Nicknames can be a challenge when it comes to genealogy research. Most genealogy search engines use first name, last name, and other details such as birth/marriage/death dates and locations to find links to records. If you use the wrong name, the search engine might not find what you’re looking for. People frequently used nicknames or shortened versions of their names when records were created. This can lead to what genealogists like to call “brick walls” in their research.
Case in point: in my last post “John Casbon of Meldreth & Royston (~1779-1813)” I mentioned that John’s wife Martha Wagstaff was baptized as Patty Wagstaffe. I had a hard time finding information about Martha until I realized that she and Patty were the same person. Here’s how that came about.
I started with the name Martha Wagstaff, based on her marriage to John Casbon in 1802. 
Marriage record of John Casbon and Martha Wagstaff, Meldreth Parish Registers (Click on image to enlarge)
When I tried to find a baptismal record for Martha, I kept coming up with a blank. All I knew about her from the marriage record was her name, that she was single, and that she belonged to the Meldreth parish. When I searched using her name and a wide range of potential birth years, I found many records for Martha Wagstaff in all of England, but not in the Meldreth area. There was one record for Martha Wagstaff, baptized in Gamlingay, Cambridgeshire (about 9 miles from Meldreth) in 1759.  That would have made her at least 43 years old when she married for the first time, and 48 when her last child was born…not likely!
Likewise, if I searched for death/burial records for Martha Casbon, I came up with a blank.
It took two different kinds of records for me to make the connection. First, I learned that Martha remarried after her husband John died in his early 30s. She married a widower named Samuel Barns July 24, 1815. 
Marriage record of Samuel Barns and Martha Casbon, Meldreth Bishop’s Transcripts (Click on image to enlarge)
Unfortunately, that didn’t make it any easier for me to find a birth/baptism record. It helped me to find a potential death record though. There is a death recorded for Martha Barnes, registered in the first quarter of 1855 in Royston.  (Samuel Barns died in 1836). 
I say this is a potential death record, because there is not enough information to know for sure this is the right Martha Barnes. Beginning in 1837, registration of births, marriages and deaths was required in England and Wales. Prior to that time, the only records were parish registers and Bishop’s transcripts (i.e., copies of the parish records). Currently, the online genealogy searches only lead to indexes of these civil registrations, not copies or transcripts of the actual records. These indexes list the name, quarter, year and place of registration. The country was divided into registration districts, each of which was responsible for keeping records for many parishes within the district. The Royston registration district includes Meldreth and a number of other towns and villages in the area.
If I wanted to see the actual record for Martha Barnes whose death was registered in 1855, I would need to request it from the General Register Office of Great Britain, with payment of £9.25 (about $11.50). Record costs add up quickly, so I haven’t done this yet. For now, I’ll have to be content with a possible death date for Martha.
Back to the story… At some time removed from my research into Martha Wagstaff/Casbon/Barns, I was reviewing census records of her daughter Jane.
Detail from 1841 Census for Meldreth  (Click on image to enlarge)
This image from the 1841 census shows that Jane Casbon, age 35, was living with a woman named Patty Barns, age 65. The column marked “no” asks whether they were born in “this county” (Cambridgeshire), and the next column asks whether they were born in “Scotland, Ireland, or Foreign Parts.” Incidentally, they were living next door to William, Martha’s son and Jane’s brother (not shown). This record does not tell me whether Patty Barns and Jane Casbon were related. At this point, I was not thinking about Martha or her marriage to a man named Barns. I assumed that Jane was lodging with Patty Barns and that they were not closely related.
The 1851 census gave me the information I needed. 
This record shows that Patty Barns was a widow and the head of the household (“Head”). The letters “Dau’r” after Jane’s name indicate that she was Patty’s daughter. It wasn’t until I saw this record that I made the connection – “Oh yeah, Martha married a man named Barns…maybe Martha and Patty are the same person!”
Patty was listed as a Pauper, i.e., a person without any means of support, and possibly receiving some public assistance.  Given that she was living with her daughter and still living next door to her son, they were probably her main source of support.
The record gave a place of birth for Patty – “Beds Cocken Hatty.” I knew that Beds stood for Bedfordshire, the county just to the west of Cambridgeshire. I couldn’t find a place called Cocken Hatty, but with a little digging I found the village of Cockayne Hatley, just 7 ½ miles west of Meldreth. Now I knew I was onto something.
Armed with all of this new information, I searched again for a baptismal record, this time using the name Patty, and in Cockayne Hatley, Bedfordshire. The record for Patty Wagstaffe, daughter of Thomas and Sarah, baptized November 26, 1775, immediately popped up.  At last, I had what I was looking for. Unfortunately, no image of the actual record is available online, so all I have at this point is a transcript of the parish register.
But why would they call Martha Patty? When we hear the name Patty, we usually think it is short for Patricia. Well, it turns out that Patty was originally a variant of Matty, a diminutive form of Martha.  Mystery solved!
Now I had enough information to construct a rough timeline of Martha/Patty’s life. By the way, she doesn’t show up in the 1861 or later census records, so this supports her possible death in 1855.
A final bit of trivia: Wagstaff is an interesting name. It is said to be
an interesting example of that sizeable group of early European surnames that were gradually created from the habitual use of nicknames. These nicknames were originally given with reference to occupation, and to a variety of personal characteristics, such as habits of dress and behaviour. The derivation, in this instance, is from the Middle English “wag(gen)”, to brandish, shake, a development of the Olde English pre 7th Century “wagian”, with “staff”, a staff, rod, from the Olde English “staef”; hence, “Wagstaff”, a nickname used to denote a bailiff, catchpoll, beadle, or some other medieval officer of the law who carried a staff, and shook it for effect.