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Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen

Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen - how we did it

Great-great-great-aunt - Kitty Edwards

Laurence turned to his grandmother Phyllis, Ronald's wife, and her side of the family.

Step 1 - Family members

Speaking to surviving older relatives is a crucial first step in starting your research. They will often have clear recollections of conversations and rumours, as well as key documents and photographs.

Kitty Edwards, Laurence's great-great-great-aunt
Kitty Edwards, Laurence's great-great-great-aunt

Laurence met Phyllis's eldest son, his uncle Peter, who had uncovered some intriguing documents about one of Phyllis's great-aunts, Kitty Edwards.

Peter described Kitty as a very elegant but relatively poor woman, whose father had been a plumber. Kitty had made her own living as a seamstress.

However, Peter had a letter Kitty had written to her brother in 1905, which referred to family estates that had been lost several years before. In the letter, Kitty stated that she wanted her brother to take legal action to try to reclaim their family estates.

This was very mysterious. Kitty and her immediate family appeared to be working class, yet she claimed that the Edwards family was entitled to land and riches.

The letter mentioned a distant line of the family, the Yeos, and Kitty's great-grandfather George, 'old grandfather Yeo'. Peter explained that George Yeo had been the squire at Bleaden in Somerset. He had owned many lands and his family were buried at Bleaden church.

According to the letter, George died in 1817, and his estate ended up in the hands of a man called Mr Frickey. Kitty claimed that somehow George Yeo had given his land and wealth to Mr Frickey rather than to his own family.

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Laurence reads his great-great-great-aunt Kitty's letter with his uncle, Peter

In order to prove or disprove Kitty’s claim, we had to track down three things: George Yeo, the Yeo property, and the mysterious Mr Frickey.

Great-great-great-great-great-grandfather - George Yeo

Step 2 - Manorial Valuations And Surveys

We started the search in Winchester, where Hampshire Record Office keeps records of land ownership in Somerset. The National Archives deposited Somerset's manorial records here in 1959. Contact the National Archives to find out where your local manorial records are stored (see Related Links).

Laurence ordered the 1812 Manorial Valuation and Survey, a record of all landholders in Bleadon, to discover whether the Yeos really were rich landowners, as Kitty had claimed.

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Laurence looks through the manorial records for George Yeo's land in Bleadon

The records revealed that George Yeo had owned a significant amount of Bleadon - hundreds of acres in fact. He was one of the biggest landowners in the parish of Bleadon in the 1812 records. So why hadn't the land been passed on to George’s own family?

Step 3 - Local church

We had proof that George Yeo was a significant landowner in Bleadon, so he was likely to have had considerable status in the local area. Laurence headed to the church of St Peter and St Paul, in Bleadon, to search for the family crypt.

In a search for wealthy ancestors, the local church is a good place to look for family tombs or plaques which indicate their influence in the local community. Gravestones are very useful genealogical tools, particularly when investigating the period before the introduction of national birth, marriage and death registers in 1837.

In the church, Laurence was told to roll back the aisle carpet to uncover an intricate and flamboyant tombstone for George Yeo. But it wasn’t the 'old grandfather Yeo' referred to in Kitty's letter. This memorial stone commemorated his father George, Laurence's great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather.

Laurence read that not only had George Senior been happy in life, 'torn from the embraces of his second wife and their fond children', but that he was regarded as 'lost to the poor too, who exclaim in woe striking their bosoms.'

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Laurence discovers a tombstone for George Yeo in the heart of Bleadon's church

George Senior had clearly been a benevolent family man. But what had caused his son to pass over his own family members when he died?

Step 4 - Local historian

We found a local historian, Brian Austin, who had investigated the Yeo family and their estates. Finding a local historian can be invaluable when you are on the trail of a particular ancestor, or seeking to solve a family mystery. It is helpful to ask for contacts at local archives or libraries, or you can try searching online or approaching a local history society.

Brian described how George Yeo (son of the George whose tombstone we had visited) died and left all his property to his third wife. She died in 1844. At that point, two of the daughters, Sarah and Jane, became embroiled in an argument about who was entitled to what. We discovered that Sarah was married to George Edwards (Kitty's grandfather).

The contest became so fierce that it went to court, and was reported in The Times. It can be revealing to search newspapers for accounts of your ancestors’ lives and activities. If they don’t feature in The Times, they may be mentioned in local newspapers, copies of which are held in local archives and libraries and in the British Library Newspapers collection at Colindale, London (see Related Links).

From The Times article we discovered that Sarah and George Edwards won the case and ended up with everything, including the family property and estate.

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Laurence meets local historian Brian Austin, who has more information about the Yeo estates

It appeared that George Yeo junior did not hold the key to unlock the inheritance mystery, but a member of the Edwards family might. Sarah and George had five children, including Kitty's father George, and lived in the local ancestral home, Shiplate Court. The house still exists, so we went to investigate further.

Step 5 - Former ancestral homes

If you are searching for information about an ancestral home, census returns, local maps, land records, and deeds may help (see Related Links). If the house is still standing, the current owners may have their own records.

It is worth trying to make contact with people who own a home in which your ancestors once lived. Sometimes they may know fascinating details about the history of the house and the people who lived there. This was the case with Shiplate Court, as the current owner, Catrina Wilson, had extremely useful information to pass on to Laurence.

By an extraordinary coincidence, Catrina’s daughter’s piano teacher happened to be a distant Edwards relation. This modern Mrs Edwards said that Shiplate Court Farm had only left the Edwards family when a Mr 'Trickey' bought it in the late 1800s for £2,700.

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Laurence meets Catrina Wilson, current owner of Shiplate Court

It appeared that in contrast to the underhand dealings implied in Kitty’s letter, Mr Trickey (as opposed to Frickey) had not surreptitiously disinherited the Edwards, but was a bona fide house buyer.

Step 6 - Census returns

We were curious to find out just who Mr Trickey was, and why Kitty had held a grudge against him for so long. If you are trying to establish more facts about an ancestor's life and family, census returns are a very good place to start. You can search them online, and there are often microfilm copies in local or national archives (see Related Links).

Laurence met up again with local historian Brian Austin in Taunton, at the Somerset Archive. They searched the 1881 census and found a Harriet Trickey who was living with Mary Edwards. We deduced that they were two of Sarah and George Edwards' five children, and that at some point Harriet had married a Mr Trickey.

Harriet appeared to be a widow in 1881, so we went back to the previous census of 1871. There we found Robert H Trickey, who was registered as a builder and landowner. As Harriet's husband, Robert Trickey was uncle by marriage to Kitty Edwards.

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Laurence searches records at Somerset Archives for evidence of the troublesome Mr Trickey

Kitty had clearly believed that her father, George, should have inherited the Edwards' estate. So why didn't that happen?

Step 7 - Wills

To find out, we turned to the 1873 will of George Edwards. Wills are a valuable source of information regarding ancestral inheritance and estates. They can also provide an insight into the characters and relationships of past family members.

To see if your ancestor left a will, you can contact the Principal Probate Registry which holds copies of every will proved in England and Wales since 1858. Copies of the index to wills from 1858 to 1943 are available on microfiche at the National Archives. For help locating wills pre-1858, consult the National Archives Wills and Probate Research Guide (see Related Links).

Within the bequests in George's will, we finally solved Kitty's mystery. George had decreed that he wanted everything he owned to be sold by public auction. The proceeds would then be split equally between his five children. Far from channelling all of his assets to one child, George had attempted to honour each of his children by dividing everything he owned.

Unfortunately, it appeared that only Robert Trickey could afford to buy Shiplate Court Farm at the auction.

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Laurence examines George Edwards senior's will in Taunton

Perhaps it was the fact that one of George's daughters was able to keep the house, rather than Kitty's father, George, that had caused such consternation. All we knew for certain was that a valid house purchase had provoked a family rumour that festered for generations.

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