• Sarah von Allmen

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 25.

Week 25 – Broken branch.


In my first blog for the 52 Ancestors challenge I explained that I was given an enormous head start on Mum’s side of the family by my uncle Tom, who researched them over many years during the 1970s/80s, speaking to now-deceased relatives and visiting the relevant county archives and libraries. One line which gave us some problems, however, was the Sorton family.


Our ancestor Richard Sorton was born in about 1805 and was first recorded living in Manchester, where he married Esther Barlow in 1840: the marriage record names his father as Thomas, a labourer. Richard and Esther later moved to Lymm, a Cheshire village not far from Warrington, connected to Manchester by the Bridgewater Canal. Richard worked as a warehouseman in Manchester and as an ostler or horse keeper in Lymm, providing stabling for horses towing barges on the canal.



There was no apparent baptism record for Richard in either Manchester or Lymm, but Tom found a couple named Thomas and Mary Sorton in Manchester whose known children were baptised there between 1790 and 1805. This family also had links with Cheshire: the children who died in infancy in Manchester were buried in Over Tabley, a village about 7 miles from Lymm, and the two sons known to have lived to adulthood moved to Over Tabley and Warburton – a village even closer to Lymm. Everything seemed to point to Richard being a son of this couple despite the lack of a baptism record, and this was the line researched initially by Tom and later by myself.


I started actively researching my family in the early 1990s and as I was no longer living in the UK, virtually all my research was done online. Gradually more and more records became available, and I would return to Richard every so often in the hope of tracking down his elusive baptism record. Although Sorton is an unusual surname, it was quite frustrating to research because the transcribers were unfamiliar with it, so wrote down what they thought they saw. The cursive upper case “S” was particularly problematic and was at times transcribed variously as “L”, “P” or even “F”. Add to that confusion between “o” and “a”, plus potential misspellings in the original documents, and the problem is compounded: until recently most databases only allowed wildcards after the first three letters of the name! (And all this originally on a dial-up connection…)


I was becoming increasing doubtful about Richard’s parentage, but it wasn’t until the censuses covering his lifetime were microfilmed and made available online that I was able to make any progress. The details threw into doubt a birth in Manchester, and (potentially) the identity of his parents.

  • 1841 – living in Manchester – “not born in county”

  • 1851 - living in Manchester – born Warmingham (very hard to read)

  • 1861 – living in Lymm – born Middlewich, Cheshire

Cheshire parish records were now available online, and at Warmingham I found the baptism of Richard Sorton, son of Thomas and Sarah, on 9 March 1806. The parish register gave his parents’ address as Tetton, about halfway between Warmingham and the outskirts of Middlewich, and the 1841 census recorded Thomas as a labourer. I finally had a definite record of Richard’s birth, but at the same time I was very regretful to abandon the family we had previously researched!


Following parish records backwards for this family, I reached Samuel Sorton, whose four known sons were baptised at Christleton, just outside Chester, between 1696-1706. The next generation migrated to Farndon and Holt, which despite being in Cheshire and Denbighshire respectively, are separated simply by a bridge over the River Dee. From here my line travelled about 20 miles to Willaston and Worleston near Crewe, before Richard’s father moved his family to Hyde in about 1820. Several of Richard’s siblings later lived and worked in Manchester like him.


When I wrote up the Sorton family for my personal website I was reluctant to throw away all the work we had done on the “wrong” line, especially as there’s a strong chance that the two branches connect somewhere. I finally decided to make a page for each branch in the hope of helping or connecting with other descendants.


As a postscript, I recently made distant cousin DNA matches with three descendants of yet another Sorton family, who are not currently connected to either of the branches described above, but who were in Manchester and the Hyde area at much the same time as Richard’s family – they are my next challenge!


My own Sorton family

The “other” Sorton family

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