In this part of the site we are concentrating on providing slightly more general material that might be of help to family historians, as well as seeking help with our research from any visitors who happen this way.


Photo Gallery Mysteries

Help needed with identification of some photos.

Unknown Sharland 1sharland unknwn 2

These couples are Sharlands from Mid-Devon. We would be very grateful if anybody who identifies them would let us know who they are.

I inherited the photograph below, and don't know who these lovely ladies are. I'm almost certain they feature one or more Pitts girls from the South Hams - possibly a group of friends, or maybe sisters and cousins. This is the work of a Bristol photographer. I would love to hear from anybody who can help.

group of victorian girls posed in studio

A hard disk crash lost me a lot of e-mails, and the accompanying information and source for this chap. Could he be a Frost? Who is he? I know him only as Bill, Fred's brother.


This group below includes Heards. I suspect it is a wedding group from 1940. The older man in the centre is great uncle Albert Heard. Ethel Pollard née Heard is perhaps the lady in the distinctly patterned dress third from left, and maybe that is her sister Mary Heard in glasses, crouched. I think the man kneeling in the centre could be Albert Tonkin and is his wife Joan Heard, daughter of Albert next to him or in front of him? I should be grateful if anybody can contradict or confirm those speculations, and identify others in the picture.

heard group phot with unknowns

If anybody can help, please contact me.

Some more ancient ancestors

nuts cartoon

Saxon or Norman?

It is faintly amusing when some family historians "discover" that the origin of their surname of interest was derived from the name of a Norman noble who came to England with the Conqueror, or not long after. Not for them one of the alternative sources of the surname (for there is rarely just the one explanation for how a surname came into being) - that it is derived from a place, a topographical feature, or an occupation perhaps. Without a single scrap of evidence they create aspirational genealogies, based on stitching together lines of descendants with similar names, though an examination of the geography for these similar names reveals that they are from quite different parts of the country. Which strongly suggests that their surname origins are quite different, though they may be partial homonyms. If we look at the distribution of one surname that is in our family, that we know is derived from a Norman invader, we can see how common it was, and where it was found in the 1881 census. The distribution of the Boydells (right) shows clearly where they are predominantly located, around the land given to them by the Conqueror. And there were less than 1000 people with that surname. "But that is because it is an unusual name!" somebody has argued. Yes - unusual because its only origin is descended from the Norman Boydells around Cheshire. Nowhere else much, except a few in London.

Our Pitts family is one that according to many has descended from the Norman Gervase de la Puette from Normandy. But there isn't even any evidence to support that other recorded Pitts names from the 13th century in Somerset, Surrey and Worcestershire have anything to do with Gervase. Certainly some of those with the name of Pitts will have descended from Gervase. But equally some will be named for their home village of Pett in Kent or Pitt in Hampshire. And some will be named for their topographical origins in Saxon times - "dweller by the pitt, or hollow".

Compare the distribution of the Pitts surname in 1881 with the Boydells. They were all over south western central, eastern and northern England. Did those Norman descendants really spread that much further and in greater numbers than the Boydells? No, of course they didn't, because the Pitts names recorded in 1881 were not all descendants of a single person, but families named from a range of sources. Some from Normans, some who were dwellers by the pitt. And unless you can show me the evidence for the former, it is no more likely than the latter. In fact an old chap in Stokenham church told me several years ago that the view locally was that the Stokenham Pitts were fishermen or merchants from Holland or France who settled in the village in the 16th century. I suspect that is purely speculation too. Unfortunately one of the effects of the internet is to spread myths and speculations. So if you research the Pitts origin on the internet it looks as if it is beyond doubt that all the Pittses are descended from the Normans. One wrong, most wrong.

These are quotes from actual correspondence received by the staff of a Record Office somewhere.

He and his daughter are listed as not being born.

I would like to find out if I have any living relatives or dead relatives or ancestors in my family.

Will you send me a list of all the Dripps in your library?

My Grandfather died at the age of 3.

We are sending you 5 children in a separate envelope.

The wife of #22 could not be found. Somebody suggested that she might have been stillborn - what do you think?

I am mailing you my aunt and uncle and 3 of their children.

Enclosed please find my Grandmother. I have worked on her for 30 years without success. Now see what you can do!

I have a hard time finding myself in London. If I were there I was very small and cannot be found.

This family had 7 nephews that I am unable to find. If you know who they are, please add them to the list.

We lost our Grandmother, will you please send us a copy?

Will you please send me the name of my first wife? I have forgotten her name.

A 14-year-old boy wrote: "I do not want you to do my research for me. Will you please send me all of the material on the Welch line, in the US, England and Scotland countries? I will do the research."