields >Charing Cross >District 10 >image 13 of 29.  England, General Register Office, birth registration (unofficial copy), certificate no. BCA205377, Royston & Buntingford district, Melbourne sub-district, no. 230, 20 Sep 1844; author’s collection. Parish of Meldreth, register of baptisms (1813–1867), p. 61, no. 487.  1871 England census, Cambridgeshire, Barrington, ED 2, p. 14, schedule 52; imaged as “1871 England Census,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/7619 : accessed 23 Aug 20) >Cambridgeshire >Barrington >ALL >2 >image 15 of 31.  “England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837–2005”, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2D5X-CWM: 13 December 2014).  “England and Wales Death Registration Index 1837–2007,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVH4-9L5F : accessed 25 September 2015); Ely, 3d qtr 1924, vol. 3B/144.  Parish of Meldreth, register of baptisms (1813–1867), p. 63, no. 501.  1861 England census, Cambridgeshire, Bassingbourn, enumeration district 5, p 77(stamped), verso (6th page of Royston Union Workhouse); Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=8767 : accessed 24 April 2020) >Cambridgeshire >Bassingbourn >District 5 >image 23 of 25.  1871 England census, Devon, Stoke Damerel, St. Aubyn, Raglan barracks, p. 81 (verso), line 10; imaged as “1871 England Census,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/7619 : accessed 23 Aug 2020) >Devon >Stoke Damerel >St Aubyn >Raglan Barracks >image 37 of 57.  “England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837-2005,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2DRB-92T : accessed 26 September 2015), George Casbon, 1881; from “England & Wales Marriages, 1837-2005,” database, findmypast (http://www.findmypast.com : 2012); citing Marriage, Colchester, Essex, England, General Register Office.  1891 England census, Cambridgeshire, Fowlmere, ED 6, p. 14, schedule 86; imaged as “1891 England Census,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6598 : accessed 23 Aug 2020) >Cambridgeshire >Fowlmere >ALL >District 6 >image 15 of 20.  “Deaths,” Saffron Walden (Essex) Weekly News, 22 Oct 1897, p. 8, col. 8; accessed through “British Newspaper Collection,” findmypast (https://search.findmypast.com/ : accessed 14 September 2017).  Parish of Meldreth, register of baptisms (1813–1867), p. 68, no. 540.  1871 England census, Cambridgeshire, Meldreth, ED 15, p. 6, schedule32; ; imaged as “1871 England Census,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/7619 : accessed 24 Aug 20) >Cambridgeshire >Meldreth >ALL >15 >image 7 of 32.  “England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837–2005”, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2DCN-4ZD : accessed 28 Apr 20); Royston, 1st qtr, vol. 3A/352.  1911 England census, Cambridgeshire, Melbourn, ED 9, schedule 82; imaged as “1911 England Census,” Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=2352 : accessed 24 Aug 2020) >Hertfordshire >Melbourn >ALL >09 >image 168 of 299.  England and Wales, “Search the GRO [General Register Office] Online Index,” HM Passport Office (https://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/certificates/indexes_search.asp : accessed 30 Sep 20); entry for John James Casbon, age 85, 1st qtr 1935, Cambridge, vol. 3B/564.  “Search the GRO [General Register Office] Online Index,” (https://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/certificates/indexes_search.asp : accessed 30 Sep 20); entry for Sarah Casbon, age 88, 1st qtr 1938, Cambridgeshire, vol. 3B/553>  England, death registration (unofficial copy), Dec qtr 1853, Royston & Buntingford District, vol. 3A/107, Melbourn Sub-district, no. 319; General Register Office (GRO), Southport.  Parish of Meldreth, register of baptisms (1813–1867), p. 75, no. 599.
The Cambridge Chronicle of 26 April 1862 contained this brief report.
What does this mean? The report gives quite a bit of information, providing you understand some of the terminology and context.
It’s clear from reading the paragraph that all the named individuals have been accused of various crimes or infractions. What does it mean that they were committed to the Castle?
In Cambridgeshire, i.e., Cambridge County, the Castle was the nickname for the county jail (gaol in the U.K.). Thus, being committed to the Castle means being sentenced to spend time in the jail.
The term Castle comes from the fact that the original county jail was a former Norman castle. The castle was demolished in 1807 and a new jail built a short distance away. The Castle nickname remained with the new building. The site of the old castle is now called Castle Mound.
George is one of the most common Casbon forenames, but only two Georges were born before 1862, one in 1836 and one in 1846. We can eliminate the first, George S. Casbon, for a few reasons. Although born in Meldreth, by 1862 he was no longer living there. He was married and working as a Wheelwright at Barley, Hertfordshire. The profile of a working man doesn’t match that of someone who would be running away from the Bassingbourn union, as I will explain.
That leaves George Casbon, the son of James and Elizabeth (Waller) Casbon, born at Meldreth 28 November 1846 and baptized there 16 March 1847, as the only remaining candidate. George’s mother, Elizabeth, died of consumption in 1852.
As to John Reed, I have found only one person by that name from Whaddon. He appears in the 1851 census as John Read, age 6. His sister Susanna Read, age 21, is listed as head of household and a pauper. The father, William Reed, died in 1847. Mary Reed, the mother, died in 1849. Thus, the household we see in the 1851 census consists of their orphaned children, with John being the youngest.
George Casbon and John Reed both would have been about 16 years old when they ran away from the Bassingbourn union; but what was the Bassingbourn union?
Bassingbourn union was another name for the Royston Union Workhouse. Royston is a large town located at the northern border of Hertfordshire. In 1862, the border between Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire ran through the middle of Royston. The Royston Union Workhouse was located on the north, or Cambridgeshire side, of Baldock Road. The workhouse was located within Bassingbourn Parish in Cambridgeshire, hence the term Bassingbourn union.
Workhouses were institutions created to house and feed the poor and infirm. Each workhouse was administered by a poor law union consisting of several parishes. The Royston workhouse was built in 1836 and designed to accommodate 300 inmates. In general, workhouses were segregated by sex and age: there were sections for the aged and infirm, children, able-bodied men, and able-bodied women. Inmates were issued clothing, usually made from coarse materials. Able-bodied inmates were expected to work, often at menial tasks; schooling and sometimes apprenticeships were provided to children.
Why were the two boys in the workhouse? In the case of John Reed, we know that he was an orphan. With no means of financial support, the workhouse was probably his only option.
The situation with George Casbon is more complicated. We know that he lost his mother in 1852. His younger sister, Emma, died at the workhouse (my emphasis) in November 1853. This suggests that after the death of George’s mother, either some or all of the children were sent to the workhouse.
My confusion is compounded by the fact that I haven’t been able to positively identify James Casbon or any of his children (except for daughter, Lydia, who was married) in the 1861 England census. I have speculated that James and his son Thomas were listed (in the 1861 census) in the village of Cottenham with the surname Randle. In addition, I think I’ve found James’s two youngest sons, George and John, at the Royston workhouse. The census uses initials for the inmates. Among these are the initials “C.G.” and “C.J.” (the first initial represents the surname), both from Meldreth. Incidentally, the initials “R.J.,” which might stand for John Reed, from Whaddon, are also present on the same census page.
The final detail from the Cambridge Chronicle article is that the two boys were committed to the Castle for the offense of “running away from the Bassingbourn union with the clothes.” It’s unclear whether the offense was running away or taking the clothes, although I suspect it was the latter. I wish there was a little more detail. Which clothes did they take—their own or those belonging to other inmates? What did they intend to do with the clothes? Such is the way with family research—you never have all the answers.
What became of George and John? I’ll save most of George’s life for later posts but will say here that he eventually married and had a family of his own. He died at the village of Fowlmere, 18 October 1897. He was 51 years old.
John Reed’s fate is unknown. I haven’t been able to identify him in any records after 1862.
 Meldreth (Cambridgeshire) Parish Records, baptisms [1813–1867], p. 63, no. 501; browsable images, FamilySearch ((https://familysearch.org/search/film/007567609?cat=210742 : accessed 28 Apr 2017).  England, General Register Office, death registration, Royston & Buntingford/Melbourn, 1852, vol. 3A/134, no. 117.  1851 England census, Whaddon (Cambridgeshire), enumeration district 11, p. 4, line 12; imaged at Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=8860 : accessed 24 Apr 2020) >Cambridgeshire >Whaddon >4 >image 5 of 23.  “England, Cambridgeshire Bishop’s Transcripts, 1599-1860,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/1465708 : accessed 24 Apr 2020) >007681883 >image 704 of 733.  “England, Cambridgeshire Bishop’s Transcripts, 1599-1860,” accessed 24 Apr 2020 >007681883 > image 709 of 733.  Peter Higginbotham,“Royston, Herfordshire,” in The Workhouse: The story of an institution … (http://www.workhouses.org.uk/Royston/ : accessed 24 Apr 2020).  “Workhouse,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Workhouse#1834_Act : accessed 24 Apr 2020), rev. 18 Mar 2020, 01:28.  Higginbotham, “Workhouse Uniform,” in The Workhouse: The story of an institution … .  Higginbotham, “Work” and “Children in the Workhouse,” in The Workhouse: The story of an institution … .  England, General Register Office, death registration, Royston & Buntingford/Melbourn, 1853, vol. 3A/107, no. 319.  1861 England census, Bassingbourn (Cambridgeshire), enumeration district 5, p. 77 (stamped) verso (6th page of entries for Royston Union Workhouse), lines 4 & 5; Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=8767 : accessed 24 April 2020) >Cambridgeshire >Bassingbourn >District 5 >image 23 of 25; National Archives.  “Deaths,” Saffron Walden (Essex) Weekly News, 22 Oct 1897, p. 8, col. 8; British Newspaper Archive (accessed 14 Sep 2017.
The arrival of two death certificates from the General Register Office in England has helped to fill gaps in the life stories of two Casbon ancestors and also serves to highlight a topic I’ve touched on before—tuberculosis.
The certificates are for two sisters-in-law, Lydia (Burgess) and Elizabeth (Waller) Casbon. Lydia was married to Joseph Casbon (~1811–1847). She was born about 1812 and died in 1851. Elizabeth was the first wife of Joseph’s brother, James Casbon (~1813–1884). She was born in 1815 and died in 1852.
Here are the death “certificates” (copies of the official death registrations).
Starting with Lydia, we can see that she died 8 June 1851 at Meldreth (Cambridgeshire, England). She was said to be thirty-five years old and the “Relict [widow] of Joseph Casbourn, Labourer.” The cause of death is a most interesting word—Phthisis. Sarah Worland, the informant, was also the informant for the death registration of Lydia’s husband, Joseph, who died in 1847.
Now looking at Elizabeth, she died 16 August 1852 at Melbourn (Cambridgeshire). She was thirty-six years old, the wife of “James Casbon, Labourer.” She died of “Consumption
1 year,” i.e., she also died of tuberculosis.
It’s hard today to imagine the impact that tuberculosis (TB) had in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England. The disease had been around for millennia, but by the early 1800s had become epidemic. Death rates in London and other major European cities were as high as 800 to 1,000 per 100,000 per year, meaning that up to one percent of the population died from the disease every year. Young adults were hardest hit: in the late nineteenth-century England and Wales, almost half of the deaths in twenty to twenty-four-year-olds were caused by TB.
TB has been referred to as the white plague or white death, perhaps because of the extreme pallor of those afflicted with the disease. Unlike many epidemic diseases, its course was slow and progressive, sometimes taking many years to claim its victims. Charles Dickens described it in Nicholas Nickleby:
There is a dread disease which so prepares its victim, as it were, for death; which so refines it of its grosser aspect, and throws around familiar looks unearthly indications of the coming change; a dread disease, in which the struggle between soul and body is so gradual, quiet, and solemn, and the result so sure, that day by day, and grain by grain, the mortal part wastes and withers away, so that the spirit grows light and sanguine with its lightening load, and, feeling immortality at hand, deems it but a new term of mortal life; a disease in which death and life are so strangely blended, that death takes the glow and hue of life, and life the gaunt and grisly form of death; a disease which medicine never cured, wealth never warded off, or poverty could boast exemption from; which sometimes moves in giant strides, and sometimes at a tardy sluggish pace, but, slow or quick, is ever sure and certain.
Although TB occurred in all social classes, “it was a disease above all spread by overcrowded homes, unhealthy working conditions and poor nutrition; it was in other words … a disease of the poor.” Which brings me back to Lydia and Elizabeth.
We know that Lydia was poor. She was listed as a “pauper” in the 1851 census. By that time she had lost her husband and two of her four daughters. (A third survived her by less than a year.) Her death registration says she suffered from Phthisis for three years. In other words, she had been visibly wasting away for at least three years; but she likely contracted the disease several years before it became apparent. Life must have been difficult even before her husband died, and unbearable afterwards. We don’t know anything about the family’s home or living conditions but can guess that they were far from ideal. Lydia almost certainly received some poor relief from the parish, but not enough to lift her from extreme poverty.
We can also surmise that the family of James and Elizabeth Casbon was poor. James was a laborer his entire life, near the bottom of the social ladder. In the seventeen years of their marriage, Elizabeth had born eight children, the youngest only a year before her death. The ten of them were probably squeezed into only a couple of rooms. In the 1851 census, only the oldest son, William, was earning additional income as a laborer. There were many mouths to feed on meager wages. Elizabeth probably already had symptoms of TB when her daughter, Emma, was born in 1851. (Emma was baptized just three days before Elizabeth’s death – was this done because she was dying?) Young Emma died in November 1853 at the Royston Union Workhouse, located in Bassingbourn (a few miles from Meldreth). The location of her death is another indication of the family’s poverty. Considering the circumstances, it’s amazing that the remainder of James and Elizabeth’s children, as far as I’ve been able to trace them, lived normal lifespans.
I’ll try to end on a more positive note. As sad as these stories are, they are a testament to the fortitude of our ancestors. It may be a bit of a cliché, but comparing their lives with ours today, we can look back on their endurance and survival with both gratitude and awe.
 1851 England census, Cambridgeshire, Melbourn, p. 29, enumeration district 11c, schedule 114, Lydia Casbourn; image, Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=8860 : accessed 22 February 2019), Cambridgeshire >Melbourn >11c >image 30 of 36; citing The National Archives, HO 107/1708/206. England, death registration (unofficial copy) for Lydia Casbourn, died 8 Jun 1851; registered June quarter 1851, Royston & Buntingford District, vol. 6/405, Melbourn Sub-district, no. 410; General Register Office (GRO), Southport.  Parish of Meldreth (Cambridgeshire, England), Register of Baptisms, 1813-67, p. 8, no. 57, , Elizabeth Waller, b. 11 Sep 1815, baptized 15 Oct 1815; imaged as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/search/film/007567609?cat=210742 : accessed 28 April 2017), image 201; citing Family History Library microfilm 1,040,542, item 5. England, GRO, death registration (unofficial copy) for Elizabeth Casbon, died 16 Aug 1852; registered Sep. qtr 1852, Royston & Buntingford Dist, vol. 3A/134, Melbourn sub-dist., no. 117; GRO, Southport.  Robert Hooper, M.D., Lexicon Medicum; or, Medical Dictionary: Containing an Explanation of the Terms … on All These Subjects , rev. 8th ed., Klein Grant, M.D., editor (London: Longman, 1838), p. 1026, “Phthisis”; image copy, Hathi Trust Digital Library (https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.a0000834499 : accessed 6 February 2019).  Thomas M. Daniel, “The history of tuberculosis,” Respiratory Medicine, Nov 2006, vol. 100, no. 11, pp. 1862–70; html edition (https://www.resmedjournal.com/article/S0954-6111(06)00401-X/fulltext : accessed 22 February 2019).  Ibid.  Richard Evans, “The White Plague,” transcript of lecture given at The Museum of London, 27 Nov 12; MS Word transcript, Gresham College (http://www.gresham.ac.uk/lectures-and-events/the-white-plague : accessed 22 February 2019).  John Frith, “History of Tuberculosis. Part 1 – Phthisis, consumption and the White Plague,” Journal of Military and Veteran’s Health, 22/2; online archive (https://jmvh.org/article/history-of-tuberculosis-part-1-phthisis-consumption-and-the-white-plague/ : accessed 22 February 2018).  Charles Dickens, Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, reprint of 1st ed. (London: MacMillan & Co., 1916); html edition, Project Gutenberg (https://www.gutenberg.org/files/967/967-h/967-h.htm : accessed 22 February 2019).  Evans, “The White Plague.”  1851 England census, Cambridgeshire, Melbourn, p. 29, Lydia Casbourn.  Jon Casbon, “Joseph and Lydia (Burgess) Casbon, Our Casbon Journey, 2 Mar 2017 (https://casbonjourney.wordpress.com/2017/03/02/joseph-and-lydia-burgess-casbon/ : accessed 22 February 2019).  1851 England census, Cambridgeshire, Meldreth, p. 32, James Casbon.  Meldreth Parish, Baptisms, 1813–1867, p. 75, no. 599, Emma Casbon; accessed as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007567609?cat=210742 : accessed 29 August 2017); citing Family History Library microfilm 1,040,542, item 5, image 234.  England, death registration (unofficial copy) for Emma Casbon, died 4 Nov 1853; registered Dec. qtr. 1853, Royston & Buntingford Dist., vol. 3A/107, Melbourn Sub-dist., no. 319.
The sister villages of Meldreth and Melbourn in Cambridgeshire are my ancestral homeland. Records of Casbon ancestors in these villages go back to the mid-sixteenth century. Families occasionally moved from one village to another, or to other nearby villages, but there was little reason or incentive to go further. The situation remained stable for over 250 years, but in the 1840s, things began to change.
Slowly at first, and then with increasing speed, the number of Casbons in Meldreth and Melbourn began to dwindle. In the 1841 census, there were 7 households with 30 people; in 1851, 7 households with 27 people; 1861 – 4 households/14 people; 1871 – 5 households/12 people; 1881 – 2 households/4 people; 1891 – 2 households/5 people; 1901 & 1911 – 1 household/2 people. (1911 is the last year census records have been made available to the public.) The 1939 register (a census-like record taken before World War 2) shows only one Casbon living in Meldreth.
What happened? Where did they go and why did they leave? The reasons are varied, but for the most part revolve around the “three Fs”: finance, family, friends. In the mid-1800s, the growth of cities and improvements in transportation created new job opportunities. The exodus from Meldreth took off after the arrival of the railroad in 1851.
The first to leave was my third great grandfather, Thomas (1803–1888), and his family, when they emigrated to the United States in 1846. I’ve written extensively about Thomas and his journey, so will not elaborate further here.
The next to go was James Casbon (1806–1871), who moved to the village of Barley in Hertfordshire with his family, probably in the early 1850s. Barley is located about five miles south of Meldreth.
James was a landowner, which put him in a different class than his poorer Casbon relatives. He also had a business as a carrier, hauling freight (and perhaps passengers) to and from London. His reasons for moving to Barley are unknown. His sons remained in Barley and established their own families there. Thus, Barley became a new population center for the Casbon surname.
Between 1851 and 1861 the number of Casbon households was further reduced due to deaths, employment, and unknown other reasons. Lydia (Burgess) Casbon, widow of Joseph (abt. 1811–1847), died in 1851. Two daughters, Hannah and Harriet Ann, preceded her in death in 1848 and 1850, respectively, and a third daughter, Emma, died in 1852. Lydia’s surviving daughter, Mary, emigrated to the United States, where she joined her uncle Thomas Casbon, in 1856. “Patty” Barns (née Martha Wagstaff), widow of John Casbon (abt. 1779–1813), died in 1855. After losing his wife, Elizabeth, in 1852, James Casbon (b. abt. 1813) and his family disappeared from view until he emigrated to Indiana in 1870. Mary Ann Casbon (b. 1831, daughter of William, b. 1805), who had been working as a servant in Melbourn in 1851, was employed as a cook in a London public house by 1861.
Although the numbers remained relatively stable between 1861 and 1871, some important moves still took place. Three more of William’s (b. 1805) children left for the environs of London: John (b. abt. 1842), Reuben (b. 1847) and Martha (b. abt. 1855). John was working as a Labourer when he was married in Lambeth (now a borough of London) in 1866. Reuben must have moved to the London area in the same time frame, since he and his sister Mary Ann are listed as witnesses on the marriage record. Martha, perhaps following in her brothers’ footsteps, is listed as a sixteen-year-old “domestic servant housemaid” for a suburban London household in the 1871 census.
The numbers plunged after 1871, as the “old-timers” – Jane (1803–1872), William (1805-1877) and William (1806–1875) died and their remaining children moved away. Samuel Clark Casbon (b. 1851) moved to Croydon, Surrey. His sister, Jane, married John Camp in 1881. Only the younger William (b. 1835), and John Casbon (b. 1849) remained. William’s three children, Walter (b. 1856), William (b. 1860), and Priscilla (b. 1862), all left home for jobs in domestic service or the railroads.
William (b. 1835) died in 1896. After his death, his wife, Sarah (West, b. abt 1823) moved to Hitchin, Hertfordshire, where she lived with her son, Walter, until her death in 1905. John (b. 1849) died in 1935, followed by his wife Sarah (Pepper, b. abt 1850) in 1938. John and Sarah were the only two Casbons on the 1901 and 1911 censuses for Meldreth.
Martha Casbon (b. abt. 1855), who spent most of her adult life in domestic service, returned to Meldreth in her later years, and is the sole Casbon listed on the 1939 register. With her death in 1947, the Casbon name became extinct in Meldreth.
For a long time, I’ve been frustrated by the fact that I haven’t been able to find James or most of his children in the 1861 census. I have him in the 1841 and 1851 censuses. After 1851, he doesn’t appear in a census again until the 1880 United States Census, when he was living in Indiana (he missed both the 1870 U.S. and 1871 U.K. censuses because he emigrated in late 1870). This leaves a huge gap in my knowledge of James’ whereabouts before he came to America.
The time period between 1851 and 1880 isn’t a total blank. I know that his first wife, Elizabeth (Waller) died in August 1852, and their youngest daughter, Emma (b. 1851) died in November 1853., Their deaths left James responsible for seven children ranging from 4 to 17 years old. This must have placed a tremendous burden on him. He was a poor agricultural laborer, without a steady income, on one of the lowest rungs of the social order. His situation could have come from a Dickens novel.
In 1851, James and Elizabeth had seven children.  His oldest son, William, age 15, was already working as an agricultural labourer.
After Elizabeth died, it’s likely that some of the older children had to find work, and some might have been placed with other families, or even a public institution (daughter Emma died at the “Royston Workhouse”).
Since I was unable to find James in the 1861 census using traditional search methods, I decided to use a more broad-based approach. Sometimes surnames are so badly misspelled that they yield false negative search results. So, instead of searching by surname, I searched for any males named James born in Meldreth between 1808 and 1818.
This approach yielded 9 results. Of these, the one for James Randle caught my eye. Why? Because he was living in Cottenham.
I knew that James had lived in Cottenham shortly before coming to the United States. Specifically, James’ place of abode was listed as Cottenham when his son Amos James was baptized (in nearby Stretham) in August, 1869. I also know that James married Mary Jackson in Stretham, in 1866, so it’s also possible that he was living in Cottenham then.
Besides the location, other information in the 1861 census entry suggests that James Randle and James Casbon could be the same person. James Randle’s age is listed as 45. James Casbon would have been about 47 in 1861. Age discrepancies are common in census records, and a 2-year difference is minor. (It’s also possible that James Casbon did not know his exact age.) Like James Casbon, James Randle is listed as a widower and an agricultural laborer. And of course, both were from Meldreth.
Who was Thomas Randle? Look again at the 1851 census. James and Elizabeth’s fifth child, and second son, is recorded as “Thos,” age 6. His age is a close match to 15-year old Thomas Randle’s.
The fact that James and Thomas Randle were lodging in a public house during the census is interesting. It suggests they had recently arrived, or perhaps were looking for work.
Is there any evidence that someone named James Randle really was born in Meldreth during the eighteen teens? I’ve searched all the baptism, marriage, and burial records for Meldreth and nearby areas, and there are no entries for Randle or similar names. Nor does he turn up in censuses prior to 1861. Also, I haven’t found any records for a Thomas Randle in or near Meldreth.
Why would James Casbon be going under an assumed name? It would suggest that he did not want to be found – by the law or creditors. We know that he was a poor man, so debt could have been an issue. It’s also possible that he was on the lam for a criminal offense.
What about James’ other children – why aren’t they listed in the census along with James and Thomas? By 1861, the older children were in their late teens and early twenties, so it’s likely they were already employed elsewhere. That still leaves the two younger children, George and John, who would have been 14 and 12, respectively. After an exhaustive search, I haven’t been able to find either one in the 1861 census (although they appear again in later censuses). It’s possible that they were given up to other families after their mother’s death, but this still doesn’t explain their absence from the 1861 census.
Another possibility is that the surname listed on the census is incorrect. What I mean is that it really was James Casbon in Cottenham, but whoever recorded the information made a mistake. How could this happen? The way a census was taken is that a form, known as a schedule, was handed out to each household, to be completed by the head of household. The census enumerator collected the forms on the following day and entered the information from the schedules into the Census Enumerator’s Book (CEB). The original census schedules have not been retained, and it is only the CEB that remains. This is the census record showing James and Thomas Randle, above.
What if the head of household was illiterate? We know from the 1880 U.S. Census that James “cannot write.” So it’s possible that the owner of the public house or someone else completed the census schedule for him. The name could have been written incorrectly; or the enumerator might have transcribed the information incorrectly into the CEB.
Are you convinced? I hope not. All I’ve presented is circumstantial evidence. It’s far from a compelling argument. But I think there’s a decent possibility that I’m right. If I’m wrong, and James Randle was not James Casbon, then who was he?
Since I started this blog, I’ve been trying to lay down a framework showing the origins of the major Casbon lines, i.e., those lines from which most of today’s Casbons are descended. So far I’ve covered the Littleport/Peterborough Casbons, the descendants of Thomas Casbon of Meldreth, a little bit about the Australian Casbens, and the origins of the Casban line with Samuel Clark Casban. No discussion of Casbon family history would be complete without the subject of today’s post, James Casbon. He is my 4th great uncle, which means he is the brother of my 3rd great grandfather (Thomas Casbon).
James Casbon has puzzled, challenged, and intrigued me for a number of years. He is the only Casbon I know of who came to America but still has descendants both in England and the United States. There are relatively few records about his life. Every indication is that his life had many hardships. He faced the challenges of poverty and lack of education while trying to make a better life for his family.
James was the youngest son of Isaac Casbon (see From England to Indiana, Part 2), born in either 1813 or 1814.  I’ve searched meticulously for his baptismal records without success. There were no requirements for vital records at the time. Most births were documented when someone was baptized – but not everyone was baptized.
Isaac, James’ father, was an agricultural laborer; i.e., he worked for wages when work was available. Isaac died in 1825 when James was no more than 12 years old.  James probably had no other choice than going to work to help support his family.
The first record I have of James is his marriage to Elizabeth Waller July 25th, 1835 in Meldreth. I’ve used this record as an example before, to show that James signed with “his mark.” 
Elizabeth was born September 1815 in Meldreth, one of eight children born to William and Sarah (Johnson) Waller. Her father’s occupation was “Labourer.” 
One thing James never had difficulty with was having children. By 1841, he and Elizabeth had three: William (born about 1836), Sarah (born about 1837), and Lydia Ann (born about 1840).  By 1851, another four had been born: Mary (baptized 1841), Thomas (born 1844), George (born 1846), and John (born 1849). 
Their last child, Emma, was baptized in August 1852 (but possibly born late 1851, based on her reported age at death).  Her mother Elizabeth was buried less than 1 week later.  One relative told me that she believes Emma went into a foundling home, because James had no way to care for an infant. This is supported by parish records showing Emma’s abode as the Royston Workhouse when she died in November 1853. 
After Elizabeth’s death, James was left with a household of eight children, ranging in age from infancy to age 16, so it would be understandable if he gave the youngest up to the care of others.
After Emma’s death, the document trail goes cold until James’ arrival in America. He doesn’t appear in the 1861 England census. (1 Nov 2018: see updates here and here.) According to family tradition James married either Mary Cooper or Mary Harper while still in England. Records of this marriage have not been found. James and Mary had three more children: Margaret (born about 1864),  Amos James (born 1869),  and Alice Ann (or Alice Hannah – born 1871 in Porter County, Indiana). 
Thanks to a copy of James’ naturalization certificate given to me by Ron Casbon, I was recently able to pin down the date and name of the ship upon which James and his family arrived in the United States. 
The certificate says that James departed Liverpool and arrived in New York on December 26th, 1871. I suspected the year was incorrect because his daughter Alice was born in Indiana in January 1871. After a bit of detective work, I was able to find this passenger list for the ship Great Western that departed Liverpool November 11th and arrived in New York December 27th, 1870.  You can see that his name was misspelled as Custon. You can also see that his second wife Mary was 20 years his junior.
James made his way to Indiana and settled in Porter Township, Porter County. I doubt that he could afford to buy land, as his occupation was listed as “Farm Laborer” in the 1880 census. 
His wife Mary died, probably in 1874 or 1875. He married Mary Payne in January, 1876.  She is possibly the same Mary Payne who was a niece of Emma (Scruby) Casbon, the wife of Thomas, James’ brother (see From England to Indiana, Part 8), but this is only speculation on my part.
James died August 22, 1884, from complications of an injury sustained in an unprovoked assault (See The Collage Explained).  His widow, Mary, was left with two step-children, Alice and Amos, ages 13 and 15, respectively (Margaret married in 1882). Mary died in 1903, and is buried in Maplewood Cemetery, Valparaiso, Indiana. 
James’ legacy today is in the many descendants living in both England and the United States. They are a testament to his struggles and endurance.
Kudos and a bit “Thank You” to Michael Casbon, my distant cousin in the UK, for contributing this obituary of his great uncle Fred.
(Click on image to enlarge)
Michael says the obituary is from an archive his late uncle, Brian Albert Casbon (1937-2013), put together. Michael says, “apparently Fred was a local Luminary.”
That seems to be an understatement, given the turnout for his funeral. That has to be the longest listing of funeral mourners I have ever seen!
Fred was born in the vicinity of Sutton, near Ely, Cambridgeshire in 1889. His father was Thomas Casbon, born 1844 in Meldreth, and his paternal grandfather was James Casbon, born about 1814, the son of Isaac Casbon. This is the same James Casbon who emigrated to the United States in 1871 and settled in Porter County, Indiana. All of James’ children by his first wife, Elizabeth Waller (1815-1852) remained in England, so he has living descendants in both the U.S. and the U.K.
As the obituary says, Fred married Sarah Waters in 1913. I’ve only been able to locate a record for one child from their marriage, Ida M. Casbon, born in 1914. It’s interesting that she is not listed among the mourners that I can see. Her married name was Hutton. Sarah, his widow, survived him by many years. She passed away in 1971.
The obituary mentions his profession as a grocer and preacher, but in the 1911 census and 1939 Register he is listed as a farm labourer. Unfortunately, vital and census records give narrow snapshots of people’s lives. It’s always nice to have something more, like this obituary, to fill in the blanks.
What I should really say, is that our name wasn’t always spelled ‘C-a-s-b-o-n.’
As you go back into our early family records, the ways our name is spelled varies dramatically.
The earliest I’ve traced my ancestors is the marriage of William Casbolde to Margrett Saybrocke in 1577. Here is a sampling of spellings from parish and census records of my relatives, with dates they were recorded,,.
(Click on image to enlarge)
There are many records with spellings similar to those above in other parts of England, but the records are concentrated most heavily in the general vicinity of Cambridge. If you’re interested, check out this map I created showing the distribution of births and christenings with similar surnames in England between 1560 and 1825. The map allows you to select individual surnames, locations and ranges of dates to see how these factors affect the distribution.
Learning to read old records can be a challenge. This says, “Judeth Daughter of John Casbold & Joan february vii.” [Church of England. “Parish registers for Melbourne, 1558-1877.”](Click on image to enlarge)
The spelling Casbon appears as early as 1617 in Isleham, Cambridgeshire, but thereafter it only appears infrequently in diverse locations. It makes its first appearance in my family line is 1769 when Thomas Casbon married Jane Wilson in Melbourn. The Casbon spelling did not become more widespread until the early to mid-1800s.
Samuel Clark Casbon, born in Meldreth 1851 to William and Ann (Clark) Casbon, was recorded in the 1881 England and Wales Census as Samuel Casban. His descendants have continued to use the Casban spelling. Reuben (b. 1847), another son of William and Ann Casbon adopted the spelling Casben for himself and his descendants. Reuben’s son Arthur Casben (b. 1886) emigrated to Australia in the early 20th century. Now almost all of the living Casbens are in Australia.
The main reason spellings of these names changed is that very few people could read or write. Many of our ancestors did not know how to spell their names. This can be seen on marriage records where bride and groom often signed with their “mark,” An x or +.
When James Casbon married Elizabeth Waller in 1835, he signed his name with his “mark,” as did one of the witnesses. Apparently Elizabeth was able to sign her own name. [Church of England. “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877.”](Click on image to enlarge)
This means that the spelling was determined by whichever church or government official was responsible for writing the name in an official record. They simply had to make their best guess. I’ve noticed in these old records that when the person keeping the records changes, so does the spelling.
Imagine going to the DMV for a driver’s license and not knowing how to spell your name…what do you think would end up on the license?!
Literacy rates gradually increased throughout the 1800s, although elementary education did not become compulsory in England until 1880. Once our ancestors learned to write, they were able to take control of how the name and how it was spelled.
This means that today’s spelling of names is somewhat arbitrary. As seen with Casban and Casben above, people who are related may not share the same surname. Conversely, not everyone with a given surname is related. It’s tempting to believe that all the Casbons are somehow related, but there is little reason and no evidence to support it.
It doesn’t mean we can’t be friends, though!
 “England Marriages, 1538–1973.” FamilySearch https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:N2QX-MXY [accessed 31 October 2015]  Church of England. “Parish registers for Melbourne, 1558-1877.” Microfilm of original records in the Cambridge County Record Office, Cambridge. FHL Microfilm #1040540. Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah,   Church of England. “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877.” Microfilm of original records in the Cambridge County Record Office, Cambridge. FHL Microfilm #1040542. Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah,   “1871 census of England and Wales.” FamilySearch https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VRFV-RPH [accessed 24 July 2015]  “Cambridgeshire Burials.” FindMyPasthttp://search.findmypast.com/record?id=gbprs%2fd%2f403045322%2f1 [accessed 8 September 2016]  “England Marriages, 1538–1973 .” FamilySearch https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NJK5-XZD [accessed 30 September 2015]  Church of England. “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877.”  “1881 census of England and Wales.” FamilySearch https://familysea
ch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QK6B-B64V [accessed 6 October 2015]  Church of England. “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877.”  “England and Wales Birth Registration Index, 1837-2008.” FamilySearch https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2XP6-FL3 [accessed 11 November 2015]  “Casben Surname Meaning and Statistics.” Forebearshttp://forebears.io/surnames/casben [accessed 8 September 2016]  “The 1870 Education Act.” UK Parliamenthttp://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/livinglearning/school/overview/1870educationact/ [accessed 8 September 2016]