Answers to Questions


NORRIS, Herts, born 1770s

December 2000 repost




 The following reformatted messages from the Old Forum have been reposted to provide a context for a follow up enquiry.


James Alfred Norris (jamalfnor @t of Northwold, Norfolk, wrote: I am trying to identify a Thomas Norris who married Sarah Eversley at Great Stanmore in 1795. I believe that both were born in Hertfordshire, and I know that she was baptised at Tring in 1775 with her brother John, but her groom could be one of at least three men called Thomas Norris who were born between 1770 and 1776. Was mine Thomas Norris of Watford, son of Thomas Norris and Sarah Bates, baptised at St. Mary Watford in 1770? Or was he the son of Thomas Norris and Susannah, baptised at Great Berkhamsted in 1776? Or perhaps were his parents William Norris and Mary, who had their son baptised at Monken Hadley (then officially in Middlesex but a border town now in Hertfordshire ) in 1774? My own preference is for the Watford Thomas, but I cannot prove the link, and I just wonder whether any member of this forum has knowledge which would help me to decide. I thank the moderator and his members for their attention.

Sorting out namesakes - eg Thomas NORRIS

What do you do when your researches turn up more than one person with the same name and the right approximate age and area of birth? This is particularly difficult before civil registration started in 1837.

The simple answer is you have to work a lot harder to make progress as you will need to build up a picture of all possible candidates to see which is the most probable, and if all you done is to look up some names and christening dates from the IGI your travails have hardly begun.

The first thing is to find out what happened to each person. For instance many of the babes who were christened will have died in infancy - so any of the namesakes who died before the marriage you are interested in can be eliminated. So you need to check up on the relevant burial registers.

For the same reason someone is not likely to be married to two people at once - so you need to check the marriage indexes and registers. For example you ask if your Thomas could be "Thomas Norris of Watford, son of Thomas Norris and Sarah Bates, baptised at St. Mary Watford in 1770." Maybe - but have you noticed that a Thomas Norris married an Eleanor CHAPMAN at St Mary's, Watford, on 14th January 1793. If he was married in his home parish (you need to look at the register microfilm to find out) he may well be the one baptised in the same church in 1770 - so is less likely to be yours.

You also need to know something of social stability in various forms. A son is almost certain to have the same social class as his father and will very frequently have the same or a related occupation. Christian names also ran in families with children being named after their grandparents and uncles and aunts, particularly on the paternal side. By comparing several candidate whole families with the target family you can often eliminate one or more namesakes. For instance a man with with sons called Charles, James and Robert is unlikely to have grandchildren John, Christopher and William - with not a Charles, James or Robert in sight. However closely related namesakes (say first cousins) will tend to have children with similar names - so this is a mechanism for rejecting a candidate - but cannot distinguish between close relatives.

If you are lucky there may be wills, a marriage settlement, or other legal documents while if your candidate ancestor lived in a copyhold property the manor court records may have survived and record the transfer of the copyhold between generations.

Ideally you can reduce the list of possible candidates to one reasonably quickly - but in a fair number of cases there may be insufficient surviving information ever to be sure.

However it is important on entering onto such an enterprise to remember that there may be other namesakes who turn up during the research - for instance children of nonconformists who baptism records do not survive. You may also get caught out if your initial assumptions about birth date or place are inaccurate. In your case you say that Sarah Eversley was baptised in Tring - but you only believe he came from Hertfordshire. But might he have come from just over the boundary in Bucks. After all a Thomas NORRIS was christened at Walton (part of Aylesbury), Bucks, on 6th October 1773 - and this is closer to Tring than any of the other places you mention.

The problem of namesakes is not simple - and there must be millions of false ancestral trees because people have simply selected the first possibly correct name/date/place combinations without checking the source registers or other relevant records. It is the challenge of this type of problem which gives much of the excitement of genealogy - but you must always remember that all family trees end when the information in the accessible surviving records "runs out". In some cases this is because there is no information at all - and in other cases there are too many imprecisely defined pieces which might fit.

James Alfred Norris (jamalfnor @t replied Many thanks for your very helpful response to my query about the Thomas Norris who married Sarah Eversley in 1795. The points you make are well taken - some already well known and accepted, others suggesting other lines of approach. When my Thomas died in 1844 he was said to be 72, which suggests a birth in 1772, but at the census of 1841 he said that he was 67 (even though he did not need to give a precise age), which suggests a birth in 1774. Bracketing the two bits of evidence could very well indicate the Thomas Norris born in the environs of Aylesbury in 1773. For that, subject to further and wider research, I am very grateful.

August 2001

After some further research James Alfred Norris (jamalfnor @t wrote We corresponded once before about my errant great great great grandfather Thomas Norris, and you pointed me in the direction of one who was born at Walton (Bucks.) in 1773, but subsequent research, not only on the IGI, persuades me that this Thomas died in 1783, aged 10. Other candidates, whether on the IGI or the Vital Records Index or registers studied at the Society of Genealogists, are few and far between. Although the given names seem wrong, the family of the Great Berkhamsted couple, Thomas Norris and Susannah Stevens, seems at the moment to be the only plausible home for my Thomas. But, not to put too fine a point on it, the family seemed to have some wealth and education, whereas my Thomas was and remained an illiterate labourer, who died in Hendon Workhouse in 1844, allegedly aged 72.

In 1795 he married Sarah Eversley of Tring at Great Stanmore, and founded a "dynasty" which leads to me. His census age in 1841, unnecessarily precise, was 67, which takes us back to 1773-74. I have looked for him in neighbouring counties and in Hertfordshire towns and villages far and wide, but all the trails are false except the Great Berkhamsted one at the moment. In a few days time I will address the problem at the HALS, but for the time being I present you with this puzzle in the hope that you will know something that can help me.

In genealogy we are effectively dealing with probability - and that for modern records, coupled with family records and remembrances -  the probability is close to certainty (if we ignore unrecorded factors such as the husband may not be the father, or the child was adopted). One then reaches the stage when the default is to assume that if a child is born in a village and someone with the same name marries in the same village they are the same person. This is a good working assumption but of course the probability is no longer close to a certainty - see for example the posting Right Name, Wrong Body.

The next stage is where there are clearly multiple possibilities and one wants to find the best fit. To make matters worse the level of record survival may be low and there may well be people with the same name who are not listed in indexes such as the IGI on familysearch. In another post (HOLLIDAY, Berkhamsted, 1780's to 1800s) I give the example of the illegitimate birth of my great great great grandfather - where the only evidence for his parents is a one line entry in an account book!

A look at the Berkhamsted records on familysearch shows the following Norris baptisms at the Independent Chapel:

Henry & Lydia
1. Elisabeth NORRIS -   8 Jun 1800

Joseph & Mary
2. William NORRIS - 30 May 1819
3. James NORRIS -  30 May 1819
4. Elizabeth NORRIS -  30 May 1819
5. Sarah NORRIS -  7 May 1820

William & Mary
6. Thomas NORRIS -  5 Nov 1820

Of course none of these are your Thomas - and he is not recorded in the Chapel registers because they only start in 1787. However it does show that there was a Norris family in the town which was not using the Church of England - and that if there were children (perhaps including one called Thomas) before the chapel records  began there may be no surviving records - so be on your guard.

So what questions can you ask to try and establish whether your Thomas Norris, was the son of Thomas Norris and Susannah, baptised at Great Berkhamsted in 1776? May I suggest several possibilities:

Are the similarities between the names Thomas Norris and Sarah Eversley gave to their children and the names in the family of Thomas Norris and Susannah of Berkhamsted? If there are a reasonable number of children and poor name matching, the link is probably wrong.

Even the well-to-do can fall on hard times, and have children who are not very bright. The fact that Thomas Norris and Susannah were relatively well-to-do does not automatically mean that someone who died in a workhouse could not be their son. However I would look for other connections - such as related occupations - and I would be suspicious if there were well-to-do close relatives still living in Berkhamsted in the 1840's.

Workhouses looked after people who were the responsibility of parishes that made up the Union. Why did Thomas Norris die in the workhouse - do any workhouse records of his admission, etc., survive which explain which parish was responsible for him? Were other members of his family admitted. If he had children in the area who were not also in the workhouse they would be expected to look after him. See Workhouse for general information.

There have been some other postings about members of the Norris family - NORRIS, Berkhamsted, 19th century and NORRIS, Northchurch, circa 1800. Have you been in touch with the people concerned - as in such cases the more heads working on the problem the better.

September 2001

James Alfred Norris (jamalfnor @t wrote: You may well have seen my message to the Hertfordshire and Middlesex Rootsweb lists today. I think I may have found the link between my Thomas and the Norrises of Great Berkhamstead (Thomas and Susannah). I believe it likely that, having lost John, their first child, born in 1796, Thomas took Sarah back from Stanmore to Tring to have a baby or babies, and had two baptised there on the same day in September 1798. I dare not assume that they were twins, but isn't it odd that Sarah Eversley and her brother John were baptised together in July 1775? One of the two in 1798 was John and the other was called Susannah! And in 1825, at the age of 27, and thus born in 1798, a son of theirs called John died in Stanmore. They had six other children, including my great great grandfather William, born in 1805.

When two or more children were baptised at the same time it is more likely that they were slow in getting the first baptised. In the case you give one of the two may have been born in Stanmore before the move to Tring and the minister at Tring only found out that one had been missed when the next one came along...

James Alfred Norris (jamalfnor @t replied: Thank you for a measured response to my initial excitement about the baptisms at Tring in 1798. I now find that my Thomas and Sarah are the only ones married (according to the IGI) between 1790 and 1810, who fit the bill. All right! The IGI is undependable, but I know now that their coverage of Hertfordshire is virtually rpt virtually complete. I have now asked HALS for a copy of the original register entry of the baptism  of John and Susannah at Tring in 1798. The fact that the parents named their two new children John (wife's father's name) and Susannah (husband's mother's name) makes me feel that I am close to proving that my Thomas (1776-1844) was the son of Susannah Norris, married in 1766 by licence to Thomas Norris senior at Great Berkhamstead. Soon I will know. Meanwhile I feel it in my bones that I have found my man. Wish me luck, as I do you in the next stage of your sad journey towards the truth in the aftermath of the death of Belinda.

July 2009

Michael Norris (wychmick @t of Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire, writes: I have just chanced upon the 2000 posting from James Alfred Norris re his ancestor Thomas Norris who married Sarah Eversley at Great Stanmore in 1795 together with the subsequent postings concerning the assumed father of Thomas at Berkhamsted.

I have to say that his assumption that his Thomas Norris is one and the same as the Thomas baptised at Great Berkhamsted in 1776 the son of Thomas Norris & Susannah Stevens  is incorrect.

Thomas and Susannah seem to have had 6 children bpt at Berkhamsted - Frances 1768 / Mary 1770 / Stevens 1773 / Thomas 1776 / Susannah 1778 / Benjamin 1783.

Stevens died at Berkhamsted in 1841 and Benjamin died in Holborn, Middlesex, in 1846 however Thomas, whose occupation was a grocer, moved to Ramsgate in Kent. He married Ann [Bailey?] in 1805 at Dover and his first son Thomas was baptised at Dover St. Mary in 1806. The rest of his family were born in Ramsgate and are Stephan 1808 / Ann Elizabeth 1811 / Benjamin 1815 / Edward 1817 / Frances Mary 1819.

Thomas died in 1840 at Ramsgate. His daughter Ann Elizabeth married (1) Stephan Twyman (who died at Tring in 1838) and (2) James Elliman 1841. James was the founder of the Elliman`s Embrocation business in Slough, Buckinghamshire, and the family are well documented in the Slough area.

It has taken many years for me to find a link between the Thomas who died at Ramsgate in 1840 and his family in Berkhamsted and was only achieved when considerable research was undertaken regarding his daughter Ann and the Elliman family in Slough.

I would be very interested to hear about any further research that James may have done since his first posting in 2000.

The match in the children's names between the Berkhamsted family (1768-1783) and the Kent family (1806-1819) is what one might expect from the Inheritance of Christian Names.

Because of the interest in Norris in West Hertfordshire in NORRIS, Berkhamsted, 19th century, NORRIS, Northchurch, circa 1800 and more recently NORRIS, Watford, grocers circa 1790 and later I am forwarding your message to everyone researching the family (with their last known email address), as things may have moved on since the original queries.

If you can add to the information given above tell me.

Page updated July 2009