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24 September 2014

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Who Do You Think You Are?

You are in: Suffolk > History > Who Do You Think You Are? > Family history

Gustave Dore print of Dudley Street in St Giles

Gustave Dore print of Dudley Street

Family history

I started to research my family history about at the start of 2000, when I thought I would try to find out if there was any history about my middle name, Freeman.

All I really knew was that we were Londoners, my great grandfather was called Benjamin Freeman Newton and that my great uncle Freeman Newton had been Chief Constable of Herefordshire between the two world wars. 

I had recently heard about the free website, and was fascinated to find there were thirteen Freeman Newtons – almost all of them from Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth and the oldest dating back to 1748.  Could Freemans from Suffolk be anything to do with my family? I set out to find out if they were.

The 1881 census on FamilySearch had also told me that a Freeman Newton was living in the same street in Whitechapel as Benjamin and I was able to confirm that he was the father when I got his birth certificate.

The census revealed that Freeman was not a native Londoner, but was born in Norwich in 1828. and was a bookbinder by trade.  The trail grew hotter!  Another interesting fact emerged when I discovered Freeman’s wife was born Susannah Moses, daughter of outfitter Mordecai, which obviously opened up another line of enquiry into these newly discovered East End Jewish roots.

Living in Ipswich since 1986, but now working in Norwich, I was able to pursue the search in the Millenium Library at the Forum in Norwich.  I started to look in all the Norwich parish registers for Newtons born in 1828 and struck lucky after only looking at a few. 

It was a real “eureka” moment when I found my great great grandfather’s baptism in St George’s Coslany and his parents Freeman and Sarah, who had married in Yarmouth the year before. 

Joseph Newton's will

Joseph Newton's will

This missing link now took me back through a succession of Freemans, Nathaniels and Josephs to a Joseph Newton born in Lowestoft in 1663.  There was also a branch with lots of Freemans who moved up to Grimsby.  But I was a real Suffolk boy after all!

It was wonderful to discover, in the Suffolk Record Office in Ipswich the original copy of the 1720 will of my eighth great grandfather Joseph Newton, a joiner of Lowestoft, complete with his signature and seal, beautifully written and decorated. 

A man of some substance, he left his three houses to his children, his best woollen clothes and the tools of his trade to his son Joseph, while his daughters Esther and Catherine inherited his bed, linen and household goods.

The next development came when the 1901 census was published in 2002.  I went down to the Family Records Centre in London and started looking for my grandmother Daniels’ family in Westminster. 

I found to my surprise that her father had been born in Suffolk too – the record said in “Coddam”.  I guessed that this might be the enumerator mishearing William Daniels say “Coddenham” in his Suffolk accent, and so it proved when I followed the trail back to Suffolk and found they had come from the village of Winston near Debenham. 

William had obviously moved to London to find work: as a young lad his father had been in the Claydon and Barham Workhouse in 1851.  And his father Thomas had been quite a character, too. 

More clues about Spence Broughton

I found an 1840 Ipswich Journal report of his court appearance in Woodbridge accused of stealing some silverware from a house at Bedingfield and of selling it on at Cow and Gate pub on the Common Quay in Ipswich. 

Thomas was found not guilty, but his co-accused was sentenced to fourteen years transportation, and Thomas’ other son Samuel got sixth months hard labour on the same day for stealing a greatcoat from the King’s Head in Woodbridge.  Thomas is buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave in Ipswich cemetery.

My research has revealed a wealth of other fascinating stories, mostly on my mother’s side:

• One of my ancestors, a well-to-do Lincolnshire farmer called Spence Broughton, was hanged in York in 1792 for the robbery of the Sheffield to Rotherham mail after falling into a life of gambling and deserting his wife and family.  His body was hanged in chains near the scene of the crime and 40,000 people were said to have come to see the event  and his remains stayed hanging there for thirty-five years! A broadsheet ballad was written to tell his story as a warning to others which the folk-singer Ewan McColl recorded in the 1950s. 

• I am also East Anglian on my mother’s side, the Crosses, who were a North Norfolk farming family.  When I worked in North Walsham a few years ago, I discovered that my office was a couple of hundred yards away from the graves of my third great grandparents William and Mary Ann.

• John Cross married Elizabeth Woodrow, whose brother Jeremiah travelled up to the Manchester area and became a very successful hatmaker in Stockport in the nineteenth century, making high class hats and receiving a Royal Appointment.

• Another Woodrow brother, Benjamin, emigrated to America, where one of his descendants helped to found the Maytag washing machine company in Iowa

• My mother’s family always went on holiday to St Ives in Cornwall in the 1930’s totally unaware that they were also decended from the Tregerthen family of St Ives.  Anthony Tregerthen was the captain of a merchant ship and became the harbourmaster of the port of Llanelli in South Wales in the early 19th century.  I have distant Maori Tregerthen cousins in New Zealand, descended from his son who was another sea captain.

• One of my father’s forebears was George Eugene Gandini, a London harness-maker who had been born in Piemonte in northern Italy in 1839.  His marriage certificate gave his father as “Martin Gandini – lawyer”.  Another international mystery to be solved!

• Another of my father’s ancestors, Maurice Denny, was a shoe mender who came over from Ireland to live in the infamous “rookeries” of London, the slums around St Giles where many families lived in dark Dickensian cellars accessed only by rickety ladders from the street.  Their wares were set out on the pavement around the holes that led to their dank homes.

• In complete contrast, my maternal grandmother was brought up in Leicester by her aunt, and never knew her mother, although she lived until she died of tuberculosis when my grandmother was ten.  The family story was that my great grandmother had been an “actress”, but no more was known. I managed to find out from birth certificates and the census that in fact she came from a very well-off family of colonial merchants who had been very successful in South Africa and had been the agents for Lloyds of London in Cape Town

• The two Scottish partners, James Nisbet and William Dickson, were pillars of Cape Town society in the early nineteenth century.  James Nisbet’s wife came from a family of merchants with links to Madeira and St Helena (even supplying Napoleon with goods when he was exiled there), while William married an Afrikaaner wife. 

Going back to the early days of European settlement of South Africa I discovered that among my ancestors were Evert and Anna van Guinea, two West African slaves who had been on a Portuguese slave ship bound for South America, but captured by the Dutch and taken to Cape Town. 

There they became slaves to early founders of the Cape Colony, and their daughter, Maria, was one of the first freed slaves to own property in her own right, and her family became the first to establish the wine-making industry in South Africa.  I must go back to claim my inheritance – or at least a bottle of the famous Constantia wine the family made!

My research has been a wonderful way of learning so much about British and world social history,  which becomes so much richer and alive when I understand  the incredibly diverse backgrounds of these real people whose lives shaped my own and those of my family.

last updated: 23/06/2008 at 16:10
created: 25/09/2006

Have Your Say

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

Ray Dyer
Message for Angela Kirwan:I have a Gardner Curtis in my ancestry, born 1798! in Sudbury....

Angela Kirwan
Can anyone help me find my great great grandfather, Gardiner Curtis born in Sudbury Suffolk, around 1896, he came to ireland and married a lady named Catherine Hawkins in the 1840's, now there is no record of him on any records, but i do know he was a shoe maker, if you would have any information n himn i would love to hear from you

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