I guess most genealogists have the same buried deep in their family tree. An ancestor or two whose name you recognise, however you can’t quite place them within your ancestral tree without checking your records. They are normally found after following a few right turns (i.e up the maternal branches of your tree, where surnames tend to change from generation to generation). Recently I’ve been researching one of these branches, the Shemelds of Skelton, and I think I’ve become quite attached to them.
One of the most appealing features of the Shemelds is their unusual surname. Normally this a genealogist’s dream. It’s much easier to track down a rare surname like Shemelds than trying to figure out your Smiths and Jones (or your Müller, Meier, Schulze as they are known in German). Sadly the Shemelds suffered from two handicaps.
- The name can be easily mis-understood. You can pretty much use all five vowels in the surname if you are feeling up to it. Combine this with the option to ignore the final S in their name, then you can come up with some creative spelling.
- They lived in a very small village. I think it’s safe to assume that the curates responsible for maintaining the Parish Registers in Skelton weren’t “the sharpest tool in the box“. As a result they weren’t going to be too precise in recording the lives of their Shemelds parishioners.
Looking through my research notes I have around 10 different spellings amongst the 40- odd local records I’ve found, ranging all the way from Shimmels to Chimmelds. Sadly this wonderful surname has now disappeared and doesn’t even appear on my favourite British names-profiling website. This is inevitable with surnames, especially uncommon ones. Someday I’m planning to write a short surname simulator to show how this happens.
Before they disappear totally from history I want to write up my research. My connection with the Shemelds is through Mary Shemelds (b.1770, d.1836). This is her baptism record in the Skelton Parish Registers:
She’s the daughter of Thomas Shemelds, a taylor by profession, and Sarah Burton. They were married some 12 years earlier in the 30th April 1758, again in Skelton.
Thomas and Sarah had 5 children, Ann (b.1759), Mary (1761-1762), Thomas (1762-1841), Sarah (1765) and a second Mary (1770-1836). As you can see only a single son to carry on the family name. He did. Thomas (we’ll call him Thomas Jr. just to avoid confusion) married Elizabeth Wright on 13th Nov 1783. Their marriage is recorded in the “The Register Booke of Inglebye iuxta Grenhow” (originally transcribed by the local curate John Blackburne, but re-plublished by forgottenbooks.com in 2014)
It looks like Elizabeth then joined Thomas Jr. in Skelton. They had 9 children together: William Shemelds (1784-1854), Mary Shemelds (b.1786), Thomas Shemelds (1788-1814), John Shemelds (1791-1812), Betty Shemelds (1793-1838), Esther Shemelds (1796-1828), Wright Shemelds (1798-1830), Anne Shemelds (b.1802), George Shemelds (b. 1805).
At this point the Shemelds begin to disappear from history. Marriage records for these Shemelds are scarce. William appears to have married three times between 1820 and 1833, all three times in Ingleby. It seems rather suspicious that he had 3 marriages in such quick succession. Did the wives die during childbirth ? Perhaps he was like Henry VIII and in desperate need of an heir ? Whatever the case, I can find no records of children. Some of the other children, including Esther were swept up in the religious fervour of their time. Here is part of her obituary from “The Wesleyan Methodist Magazine, Volume 8”
I have to say Esther made a dramatic exit from this life.
Of the other males in this generation, both John and Thomas (the third) died as relatively young adults. Again I’ve no evidence that either of them married. This only leaves George Shemelds, the last of the Shemelds. Sadly I’ve yet to find any records of his life, so maybe he’s out there somewhere, waiting to be found.
At the moment I haven’t managed to trace the Shemelds further back in time. There are records (and family trees) that list Shemelds living in nearby Marton-in-Cleveland (see map below). These include a Thomas Shimmells born 1737. This would fit with my known Thomas ancestor, however there is no evidence (such as a baptism record saying Thomas Shemelds native of Marton etc.) that this is correct. Maybe DNA testing may in future conform this link.
One of the reasons I’ve headed down this research path is that one of my four “DNA relatives” according to ancestry.co.uk. She is a descendant of Thomas Shemelds and Sarah Burton. To celebrate this I wanted to make sure my records of the Shemelds were as good as they could be. As an aside, I’ve checked on all three DNA sites and this person is indeed the only Shemelds descendant I can find (so far).
As far as I can determine this line of Shemelds has been lost to history, at least on the paternal line. The good news is that all three sisters of the Thomas Shemelds Jr. married and had children. So whilst the name and yDNA of Thomas Shemelds is lost to history there is much more hope that Sarah Burton’s Mitochondrial DNA is still with us today.
Sources and Records
Since this article is about the Shemelds I thought it worth pulling together all the information I have on them.
- The main source for any pre-1837 British records are the Parish Registers. Whilst you can look up the originals, held in the Teesside Archives, most people will find that it’s quicker and easier to familysearch.org. The film number for the Bishop’s transcripts of the Skelton Parish Registers is 919077. Note: searching for the Shemelds is much simpler when you use “Wildcard” searches such as Shem* or Shim* for the surnames.
- As you may have guessed from the images on this blog, I’ve recently been looking at the microfilms of the Parish Registers at my local LDS Family History Centres.
- The Skelton History Group is an excellent source of all things Skelton. As well as having their own copies of the Parish Registers they have records and plans of the Old All Saints Parish Church graveyard. This has been a real help in giving both dates of death and confirming family relationships.
- There is an excellent website dedicated to the “Skelton-in-Cleveland in History” written by Bill Danby.
- The Parish Registers for Great Ayton are available thanks to the work of Dan O’Sullivan and his team from “The Great Ayton Community Archaeology Project” .
- Finally I’ve added below a spreadsheet of all local references to the Shemelds. It’s mostly taken from trawling the familyseach.org website. I have no claims on it’s completeness, but hopefully it’s a starting point for anyone else interested in the Shemelds.
[Update 2-Nov-2015]. Rather fittingly, since today is All Souls Day, I’ve found a couple more references to Shemelds, although in this case they are Shem(m)els. They are taken from the Parish Registers in Great Ayton. The most interesting is the marriage of Thomas Shemels to Jane Hebron on 12th June 1796. They are described as widower and widow, however the Thomas Shemelds fits neither Thomas Shemelds(d.1798), or Thomas Shemelds Jnr (1762-1841), as both had wives at the time. This is confirmed by their shared gravestone which show both had wives at the time. “In memory of Thomas Shemelds who died the 14th of January 1798 aged 60 years also Sarah his wife who died 18th of February 1805 aged 76 years Elizabeth the wife of Thomas Shemelds Jun. died 3rd June 1832 aged 71 years also Thomas Shemelds Jun. who died June 2nd 1841 aged 78 years“. I guess Thomas may somehow be related to the Shemmels of Marton.