• Sarah von Allmen

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 9.

Week 9 – Females.


March is Women’s History Month, and in consequence this week’s prompt is quite simply “females”. Rather than chose a woman from my tree at random, I decided to look at my direct maternal lineage: my mother, her mother, her mother’s mother, and so forth.


Tracing female ancestors in England prior to the start of civil registration in 1837 isn’t always easy for several reasons, the main one being that (with very few exceptions) married women are invariably recorded under their husband’s surname.

  • Baptismal records for their children only give the father’s surname and very early baptismal records may not even give the mother’s forename!

  • Burial records for married women only give their married name.

  • Marriage records for widows record them with their previous husband’s surname.

However (at the risk of over-simplifying), there are various ways of getting round these problems.

  • Identifying all the children of a couple (not just your direct ancestor) gives a good pointer to their probable date of marriage as well as limiting the woman’s likely birth date.

  • Marriages traditionally took place in the woman’s home parish.

  • A marriage witness with the same surname as the bride is potentially her parent or sibling.

  • Burial records and gravestones may give an age at death.

  • Some families used the mother’s maiden name as a forename for one of her children.

  • Couples frequently named children after their own parents or siblings.


My direct maternal line


Elizabeth Annie Gosling (1933)

Lilian Griffin (1906)

Mary Ann Gregory (1876)

Mary Ann Goodwin (1843)

Maria Johnson (1821)

Sarah White (1790)

Mary Ball (1766)

Sarah Tudor (?)


Eight generations of my maternal lineage cover roughly 200 years: the largest generation gap is 40 years (between my grandmother and my great grandmother) and the smallest is 22 years. My ancestors include three Marys, one Maria and two Sarahs before we arrive at Lilian – who disliked her name and didn’t want to have a child or grandchild named after her!


What do I know about my 6th great-grandmother, who coincidentally shares my name? Relatively little, to be honest. She married Edward Ball in All Saints Church, Claverley, Shropshire on 3 February 1766 and gave birth to five children between 1766 and 1779. Based on that, she was probably born between 1730 and 1750 – her husband was born in 1742. She died in Claverley in 1793, and Edward outlived her by over 20 years.


Sarah wasn’t born in Claverley, and multiple online trees identify her as the Sarah Tudar (sic), daughter of Henry and Mary, baptised in Much Wenlock on 2 October 1743. Much Wenlock is only about fifteen miles from Claverley, so this seemed perfectly feasible to me until I found a burial record for Sarah Tudor, daughter of Henry and Mary, in Much Wenlock in 1756. I hesitate therefore to continue any further with the Much Wenlock line for now.


Even though I have little concrete information about Sarah, I can at least build up a general picture of her life from local and social history.


In the 1700s Claverley had a population of around 1,000 and although Edward’s occupation isn’t recorded, most local working-class men were employed either as agricultural workers or in the malting industry. Depending how much he earned, Sarah may also have worked as a farm servant, dairymaid or other, but this is pure speculation.


George II was King of England when Sarah was born, but for most of her life his son George III was the reigning monarch. He was the first Hanoverian monarch to be born in England and was the first monarch since Queen Anne to put British interests well before those of Hanover. As historians (not to mention fans of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer) will know, he suffered from recurrent fits of insanity in later life and his son was finally named as regent in 1810. The Seven Years’ War and the American War of Independence were fought during Sarah’s lifetime, but it’s debatable whether national or international affairs had any real importance for rural working-class families such as hers.


A more significant influence in Claverley was probably the major local landowner, Edward Gatacre, whose family had held land there since the reign of Edward the Confessor. The family seat was Claverley Hall (now a ruin) and at one time the side chapels of the parish church were reserved for the family’s private use. Edward was colonel of the Shropshire militia, a magistrate, and deputy-lieutenant for the county, so even though he was “gentry” rather than nobility, he would have been a very important person in the area.


Where can I go from here? Ideally of course I would like to identify Sarah’s parents and earlier ancestors, and I’m currently looking at other Tudors (with any spelling!) living locally at the time and trying to sort them into family groups. In the meantime, I’m quite pleased to note that my direct maternal line reaches back roughly 150 years more than my direct paternal line, which is currently firmly blocked in 1882!

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