Forebears: Cambridgeshire

My last post began an exploration into the early English origins of Our Casbon Journey. I presented data from parish (church) records from 1560 through 1699, showing where baptisms fitting a particular spelling pattern were reported throughout England. Baptisms in Cambridgeshire were recorded earlier and far outnumbered those of any other county. This post will examine Cambridgeshire baptisms in more detail.

Let me begin by explaining a little bit about England’s counties and parishes. Counties can be defined in several ways, but for the purposes of this discussion, they are considered historic administrative and geographic divisions that date back many centuries. The word shire is an older term for county and we frequently see it used as a suffix in the formal names of many English counties. Thus, Cambridgeshire means Cambridge County.

The historic counties of England; Cambridgeshire is highlighted in yellow; this image made use of data provided by the Historic County Borders Project (http://www.county-borders.co.uk) (Click on image to enlarge)

Parishes were the basic geographic and administrative unit of the Church of England (and the Roman Catholic church before that). Parishes were associated with individual towns or villages, except in cities, where there could be multiple parishes. Parishes carried out both religious and basic governmental functions within their boundaries. They were responsible for tasks such as law enforcement, maintenance of roads and highways, and relief of the poor. In the nineteenth century, civil parishes were created to take over the secular responsibilities previously carried out by the ecclesiastical, or church-related, parishes. Both types of parish coexist today.

In 1538, during the time of Henry VIII, parishes were required for the first time to record every baptism, marriage, and burial that occurred within their boundaries. Before this, there had been no universal or systematic method for recording vital events. The earliest records were kept on paper and many of them have been lost. In 1558, Queen Elizabeth ordered that the records be written on parchment. These were more durable and more of these have survived. During the time of the English Civil War and Commonwealth, 1642–1660, many records were lost or destroyed. These gaps often make it difficult to trace family connections beyond the mid-to-late seventeenth century.

In Cambridgeshire, most parish records are available online, either as transcriptions or actual digital images (copied from microfilm). I have tried to find and save a copy of every record with the Casb___ spelling pattern that is available. As mentioned in the previous post, I found records of 255 baptisms that occurred in Cambridgeshire between 1560 and 1699. Let’s look at these in further detail.

The following map and table show the parishes where these baptisms are recorded. In addition to the name of the parish, the number of baptisms (in parentheses), earliest year of baptism, and predominant spelling(s) of the surname are provided.

Interactive Google map showing the parishes in Cambridgeshire where Casb___ baptisms are recorded. The red outline is the approximate county border during the 16th and 17th centuries. Click on a marker to see more details. See below for descriptions of color coding and different markers

Parish (# of baptisms)Earliest baptismPredominant Surname(s)
Babraham (2)1595Casbolt(e)
Balsham (1)1691Casbout
Barrington (4)1682Casbolt
Bartlow (1)1699Casebolt
Bottisham (4)1672Casbone
Burwell (52)1565Casburn, Caseb(o)urn(e), Cawsb(o)urn(e)
Cambridge (6)1613Casboll, Casbone, Casbolt
Ely (8)1622Casborn, Cas(e)bo(u)rn(e)
Fowlmere (21)1582Casbolt(e), Casbourne
Fulbourn (3)1661Casbon
Grantchester (2)1584Cas(e)bowle
Great Abington (4)1685Cas(e)bolt
Hildersham (6)1571Casbolt
Isleham (23)1567Cas(e)born(e)
Linton (57)1560Casbo(u)lt(e)
Little Wilbraham (4)1673Causbone
Littleport (3)1686Cas(e)bo(u)rne
Melbourn (34)1578Casbold(e), Cas(t)bolt, Catsbold
Orwell (1)1580Casbold
Stow cum Quy (2)1696Cazborn, Caseburn
Stuntney (1)1653Casborne
Thriplow (15)1575Cas(e)bo(u)lt
Wendy cum Shingay (1)1563Casbolde
A table showing parish (# of baptisms), year of earliest baptism, and predominant surnames

While summarizing this data, I noticed that there are regional differences in how the surname is spelled, and identified four distinct areas. The names always begin with the same Cas(e)b– pattern, but the ending is different in each area. These areas are depicted by the four marker colors on the map.

I’ve selected an “epicenter” for each area. This is the parish where the greatest number of—and usually the earliest—baptisms were recorded. The epicenters are represented on the map by the markers with stars.

Here are the four patterns and areas:

  • rn(e) ending: Casborn, Casbourn, Casborne, Casbourne, Casburn, etc. These are the predominant spellings in the parishes indicated by black markers. The parishes are: Burwell, Ely, Isleham, Littleport, Stow cum Quy, and Stuntney. All are located north of Cambridge city. Both the greatest numbers and earliest records of baptisms in this area come from Burwell, the epicenter. Burwell is unique in that Cas(e)b– is usually followed by urn or urne as opposed to orn(e) or ourn(e) in the rest of this area. The –urn spelling is still associated with Burwell today. There is even a Casburn Lane in Burwell!
Number 1, Casburn Lane, in Burwell; Google Street View image
  • lt(e) ending: Casbolt, Casboult, Casbolte, Casboulte, etc. These parishes are represented by the blue markers and are found in the southern and southeastern parts of the county. They are: Babraham, Balsham, Barrington, Bartlow, Fowlmere, Great Abington, Hildersham, Linton, and Thriplow. Linton is the epicenter, with both the most (57) and earliest (1560) baptisms. The Casbolt spelling is most often seen today.
  • ld(e) ending: Casbold(e) and Catsbold; represented by grey markers, the parishes are Melbourn, Orwell, and Wendy cum Shingay in southwestern Cambridgeshire. Although the earliest record is found in Wendy (1563), many more records (34) are found in Melbourn, so I have marked that parish as the epicenter. Surnames ending in –olt are also common in Melbourn. Melbourne is adjacent to the –olt area, so it’s not surprising that there should be overlap between the areas. Linguistically, –ld is much closer to –lt than either one is to –rn, so perhaps the surname in these two areas (-olt and –old) have a common origin.
  • on(e), –owle and –oll endings: Casbon, Casbone, Casbowle, and Casboll. These surnames, indicated by orange markers, occur in Bottisham, Cambridge, Fulbourn, Grantchester, and Little Wilbraham. The parishes are in the near vicinity or a bit east of Cambridge City, which I’ve named as the epicenter. In general the surname came to these parishes later than the other areas, so perhaps the name changed as people migrated. the –n and –l endings seem to be a mix of the northern and southern areas. This area also has the smallest number of baptisms—19 total.

What does all this mean? I can only guess. One possibility is that the surname developed independently in at least two parts of Cambridgeshire—the -rn(e) variant in the north and the -lt(e) and -ld(e) variant in the south. Or maybe there was one point of origin, long before church records came into being, and the spellings and pronunciation changed as descendants migrated to other parishes. I would dearly like to know. It would take a detailed Y-DNA study to find an answer.

Future posts will look focus on individual parishes in Cambridgeshire.

Forebears: England

fore·bear also for·bear  (fôrʹbâr′)
n. A person from whom one is descended; an ancestor.
(American Heritage Dictionary https://ahdictionary.com/)

Who were the Casbon/Casban/Casben forebears?

One thing the COVID pandemic has done is given me plenty of time for online research. I’ve been using this time lately to explore the origins of the Casbon surname in England.

I’ve traced my branch with reasonable certainty to William Casbolt, who married Martha Cauckett at Barrington, Cambridgeshire on 6 November 1692[1] and was buried there in 1714.[2] William’s son Thomas (~1693–1774) was the father of John Casborn (~1721–1796), who moved to Meldreth, Cambridgeshire as an apprentice cordwainer (shoemaker) in 1736 and established the family line there. I’ve also traced the Peterborough line to another William—William Caseborne of Littleport (d. 1699).

Although I’ve traced these two family lines into the late 1600s, the trail goes cold at that point. There are too many gaps in the available records and not enough information contained in those records to connect the families any further back in time.

Nevertheless, there is abundant evidence of families who were probably or possibly related to today’s Casbon, Casben, and Casban lines.

The modern spelling of Casbon, along with closely related surnames of Casbolt and Casburn, arose from a kind of primordial soup of names that had certain elements in common. They all started with the letters C and (almost always) a. These were followed by s and b, which were sometimes separated by an e. B was usually followed by o, ou, or u. The names ended with a limited set of letter combinations: lt, lte, ld, lde, rn, or rne or occasionally just n or ne. Thus, some of the most common variants were:

Casbolt, Casboult, Casboulte
Casebolt, Caseboult, Caseboulte
Casbold, Casbolde, Casebold
Casborn, Casbourn, Casbourne
Caseborn, Caseborne, Casebourne
Casburn, Casburne, Caseburn, Caseburne
Casbon, Casbone

Sometimes there are oddball spellings such as Casbal, Casbell or Casbelt. Many of these variants can be connected through genealogical records.

Why so many spellings? There are two main reasons. First, English spelling was not standardized at that time. Individuals spelled words whichever way seemed best to them. The second reason is that illiteracy was widespread. Most people, especially the working classes, could not write and therefore could not spell their own names. The names we see in older records were written by a select few, such as government officials, clerks, and clergy, who had some degree of literacy.

The spelling of surnames was especially variable because they weren’t common everyday words. Regional dialects might have also resulted in different pronunciations. When recording baptisms, marriages, and deaths, the clergy and church scribes had to puzzle out the best way to spell each name. In old church records, the spelling of a name often changes with changes in handwriting, indicating that a new person had started keeping the records.

Here are several examples of baptismal records showing variant spellings (and handwriting styles!)

An unusual spelling from Burwell, Cambridgeshire, 1565: 22 die July bapt Agnet Cawsbourne (FamilySearch) (Click on image to enlarge)
From Linton, Cambridgeshire, 1599: “Helen the daughter of Wm Casboult bap – 26 August” (FamilySearch) (Click on image to enlarge)
From Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, 1615: “Lott Casbone the sonne of William Casbone baptized the last December” (FamilySearch) (Click on image to enlarge)
From Melbourn, Cambridgeshire, 1631: “Mary daughter of Tho: Casbould – [baptized] 11 October” (FamilySearch) (Click on image to enlarge)
From Melbourn: “William the sonn of William & Ann Castbold, was baptized Januarie the 21th: 1669” (FamilySearch) (Click on image to enlarge)
From Littleport, Cambridgeshire, 1687: “William son of Wm & Alice Casborne bap’d Nov’r.-04” (FamilySearch) (Click on image to enlarge)
From Barrington, Cambridgeshire, 1693: “Thomas the sonn of Will Casbolt was baptized November 26th” (FamilySearch) (Click on image to enlarge)

Searching individual records for each different spelling would be a tedious task. Fortunately, most family history websites—Ancestry, FamilySearch, Findmypast, etc.—allow searches using wildcards—special characters used to represent unknown characters or a sequence of characters in a search term. For example, a question mark “?” can be used to represent a single character and an asterisk “*” can be used to represent one or more characters. Therefore, a search for all the variant spellings above can be accomplished by using C*s?b* as the last name in a record search.

Screen shot of a search result using C*s?b* as the last name in FamilySearch (Click on image to enlarge)

Using this method, I searched online records in England for baptisms of possible Casbon ancestors between 1538 (the first year English parishes were required to keep records of baptisms, marriages, and burials) and 1699. I chose 1699 as the cutoff both to limit the number of records and because I’ve traced the modern lines back to the late 1600s.

This search yielded almost 350 individual baptisms throughout England with names that fit the general spelling patterns described above. The map and table below summarize the results, subdivided by English counties. Each shows the name of the county, the number of baptisms recorded, the predominant spelling variants, and the earliest occurrence of the surname.

Interactive Google map showing the counties (with county seat marked) where baptisms with early variants of the Casbon surname are recorded between 1560 and 1699; click on individual markers to see county name, number of baptisms (in parentheses), predominant surname variants, and earliest occurrence of the surname in that county

CountyPredominant SpellingsEarliest Occurrence
Bedfordshire (12)Ca[s/z]bolt, Cas(h)bolt1579
Bristol (3)Casborn1653
Cambridgeshire (255)Cas(e)bo(u)lt(e), Cas(e)bo(u)rn(e), Cas(e)burn(e)1560
Cheshire (1)Cusball1649
Durham (1)Caseboult1667
Essex (7)Casbo(a)te, Cas(t)bolt1569
Gloucestershire (20)Cosborn(e), Cosburn(e)1619
Hampshire (1)Cas(e)born, Causabon1639
Hertfordshire (17)Cas(e)bo(u)lt, Casebull, Caseball1670
Kent (18)Ca(u)sabon(e), Cas(e)born(e)1605
London (4)Cassabone, Causabon, Cosborne1652
Norfolk (4)Casburne, Cosbon1628
Somerset (2)Caseborn(e)1698
Suffolk (7)Casbo(u)rne1629
Sussex (1)Caseborne1667
Wiltshire (1)Cosburn1691
Yorkshire (1)Casseborne1658
A table showing the data represented in the map above: county (number of baptisms), predominant spellings, and earliest occurrence of the surname in parish records

What does this data tell me about these potential Casbon forebears? First, during this timespan, surnames with the C_s_b_, etc. spelling pattern were fairly widespread, especially in the southern and eastern counties of England. That said, Cambridgeshire accounted for far more of the baptisms—72 percent—than any other county. The percentage goes up to 85 percent if you include five counties bordering on Cambridgeshire—Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Essex, Suffolk, and Norfolk. The earliest record (1560) also comes from Cambridgeshire. These findings suggest that the surname might have arisen in or near Cambridgeshire. The number of baptisms and geographical diversity suggest that the surname arose a long time—perhaps a few centuries—before parish records were being kept. Was there a common ancestor in the Cambridgeshire area? Or was there a common factor unique to the area that led multiple families to adopt a common surname?

It’s likely that the surname arose independently in some counties. I’m most certain of this in the county of Kent, where the name is likely of French origin, possibly brought by Huguenot refugees (more about this in a future post, perhaps). In Gloucestershire, the name is spelled with an initial o instead of a: Cosb___, with the earliest record in 1619. This variant might have arisen independently; or perhaps someone with the Casb___ spelling migrated from elsewhere, with the spelling and/or pronunciation changing in the process. Later dates of first occurrence might also indicate migration from another region.

It’s theoretically possible to test whether the families represented by these baptismal records are related using Y-DNA, which is passed through the paternal line. Doing so would require tracing the families forward and getting DNA samples from surviving male descendants. I have done partial Y-DNA testing on myself and have close matches with two individuals named Casbolt and Casebolt. This might mean that we have a common ancestor, but it would require more extensive (and expensive) testing to find out if and how closely we are related.

In future posts, I will focus on possible forebears in Cambridgeshire, first with a general overview, and then a parish-by-parish breakdown.


[1] Church of England, Barrington (Cambridgeshire), Bishop’s Transcripts, 1692; digitized as “Bishop’s transcripts for Barrington, 1599-1864,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007562691?cat=672635 : accessed 24 January 2019) >film # 007562691 >image 324 of 1174; citing FHL microfilm 1,818,360.
[2] Church of England, Barrington (Cambridgeshire), Bishop’s Transcripts, 1714; (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007562691?cat=672635 : accessed 29 December 2018) >film # 007562691 >image 390 of 1174.

Musings on John, Continued

In the last post, I hope I made a convincing argument that John, baptized Casborn in Orwell, 1721, is the direct ancestor of myself and many of today’s Casbons, Casbans and Casbens.

However, I pointed out one inconsistency in the records. John was trained as a cordwainer, or shoemaker. However, the man who was buried in 1796 was recorded as parish clerk. The essential question is, “could he have been both a cordwainer and a parish clerk?”

I’ll start by exploring the meaning of the word clerk and the historical background of parish clerks in England. When I first saw the term parish clerk, I saw it with my twenty-first century eyes, and assumed it referred to someone who was literate and kept various church records. However, the meaning of the word clerk has changed considerably over time, as have the duties and qualifications of parish clerks.

Clerk derives from the Latin clericus, which means priest, clergyman, cleric, or scholar.[1] The English word clerk has had different meanings over time. Originally, it referred to “any one who took part in the services of the Church, whether he was in major or minor orders.”[2] Over time, the meaning of clerk changed to refer to anyone who could read or write, then later to “an assistant in public or private business,” and eventually to “a retail salesman” and “an employee who registers guests in a hotel.”[3]

Likewise, the meaning of the term parish clerk has changed over time. In early times, parish clerks “were formerly clerks in orders, and their business at first was to officiate at the altar.”[4] The clerk’s main duties were to “to be able to sing; to read the epistle; and to teach.”[5]

Embellished letter ‘E’ from an illuminated manuscript: priest giving communion to a sick man in bed, described in Ditchfield, The Parish Clerk, as “The Clerk Accompanying the Priest when Visiting the Sick.”[6] The British Library (https://www.bl.uk).(Click on image to enlarge)

After the Commonwealth period in English history (1649–1660), the rank and status of parish clerks was diminished.[7] “Now they are laymen, and have certain fees with the parson, on christnings [sic], marriages, burials, etc. besides wages for their maintenance.”[8] Qualifications for the position included the following: “the said Clerk shall be of Twenty Years of Age at the least, and known … to be of honest Conversation, and Sufficient for his Reading, Writing, and also his competent Skill in Singing,” although the requirement for singing seems to have been optional.[9] Parish clerks were generally nominated by the minister, and appointed for life.[10]

Besides serving as an assistant to the minister, the clerk had a multitude of other duties.

He attended practically every service, keeping dogs out and people awake and collecting pew rents and customary fees. He wrote the accounts if the wardens and overseers were illiterate, made out fair copies of the lists of church rates, assisted officers in their collection, and was capable of dealing with intransigent Independents and Quakers, perhaps assisted in a town by a beadle. He collected tolls on sheep pastured in the churchyard (too sour for cattle), on those who hung their washing there and from those who set up stalls along the path on market days.[11]

“The Sleeping Congregation,” 1728, William Hogarth; courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Art (https://collections.artsmia.org/art/10451/the-sleeping-congregation-william-hogarth); Public Domain.
(Click on image to enlarge)

In small parishes (such as Meldreth), the clerk might also carry out the duties of sexton. “He was responsible for the care of the churchyard as well as the inside of the church. He looked after the vestments and the vessels, rang the bells, opened and closed the church doors and dug the graves.”[12]

How does all this apply to John, the parish clerk of Meldreth? It suggests to me that he was probably a man held in esteem by the local vicar or curate, and probably by other members of the community. He was probably literate to a certain degree. Since Meldreth was a small parish, he probably performed many of the sexton’s duties as well as those of clerk. He would have been paid for his duties, though possibly not enough for a living.

This brings me back to the original question of whether John could have been both a cordwainer and parish clerk. There is nothing in the description of a parish clerk’s duties that tells me that the position would be incompatible with other occupations. Many of the responsibilities were carried out on days of worship, and it seems like the remaining duties could generally be done on a part-time basis.

Furthermore, there is strong evidence supporting the idea that parish clerks might have other occupations. The author of The Parish Clerk’s Guide (1731), when referring to “the poorer sort of Country-Clerks,” writes that “their In-come is so very small, generally speaking, that they are forc’d to employ their Time for Bread, rather than to have leisure to qualify themselves for the Business of a Parish-Clerk.”[13] I believe this means that many parish clerks needed to work at other occupations in order to supplement their meager wages.

An example is given in The Parish Clerk (1841), in which the English novelist Joseph Hewlett describes his protagonist, Davy Diggs, as

a shrewd, clever, uneducated, or rather half-a-quarter educated fellow, who combined in his own person the trades and occupations of parish clerk and sexton—parish Sunday-school master—parish tailor—and, what suited him best, parish gamekeeper and parish fiddler[14]

Clearly, the parish clerk could wear many hats!

I chanced upon further confirmation when I was looking through the Orwell parish registers. The burial of “John Lawrence Labourer and Church Clerk (my emphasis)” was recorded in 1755.[15]

Based on these examples, I think there can be no doubt that John, the cordwainer, could have also been the parish clerk.

John wasn’t appointed as the clerk until relatively late in life. I learned this when I found the burial record for his predecessor in the Meldreth parish register. “John Green, Clerk of the Parish” was buried on January 29, 1782.[16] If our John was appointed as parish clerk in that year, he would have been about sixty-one years old. By that time, it’s possible that his work of making shoes was occupying less of his time (or generating less income), or that it had been turned over to his former apprentice. The additional wages as clerk would have been a welcome supplement.

I’ll close with a famous painting, “The Parish Clerk.” It depicts Edward Orpin, parish clerk of Bradford-upon-Avon. Like our John, he was a tradesman, having been a cooper before assuming the duties of clerk.[17] He appears to be a man of devotion and some prominence. I would like to imagine that John shared these attributes, even if he was of humbler means.

“The Parish Clerk,” c.1760–70, formerly attributed to Thomas Gainsborough (1727–88); photo © Tate, Creative Commons license CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported), (https://www.tate.org.uk)
(Click on image to enlarge)

[1] “clericus (Latin),” WordSense.eu Dictionary (https://www.wordsense.eu/clericus/ : accessed 28 December 2018).
[2] Peter Hampson Ditchfield, The Parish Clerk (London: Methuen & Co., 1907), p. 16; online image, Hathi Trust Digital Library (https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/011590202 : accessed 18 December 2018).
[3] “clerk (n.),” Online Etymology Dictionary (https://www.etymonline.com/word/clerk : accessed 28 December 2018).
[4] Giles Jacob, compiler, updated by Owen Ruffhead & J. Morgan, A New Law Dictionary: Containing the Interpretation and Definition of Words and Terms Used in the Law, 9th ed. (London: W. Strahan & M. Woodfall, 1772), n.p. “PAR” section, entry for “Parish Clerk,” imaged on Internet Archive (https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.93143 : accessed 21 December 2018).
[5] J. Wickham Legg, ed., The Clerk’s Book of 1549 (London, n.p., 1903), p. xviii; online image, Hathi Trust Digital Library (https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001653725 : accessed 18 December 2018).
[6] James le Palmer,”Omne Bonum (Ebrietas-Humanus),” c. 1360- c. 1375, manuscript, Royal 6 E VII, f. 70; online image, The British Library (https://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/welcome.htm : accessed 28 December 2018).
[7] Ditchfield, The Parish Clerk, pp. 61-2.
[8] Jacob, , A New Law Dictionary, entry for “Parish Clerk.”
[9] B.P., Parish Clerk, The Parish Clerk’s Guide: or, the Singing Psalms used in the Parish Churches Suited to the Feasts and Fasts of the Church of England and most other Special Occasions (London: reprinted by John March for the Company of Parish Clerks, 1731), pp. 20-1; online image, Google Books (https://books.google.com/books?id=lBplAAAAcAAJ : accessed 28 December 2018).
[10] Jacob, , A New Law Dictionary, entry for “Parish Clerk.”
[11] “Parish Administration in England and Wales,” FamilySearch Wiki (https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Parish_Administration_in_England_and_Wales : accessed 20 December 2018), rev. 3 Feb 16, 05:11.
[12] “Georgette,” “Church related professions,” Family Tree Forum (http://ftfmagazine.lewcock.net/index.php/volume-one-new/july-2008/413-church-related-professions : accessed 20 December 2018).
[13] B.P., The Parish Clerk’s Guide, p. 3.
[14] Joseph Hewlett, The Parish Clerk, Theodore Hook, editor (London: Henry Coburn, 1841), vol. 1, p. 23; online image, Hathi Trust Digital Library (https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000483146 : accessed 28 December 2018).
[15] Church of England, Orwell (Cambridgeshire) Parish, General Register, 1653–1805, burials 1755; digitized as “Parish registers for Orwell, 1560-1877,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007567608?cat=210878 : accessed 26 December 2018), image 326 of 695; citing FHL microfilm 1,040,543, item 9.
[16] Church of England, Meldreth (Cambridgeshire), General Register, 1682–1782, burials 1782, John Green, 29 Jan; accessed as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007567609?cat=210742 : accessed 18 December 2018), image 66 of 699; citing FHL microfilm 1,040,542, item 2.
[17] “‘The Parish Clerk’ (Edward Orpin, Parish Clerk of Bradford-upon-Avon),” Tate [museum] (https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/gainsborough-the-parish-clerk-edward-orpin-parish-clerk-of-bradford-upon-avon-n00760 : accessed 28 December 2018).

Musings on John

This is a follow-on to an earlier post titled “Stuck on John,”  in which I described how my research into the origins of the Meldreth branch of the Casbon family hit a “brick wall.” I had been able to trace the ancestry to a John Casborn who married Anne Chamberlain in 1742.[1] The problem was that there were at least two men named John Casb___ living in or near Meldreth at the time, and there wasn’t enough information to know for certain which one was the husband of Anne. But now, I’ve discovered evidence that puts me on much firmer ground about who “my” John might be.

First, let’s review what I know about my ancestor John. After their marriage, John and Anne had five children, according to baptismal records: Thomas (my ancestor, baptized in 1743), James (1747, buried 1748), James (1748), Mary (1750), and Anna (1754).[2] Anne, John’s wife, died in 1770.[3] John was described as “parish clerk” when he was buried in 1796.[4]

Detail of burial record, 1796, from Meldreth Parish registers. “John Casborn, Parish Clerk, aged 75. January 4.” (Click on image to enlarge)

We can be reasonably sure that all of these records refer to the same man because there are no other men named John Casb___ listed in the parish records of Meldreth and its vicinity during this time frame. Since the burial record gives his age as seventy-five, we can extrapolate a birth year of 1720 or 1721. This is very helpful.

The only person I have found who matches all of this information is John Casborn, the son of Thomas and Mary (Jeap), who was baptized in the village of Orwell, about two and one-half miles from Meldreth, in November 1721.[5]

Detail of baptism record, 1721, Orwell Parish registers, 1560-1877. “Nov. 26 John y[e] Son of
Thomas & Mary Casborn.” (Click on image to enlarge)

Map of southwestern Cambridgeshire, showing villages of Orwell and Meldreth. (Google Maps);
zoom in for greater detail

Notably, aside from his baptism, John does not appear again in Orwell parish records. This suggests that he moved elsewhere before his marriage and/or burial. How can we know if he is the same man who moved to Meldreth and later married Anne?

Here’s where the new evidence comes in, in the form of registers of duties paid for apprentices’ indentures. When a master took on (i.e., indentured) a new apprentice, he was paid a fee, usually by the parents of the apprentice. The master was required to pay a tax, or duty, on this fee. Records of apprenticeships, fees and duties were created by the Board of Stamps, and are now maintained by The National Archives of the UK.[6] These records can be searched at Ancestry.com.

I found this record in the collection (you’ll need to click to be able to read it).

Detail from Register of Duties Paid for Apprentices Indentures, 9–12 July 1736.[7] (Click on image to enlarge)

This record shows that “Will. Casbill of Mildred in Cambridge Cordwr. [cordwainer]” received a fee of four pounds, eleven shillings for the indenture of “John Casbill of Orwell” for a duration of four years, nine months, beginning “24 June last.” William Casbill was required to pay a duty of two shillings, three and one-half pence, based on the indenture fee.

The record is important because it connects John of Orwell to the village of Meldreth. He would have been about fifteen years old in 1736, an appropriate age for an apprentice. It’s odd that the term of indenture is only four years, nine months, since the usual apprenticeship was for seven years. It makes me wonder if William had been training John “off the books” for a couple of years before he paid the tax.

Who was his master, William Casbill? I don’t know for certain. One candidate is William Casbel, who was born in Meldreth in 1703 and was orphaned when his mother died in 1718.[8] Another candidate is John’s paternal uncle, William Casbolt, baptized 1695 in nearby Barrington. There are burial records for William Casbel in 1741 and William Carsburn in 1756.[9] Unfortunately, neither of these provide information about the deceased’s ages or occupations.

Incidentally, cordwainer is the old term for a shoemaker. There seems to have been a succession of cordwainers from Meldreth named Casb——. I wrote previously about John Casball, cordwainer, who paid duties for an apprentice in 1718 and died in 1727 (“a poor shoemaker”). He was followed by William of the 1736 indenture, who was followed by John of Orwell. Given the surname, it’s hard to believe these men weren’t all related in some way. It seems likely that the earlier John trained William to be a cordwainer, although I haven’t found any such records.

Getting back to John of Orwell, another apprenticeship record shows us that he remained in Meldreth as a master cordwainer following completion of his own apprenticeship.

Detail from Register of Duties Paid for Apprentices Indentures, 24–28 January 1774.[10] (Click on image to enlarge)

This record shows that on January 28, 1774 “John Casbon of Meldreth in Co. of Cambridge Cordwainer” paid the indenture duty for an apprentice named Thomas Wing.

Thus, we have several points that can be connected to describe John’s life from his baptism in Orwell to his burial in Meldreth. Using the available records we can create this chronology:

  • 1721: John Casborn, son of Thomas and Mary (Jeap), is baptized in Orwell
  • 1736: John Casbill of Orwell is indentured as an apprentice to William Casbill of Meldreth
  • 1742: “John Casborn of the Parish of Meldreth and Ann Chamberlain of this Parish” are married in Wimpole, Cambridgeshire, 18 January 1742
  • 1743–1754: five children are born to John & Ann, including Thomas (baptized 1743)
  • 1770: “Anne Casbull Wife of John Casbill” is buried at Meldreth
  • 1774: John Casbon, cordwainer, indentures Thomas Wing as apprentice
  • 1796: “John Casborn, Parish Clerk, aged 75” is buried at Meldreth

You may notice an inconsistency in this chronology. The burial record of 1796 describes John as the parish clerk, but not as a cordwainer. Could he have been both parish clerk and cordwainer? I believe the answer is yes. I’ll address this in the next post.

Considering all the evidence, I’m confident that this “brick wall” is gone, i.e., I believe John Casborn, baptized 1721 in Orwell, is my direct ancestor and the common ancestor for all the Casbons, Casbans and Casbens who descended from his children. What do you think?

As an epilogue to John’s story, we find that in 1797, Thomas Wing, John’s former apprentice and now a master cordwainer himself in Meldreth, indentured an apprentice of his own.[11] The torch was passed.

[1] Church of England. Wimpole Parish (Cambridgeshire, England), Bishop’s transcripts for Wimpole, 1599-1857, Casborn–Chamberlain marriage (1742); digital images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-89PH-H6G9?i=121&cat=1317069 : accessed 7 June 2016), image 122 of 799.
[2] Church of England, Meldreth Parish registers; accessed as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog/210742), images 109-111 of 699; citing FHL microfilm 1,040,542, item 2.
[3] Ibid, image 61 of 699.
[4] Ibid, image 129 of 699; citing FHL microfilm 1,040,542, item 3.
[5] Church of England, Parish of Orwell (Cambridgeshire), Parish Registers; accessed as “Parish Registers, 1560-1877,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007567608?cat=210878 : accessed 26 December 2018), image 278 of 695; citing FHL microfilm 1,040,543, item 9.
[6] “Board of Stamps: Apprenticeship Books,” The National Archives (http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C9339 : accessed 23 December 2018).
[7] “UK, Register of Duties Paid for Apprentices’ Indentures, 1710-1811,” database with images, Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1851 : accessed 19 December 2018), 1735-1739 >image 339 of 909, 10 Jul 1736; citing The National Archives, IR-1/14, Kew.
[8] Church of England, Meldreth Parish registers; accessed as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog/210742), images 48 & 101 of 699; citing FHL microfilm 1,040,542, item 2.
[9] Ibid., images 54 & 57 of 699.
[10] “UK, Register of Duties Paid for Apprentices’ Indentures, 1710-1811,” Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1851 : accessed 10 May 2018), 1770-1774 >images 732-3 of 1930, 28 Jan 1774; citing The National Archives, IR1/28, Kew.
[11] “UK, Register of Duties Paid for Apprentices’ Indentures, 1710-1811,” Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1851 : accessed 23 December 2018), 1794-1799 >imgs 424-5 of 1960, 20 Apr 1797; citing the National Archives, IR 1/ 68.

Stuck on John

Genealogists use the term brick wall to describe a situation where they cannot find the information needed to trace an ancestor. That’s where I’m at with John, the father of Thomas Casbon (1843—1799) of Meldreth. John is my sixth great grandfather.

Summary diagram, descendants of John Casbon (Click on image to enlarge)

I’ve used charts like this before to show the relationships of people I’ve discussed. You’ll notice that I don’t have birth or death information for John on the far left. That’s the brick wall I’m talking about. I don’t know when or where John was born, and I’m not sure when he died.

To demonstrate how I’ve tried to solve the problem, I’ll start with the known and work back to the unknown. Here’s what I know about John. The Meldreth parish registers have baptismal records for five children born to John and his wife Ann:

“Thomas Son of John & Ann Casbel was Baptiz’d Dec.r ye 11th” [1743][1]
“James Son of John & Anne Casbell was baptized Jan.9th” [1747][2]
“Nov: 6. James Son of John & Anne Casbull” [1748][3]
“M[ar]ch ye 10.th Mary Daughter of John & Ann Casball” [1751][4]
“Sept.23 … Anna daug.r of John & Ann Casburn” [1754][5]

The first son named James must have died in infancy, since the next son was given the same name. Thomas was the subject of an earlier post. His descendants have been the subjects of many posts.

The next step in is to find a marriage record between John Casb(*) and Ann (? surname) within a few years preceding Thomas’ baptism in 1743. There are no such records in Meldreth or Melbourne. However, I was eventually able to locate this record in the parish register of Wimpole, a tiny village 2.7 miles northwest of Meldreth.[6]

Detail of marriage record, 1742/3; Parish of Wimpole (Cambridgeshire), Bishop’s Transcripts; “John Casborn of the parish of Meldreth and Ann Chamberlain of this Parish were married by Banns January the 18” (Click on image to enlarge)

This is almost certainly the right couple, given the proximity of the marriage date to the birth of their first child, and given the statement that John belongs to the parish of Meldreth. I could not find any marriage records that might contradict this evidence.

The next step is to try to find baptismal records for John and Ann. This turned out to be fairly easy for Ann. I could not find any records for Chamberlain in Wimpole, where John & Ann were married. On the other hand, there were many Chamberlain records in Meldreth, including this one.

Detail of baptismal record, 1717/18; Parish of Meldreth (Cambridgeshire); “Anne daughter of William & Elizabeth was Baptized March 9th – 1717”[7] (Click on image to enlarge)

The date of birth would have made Ann about 24 years old when she was married, and about 36 when she had her first child, so this fits in well with the available data. By the way, you may have noticed in the baptismal record that the dates for 1717 begin and end in March. That’s because at that time in England the legal new year began on March 25th (Lady Day).[8] In addition, England was using the old Julian calendar, which calculated leap years incorrectly.[9] This was corrected by the Calendar Act of 1750, which came into effect in 1752.[10]

To be fair, I also found two baptismal records for Ann Chamberlain in the village of Wrestlingworth, Bedfordshire, in the years 1710 and 1713, respectively. Wrestlingworth is about 5.6 miles west of Wimpole and 7.2 miles west of Meldreth. It is possible that one of these could have married John instead of Ann of Meldreth, but the latter is more likely. Also, there are no burial or marriage records to suggest that Ann of Meldreth died or was married to anyone else.

I don’t know why Ann was living in Wimpole at the time, but it was probably for employment. There was a very large estate at Wimpole (think Downton Abbey!) at the time, now part of the National Trust.[11] Such a large household would have required many servants – a good reason for Ann to be there.

Finding a baptismal record for John is where the brick wall comes into play. The problem is that there are too many candidates. Assuming that John was a bachelor when he was married in 1742/3 (likely but not certain), he was probably born sometime between 1700 and 1725. Meldreth parish registers list two baptisms for John Casb(*) in this time frame:

“June the 8th [1707] the two children of William Cassbell deceased and of Anne his wife were Baptized the eldest born October 1701 was Baptized John the youngest born March 6th 1702 was Bap. William”[12]
“John the Son of John Cassbell and of Anne his wife was Baptized May the 26th [1714]”[13]

To complicate matters further, in the nearby village of Orwell (2.5 miles north of Meldreth), the baptism of John Casborn, son of Thomas and Mary, was recorded on November 26, 1721.[14] If I extend the distance or age range a little bit, the list of candidates grows considerably. However, I think we can limit the list to these three.

How can we tell which one married Ann Chamberlain? I don’t have an answer, but there is information that might help us to narrow it down a bit.

The first John, born in October 1701 and baptized in 1707, became an orphan when his widowed mother died In 1718.[15] John would have needed to become self-sufficient pretty quickly if he wasn’t already. He seems a less likely candidate for Ann’s husband because of his age – 41 would have been pretty old to be getting married for the first time. It’s also possible he died at an early age. One of these two burials might have been him.

“John Cassbell Servant at Bassingbourn was buried in Woolen December the 3d [1724]”[16]
“John Cassbell, a poor shoemaker was buried in Woolen March the 26th 1727”[17]

Unfortunately, I just don’t have enough information to draw any firm conclusions.

Based on his date of birth, the second John, baptized in 1714, could be the one who married Ann. I think he would have been too young to be the servant who died in 1724 or the shoemaker in 1727. However, I’ve searched far and wide for any other records that might be related to him and have come up blank.

At first, John Casborn of Orwell might not seem a likely candidate because he was not baptized (or presumably born) in Meldreth. In addition, there is evidence that his parents continued to live in Orwell for the rest of their lives – well after John and Ann were married.

But there is even stronger evidence in favor of this being the right John. The first is this death record from 1796.[18]

Detail of burial record, 1796, Meldreth Parish registers 1681-1877; “John Casborn, Parish Clerk, Aged 75 _____ Jan.y 4” (Click on image to enlarge)

If you calculate the birth year from this record, John Casborn was born about 1721 – the same year as John Casborn of Orwell. There are no other baptisms recorded for John Casb(*) around this time in the local area, so this provides strong evidence that John, born in Orwell, became the parish clerk and lived in Meldreth. There is no indication of when he was appointed or how long he served in this capacity.

Another piece of evidence is the fact that he named his first-born son Thomas. It was common practice at the time to name first-born sons after their paternal grandfather.[19] John of Orwell’s father was named Thomas, while the fathers of John born 1701 and 1707 were named William and John, respectively. These naming conventions were not required, nor were they consistently followed. So while suggestive, the fact that John and Ann’s first son was named Thomas doesn’t prove anything. The fact that their first daughter was named Mary (John of Orwell’s mother’s name) is also suggestive, although the naming convention would have given her the name of Elizabeth (Ann’s mother).

Another piece of evidence, though weak, is geography. Orwell is less than 1 mile away from Wimpole. If John was living in Orwell at the time Ann came to Wimpole, they could have easily met. On the other hand, if John became the parish clerk of Meldreth at an early age, he could have met Ann while she was still living in Meldreth.


Map showing locations of Meldreth, Orwell, Wimpole, and Wimpole Estate (Google Maps)

So, to summarize, there are at least three candidates for John Casb(*), who married Ann Chamberlain in 1642. Of these, John born in 1701 seems the least likely. Of the remaining two, my money is on John, baptized in Orwell 1721. But without better evidence, I just can’t say for sure. So for now, this is where my family tree for the Meldreth Casbons comes to a dead end.

[1] Church of England, Meldreth Parish (Cambridgeshire, England), Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877, Thomas Casbel baptism (1743); FHL Film #1040542.
[2] Church of England, Meldreth Parish, James Casbell baptism (1746).
[3] Church of England, Meldreth Parish, James Casbull baptism (1748).
[4] Church of England, Meldreth Parish, Mary Casball baptism (1751).
[5] Church of England, Meldreth Parish, Anna Casburn baptism (1754).
[6] Church of England. Wimpole Parish (Cambridgeshire, England), Bishop’s transcripts for Wimpole, 1599-1857, Casborn–Chamberlain marriage (1742); digital images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-89PH-H6G9?i=121&cat=1317069 : accessed 7 June 2016), image 122 of 799.
[7] Church of England, Meldreth Parish (Cambridgeshire, England), Bishop’s transcripts for Meldreth, 1599-1862, Anne Chamberlain baptism (1717/18); digital images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C9T9-NFVL?mode=g&i=173&cc=1465708&cat=1108704 : accessed 16 February 2017), image 174 of 899.
[8] Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org), “Calendar (New Style) Act 1750,” rev. 13:33, 22 January 2017.
[9] FamilySearch Wiki (https://familysearch.org/wiki), “England Calendar Changes,” rev. 20:49, 25 December 2015.
[10] Wikipedia, “Calendar (New Style) Act 1750,” rev. 13:33, 22 January 2017.
[11] Caroline Norton, “Wimpole Hall—Upstairs and Downstairs,” The (Cambridge Family History Society) Journal 19 (April 2013): 12–16; PDF image, Cambridge Family History Society (https://cfhs.org.uk/journals/Volume%2019%20Number%202%20April%202013.pdf : accessed 16 February 2016).
[12] Church of England, Meldreth Parish (Cambridgeshire, England), Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877, John & William Cassbell baptism (1707); FHL Film #1040542.
[13] Church of England, Meldreth Parish, John Cassbell baptism (1714).
[14] “England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” John Casborn, 26 Nov 1721, database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:N821-Z31 : accessed 6 November 2015); citing Orwell, Cambridge, England, reference items 9-10; FHL microfilm 1,040,543.
[15] Church of England, Meldreth Parish, Ann Cassbell burial (1718); FHL Film #1040542.
[16] Church of England, Meldreth Parish, John Cassbell burial (1724).
[17] Church of England, Meldreth Parish, John Cassbell burial (1727).
[18] Church of England, Meldreth Parish (Cambridgeshire, England), Bishop’s transcripts for Meldreth, 1599-1862, John Casborn burial (1796); digital images, FamilySearch. (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C9T9-NF6Z?mode=g&cc=1465708 : accessed 16 Feb 2017), image 257 of 899.
[19] FamilySearch Wiki (https://familysearch.org/wiki), “British Naming Conventions,” rev. 06:29, 3 February 2016.

James Casbon of Meldreth (~1772-1833)

I have discussed my 4th great-grandfather Isaac (“From England to Indiana, Part 2”) and his father Thomas (“Stepping back: Thomas Casbon, 1743-1799”). Today I will focus on Isaac’s older brother James, baptized as James Casbull on July 19, 1772 in Meldreth. [1]

Baptismal record of James Casbull (Click on image to enlarge)

He is an important link in ‘Our Casbon Journey’ because of his many descendants. Like his brother Isaac, the available records are limited to baptism, marriage, burial, and the baptisms of his children.

Being the son of a laborer, James probably started working at an early age to help support the family. Although no records show his occupation, he was almost certainly a laborer as well.

James married Ann Ward in Great Eversden, Cambridgeshire on October 19, 1793. [2] Great Eversden is a tiny village about 4 miles north of Meldreth.

Parish Church of Saint Mary, Great Eversden, Cambridgeshire, completed in 1470; © copyright John Salmon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License (Click on image to enlarge)

At first I could not be sure this was the right James, until I located this copy of the marriage record on Ancestry. [3]

(Click on image to enlarge]

When I saw that the marriage was witnessed by Thomas (either James’ father or brother) and Isaac Casbon, I knew I had my man!

Unfortunately, I can’t trace Ann Ward with certainty. It is a very common name. There are two baptismal records for Ann Ward from 1771, one in the village of Orwell, about 2 miles from both Meldreth and Great Eversden, and the other in Croydon cum Clapton, about 4 miles from Meldreth and Great Eversden. [4],[5] Most likely, she is the one from Croydon cum Clapton, since I was able to locate a separate marriage record for Ann Ward in Orwell dated 1797. [6]

James and Ann had only one child before Ann died in 1795. [7]

Burial record of Ann (Ward) Casbon February 18, 1795, Meldreth (Click on image to enlarge)

Their daughter Ruth was baptized March 17, 1794 in Meldreth. [8]

Left with an infant child, it didn’t take long for James to remarry, this time to Mary Howse, on November 23, 1796. [9]

Marriage record of James Casbon to Mary Howse (Click on image to enlarge)

Look back up at the first image in this post. There is Mary Howse’s baptism in the second entry! It’s tempting to think that Mary was related to Susanna Howes, the wife of James’ brother Isaac. If such a connection exists, I haven’t found it yet. Mary was born and raised in Meldreth, and Susanna was born and raised in nearby Bassingbourn. Nevertheless, I think there’s a good chance they were cousins.

James and his new wife Mary had three more children: Mary (baptized 1798 in Meldreth), [10] Nancy (or Ann – baptized 1800 in Meldreth), [11] and James Howse Casbon (born 1806 in Meldreth). [12] Mary married William Wood in Meldreth 1817. [13] Nancy (then known as Ann) married John Prime in Meldreth 1823. [14] Of son James, we shall hear more in a future post.

The only remaining records for James and Mary are for their burials. James was buried March 10, 1833 in Meldreth. [15]

Burial record of James Casbon, 1833, Meldreth (Click on image to enlarge)

His widow Mary followed James in death in 1837, also in Meldreth. [16]

[1] Church of England, Parish Church of Meldreth, “Bishop’s transcripts for Meldreth, 1599-1862.” FamilySearch https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C9T9-NF4G?i=235&cat=1108704 [accessed 12 May 2016]
[2] “England Marriages, 1538–1973”, FamilySearch https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NVCJ-BYX [accessed 5 November 2016]
[3] “England, Select Marriages, 1538–1973”, Ancestry http://www.ancestry.com [accessed 26 October 2016]
[4] “England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” FamilySearch https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:J7HV-M9M [accessed 17 December 2016]
[5] “England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” FamilySearch https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:J93G-SHR [accessed 17 December 2016]
[6] “England Marriages, 1538–1973 ,” FamilySearch https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NVC6-TZK [accessed 17 December 2016]
[7] “Bishop’s transcripts for Meldreth, 1599-1862.” FamilySearch https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C9T9-NXFR?i=255&cat=1108704 [accessed 4 November 2016]
[8] Church of England. Parish Church of Meldreth, “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” Baptisms 1794. FHL microfilm #1040542
[9] “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” Marriages 1796.
[10] “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” Baptisms 1798.
[11] “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” Baptisms 1800.
[12] “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” Baptisms 1806.
[13] “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” Marriages 1817.
[14] “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” Marriages 1823.
[15] “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” Burials 1833.
[16] “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” Burials 1837.