By road, by sea or by Shanks’s Pony?

a bridge to travel across
1 Nov, 2019

By road, by sea or by Shanks’s Pony?

As many of you may know, last week was RootsTech London. It was an amazing few days, with so many inspiring lectures, exhibitors and genealogists. I sensed that a theme running throughout the conference was connecting people and that is certainly something I managed to do. I met a lot of fellow genealogists in person for the first time and many more new ones too. It was so good to meet such a variety of people from all over the world with so many different specialisms, who were all so passionate and knowledgeable about genealogy.

Did your Ancestors Travel?

Although there were so many brilliant speakers, one particular talk inspired me and made me challenge my own thinking. This was a talk given by Celia Heritage, entitled ‘How far did your ancestors travel before the railways?’ Not only did the talk explore the ways in which our ancestors may have travelled, but also the sorts of distances that they may have covered. It was certainly surprising to hear that some may have walked hundreds of miles across country along Trade Society ‘tramping routes’ just to get work. Or 15th century merchants travelling regularly by horse between London and counties such as Warwickshire. It made me re-think the ability of our ancestors to travel and it is certainly something that will be in my mind when searching for ancestors who seem to disappear. Travelling by water is also something that I hadn’t given enough thought to. I don’t know about you, but I would certainly travel by road, train or air nowadays if I wanted to get anywhere in the UK- I would only use water to reach islands such as the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands. This was not necessarily the case for our ancestors. Although, having lived on the Isle of Man for a little while I would only go by water if I had no other choice!

Missing Ancestors

I do have a particular ancestor who seems to just appear out of nowhere in Chelvey, Somerset in 1780. His name is John Hiatt and he married Sarah Durban on 02 April 1780. Although the marriage record says that he was a husbandman from Nailsea, there is no record for a baptism for John anywhere between 1730 and 1766 in the Nailsea baptisms. Perhaps a further study of travel routes in the area will help me to narrow down whether John came from further afield in Somerset, or even whether he came from over the border in Gloucestershire.

Wherever John came from, it is certainly possible that he travelled for work. Being a husbandman, perhaps his home village was lacking in work or there were too many men for the available land. A look at local histories for Nailsea and the surrounding area may tell me why it would have been attractive to John and may give me some idea as to where he could have come from. It was certainly an area known for coal- perhaps this was what drew John to live there.

Out-of-the-box thinking

You may ask why such out-of-the-box thinking is necessary for John? Well, that is because of a lack of information that baptism, marriage and burial records give and the possibility that other parish records may or may not record him either. No records seem to survive from the late 1700s and early 1800s for Chelvey (apart from the baptism, marriage and burial registers) and the only parish chest records from Nailsea that might contain some information about John are Churchwardens’ accounts and Vestry Minute Books. Both of these records cover the period around the time of John’s marriage, so will certainly be on my list the next time I go to the Somerset Heritage Centre (SHC). With some luck, they may give me a little more information about John that I can use to determine his home parish.

Another set of records that may hold some clue to John’s origins, are Settlement Examinations or Certificates and possibly Removal Orders. These are not held in an obvious place at the SHC, as they cannot be found with the other parish chest records. Instead, ones relating to Nailsea are with the records inherited by Nailsea Parish Council. If John was legitimately settled in Nailsea, or removed from somewhere else, he may appear in these records.

There may not be any instant answers to my problem, but the talk I attended certainly sparked some further ideas and places to look for the elusive John Hiatt. Sometimes, all you need is that second opinion or small piece of information. It can make all the difference!


About the Author

Rhiannon LloydRhiannon is passionate about helping others discover their family stories, just as she discovered her own. She has been researching since 2012 and decided to take her passion a step further by taking the MSc in Genealogical, Palaeographic and Heraldic Studies course with the University of Strathclyde in 2017-2018.

Read more about Rhiannon here:

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