Defining Moments


At a recent church service we were asked as members of the congregation to think about national and international  ‘defining moments’.  I suppose for me I tend to think about where I was when particular events occurred:  the release of Nelson Mandela, the knocking down of the Berlin Wall, the destruction of the twin towers on 9/11, the death of Princess Diana and now, of course, Brexit.  We’ve seen plenty of defining moments during the Olympics this summer, too:  Usain Bolt’s ‘triple triple’; Laura Trott’s four gold medals,  Nick Skelton’s gold medal at the age of 58, the first British olympic gold for gymnastics, and perhaps the biggest surprise of all – Britain actually coming second in the medal table!

Have you ever wondered what the defining moments were for our ancestors?  I have been appreciating the series of centre pull-outs over the last few months in Family Tree, a magazine I have subscribed to since 1990 and which I avidly read from cover to cover.  This month the pull-out is a family history timeline, which is a great way of seeing what national and international events our ancestors might have been aware of or been affected by.  Nowadays, of course, we can be aware of international events almost instantly thanks to social media.  Those ancestors at the top of my various trees in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries may not have known about events thousands of miles away until some days after the event, and then perhaps only because someone down at the pub had a newspaper and read excerpts aloud.

Looking at my Norfolk George tree, David George at the top of the tree was 20 before Britain decided to ban involvement in the slave trade.  His second son John, my great great grandfather, was born a month before Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo and married just three years after civil registration began. His first son James was a few months old when the 1841 census was taken (the first one of real use to family historians), and compulsory elementary education was still in its infancy when my own grandfather was born in 1878.  This summer’s commemorations of the start of the Battle of the Somme remind us of the huge impact of the First World War on our more recent ancestors’ lives.  Quite apart from the huge loss of life, it meant that many of our female ancestors struggled to find husbands, at a time when that was a really important thing to do.  My grandmother was almost 36 by the time of her marriage, but astoundingly was 40 before she was able to vote!  The Second World War had a big impact on the lives of my parents:  evacuation and disrupted education.  I see that the World Wide Web was created in the same year that I was married, although I’m sure I wasn’t aware of it until many years after that!

We’ve had a number of personal ‘defining moments’ this summer within the family:  a 21st birthday, a graduation, an engagement and two new jobs as well as the less happy diagnosis of a serious medical condition.  My George ancestors will have experienced all of these, too, with the exception of the graduation (since the early males were ag labs almost without exception!).  It helps to feel connected to know that they experienced similar joys and sorrows and were affected to a greater or lesser extent by national and international events.

The 26th August 2015 was a defining moment for me personally as it was when I published my first ever family history blog post!  I am pleased with my achievement of having published a regular blog for a whole year, first weekly and now fortnightly since the spring’s added pressures of elderly parent care.  I have found that I very much enjoy the process and creativity of writing, and I hope that you, my readers, have enjoyed with me the journey so far.   Thank you for reading  and please do continue to post your comments!

John George born 1815
John George, born a month before the Battle of Waterloo


Are you a fan of networking?  What networks do you belong to?

Dr Samuel Johnson, in his Dictionary of the English Language, defined Network as “any thing reticulated or decussated, at equal distances, with interstices between the intersections”.  ( – accessed 18 May 2016).  What a wonderful definition!  Although he would probably not have readily applied the term to the groups of friends and fellow writers that he belonged to, he would have undoubtedly recongnised the concept of spending time with other creative minds, sharing concepts and ideas and supporting others’ endeavours.

That is definitely ‘social networking’ of a kind – but what of the ever-growing importance of networking via social media?  And what part might that play in family history research?

I’m a fan of the Futurelearn MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course )and have now completed several, the most recent of which was The Power of Social Media, run by the University of Southampton (of which I am a proud graduate, so I’ll just give them a plug there!).  The first week of the course was all about understanding social networks, and, although I admit it got a bit technical to follow at times, I was fascinated to learn about different network models.  I had heard of the Six Degrees of Separation, but had not realised that this was based on an experiment conducted in the 1960s in the United States by Stanley Milgram.  Since I have Norfolk ancestors and so does my husband, I wonder whether that model would have held true in nineteenth century Norfolk?  Might my ancestors and his have potentially had just six degrees of separation between them?  An interesting thought, though it probably doesn’t get us very far.

However, in looking at different network models I learnt that facebook is a collaboration network, where relationships are equally true in both directions, whereas in Twitter, for example, you can follow people who do not necessarily follow you back.  In the most recent Sussex Family History Group journal I was encouraged to read that they planned to set up a facebook group.  I’m already a member of the Norfolk Family History Society one .  So the other day I searched for it, asked to join and was quickly accepted.  You can find it at The big thing at the moment seems to be creating photo albums of Sussex villages, where people can add their photos.  What a great way for those of us who have been able to visit an ancestral location to share our findings with those who live much further away!  I’m waiting for West Grinstead and Shipley to appear so I can contribute to those albums!

Although I can appreciate that some people are hesitant about using social media, as long as you keep an eye on your privacy settings I think the benefits to research could be great.  People post queries and questions and someone else out there may just happen to have the knowledge to answer the query or suggest where to look for the answer.  What a great example of a network!  Sometimes family history research can feel a bit solitary, but if, like me, you do not live close enough to get along to the meetings of the family history societies to which you belong, then an online community like this has massive benefits.  Well done Sussex – let’s go for that reticulation I say!

Christmas Present

Christmas tree

No, not as in ‘gift’, but as in ‘Christmas 2015’!

Family gatherings over Christmas are certainly a great opportunity to expand one’s family history knowledge.  We heard recently that turkey was not commonly consumed at Christmas-time until the 1950s, so I was curious to know what my parents might have eaten at Christmas when they were young.   Boxing Day was a great time to ask them.  Mum seemed to think they might have eaten chicken.  What we did not appreciate until she explained was that chicken was a treat.  The more common meat to be eaten year-round was beef and lamb, whereas for us it is those that are more of a treat being more expensive.

Moving on from food, Dad then regaled us with tales from his first job, working in the drawing office at Vokes during the war years.  In these days of health and safety and minimum working temperatures it’s hard to imagine having to work in your coat with no fire allowed!

This week it was time to quiz my husband’s side of the family.  I mentioned the S Combridge who had published the Picturesque Sussex that I blogged about the other week.  Ah yes!   He was known about and there might even be an address in Hove forthcoming that we could look up on a future visit.  The Combridge Indian connection was also explained.  And then it transpires, somewhat more surprisingly, that the South African Musketts who we found (or did they find us?) via social media have met my in-laws and are in postal contact!

Out came the family tree (which is vast – good thing a large table was to hand) and we were shown which were the branch that went to South Africa, which were the ones that went to Canada (the Clippesby connection) and which lot went to Australia (descended from ‘bad William’ who got transported!).

Muskett family tree
Muskett family tree

Yes, I know:  I really should have seen these coming and got some sort of recording device ready.

New Year’s resolution:  get it all written down!  And if ‘all’ sounds somewhat unattainable, then perhaps something that is achievable is to finish my write-up of the George family.

Oh and there were family history-related Christmas presents too – binders for my Family Tree magazines and ‘Tracing your East Anglian Ancestors’!

Happy New Year!

“First class West End harness at prices one half their original charge”


“First class West End harness at prices one half their original charge” – Sporting Chronicle – Saturday 22 October 1864

Originally it was spotting a mention of the elusive David George of East Dereham which drew my attention to the British Newspaper Archive .  I could see that it was a death announcement, so I decided to sign up for a month’s subscription to see what more this notice might reveal. Well the Norfolk News of Sat 3 May 1851 did tell me that he died “very suddenly”, that he was “much beloved and respected by all who knew him” and that he was “leaving a large family to lament their loss”.  It would have been really nice if it had said “son of the late xxxxx of xxxxxxxx” – but it didn’t, so David George’s origins remain a mystery.  Ah well – worth a try.

George; East Dereham

Norfolk News – Saturday 03 May 1851


But having got a month’s subscription, what else can I find?

Loads of really interesting and often random things!

Three months before his father’s death, on Saturday 1st February, Francis George was mugged in Swaffham!  (What was he doing there?  Did he often go there?).  Charles Wales stole two calico bags, a piece of dumpling, an ounce of bread, an ounce of meat, and a frock coat from Francis.  The perpetrator got a month’s imprisonment.

Meanwhile, twelve years earlier in Oxfordshire, Caleb Buckingham, my stonemason ancestor, was convicted of “unlawfully assaulting and kicking” his apprentice!  He got a hefty fine of 17 shillings – I should think so, too.  What was he thinking of?

Still in Oxfordshire, my Neighbour ancestors in Lewknor were not playing ‘happy families’ in 1847:  the Overseers brought a case against twin brothers Richard and Robert Neighbour for refusing to support their father, who was residing in the workhouse.  However, it turns out that the brothers considered their father quite capable of doing a day’s work and claimed that he had “left a good place of work to go to the workhouse”.  The case was dismissed as the magistrates “possessed no power to compel children to support their parents when they were able to earn their own living”.  What was going on there, then?

Neighbour; Lewknor

Oxford Chronicle and Reading Gazette – Saturday 06 February 1847


In 1870 William Pitcher (of the Horse and Groom, Swaffham, see blog post number 10 ) was the victim of a theft from the pub kitchen – John Forster stole a steel from him, for which he was committed for seven days’ hard labour.

In the 1860s business was booming for George Bryant in Chapel Place Mews, Belgravia.  His frequent adverts in the Sporting Chronicle indicate that he sold new and second-hand saddlery and harness as well as rugs and horse clothing.  And (thank you very much, George) it tells me that the business was established in 1837 (that would have been by his father John, according to the 1841 census).  We located Chapel Place Mews the other year – it’s pretty near Buckingham Palace.  Great job on the marketing, George!


Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle – Saturday 08 February 1868



Well, I’m going to keep going during my month’s subscription to see what other gems I can find!

Ancestral pub number 1

Horse and Groom Swaffham

Across all the various branches of family I research, in addition to the ubiquitous ag labs, I have found a number of individuals who ran pubs.

So here goes for Ancestral Pub Number 1 – The Horse and Groom, Swaffham, Norfolk.

Horse and Groom Swaffham
Horse and Groom, Swaffham

I first came across the Horse and Groom in the 1851 census on discovering that my ancestor John George’s sister Ann had married William Pitcher and had found herself assisting to run the pub.  Ann and William had married in June 1841, and it seems that Ann was already working in Swaffham at that time.

In the next census, Ann is still described as an ‘innkeeper’s wife’ and William is also working as a painter as well as running the pub.  It was not unusual to have another occupation alongside.   Ann and William were to be at least 50 years at this address, and must have become very established members of the Swaffham community.  They brought up five sons there, and had various lodgers and servants living with them.  The 1881 and 1891 give William the slightly more upmaket-sounding title of ‘licensed victualler’, the family being joined by their granddaughter Matilda, working as a bar maid.

By the time of the 1901 census, however, there has been some reversal of roles:  83 year old William is no longer head of the household but describes himself as a ‘retired painter’.  Their son Albert is now the licensee, together with his wife Emily.

On looking more closely into this establishment I discovered, via the Norfolk Pubs site that William was not the first Pitcher to hold the licence at the Horse and Groom:  before him there was Christmas Pitcher and then Elizabeth Pitcher from 1830 to 1841.  Elizabeth appears on the 1841 census aged 70 as an ‘inn keeper’ in Lynn Road, and living with her is 20 year old William, a painter. Christmas appears in an 1822 Norfolk directory at the Horse and Groom, Swaffham.  I’ve been unable to find a baptism for William, but a fellow Ancestry researcher has William as a grandson of Christmas and Elizabeth, thus giving three different generations of Pitchers running this pub.  I’ve not been able to find a baptism for Christmas either – do you think he was born towards the end of December?!

So many of our old pubs are no more – derelict, turned into private dwellings or morphed into the latest Tesco Express.  So I was thrilled, when preparing for our Norfolk Expedition this summer, to discover that the Horse and Groom is still there in Lynn Street, Swaffham, and still operating as a pub, under that same name.  It had to be included on the grand ancestral tour.

Horse and Groom Swaffham
Horse and Groom

The pub is a few hundred yards along the road from the main market square, where a number of other pubs are still operating.  On market days they must all have been buzzing with activity.  The name ‘Horse and Groom’ is probably indicative of the fact that this was obviously a coaching inn and Swaffham is likely to have been an intersection of routes between King’s Lynn, Thetford, East Dereham and Norwich.

We enjoyed a very pleasant meal at this establishment, which is obviously still well-patronised and which offers B&B accommodation, as it possibly always has.

Swaffham Church


4 large silver spoons and 2 silver cups

George; East Dereham

Although I have so far not made any progress on Asty George’s coat of arms, I have discovered that he was certainly well-connected!

Following a query posted on the Norfolk Family History Society facebook page, a kind fellow-researcher pointed me in the direction of ‘The History and Antiquities of the County of Norfolk’, published in 1781.  Available to search on Google Books, this publication gives a lot of detail on East Dereham, the town, church and notable residents.  From it I learn that in 1625 one Thomas Asty, gent, was lord of the manor of East Dereham of the Queen.  I have yet find where exactly this manor was situated.  In 1703 he was succeeded by Asty George, Gent.  He was in turn succeeded by Thomas George in 1724 and then in 1764 by Asty George of Norwich.  The book also mentions a notable house in East Dereham owned by Samuel Rash, and I remember that Thomas George married a Mary Rash.

It looks entirely possible, then, that Thomas Asty is related to Asty George and if he inherited the manor from him no wonder he chose to name his first son after him.  And I see that he became lord of the manor in 1703 – two years before his marriage to Elizabeth in Norwich.  I had assumed up till now that he had been living in Norwich, but now I think not.  I wouldn’t mind betting that Elizabeth was also from a well-off family – I will have to see what I can find on her.

Meanwhile I’ve been taking another look at the will of an Ann George which I transcribed some time ago.   In it she refers to her brother Thomas and sister Frances and Asty George, son of my brother.  Since Asty George senior, in his will leaves £150 to his daughter Ann, I now strongly believe that this is the same Ann, dying in 1737 and having been born around 1691.  She must therefore be a daughter from Asty’s first marriage.  (The ‘Mrs’ on her memorial stone threw me, but I now believe that this is short for ‘Mistress’ rather than denoting a married person.) Ann leaves Asty junior, aged 3 years old, 4 large silver spoons and 2 silver cups!

George; East Dereham
Memorial stone for Anne George in East Dereham church

I now realise that on a previous visit to Norfolk Record Office I found reference to the wills of two Elizabeth Georges dying in 1732:  one a spinster from Colney and the other a widow from East Dereham.  I definitely need to have a look at these wills, as I am now pretty certain that one of these is her stepmother Elizabeth, Asty’s widow.  These wills might throw more light on the property of this family, which seems to have been extensive.

But will I ever find a connection with my own George family in East Dereham?  I live in hope….

17th and 18th century silver spoons
17th and 18th century silver spoons



So who was Asty George?

So who was Asty George?

Since my visit to East Dereham church in Norfolk I have been wondering about Asty George.  To have been buried in the Lady Chapel he must have been reasonably wealthy.  And what about the name Asty?  It’s certainly unusual.

Asty George
Memorial for Asty George Lady Chapel

On my return from my travels I decide to create a separate tree on Ancestry from ‘my’ George tree, piecing together what I know of Asty and his descendants.  Although he’s not currently ‘one of mine’ (and for all I know he may never be!), I am intrigued to know more about him.

I know from his grave that his wife was Elizabeth, dying nine years after him in 1732.  I also know from the East Dereham parish records of the baptisms of seven children, born between 1707 and 1716.  Two sons called Ast(e)y did not live beyond the age of three years old and another son Peter died as an infant.  The grave inscription says “near this place lye 4 of his sons”, and alhough I have found no baptism, there is the burial of John, son of Asty, in 1716, making four sons.  The oldest son Thomas lived to adulthood and married a Mary Rash, with five children baptised at East Dereham.  Asty and Elizabeth also have a daughter Elizabeth and another called Frances.

East Dereham
Inside East Dereham church

Adding the tree to Ancestry enables me to check for ‘shaky leaves’.  Bingo!  A marriage record for Asty and Elizabeth – in Norwich Cathedral!  Wow!  They married at the Cathedral on 10 July 1705 and the record furthermore indicates  that Asty was a widower and a weaver by trade.  That’s interesting!  The East Anglian cloth trade would be another whole avenue to explore.  A widower – so somewhere there may be another marriage record and the burial of his first wife.

What else does Ancestry suggest?  Another researcher has Asty on her tree with a sixth child born to Thomas – a son John in 1740, marrying a Sarah Knapp.  Now, that’s exciting as I have another so far unconnected tree with a John and Sarah who must have a connection with Asty somewhere along the line as there is a grandson with the name Astey.  But in my trawling through the parish records I have never found a baptism for this John.  I wonder what the source is?  I send a message to the fellow Ancestry researcher and await a response.

I search the records for Asty, and another suggestion appears:  A…. George, baptised 10 September 1672 in Ovington, Norfolk, father Petri and mother Annae.  How strange.  Did the transcriber struggle to read the writing?  Ovington records this far back are not on the Norfolk Family History Society site, so not much further progress to be made there, but that baptism date would certainly work.

Another day, and another opportunity presents itself in the form of the FindMyPast free weekend!  This is not a site I am familiar with, so a good chance to see what it can offer.  I search for the name George in Ovington, and result!!  This time the marriage of Peter George and Anne ASTY on 11 June 1663 in Ovington.  Of course!  Asty is his mother’s maiden name.  I should have guessed.  Ok, so it’s not absolutely proven – I still need to check out that baptism record somehow – but it very much looks as though I have found Asty’s parents and solved the mystery of his name.

But another thing about Asty the weaver:  why did this not occur to me before?  He has a coat of arms on his grave.  A coat of arms carved on his grave after he died in 1723.  He therefore had the right to bear arms.  Now there’s a thing.  Heraldry is an area I know little about.  How do I find out when he was granted these arms?  Was it granted to him or to a forebear?  This requires further investigation and potentially I might be able to find out a lot more about dear Asty and family.  Wouldn’t it be nice if he turned out to be ‘mine’!

George; East Dereham
Asty George coat of arms