A tale of two Henrys

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January 18, 2016 by auntkatefirmin

There’s nothing like working with other researchers to keep you on track! As I was researching Henry Horsell 1700-1762, I was a bit hasty. So many online family trees included his first wife as Susannah Chiverson of Avebury that I was a bit too quick to assume it was true. I did think it a bit curious that they married outside the immediate neighborhood of Wootton Bassett, but Avebury is only 10 miles away and a craftsman might have a wide circle of contacts.

Andrews & Drury map.

Map showing Wootton Bassett from 1772.

A simple review of the baptisms in Avebury would have told me there was another Henry, from Avebury, who was baptised there in 1693. Most importantly, the Henry in Avebury also had a son Reuben, baptised in 1721, and other children as well – after the Henry in Wootton Bassett married Sarah Skull. The cousins & I concurred that there are two families, as yet unconnected, both including a Henry Horsell with a son named Reuben. Some earlier researcher diligently searched for a reasonable Henry that fit the facts of the will and in the absence of contrary information settled on Henry & Susannah in Avebury – it was a good start, but that one piece of information didn’t quite fit once more information was located. One of the difficulties in any type of research is that out-dated information tends to hang around for a very long time.

Unfortunately for those in the Horsell family who are descended from Reuben, the son of the Henry Horsell in Wootton Bassett who was baptised in October 1718, the evidence for his mother is still hazy at this point. The sharp eyes of one of the Horsell cousins spotted the death of “Anne Horsal,” the wife of Henry, in Wootton Bassett in December 1719. The marriage of Henry and Anne is not listed in the indexes of the Wootton Bassett parish register and has not (as yet) been located in any nearby parish, so her maiden name is still a mystery.  While the only evidence for her name is the burial, I’m willing to move forward with the assumption that Henry married Anne in late 1717 or early 1718 (as he was only 18 or 19 at that time).

Thanks to all my new Horsell cousins for their input!

So now I have yet more questions and a few reminders of lessons learned (and re-learned).

Some of the questions I have about the records and practices in this era are:
-How far afield was someone in the tradesman class likely to go to find a spouse? That is, how far might their trade and family connections stretch? Wootton Bassett, was a market town and, I presume, affected such connections.
-How accurate is it to assume that a child was baptised within a few months of their birth? Was it still the custom in the early 1700’s for the child to be baptised prior to the churching of the mother after about 40 days? By this time had churching been discontinued in Wiltshire? (This is related to the presumed age of Henry as about 18 when he fathered Reuben, based on a prompt baptism. Most of the other marriages, especially for the males, are closer to the person’s mid-twenties.)
-How complete are the records, really, and is there a difference in completeness between baptism, marriage, and burial records in this era? At some points there are obviously gaps: for example, I am unwilling to believe that no one was buried in Wootton Bassett between 1702 and 1709. From Henry’s will it is reasonable to assume that four of his children (Mary, Martha, Elizabeth, and Edith) were born between 1721 and 1725 but there is no record of their baptisms in Wootton Bassett and the registers have no obvious gaps. Starting in 1725, baptisms for his children again appear in the register and so far there is no hint the family were Non-Conformists. Given that Henry was later a property owner, I’m reluctant to conclude that the family lived somewhere else for those four years, but there is that possibility. Where is the record of his first marriage, and how common was it to marry in the bride’s home parish?


Keep your eyes open!

Share your findings & ask for input if you have the opportunity.

Be willing to admit that some of your assumptions will be disproved with further research.




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