From here, Robert began to piece together clues that led to a remarkable discovery. “My wife, Sarah, has long known that she had Somerset ancestors,” he says. “She was born in Yeovil, and her grandmother, Marjorie Gill, came from a mining family in Writhlington in the Mendip Hills.
“I had access to a family Bible that gave a few details of Marjorie’s immediate ancestors, including her father, George Hicks Gill, who was born in 1869 in Llanishen ( Glamorgan). This was confirmed by a census return.
“George’s father, Samuel Gill, appears on the 1871 census as a coachman serving in a large house in Llanishen. The census confirmed that he had been born in Weston-Super-Mare in 1839. Samuel married Emily Hicks in Axbridge ( Somerset) in 1868. His marriage certificate named his father as George Gill, and the Weston parish register confirmed Samuel’s baptism there in January 1842. The register described George Gill as ‘postmaster of Weston-Super-Mare’.”
George’s father John Gill was also a postmaster, of Somerton, and a cabinet maker. He was born in 1761 to George and Lydia Gill. George was a baker and postmaster of Axbridge, and married his wife, Lydia Dirrick, in Axbridge in April 1756. “There it was!” says Robert. “The surname Dirrick had resurfaced! Lydia Dirrick had been baptised in Compton Martin, five miles from Axbridge, in April 1756, the daughter of John and Sarah Dirrick, whom I already knew to be my direct ancestors.
“Drawing up a quick family tree confirmed that my wife and I were descended from common ancestors, John and Sarah Dirrick, our 5x great grandparents. It’s incredible!” he says, adding: “It means that we are seventh cousins, and, bizarrely, both parents and distant cousins, to our own three children!”
This discovery that Robert was distantly related to his wife was even more bizarre because, as far as they were concerned, their families came from different parts of the country – Birmingham and Bedfordshire respectively – and neither knew of any links to rural Somerset where their shared ancestors were married in 1726.
“You might imagine that something like this would happen if you grew up in the same village,” he says. “But we came from entirely different areas.”
“It’s astonishing, really. But then you never know what you will find when you start looking.”
Robert Ward with one of the Exeter City Bank notes his ancestor forged, leading to his execution