A Minor Mystery Solved

A more appropriate title for this post might have been “The Many Wives of James Casbon.” However, I’ll stick with the current title because it was finding the answer to the “minor mystery” that prompted me to write the post.

This is a cautionary tale. The caution is that one should be very careful about trusting “facts” that are listed in online family trees unless the evidence supporting those facts is documented and credible. In this case, the facts in question are the identities of the women who were married to James Casbon (~1813–1884).

When I did a search on Ancestry for James, listing his parents as Isaac and Susannah (Howes) Casbon, I found that he was included in 66 family trees. Six different women were named as his wives in these trees. Some trees only listed one of them while others listed up to five. A few of the trees simply said “unknown spouse”—a safe and reasonable approach. Several of the trees were private, meaning the names of James’s wives could not be viewed. Here are the names of the women, in order of frequency, in those trees I was able to view.

Elizabeth Waller             26 trees
Mary Cooper                   17 trees
Mary Payne                       7 trees
Mary Harper                     5 trees
Mary Jackson                    5 trees
Ann Mitch                         5 trees

How many of these women did James actually marry and which ones? I can say with confidence that only three marriages have been documented. I have copies or extracts of the marriage records of James to Elizabeth Waller in 1835,[1] Mary Jackson in 1866,[2] and Mary Payne in 1876.[3] There is no evidence that James married Mary Cooper, Mary Harper, or Ann Mitch. In the family trees where they are listed, no sources are provided other than other family trees. One could posit that James married another woman in the interval between Elizabeth’s death in 1852 and his marriage to Mary Jackson in 1866, but there are no records to support this (and no children born during this time listing James as the father).

Census and birth/baptism records show that all of James’s children were born to either Elizabeth Waller or Mary Jackson. (Alice Casbon’s birth in 1871 is not registered but given that it occurred just one month after the arrival of James and Mary in America, there is no reason to believe that anyone besides Mary Jackson was her mother.)

The marriage of record of James Casbon to Elizabeth Waller at Meldreth, Cambridgeshire, 25 July 1835; Meldreth parish records (Click on image to enlarge)
The marriage record of James Casbon and Mary Payne, Porter County, Indiana, 15 January 1876; Porter County Public Library (Click on image to enlarge)

So how did these other women come to be listed as James’s wives? There are several possible reasons. In the case of Ann Mitch, it is a matter of mistaken identity. There were two men named James Casbon in the early 1800s, both born in Meldreth, Cambridgeshire. One was born 7 September 1806.[4] He was the first cousin of the James of this post. The elder James married Ann Hitch (whose name has been incorrectly transcribed as Mitch in both Ancestry and FamilySearch) at Steeple Morden, Cambridgeshire on 15 December
1827.[5] Ann died in 1833 after bearing James one child (Alfred Hitch Casbon). It can be easy to make mistakes in family trees when two people have the same name. Although the younger James would have been only about 14 years old when the marriage to Ann Hitch occurred, some family historians have gotten around this discrepancy by assuming that there was only one man named James. However, this is not supported by later census records.

The case of Mary Cooper is harder to explain. James’s older brother William married a woman named Mary Cooper in 1829.[6] My best guess is that the name of William’s wife was incorrectly attached to James in a family tree and the incorrect information was passed on to others.

That brings me to Mary Harper. Where did the name come from? This was the minor mystery I learned the answer to this week.

I was updating some of my documentation and came upon the marriage license application of James’s and Mary (Jackson’s) daughter Alice Hannah Casbon to her second husband, Charles Hicks. Alice and Charles applied for the license at Starke County, Indiana on 4 March 1936 and were married the same day.[7] The application requests the names of the bride and groom’s parents. Alice wrote “Mary Harper” as her mother’s maiden name.

The marriage license application of Alice (Casbon) Edwards to Charles Hicks, 4 March 1936, Starke County, Indiana; FamilySearch (Click on image to enlarge)

This naturally raises the question: Wouldn’t Alice know her own mother’s name? In fact, there is good reason for her not to. Her mother died before Alice was 5 years old, and probably much earlier than that. (The date of Mary (Jackson’s) death is not recorded). Her father, James, died when Alice was 13. Mary Payne, her stepmother, might not have known the correct maiden name. Alice might have been told incorrectly that her mother’s surname was Harper or she might have misremembered what she was told.

At any rate, it appears that Alice herself was the source of the misinformation that was included later in family trees.

As I said earlier, one must be very careful about accepting genealogical “facts” at face value. Once incorrect information is made available in an online family tree, others might copy it to their own tree and it takes on a life of its own. A useful rule of thumb is to carefully review the source attributed to any “fact” in an online tree. If there are no sources attached or the only source is another family tree, one should not accept the fact as proven unless more reliable sources can be found.

Unfortunately, I must confess that I am one of the guilty parties here. I saw the names of Mary Cooper and Mary Harper in family trees many years ago and included them in my own tree. I even included them as possible wives in my first blog post about James in 2016. When I posted my tree to Ancestry I was still a relative beginner at genealogy and did not yet understand the need for careful source documentation or how easily misinformation could be spread. I kept the names in my tree for much longer than I should have after realizing that I had no evidence to support them. It’s likely that others copied the information from my tree and perpetuated the misinformation. I am much more diligent now.


[1] Cambridgeshire, England, Meldreth Parish, Register of marriages (1813–1867), p. 34, no. 100, 25 Jul 1835; accessed as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007567609?cat=210742 : accessed 29 August 2017), image 363 of 699; citing FHL microfilm 1,040,542, item 8.
[2] “Stretham Marriages 1558 – 1952,” PDF extract, Cambridge Family History Society (https://www.cfhs.org.uk/tokens/tokpub.cfm : downloaded 2 September 2017), >Casben >Stretham >Stretham Marriages 1558 – 1952, 3 Nov 1866; citing Stretham (Cambridgeshire) parish records.
[3] Indiana, Porter County, Marriage Record, vol. 4 [Sep 1871-Jan 1875], p. 348, 8 Jan 1876; browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/005014495?cat=608739 : accessed 8 Apr 2020) > Film # 005014494 >image 693 of 928.
[4] Cambridgeshire, England, Meldreth Parish, Register of baptisms (1806–1812), baptisms 1807; accessed as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/search/film/007567609?cat=210742 : accessed 28 April 2017), image 137; citing FHL microfilm 1,040,542, item 3.
[5] “England Marriages, 1538–1973 ,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:N2QC-7QV : accessed 19 October 2015), James Casbon and Ann Mitch, 15 Dec 1827; citing FHL microfilm 990,377.
[6] Cambridgeshire, England Melbourne Parish, Bishop’s transcripts for Melbourne, 1599-1847, (marriages beginning 1814) unnumbered page, no. 160, Wm Casbon & Mary Cooper, 14 Mar 1829; browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007672882?cat=1109075 : accessed 12 Jul 2016) >image 529 of 682; citing FHL microfilm 2,358,010, item 2.
[7] Indiana, Starke County, marriage records, v. 10 (June 1934-January 1937), pp. 392–3, marriage license application; imaged in ” Marriage records, 1850-1957″, browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007742312?cat=574765 : accessed 27 Mar 19) > image 392 of 716; citing FHL film 2447544, item 3.

The First Family of James Casbon in England

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.

James Casbon, undated photo; courtesy of Ron Casbon

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.[1] James and Elizabeth were married at Meldreth 25 July 1835.[2] Elizabeth died of consumption (tuberculosis) 16 August 1852 at the age of 36.[3] 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.[4]

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.

Chart showing descendants of James and Elizabeth (Waller) Casbon, numbered by generation and arranged in birth order (Click on image to enlarge)

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.

Detail from 1851 England census, Melbourn, Cambridgeshire, showing James Casbon and his family; William, age 15, is highlighted (Ancestry.com) (Click on image to enlarge)

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.[5] 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).[6] 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.[7] 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.”[8] 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.[9] 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.[10] She married, at Chester, Cheshire, 28 August 1859, Daniel Cross.[11] 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.[12]

Mary Casbon (~1841–unknown)

Mary was baptized at Meldreth 19 December 1841.[13] 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.[14] 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.

Thomas Casbon (1844–1924)

Thomas was born at Meldreth 20 September 1844 and baptized there 15 June 1845.[15] He would have been 8 years old when his mother died. I haven’t found him for certain on the 1861 census, but I have previously written about my theory that Thomas and his father might have been listed in the 1861 census of Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, under the surname Randle. Thomas appears in a few newspaper articles of the late 1860s and early 1870s for minor criminal offenses such as public drunkenness and trespassing. He is recorded in the 1871 census living at Barrington, Cambridgeshire (2 ½ miles from Meldreth) and working as a “coprolite labourer.”[16]

In 1878 Thomas married Sarah Ann Wyers, a former domestic servant from Mepal, Cambridgeshire.[17] 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.[18] He was 80 years old.

George Casbon (1846–1897)

George was born at Meldreth 28 November 1847 and baptized 16 March the following
year.[19] 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.[20]

Detail from 1861 England Census, Bassingbourn, Cambridgeshire, Royston Union Workhouse, showing entries for “C.G.,” age 14 and “C.J.,” age 13; in this listing, the first initial represents the surname (Ancestry.com) (Click on image to enlarge)

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.[21] 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[22] and the couple settled in Fowlmere, a small village about 3 miles from Meldreth. He was listed there as a farm labourer in 1891.[23] 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.[24]

John Casbon (1849–1935)

John was born at Meldreth 10 February 1849, three years before his mother’s death.[25] 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.[26] In 1890 he married Sarah Pepper, a local woman who previously worked as a servant and cook in London.[27] 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.”[28] John died in 1935[29] and Sarah in 1938.[30]

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.[31]

Death registration of Emma Casbon, Union Workhouse Bassingbourn (Royston), 2 years old; cause of death “Fever” (Click on image to enlarge)

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.[32] 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.


[1] 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.
[2] 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.
[3] England, General Register Office (GRO), death registration (unofficial copy), Royston & Buntingford/Melbourn, 1852, no. 117; PDF copy, author’s collection.
[4] “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.
[5] “British Army, Worldwide Index 1861,” database, Findmypast (https://www.findmypast.com/transcript?id=GBM%2FSOLIDX%2F00170082 : accessed 11 Nov 2016).
[6] “England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NBFC-TLQ : 6 December 2014).
[7] 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.
[8] 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.
[9] Parish of Meldreth, register of baptisms (1813–1867), p. 49, no. 390.
[10] Parish of Meldreth, register of baptisms (1813–1867), p. 54, no. 430.
[11] 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).
[12] 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).
[13] Parish of Meldreth, register of baptisms (1813–1867), p. 55, no. 437.
[14] 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.
[15] 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.
[16] 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.
[17] “England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837–2005”, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2D5X-CWM: 13 December 2014).
[18] “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.
[19] Parish of Meldreth, register of baptisms (1813–1867), p. 63, no. 501.
[20] 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.
[21] 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.
[22] “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.
[23] 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.
[24] “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).
[25] Parish of Meldreth, register of baptisms (1813–1867), p. 68, no. 540.
[26] 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.
[27] “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.
[28] 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.
[29] 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.
[30] “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>
[31] England, death registration (unofficial copy), Dec qtr 1853, Royston & Buntingford District, vol. 3A/107, Melbourn Sub-district, no. 319; General Register Office (GRO), Southport.
[32] Parish of Meldreth, register of baptisms (1813–1867), p. 75, no. 599.

The Casbon Family Reunion, October 1901, Valparaiso, Indiana

Casbon family reunion 24 October 1901; author’s collection (Please! Click on image to enlarge and see names)

I’ve had this photograph for so long that I don’t remember where or who it came from. I believe I was given a copy sometime in the 1990s when I was just starting my genealogy research. Many of today’s Casbons have seen a version of the photo because it serves as the cover image for the “Casbon Family” Facebook group. Although I’ve used it in a previous post and in my book, I have never written about the photograph in detail or given it the attention that it deserves.

The picture is a treasure. A lot of old photos don’t have names of the subjects written in. I was very lucky that my version of the photo came with a separate “key” that provided all the names. I used the key to add labels to the original photograph. It’s always nice to be able to put a face to a name, but how often can you put 36 faces to 36 names?

This is the only photograph I know of that shows all of Thomas Casbon’s (1803–1888) living children—Sylvester, Charles, Jesse, and Emma—together. Mary Ann, the oldest daughter, passed away in 1890. All of them, except for Emma, were born in England. Likewise, Amos, the son of Thomas’s brother James (~1813–1884), was born in England.

The picture gives us a glimpse into how people lived at the turn of the twentieth century. We can see how they dressed and what a typical house in the Midwest looked like. We can even see that bicycles haven’t changed that much in 120 years! (Woodie Marrell looks pretty proud of his bicycle!)

I’m especially lucky because the event captured in the photograph was reported in the local newspaper.

Photocopy of an article from The (Valparaiso, Indiana) Messenger, 31 October 1901; courtesy of Ilaine Church
(I think)

The Casbon family had a reunion at the home of Hida Church in this city Thursday. A sumptuous dinner and a pleasant social time marked the affair. The guests were: Sylvester Casbon and family; Charles Casbon and family; Jesse Casbon and family; Mrs. M. [Emma] Rigg, of Iowa; Lawrence Casbon and family, of South Bend; John Sands [Sams] and family, of Boone Grove; Lawrence Casbon and family, of Boone Grove; John [Thomas] Casbon, of Deep River; Charles Casbon, Jr. [son of Sylvester, therefore not Charles junior], of Valparaiso; Myron Dayton and wife; Mrs. Mary Casbon [widow of James] and John Merrill and family.

The attendees of the reunion included most of the living descendants of Thomas and James Casbon, who emigrated to the United States with their families in 1846 and 1870, respectively. To me, the photograph is a testimony to the brothers’ determination and a visual confirmation of the family’s growth and prosperity since coming to America.

I’ve created a diagram showing how most of the attendees were related. It is color coded by generation. Attendees are indicated by bold-face type. Several deceased individuals, including Thomas and James, as well as former wives, are listed in the diagram in order to make the lines of descent clear. Their names are printed in italics.

A diagram showing those descendants of Thomas and James Casbon who attended the October 1901 reunion (Click on image to enlarge)

Also included in the photograph but not the descendants of Thomas or James Casbon are Woodie (or Woody) and Susie Marrell, the children of John Marrell, who is mentioned in the news article, the brother of Mary Marrell Casbon.

There are also several notable absences from the photograph. George W. Casbon, Sylvester’s youngest son, who was raised by his aunt Emma (Casbon) and uncle Robert N. Rigg, was living in Iowa. Note that Emma was present at the reunion. Charles Parkfield Casbon’s wife, Julia (Bidwell), is not in the photo, even though the news article says that Charles “Jr.” was there with his family. Julia would have been almost eight months pregnant with their first child, Herman, at the time. Three of Jesse Casbon’s daughters—Anna, Edna, and Lillian—were not there. Anna was married and living in Wisconsin; I don’t know why the other two were absent. Finally, Amos Casbon’s two sisters, Margaret (“Maggie”) and Alice, were not there. Maggie was married and living nearby but was possibly estranged from the others. Alice was also married and living nearby.

The reunion was held at the home of “Hida”—Thomas Hiram Church, Jr.—and his wife, Lodema (Casbon). The 1900 census tells us that Hida and Lodema lived at 5 East Elm Street in Valparaiso.[1] The streets were later renumbered, and this house can now be seen at 105 Elm Street.

The house at 105 Elm Street, Valparaiso, Indiana; courtesy of Ilaine Church (Click on image to enlarge)

Aside from no longer having a covered front porch, the facade of the house has changed little since 1901.

As separate branches of the family grew and dispersed, the tradition of reunions dwindled. However, since both Sylvester and Amos married Aylesworth girls, their descendants continued to attend the annual Aylesworth reunions in Porter County, Indiana. My father remembers attending these. These reunions still occur the first weekend in August every year (except this one, thanks to COVID-19). In recent years, Casbon reunions were started up again, hosted by the late Michael J. Casbon. I was fortunate to attend the most recent one of these in 2017.


[1] 1900 U.S. Census, Porter County, Indiana, ED 81, sheet 9A; imaged as “”United States Census, 1900,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-6QNS-WRP?i=16 : accessed 12 Apr 2017) >Indiana >Porter >ED 81 Center Township Valparaiso city Ward 1 >image 17 of 31; citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 398.

Alice Hannah Casbon (1871–1950)

Alice Hannah Casbon was the last child born to James (~1813–1884) and Mary (Jackson, ~1833–187_?) Casbon. There is a family tradition that Alice was born at sea while the family was making the crossing from Liverpool to New York aboard the ship Great Western. Although there is no evidence to support the claim, it is easy to see how the story came about. The Great Western arrived at New York on Christmas Day, 1870.[1] Alice does not appear on the ship’s passenger manifest. Her birth date is recorded as 25 January 1871, just one month after the family’s arrival in New York.[2] Thus, if the family had sailed one month later, or if her mother had gone into premature labor, Alice would have been born at sea!

Imagine how uncomfortable the voyage in the steerage of a sailing vessel must have been for Alice’s mother, being so far advanced in her pregnancy.

Despite the family tradition, all the available evidence supports the birth date given above. There is no official birth certificate, as these were not required at the time. However, every available census gives her birthplace as Indiana; and the 1900 census gives the month and year as January 1871.[3] The date of 25 January 1871 is recorded on her death certificate and in her obituary.[4]

Nothing is known of Alice’s childhood, but we can conclude that it would not have been easy. Alice was no more than 5 years old, and possibly much younger, when her mother died. James remarried in 1876 and died in 1884, when Alice was 13. Whatever was left of her childhood was spent with her stepmother, Mary (Payne). Unfortunately, there are no documents that I know of that describe this period of her life.

According to the 1940 U.S. census, Alice’s highest level of education was the fourth grade.[5] Although this was common for girls at the time, it seems likely that Alice went to work at an early age, either at the home or elsewhere, given what we know about her circumstances.

On 24 January 1891, a day before her twentieth birthday, Alice married a two-time widower named Benjamin Edwards.[6] He was 20 years older than Alice and, according to his obituary, had 13 children from his first marriage.[7] At least five of these children were 10 years old or younger, so Alice was immediately placed into the role of stepmother.

The couple had another eight children together: Elsie, born 1892, Grace (1894), Bertha (1895), Mary Alice (1897), Howard (1899), Pearl (1901), Hazel (1903), and Florence (1906). All except Pearl, a son, survived into adulthood.

Detail from an Edwards family photo (undated); left to right, back row: Elsie, Grace, Benjamin, Alice (Casbon), Bertha, Hazel; front row: Howard, Florence, and unidentified; courtesy of Ron Casbon (Click on image to enlarge)

In the 1900 census, Ben, Alice, and their family were residing in Porter Township, Porter County, Indiana.[8] In 1910 and 1920, they were living in Union Township, Porter County.[9] By 1930, Ben, now retired, and Alice lived at 960 West Street in Valparaiso, the Porter County seat.[10] This house is still standing.

Benjamin Edwards died in 1934 at the age of 83.[11] Two years later, Alice married Charles Hicks, a roofing contractor and former city councilman.[12] This marriage was short-lived due to Charles’s premature death following a traffic accident. The story received extensive coverage in the Valparaiso Vidette-Messenger. Both Charles and Alice suffered fractured knee caps along with cuts and bruises, as a result of a head-on collision on 4 February 1938. They were both hospitalized at Fairview hospital in LaPorte, Indiana, “where it was stated their condition is not critical.”[13] On 25 February it was reported that both had undergone surgery for the fractured kneecaps. “Mrs. Hicks is recovering nicely, but Mr. Hicks’ condition is not so good.”[14] Two days later, Charles was dead.[15]

In her later years, Alice seems to have divided her time between at least two of her daughters. In the 1940 census, she was staying with her daughter Grace and her husband, Jay Blachly, in Valparaiso.[16] In early 1948 she was said to be residing with her daughter Hazel and her husband, Arthur Simpson, in Three Oaks, Michigan.[17] However, in July of that year, she was again residing with Grace, when she had a heart attack and was said to be making a “rapid recovery.”[18] She was once again living with Hazel in Michigan when she passed away 15 March 1950 from “a lingering illness.”[19] The nature of her illness is unknown to me. Alice was 79 years old when she died.

Undated photo of Alice in her later years; courtesy of Ron Casbon

One of Alice’s daughters is said to have done a great deal of Casbon genealogy research. I have copies of some of these records, but they came to me indirectly and I don’t know who the daughter was.


[1] “Marine Intelligence,” The New York Times, 26 Dec 1870, p. 8, col. 5; online images (https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1870/12/26/issue.html : accessed 17 January 2017).
[2] “Michigan Death Certificates, 1921-1952,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KF41-L5D : accessed 21 February 2017); citing Three Oaks, Berrien, Michigan, Division for Vital Records and Health Statistics, Lansing; FHL microfilm 1,973,189.
[3] 1900 U.S. census, Porter County, Indiana, Porter Township, ED 91, sheet 4B, dwelling & family 75 (Benjamin Edwards); imaged as “United States Census, 1900,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-6QNS-7WT?i=7 : accessed 20 Jan 2015) >Indiana > Porter > ED 91 Porter Township > image 8 of 22; citing NARA microfilm publication T623.
[4] “Michigan Death Certificates, 1921-1952.” “Mrs Alice Hicks Dies Following Lingering Illness,” The (Valparaiso, Indiana) Vidette-Messenger, 16 Mar 1950, p. 6; image copy, Newspaper Archive (accessed through participating libraries: 16 Aug 2016).
[5] 1940 U.S. census, Porter County, Indiana, Valparaiso, Ward 3, ED 64-6, sheet 4-B, family 89 (Blachley—transcribed as “Blackley”—Jay); imaged as “United States Census, 1940,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QSQ-G9MB-N9LX?i=7&cc=2000219 : accessed 6 July 2017); citing NARA digital publication T627.
[6] Porter County, Indiana, marriage records, vol. 9 (1889–1892), no. 282; imaged as “Indiana Marriages, 1811-2007,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/1410397 : accessed 22 Mar 2019) > >Porter >1889-1892 Volume 9 >image 179 of 361; citing Indiana Commission on Public Records, Indianapolis.
[7] “Benj. Edwards, Local Pioneer, Death Victim,” The Vidette-Messenger, 19 Mar 1934, p. 4, col. 4; online image, Newspaper Archive (accessed 15 April 2018).
[8] 1900 U.S. census, Porter County, Indiana, ED 91, Sheet 4B.
[9] 1910 U.S. census, Porter County, Indiana, ED 150, sheet 8A, dwelling 151, family 153; imaged as “United States Census, 1910,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GRJJ-FWS?i=14 : accessed 29 Oct 2015); citing NARA microfilm publication T624. 1920 U.S. census, Porter County, Indiana, ED 154, sheet 9B, dwelling 187, family 197; “United States Census, 1920,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GR67-31W?i=18 : accessed 14 Dec 2015); citing NARA microfilm publication T625.
[10] 1930 U.S. census, Porter County, Center Township, ED 64-7, sheet 7B; imaged as “United States Census, 1930,” FamilySearch images, (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GRH7-J26?i=13 : accessed 23 Mar 2019); citing NARA microfilm publication T626.
[11] “Benj. Edwards, Local Pioneer, Death Victim,” The Vidette-Messenger.
[12] “Indiana, Marriage Index, 1800-1941”, database, (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=5059 : accessed 23 Mar 2019), Charles Hicks & Alice Edwards, 4 Mar 1936; citing Starke County, Indiana, Index to Marriage Record 1896 – 1938, Inc. Letters, W. P. A.; original Record Located: County Clerk’s O; Book: H-21; Page: 20.
[13] “Charles Hicks and Wife Hurt in Auto Crash,” The Vidette-Messenger, 4 Feb 1938, p. 1, col. 7; Newspaper Archive (accessed 23 Mar 2019).
[14] “Condition of Charles Hicks Not Favorable,” The Vidette-Messenger, 25 February 1938, p. 1, col. 6; image copy, Newspaper Archive (accessed 23 March 2019).
[15] “C.S. Hicks Fails to Survive Crash Injuries,” The Vidette-Messenger, 28 Feb 1938, pp. 1-2; Newspaper Archive (accessed 23 March 2019).
[16] 1940 U.S. census, Porter County, Indiana, Valparaiso, Ward 3, ED 64-6, sheet 4-B.
[17] “Local Brevities,” The Vidette-Messenger, 3 Apr 1948, p. 2, col. 1; Newspaper Archive (accessed 12 Jul 2020).
[18] “Local Brevities,” The Vidette-Messenger, 13 Jul 1948, p. 2, col. 1; Newspaper Archive (accessed 12 Jul 2020).
[19] “Mrs Alice Hicks Dies Following Lingering Illness,” The Vidette-Messenger, 16 Mar 1950, p. 6; image copy, Newspaper Archive (accessed 16 Aug 2016).

Amos in Iowa?

This is my sixth post in the Guild of One-Name Studies (GOONS) blog challenge 2020. The challenge is to post 10 blogs in the first 12 weeks of the year.

Amos Casbon is not a new character in my blog. He can be considered the patriarch of what may be the largest branch of Casbons living in America. He was the son of James and Mary (Jackson) Casbon and the brother (or half-brother?) of Margaret “Maggie” Casbon, about whom I wrote in the fourth post of the GOONS challenge. Amos was born 6 July 1869 at Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, England.[1] He was only a toddler when his family emigrated to Porter County, Indiana, USA, in late 1870. He was probably only 4 or 5 years old when his mother died. His father remarried in 1876.[2] James was murdered in an unprovoked attack in August 1884, when Amos was 15 years old.[3]

After his father’s death, there is little solid information about Amos until his marriage to Carrie Belle Aylesworth in 1900. He was probably forced to grow up fast, without the support of a close loving family. Family tradition has it that Amos and his stepmother did not get along and that he was estranged from his sister Margaret, who seemed to have strayed from the “straight path.” He might have lived with and worked for local farmers. He was said to have lived for some time with his older cousin, Jesse Casbon, who also lived in Porter County. My impression is that this was an unsettled time in Amos’s life.

Portrait of a young Amos Casbon; undated, courtesy of Ron Casbon

We know that he worked as a grip for a Chicago streetcar company for four years in the late 1890s.[4]

Amos’s entry in The Lakeside Annual Directory of the City of Chicago
(Chicago: The Chicago Directory Co., 1896), p. 391; Ancestry.com

In addition, a 25 January 1900 news announcement tells us that Amos, then living in Chicago, was job hunting in the Boone Grove (Porter County, Indiana) area.[5]

Last May, when I spent time at the Valparaiso Public Library, I discovered that Amos had also spent some time in his late teens and perhaps early twenties living and working in Iowa. The discovery was made when I found this news item on microfilm.

Untitled Article, The Porter County Vidette, 11 July 1889

Why is this important? For one thing, it puts another data point on the timeline of Amos’s life, during a time about which we have little other information. The timeline is probably only important to me and to those descendants of Amos who share in interest in their family history (of whom there are several).

The second reason is that Amos’s presence in Iowa connects him to another branch of the family, specifically the branch living in Iowa that consisted Emma (Casbon) and Robert Rigg, and their nephew George Washington Casbon (see “Introducing the Iowa Casbons! Part 1”). Emma, although 22 years older, was Amos’s first cousin, the daughter of his uncle Thomas Casbon (1803–1888). George, who was five years younger than Amos, was his second cousin, the son of Emma’s brother Sylvester Casbon. Emma, Robert, and George lived on a farm in Tama County, Iowa, about six miles away from LaPorte City, where Amos was reported to be living in 1889.

It is unlikely to be a coincidence that that Amos was living and working so close to his Iowa relatives. It is a little surprising, though, since the Rigg family had moved to Iowa in 1876, when Amos was only 7 years old. Considering the difference in their ages, he was hardly old enough to have formed a close personal friendship with Emma, or with George, who was only 2 years old when he moved to Iowa.

We can infer from this that family ties between all the branches of the family—Amos, his stepmother and sisters, Emma’s family in Iowa, and her siblings in Indiana—were still very close. There had probably been occasional family visits between Iowa and Indiana, and letters were probably frequently exchanged. Even though Amos might not have had a close relationship to Emma and George, he was a member of the larger family. That bond was strong enough to bring him to Iowa as a young man.

Ties between the Iowa and Indiana Casbons remained strong for a generation or two. We know this from photographs and other items documenting visits between the Iowa and Indiana families. There is even a news item from 1931 reporting that Amos and his family had returned “from a trip to points in Iowa visiting friends and relatives.”[6]

By my generation, the ties between the Iowa and Indiana clans were virtually forgotten. For that matter, the ties between my branch and the descendants of Amos were very weak. Even though their families continued to live in the same county in Indiana, I never met or knew any of these cousins until recent years. I don’t believe this was the result of any kind of hostility; it was just a natural process that happened as each generation grew in size and the degrees of separation increased. Thankfully, as a result of efforts by members of all three branches to reconnect with our common heritage, not to mention modern conveniences such as Facebook and email, we are communicating and sharing stories with each other again.

[1] England, birth registration (PDF copy) for Amos James Casburn, born 6 Jul 1869; registered September quarter 1869, Chesterton District 3b/452, Willingham Sub-district,  no 45; General Registry Office, Southport.
[2] “Indiana Marriages, 1811-2007,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/1410397 : accessed 24 October 2015) >Porter >1871-1875 Volume 4 > image 242 of 246; Indiana Commission on Public Records, Indianapolis.
[3] “Murder! That is About what is Made out of the Case of Old Man Casbon,” Porter County (Indiana) Vidette, 28 Aug 1884, p. 1, col. 2.
[4] “Boone Grove Couple Will Observe 50th Anniversary,” The (Valparaiso, Indiana) Vidette-Messenger, 21 Nov 1950, p. 1, col. 6.
[5] “Boone Grove Items,” The Porter County Vidette, 25 January 1900.
[6]“Aylesworth,” The Vidette-Messenger, 27 Nov 1931, p. 6, col. 1.

More About Maggie

This is my fourth post in the Guild of One-Name Studies blog challenge 2020.

I have written two previous posts about Margaret—“Maggie”—Casbon (1864–1903), who was born out of wedlock as Margaret Jackson, the daughter of Mary Jackson (abt. 1833–abt. 1875). Mary Jackson married James Casbon (abt. 1813–1884) at Stretham, Cambridgeshire in 1866, when Maggie was two-and-a-half years old. James might have been Maggie’s father, but that is unknown. My first post about Maggie, written in December 2017, summarized everything I knew about her life at that time and the second post, from February 2019, presented her obituary. Today’s post is an update, with a correction and clarification about information I discussed in the 2017 post. It is also a cautionary tale about how incorrect conclusions can be drawn from derivative sources.

In my December 2017 post, I quoted the source “Genealogical Notes from the Porter Vidette, April 7, 1881 – Sept. 14, 1882,”[1] This was a typewritten extract of items of interest printed in an early Porter County, Indiana, newspaper. The entry dated 9 February 1882 listed a few marriages and deaths and then this statement: “Maggie Casbum living with Ben Woodard.”

Excerpt from “Genealogical Notes from the Porter Vidette, April 7, 1881–Sept. 14, 1882”

I interpreted the phrase “living with” from my modern perspective as meaning that Maggie was in a relationship, i.e., “living in sin” with Ben Woodard. This seemed like an odd thing to print in the newspaper, but then again, newspapers from that era tended to be more gossipy about local matters than they are today. I couldn’t view the microfilm of the original article at the time because it was at the Porter County Library, almost a thousand miles away from me. It wasn’t until early 2019 during a short visit to Indiana that I was able to view the microfilm. That was when I realized that my interpretation completely missed the mark. Here is the article.

Untitled article, The Porter County (Indiana) Vidette, 9 Feb 1882, p. 5, col. 1.

As you can clearly see, the phrase “living with” in the extract simply meant that Maggie had been living in the home of Ben Woodard and his family. There is no suggestion of an inappropriate relationship with Mr. Woodard. The article tells us that Maggie was suspected of stealing clothing from the Woodard family and was now missing. It also says that she has been suspected of similar activities in the past.

My mistake was that I had misinterpreted the limited information contained in the extract. This shows how a derivative source can sometimes lead us astray in our genealogical research. Elizabeth Shown Mills defines a derivative source as “material produced by copying an original or manipulating its content; e.g., abstracts, compilations, databases, extracts, transcripts, translations, and authored works such as historical monographs or family histories.”[2] She goes on to say: “Derivative sources also span the entire spectrum of reliability—depending upon the form they take; the circumstances of their creation; and the skill, bias, or aim of their creators.”[3] In this case, the extract failed to convey the true meaning of the original article.

This isn’t necessarily an error on the part of the librarian who prepared the extract, since she probably only intended to note the fact that both Maggie Casbon and Ben Woodard were mentioned in an article. The purpose of the “Genealogical Notes” is to save readers hours of time they would have spent scrolling through microfilm reels and reading the fine print of newspapers in search of their persons of interest. Instead, a library patron, upon reading the extract, would know which microfilm reel to pull and which newspaper edition contained the information they wished to find.

The “real” story about Maggie as told in the article fills in another blank in what we know about her and portrays her in a negative light. The article also raises new questions. It was written in 1882, when Maggie was 17 years old. This was two years before her father (or stepfather?), James, was murdered. Yet, she was said to claim that she was “an orphan, and destitute of a home.” Why would she make such a claim? We can only speculate, as there are several possible reasons: 1) After her mother’s death, perhaps she truly was an orphan (i.e., without a living parent) if James was not her biological father; 2) Perhaps for reasons unknown to us, she was estranged from James and her new stepmother and had been turned out of their home; 3) Perhaps she left her home of her own volition and was posing as an orphan in order to take advantage of the good will of others. We will probably never know the whole story.

One danger of genealogical research is the risk of drawing broad conclusions from limited information. It would be easy to dismiss Maggie as a “black sheep,” but this would be an oversimplification. I prefer to look at this episode in the context of what else is known about her.

Maggie did not have an easy life. Born out of wedlock, she was taken to a strange land (Indiana, USA) when she was only six years old. She lost her mother when she was probably no more than ten and then raised by a man who might not have been her biological father and a new stepmother. We know nothing about her home life in Indiana except that her father or stepfather was a poor laborer. This man (James Casbon) was murdered when she was 20 years old. Maggie had an unsuccessful marriage about seven months after the Vidette article was printed. Then there is a huge gap in information between 1882 and her second marriage in 1899. This marriage was ended four years later by her untimely death at the age of 39 due to uterine cancer. She never had children. The 1882 news article is the only piece of information portraying her in a negative light. It would be wrong to draw a general conclusion about her character based on this episode that took place in her teenage years.

Unless new information turns up, this is probably the last thing I’ll have to say about Maggie. Why do I write about her at all? Part of the reason is that I am especially interested in those family members who made the difficult journey to America in the mid- to late 1800s. Part of the reason is that there is no one else to tell her story, and I think it is worth telling. And finally, I have to admit that I have the genealogists’ disease of being unable to resist the desire to go down rabbit holes in search of just about anything.

[1] Kaye Griffiths, compiler (typescript, 1983), no. G977.298; Genealogy Department, Porter County Public Library, Valparaiso.
[2] Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained, 3d ed. (for Kindle) (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2015), p. 24.
[3] Shown Mills, Evidence Explained, p. 24.

The Obituary of Mrs. William Biederstadt

I rely on the internet so much that it’s easy to forget that there are other ways to get information. Sometimes all it takes is a phone call. Do you remember when we used to look up numbers in the phone book?

In this case, I happened to be browsing the web site of the Michigan City Public Library. Michigan City is in La Porte County, Indiana, right next to Porter County, my ancestral home. When I opened the “Genealogy” link on the web site, I saw that they have an obituary search index and decided to give it a try. I recalled that Margaret “Maggie” Casbon had married William Biederstadt and died in Michigan City. Maggie has always been somewhat of a mystery to me, so I’m always happy to find something new about her. I typed in her information and, lo and behold, this is what popped up.

Detail from Michigan City Public Library search. https://www.mclib.org/

The library had a copy of Maggie’s obituary on file!

I noticed that for five dollars I could get a copy of the obituary, and the phone number was right there, so I dialed the number and was almost immediately connected to the reference librarian. She took the information and promised she would get to it right away. A short time later an email arrived with the obituary. How easy was that?

The Michigan City Dispatch, 7 May 1903, page 8, column 6.

I really enjoy finding obituaries because they often contain a lot of information about the deceased and their families. In this case, we get a capsule summary of Maggie’s life. I’m not sure any of the information is new, but it is still interesting and is revealing for what is said and for what is left unsaid.

Although the date is not given, Maggie died on Thursday, April 30, 1903.[1] I already knew that she died of cancer of the uterus—such a shame for a relatively young woman (thirty-nine). It’s interesting that the obituary says she died “at the home of her husband.” Why doesn’t it say “at her home” or “at the home she shared with her husband”? It probably doesn’t signify anything, but still makes me wonder. Contrary to what is written, she came to the United States from England when she was six years old. Little mistakes like these are common—she wasn’t the one giving the information to the newspaper, after all. The statement that Maggie came to Michigan City “five or six years ago” is also interesting.  It has a certain amount of vagueness to it that matches my overall impression of Maggie. She has been hard to pin down. She had been married to William Biederstadt for less than four years. Why was she in Michigan City before that? We really don’t know.

There are some interesting omissions as well. Yes, her parents were both dead—father James in 1884 and mother Mary (Jackson) sometime before 1876. But her husband was not the only one to survive her. The obituary fails to mention her stepmother, Mary (Payne), who died in Boone Grove less than two weeks after Maggie’s death.[2] There’s an oral tradition that she did not have a good relationship with her stepmother. Nor does it mention her brother Amos or sister Alice, both of whom were married and living in Porter County. Does this signify some distance in their relationships, ignorance on her husband’s part, or simply the editorial decisions of the newspaper?

Maggie never had children, so there are no descendants to honor her memory. She had a tumultuous life and much of it remains a mystery. I would like to think that her almost four-year marriage to William Biederstadt finally brought some peace and stability to her life. But, I’ll never really know.

[1] Indiana, State Board of Health, Certificate of Death, Michigan City, La Porte County, record no. 54, Maggie Biederstedt, 30 Apr 1903; imaged as “Indiana, Death Certificates, 1899-2011,” database with images, Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=60716 : 5 December 2017), Certificate >1903 >06 >image 2083 of 2771; Indiana Archives and Records Administration, Indianapolis.
[2] Indiana, State Board of Health, Certificate of Death, Porter County, no. 39, Mary P Carbon, 10 May 1903; “Indiana, Death Certificates, 1899-2011,” Ancestry (cited previously: accessed 27 April 2018), Certificate >1903 >10, image 339 of 2788.

Margaret Casbon, 1864–1903

The original title for this post was going to be “What Happened to Margaret?” I was going to write about how female ancestors can be more difficult to trace than males. However, in the course of writing, I came upon new (to me) data sources. With the new information, some more puzzle pieces have slid into place. So now, instead of my original purpose, I will use this post to summarize what I know about Margaret Casbon.

Before I had any records, I knew from word of mouth that James Casbon (~1814–1884) brought a daughter named Margaret with him when he came to Indiana from England in 1870. I was later able to confirm this when I found James’ entry in the 1880 U.S. census.[1]

Detail from 1880 U.S. Census, Porter Township, Porter County, Indiana (Click on image to enlarge)

The census lists James, his wife Mary, Margaret, age 16, Amos, age 10, and Alice, age 8. The careful reader will note that the birthplace for all three children is written as “Ind” for Indiana. In fact, only Alice was born in Indiana. Census reports frequently contain errors, and incorrect birth place is a common one.

In addition to the census, in time, I was able to locate the passenger list of the ship that carried James and his family to America.[2] This also showed that he traveled with Mary, Margaret, and Amos.

Detail from passenger manifest of ship Great Western, upon arrival in New York from Liverpool, England, dated December 27, 1870 (Click on image to enlarge)

You can see that their surname was misspelled as “Custon.” This made locating the passenger list especially challenging! You can also see that Margaret’s age is listed as six. This is consistent with the age given 10 years later in the 1880 census. Therefore, I knew that she was probably born within a year or so of 1864.

Unfortunately, when I tried to find a birth or baptismal record for Margaret, my searches kept coming up with no results. At that point in my research, I still did not know when or where James and Mary had been married, nor did I know Mary’s maiden name. Early this year (2017) I acquired transcripts of various parish records from Cambridgeshire. From these records I learned that James Casben married Mary Jackson in Stretham, Cambridgeshire, October 1866.[3]

But wait, that was two years after Margaret’s presumed birth date! Either the estimated birth year was wrong or Margaret was born before James and Mary became man and wife. This offered a possible explanation why I couldn’t find a birth record for Margaret Casbon. I searched again, this time looking for a birth record for Margaret Jackson. This time I was successful. I learned that Margaret’s birth had been recorded in Ely during the second quarter of 1864.[4]

But was this the right Margaret? To find out, I ordered a copy of the birth registration from the General Register Office (as described in two previous posts). Here is the record I received.[5]

Birth registration of Margaret Jackson (Click on image to enlarge)

Margaret was born in Stretham on March 26, 1864 to Mary Jackson. The father’s name is not given, so presumably Margaret was born out of wedlock. The location, date and mother’s name are all consistent with the information I already had about Margaret and her mother, so I’m confident this is the right birth record.

Margaret was about 2 ½ years old when her mother married James Casbon. Was James her father? There isn’t enough evidence to know for sure. Regardless, she became part of the family. Her brother (or half-brother?) Amos was born when Margaret was 5 years old.

What happened to Margaret after she came to America? I’ll try to answer that with the rest of this post.

First, let’s return to the 1880 census. I need to point out that James’ wife Mary in that census was not Margaret’s mother. Mary (Jackson) Casbon died sometime after their arrival in America, date unknown. James remarried, this time to Mary Payne, in 1876.[6] Margaret lost her mother at a fairly early age. What impact did that have on future events?

It also turns out that the census record shown at the beginning of this post is not the only census entry for Margaret that year.

Detail from 1880 U.S. Census, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana[7] (Click on image to enlarge)
This entry shows “Maggie” Casbon, age 17, listed as “At School” and a boarder in the household of Lucinda Waub, in Valparaiso, Indiana. Maggie is a common diminutive of Margaret. The entry shows that she and her parents were born in England. The age is not quite correct for our Margaret (17 vs. 16), but all the other facts line up. There is no evidence to suggest there was another person with this name in Indiana at the time. Margaret and “Maggie” must be the same person; she was counted twice in the 1880 census.

How did this happen? It turns out that being counted twice in a census is not that uncommon. There are many possible reasons. Census enumerators were instructed to enter “the name of every person whose ‘usual place of abode’ on the 1st day of June, 1880, was in that family.”[8] This instruction created an opportunity for duplications to occur, especially when a person did not reside full-time with their own family. Margaret might have been boarding with Mrs. Waub, but she probably spent weekends and school vacations with her family. The two censuses were recorded by different enumerators, probably on different days. Whatever the reason, Margaret was reported twice.

It’s interesting to me that Margaret was a student and boarding with someone other than her family.  Why was she still a student at age 16, when most girls had no more than an eighth-grade education? My guess is that Margaret was “catching up” from the lack of formal education in England. I think it’s unlikely that James could afford to pay boarding fees. I suspect that he was getting financial support from his brother Thomas, or one of Thomas’ sons, all of whom were well-settled and better off than James.

The first information I had about Margaret’s whereabouts after the 1880 census was this intriguing snippet extracted from the February 9, 1882 Porter County Vidette: “Married – Joseph Quinn – Viola Beard (Baird penciled in); Mrs J. Meyer of Mo.; Died – Wm Dye; Married – Kimberlin – Vita Pennock; Died – Lena Wulf; Maggie Casbum living with Ben Woodard.”[9] What an interesting thing to print in the newspaper! It seems a bit scandalous. Margaret would have been just under 18 years old at the time. [UPDATE, 16 Jan 2020: “living with” did not mean she had an intimate relationship with Ben Woodward. See “More About Maggie.”]

Apparently, the relationship with Ben Woodard did not last long, as revealed by this marriage record from September of the same year.[10]

Marriage record of Samuel Bastel and Margaret Casbon, 16 September 1882, Porter County, Indiana; note that Margaret’s surname is spelled both as Casbon and Caswell in this record; at the bottom of the page is Samuel Bastel’s sworn statement that he is over 21 years old and that Maggie is (just) over 18 (Click on image to enlarge)

How long this marriage lasted is unknown. There is another marriage record of Samuel Bastel to Eva Sharp in 1887.[11] However, there is evidence that more than one man named Samuel Bastel was living in Porter County at the time, so it is unknown whether Margaret and Eva married the same man.

Regardless, it is certain that Margaret and Samuel Bastel did not remain married, since there is another marriage record, to William Biederstadt, dated July 22, 1899.[12]

Marriage record of William Biederstadt and Maggie Casbon, 22 July 1899, Porter County, Indiana; note that the certificate of marriage section has not been completed (Click on image to enlarge)

The fact that “Maggie’s” name was given as Casbon and not Bastel makes me think that her previous marriage was short lived. But, there is a gap of almost 17 years between the two marriages, and Margaret’s whereabouts during that time are a mystery. The 1890 census records were lost in a fire, so they cannot be used to locate her. There is a family story that she might have become a “mail-order bride” in Seattle, but I’ve found no evidence to support or deny that.

I should also point out that Margaret’s father (or step-father?), James, was murdered in 1884.[13] So, by the age of 20, she had lost both parents. It’s unknown what kind of relationship she had with her step-mother or with her brother Amos and sister Alice, both of whom were quite a few years younger.

At this point in my research, the information I had about Margaret was clouded in uncertainty. Because of the incomplete marriage certification, it was unclear to me whether Margaret and William Biederstadt had actually been married. My confusion was compounded by the fact that I could not find Margaret in the 1900 census. I found an entry for William Biederstadt in nearby Michigan City, but in that record, he is listed as being single, and living in his parents’ household.[14]

I should add that I also I had a possible death record for Margaret. The record was only a brief extract, showing that Maggie Biederstedt, age 31, died in Michigan City April 30, 1903.[15] The extract did not include the name of her husband or parents. Was this the same Maggie who married William? The age was wrong – Margaret would have been 39 in April 1903. I needed stronger evidence before I could say that Margaret Casbon and this Maggie Biederstedt were the same person.

The breakthrough came when I located the death certificate on Ancestry (when I was well into writing this post).[16]

Image of Maggie Biederstedt’s death certificate, Michigan City, La Porte County, Indiana (Click on image to enlarge)

The certificate confirm’s that Maggie’s Biederstedt’s husband was named William. It gives her date of birth as January 1, 1872. This is significantly different than Margaret Casbon’s confirmed birth year of 1864. However, the birthplace is correctly shown as England. The incorrect birth date is puzzling, but given the fact that her father’s name is given as Casborn (also from England), there can be little doubt that this was Margaret Casbon. Note that William Biederstedt was the informant for the death certificate. “Don’t Know” is written for Margaret’s mother’s name. This isn’t surprising given that her mother had died more than twenty years earlier. The cause of death was “Uterine Carcinoma Duration Indefinite” (I’m not sure about the last word – doctors’ handwriting was no better then than it is now). The disease took her at a young age.

Given the knowledge that Margaret really was married to William Biederstadt, I decided to try to find her in the 1900 census one more time. Reasoning that the surname might have been misspelled or transcribed incorrectly, I searched in FamilySearch [link] for Maggie, no last name, born between 1862 and 1873 in England, residing in Indiana, with husband’s first name William. This search yielded 12 names, one of which caught my eye. It was for Maggie Reedlstead, born January 1873, and living in Michigan City.[17]

Detail from 1900 Census, Michigan City, La Porte County, Indiana (Click on image to enlarge)

If you examine the census entry closely, you can see that the first letter of the surname is really a “B,” with an incomplete bottom loop (compare to “Peters” a few lines above). In addition, the spelling has been mangled pretty badly, looking something like “Beedlstear.” Census enumerators weren’t hired for the spelling ability (or handwriting!), and once that’s understood, it’s fairly easy to see that this is the correct census record for William and Maggie Biederstadt.

There are two discrepancies in Maggie’s entry: her birth date, January 1873, and her year of immigration, 1880. There may be an innocent reason why the birth date is wrong, but the fact that her husband also gave an incorrect birth date on the death certificate makes me wonder if Margaret led him to believe she was younger than her true age. Since the claimed year of birth was later than the actual year she immigrated (1870) to America, it would only make sense to change this date as well.

The census shows that William and Maggie Biederstadt were childless in 1900. I haven’t found any evidence that they had children before Maggie’s death. Nor have I found any records suggesting that Margaret had children while married to Samuel Bastel.

“What Happened to Margaret?” is still a valid question, but unless new records turn up or a distant cousin can help fill in the blanks, this is as close as I can come to an answer.

[1] 1880 U.S. Census, Porter County, Indiana, population schedule, Porter Township, enumeration district 144, p. 545 (stamped), sheet C, dwelling 187, family 191, Casbon, James; imaged as “United States Census, 1880,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9YYY-9KW6?i=18&cc=1417683 : accessed 4 July 2016); citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 305.
[2] Passenger manifest of ship Great Western, unnumbered p. 3, lines 27-30, James Custon (age 57) and family; imaged as “New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1891,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:939V-51S2-X5?i=106&cc=1849782 : accessed 10 November 2016), image 107; citing NARA microfilm publication M237, Roll 338.
[3] “Stretham Marriages 1558 – 1952,” PDF extract, database,  Cambridge 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.
[4] “England and Wales Birth Registration Index, 1837-2008,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2XM7-VHC : 1 October 2014), Margaret Jackson, 2d qtr, 1864; from “England & Wales Births, 1837-2006,” database, findmypast (http://www.findmypast.com : 2012); citing Birth Registration, Ely, Cambridgeshire, vol. 3B: 551, line 124.
[5] England, birth registration (PDF copy) for Margaret Jackson, born 26 Mar 1864; registered April quarter 1864, Ely district 3B/551, Haddenham Sub-district, Cambridgeshire; General Register Office, Southport.
[6] Porter County, Indiana, Marriage Records, vol. 4: 348, James Casbon/Mary Payne, 15 Jan 1876; image copy, “Indiana Marriages, 1811-2007,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GTM4-RLH?i=241&cc=1410397 : accessed 24 October 2015); citing Porter County; FHL microfilm 1,686,156.
[7] 1880 U.S. Census, Porter County, Indiana, population schedule, Valparaiso, enumeration district 140, p. 486 (stamped), dwelling 649, family 663, Maggie Casbon in household of Lucinda Waub; imaged as “United States Census, 1880,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9YYY-92Q6?i=82&cc=1417683 : accessed 1 December 2017); citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 305.
[8] “1880 Census Instructions to Enumerators,” United States Census Bureau (https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/decennial-census/technical-documentation/questionnaires/1880/1880-instructions.html : accessed 5 December 2017).
[9] Kaye Griffiths, compiler, “Genealogical Notes from the Porter Vidette, April 7, 1881 – Sept. 14, 1882,” (typescript, 1983), listed as Volume 5 – 3 parts, no. G977.298; Genealogy Department, Porter County Public Library, Valparaiso.
[10] Porter County, Indiana, “Marriage Record 7, July 1882 – Oct 1885,” p. 39 (stamped), Samuel Bastel/Maggie Coswell ( also spelled “Casbon,” same document), 16 Sep 1882; “Indiana Marriages, 1811-2007,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9TMB-J83?i=49&cc=1410397 : 21 January 2016), Porter > 1882-1885 Volume 7 > image 50 of 349; County clerk offices, Indiana.
[11] “Indiana Marriages, 1811-2007,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KDHQ-3K8 : 4 November 2017), Samuel Bastel and Eva Sharp, 08 Jan 1887; citing Porter, Indiana, United States, various county clerk offices, Indiana; FHL microfilm 1,686,210.
[12] Porter County, Indiana, “Marriage Record 12, Nov. 1898 – Oct. 1901,” p. 103 (stamped), William Biederstadt/Maggie Casbon, 22 Jul 1899; “Indiana Marriages, 1811-2007,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GR15-W5H?cc=1410397&wc=Q83F-4HT%3A963055701%2C963108501 : 21 January 2016), image 104 of 328; County clerk offices, Indiana.
[13] Jon Casbon, “James Casbon of Meldreth, England and Porter County, Indiana,” blog entry, Our Casbon Journey (https://casbonjourney.wordpress.com/2016/11/29/james-casbon-of-meldreth-england-and-porter-county-indiana/ : accessed 6 December 2017).
[14] “United States Census, 1900,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MM1Y-HRY : accessed 6 December 2017), William Biederstadt in household of John Biederstadt, Michigan Township, LaPorte, Indiana; citing enumeration district (ED) 55, sheet 14A, family 284, NARA microfilm publication T623.
[15] “Indiana Death Index, 1882-1920,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VZ77-2Y6 : 3 December 2014), Maggie Biederstedt, 30 Apr 1903, Mich City, Indiana; from “Indiana Deaths, 1882-1920,” database, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : 2003); citing Indiana Works Progress Administration, book CSS-2, County Health Office, Laporte.
[16] “Death Certificates, 1899-2011,” database with images, Ancestry Library Edition (accessed through participating libraries : 5 December 2017), certificate image, Maggie Biederstedt, 30 Apr 1903, La Porte County, Indiana, record no. 54; imaged from Indiana Archives and Records Administration, Death Certificates, 1903, roll 06.
[17] 1900 U.S. census, La Porte County, Indiana, population schedule, MIchigan City, enumeration district 65, p. 314 (stamped on preceding page), sheet 4B, 702 York, dwelling 71, family 74, William Reedlstead; imaged as”United States Census, 1900,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-D4L3-KG9?i=7&cc=1325221 : 5 August 2014); citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 384

The Birth Record of Amos James Casbon

A short while ago I wrote about a birth record I had obtained from the General Register Office (GRO) in England.[1] I actually received three birth records from the GRO in the same order. In addition to that of George Casbon, I received the records from Amos James Casbon and his sister Margaret. I’ll write about Amos today and save Margaret for a later post.

Here’s the record.

Birth registration of Amos James Casbon[2] (Click on image to enlarge)

What is the significance of this record? First of all, it gives Amos’ correct birth date – July 6, 1869 – and location – Chair Fen, Cottenham (Cambridgeshire). This differs from Amos’ obituary, which gives his birthday as July 2 and the location as Meldreth. The birth registration should be considered more likely to have accurate information, since it was completed nearer in time to the actual event. Although it might come as a surprise to some, it’s quite possible that Amos did not know his correct birthdate because his parents were semiliterate at best and did not know or remember the exact date. I have no idea why his obituary gave the birthplace as Meldreth, except that it was the birthplace of his father James and his uncle Thomas, so others might have assumed Amos came from there as well.

Previously, the only birth record I had was from an online birth registration index. The index gives the year and quarter of birth, and the name of the district where the birth was registered. Each registration district includes a number of different civil parishes (villages or towns). In Amos’ case, the index showed that his birth was registered at Chesterton during the third quarter of 1869. [3] The Chesterton district encompassed a large area surrounding the city of Cambridge and composed of 38 civil parishes.[4] So, the registration index alone did not give precise information about where or when Amos was born.

I also knew that Amos was baptized in the town of Stretham on August 3, 1869.[5] To be more accurate, his baptism was recorded in Stretham, but the baptism was performed “privately,” meaning it was not performed in the church. The baptismal record also gives the location of his parents’ abode as Cottenham.[6] The birth record narrows the location down further to a place known as Chair Fen.

I think Chair Fen must be a misspelling of Chear Fen, which can be found on maps of the Cottenham area. These two maps show the location of Chear Fen in relation to Cottenham, and a more detailed map of the fen area itself.

Detail from 1898 Ordnance Survey map of Cambridge (Hills), showing Cottonham;[7] Chear Fen is outlined in red; reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland (http://maps.nls.uk/index.html) under the terms of the CC-BY-NC-SA licence 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/legalcode) (Click on image to enlarge)

Detail from 1887 Ordnance Survey map of  Cambridgeshire, Sheet XXXIV.NE, showing Chear Fen,
just south of the Old West (Great Ouse) River;[8] reproduced with the permission of the National
Library of Scotland (http://maps.nls.uk/index.html) under the terms of the CC-BY-NC-SA licence 4.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/legalcode) (Click on image to enlarge)
Chear Fen is located about 3 miles northeast of Cottenham, roughly midway between Cottenham and Stretham. The proximity to Stretham may explain why Amos was baptized in Stretham rather than Cottenham. In addition, Amos’ mother, Mary (Jackson), was from Stretham, so they might have considered this their home parish.

Cottenham and Chear Fen are located within a large area in eastern England known as the Fenlands. Fens are low-lying wetlands that were historically prone to periodic flooding.[9] They were drained several centuries ago and are now maintained by a system of dikes, drains , and pumping stations.[10]

The River Great Ouse at Chear Fen;[11] photo by Bob Jones [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0 )], via Wikimedia Commons
The remainder of the information in Amos’ birth registration confirms facts already known from other sources: his father’s name was James; his mother was Mary née Jackson; and James worked as a farm labourer. Given their residence on Chear Fen, it’s likely that James lived where he worked, on one of the farms shown on the map.

Now that we know where and when Amos’ life began, I’ll end with this timeline of his life.

(Click on image to enlarge)

[1] Jon Casbon, “New Document Breaks through a Brick Wall,” 29 Oct 2017, Our Casbon Journey (https://casbonjourney.wordpress.com/2017/10/29/new-document-breaks-through-a-brick-wall/ : accessed 26 November 2017).
[2] England, birth registration (PDF copy), Amos James Casburn, born 6 Jul 1869; registered 9 Aug 1869, Chesterton District 3b/452, Willingham Sub-district, Cambridgeshire; General Registry Office, Southport.
[3] “England and Wales Birth Registration Index, 1837-2008,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2X7G-YF3 : accessed 12 September 2015), Amos James Casburn, 3d quarter,1869; from “England & Wales Births, 1837-2006,” database, findmypast (http://www.findmypast.com : 2012); citing Birth Registration, Chesterton, Cambridgeshire, vol. 3B:452; citing General Register Office, Southport, England.
[4] “Chesterton Registration District,” UK BMD (https://www.ukbmd.org.uk/reg/districts/chesterton.html : accessed 26 November 2017).
[5] “Cambridgeshire Baptisms,” database, findmypast (http://search.findmypast.com/record?id=gbprs%2fb%2f323728303%2f1 : accessed 30 January 2017), Amos James Casburn, 3 Aug 1869; citing Cambridgeshire parish records (transcribed by Cambridgeshire Family History Society).
[6] “Cambridgeshire Baptisms,” Amos James Casburn.
[7] “One-Inch to the mile, England and Wales, Revised New Series, Cambridge (Hills), Sheet 188,” 1898; online image, National Library of Scotland (http://maps.nls.uk/view/101168159 : accessed 27 November 2017); citing Ordnance Survey Office, Southampton.
[8] “Six-Inch to the mile, England and Wales, Cambridgeshire XXXIV.NE (includes: Cottenham; Landbeach; Stretham; Waterbeach; Wilburton),” 1887; online image, National Library of Scotland (http://maps.nls.uk/view/101571604 : accessed 26 November 2017); citing Ordnance Survey Office, Southampton.
[9] “The Fens,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fens : accessed 26 November 2017), rev. 08:07, 24 Nov 2017.
[10] “The Fens,” Wikipedia.
[11] “File:River Great Ouse at Chear Fen – geograph.org.uk – 271786.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:River_Great_Ouse_at_Chear_Fen_-_geograph.org.uk_-_271786.jpg : accessed 26 November 2017).

James Casbon (~1813–1884): Final Days in England

Today’s post serves as a coda to my previous post about James Casbon (~1813–1884). In that post I mentioned that James might have been living in Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, as early as 1861. He was probably living there when he married Mary Jackson in 1866; and he was definitely living there when his son Amos was born in 1869. [1],[2]

Cottenham is located 14 miles north northeast of James’ home town, Meldreth, and about 6 miles south southwest of Stretham, where James and Mary were married and Amos was baptized.

Map showing location of Cottenham in relation to Meldreth and Stretham[*] (Click on image to enlarge)

This news article from the Cambridge Chronicle and University Journal of September 10, 1870 once again places James in Cottenham, as well as in a difficult situation.[3]

Newspaper image © The British Library Board; all rights reserved; with thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk) (Click on image to enlarge)

This brief statement conveys some very interesting information, and raises questions as well.

In addition to giving James’ home as Cottenham, it tells us that he had two children at the time, that he was convicted of neglect, and that he was being committed to “the Castle.”

Who were the children? They must have been Amos and his older sister, Margaret. Amos was just over a year old in September 1870. Margaret was probably born 1864 in Stretham.[4] Margaret and Amos were the two children who arrived in the United States with Amos and his wife Mary (Jackson) in December, 1870.[5]

In what way did James neglect his children? What was the legal definition of child neglect in nineteenth-century England? I found the answer in The Poor Law Amendment Act, 1868.

With regard to child neglect, the law states,

When any Parent shall wilfully neglect to provide adequate Food, Clothing, Medical Aid, or Lodging for his Child, being in his Custody, under the Age of Fourteen Years, whereby the Health of such Child shall have been or shall be likely to be seriously injured, he shall be guilty of an Offence punishable on Summary Conviction, and being convicted thereof before any Two Justices shall be liable to be imprisoned for any Period not exceeding Six Months.[6]

I’ve been unable to find any news article or other source giving details of James’ trial or conviction, so we really don’t know the circumstances. We know that James was perpetually poor. We don’t know enough about him to know whether he would willfully neglect his children.

Another question I have is, where was Mary? Presumably she was at home with the children doing the best she could. James was probably the breadwinner, and somehow fell short of his responsibilities.

Readers may wonder what “castle” James was being committed to. The Castle was the name of the building that served as the county jail (or gaol) for Cambridgeshire.[7] Originally a Norman castle, it served as the jail for centuries.[8] The original castle was torn down and replaced by a newer building in 1807.[9] This is the building where James would have been confined.

If he was actually in jail for the entire two months, he would have been released right before he and his family boarded the ship Great Western in Liverpool, November 11, 1870, bound for New York.[10]

Detail of passenger manifest from the ship Great Western, which arrived in New York on Christmas Day, 1870;[11] James’s surname has been misspelled as “Custon”
With the information available, it’s possible to create a timeline of James’ life in England.

(Click on image to enlarge)

A long chapter in James’ life came to an end in dramatic fashion. Coming out of the Castle and traveling to Liverpool to board the ship, James’ final days in England must have been hectic. Was the trip planned and anticipated, or was it a last-minute decision? How did he pay for the voyage? He must have had financial assistance, probably from his brother Thomas in Indiana. Whatever the circumstances, he was on his way.

[*] Detail from Ordnance Survey of England and Wales, Revised New Series (1903), Sheet 16, 1:253,440 (label boxes added). 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 (http://www.VisionofBritain.org.uk). Creative Commons license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)
[1] “Stretham Marriages 1558 – 1952,” PDF extract, database,  Cambridge Family History Society (https://www.cfhs.org.uk/tokens/tokpub.cfm : accessed 2 September 2017), >Casben >Stretham >Stretham Marriages 1558 – 1952, James Casben & Mary Jackson, 3 Nov 1866; citing Stretham (Cambridgeshire) parish records.
[2] “Cambridgeshire Baptisms,” database, findmypast (http://search.findmypast.com/record?id=gbprs%2fb%2f323728303%2f1 : accessed 30 January 2017), Amos James Casben, 3 Aug 1869, Stretham; citing Cambridgeshire parish records (transcribed by Cambridgeshire Family History Society).
[3] “Cambridgeshire … Commitments to the Castle,” Cambridge (England) Chronicle and University Journal, Isle of Ely Herald, and Huntingdonshire Gazette, 10 September 1870, p. 4, col. 6, para. 13; accessed in “British Newspapers,” online archive, findmypast (https://search.findmypast.com/bna/ViewArticle?id=BL%2F0000421%2F18700910%2F049%2F0004 : accessed 25 March 2017)
[4] “Cambridgeshire Baptisms,” findmypast (https://search.findmypast.com/record?id=gbprs%2fb%2f323728146%2f1 : accessed 22 September 2017), Margaret Jackson, 24 Jul 1864, Stretham.
[5] Passenger manifest of ship Great Western, unnumbered p. 3, lines 27-30, James Custon (age 57) and family; imaged as “New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1891,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:939V-51S2-X5?i=106&cc=1849782 : accessed 10 November 2016), image 107; citing NARA microfilm publication M237, Roll 338.
[6] Hugh Owen, Jun., Esq., The Poor Law Amendment Act, 1868 (31 & 32 Vict., C. CXXII.) (London: Knight & Co., 1868), p. 26: 37; online image, Google Books (https://books.google.com/books?id=vWkZAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false : accessed 22 September 2017).
[7] Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambridge_Castle : accessed 22 Sep 2017), “Cambridge Castle,” rev. 08:28, 22 Sep 17.
[8] “A History of Cambridge County Gaol 1802-1829,” Victorian Crime & Punishment (http://vcp.e2bn.org/justice/page11587-a-history-of-cambridge-county-gaol-1802-1829.html : accessed 22 September 2017)
[9] “A History of Cambridge County Gaol 1802-1829.”
[10] “Home Ports,” Lloyd’s List (London), No. 17,651, 12 Nov 1870, p. 2, numbered column 7 (Liverpool … sailed, Great Western, 11 Nov 1870); accessed in “British Newspapers,” online images, findmypast (https://search.findmypast.com/bna/viewarticle?id=bl%2f0000861%2f18701112%2f024 : accessed 13 January 2017).
[11] Passenger manifest of ship Great Western.