Answers to Questions


NORRIS, Berkhamsted / Northchurch, 18th century

May, 2012





Diane Johns (johndian @t snap.net.nz) of Rangiora, New Zealand, is looking for the parents of Joseph Norris, who married Mary Wheeler in Berkhamsted in 1756. She provided quite a lot of information but it is easier to dive straight into my answer

The first thing to do is to point out that the parish of Northchurch St Mary was a long parish, lying along the Bulbourne valley, with a central portion "cut out" to be Berkhamsted (often spelt Berkhampstead or other variants in old documents and some modern genealogy indexes) St Peter. As a result some parts of the old Northchurch parish were about 4 miles from St Mary's but only about 2 miles from St Peter's.

Joseph & Mary Norris had the following children baptised at Berkhamsted St Peter: Joseph (3 Oct 1756), Henry (26 February 1758), Mary (15 June 1769), Fanny (24 January 1762 - did she die in infancy?), Daniel (30 January 1763), Fanny (13 February 1765), James (born 15 May 1771), Elizabeth (6 March, 1776) and Stephen (1 March 1779).

The question relates to the parentage of Joseph Norris and we need to realise that there are at least two possible people with that name, and we have a "Right Name, Wrong Body" type problem.

Henry Norris married Hannah Hazeley at Berkhamsted St Mary (=Northchurch) on 26th December 1728. Henry could be the son of Henry Norris and Mary who was christened at Berkhamsted St Mary on 12 January 1698. I could not find a baptism for Hannah.  One cannot assume the absence of baptisms means that there were no children as Hannah may have come from a non-conformist family. Their children, baptised at Northchurch, were Henry (17 October 1729), William (21 October 1733), Joseph (28 November 1736) and John (4 February, 1738).

John Norris married Elizabeth Hazeley on 31 July 1729 at Berkhamsted St Mary.  He could have been the son of Henry Norris and Lydia  baptised at Berkhamsted St Mary on 10 November 1693, or the son of John and Mary Norris born? 27 November 1696 at Berkhamsted St Peter, or the son of John Norris and Sarah born 25 October 1708 and baptised at 15 February at Berkhamsted [St Peters].  Their children, baptised at Berkhamsted St Mary were John (16 July 1730), Elizabeth (15 August 1731), Henry (7 January 1732), James (22 February 1735), Joseph (15 January 1737), William (15 April 1739), and Stephen (1 January 1743)


To try and resolve the situation I decided to start by looking at the Militia Lists and the following text from the Herts Family History Society CD gives some of the background:

Whilst Hertfordshire has extant a considerable number of Militia Ballot lists they need to be treated with some care when interpreting the information contained within them. They are not a complete census in that they only include males aged between 18 and 50 years up to the February ballot of 1762 and between 18 and 45 years thereafter. Additionally, men in the town or village who were balloted before and were either drawn or paid for a substitute or paid a fee to avoid militia service would often not be included on the lists for a period of, initially, three years and later five years. Then there were the allowable exemptions: apprentices, clergymen, the sick and the unfit, to name just a few. We cannot rely on the Constable to include these men in the list. Some did but many did not. If the Constable changed so might the quality of the list. It is probably correct to say that the earlier lists are more complete than the later lists. ...

When a Constable says a man has three children (up to the age of 12) this may mean either he has three children or has more than three children. The Constable may merely be registering an exemption rather than trying to be exact. If the Constable states a man has four or more children then it is probably safe to assume this is true. Of course, the number of children recorded may change over the years, either because they are over the age limit or because of infant death.

In Berkhamsted Joseph Norris was listed as a labourer from 1758 to 1778. He was listed as having 3 children in 1764, 5 in 1765, 4 in 1769 and 1772, and 3 in 1778.

In Northchurch Joseph Norris was listed as a servant to Joseph Howard, Farmer in 1758 and as a labourer between 1762 to 1782. He was listed as having 3 children in 1775


We clearly have two Joseph Norris living in Berkhamsted/Northchurch at the same time, of similar ages, and both having children. The Militia list strongly suggests that the Joseph Norris living in Berkhamsted with all the children was the Joseph who married Mary Wheeler, and thus was probably the one who was buried in Berkhamsted St Peters on May 27 1795. As a labourer there is virtually no possibility of any memorial stone (any wooden burial board would have vanished over a century ago) - and there is even less chance of him having left a will. Even if there was a stone St Peter's graveyard was completely cleared of stones many years ago, and you can the the bare grass plot (apart from the War Memorial) by exploring the area round the church using Google Street View.


The other Joseph, of Northchurch, was presumably the one who was buried at Northchurch on 19 August 1812 aged 74. While some stones survive in the graveyard it is equally unlikely that there ever one for this Joseph, and in churchyards where stones of this age remain in Hertfordshire churchyards he writing has often gone and all that can be seen is the (undoubtedly very expensive) carved top.




So can we decide which Joseph Norris is which? Sometimes it is possible to use the way children were named to choose the most likely case - see The Inheritance of Single Christian Names. The fact that the Joseph and Mary  married 1756 had children in order Joseph (3 Oct 1756), Henry (26 February 1758), and Mary (15 June 1769) suggests that Joseph was more likely to be the son of Henry and Hannah rather than John and Elizabeth BUT the case is not clear cut and I cannot make a definite suggestion. There are so many Norris in the area that we could have similar problems in the earlier generation with three possible John Norris to marry Elizabeth.


In such cases it might be possible to collect every scrap of information relating the the Norris family and their relatives over several generations and treat the whole as a great big jigsaw puzzle in which many pieces are missing. In a few cases you may be lucky and everything falls into place. In other cases you may be able to deduce that a particular individual was the first Norris to come into the area and that he is your ancestor - but you don't know which of his children was your ancestor.


A this stage really the best advice I can give is for you to read I've hit a Brick Wall ...


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

May 2012   Page created