Traces of John & Sara – part one

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May 18, 2013 by auntkatefirmin

While there are Firmins, Firmans, and Fermans, as well as Kinnings and Kennings in the Tower Hamlets back to the 17th century, many of the records, like tax rolls, do not have enough clues to confirm a particular individual’s identity. That said, I’ve been very fortunate in the number of traces left by John & Sarah from 1816 forward.  This is an overview of the traces by record category, which I will break into three posts.  My plan is to cover all the locations and/or individuals mentioned in more detail in separate posts.

Parish records

Old houses on the north west corner of the Minories and Aldgate, looking towards St Botolph church; figures on street.  1810 Watercolour

Old houses on the north west corner of the Minories and Aldgate, looking towards St Botolph church about 1810. © Trustees of the British Museum.

Back when everything was on microfilm and the next generation of Firmins scattered to what seemed like all corners of the compass, I was very sorry the Firmins lived in London where there were so many different parishes.  With online scanned documents and indexes, it’s all changed!  Most recently I’ve used as they offer a good set of records for greater London that include scans.

As noted in a previous post, John & Sara were married at St Dunstan & All Saints, Stepney, on 24 November 1816.  No occupations or parents’ names were recorded.

Baptismal documents have been a major source of information.  Since the father’s occupation (John was a carman) was consistently listed in the baptismal records (all at St. Botolph’s, Aldgate) I am reasonably confident that the couple had six children:  John James in 1817, George in 1820, Robert in 1822, John in 1825, Henry in 1827 and Samuel in 1830.  Sarah would have been about 25 when she married, and 41 when Samuel was born.  While there are other John Firmins in greater London (notably in Shoreditch) I think the birth records for our family are pretty clear for this generation.

I can’t take credit for finding the parish burial records.  It was my sister-in-law that figured out that John & Sara were living in Deptford when they died.  John was buried on 28 June 1850 in Nunhead Cemetery; he was 64 and had been living in Grove Lane in the parish of St. Paul, Deptford.  This is now Grove Street and the spot where he & Sara lived is now Pepys Park.  Sara’s record shows that she was 72 when she died, her burial took place on 26 December 1863, and her residence was 6 Jessamine Terrace, Grove Lane, Deptford.  I’m confident that John also lived in Jessamine Terrace – I’d like to find when the terrace was built and when the family moved south of the Thames.

Cemetery records

Look up The Avenue from the North Gate toward ...

Armed with the burial dates I was able to follow up with the helpful staff at Southwark Council and obtain the actual plot locations.  John, Sara, and their son George are all in grave 1710, square 110, which would be to the right of the viewpoint in the photo as you enter from Linden Grove and look towards the chapel.  Nunhead and Victorian cemeteries in general are another fascinating topic. Nunhead is now partially a nature reserve (including the Firmin gravesite) and not all areas off the paths are safe to explore.  The next step is to phone the Nunhead staff to find out whether the Firmin plot is safe to visit – although if I’m in London I’ll visit regardless!


Will of John Firmin, header.

Header of the will of John Firmin (digitized version from the National Archives, crown copyright)

If there was any doubt that the John & Sarah in Deptford were the correct couple, the will of John Firmin, gentleman, of Deptford, would have removed all doubt as his relatives and occupation match up nicely.  The National Archives has all sorts of great information, including scanned copies of many wills filed in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury prior to 1857.  What you get for your money is a copy of the will as recorded in the probate registers – not the original document. These summaries are in a very old-fashioned script and the scans can be very difficult to read, both because of the handwriting and because the ink can bleed through from the other side of the page. Still, I’ve been very happy with all the wills I’ve ordered online.  John & Sara cross an interesting records transition.  By the time Sara died, a printed register summarizing the probate actions for the year was published annually.  Sara does not have a probate register entry, possibly since she only had the use of the property during her lifetime and did not own the leaseholds outright – in other words I’m guessing she did not have many valuable possessions at the time she died.

John’s will does raise other questions.  I will follow up later with a full transcription.  The will introduces William Boyes, “cousin” of Emily (Hall) Firmin, the wife of John’s son George, as an executor.  As heirs, only George, Henry, Sara, and the four grandchildren born before the will was written (including John Robert Firmin) are listed.  One son, John, that I believe to have been living at the time of his father’s death is not named, possibly because he had already received his inheritance.

Even without other records, the will and the parish entries provide a pretty solid foundation for the immediate family of John Firmin and Sara Kenning.


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