Answers to Questions


KNAPSEY, Waterford, Bengeo, 19th century

March, 2002

Patti Vallance (spjv @t of Warrnambool, Australia, says: I am after any information about James Knapsey who was born in 1823. He was transported to Tasmania in 1844 on the London for stealing. He was tried in Stamford, Lincolnshire, BUT his native place is listed as Waterford, Hertsford. I have a copy of his convict record from his arrival in Tasmania, I have not been able to find any references to him prior to this. (or any other Knapsey's for that matter). His mother may be Elizabeth and he may have had sisters Caroline, Esther, Anne and Betsy. (also from his convict records from the Tasmanian Archives)

Waterford is part of the parish of Bengeo, which in turn is part of the Borough of Hertford. The Hertfordshire Little Guide of 1903  gives the following description "Waterford and Waterford Marsh are in Bengeo parish, on the river Beane. On the marsh is some grazing common, free to all parishioners."

However the problem is the identity of James Knapsey, and one must wonder if it was his real name. In the whole of Great Britain at the time of the 1881 census there was only one "Knapsey" - (an error?) and none are listed for England on familysearch.

Could it be a misspelling of a name already present in the village. A computer search of the 1881 census for people born at Waterford, Herts, produced the following surnames: Acres, Adams, Aldridge, Ashwood, Austin, Barnes, Bennett, Bird, Bonfield, Brown, Camp, Clapham, Clarke, Clements, Cooper, Corbin, Coward, Craft, Dee, Edwards, Fitzjohn, Gear, Gould, Green, Groom, Hammond, Hart, Hawkins, Hayes, Jennings, King, Knight, Lambert, Mardell, Martin, Mead, Munns, Norman, Nottingham, Phillips, Phipp, Phipps, Reynolds, Roberts, Sams, Sewell, Sheer, Smith, Spicer, Squire, Sworder, Tipler, Worman. - none of which could possibly be misinterpreted as Knapsey.

Perhaps Knapsey is a made up name. You don't give details of the crime (beyond stealing) but it could well be a situation where - if there was a history of previous convictions - the punishment could have been dire - perhaps even hanging. If a criminal with a list of previous convictions was arrested in an area where they were not known it is easy to see why they would consider giving a false name. In some cases it is possible to uncover the deceit - but the example given in What did your Ancestor call himself is atypical as in that case the miscreant provided clues to a detailed career in which only the name was changed. Some years ago I came across a case of a murderer confessing, shortly before he was hung in St Albans prison, that only weeks before the murder he had previously been in prison in a different county under a different name - having had many previous convictions.

If your James Knapsey had completely invented his past there is little hope of tracing him back - but if he just changed a few things you might be lucky. I would suggest the following initial steps:

Once you have got as much as possible about James Knapsey, you should review what is most likely to be true and plan a strategy.

If you are very, very lucky he really was a James, he was born between 1821 and 1825, he was born in Waterford, Herts, and his mother's names was Elizabeth. This theory would suggest that you look at the microfilm of the Bengeo christening records to see if anyone fits - and if so check to see if the "James" you have found (a) has a criminal record in Hertfordshire and (b) vanished from Hertfordshire records by 1844 ...

If this does not work, try checking the Bengeo registers for the baptism or marriage of an Ester (the least common names among his sisters) who had a brother with a criminal record.

However, if nothing crucial turns up in the Lincolnshire records, and the connection with Waterford was an invention, progress may not be possible.

The search is unlikely to be easy, especially working at a distance, but if you are successful it could be very rewarding and I would love to hear of the results.

May 2002

Patti Vallance (spjv @t says I sent you a question about James Knapsey (my convict ancestor). You suggested he may have made up the Knapsey name, as none seem to exist anywhere else. I have discovered a James Knapsey (c. 1822), with sisters - Caroline, Esther, Elisabeth and Ann ( a perfect match to James Knapsey's). They were all christened at the Holy Trinity church, Bengeo. There mother was Esther (not Elisabeth, but very close) and they also had a brother John. These siblings initials match the initials James Knapsey had tattooed on his arm when he arrived in Australia. This is the best lead so far in the search who James Knapsey really was. I will have to endeavour to check the 1841 and 1851 census to see if they were still around then.

I am delighted that they have turned up - and the fact that they are in the Bengeo registers highlights the gaps in the coverage the IGI on familysearch, coupled with version 1 of the British Vital Records Index. However the name is still very rare and it could still have been be made up, or a gross corruption of another name, in his parent's generation. (For instance foundlings were often given unusual surnames.)

You don't say the dates for the other Knapsey children - but it is interesting to note that the only Knapsey in the 1881 census was a 62 year old John Knapsey, who was a farm servant on a farm in Blackwell, Derbyshire. This could well be the right age for the John born in Waterford, Bengeo, Herts. The only snag is that his place of birth is given as "Mayo, Ireland". Could this be an error - did John's place of birth go down of the original census return simply as "Waterford" with no county - and did the census enumerator "correct" this to Ireland when copying the data into the book - mistakenly thinking that Waterford was in County Mayo. Maybe this could be clarified if John Knapsey could be located in the 1871 or 1891 census - and he may have survived to the 1901 census ... On the other hand perhaps the Knapsey's originated in Ireland.

March 2009

Janet (janet.tocqueville @t writes: Stumbled across the query regarding the above Knapsey family. They appear in the 1841 census for Waterford. The mother Esther was born C1791 in Ireland so John from Derbyshire could possibly be her brother-in-law. In 1841 Esther only has two of her daughters with her, Ann born C1834 and Elizabeth born C1831. Haven't found them on any other census but I guess the name is fairly open to mistranscription.

So much has come online since my original answer I did a further search on Ancestry.. The 1861 census lists a John Knavesey, born Mayo, Ireland, who is almost certainly the John Knapsey listed in the 1881 census. A global search of the 1851-1901 census shows 30 entries for Knavesey - most for people who come from Ireland. It could be that Knapsey is an error for an Irish Name which was sometimes wrongly recorded by people who were not familiar with the Irish accent,