Answers to Questions


John LAKE, Tring, born circa 1616

January, 2012




Cristy Lake <lakecristy @t yahoo.com> Assistant Director of the Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum, Washington State, USA, recently contacted the Tring and District Local History and Museum Society  and her request has been passed to me. She says: I am doing some research on an American immigrant John Lake.  He was an Anabaptist who left England around 1640 to likely Massachusetts before moving to Deborah Moody's Gravesend Colony.  I have reason to believe that he may have been born in Tring, Hertfordshire, and christened on February 11, 1616.  Are you aware of any local parish records from the era that may shed light on his life before the Americas or suggest that he was likely not from Tring?

As one of the first settlers to what is now part of Brooklyn there is a lot of misinformation and folklore out about him and I would like to weed out fact from fiction.

There are very big problem with answering such questions about the early American settlers. Records are incomplete for the 17th century, especially during the period of the Civil War and many American family trees which show where someone came from turn out to be little more than a wild guess, made perhaps 100 years ago, because they found a name somewhere in England that might fit, and later family historians simply copied the speculation as fact.

Before one even starts to answer this question it is important to write down what information you have from contemporary American sources or shipping manifests that could perhaps provide clues as to the English origins. The types of information which can provide useful are described in My Ancestors emigrated from Hertfordshire. It would be very unusual if all this information could be supplied from primary sources, and the more recent the source (say a 100 year old family history, or a modern family tree with no source information) the less reliable it is likely to be. The use of the internet to exchange information make it very easy to multiply errors - see The Dangers of Internet Genealogy.

In the case of John Lake the first thing that need to be sorted out is why the place name of Tring has been suggested., and if it is uncertain, are there any definite clues that point to Hertfordshire or the parts of Buckinghamshire that adjoin Tring. The name Lake (plus possible spellings Lack, Lock, Luck, etc) is common enough that there could be several dozen possible Johns scattered around England.

Even if one can find good reason for him coming from Tring a quick glances at the familysearch web site (which includes an index of the Tring parish registers) provides children called John Lake were christened on 9th February 1615, 11th February 1615, 6th March 1616 and 30th November 1617, and it is not clear why you have suggested the second of these dates.  This is yet another case of the type illustrated in Right Name, Wrong Body. To establish which (if any) of these Johns went to America you effectively have to research all possibilities in order to eliminate the "wrong" ones.

In fact you may be lucky. It would seem that some of the Lake families in the Tring area were in the habit of making wills - and it is just possible that one of the wills actually refers to the John in America - or contains evidence that a particular John was still in England after 1640. You can find details of the Hertfordshire Wills in the online index on the HALS webs site. A few wills or other related documents that I noticed were

1598    William Lock, Wilstone, Tring

1629    Richard Lake, yeoman, Wilstone, Tring

1638    Matthew Lake, glover, Tring

1640    William Lake, tanner, Little Tring, Great Tring

1661    John Lake, gent, Wilstone, Tring

1669    John Lake senior, tanner, Little Tring, Great Tring

Some of these documents are only inventories - so will not normally mention relatives unless the person drawing up the inventory was a relative.

There may be other documents at HALS or in the National Archives or elsewhere which might contain something, but the first stage must be to draw up a clear statement of what is definitely known from the American records and what could be speculation or myth.

On the other hand, if you are planning an exhibit for your museum a copy of one of the baptism entries from the register as a possible reference to John, together with a copy of one on the inventories showing the possessions in the house of a possible relative at the time, could be obtained from HALS. It would at least give visitors to the museum an indication of the kinds of documents involved, the difficult handwriting, and something about how people lived.

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

January 2012   Page created