Despite many years of research, Peter Thompson knew very little about the origins of his Huguenot ancestor, Quentin Coquard. That all changed thanks to one website, as Jon Bauckham discovers
The website that revealed Peter Thompson’s French kin
Between the 16th and 18th centuries, thousands of French Protestants crossed the Channel to escape persecution. Most commonly known as Huguenots, the refugees settled in a number of British cities, assimilating into society while maintaining their own culture and traditions. Although the survival of records outside of London can be patchy, a number of sources can be used to determine whether you have Huguenot ancestry. This includes the church registers and naturalisation records published in the Huguenot Society of Great Britain’s Quarto Series, plus the wealth of genealogical material available in the Huguenot Library at The National Archives in Kew (see huguenotsociety.org.uk).
However, tracing the origins of a Huguenot forebear in France is a bit trickier. This month, Peter Thompson reveals how years of struggling to learn more about his 5x great grandfather, Quentin Coquard, finally came to an end.
My Brick Wall
I first became interested in family history about 40 years ago when my wife told me about her great grandmother, Monika Hauser, who moved from Freiburg to London during the 1870s. Researching German records for Monika’s ancestry was a steep learning curve, but very useful.
When it came to tracing my own family tree, my 3x great grandmother Mary Rippin née Coquard seemed an interesting person to follow. Her French maiden name made me wonder if she had Huguenot ancestry.
I consulted copies of the Huguenot Society’s records at London Metropolitan Archives and discovered that Mary sought help from the Coqueau bequest, a Huguenot relief fund established in 1745. At the time she was a widow with two children, living in a notorious slum in Shoreditch known as the Old Nichol.
I then discovered that Mary’s paternal grandfather, Quentin Coquard, made a profession of faith stating that he was originally from Moislains in Picardy, northern France. It also said that he came to England in 1761 when he was aged 23, so he was born c1738.
Unfortunately, the records for Moislains are held in the Departmental Archives of the Somme, and correspondence had to be in French. Since it was the 1980s and there was no internet access, translation was difficult.
My Eureka Moment
I continued to investigate Quentin’s life in London. Like many Huguenots, he was a silk weaver and settled in Spitalfields, where he married Elizabeth
‘Quentin was a silk weaver and settled in Spitalfields’
Clifford in 1764. The couple had five children, including my 4x great grandfather, William.
Quentin integrated into society and built up a successful business, taking on an apprentice named Thomas Clark in 1769. Then, in 1782, he served as a juror at an inquest regarding the death of a woman in suspicious circumstances.
After retirement, Quentin applied to become a resident of the French Hospital – a home for people of Huguenot descent in Finsbury (now located in Rochester in Kent). He was admitted on 3 February 1810, and died on 10 April 1814.
Despite finding plenty of information about Quentin’s later years, I still couldn’t proceed any further when it came to researching his life in France.
However, a breakthrough came when I read the ‘Best Websites’ article in the May 2018 issue of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine, on European genealogy. The author, Jonathan Scott, suggested that anyone with French ancestry should try using Geneanet ( geneanet.org).
Following Jonathan’s advice, I visited the website and put Quentin’s name into the search box. Within seconds, I had found a biography for my 5x great grandfather!
The information had been uploaded to Geneanet by a French genealogist named Alain Diot, who had undertaken a lot of archival research into the Coquard family. He also supplied a family tree dating back to the mid-1600s, along with dates of baptisms, marriages and burials.
Quentin’s own baptism took place on 1 February 1738 at Moislains, which matched the location in his profession of faith. Importantly, I also discovered that his parents were Michel and Marie – the same names Quentin gave his eldest son and daughter.
Although my French origins may no longer be a mystery, there is still work to be done. First, I need to obtain print copies of the records myself (vital when taking information from public family trees), and I also need to learn more about France in the 1760s more generally.
Second, it appears that Quentin travelled to England alone. Does that mean all of his family were Protestants, or was Quentin the sole convert? It would certainly be interesting to find out.
Peter’s 5x great grandfather, Quentin Coquard, married in 1764
Peter found the details of his ancestor’s stay at the French Hospital in the Huguenot Society’s Quarto Series
Quentin features in the Register of Duties Paid for Apprentices’ Indentures
PETER THOMPSON lives in Croydon and has been researching his ancestors for 40 years