If you could choose to be related to any celebrity who has appeared on the well-known genealogy TV show Who Do You Think You Are?, who would it be? Well, if any of the stories that have been researched so far happen to cover an area of the world where you have roots, then you may be in for a surprise – sooner or later!
That is precisely what happened to me very recently. A few months ago, frustrated by hitting genealogy brick wall after genealogy brick wall, I decided to tackle a particular line in my ancestry which I had long been neglecting. For you see, most of my English ancestors came from the rural county of Herefordshire, but I have also found a few lines that spill over the border into neighbouring Worcestershire, Monmouthshire and – much to my delight – Shropshire.
Rather unexpectedly -at least, for someone researching their English ancestry – I rather quickly managed to trace my line of female ancestors several generations, from my great-great-great-grandmother Ellen Morris (née Mound) to her great-grandmother Eleanor Crump (née Hammond). The Hammonds lived in the south of Shropshire and, while by the time of Eleanor’s birth in 1739 the family had lost much of its former prominence, I was pleased to find a small fortune hidden away in the will left by Eleanor’s great-grandfather’s brother Bernard.
In the said will, Bernard Hammond bestowed over £3,000 to his surviving brothers and sisters, as well as various nieces and nephews. Strangely, his daughter Elizabeth, wife of Thomas Holland, of Burwarton and a gentleman, was left next to nothing. Was that the result of a family rift, do you suppose, or were Thomas and Elizabeth so well off that her father saw no reason to bestow further riches on the young couple?
Be that as it may, the will opened up a series of family relationships that I probably wouldn’t have found out about had they not been so clearly spelt out in the document. Interestingly, it turns out that the above-mentioned Hollands appear to be the ancestors of Harriet Baugh, who in 1796 married Gustavus Hamilton, 6th Baron Boyne. One of their descendants married Margaret Lascelles, whose brother was married to Queen Elizabeth II’s aunt Princess Mary (later the Countess of Harewood!). Related to the great and the good at last, as I suspected…!
But that’s not the end of my upmarket discoveries on the Hammond side. Bernard’s brother (another of my ancestor Eleanor’s great-great-uncles) was none other than John Hammond, rector of Gawsworth, in Cheshire, and the husband of Alice Lucy, of the prominent Lucy family, who owned Charlecote Park. I knew nothing about them, but a bit of extra digging revealed that only a generation or two later, the main Lucy line died out and one of John and Alice’s descendants inherited the estate – swapping their Hammond surname for the more prestigious Lucy!
My search for additional documents on the notorious Hammond family eventually led me to a set of records that rather excitingly referred to my ancestors (and Eleanor’s paternal grandparents) Bernard Hammond and Rebecca Minton, who were married in 1710 in Eaton-under-Heywood, Shropshire. There can be little doubt as to Rebecca’s maiden name, since she christened her first-born son Minton. But wait, there’s more! Thanks to Shropshire Archives’ amazing online catalogue, which has now become something of a second home to me, I managed to find a set of records relating to the Minton estate!
The documents read like a family saga, and mention at least four different generations of my family from the late 17th century up to the death of poor old Minton Hammond in 1766. The first of these records is in fact the dowry agreed to prior to the marriage celebrated between Rebecca’s parents, who were called Richard Minton and Rebecca Sheppard. Theirs must have been a happy but very brief marriage, for they had four daughters born between 1692 and 1699. Sadly, the mother died three months after giving birth to her youngest daughter; her widower passed away barely six years later.
All four of Richard and Rebecca’s orphaned daughters made suitable marriages to local “gentlemen”, as they are described on the marriage register: Ann, the eldest, married Benjamin Russell of Enchmarsh, in the parish of Cardington; Rebecca, as we have already seen, married Bernard Hammond of Hatton; Mary married James Lewis of Childs Mill, in the parish of Wistanstow; and Elizabeth, the youngest, married her father’s second cousin and eventual heir Thomas Minton of Minton, who later inherited much of the family property.
I could go on about the Minton family for hours and talk about how some family pedigrees that I dug up in Shropshire Archives take the family line back to the reign of Edward II – purportedly – but alas, my Mintons will have to wait for another time. Let’s explore the Sheppard line, which still held a few more surprises for me.
Richard Minton’s wife, Rebecca Sheppard, was the daughter of one Richard Sheppard, who was born sometime in the first half of the 17th century. While he is not named in his grandfather’s will (dated 1631), his father Richard, uncle John and John’s son (also called Richard Sheppard) are all explicitly mentioned. This cousin Richard appears to have either inherited or purchased Middleton, the family property located in the parish of Bitterley. Middleton belonged at one point to my ancestor Richard Sheppard, from the main family line, but if it was entailed, then I suspect the land reverted to his cousin as his closest male relative – bear in mind “my” Richard died in 1706 leaving four daughters but no sons.
Be that as it may, this cousin Richard appears to have married twice. His first wife, the former Miss Anne Russell, was of the parish of Cardington and probably a kinswoman of the Benjamin Russell mentioned above. After Anne’s death in 1700, Richard married Mary Hall – a match which shaped his descendants’ fortunes forever.
Mary Hall belonged to a well-to-do family who owned Park Hall, in Bitterley. The property was initially owned by her brother William Hall, serjeant at law, but on his death sometime before September 1721 his estate reverted to his sister’s son William Sheppard – who thus adopted the last name Hall. This fortunate nephew, however, only enjoyed his good fortune for ten short years, prior to his death aged 25. As he was a bachelor, the Hall/Sheppard property once again trickled down through the female line to his sister Elizabeth Sheppard. Elizabeth had been married since 1722 to the splendidly named Wredenhall Pearce and by him had no less than twelve children!
The Pearces were a well-established gentry family from the nearby parish of Stanton Lacy, and the Hall/Sheppard estate eventually came to be inherited by Wrendehall and Elizabeth’s son William Pearce Hall. His marriage to Catherine Comyn in 1759 produced only one daughter, Catherine, who now stood to inherit a rather fabulous fortune and collection of properties.
Catherine’s appearance on the Georgian social scene must have been a welcome sight for someone like Charles Rouse-Boughton, an impoverished baronet who in 1794 inherited Downton Hall as well as the title – but, crucially, not the family fortune – from his dissipated elder brother, Sir Edward Rouse-Boughton. I don’t want to spoil their story, as it was covered in a Who Do You Think You Are? episode in 2008 – and if you remember who it was about, then you’ve probably guessed where this article is going!
Charles Rouse-Boughton and my 4th cousin (eight times removed) Catherine Pearce Hall were married in Westminster in 1782. Their eldest son was the ancestor of the future Rouse-Boughton baronets of Lawford Parva, Rouse Lench and Downton Hall – a double title that became extinct on the death of the last direct male descendant in 1963.
Charles and Catherine’s daughter Louise Rouse-Boughton did not inherit the family title, but her lineage is nevertheless very interesting because it connects me to a well-known TV personality and the protagonist of the aforesaid Who Do You Think You Are? episode. Louise’s son (through her first marriage) was St. Andrew Beauchamp St. John. Yes, that was his actual name! Among the latter’s children was one Laura St. John, who in 1867 married Connolly Thomas McCausland. Their son, Maurice (1872-1938) was the father of Helen Laura (1903-2000), and her daughter is the mother of none other than BBC One’s Pointless presenter Alexander Armstrong!
So, besides discovering my link to Shropshire gentry – and who knows what other treasures may be lurking up my family tree – I have also made the rather exciting discovery that I am the 11th cousin (once removed) of Alexander Armstrong. His family’s fascinating tale, which explores not just the story of the Rouse-Boughtons but also Alexander’s connection to the Dukes of Somerset and his distant genealogical link to royalty, was told in the sixth episode of the seventh series of Who Do You Think You Are?, which aired in August 2010.
Go on! What are you waiting for to re-watch it? After all, it’s MY family as much as Alexander’s!