"Each has his own tree of ancestors, but at the top of all sits Probably Arboreal." - Robert Louis Stevenson

Friday, 13 July 2012

Catching Crabbs and Jessups

Abandoning any pretence that I’m not researching while I’m supposed to be indexing, I’ve recently been looking into the parents of Mary Ann Jessup, who married Charles John Buswell in Kensington, London in 1876. I have ordered this marriage certificate in order to confirm that I definitely have the right people (as I know who Charles John’s father was and occupation for both him and his father, this should be enough to confirm I have the correct groom).  
I’m pretty confident though. I can’t find any other plausible alternative marriages for Charles and the marriage date makes sense in that their eldest child is born in 1877 (although in Tredegar, South Wales – definitely no marriages there though!) Furthermore, Mary Ann consistently claims she is from Camberwell in Surrey on all of the censuses following their marriage, and I have found a Mary Jessup of the right age born in Camberwell, so all three facts link up neatly enough, with no other obvious possibilities presenting themselves. Following the Newby debacle I’m still being a cautious though, and I really need the marriage certificate to confirm it.
However, while I’m awaiting confirmation, I couldn’t resist looking into Mary Ann’s parentage. According to the 1861 census her father is Charles Jessup, born in Stepney in about 1820, and her mother is Mary born about 1827 in the tiny village of Beercrocombe in Somerset. They have six children born between 1852 and 1868, Mary Ann being the second, born in 1856. Charles gives his occupation as a ‘traveller in flowers’ – which I suppose might explain how he came to meet his wife in the depths of the Somerset countryside.
So far so straightforward. However, a problem emerged when it became apparent that I couldn’t find a marriage record, nor anything conclusive on who the families of either Charles or Mary were despite pretty exhaustive searches. I could find no trace of either of them prior to 1861. It seemed that without the elusive marriage record, I had no chance of progressing. I was working on the premise that the marriage likely took place around about 1851/52, close to the birth of the eldest child, Elizabeth, but with no results forthcoming I spread my net a lot wider. Still no luck.
Instead, I turned my attention to Mary’s siblings. I was able to find baptism certificates for the younger ones, including the very youngest, Henry C. Jessup, which, it turned out, stood for Caswell. With Sarah Caswell, born 1811/12 Somerset, and Clement Caswell, born 1852 Somerset, as house guests on later censuses, I was tentatively proposing that Mary was also a Caswell, and this was a sister or sister-in-law and her son staying with them, but still nothing was forthcoming to prove it. (It also struck me that Caswell is not too far away from Buswell, and wondered briefly whether there was in fact some sort of connection, but I’ve concluded it’s highly unlikely. My Buswells are firmly rooted in Oxfordshire, and I know of no Somerset connections.)
I decided, out of interest, to Google Henry Caswell Jessup, as it is the kind of unusual name that can reveal relevant results very quickly. I instantly turned up several messages left on genealogy message boards back in 2000/2001 by someone named Peter, who appeared to be grappling with the same family and having exactly the same problems as I was. Attempts to contact him have failed, with the two email addresses I found no longer valid. (Peter, if you’re out there and still researching, please do get in touch!)
Peter’s posts, however, provided me with an invaluable piece of information – Mary’s maiden name. Peter had ordered birth certificates for some of their children (possibly all, I don’t know), on which Mary gave her maiden name as Crabb, not Caswell. Caswell, he said, had become a family middle name, but he didn’t know what the connection between Mary and her Somerset guests was, and was trying to find out more about them as well.
So, I now knew that I was looking for Mary Crabb from a tiny Somerset village – sounds easy? Peter’s messages said he had identified a few possible Mary Crabbs, but nothing to connect any of them with the wife of Charles Jessup. I went through the marriage records again, but turned up nothing.
I found a very useful list of households in the tiny parishes of Beercrocombe and nearby by North Curry for 1851, 1861 and 1871, which to me only had one possible set of parents for Mary Crabb: Thomas Crabb b. 1789 and Sarah Crabb b. 1794. The household had children ranging from 38 to 17, which fits Mary’s age perfectly. However, there is nothing to say that Mary’s parents couldn’t have died or even left Beercrocombe – after all, Thomas Crabb was apparently born in Beercrocombe and probably he had siblings. Her parents having left with Mary in tow or died forcing her into work might explain why she isn’t there in 1851 prior to her marriage.
I widened my search terms for both of them and stopped looking exclusively at the marriage records, in the hope that another document might give me the clue I needed. One of the records that came up was an 1851 census record for Caleb Jessup. He was married to a woman called Jane. Right age and right place of birth. This rung a small-but-persistent bell in my head. On one of the baptisms there had been what I had thought was a mis-transcription of Charles as Caleb. I remembered that I had looked at it and to me it read Carle*, with a bit of a squiggle on the end that could have been almost anything. But what if they had got it right and it was Caleb?
I opened the census record to see Caleb’s occupation: ‘Travelling salesman’. Not too far from ‘traveller in flowers’, and I’d seen ‘travelling salesman’ on some of the baptism records of his children as well. A search for further documents relating to Caleb only threw up two: his marriage in 1848 to Jane Booth. This helpfully gave me his parents’ names: William and Ann; and the 1841 census, on which he is living with his parents and what appear to be siblings Julia and Alfred. There was no sign of either Caleb or Jane on later censuses, nor could I find a death for Caleb anywhere that would rule out the possibility that he and Charles were one and the same.
So, I can’t currently prove that Caleb and Charles are, or are not, the same person. But how likely is it? We all know that name changes are not unheard of, and they are one good explanation for a brick wall like this.  I can’t currently see an obvious explanation for this one though…
As Charles/Caleb is in his thirties when he first appears with his young family in 1861, and his wife is younger than him by about seven years, it’s not impossible that he had a previous marriage, and had been widowed. I note that following the birth of his eldest daughter Elizabeth in 1852 there is a four-year gap, before Mary Ann is born in 1856. Perhaps Elizabeth was daughter by his first wife Jane? If Charles is the same man as Caleb living with Jane in 1851, then it certainly seems more likely that she is Jane’s daughter than Mary’s. Conveniently, as yet I’ve failed to identify a promising birth record for Elizabeth to check this theory out! It would help to identify a possible death record for Jane that ties in as well.
If I’m correct in this, then this puts Charles and Mary’s likely marriage date at 1853–1856. Mary would be about twenty-six at that point. Given the lack of Jessup–Crabb marriages, however, I’m contemplating a couple of other possibilities.
Firstly, perhaps Mary had also been previously married. At twenty-six, she could feasibly have been married before. In fact, there’s equally the possibility that Elizabeth was her daughter from a previous marriage as well. If Mary married Charles under her married name, that would explain why the marriage hasn’t been immediately apparent. It might be possible to work through all of the possibilities and rule them out to identify her, but that would be an arduous task
The other possibility is that they didn’t actually marry. Not impossible, particularly if one or both of them was already married – perhaps one or both weren’t widowed/widower but had simply left their previous partner. This will be even harder to prove.
I probably need to get hold of as many original records for this family as possible in order to check out sneaky name changing etc! I think that Elizabeth’s records are probably the key to unlocking this mystery, with the Caswells in supporting roles. I’m still not 100% convinced that Caleb is Charles, but it’s the best lead I have for now…
L x


  1. Could you not find Charles Buswell and Mary Jessup's marriage in the London, England, Marriages and Banns, 1754-1921 collection on Ancestry? If it was in Kensington, it should be there and you could get the certificate without having to pay for it.

  2. Ooh, I'll have to check that out, it would be really helpful if it is there!

  3. Nope, it's definitely not there. How frustrating!


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