Who was Elizabeth Symonds? – SOLVED!

Elizabeth Symonds – parentage and origins?

On 9 October 1751 my ancestor William Allen (son of Richard and Margaret Allen) married Elizabeth Symonds in the village of Colwall, on the Herefordshire side of the Malvern Hills. Unfortunately the marriage entry does not provide any clues as to Elizabeth’s parentage or origins.

William and Elizabeth’s tombstone, which fortunately survives to this day, states that he was a cordwainer (i.e. a shoemaker) and that he died in 1804, while his wife was 76 years of age when she passed away on 15 November 1795 – thus placing her year of birth at approximately 1719. If this is correct, then Elizabeth would have been about 32 years of age when she married my ancestor.

Unfortunately, no baptism record for a Elizabeth Symonds (or similar variations) is registered in Colwall parish church between 1705 and 1730. There is not even a trace of other children with the surname Symonds baptised in Colwall for over two decades.

So, where was Elizabeth born, and who were her parents?

  • Possibility Nr 1: Elizabeth was born in Colwall under a different surname, and may have been already married (and subsequently widowed) by the time she married William Allen in 1751 (after all, she would have been about 32 at the time).
  • Possibility Nr 2: Elizabeth was born in Colwall but her baptism was not registered (a possibility which, given the period, I personally find unlikely, but should still be considered).
  • Possibility Nr 3: Elizabeth was born elsewhere in Herefordshire, or perhaps on the Worcestershire side of the Malvern Hills, or perhaps further afield.

A naming pattern?

If naming patterns are anything to go on, can Elizabeth and William Allen’s children’s names shed any light on the mystery of her parentage? The couple had seven children: Richard (1752), Elizabeth (1753), William (1755), John (1757), Joseph (1759), Thomas (1760) and Peggy (1762). From what I know about William’s immediate family, it seems clear that his and Elizabeth’s eldest son and youngest daughter were named in honour of William’s father (Richard) and mother (Margaret/Peggy). William Allen also had two uncles called John and Joseph who are mentioned in a couple of family wills, which might explain why my ancestors chose those names for two of their sons. As for the remaining two children, William and Elizabeth, it is quite possible that they were named after their parents – or perhaps after Elizabeth’s own parents…? The name of the only missing son, Thomas, does not appear to come from William’s side of the family, which raises the question: was Elizabeth’s father called Thomas?

And while on the topic of names, it might be significant that William and Elizabeth had two grandsons who were called Robert – which again may suggest it was a familiar name on Elizabeth’s side of the family.

A possible lead?

I have always been intrigued by the existence of a family called Symonds who lived in Colwall at the beginning of the 18th century. In 1704 Robert Symonds married Deborah Page – a daughter of the former schoolmaster of The Elms School. While still living in Colwall, the couple had two children called Robert and Anne, and after moving to nearby Munsley, they went on to have seven more children, all born between 1709 and 1723. Unfortunately, none of them were christened Elizabeth, and to this day I have not found any trace of an Elizabeth Symonds being born in Munsley during this period.

Perhaps coincidentally, Robert and Deborah Symond’s eldest son Robert, who became a clergyman, married a woman called Elizabeth in about 1737, but this (Mrs) Elizabeth Symonds predeceased her husband in 1747. The couple did have a daughter named Elizabeth Symonds in 1739, but she was still unmarried in 1773 when her father wrote his will. In other words, she cannot have been the same Elizabeth Symonds who married my ancestor William Allen nearly two decades earlier.

Was Elizabeth a widow?

According to the Herefordshire FHS marriage index, in 1738 one John Symonds (who may or may not have been a relation of the Symonds family mentioned above) married Elizabeth Trehern in Ledbury – a very short distance from Colwall. A side note on the said index mentions “at Donnington”, a possible reference to either the bride or the groom’s abode. Be it as it may, the pair seem to have had at least three children, all born in Ledbury: John (1742), Elizabeth (1744) and Mary (1749).

It would fit perfectly if this Elizabeth’s husband had passed away sometime between 1749 and 1751, when my Elizabeth married William Allen (and I cannot discard the possibility that he did die), but alas, a baptism dated 1753 in Donnington for a William Symonds, son of John and Elizabeth Symonds, makes this theory seem quite wobbly. It may be significant, however, that the three first children born to the couple were all born in Ledbury, while the last (if indeed it is the same couple) was born in Donnington. Were there two couples called John and Elizabeth Symonds living nearby in Herefordshire at the same time? Had the first John passed away by 1751, and if so, was his widow the woman who married my ancestor William Allen?

Eureka!

While recently searching for another record on the Herefordshire Archives Service Catalogue, I serendipitously came across a reference to a “Wm. Allen” of Colwall. The record, from the Brendebury Court collection, is a deed of settlement for a property called Lower House, in the village of Bredenbury, from May 1752 – the year after my ancestor William married Elizabeth Symonds. And the partial extract, which is freely available on the website, is enough to prove this is indeed my ancestor William!

The transcript refers to William Allen as a cordwainer, which we know is right from his headstone in Colwall churchyard. The record also mentions his wife Elizabeth, “d[aughter]. of Eliz[abeth]. w[i]f[e]. of Ed[ward]. Smith by Tho[ma]s. Symonds her former husband,dec[eased].” It also mentions Elizabeth’s sister Joan (recorded as Jone and a spinster), and a receipt of payment received later by John Hartland and Joan Hartland – presumably his wife. Is she the same person as Elizabeth’s sister?

So! What have I learnt? Firstly, that Elizabeth Symond’s father was called Thomas Symonds and that he had died by 1752. To have his name finally confirmed is a relief, because as you will recall from above, it was the only name given to one of Elizabeth’s children that I could not account for.

As for Elizabeth’s mother, another Elizabeth (this is getting complicated!), she clearly became the wife of Edward Smith sometime before 1752 – and sure enough, the Herefordshire marriage index features their 1737 wedding in Bredenbury, near Bromyard. This also explains why the record in the Herefordshire Archives Catalogue is among the Bredenbury Court papers – obviously Elizabeth and her family were local to the area. A quick search online and I am soon able to retrieve Elizabeth’s baptism in Bredenbury in November 1720 – poor thing must have died around her birthday – and a new list of siblings: Mary, Thomas, John, Eliza… My Elizabeth seems to be the couple’s eldest daughter, and so a new search on the marriage index provides me with the 1718 wedding in Bromyard of Thomas Symonds, of Bredenbury, and Elizabeth Hill, of Stamford Bishop. How about that? In the space of a few minutes I’ve gone from genealogical brick wall to adding about seven or eight new names to the family tree and two new locations I had no idea I had a connection to!

Although I do not have definitive proof, in light of the evidence I think it is safe to assume that Elizabeth’s sister Joan Symonds, who is mentioned on the 1752 deed of settlement as a spinster, is very probably the same Joan Symonds who married John Hartland in 1754, which is why he and Joan Hartland are also mentioned in the deed as having received a payment in 1772! And would you believe that their grandson married another of my Allen relatives. This is definitely getting very complicated!

At long last, after years of searching, of wondering, of hypothesising, I have finally found documentary proof of my ancestor Elizabeth’s place of birth, the name of her parents and even her siblings. Just goes to show we should never give up hope!