Who was Elizabeth Symonds?

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.

Her tombstone, which fortunately survives to this day, states that she was 76 years of age when she died on 15 November 1795, thus putting her year of birth at approximately 1719. If this is correct, then Elizabeth would have been about 32 years old when she married William Allen.

Unfortunately, no baptism record for a Elizabeth Symonds (or similar variations) is registered in Colwall parish church between 1705 and 1730. There are not even any 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 aged 32.
  • Possibility Nr 2: Elizabeth was born in Colwall but her baptism was not registered (a possibility which, given the period, I find unlikely).
  • Possibility Nr 3: Elizabeth was born elsewhere, either in Herefordshire, Worcestershire, or further afield.

A naming pattern?

If naming patterns can afford us any clues, can Elizabeth and William Allen’s children’s names shed any light on the mystery? The couple had seven children: Richard (1752), Elizabeth (1753), William (1755), John (1757), Joseph (1759), Thomas (1760) and Peggy (1762). From what we know about William’s family, it is clear that his and Elizabeth’s children were named in honour of William’s father (Richard) and mother (Margaret/Peggy); William also had two uncles called John and Joseph, while their children William and Elizabeth may well have been named after their own parents, or else after Elizabeth’s parents…? The name Thomas does not appear to come from William’s side of the family.

While on the topic of names, William and Elizabeth had two grandsons called Robert, which again may suggest it was a familiar name on Elizabeth’s side.

A possible lead?

There was a family called Symonds living 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 born between 1709 and 1723. Unfortunately, none of them were named Elizabeth, and there is no trace of an Elizabeth Symonds being born in Munsley during this period.

Perhaps coincidentally, Robert and Deborah Symond’s eldest son Robert (a clergyman) married a woman called Elizabethin about 1737, but this (Mrs) Elizabeth Symonds predeceased her husband in 1747. Their daughter Elizabeth Symonds was born in 1739, and was still unmarried in 1773 when her father drew up his will – in other words, she cannot have been the same Elizabeth Symonds who married William Allen 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 me doubt the veracity of this theory. 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? Had the first John passed away by 1751, and if so, was his widow the woman who married my ancestor William Allen?