Answers to Questions


NORRIS, Watford, grocers circa 1790 and later

April, 2008




George Norris (grnorris @t of Lantzville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, writes: I have research my family back to George Norris shown on 1841 census in Chelsea as grocer, aged 45, wife Mary Norris (nee Tompson), father-in-law, John Tompson aged 70. He had 2 children, William George Norris b. 16.3.1818 Chelsea & Mary Norris b. 1820 Chelsea. I had hit a brick wall, not knowing where he was born until searching under "M"orris I found him on 1851 census living at St. James, Westminster, aged 60, retired grocer born "Herts, Watford", wife Mary, aged 53 born Hemel Hempstead and daughter Mary Johnston (widow) aged 30, born Chelsea. With this information, I have found a IGI record for George Norris christened 23 Jun 1790 St. Marys, Watford, parents John Norris & Sarah. This would appear to be a likely match.

I notice on your "answers" under "Norris, Berkamsted, 19th century" there is mention of a John and Sarah Norris but the listed children to not include George and the birth dates are in the early 1800's so I must assume they are not the same parents. I can't find any IGI record in Hertford for a marriage of John & Sarah. Without the benefit of census, can you provide suggestions how to confirm this association and his siblings?

From what you say it appears that your research has been confined to online indexes and images, and that you have not verifying the index entries or looked at the relevant microfilms, etc. These can be ordered and viewed at the LDS Family History Centre at 2424 Gleneagle Crescent, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, which seems to be your nearest centre. (details on familysearch)

While the 1790 baptism you mention could well be correct one must not forget that the surname Norris is comparatively common and it would be easy to make invalid assumptions. You should read the help page How can you be certain about ... and the pages linked to it. The following suggestions are to further research you could do to find out more about George and his relatives - which may well provide clues to taking your ancestral family tree further back.

Looking specifically at what you found a search for the children of John and Sarah Norris in Watford shows three children Charles (1782), George (1784) and George (1790). It is very unlikely two children called George were in the same family at the same time - so did George (1784) die (look at the Watford burial register to confirm this) or were there two John Norris married to two different Sarahs? It might help to find out what happened to Charles (try marriage and burial registers, 1841 census, etc.)

The census returns for 1841 and 1851 show George (from Watford) as marrying Mary (from Hemel Hempstead) and George was a grocer. There is a submitted IGI marriage of a George Norris and Mary Tompson at St George, Hanover Square, London, for 1818. This immediately raised several important questions:

Occupations run in families so if there are other Norris grocers in Hertfordshire (and the Chelsea area of London) they may be related - perhaps siblings or cousins - and investigating them may well provide pointers for further research. I had a quick peek in an index of the 1846 Post Office Directory for Hertfordshire and found the following:

  • James Norris, grocer, Northchurch, Berkhamsted
  • William Norris, baker, Crouchfield, Hemel Hempstead
  • James Norris, grocer & cheesemonger, Market Street, Tring
  • Thomas Norris, grocer, Baldock Street, Ware
  • William Norris, grocer, High Street, Watford

You may be able to find out about these on the 1841 and 1851 censuses, and other online indexes (such as familysearch). The William Norris at Watford is particularly interesting - could he be a sibling and had there been a Norris running a grocer's shop in Watford - possibly set up by your George's parents?

It is interesting - and perhaps relevant - that William Norris (Watford), James Norris (Northchurch) and James Norris (Tring), all fronted onto the same main road out of London, while William Norris (Crouchfield) was only a few a few hundred yards from the road. (Ware is on the other side of the county.)

As you noted there are three earlier query pages relating to Norris:

They were all prepared some years ago, before censuses were available online. It may be worth contacting the people who asked the questions to see if they can add anything which might help you.

Much of the information I have mentioned above should be available to you, either online, or through your local LDS Family History Centre. In some cases you will find it useful to read up about the sources (in some cases with support pages on this site) before you attempt to extract the information you seek.

George provided the following additional information. I do have a Marriage register entry from St. George's Hanover Square, London, for February 16, 1818 between George Norris and Mary Tompson. The witnesses appear to be Sarah Tompson the other witness appears to be either G Gundy or G Grundy -- a very unclear document. Entry from City of Westminster Archives Centre 10 St. Ann's Street, London, England.

A look at familysearch suggests that Mary Tompson (baptised Hemel Hempstead in 1796) and Sarah Tompson (baptised Hemel Hempstead 1798) were sisters. Was she the Sarah Tompson who married Samuel Richard Robinson at St George, Hanover Square, in 1819? And if so was Mary Norris a witness? If two sisters had moved from Hemel Hempstead to London to get married in the same church had their parents moved with the whole family - and are there other Tompson (baptised Hemel Hempstead) marriages at St George's?

No immediate idea about G Grundy. Might be a relation by marriage (i.e. married to a Norris or Tompson girl). Did G Grundy also witness the Sarah Tompson marriage - and if so did they sign with their full name? Of course they may have been no more than a church warden who witnessed a number of unrelated marriages if another signature was needed.

Also there is an entry for a Charles Norris (born Watford), a tailor, and his wife Peggy in the 1841 & 1851 census for Islington and by the 1861 census Charles is a widower.

It is interesting to note that in 1851 Charles was described as a tailor employing one man, but by 1861 he was an inmate in St Mary Workhouse, Islington. If, as seems very likely, he was George Norris's brother, it could suggest that their parents may have moved from Watford to London with the children. Perhaps more siblings were born after they left Watford?

May 2008

Donald ? (glgeorge @t of Prince George, B.C., provides further information relevant to Sarah, the mother of George Norris - the Chelsea grocer and cheese monger:

LDS, Film F08494 0091746 Monumental Inscription, Record of Inscriptions In Church and Churchyards, Watford 1912 Recorded by WB Gerish on page 261,855 reveals three Norris markers:

NORRIS, Elizabeth D. 9 November 1778 @41 (W.of John Norris of Watford, Several Ch.)
NORRIS, Sarah 18 January ???? @ 65 (W.of John Norris of Watford, Several Ch.)

[Year not given but the Herts Burial Index lists Sarah Norris, wife of John, being buried 24th January 1811 - no age given.]

NORRIS, William D. 23 June 1783 @ 41

There is no indication if the inscriptions are on the same marker or different ones.

W. B. Gerish went round listing the names on gravestones throughout Hertfordshire at the beginning of the 20th century - and his notes are often the only record for stones which have subsequently been cleared - or become unreadable. While one could grumble that he didn't make it clear when there were multiple names on a single stone, or whether stones were adjacent (i.e. probably buried in the same plot) we should be thankful for small mercies. It is, of course, essential to check Gerish's records against the burial register. Most burials in the 18th century would have been marked with grave boards which, by the time Gerish visited in the early 20th century, would have rotted away or become unreadable. It should also be realised that many of the older stone inscriptions would have been becoming difficult to read and there can be errors in ages and dates - for instance an "8" being recorded as a "6" - which is another reason for checking against the registers.

Donald suggests There is however, some indication that the two women may have had the same John Norris of Watford as a husband with a little creative use of the IGI batch for Watford.

One must be very careful without adequate evidence. You should look at the advice page Right Name, Wrong Body? and particularly the last example - which clearly shows that simply looking things up in an index without adequate checking can lead to faulty conclusions.

It is important to note that the name John Norris is quite common with 11 being recorded as being baptised in Hertfordshire (familysearch) between 1720 and 1770. Five of these were born in Watford or immediately adjacent parishes and most were born in West Hertfordshire. There may also be others from not far away in Middlesex and Buckinghamshire, and other whose births/baptisms do not appear in the indexes (see Where is my ancestor's baptism before 1837?). Some may be easy to eliminate (for instance by looking at the burial register you may find some died in infancy) but it is dangerous to cherry pick names from indexes because they fit your family tree - when they may just as likely fit a completely different family tree. This is the way errors are made.

What familysearch shows is that there are there are a series of six baptisms between 1767 and 1777 in which the parents were John and Elizabeth. The children were John (1767), Elizabeth (1769), William (1771), Mary (1773) and Margaret (1775) and Phebe (1777). The spacing and the fact that the first two were named after their parents suggests they  were all the same family and the practice followed in the Inheritance of Single Christian Names probably applies. The regularity of births (and the first two names) suggests a marriage in 1766/7. Gerish's record of the death of 41 year old Elizabeth towards the end of 1778 could well have been a death in childbed.

It takes only minutes on familysearch to find that a John Norris married Elisabeth Ayers at Rickmansworth (a few miles to the west of Watford) on 11th November 1766 - which is a good fit.

The children of John and Sarah Norris {Charles (1782), George (1784) and George (1790)} have been discussed above - to which may be added that George (1790) might also be the son of John (born 1767, son of John and Elizabeth).

The question of whether the John Norris who married Elizabeth later married Sarah after Elizabeth died is a more difficult problem, and it is not worth coming to a definitive answer until you have extracted all the possibly relevant information from the parish registers (not just the indexes on familysearch) including the burial register. The Militia Lists might also be helpful. There is one thing which could cause difficulty. When a wife died leaving young children the family often came to the rescue by providing an unmarried female helper to look after the children. Often this was a sister or cousin of the deceased wife. Sometimes it went further - and the husband "married" the helper. While the families were happy with the arrangement - and a marriage would be legal (in civil terms) if it took place, the church did not permit marrying your late wife's sister. In such circumstances the couple could not marry in a place where they were know as someone might have objected to the marriage when the banns were called. As a result the couple either "lived in sin" as the Church would have seen it, or the couple would have visited a friendly church some miles away to get "secretly" married. (See the Daniel Hill example on Right Name, Wrong Body?.)

Even if you can't find positive evidence that Sarah married the widower of Elizabeth, you may be able to find positive evidence to rule out the other candidate John Norrises.

January 2010

See TOMPSON, Hemel Hempstead, 1750-1850

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

Page updated January 2010