Sunday, 13 March 2011

Victorian family history (written September 1999)

Have you ever thought what it must have been like tracing your ancestry a hundred years ago. Well this week I have been following one man's attempt to trace his ancestors one hundred and twenty years ago.
Robert Edwin Lyne (1828-c1890) was headmaster of the art school in Dublin from the 1870s. He came from a poor family who lived in London, but had come originally from the Cotswolds and border area of Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire and Warwickshire.   His papers have been languishing at the Society since the 1950s when they donated by a Miss Bennett. Elisabeth MacDougall sorted a box last year, but the remainder of the material only came to light recently.
The collection consists of a mixture of letters relating to Mr Lyne's genealogical researches and more general family and financial matters. They date from c1840-1890, although the genealogical material largely falls within the period, 1879-1884.   Somehow Lyne became aware that a Mary Lyne of Reading had left £500 unclaimed on her death (the equivalent of perhaps £50,000 today) and he set too to see whether they were related. He believed that they were connected through his grandfather Thomas Lyne, who was supposed to have had sixteen children, although other members of the family thought it might have been just thirteen or fourteen. Thomas Lyne was born about 1765 probably in Syde, Gloucestershire.  He began by inserting advertisement asking for help in the personal columns.
These appeals attracted the odd fortune hunter, William Line of Banbury wrote: ' father and grandfather belonged to Littleburn, and other matters seem to answer to it. So hearing from you I hope that it may be that "I am the rightful owner". May I ask sir what it is, money, land or otherwise, and what quantity. Waiting a reply...' 
However these appeals did produce a number of long lost cousins who  fell over themselves to help Edwin Lyne in his researches. They visited former servants and possible relations in the hope of finding useful information. Sometimes of course potential informants had just died.
Richard Philips helpfully wrote in October 1881 'My cousin Mary David died... about a year since she could have told us almost everything you want to know.' 
Of particular interest is John Lyne of Cranbroook, Tasmania who emigrated in the 1840s and had become a prosperous farmer. As well as family gossip and reminiscences, his chatty letters talk about life on the island.
Another correspondent was Richard Philips, who ran a stationers and grocers shop in the pretty Cotswolds village of Bourton on the Water. Philips became an assiduous researcher filling letters with personal reminiscences. On one letter he added a postscript 'My daughter jokingly asks why you make these enquiries.' It is something we all must ask ourselves at times. 
Of course Edwin Lyne could not rely entirely on the memories of his relations. He had to find firm facts. So he turned to two of the key sources still employed today: parish registers and Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) wills.
Lyne doesn't appear to have used GRO certificates. Perhaps they were too new; for the national registration system had only been in place for forty years when he began his study.   
Parish registers then were still kept locally. Edwin Lyne had to write to each incumbent of parishes, where he thought there may have been Lynes, asking them to search the registers for him. In many parishes his enquiries roused a great deal of interest. In Bucknell, Oxfordshire, the Rev G.W. Pieritz enlisted the support of Col and Mrs Hibbert, the squire of the village, to pour over the registers.  Thomas Plumb, the sexton at Little Compton, Warwickshire, took his two daughters 'down to the church this evening and cannot find such a headstone as you state.' 
Even if there was nothing in the registers the incumbents often talked about Lynes in the village. Revd John Hodgson, Rector of Kinver wrote that 'There are no Lynes of any position here - the only man of the name is a higgler of coal (George Lines) has resided about 19 years in the parish...'   
In many parishes however Mr Lyne's enquiries were received with a great deal of grumbling about the work that they would involve. At Fredington, Warwickshire the Rev R.E. Williams complained: 'I find upon trial that the task of examining the register for Lynes is more than I have time for... the earlier entries are written in a most difficult handwriting and are faded through age.'   
In a few parishes incumbents seem to have been overwhelmed by requests by other researchers. In Hanslope, Buckinghamshire the Revd M.A. Nicholson replied 'You must really excuse me the troublesome work of register searching. I am almost daily devoured with parties searching the register for Christopher Wren... Duchess of Marlborough...etc etc. 
Another problem was the fee to be paid for the work undertaken. Incumbents could charge 1s for every search extending over a period of not more than one year, and 6d additional for every additional year, and 2s 7d for every single certificate. This was expensive: a search over several centuries might cost £5 or more (worth £500 today). Fees however could be waved for 'literary research' which included family history.   
A few incumbents were prepared to wave the fee altogether. In Bloxham, Oxfordshire, Rev J. Hodgson replied: 'As to fees I shall leave it to you. Were I not hard pressed in money matters, having a very large family of 11 children, I would make you a present of the certificates: but as it is I don't want to be extortionate and anything you think fair and right I shall be willing to accept.'   
Others were more hard-headed. The Rev W.H. Chamberlain,in Keevil, Wiltshire said 'I must mention to you that the custom of this parish is that the fee is 1s for a search and 2s 7d for extract should be first sent by those who apply from a distance.'
The clergy rarely charged the full amount for research undertaken, although most asked the legal fee for certificates. However as the extracts supplied were free, and gave as much information as a certificate, Edwin Lyne wisely bought few certificates.   
PCC wills were held by district probate registries. The records would in due course be transferred to Somerset House and eventually to the Public Record Office. They were a good source of names and could be used to identify parishes with Lynes in them. Searches however cost 7s each, so Lyne used them sparingly.
He did however get the registry in Northampton to provide a list of Lyne wills for the county, although he does not appear to order copies of any original wills.  Lyne's attempts to use archive holdings themselves were generally frustrated by the lack of finding aids. A local historian Cecil J. Davies, from Painswick, Gloucestershire wrote: 'I have not been able to spend a few hours in the Public Record Office and my progress there was very slow; so many of the [Lay Subsidy] rolls are not well indexed that much time is lost in searching for facts.'   
This may help to explain why many genealogists and antiquarians of the period spent considerable amount of time calendaring and indexing records. Lyne himself, amongst other publications, transcribed the lay subsidy rolls for Theddingworth, Leicestershire. 
Eventually of course he came across a genealogist who was tracing the family: Capt G.J.M. Glubb, late 38th Bengal Light Infantry, of Bedford (and father of Glubb Pasha). In particular, Glubb seems to have been conducting a one name study of Glubb, Gloub, Gubb, and Glub surnames 'for' as he told Edwin Lyne 'they are all the same'. His letters are full of references to medieval and Tudor Lynes scattered throughout the West Country, although what connection to Lyne's line remained unclear.   
Unfortunately the Lyne Collection is incomplete. We don't even know when Edwin died. There are no pedigrees to show the work completed or a final written account of his family history. What is clear however is that although he never managed to claim that £500, he derived a great of pleasure from his studies and added, if slightly, to the sum of human knowledge. What greater epitaph can a family historian have? 
The story last week about the papers of Edwin Lyne produced a great deal of response amongst subscribers to this list. What was even more surprising was that not one, but two, people e-mailed me claiming a relationship to him. The chances of this happening must be very remote.   
Edwin Lyne appears to have begun his researches with an appeal in the personnel column of The Times for 5 Janaury 1876. While at the PRO the other week I found it on the front page of the edition for 5 January 1876. It reads:  'To incumbents, parish clerks and others £5 will be given for the register of baptism of Thomas LYNE who lived and was buried at Syde, GLS in 1812 aged 87 and born about 1725. He had brothers: Robert Lyne, who was buried at Baisford, GLS aged 80 and Henry Lyne of Farcot. A reward is also offered for the register of marriage of Thomas LYNE and the register of baptism of Robert and Henry LYNE.  Address R.E. Lyne Esq, Theddingworth, Rugby.' 
Actually Edwin seems to have got his facts wrong. According to Richard Lyne, who kindly sent me his notes on that branch of the family, Thomas was born at Little Compton across the border in Warwickshire. Did Edwin ever realise his mistake?   
What struck me as interesting was that this was not the only advertisement of the type carried by the newspaper. There seemed to be one or two appeals in every issue, all couched in much the same way. It might be a useful exercise for somebody to comb through the personnel columns of The Times and extract this information. Who knows what use it might be to the genealogist of today.  

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