Jill Wright had heard fam­ily tales of Scot­tish roots and a lost in­her­i­tance. Court cases and old records linked her to her right­ful an­ces­tors, says Gail Dixon

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Jill Wright solved a fam­ily rid­dle of lost in­her­i­tance with a cru­cial find

How long have you been do­ing your fam­ily his­tory?

I be­gan in the 1980s and my father in­trigued me with a cou­ple of snip­pets of fam­ily folk­lore: that his grand­fa­ther brought the fam­ily from Scot­land and mar­ried a French refugee; and his great grand­fa­ther had quar­relled with some­one else in the fam­ily and lost a for­tune – pos­si­bly with a whisky dis­tillery in­volved.

What had you un­cov­ered be­fore hit­ting your brick wall?

My maiden name is Somerville and my pa­ter­nal grand­fa­ther died long be­fore I was born. I was able to trace him and his father eas­i­lyy throughg census re­turns and cer­tifi­cates. This con­firmed that my father’s grand­fa­ther, Ge­orge McAlpin Gar­row Somerville, was in­deed born in Ed­in­burgh.

When trac­ing his sib­lings, I learned that the fam­ily must have moved to Lon­don in about 1852. Ge­orge mar­ried El­iza Bu­teux in Clerken­well in 1874. She was of Huguenot de­scent, so there was a grain of truth in my father’s ‘French refugee’ tale.

What was stop­ping you from pro­gress­ing your re­search?

Ge­orge’s father – my great great grand­fa­ther, Ge­orge Archibald Somerville – mar­ried Mar­ion McAlpin in Ed­in­burgh in 1842. How­ever, the Scot­tish census en­tries for 1841 and 1851 gave his birth­place as Eng­land, and in 1861 as West­min­ster, Mid­dle­sex.

So was the fam­ily re­ally Scot­tish? If Ge­orge Snr gave his cor­rect age he was born around 1820. It was at this point that my search for Somervilles came to a frus­trat­ing full stop.

How had you tried to solve it pre­vi­ously?

I had a break­through when the West­min­ster records went on­line at Ances­try. I found Ge­orge Snr’s birth and bap­tism in 1820 in St John’s, Smith Square, which is now a BBC con­cert venue. He was the son of John Somerville, a baker, and Mary Ann Frase. Soon I’d found their mar­riage record in 1808 in Soho and the bap­tisms of six chil­dren.

Check­ing on­line burial reg­is­ters, I had a hunch (con­firmed by his death cer­tifi­cate) that John died in St Giles Work­house in 1849, a baker, aged 68. I checked the 1841 census and there he was – a baker born in Scot­land!

So back I went to the Scot­tish records, where the most likely match was a John Somerville, born in Ed­in­burgh in 1782, son of Sa­muel Somerville, baker, and Is­abell For­rester, the daugh­ter of a Church of Scot­land min­is­ter. How could I prove that I had the right man, and would a min­is­ter have al­lowed his daugh­ter to marry a baker?

In April 2015, I at­tended Who Do You Think You Are? Live at the NEC and made straight for the As­so­ci­a­tion of Scot­tish Ge­neal­o­gists and Re­searchers (ASGRA). They gave me in­valu­able ad­vice about check­ing ap­pren­tice­ship records. Yes, Sa­muel and son John were listed among the bak­ers.

If Is­abell For­rester was my 4x great grand­mother, more about her fam­ily might be found in the Fasti Ec­cle­siae Scot­i­canae, a record of more than 2,000 Scot­tish min­is­ters dat­ing from the Ref­or­ma­tion. I was able to trace the For­rester line back

sev­eral gen­er­a­tions, but frus­trat­ingly there was lit­tle about daugh­ters and wives. I still couldn’t con­firm that Is­abell had mar­ried baker Sa­muel Somerville.

I de­cided to en­list the help of a pro­fes­sional ge­neal­o­gist. Even be­fore we’d agreed a con­tract, Kirsty sent me a lot more in­for­ma­tion for free, in­clud­ing an ex­tract from a court case that showed that Sa­muel, de­spite be­ing an il­lit­er­ate baker, was a con­sid­er­able landowner at Am­pher­law in the parish of Carn­wath, near Carstairs, where his father-in-law was a min­is­ter. Pieces of the puz­zle were start­ing to fall into place.

An in­her­i­tance was in dis­pute be­tween Sa­muel’s younger son, Wil­liam, and a half-sis­ter from an ear­lier mar­riage. More im­por­tantly, his el­der son, John, pos­si­bly my an­ces­tor, had been cut out of the will be­cause he’d been de­clared bank­rupt! I pounced on this. Could there be echoes of the lost for­tune that my father had spo­ken of?

A whole new line of re­search was open­ing up. Per­haps John had es­caped his cred­i­tors by com­ing to Lon­don? I found from Lon­don

Gazette en­tries that he be­came bank­rupt, pos­si­bly sev­eral times. But I still did not have the fi­nal proof that the failed baker in Lon­don, who died in the work­house, was the son of a very suc­cess­ful landowner and baker in Ed­in­burgh.

What was your eureka mo­ment?

Kirsty un­earthed Ed­in­burgh baker, burgess and court doc­u­ments with set­tle­ments (wills), and tran­scripts of mon­u­men­tal in­scrip­tions that added more in­for­ma­tion and raised fur­ther ques­tions, un­til the big break­through came.

Wil­liam Somerville died in 1819 and his set­tle­ment con­firmed that he was the son of Sa­muel Somerville. He was mar­ried to Mar­ion and had two chil­dren, Sa­muel and Mary. How­ever, should all th­ese “heirs of his own body” fail, then his es­tate was to go to “John Somerville Baker in Lon­don my Brother Ger­man” and to his chil­dren. ‘Brother Ger­man’ meant full brother, shar­ing both par­ents. This was the proof I’d been look­ing for all along.

How did it solve the prob­lem?

I could now be con­fi­dent of the link back through the Somerville line, from my great great grand­fa­ther Ge­orge Archibald Somerville, to his father John Somerville, who died in St Giles Work­house, Lon­don, in 1849.

How did you feel when you dis­cov­ered the so­lu­tion?

It was a very ex­cit­ing mo­ment and sat­is­fy­ing to know more of the in­trigu­ing story of my Somerville an­ces­tors. So John was the ‘black sheep’ of the fam­ily who lost an in­her­i­tance, but he wasn’t a crim­i­nal. He prob­a­bly just didn’t have a head for busi­ness.

Maybe Ge­orge Archibald Somerville, my great great grand­fa­ther, went back to Scot­land to seek some­thing from the fam­ily for­tune. If so, he re­turned with a wife and chil­dren to a Lon­don slum.

Did you dis­cover any­thing else in­ter­est­ing along the way?

Whole new lines of en­quiry opened with more fam­ily mem­bers to in­ves­ti­gate. The es­tate at Am­pher­law has a rich his­tory. The farm­house there is now a B& B and I can’t wait to visit.

What would your ad­vice be to other fam­ily his­to­ri­ans who hit an ob­sta­cle on their fam­ily tree?

Ask lots of ques­tions of fam­ily mem­bers: the the­o­ries my dad had heard were based on grains of truth. Don’t be afraid to ask – and pay for – pro­fes­sional help. Ex­perts can find an amaz­ing amount of doc­u­men­tary ev­i­dence in a very few hours be­cause they know the ar­chives.

The will proved that the black sheep of my fam­ily had lost an in­her­i­tance

Ed­in­burgh In­cor­po­ra­tion of Bak­ers min­utes

One of John Somervilles’ bank­ruptcy records

Wil­liam Somerville’s 1816 will, which con­firmed he was the son of Sa­muel and brother of John

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