…that wills are the most amazing source of family history. They can just as easily reveal new names to add to one’s family tree, or reveal a forgotten family secret – like a disinherited relative, an illegitimate child, or a reference to a fabulous fortune left to your ancestors by a generous relation. Wills have been playing an important role in my family history research lately, and it’s all down to a lovely lady called Ann, whose husband is a distant cousin of mine from Australia.
Ann has been into genealogy for years, and a few weeks ago she contacted me after coming across my blog article on my Hammond ancestors – an article which, I’m happy to say, confirmed her own research and helped me back my prior investigations. What I did not expect is for Ann to reveal the true identity of one of our mutual female ancestors, whose maiden name was a total mystery until very recently.
As explained in my previous blog article on the Hammonds, my 9x great-grandmother Eleanor, the wife of Vincent Hammond, had to have been born around the 1650s – her first child being baptised in 1679, her eighth and youngest in 1696. As far as I could tell, Eleanor may also have had family links to the Shropshire village of Atcham, near Shrewsbury, as it was there that her two eldest children had been baptised.
I also speculated that Eleanor’s father may have been called Isaac, since it was the name given to her second-born son – her eldest son’s name, John, was extremely common on her husband’s side of the family. Initially I thought that Eleanor’s father was Isaac Griffiths, purely on the basis that there was a man with that name whose daughter was baptised in the right place at the right time. To my delight, my newly-discovered cousin Ann also told me of her suspicion that Eleanor’s father was called Isaac, but she went a step further and told me that Eleanor’s maiden name could have been Jones, in light of a will she had unearthed some time ago.
The will in question, available for free download via The National Archives website, was drafted in January 1655 (N.S.) by one Richard Hatchett of Peplow, Shropshire, at a time when Eleanor would have been an infant. In the will, the elderly gentleman left his goods and property to several of his closest relatives, specifically mentioning his second daughter Sarah, his youngest daughter Alice, his eldest son Stephen, and his youngest son John. There is an additional daughter whose existence is implied (as she was neither the second nor the youngest), and yet her name is not mentioned. Fortunately, however, Richard Hatchett does mention his granddaughter Eleanor Jones, daughter of his son-in-law Isaac Jones. Could this be the same Isaac whom I suspected of being my Eleanor’s father, and therefore that her unnamed mother was Richard’s missing elder daughter? I felt I was on the brink of adding an extra generation and several new names to the family tree, but I still needed hard proof!
Fast-forward about thirty years. On 16 March 1687 Isaac Jones himself drew up his will. His name is given as “Isaac Jones, of Chilton”, which is in Atcham – the same parish, we must remember, where my Eleanor had given birth to two of her eight children a few years earlier. Unfortunately, the will is not very detailed, although it does provide a list of goods and chattels that Isaac bequeathed to several of his living relatives – including his “loving wife Susanna“. At least I now knew the name of Richard Hatchett’s missing eldest daughter!
The only other relatives mentioned in Isaac’s will are his three grandchildren called William, Eleanor and Martha, the children of his eldest son William. Unfortunately, the will does not mention any of Isaac’s other children (their existence is implied through later wills), despite the fact that he had at least three called Samuel (an Anglican minister), Sarah (Mrs Stokes) and Joseph, a lawyer who later briefly became mayor of Shrewsbury. The fact that none of these children were mentioned in Isaac Jones’s will gave me reason to hope that his daughter Eleanor – my purported ancestor – was also left out because she too was at the time married and had received a settlement upon marrying Vincent Hammond. But how to prove it?
It was not until much more recently, in the course of a Zoom call with my newly found cousin Ann in Australia, that the penny dropped. Ann revealed that she had a copy of the will left in 1715 by Eleanor’s husband Vincent Hammond, and in it he mentions “my dearest wife Eleanor and her brother Joseph Jones“.
Not only did I now have irrefutable proof that Vincent Hammond’s wife was indeed called Eleanor Jones, but I was also able to attach her brothers and sisters, parents and even her paternal grandfather to my family tree with absolute confidence. I did not even have to rely on the fact (which at first I believed to be nothing more than a coincidence) of common names and places, and the pattern of naming children in one family after maternal relatives. It now follows that Eleanor Hammond was born in about 1654, or there abouts, just in time for her to have been mentioned in her maternal grandfather’s will in early 1655. Her marriage settlement (and those of her brothers and sisters once they married in the 1680s, i.e. prior to the death of their father Isaac in 1694) probably meant that Eleanor and her siblings had little to gain from their father’s will. Eleanor survived at least two of her children, as well as her husband by just over six years.
With such a common surname as Jones, I definitely did not expect to be able to trace the line any further, but Isaac is an uncommon enough name to make it stand out even in contemporary records. Isaac Jones must have been born sometime in the early 1600s, possibly before 1623, as that was the year when the so-called Visitation of Shropshire was carried out. The Visitation was put together by two heralds to record the lineages and arms of families of note who lived in Shropshire at the time. Isaac makes a very discreet appearance as the son of William Jones, himself son and heir of one Thomas Jones, of Chilton, who was in fact still alive when the Visitation was drafted. I therefore have good reason to believe that the information in the visitation – at least, the details surrounding Thomas’s immediate family – is reliable.
Isaac’s mother (and William’s wife) was Eleanor, daughter of Richard Cam, of Ludlow – no doubt where her granddaughter, and my direct ancestor got her name from. William himself was the son of Thomas Jones by his wife Maria, daughter of John Gratewood, of Wollerton, in the Shropshire parish of Hodnet. Although the Gratewoods were not included in the Visitation of 1623, their connections leave me in no doubt that they were a family of note. Maria (or Mary) Gratewood and Thomas Jones had married in 1567 in Hodnet, and because “John Gratewood, gent., de Wollerton” died two years later (see Melocki, Hodnet registers), I am pretty sure that he was present at his daughter’s wedding.
John Gratewood would have been born sometime in the early 1500s, and while his marriage record may no longer exist, his wife’s identity can be ascertained through various other sources. The most valuable of them is, without a doubt, the will made in late 1560 by his brother-in-law Rowland Hill, who is noteworthy for many reasons, not least for being a Member of Parliament and the first Protestant Lord Mayor of London! Although a Shropshireman by birth, Rowland Hill became a rising star in the London of the mid-Tudor period, and was well respected during the reigns of Mary and Elizabeth. Because he had no surviving issue, his will is peppered with the names of several relations. Among them are Alice Corbet, “the daughter of my sister Jane” and “William Gratewood, her brother”, implying that Alice’s maiden name was Gratewood and that therefore she and her brother William were Rowland’s niece and nephew through his sister Jane.
Unfortunately Rowland Hill’s will does not specifically mention Maria/Mary Gratewood, who a few years later would marry Thomas Jones of Chilton. Nevertheless, her paternity can be positively ascertained through the 1623 Visitation of Shropshire. More to the point, the parish register of Hodnet, where Wollerton is located, mentions the burial in 1553 of one “Juna (sic) Gratewood” – no doubt Maria/Mary’s mother Jane.
Finding a link to an illustrious relative like Rowland Hill has not turned out easy to prove, but I am satisfied that contemporary evidence has allowed me to add him to the old family tree with all the confidence I need. Naturally, given the hundreds of years between Rowland Hill’s death and the present day, he must have thousands of living “nieces” and “nephews” around the world. While I have yet to uncover many of his close kinsfolk, I was rather struck by the fact that he was related by marriage to another famous Mayor of London.
No one else among Rowland Hill’s relations benefited as much from his will than Thomas Leigh, the husband of his niece, Alice Barker (daughter of another of Hill’s sisters, called Elizabeth). Like Rowland, Leigh was so distinguished that he was knighted in 1559 by Elizabeth I, becoming Sir Thomas Leigh. He is not the last Mayor of London to make his appearance on the family tree: Sir Thomas’s son-in-law, George Bond, became Mayor of London in 1587. His daughter Dionise appears to have been married to Henry Winston, and their grandson, Winston Churchill (1620-1688) is the ancestor not only of his namesake, Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, but of Diana, Princess of Wales, the Dukes of Marlborough, Prime Minister James Waldegrave, Lady Susan Hussey (who was prominently featured in the news this week), the late comedian Humphrey Lyttelton and the present-day Duke of Alba.
As if that were not enough, another of Sir Thomas Leigh’s grandsons, William Leigh, holds the key to my connection to yet another famous relative. This William Leigh was the great-grandfather of Thomas Leigh, whose daughter Cassandra Leigh was the mother of one of my favourite novelists, the one and only Jane Austen. It is through the Austens that I can also claim a family link to actress Anna Chancellor (“Duckface” in Four Weddings and a Funeral), film producer John Brabourne (the son-in-law of the ill-fated Lord Mountbatten) and Denys Finch-Hatton, whose love affair with Karen Blixen inspired her world-famous novel (and the world-famous movie) Out of Africa.
Phew! I think I’ve overdosed on genealogy research for a while…!
Enough to keep the family happy. Well done.
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