Nearly my Ancestors: or how I almost climbed the wrong (very exciting) family tree

Mary Woolgar née Cardell 1817-1892

Mary Ann Cardell, born c. 1817 in Highgate but who were her parents?

Recently, I issued a challenge to help me find the parents of my great great grandmother, Mary Cardell. Thanks to helpful fellow family historians I confirmed that she had a sister, Catherine. The marriage records of these ladies revealed that their father was called James. Mary and Catherine consistently claimed to have been born in Highgate, Middlesex c. 1817 and c.1813 respectively. In Highgate, in 1813, a James Cadwell married a Mary Ann Gutteridge, who, despite the slight spelling variation, were prime suspects as the next generation. I was tempted to follow Mary Gutteridge further, in the hope that going back a little and then coming back forward might give me the confirmatory evidence I needed. Mary Ann Gutteridge’s ancestry proved fascinatiing. I have already mentioned the royal clockmaker, the vicar of the neighbouring parish, the one who was captured by parents and the Huguenots. Add to this a poet and an inventor of an early form of shorthand and I was set to add the most fascinating branch ever to my family tree.

I was heard to say, rashly, ‘I am so sure that this is right I just need a little more evidence.’ I purchased four certificates I downloaded wills, I looked for and failed to find, DNA matches with the surnames of these putative ancestors. I wrote an eight page rationale considering the likelihood that these people were my ancestors. For days I followed this line when I should have been doing other things but still I hesitated. I reassessed the evidence again and again. Finally, I returned to the witnesses of the Cadwell marriage, who I had initially dismissed as not seeming to be relevant. One had the unusual name of Thomas Knackston (elsewhere Kneckston/Naxton et. al.). It turned out that he married an Ann Gutteridge. Surely she should be a relative, probably a sister, of Mary Ann Gutteridge? Via her second marriage, I traced Ann née Gutteridge. She had a sister Mary Ann. She was emphatically not the Mary Ann I had spent time and money tracing.

I sighed and returned to the proverbial drawing board. I very quickly discovered that, not only had I got the wrong Gutteridge family but that James Cadwell and Mary Ann Gutteridige were definitely not the parents of my great great grandmother.

I am now investigating a James Cardell and Maria Withinbury who married in Worcester in 1798 and then moved to London. I am not really convinced that these are going to be right either but I have no more likely candidates. What I really need is a baptism for Mary or Catherine, daughters of James Cardell, or even their probable sisters Eliza and Lucretia in the 1820s.

Thankfully, after 42 years of researching, I am by nature thorough and cautious. I was so close to claiming the wrong family as my ancestors. I wonder how many people would have grafted them on to their pedigrees without further thought? I’ll admit that I was very close to doing so. I don’t suppose I will ever find a family as exciting as those who were almost my ancestors. In the meantime, feel free to seek the right ones on my behalf as I have rather lost the motivation for this search. Oh and if anyone wants to know about the ancestry of a Mary Ann Gutteridge, daughter of George and Sarah Gutteridge née Mudge, born in Shoreditch in 1783 and probably married not to James Cadwell but to William Rhodes, you know where to come.


Of Kings, Elizabethans and Things

After a few lovely days with my descendants I headed to Leicester for the annual conference of the Guild of One-name Studies. This is always a great opportunity to meet old friends and make new ones, as well as to enjoy a range of presentations.

We found our way to the Leicester Marriott Hotel, where the early arrivals were gathering. There were some lovely compliments from people who had been reading Barefoot on the Cobbles. I was booked on to a visit to the Richard III centre. Shortly after the ‘king in the car park’ was discovered, I managed to get a photograph of the car park but now the area has been turned into an impressive visitors’ centre. It seems that there has been plenty of regeneration in Leicester as a result of the discovery of Richard III’s body. There was plenty of information to absorb and we had time to relax in the sunny courtyard, where I consumed honeycomb ice-cream and coffee.

DSCF1134We then had an excellent tour of the cathedral, dedicated St. Martin of Tours, which is very small and largely a Victorian restoration. The main focus is, inevitably, Richard’s tomb and the beautifully embroidered pall; I failed to photograph the latter. There was also some lovely modern stained glass.

Back to the hotel for a swift buffet meal. The food was good but it seemed strange to serve curry without rice, naan or any other suitable accompaniment. I am quite glad that I don’t drink as the bar prices are a bit steep. Even a canned soft drink is £3; I avoided purchasing one of those too. I am currently recouping my funds following my recent certificate buying fest and yes, for the benefit of regular readers, I have ordered three more in an attempt to crack the Mary Cardell impasse – fingers crossed.

Mistress Agnes was on duty in the evening, in order to introduce Maureen Taylor of Talking History, who entertained us with an account of the appropriate garb of an Elizabethan aristocrat. Mistress Agnes was pressed into service as a dresser and is very thankful that she is a mere peasant as the attire of the more affluent is significantly more restrictive and considerably heavier, one of Maureen’s outfits weighs four stone.

Inevitably, my descendants have been generous with their lurgies once again and my throat is resembling something that has had a rigorous going over with heavy-grade sandpaper, so, despite liking a good quiz, we retired to the van. It seems that the van’s supply of Strepsils has been depleted (there weren’t any). I should have realised that agreeing to do seven talks in nine days was bound to result in me contracting some sort of ailment that would affect my voice.

Clock-makers, Vicars, Huguenots and Pirates: some family history excitements

Thank you to the wonderful family history friends who took up the challenge I outlined in my last post, to help me find the parents of my great great grandmother, Mary Cardell. As a result, I have had one of the most exciting weeks in over forty years of tracing my family. Although I have not yet ‘inked-in’ another generation, the people I believe to be Mary’s parents remain the most likely suspects. I have found out more about her sister, who led an ‘interesting’ life, apparently taking a man’s surname, living with him and his wife and eventually having a child by this man before posing as a widow and marrying a man with a criminal record. This pales into insignificance compared to my discoveries about Mary’s putative mother, Mary Ann Gutteridge (other spellings are also available). I must stress that there is still work to do to verify that these people are my relatives but it certainly looks likely. I do know the golden rule – prove each generation in turn before rushing backwards. Let’s just say, do as I say, not as I do. It started as an exercise to see if going backwards a little might confirm the more recent links and then I got carried away.


Thomas Mudge wikimedia Commons

Not only is there a connection to Huguenot silk weavers from Spitalfields, exciting enough in itself but I am taken back from London to Devon. It seems I may have Devon ancestry on both sides of my family. I MAY be related to one Thomas Mudge, who was the Royal clockmaker to George III, has a lengthy entry in the Dictionary of National Biography and had his portrait painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds. This is rather different fare from my usual diet of agricultural labourers. There is a book about Thomas, his father and brothers, who had illustrious careers in various fields. Thomas’ father, Zachariah Mudge, was vicar of Abbotsham, just a few miles from where I live and headmaster of Bideford grammar school. Two generations earlier, we find details of a ransom being raised for one Hercules (aka Archelaus) Mudge, who had been captured by pirates in 1666. Wow! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Hercules could be shown to be my 8x great grandfather.

The morals of this story are, never give up. Revisit your genealogical brick walls often. Seek fresh pairs of eyes to re-examine the evidence. So far, I have ordered one death certificate for the wrong Mary Ann Cardale (spellings are many and varied), who I hoped might be Mary’s mother. I am wondering how many more wrong certificates I can afford.  I have contacted DNA matches who have Mudge in their ancestry but their Mudge connections are too far distant to account for the match – we must be related through a different family. I have accessed wills that could have helpfully mentioned married daughters by name, thus confirming the pedigree but no, not a mention of a daughter married to my ancestor or indeed to anyone else. It would have been helpful if gg grandma or her sisters had been baptised but again no, that would just make it too easy. If anyone feels like undertaking a mission of mercy at London Metropolitan Archives, it might put me out of my misery.

My Problem Female Ancestor #internationalwomensday

Firstly, I must share just how distressing I found typing that hashtag without the apostrophe. Regrettably, it seems that hashtags and apostrophes are not compatible.

On International Women’s Day, I thought I’d introduce my genealogy obsessed friends to my problem female ancestor. I do have information about many of my ancestresses. I wrote about my direct maternal line here and you can find out more about some of these women by clicking on the appropriate surname links on my family history page. There you will find details of what I know about them and their families.

My great great grandmother, Mary Cardell, is proving more of a problem. If anyone feels like a challenge over the weekend, please see if you can confirm who Mary’s parents were (PS I‘d also be pleased to find her in the 1851 census, when she would have been Mary Woolgar). I am afraid there are no prizes but I promise a warm fuzzy feeling and the satisfaction of having succeeded where, so far, I have failed.

Mary Cardell is my great great grandmother. I know quite a bit about her married life; you can read it in my file on the Woolgar family. On her marriage certificate and the birth registrations for her four children, her birth surname is consistently spelt CARDELL. The marriage certificate suggests that she signed her own name. Earlier generations may not have been literate, so the name might be rendered differently and my searches have included all phoenetically likely variants of the name.

I have used a range of documents to calculate Mary’s probable date and place of birth:-
Her burial has not been located
13 January 1892 death certificate age 74 – born 13 January 1817- 12 January 1818
1891 census age 74 born Highgate, Middlesex – born 6 April 1816-5 April 1817
1881 census age 63 born Middlesex – born 4 April 1817- 3 April 1818
1871 census age 53 born Highgate, Middlesex – born 3 April 1817- 2 April 1818
1861 census age 44 born Highgate, Middlesex – born 8 April 1816-7 April 1817
1851 census not located
1841 census age 25 born Middlesex – born 7 June 1811- 6 June 1816
1 May 1841 (when she married Philip Woolgar) marriage certificate ‘of full age’ – born before May 1820

Mary Woolgar née Cardell 1817-1892This seems to suggest that Mary (or at least whoever provided the information to the enumerator) was convinced that she was born in Highgate, Middlesex. Ignoring the 1841 census evidence, when ages should have been rounded down in any case, the suggested dates of birth from the other sources are consistent. If all ages are correct, then Mary was born on 4 or 5 April 1817. It seems probable that she was born between 1816 and 1818.

Other clues are provided by her marriage certificate. This was obtained from the General Register Office in 1983 and is handwritten, so there is scope for transcription errors. Ideally, I would check with the local register office (Edmonton) or, even better, access the registers for St. Mary’s Hornsey where the marriage took place; these are held by London Metropolitan Archives ref. DRO/020/A/01/011. Assuming that the certificate I have is accurate, Mary’s father was James Cardell, a gardener and one of the witnesses was a Catharine Cardell who is likely to be Mary’s mother or sister. There is no indication that either of the fathers were deceased. I know the groom’s father was still alive at the time but it may be that whoever filled in the register didn’t not make a habit of noting if the fathers were deceased

The obvious first search was in the parish registers for Highgate and this was carried out on my behalf by a reputable researcher some years ago. He was however using a transcript of the Highgate baptism registers. I would like to recheck this and use the original baptism register. These are in London Metropolitan Archives P90/MIC1/004 (003 for 1791-1812). He also checked the birth and baptism register of the Highgate Salem Chapel, although the entries in the chapelry registers are sparse. These records are at The National Archives RG4 1131 and I have rechecked this using the online images of the registers at FindmyPast; there is no mention of the Cardell family.

Mary claims to have been born in Highgate and she married in Horsey, giving her address as Fortis Green, which lies between Finchley and Muswell Hill, so Middlesex seems a likely county in which to begin to seek the Cardell family.

NB subsequent research, after this post was written, has established that Mary Ann Guteridge was definitely not my 3 x great grandmother. So most of what follows can be ignored!

A marriage between a James Cadwell and a Mary Ann Guteridge took place in Highgate in 1813 and these are very strong possibilities as Mary’s parents. Mary Ann was the daughter of George and Sarah Guteridge born 14 August and baptised 7 September 1783 at St Leonard’s, Shoreditch. She is likely to be the Mary Ann Cardale who was buried 10 April 1841 at St Andrew’s, Holborn, ‘of Regent’s Park’, just a month after Mary Cardell’s marriage to Philip Woolgar. I could check the original entry for more information and purchasing this death certificate is on the list when the family history budget has recovered from my certificate ordering fest prior to the recent price increase. The burial register records Mary Ann Cardale’s age as 58. The corresponding GRO death indexes can be searched on their website and give age at death. Here, Mary Ann Cardale was said to be 57, which ties in exactly with the Shoreditch baptism of Mary Ann Guteridge.

There is also a Maria Cardell in St. Pancras workhouse in the 1841 and 1851 censuses. (1841 census for St. Pancras workhouse, Marylebone, Middlesex HO107 681/9 folio 9; 1851 census for St. Pancras workhouse, Marylebone, Middlesex HO107 1497 folio 599.) This workhouse would have covered Highgate. Maria Cardell was born in Dudley, Worcestershire and is almost certainly the Maria Withenbury, baptised in 1780, who married James Cardall at St. Alban, Worcester, Worcestershire on the 12th February 1798. These too could be Mary’s parents. A Samuel Cardel was baptised in 1802 in Worcester, son of James and Maria. Samuel cannot be found in the census returns.

A James Cardall aged 49 of ‘Mermaid Court’ was buried 17 November 1824 at St George’s, Southwark, this is probably the James who married Mary Guteridge but is he my 3x great grandfather?

Mary Cardell’s marriage took place only a month before the 1841 census, there is no trace of a likely Catharine Cardell (the witness) in that census and no death or marriage for her in that quarter, using variants of both her names. There is a Catherine CAWDLE aged 27 bur Hoxton 24 Sept 1841 possibly wife of Henry Cawdle anf living in Shoreditch in 1841, neither were born in county. So could Catherine have been Mary’s sister-in-law? I don’t find this very convincing.

What this case study does illustrate is that, even after over forty years’ research, it is possible to have that pesky family line that is stuck in the more recent past. It also underlines that it important to periodically revisit sections of our family history that have been in abeyance. With luck, new sources will have become available, or a fresh pair of eyes with bear fruit. My own eyes are feeling far from fresh at present and cost me a significant sum yesterday when I , unexpectedly, had to buy new glasses. So, over to you friends and good luck!


Being Ambassadorial and Finding Lost Cousins

LondonBadges_640x640pxAmbassadorThis week came the news that I have been accepted as an Ambassador for the first London version of the genealogical extravaganza that is RootsTech. This major genealogy show has been a staple of the world’s genealogical calendar for nine years but in October, it will be coming to the UK for the first time. Now the US version of the show is over for 2019, details of what the UK event will offer are starting to be revealed. So far, some of the speakers have been announced and British family historians will recognise several people who have been prominent on the family history speaking circuit for many years. Early Bird pricing is on offer until 9 April, so don’t leave it too late to book. Shortly, I will be running a competition to win a three day pass, so keep an eye out on this blog and my Facebook and Twitter platforms for details.

Although I had recently managed to stop myself compulsively checking my Kindle sales figures for Barefoot on the Cobbles on a daily basis, I did notice a distinct spike in sales this week and I reached the dizzy height of #8 in the biographical fiction category. For an independently published first novel, which is not being given away or offered at a drastically reduced price, this is big – well I was excited anyway. The downside is that I have now returned to the hourly refreshing of my page to see what is happening to my sales figures. These new readers have found their way to Barefoot thanks to a review in the Lost Cousins newsletter, which is run by Peter Calver. Peter does not normally review historical fiction and indeed professes not to like it, so I am particularly grateful to him for bending his rules for me, on the grounds that the story emerged from genealogical research and is about real people. It is interesting that his review has had a particular impact on my sales in Australia. I am now hoping that one or two of these new readers will leave a review (please – I have been known to grovel). Sadly these sales do not deplete my large stash of paper copies, currently residing in my living room. Still, I am hoping that I may reduce the pile a little when I am signing copies in Barnstaple W H Smiths on Saturday.

Peter suggested that, in return for reviewing my book, I might upload my ancestors to his Lost Cousins database. As someone who tries to keep abreast of developments in the family history world, I was aware of Peter’s regular Lost Cousins newsletter but to be honest, I hadn’t considered adding my ancestors to his database. Like the newsletter, contributing to the database is free, although you make a small contribution if you wish to contact those whose ancestry you share (paid up members can however contact you, even if you don’t contribute). It works like this. You upload the details of your ancestors, as they appear in the 1881 census (or 1880 for those in the US). Then you can search for others who have listed the same people. You can also add details from the 1841 and 1911 censuses, although it is advised that you start with 1881. So far, I have only uploaded the details of my own direct ancestors, although there are options to add other individuals you might be interested in. If you do decide to upload, please use the link in this blog there is no prize for me if you do but your entry will be credited to my recommendation.

Regular readers of this blog will be aware of my distinct lack of cousins, so I was a little sceptical of finding matches but it has been an interesting exercise and already one match is showing. It only took me about half an hour to upload all my direct ancestors who appear in the 1881 census, although, to be fair, I had previously done all the searching and had copies of the census entries already. 1881 is too early for any of my grandparents but all eight great grandparents, fourteen of the sixteen great great grandparents and three 3x great grandparents were alive at the time. I know all the descendants of the great grandparents (all six of them!). I have a pretty complete picture of the descendants of the sixteen great great grandparents (my 3rd cousins), although I think a few of the Smiths may have slipped through. My knowledge of the descendants of my 3x great grandparents is less complete, so the three alive in 1881 may well bear fruit and this is where the match I have comes from. I plan to add my entries from the other censuses and also the details of my children’s ancestors.

With the rapidly increasing popularity of DNA testing, the need to trace our family history forwards, as well as backwards, has never been more important, yet so many of us do not focus on more recent research. Uploading to Lost Cousins may well help with this. I have just finished guiding the latest cohort of students through my online Tracing your Twentieth Century Ancestors and their Community course for Pharos Teaching and Tutoring. I am afraid you will have to wait until next year for this one to run again, although places are filling up fast for the Writing and Telling your Family Story course that starts in April. I am also speaking about Twentieth Century Research at Family Tree Live and bookings are now open for this event. Once booked, you can reserve places at the lectures of your choice. Also on the subject of Twentieth Century research, in case you missed the announcement, we now know that FindmyPast will be releasing the English and Welsh 1921 census in three years’ time. As someone who remembers waiting for the 1881 census to be released, I suddenly feel very old.

I am still adding to the write ups of my own ancestral research. I should stress that these are very much works in progress and summaries of research, not necessarily fascinating stories. This week I have uploaded the Woolgars of Sussex.

Thank you to those who have asked about our BeingEdward story. We have been busy with family visits and Martha will be blogging again shortly. This week’s campaign is to encourage the government to stop the inappropriate detention, segregation and seclusion of those with autism and learning difficulties in mental heath units, institutions that are patently not designed to meet their needs. For those who have the time to explore our BeingEdward world further, take a look at this webinar, which introduces you to PDA, which is Edward’s condition.

Of Death Certificates, DNA and other Updates

The arrival of the huge pile small number of death certificates following my ‘beat the price rise’ ordering fest has focussed my mind on various branches of my family tree. I had fun investigating the ‘crushed by a train’ death. Safe to say, considerably more fun than was had by the poor victim at any rate. I have, after more than four decades of researching, begun to put some of my family history narratives online. I have to stress from the outset that these are not beautifully written stories. Instead, they are working documents, intended to set out all the known facts on a particular family, together with the sources for each piece of information. Some do have smatterings of local and social historical context added. So, if you are related to the Dawsons of Essex, the Bulleys of Norfolk, The Oughs of Cornwall, the Pepperells of Devon, the Hoggs of Northumberland, the Meads of Yorkshire, the Seears of London or several other related families, there is something there for you and more will, eventually, follow. Do take a look at the many other surnames of interest that are listed, who knows, we may be related.


My DNA estimates June 2017

My regional breakdown based on the documentary evidence

At Christmas, I persuaded Martha to take a DNA test. I was pretty convinced she hadn’t been swapped at birth, so I was certain who her parents were but I was interested in the profile for the ancestry that we do not share. We chose to go for Living DNA as I had been impressed by how accurately my own regional breakdown that they had provided matched the documentary evidence. I wrote about this here. Finding matches was not a priority. I must stress that I am a DNA dabbler and am by no means an expert. I do however understand a few basic principles (I think). I know that we inherit exactly half our DNA from each of our parents (except when it seems we don’t – see below). It is a random half, which is why siblings differ (unless they are identical twins) so in theory it would be possible to inherit nothing from one grandparent (although this would be very unlikely) and the further back you go, the likelihood that no DNA has come down from a particular ancestor increases greatly. I also know that if I am 20% Cornish, Martha will not necessarily be 10% Cornish. She may have inherited more or less than 10% of my Cornish DNA, or indeed none at all. I also understand a little about migration and population movements. You often see posts on online forums complaining that such and such a DNA company hasn’t shown any of granny’s Irish ancestry. This is ignoring the fact that many Irish families were Scottish or English in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It also ignores the fact that these ethnicity estimates are just that, estimates. This is an emerging science and should really only be regarded as a bit of fun.


Martha Living DNA regipnal breakdown actual

Martha’s Living DNA regional breakdown

Nonetheless, when Martha’s regional breakdown arrived it was, to put it mildly, weird. She is now wearing lederhosen and eating sauerkraut. These are my thoughts, maybe my DNA expert friends will chip in and find holes in this argument. If half Martha’s DNA is mine, I am interested in the other half. It has been very easy to identify the majority of this. Martha shows as being 34.6% Germanic; I have none. She also has 5% more Scandinavian ancestry than I have, 4.5% more from South Central England and 0.2% more from Northumberland. That adds up to a whopping 44.3% that we do not share, which, as I understand it must represent what she inherits from her father. From whom, I am reasoning, she has also inherited 5.7% of something I can’t identify because it overlaps with mine. I have been following the documentary trail since before Martha was born and I am a reasonable way back on all lines.

Martha documentary

Martha’a regional breakdown based on the documentary evidence

This ethnicity profile in no way reflects what I know of her father’s ancestry, which I would expect to reflect elements from the Channel Islands and Scotland as well as a significant portion from Gloucestershire. The latter came from the Forest of Dean, which is known as historically being a remote community, very unlikely to have been influenced by European in-migration within the genealogical time-frame and beyond. Martha’s paternal aunt has tested with Ancestry and her ethnicity estimate more closely reflects the documentary trail, with nothing Germanic at all.


We have been eagerly awaiting Martha’s matches to appear and today they arrived. It may be a relief for her to know that she is who she thinks she is as she matches both me and her aunt, who uploaded her Ancestry results to Living DNA, with the expected relationship. I still don’t understand why, according to Living DNA Martha and I share 47.72% of our DNA and not 50% but I have a great deal to learn about DNA.

For those of you who have taken an interest in our BeingEdward story. I am pleased to report that the number who have read my original post has now reached four figures; so thank you so much to all who read and shared. This week, Martha has posted some insights into what life with BeingEdward means.

Oh and if you were wondering about the progress of the ‘spring’ cleaning, it may be better not to enquire. I have however now discovered that I have enough candles to survive any post-apocalyptic catastrophe, providing I can work out how to run the laptop using candle power.

A Page from the Genealogical Birthday Book: Catherine’s Story

As promised, back to the family history today. Like most genealogists with UK ancestry, I have spent the last few weeks revisiting various branches of my family tree, making sure that I didn’t feel the need to purchase any more birth marriage and death certificates before the price rise. Inevitably, despite having a pretty comprehensive collection, there were a number that just fell into my virtual basket. I am not prepared to disclose precisely how many I am awaiting. I am consoling myself with how much I have saved, not how much I have spent. You know how it is – oh, I could just find out what that baby died from – click here. Annoyingly, I appear to have ordered at least one that I already have but that’s the fault of my inadequate filing system. Whilst I was compiling my very long modest certificate shopping list, I decided to make a note of all the anniversaries of my children’s direct ancestors in the form of a birthday book. I have only started from 1837 (the period of civil registration) and inevitably, there are far more births than deaths or marriages but it is interesting reading. Not much goes on in April or June. 23rd January looks like a dodgy day for our family, with no fewer than five deaths, including Catherine, who is the subject of this post.

Catherine’s birthday is today. I know that from the birthday book that I have created. Apart from my children and grandchildren, I am her only descendant. From my mother’s stories, she was not the most approachable person in the world, certainly not the archetypal cuddly granny. This is not a beautifully crafted story, it is merely my attempt to record the facts. I wish I had a more rounded picture of her life but this is the best I can do.

Catherine Seear 

Catherine Seear

Catherine Seear c. 1871

My great grandmother, Catherine was born on the 2nd of February 1866 to Frederick and Ann Balls Seear née Bulley. The family called her Katie, or Kate. She was their second child; her elder sister, Annie Ellen, lived just a few weeks in 1864. Catherine also had a half-brother, Frederick Rickard Seear, who was nine years old when Catherine was born. Three older half-sisters had also died in infancy. As the only daughter of five to survive, I wonder how her father treated her. The address that is given on Catherine’s birth certificate is 3 Market Terrace, Bridge Road, Bethnal Green, Middlesex.[1] This address does not appear to have existed and may be 3 Newmarket Terrace, Cambridge Road. Catherine’s family were comfortably off; her father was a master grocer with a shop in Hackney High Street, East London. Catherine’s younger brother, Richard, was born when she was thirteen months old.

Catherine Seear c. 1874

Catherine Seear c. 1876

By 1871, the family were living at 105 Grafton Street in Mile End. Her father’s business had expanded; he was a tea dealer employing eighteen men and there were two live-in domestic servants.[2] The family moved again fairly quickly because when Frederick made his will on the 4th of October 1875, he gave his address as 36 Cawley Road, Hackney.[3] In 1881, Catherine and her family were living at 11 Albany Road, Lea Bridge Road, Leyton, Essex.[4] Nothing is known of her education and she may have had private tuition; she spoke very good French.[5]

On the 22nd of February 1884, Catherine’s father, Frederick, died of angina, presumably a stroke, at 11 Albany Road. Despite imaginative searching, his widow, Anne and children Catherine and Richard cannot be found in the 1891 census.[6] When Catherine married the following year, she gave her address as 24 Eastbank, Stamford Hill, Hackney and this address is occupied only by a servant in 1891,[7] so the family may have been away from home. They apparently did enjoy cruises and pictures survive of someone purporting to be Catherine that were taken in Berlin, so they could have been on an overseas trip.[8]


Believed to be Catherine Seear. The right hand photograph was taken in Berlin.

On the 7th of June 1892 Catherine Seear married her first cousin, Herbert Havet Smith at St. Thomas’, Hackney. The witnesses were her brother, Richard and Eliza Smith, who was either Herbert’s mother or sister.[9] Their daughter, Edith Katie was born on the 8th of April 1893 and lived for just three days. The number of short-lived girls in the family might suggest some genetic problem. Edith Katie died from marasmus, which is a failure to thrive, akin to malnutrition.[10] She was buried at Abney Park Cemetery.[11] Their son, Frederick Herbert, my grandfather, was born on the 2nd of December 1894 at 32 Braydon Road, Stamford Hill, Middlesex. At the time, Herbert Havet was described as a corn salesman.[12] Frederick was apparently sickly as a child[13] and was not baptised until the 17th of October 1897.[14] The baptism took place at Stamford Hill Congregational Church[15] so it is likely that the family were still connected with the area at this date. This alliance with non-conformity is unusual in the Smith and Seear families and indeed Catherine Smith née Seear is reported to have become a Catholic in later life.[16]

In 1901, together with their young son, my grandfather Frederick Herbert (Eric) and Catherine’s mother, Anne Seear née Bulley, Catherine and Herbert were living at 159 Osbaldston Road, Hackney.[17] Despite having her mother to live with her, Catherine never spoke of her.[18] Anne was to leave this property to Catherine, along with furniture, plate and jewellery, in her will.[19] Herbert Havet was a cornbroker[20] and is thought to have travelled to India and China on business.[21] Several oriental artefacts remain in family possession. About 1908 Herbert and Catherine moved to ‘Lureka’, Westcliffe-on-Sea, Essex.[22] They later moved to Cambridge Road, Westbourne, Bournemouth, Dorset. Despite the ‘servant problem’ of the 1930s, they kept a butler, Basil and their granddaughter particularly remembered the red tulips in the garden.[23] By 1935 were at ‘St. Ann’s’, Bournemouth; this property had been converted into flats before they lived there.[24]

Catherine Smith nee Seear and Gwen Aug 1925

Catherine Smith née Seear and her granddaughter, Gwen

Catherine was described as being standoffish and undemonstrative, very ‘upper crust’ and a little like Queen Mary. She always sat on an upright dining chair with her crochet or knitting, with its steel needles on her lap. [25] The family were comparatively well off and owned other property in the Bournemouth area,[26] apart from the house in which they lived.[27] Apparently, Herbert put their properties into Catherine’s name to save death duties, thus she was able to give away much of their wealth to the Catholic church. Allegedly, they were left with nothing bit mortgages, an eiderdown, two cushions and an orange box for a table. If this is the case, then Herbert re-couped some of the money before his own death, twelve year’s after Catherine died. [28]

When Catherine died of a heart attack,[29] reportedly whilst replacing a light bulb,[30] on the 23rd of January 1938, they were living at 5 Branksome Gate, Western Road, Bournemouth.[31]


[1]    The birth certificate of Catherine Seear, 1866, from the General Register Office.

[2]    1871 census for 105 Grafton Street, Mile End, Middlesex RG10 568 folio 68.

[3]    The will of Frederick Seear proved 1884, held at The Principal Probate Registry.

[4]    1881 census for 11 Albany Road, Leabridge Road, Leyton, Essex RG11 1726 folio 5.

[5]   Information from the late Gwendoline Catherine Braund née Smith, granddaughter of Catherine Smith née Seear.

[6]    Census indexes for England and Wales at

[7]    1891 census for 24 Eastbank, Stamford Hill, Hackney, Middlesex RG12 183 folio 46.

[8]    Information from the late Gwendoline Catherine Braund née Smith, granddaughter of Catherine Smith née Seear. Photographs in the possession of the late Alan Seear.

[9]    The marriage certificate of Herbert Havet Smith and Catherine Seear, 1892 in family possession.

[10]  Death certificate of Edith Katie Smith 1893 from the General Register Office.

[11]    Abney Park Cemetery burials index website                 

[12]  The birth certificate of Frederick Herbert Smith 1894 from the General Register Office.

[13]   Information from the late Gwendoline Catherine Braund née Smith, granddaughter of Catherine Smith née Seear.

[14]   Baptismal certificate of Frederick Herbert Smith, in family possession.

[15]    Baptismal certificate of Frederick Herbert Smith, in family possession.

[16]    Information from the late Gwendoline Catherine Braund née Smith, granddaughter of Catherine Smith née Seear.

[17]    1901 census for 159 Osbaldston Road, Hackney Middlesex RG13 213 folio 87.

[18]    Information from the late Gwendoline Catherine Braund nee Smith, granddaughter of Catherine Smith née Seear.

[19]    The will of Ann Balls Seear proved 1918, held at the Principal Probate Registry.

[20]    The marriage certificate of Herbert Havet Smith and Catherine Seear 1892, in family possession.

[21]    Information from the late Gwendoline Catherine Braund née Smith, granddaughter of Catherine Smith née Seear.

[22]    Information from the late Gwendoline Catherine Braund née Smith, granddaughter of Catherine Smith née Seear.

[23]    Information from the late Gwendoline Catherine Braund nee Smith, granddaughter of Catherine Smith née Seear.

[24]    Information from the late Gwendoline Catherine Braund née Smith, granddaughter of Catherine Smith née Seear.

[25]    Information from the late Gwendoline Catherine Braund née Smith, granddaughter of Catherine Smith née Seear.

[26]    29 Surrey Road and ‘Hawthorn’ 40 Alumhurst Road.

[27]    Probate account in association with the will of Frederick Herbert Smith, proved 1957, in family possession.

[28]    Information from the late Gwendoline Catherine Braund née Smith, granddaughter of Catherine Smith née  Seear. Probate account in association with the will of Frederick Herbert Smith, proved 1957, in family possession.

[29]    The death certificate of Catherine Smith née Seear 1938, in family possession.

[30]    Information from the late Gwendoline Catherine Braund née Smith, granddaughter of Catherine Smith née Seear.

[31]   The death certificate of Catherine Smith née Seear 1938, in family possession.