A Genealogical Detective Story: Family History Brick Wall of Thirty Seven Years’ Standing Starts to Crumble

I have hesitated before blogging about this because I still can’t believe it. My direct paternal line has had one Samuel Braund at its head since 1977. Since then I have found out more about this 6 x great grandfather and his descendants but have singularly failed to identify his parents, his date of birth or where he was born. He first turns up in 1741, when he gets married in Cornwall where he works as a teacher. I know from my work on the Braund One Name Study that he is likely to have come from Devon and my book on his life, Cornish Origins, even gave some ‘best guesses’ regarding his connection to existing Braund family trees.

FindMyPast have not been my best friends since the changes to their website that they laughingly refer to as ‘improvements’. Despite this, the addition of many more Devon parish register images to their site meant I could resume the hunt for Samuel. Braund of course has many variants. Most things that start ‘Br’ and have an ‘n’ somewhere near the end qualify. I identified a likely baptism to a Humphry and Florence Broad (ok that doesn’t even have the ‘n’ but it sounds right – try holding your nose and saying Braund) in 1716 at Sampford Courtenay. I then searched for other children of this couple in Sampford Courtenay and came up with Elizabeth, baptised 5 November 1718 and John baptised 4 December 1720; in both these cases the parents were given as John and Florence Broad. Now I was under the impression that Florence only became popular as a christian name following the rise to fame of Florence Nightingale and indeed, searching the whole of Devon for seventeenth and eighteenth century Florences, of any surname, revealed very few. Had she been Mary or Elizabeth, I would have been sceptical but this looked like the same family to me; was Humphrey a clerical error? I now sought to prove three things:- That these three Sampford Courtenay baptisms were the same family. That the Broads were Braunds in disguise. That this was the long sought baptism of my 6 times great grandfather, Samuel Braund.

The obvious thing to do was to look for a marriage between Florence and a Humphry and/or John Broad, Braund, or similar variation. Initially nothing was found. I did find a burial for a Florence Brawn on 30 June 1757 at St. Eustachius, Tavistock. Tavistock is the big town, some twenty miles south west of Sampford Courtenay but given the very unusual christian name, Florence, this looked like our lady and moved the Broad surname closer to Braund. I failed to find a burial for a Humphry or John but it looked as if Florences daughter, Elizabeth was also in Tavistock.

I tried again for a marriage, this time searching for any marriages of ladies called Florence, to anyone, anywhere in Devon between 1680 and 1720. Working my way through the few options located Florencia Maritati and Johannes Braund marrying in Northlew on 1 May 1715. Northlew is ten miles from Sampford Courtenay and was not only home to a Braund family but a parish that I had identified as a possible origin for Samuel. A look at the image of the original marriage register was very exciting, the entry read Johannes Braund de Sampford Courtenay et Florencia maritati sunt primo die Maii. I was disappointed to relinquish the exotic Maritati name; this was merely Latin for married and no surname was recorded for Florence.

I was however now convinced that the three Sampford Courtenay Broad baptisms were a single family and also I was happy that they were indeed Braunds in disguise. It was looking more and more likely that I had the right Samuel but could I find any more substantiating evidence to prove it? I tried searching for Devon baptisms between 1710 and 1750 where the mothers name was Florence, again ignoring the surname. Sure enough up came two children who were indexed as the offspring of John and Florence Browne but on checking the originals, were in fact Brawnes. They were both baptised at Sourton, between Sampford Courtenay and Tavistock and were Humphrey, baptised on 15 January 1723/4 and Rebecca on 2 January 1725/6. There was a Rebecca Braund buried in the same parish as my Samuel who I had identified as a possible sister or sister in law. Rebecca’s age at burial made this baptism just three months too early but I felt as though I was getting closer. The inclusion of a Humphry amongst the children was interesting, perhaps this name had some significance and might account for the confusion over the fathers name in Samuels baptism entry.

20 Oct 2010 Rebecca Braund grave

The next move seemed to be to look for futures for the children of John and Florence, to see whether they fitted, or were incompatible with, my Cornish Braunds. Amongst others, I found a niece for the Sampford Courtenay Samuel called Rebecca, baptised in May 1761. My Cornish Samuel’s will mentions his niece Rebecca Hunt née Braund. Rebecca Hunt’s burial suggests a birth between August 1759 and August 1760, again close and of course she may not have been baptised as a tiny baby.

The identification of these two Rebeccas, related to the Samuel who was baptised in Sampford Courtenay, both of whom were very close to the ages of those connected to my Samuel Braund, meant that it looked as though John and Florence were indeed my 7 x great grandparents. Somehow though I just can’t bring myself to ‘ink them in’. I am not sure what I am waiting for in terms of additional proof but I seem to feel I need something more. Is it just that I cannot believe that I have made progress on this line after so long?

Then of course, if I do accept John and Flo and I think I do, there is the matter of proving who John was, in the absence of surviving Northlew parish registers for this time.


10 comments on “A Genealogical Detective Story: Family History Brick Wall of Thirty Seven Years’ Standing Starts to Crumble

  1. Kristina1025 says:

    Oh my I have a brick wall that is in the 1740’s too! I’m so happy for you and thanks for sharing; it gives the rest of us hope.

  2. Paul Jones says:

    Interesting case history. You’ve taken care to track down relevant Florences, with and without surnames. Have you applied the same technique to the given name Humphrey? Cheers.

    • It is much harder to do with Humphrey as it is a more common name (not in the same league as John or William but certainly more common than Florence at this date). I have looked at all Humphreys with surnames beginning ‘Br’.

      • Paul Jones says:

        Thanks. I would never have guessed that Humphrey was more common than Florence, although I can see in hindsight how that would be so. How useful it would be if an organization like FamilySearch or Ancestry or FindMyPast were to analyze indexed baptismal/birth records to compute the relative incidence of given names (and surnames, for that matter) over 25-year blocks backward in time, preferably categorized by administrative areas and aggregated by region and country.

  3. Caroline says:

    Fantastic research, it shows that perseverance really does pay off.

  4. Brenda Turner says:

    Not a problem. I just got confused. I understand your excitement at perhaps finally finally solving a brick wall problem. We all have those thrills! That is, if we are lucky! Cheers.


  5. Caro-Claire Wiles says:

    Wow my mind is boggled by the extent of the work you have gone through to get all this data ! That is why you have rightly earned the name of List Momma! I am very impressed !

  6. Judy Cain says:

    This is so exciting to read about! I’m so glad you share it :-)))

  7. Brenda Turner says:

    Sorry Janet, but I don’t understand your logic, mostly because I haven’t a clue who Humphrey is. You mention him for the first time in paragraph 2 “was Humphrey a clerical error?”, but to which, or to whom, does this relate? The husband you mentioned earlier was a “Hugh.” Cheers,


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