Answers to Questions


ROLFE, Kings Langley area, 1750-1780

June, 2009



Kings Langley

It would be nice if every time someone asked mm a question I could come back with an instant solution - but this is not always possible. However in many cases I can review your evidence and highlight areas where further research, or a different analysis, might lead to a solution. In such cases I may reply with an email with added comments to the supplied information, and clarifying interpretations.

I am using a question from Steven Hollis (sjhollis @t, of Perth, Western Australia, as an example. My reply started:

Thank you for your query. I haven't a quick solution - but have written a detailed commentary on what you have said to allow you to re-examine the evidence you have - and suggest ways in which you might tackle the problem.

I have been trying to break the impasse of an ancestor of mine, a gentleman called John Valentine Rolfe (b ~ 1780) who in later years after 1851 lived in Isleworth and was a man of some money. He had a sister Mary Ann (B~17890) [?] who married the son of a famous artist Joseph Strutt.  I have hit a sold wall with respect to finding the parents or ancestry,

What is the nature of the evidence that he was the brother-in-law of (one of the sons) of Joseph Strutt?

I have come to suspect however the family might have come from Hertford because

Whatever I say below - there is a good chance he is related to the Hertfordshire Rolfes.

1) The one census we do have information for  him his birth place was given as Whitechapel as is sister in the only other one we can read. However in the last Census for Mary Anne Rolfe/Strutt, when she was old, her place is given as Hertford Hertfordshire as her birth place. (I hypothesise as she got older, the family seat became of greater note or memorable rather than her actual birthplace)

I note that in the census she was described as 76 (which does not agree exactly with a birth date of 1789/90 - which I assume is what you meant) and was living with her widower son-in-law.  An alternative suggestion is that she was senile and her son-in-law completed the form and had never been told where she was born. If her father-in-law Joseph Strutt had lived in Hertfordshire for a time, Mary Ann may have lived there too - but as a married woman - so this is not firm evidence that she, or the Rolfe family, had any pre-marriage Hertfordshire connections.

It is interesting that most of the Rolfe references you have found are within a few miles of Kings Langley - which is right on the other side of the county from Hertford.

2) Joseph Strut, Mary Ann's father [? in Law]  in his autobiography is mention having spent considerable time in Hertford County during the time when Mary Ann Rolfe would have been marriageable

Have you located the marriage? and if so where was it and was there a marriage licence? What were the Strutt family religious affiliations - as this could be relevant. Any actual dates or locations in Hertfordshire for the Strutt family?

3) It is the only place in the UK where there is any Valentine Rolfes listed in the IGA. The Valentine Rolfe was apparently important as there were two subsequent generations of sons and grandsons all called John Valentine Rolfe and the family has a trend of naming people after close family.

Could very well be relevant - but Valentine is also a surname and it could also be that John Valentine Rolfe's mother (or one of his grandmothers) had the maiden name of Valentine. Another possibility is that he was illegitimate, his mother being a Rolfe and his father being a John Valentine. (My gt-gt-grandfather got his name in this way.)

 In fact is was uncommon for names not to run in families. See The Inheritance of Christian Names advice page on my web site. The fact that the family names include an unusual name, Valentine, is vary helpful. This means that the names John Valentine Rolfe's gave to his children could be an important clue to his parents.

I found the following links that make reference to Valentine Rolfes

 The Herts Genealogist, by William Brigg - Volume 2 (1897)

If we look at a search for the national archives we get  a Thomas Rolfe victualler whose father appears to have been Valentine Rolfe the elder a Brewer/yeoman and died around 1760. There is also a Valentine Rolfe Bricklayer in 1693. We also have a Valentine Rolfe the Younger' It is all summed up in

Admission of Thomas Rolfe of St Albans to property at Chipperfield including Pingles Gate closes, under the will of Valentine Rolfe the elder of Chipperfield, his father. Mortgage moneys to be paid off and a payment made to Valentine Rolfe the younger, eldest son of Valentine Rolfe the younger, eldest son of Valentine Rolfe the elder

It seems we have a father Valentine Rolfe (VR1) with two sons, Thomas and Valentine Rolfe (VR2), Valentine Rolfe (VR2) has a son also called Valentine Rolfe (3)

It is not clear whether you have obtained copies of the most relevant of the documents.

Are you aware the HALS has hundreds of Rolf/Rolph etc wills (or related papers)  including three Valentine Rolf (1611 Abbots Langley; 1709 Kings Langley, 1759 Chipperfield, Kings Langley)

Chipperfield was a part of Kings Langley

Also note that a Yeoman did not have the same meaning as peasant but were people of some note in the community and could be alderman, mayors and other leaders. The transition from Yeoman to Gentleman could be very easy - see Wikipedia.

You seem to have misunderstood the Wikipedia entry - which basically sets out to describe the medieval meaning of the word "Yeoman". The meanings of many of these old terms have changed significantly. After all one now addresses letters to "Dear Sir" without the recipient being a Knight.  By the 18th century (or earlier) people would often describe someone as a yeoman farmer if they ran a relatively large farm - rather than a small holding while the  Squire would be landed gentry - i.e. they probably owned a number farms and had tenants or employed farm bailiffs. A yeoman farmer might well be a church warden in the village where he farmed - and as the parish was the centre of village administration. The term gentleman is even looser in meaning - someone "respectable" of independent means who doesn't get his hands dirty with manual work - so a retired farmer might well be politely referred to as a gentleman. Aldermen and Mayors were associated with towns (particularly towns with a borough status) and the posts would normally be held by businessmen and tradesmen - but yeoman farmers who lived in the town would also be eligible.

Thus we appear to have a family that if not wealthy have some significant property and a penchant for recycling names 

I am not certain why you conclude "significant property."  The web site you mention does not give information to judge value, except that the documents suggest they were something more than poor farm labourers. I can find various references to "Pringle Gate" and "Pingelgate Farm" some associated with Cheapside Farm, Sandridge - where some of my farming relatives lived. You mention no other property.  It is not marked on modern maps or on Dury & Andrews map of 1766 but appears to have been somewhere near Chipperfield Common. This would suggest it was only a small part of one parish - maybe less than 100 acres. However it does have some historical interest in that in the 16th century Pingelgate Farm was owned by a Thomas Carter and members of the Carter family emigrated to America in 1635 - and one of their descendants was President Jimmy Carter.  [The Carters of Kings Langley]

Looking at IGI we have a Valentine Rolfe having a son named Valentine Rolfe in 1688 and 1713. That sort of ties in with the archive material. Unfortunately this IGI source is not original parish documents but submitted by a member of the church. The 1713 VR could easily be the one dying in 1760

For the submitted IGI entries, have you looked at the relevant microfilms at your local LDS Family History Centres - several districts in the Perth region have one? This may give some clues - but some submitted entries turn out to be little more than wishful thinking.

With respect to Thomas we have a Thomas Rolfe being born to a Valentine Rolfe around 1718 (submitted by a member of the church) and one for 1753 which lucky does have a film number as taken from the records in the area (Parish registers, 1538-1919  Church of England. Parish Church of Abbots-Langley (Hertfordshire) ). This gives a number of Rolfes being Christened in the area, but importantly a John Rolfe Christened in 1753, the son of Valentine Rolfe. (Note what we have in the above is implementation of a partial will bequest only, not a full list of bequests.)
I can find Thomas having a son John but no son Valentine, One John Rolfe to a Thomas Rolfe in 1643 and another in 1753.
Thus I know that we have a Thomas Rolfe and a Valentine Rolfe who are the sons of Valentine Rolfe who died around 1760. These sons would have been in their 40's at the time.
Valentine two sons, one named John and the other also Valentine. John would have been 7 ish in 1760.
It is thus not to far a stretch to suggest John may have had a John born around about 1780 who he named after himself and his father (i.e. John Valentine Rolfe) and looking at the IGI again we have a John to a John and Sarah Rolfe being christened in the Abbey at St Albans in 1778 which coincidently is only 9 kilometres from Kings Langley where the above Rolfes come from and also note the above reference to St Albans in property they were involved with. There is also a Mary Rolph  Christened in 1782. The only thing I don't like is that it comes from submitted sheets and they misspell the name Rolfe whereas everywhere else they get it right. Unless there is a verger there who is lazy and drops off the middle name etc. (Although I do note that for this period there are no Mary Anns listed in the IGI, perhaps the tradition was to drop off the middle names or treat Mary Ann as simply Mary.

What makes you think that, at a time when most people couldn't even write their own name - much less know what a "correct spelling" was - records would be consistent. In addition many 19th and 20th researchers into family history tried to retrospectively standardise spellings - rather than accurately record what is written. This is why you shouldn't rely too heavily on modern computerised or printed indexes without checking what the original actually said.  In addition everyone makes mistakes - many of the questions I get are the results of the questioner being too pedantic about what a clerk wrote on a piece of paper several centuries ago when there is other evidence to suggest he got it wrong!

One must distinguish between baptismal names and what what you were actually called on a day to day basis - which might be a nick name - or only one of several baptismal names. In modern times my step-grandmother's given names were recorded differently on her birth certificate, marriage certificate and death certificate (and I have never bothered to find out what she was baptised).

Question is how I prove that my John Valentine Rolfe is the son of either John Rolfe or Valentine Rolfe, the persons mentioned above who possibly left the county for London around or before 1780.

What you really want to know is where was John Valentine Rolfe born and who were his parents. You have some possible candidates but one can't be sure if it was either of them. To make progress one needs to assemble as much possible information about who John Valentine was as a person, where he lived, what church or chapel did he attend, when and why did he go to London (perhaps his father went and he went with him), what names did he give his children, how did he make his living, and what property did he own. Any of these things may give a clue to his origins.

This kind of analysis can be very useful - but it is impossible to be certain what clues will turn up. For instance one of my great grandmother's maiden name was Smith and her grandfather was, most unhelpfully, a John Smith. An important clue was that when she died she left a share in a property more than 100 miles away which, 150 years before her death, had been owned by a family called Smith - who turned out to be her ancestors.

You may find the following help pages useful:

My Ancestors emigrated - The title is misleading but it may be that John Valentine Rolfe (or perhaps his father) "emigrated" into London - so many of the points also apply.

Baptisms - This includes information on why baptismal records may be missing.

Right Name, Wrong Body - Because names run in families there may be several cousins of the same name and about the same age living in the same area. This is particularly difficult is some were non-conformist and records have not survived.

OK - I haven't answered your question - and would not even attempt to do so without knowing more about John Valentine Rolfe - as it is easy to give quick answers which prove to be wrong - as Right Name, Wrong Body indicates. In fact you have told me very little about him - but included some very interesting speculation about some possible relatives.

(I am not asking for you to send me everything you have on John by return - as it would be far more helpful if you allowed my comments to be absorbed, and you have had time to properly rethink the problem and perhaps do some more research yourself. In addition I am currently making a significant change to the web site - and feel I have given you a fair share of my available time for the next few months.)

A general point - when looking at any old records it helps to discard your 21st century spectacles and put yourself in the position of the underpaid, overworked and possibly poorly educated person who recorded the information in the first place. In some cases they may well have been thinking "I have to record this - but I am sure no one will ever want to read it - so if in doubt anything goes." The more you understand about the society context the better.

 I hope I have given you plenty to think about - as often a new approach can reveal clues which you had previously overlooked.

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

Page created June 2009