ASHTON, St Albans > America, 17th century

November 2001

Carol Fitzgarrald of the USA says:   What a wonderful internet site! I am searching for James Ashton, son of James Ashton baptized March 4, 1603 in the Registers of St. Alban's Abbey. Honeychurch may also be a surname associated with the Ashton's.

 James Ashton emigrated to USA in 1600's & married Deliverance Throckmorton.  I have her pedigree from England. A county history in New Jersey, USA proposes that James Ashton was descended from the Ashtons of St. Albans Hertfordshire, with pedigrees of the main branches of this English family of Ashton is said to have been preserved & extend back to the time of Henry II.

  I can find no further information on the Ashton's other than this baptism entry in 1603.  Where are the earlier Ashton's & their pedigrees?  Or is this just a legend?   I have not been able to connect with anyone else searching for Ashton's.

 In your post of Book Reviews, I was interested in Elsie Tomms' book, "Story of St. Albans" & also James Corbett's "A History of St. Albans".  I would be interested in knowing if these two books mention the families of ASHTON or HONEYCHURCH.  A third book that you mentioned was "City of St. Albans & the Cathedral & Abbey Church of St. Albans" reprinted by The Fraternity of Friends of St. Albans Abbey in 1984.

If you look at the IGI (familysearch) you will find a very large number of entries relating to people called James Ashton of St Albans in the later 16th and early 17th century. One of these is the result of the LDS register extraction programme and records that James Ashton was christened on 4 March 1604 [New Style] in the Abbey parish, Saint Albans, the son of James Ashton. Two other entries echo this except that that they give the year 1603 - which is fine as long as you realise that in the 17th century the year ended on Lady Day, rather the 31st December - so 1603 [Old Style] is identical to 1604 [New Style].

The many other entries are guesses relating to one or two individuals apparently based on submitted information. When I have come across such masses of guesses with other families it would seem that some American historian, perhaps 100 years or more ago, and with little access to UK records, made a guess (usually wrong) and generations of later people researching their family trees have followed him blindly up the garden path, and copied the original error. Even if the original guess was correct the multiple "about" entries suggest that no one has been able to confirm it. My approach in such cases would be to ignore it and start again from the oldest reliable data you have.

The problem is best illustrated by a modern example in my wife's family. In 1902 her grandfather was a bank manager in a small town in Devon and his brother was a farmer in a nearby village. If you visit either place now I doubt whether you could find anyone who could tell you their names, despite the fact that distant relatives still live in the area. However the brother emigrated to Canada to set up a farm in a previously uninhabited (by european) area. His farm house is now a museum and it is possible that most of today's school children already know at least the surname of the first settler in what is now a town - and certainly will have no excuse not to when the centenary celebrations are held in 2003. I am sure similar things happened in the 17th century. In England nobody cared or remembered if a comparative non-entity has left the area 100 years earlier - and definitely did not bother to preserve records - while in America every child would know when his parents or grandparents crossed the ocean, and many of the earliest arrivals would have a far higher status in local tradition (and records) than they would ever have if they remained at home in England. I would guess that, allowing for the differences in European origin populations, far more American documents per person survive from the 17th century than do in England. For such reasons it can be very difficult to accurately follow a family tree from America back to England - and I understand that a significant number of family trees that do so are wrong.

To have a hope of tracing someone back it is essential to research contemporary American sources thoroughly - along the times of My Ancestors Emigrated from Hertfordshire, and then start looking at English records.

Assuming that your James Ashton (1603/4) did in fact come from St Albans it is worth noting that the IGI (familysearch) records what are probably 8 younger siblings. While the mother's name is not recorded in most cases, in the case of the youngest, Sara, christened 23rd February 1620 [NS] the mothers name, Alice, is also given. It is clear that the family (like over 99.9% of its inhabitants in the last 2000 years) had no exceptional historical standing in the town as the name Ashton is not linked to St Albans in Chauncy, Cussans, or the Victoria County History, or mentioned at all in the more recently published indexed histories of the city.

There are several Sir ... Ashton listed in the Dictionary of National Biography - so there may well be records of their pedigree and arms. However none appear to be associated with Hertfordshire and there is no reason to assume any connection with your James Ashton.

The name Honeychurch is virtually unknown in Hertfordshire (it is more associated with South West England) and the only unambigious reference linking the surname to Hertfordshire was a single reference in the 1881 census. Edward Honeychurch - captain of H.M.S. Monarch - was at seas at the time and claimed to have been born in Ware. The exception being on the Pedigree files of familysearch, where there is a lot of entries relating to James Ashton and Alice Honeychurch. At a quick glance these look inconsistent and not compatible with the parish register as recorded on familysearch. I suspect they represent a series of guesses submitted at different dates and I must leave it to you to decide on whether they are worth following up.

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

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