Stuck on John

Genealogists use the term brick wall to describe a situation where they cannot find the information needed to trace an ancestor. That’s where I’m at with John, the father of Thomas Casbon (1843—1799) of Meldreth. John is my sixth great grandfather.

John 4 gen chart
Summary diagram, descendants of John Casbon (Click on image to enlarge)

I’ve used charts like this before to show the relationships of people I’ve discussed. You’ll notice that I don’t have birth or death information for John on the far left. That’s the brick wall I’m talking about. I don’t know when or where John was born, and I’m not sure when he died.

To demonstrate how I’ve tried to solve the problem, I’ll start with the known and work back to the unknown. Here’s what I know about John. The Meldreth parish registers have baptismal records for five children born to John and his wife Ann:

“Thomas Son of John & Ann Casbel was Baptiz’d Dec.r ye 11th” [1743][1]
“James Son of John & Anne Casbell was baptized Jan.9th” [1747][2]
“Nov: 6. James Son of John & Anne Casbull” [1748][3]
“M[ar]ch ye 10.th Mary Daughter of John & Ann Casball” [1751][4]
“Sept.23 … Anna daug.r of John & Ann Casburn” [1754][5]

The first son named James must have died in infancy, since the next son was given the same name. Thomas was the subject of an earlier post. His descendants have been the subjects of many posts.

The next step in is to find a marriage record between John Casb(*) and Ann (? surname) within a few years preceding Thomas’ baptism in 1743. There are no such records in Meldreth or Melbourne. However, I was eventually able to locate this record in the parish register of Wimpole, a tiny village 2.7 miles northwest of Meldreth.[6]

John C Anne Chamberlain M Wimpole 1742
Detail of marriage record, 1742/3; Parish of Wimpole (Cambridgeshire), Bishop’s Transcripts. “John Casborn of the parish of Meldreth and Ann Chamberlain of this Parish were married by Banns January the 18.” (Click on image to enlarge)

This is almost certainly the right couple, given the proximity of the marriage date to the birth of their first child, and given the statement that John belongs to the parish of Meldreth. I could not find any marriage records that might contradict this evidence.

The next step is to try to find baptismal records for John and Ann. This turned out to be fairly easy for Ann. I could not find any records for Chamberlain in Wimpole, where John & Ann were married. On the other hand, there were many Chamberlain records in Meldreth, including this one.

Ann C baptism 1717_18
Detail of baptismal record, 1717/18; Parish of Meldreth (Cambridgeshire). “Anne daughter of William & Elizabeth was Baptized March 9th – 1717.”[7] (Click on image to enlarge)

The date of birth would have made Ann about 24 years old when she was married, and about 36 when she had her first child, so this fits in well with the available data. By the way, you may have noticed in the baptismal record that the dates for 1717 begin and end in March. That’s because at that time in England the legal new year began on March 25th (Lady Day).[8] In addition, England was using the old Julian calendar, which calculated leap years incorrectly.[9] This was corrected by the Calendar Act of 1750, which came into effect in 1752.[10]

To be fair, I also found two baptismal records for Ann Chamberlain in the village of Wrestlingworth, Bedfordshire, in the years 1710 and 1713, respectively. Wrestlingworth is about 5.6 miles west of Wimpole and 7.2 miles west of Meldreth. It is possible that one of these could have married John instead of Ann of Meldreth, but the latter is more likely. Also, there are no burial or marriage records to suggest that Ann of Meldreth died or was married to anyone else.

I don’t know why Ann was living in Wimpole at the time, but it was probably for employment. There was a very large estate at Wimpole (think Downton Abbey!) at the time, now part of the National Trust.[11] Such a large household would have required many servants – a good reason for Ann to be there.

Finding a baptismal record for John is where the brick wall comes into play. The problem is that there are too many candidates. Assuming that John was a bachelor when he was married in 1742/3 (likely but not certain), he was probably born sometime between 1700 and 1725. Meldreth parish registers list two baptisms for John Casb(*) in this time frame:

“June the 8th [1707] the two children of William Cassbell deceased and of Anne his wife were Baptized the eldest born October 1701 was Baptized John the youngest born March 6th 1702 was Bap. William”[12]
“John the Son of John Cassbell and of Anne his wife was Baptized May the 26th [1714]”[13]

To complicate matters further, in the nearby village of Orwell (2.5 miles north of Meldreth), the baptism of John Casborn, son of Thomas and Mary, was recorded on November 26, 1721.[14] If I extend the distance or age range a little bit, the list of candidates grows considerably. However, I think we can limit the list to these three.

How can we tell which one married Ann Chamberlain? I don’t have an answer, but there is information that might help us to narrow it down a bit.

The first John, born in October 1701 and baptized in 1707, became an orphan when his widowed mother died In 1718.[15] John would have needed to become self-sufficient pretty quickly if he wasn’t already. He seems a less likely candidate for Ann’s husband because of his age – 41 would have been pretty old to be getting married for the first time. It’s also possible he died at an early age. One of these two burials might have been him.

“John Cassbell Servant at Bassingbourn was buried in Woolen December the 3d [1724]”[16]
“John Cassbell, a poor shoemaker was buried in Woolen March the 26th 1727”[17]

Unfortunately, I just don’t have enough information to draw any firm conclusions.

Based on his date of birth, the second John, baptized in 1714, could be the one who married Ann. I think he would have been too young to be the servant who died in 1724 or the shoemaker in 1727. However, I’ve searched far and wide for any other records that might be related to him and have come up blank.

At first, John Casborn of Orwell might not seem a likely candidate because he was not baptized (or presumably born) in Meldreth. In addition, there is evidence that his parents continued to live in Orwell for the rest of their lives – well after John and Ann were married.

But there is even stronger evidence in favor of this being the right John. The first is this death record from 1796.[18]

John C burial Meld 1796 age 75
Detail of burial record, 1796, Meldreth Parish registers 1681-1877. “John Casborn, Parish Clerk, Aged 75 _____ Jan.y 4.” (Click on image to enlarge)

If you calculate the birth year from this record, John Casborn was born about 1721 – the same year as John Casborn of Orwell. There are no other baptisms recorded for John Casb(*) around this time in the local area, so this provides strong evidence that John, born in Orwell, became the parish clerk and lived in Meldreth. There is no indication of when he was appointed or how long he served in this capacity.

Another piece of evidence is the fact that he named his first-born son Thomas. It was common practice at the time to name first-born sons after their paternal grandfather.[19] John of Orwell’s father was named Thomas, while the fathers of John born 1701 and 1707 were named William and John, respectively. These naming conventions were not required, nor were they consistently followed. So while suggestive, the fact that John and Ann’s first son was named Thomas doesn’t prove anything. The fact that their first daughter was named Mary (John of Orwell’s mother’s name) is also suggestive, although the naming convention would have given her the name of Elizabeth (Ann’s mother).

Another piece of evidence, though weak, is geography. Orwell is less than 1 mile away from Wimpole. If John was living in Orwell at the time Ann came to Wimpole, they could have easily met. On the other hand, if John became the parish clerk of Meldreth at an early age, he could have met Ann while she was still living in Meldreth.


Map showing locations of Meldreth, Orwell, Wimpole, and Wimpole Estate (Google Maps)

So, to summarize, there are at least three candidates for John Casb(*), who married Ann Chamberlain in 1642. Of these, John born in 1701 seems the least likely. Of the remaining two, my money is on John, baptized in Orwell 1721. But without better evidence, I just can’t say for sure. So for now, this is where my family tree for the Meldreth Casbons comes to a dead end.

[1] Church of England, Meldreth Parish (Cambridgeshire, England), Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877, Thomas Casbel baptism (1743); FHL Film #1040542.
[2] Church of England, Meldreth Parish, James Casbell baptism (1746).
[3] Church of England, Meldreth Parish, James Casbull baptism (1748).
[4] Church of England, Meldreth Parish, Mary Casball baptism (1751).
[5] Church of England, Meldreth Parish, Anna Casburn baptism (1754).
[6] Church of England. Wimpole Parish (Cambridgeshire, England), Bishop’s transcripts for Wimpole, 1599-1857, Casborn–Chamberlain marriage (1742); digital images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-89PH-H6G9?i=121&cat=1317069 : accessed 7 June 2016), image 122 of 799.
[7] Church of England, Meldreth Parish (Cambridgeshire, England), Bishop’s transcripts for Meldreth, 1599-1862, Anne Chamberlain baptism (1717/18); digital images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C9T9-NFVL?mode=g&i=173&cc=1465708&cat=1108704 : accessed 16 February 2017), image 174 of 899.
[8] Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org), “Calendar (New Style) Act 1750,” rev. 13:33, 22 January 2017.
[9] FamilySearch Wiki (https://familysearch.org/wiki), “England Calendar Changes,” rev. 20:49, 25 December 2015.
[10] Wikipedia, “Calendar (New Style) Act 1750,” rev. 13:33, 22 January 2017.
[11] Caroline Norton, “Wimpole Hall—Upstairs and Downstairs,” The (Cambridge Family History Society) Journal 19 (April 2013): 12–16; PDF image, Cambridge Family History Society (https://cfhs.org.uk/journals/Volume%2019%20Number%202%20April%202013.pdf : accessed 16 February 2016).
[12] Church of England, Meldreth Parish (Cambridgeshire, England), Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877, John & William Cassbell baptism (1707); FHL Film #1040542.
[13] Church of England, Meldreth Parish, John Cassbell baptism (1714).
[14] “England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” John Casborn, 26 Nov 1721, database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:N821-Z31 : accessed 6 November 2015); citing Orwell, Cambridge, England, reference items 9-10; FHL microfilm 1,040,543.
[15] Church of England, Meldreth Parish, Ann Cassbell burial (1718); FHL Film #1040542.
[16] Church of England, Meldreth Parish, John Cassbell burial (1724).
[17] Church of England, Meldreth Parish, John Cassbell burial (1727).
[18] Church of England, Meldreth Parish (Cambridgeshire, England), Bishop’s transcripts for Meldreth, 1599-1862, John Casborn burial (1796); digital images, FamilySearch. (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C9T9-NF6Z?mode=g&cc=1465708 : accessed 16 Feb 2017), image 257 of 899.
[19] FamilySearch Wiki (https://familysearch.org/wiki), “British Naming Conventions,” rev. 06:29, 3 February 2016.
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6 thoughts on “Stuck on John

  1. What method do you use to keep your evidence, clues, and analysis straight as you’re researching a particular person? If your research takes place over a period of time, I could see it being very easy to “lose your place.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My research methods have changed over time, and I’ve become more disciplined about focusing on specific research questions and documenting my sources. I try to enter new information into my genealogy software (I use Family Tree Maker, but there are many other popular programs) soon after finding it. The software keeps the facts & sources straight. It also allows me to keep notes, speculation, analysis, preliminary conclusions, etc. I also keep spreadsheets with key dates & locations (all Casb* & related surnames born/married/buried in Cambridgeshire) so I can sort the data & look for connections or gaps. When I decide to write about a person, I review all the information I have, try to identify gaps, come up with questions I want to answer, and look for any information sources that might provide answers. You’ll notice that many of my citations are dated within a few days of a post – that doesn’t necessarily mean I just found the information. In some cases, it means I’ve revisited a site that I visited a long time ago. In other cases, it’s supporting information I’ve just found (e.g., historical background, maps, etc) to help give context to the raw data. The blog format makes it easier to keep my place because I can research and tell the family story in small chunks, on my own schdule, instead of trying to through-write a comprehensive family history. Thanks for your question!

    Liked by 1 person

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