Stepping Back In Time

In the beginning

When I first started doing my family history many years ago, I wasn’t surprised to find that most of my ancestors had gravitated to the heavily-industrialised area of Salford and then to the Bolton area of Lancashire where I was born. It was only many years later that I discovered I had links with largely rural Norfolk. The story of how I discovered this link reads like a detective story.

The Clues

Briefly, I had never been able to find a birth certificate for my maternal grandfather, William Morris, who had been killed at Gallipoli in 1915. The only clue I had to his origin was a reference to him in the 1891 census for Horwich, Lancashire. His father was listed as Jonathan Morris born in Abergele, Wales in 1845, his mother as Hannah Maria Morris born in Wymondham in 1843 and William himself born in Hull, Yorkshire in 1875. Like my search for William’s birth certificate, neither could I find a marriage of a Jonathan Morris to Hannah Maria. From the 1851 census records for Wymondham, I produced a list of about 15 Hannah/Anna Marias and either ‘married’ them off or ‘buried’ them. I was then left with about six about whom I knew nothing.

The Breakthrough

William Morris

There my search stalled until a few years later when a photograph of my grandfather appeared in a family history magazine together with a brief outline of my quandary. Someone who’d read the article, emailed me with the news that she had found a marriage of an Anna Maria Buttolph to a James Palmer in Heigham, Norfolk, in 1869. I remembered then that Anna Maria Buttolph was one of those remaining unaccounted for, her father being a John Buttolph of The Lizard in Wymondham, an agricultural labourer. A wild card search enabled me to find a John Morris born Abergele 1845 living in Wymondham together with Anna Maria Palmer and young William, listed as Palmer. Yet still I could find no birth certificate for William under the name of Palmer.

A Sad Death

I knew that Jonathan/John was claiming to be a widower in the 1911 census so I searched for a death registration for Anna Maria prior to that date and found her back in Wymondham in 1891. The death certificate, when it came, proved beyond doubt that Anna Maria Morris/Palmer/Buttolph was my great-grandmother. The informant at her death was none other than Jonathan/John Morris of the same address as the 1891 census entry for Horwich. It would appear that she and Jonathan had gone to visit her family, still living at The Lizard, but had died suddenly of a brain haemorrhage. I still do not know if Jonathan/John Morris was William’s real father.

Trawling further back

Will of Stephen Buttolph. ANF will register, 1676.

I have been able to trace back through the generations to a Stephen Buttolph who died in 1676. I have no idea of when he was born but he left a will so I was able to prove the line of descent. It seems that the original Buttolphs were all yeoman farmers with considerable acres of farmland and most of them left wills. And what a joy these have been from a historical point of view! Stephen Buttolph’s will (Ref: ANF will register, 1676, folio 276, no 153) for instance, mentions being written in ‘this three and twenty (year) of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King Charles 1671’. His son Thomas mentions his will being drawn up in ‘the tenth year of the reign of our beloved Soverign Lady Queen Anne’ and, invaluably, gives the names of his grandchildren in his will, thus proving relationships.

As yeoman farmers, with considerable lands, they often left what would have been considerable sums of money. Their wills were quite specific about when and to whom the bequest should be given and what should happen in the event that the bequest was not paid. Much of it is written in legalese which does take some understanding but I soon became used to reading of ‘messuages, hereditaments, lands and tenements’. The writing too, particularly the earlier wills, was hard to decipher with ‘s’ and ‘f’ often looking the same.

A Glimpse into the Past

I loved reading of some of the everyday things that they left, such as ‘To my daughter Sarah, my largest brass kettle and to my son-in-law, Simon Bishop, my surtout coat and my pompadour coat.’ From my limited French I guessed that a surtout coat was a kind of overcoat but a ‘pompadour coat’ turned out to be one of those richly decorated heavily embroidered coats worn around the 1700s. That alone would have been an expensive item which is a clear indication that the Buttolphs weren’t ‘without a bob or two’ as they say in Lancashire! Which makes it all the harder to understand why my own great-great grandfather, Anna Maria’s father John Buttolph, (1808-1881) was listed as an agricultural labourer on various censuses yet his father, William Buttolph (1785-1871) listed in censuses as a farmer with 125 acres employing 6 men and 1 boy and who later was described in his will as a ‘gentleman’ Was John one of those 6 men? I do know that John was caught stealing a bushel of barley from his father, William Buttolph, much to the surprise of the arresting officer. He was discharged after ‘receiving a severe reprimand’. Yet John himself was left £50 pounds by his father William, which in 1871 was still a goodly sum of money.

To Sum Up

It has been such a joy to discover so much about my Buttolph ancestors through the wills that they left and I couldn’t have done it without the excellent resources of the Norfolk Record Office. You can search through the online catalogue via the NRO website

Written by Anne Harvey, NRO Research Blogger

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