Cousins in Barking?


September 1, 2015 by auntkatefirmin

Firmin/Firman is not so uncommon a name that it’s safe to make too many assumptions. I’d love to assume that Thomas Firman the blacksmith of Barking is a cousin of John Firmin the carman of Tower Hamlets. A carman and a blacksmith could have similar backgrounds and would have plenty of opportunities to work together. I’d really like to connect the Firman family of Barking with the family of John Firmin and Sarah Kenning. Below are the three most suggestive bits of information.

Church of St Mary Whitechapel about 1816.

Church of St Mary Whitechapel about 1816. c Trustees of the British Museum.

1. Thomas Firman and Charlotte Sipthorp were married in the church of St Mary Whitechapel on 25 December 1817 after the banns were called; the marriage was witnessed by John Abrahams and a Sipthorp relative.

2. In 1817 Messrs Firman and sons were tenants at 16 and 17 Chicksand Street, just a few blocks from St Mary’s. I have assumed that John & Sarah Firmin were among the tenants as they were living on Chicksand Street in November 1817 when their son was baptized at St Mary’s as “John James Firman.” John and Sarah were married nearby at St Dunstan’s. Sarah’s mother’s maiden name was Dorothy Abrahams. 

3. In 1818 John Abrahams married Mary Firman on May 24, after the banns were called at St Mary, Whitechapel. I believe that Mary is the sister of Thomas Firman the blacksmith of Barking and the same person as the witness at Thomas’ marriage to Charlotte Sipthorp.

It would be delightful if I could assert that John Abrahams was a close relative of Dorothy Abrahams and that Thomas Firman was the brother or cousin of John Firmin the carman. So far I can only conclude that Thomas and John are NOT brothers. The story is interesting, but very detailed, so for the moment I’ll attempt to include only the highlights.

Based only on online records, there is quite a bit of evidence for Firmans in and near Barking, certainly as far back as the parents of Thomas the blacksmith and very likely at least one more generation. The curious thing about the family is that they seem to live in Barking but marry (and perhaps conduct business) in Tower Hamlets, usually at St Mary, Whitechapel. The church of St Margaret’s, Barking, is less than 10 miles from Whitechapel and it appears the work of a blacksmith potentially lends itself to a wider territory than some other occupations.

Church of St Margaret in Barking.

Church of St Margaret in Barking.

If, as seems most likely, the parents of Thomas the blacksmith are the Elizabeth Biles and Thomas Firman who married at St Mary Whitechapel, on 3 December 1786, there are a few reasons John is unlikely to be the brother of Thomas.
-First, William the eldest child of Thomas and Elizabeth, was baptized in September 1787. John Firmin, the carman, was most likely born in 1786, before their marriage; while he could have been born later, to be part of this family he’d almost have to be a twin. Thomas and Elizabeth had a number of children between 1787 and 1807; while there may be another Thomas and Elizabeth Firmin living in Tower Hamlets who are non-conformists and also having children in this era, in the five years after 1786 I’m reasonably confident that the four Firmin children (William, Thomas*, Elizabeth and Sarah) baptized in Barking and Little Ilford are part of the same family.
-Also I’m fairly certain that Thomas had a younger brother John baptized in Little Ilford in 1802; unless the John of 1802 is a member of yet another family headed by Thomas & Elizabeth Firman (or John Firmin the carman was baptized under another Christian name**) I will assume that there would not be two children named John in one family and that John Firmin the carman was born to a different family, some time close to 1786 as implied by his burial record.

So – could he be a cousin?

The online evidence for the generation of the grandparents of Thomas or John is not as plentiful. I can make a case that Elizabeth Biles, who lived to be 85 and died in East Ham, just a bit west of Barking, may have been related to Joshua Biles of Barking, and thus may have been a native of Barking. She appears by herself in the 1841 census so I’m guessing that Thomas Firman (father of Thomas the blacksmith) died prior to 1841. Other than the fact that Thomas and Elizabeth were married in 1786, which implies that he was at least 21 and born prior to 1765 as he did not need his parent’s consent, there are no documents with an exact age for Thomas. So far nothing is indexed online that fits for a Thomas born close to Barking. It’s possible that Thomas is the man buried in Barking in 1808, however there is no indication, so far, of that man’s age. So far, no aunts or uncles or grandparents of Thomas the blacksmith have emerged in the likely online databases.

The Abrahams family is a more promising but not yet proved connection. I constructed a family tree that consists mostly of guesswork. In this theory Dorothy Abrahams (the mother-in-law of John Firmin the carman) had a brother, John, who married a Mary Wiltshire in Tottenham in 1776. John & Mary had a number of children in Tottenham, Lewisham and Deptford. In some records John is described as a sawyer. His son John, could be the John Abrahams carpenter/builder that married Mary Firman. I can’t prove that he is the correct John Abrahams, and the 1841 and 1851 census records are inconclusive due to inconsistent ages and a strange/illegible birthplace for John. There are a number of individuals in different generations from Tottenham with the surname Abrahams that worked as carpenters/builders. There is no direct evidence that John & Dorothy are brother and sister – there is no evidence, so far, that they are not. The other slim clue is that Dorothy lived in Tottenham immediately after her marriage to William Kenning and thus might be a relation to Abrahams family members in Tottenham.

If nothing else, John Firmin/Firman and Thomas Firman were both part of the congregation of St Mary, Whitechapel, in November & December 1817 and I find it hard to believe that their paths did not cross. So we are left with tantalizing possibilities, and once again, more research to do!

*Thomas the blacksmith was born around 1796; he had an older brother named Thomas born around 1789 who lived only a few weeks.

**There is a record that hints that John Firmin the carman may have had an additional Christian name: I have assumed that he is the taxpayer recorded as “E John Firmin” of the Manor of East Smithfield in 1827. Even if this it not an error, that still doesn’t place him in the Firman family of Barking in the correct generation to be a brother of Thomas.


2 thoughts on “Cousins in Barking?

  1. davidporter says:

    My wife is the 2x great granddaughter of Thomas Firman the blacksmith who married Charlotte Sibthorpe. According to the records I believe that Thomas married 3 times. He married Charlotte in 1817; Sarah Wakelin in 1836 and Sarah Davey in 1828.
    Thomas’s father I believe is Thomas and his mother Elizabeth Biles but so far I have been unable to trace either family any further back

    • Hello David, Please let me know if you ever trace the Firman family farther back. It really seems logical that the Firmins of Stepney & Wapping could be cousins of the Firmin family of Barking, but so far I don’t have any evidence. I’ve tried to go farther back on the Thomas Firman line and I’m stuck there as well – if I do have a breakthrough I will definitely post my ideas!

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