Mary Barr & Thomas Cornforth of Hawnby – Ordinary Folk, Extra-ordinary Records

One of the many benefits of visiting the WhoDoYouThinkYouAre-Live! show in April was a coupon for a month’s worth of free access to the FindMyPast website (FMP). I’ve used the website in the past, but I must admit it’s been a few years since I had a look. What I’ve been missing is that FMP has a whole bunch of images online from the North Yorkshire County Records Office. As someone who has a good 50% of their ancestors from the North Yorks area I’m in heaven. I feel like the journalists working on the Panama Papers – so much information, so little time.

One of the real finds for me has been the records for Hawnby, a little village tucked away in the middle of the North Yorks Moors (see map below). It’s where my Great-Grandmother, Hannah Cornforth (1848-1926) came from, however today I want to write about her grandparents, Mary Barr (1787-1860) and Thomas Cornforth (1787-1868).

Mary Barr and Thomas Cornforth were both Hawnby folk, living all their life around the small village of Hawnby. There are many generations of Barrs and Cornforth who lived in Hawnby and it takes quite a lot of patience to sort through all the records and figure out who is descended from whom. The fact that they tended to use the same, limited, pool Christian names (normally in honour of their parents and grandparents) hasn’t helped. I suspect I’m not the only genealogist who, as they rummage amongst the records sorting out different families, begin to feel like they are living among their ancestors. I imagine myself sitting around a kitchen table (admittedly a large one), with a family tree rolled out and asking everyone in turn to explain to me where they fit in. Sadly since the ghosts of my forefathers are actually not around to do this, I’ve been relying on the local church records to do this. You need great records to do this correctly, and Hawnby has some of the finest records in the country. But more of that later. Back to Mary and Thomas.

Mary was the eldest daughter of Edward Barr, a Farmer, and Arabella “Bella” Tully. Edward and Bella had 7 other children, including a sister, Rachel, who moved with her husband, John Suffill, to the Ontario region of Canada. (I mention this as it explains at least a few of my many DNA matches with North American cousins).

Mary’s husband,  Thomas Cornforth, came from another Hawnby family. He was the son of another Thomas Cornforth, a Wright from Daleside, Hawnby and his wife Elizabeth Barker. Thomas was the second-oldest of ten children. Eight of those were boys, so, as a result there were LOTS of Cornforth children in Hawnby at the start of the nineteenth century.

Below is the marriage record for Mary and Thomas. They were both aged 26 when they married in 1814. This seems quite old compared to many other couples of that time, however, like many other of my ancestors they had good reason to marry. Their first child, Hannah, was born a few months later. We don’t know the exact birth date but we know her baptism was performed less than 5 months after Mary and Thomas’ wedding.

Marriage record Thomas Cornforth & Mary Barr 24-Apr-1814

The Marriage record for Mary and Thomas. It’s always a pleasure to see that they could both write their names. You will see that the witnesses were all “family”: Hannah Cornforth, Rachel Barr and Edward Barr – all had popular forenames. If I had a penny for every Hannah, Rachel or Edward on my family tree…

This pattern of couples marrying shortly before the birth of their first child is common amongst my ancestors. I suspect that this was not just a coincidence. Before the age of pensions, people had to very much rely on their children to look after them in their old age. As a result, I assume, it was important for both the husband and wife to know that they could have children. Anyway, here is Hannah’s baptism record.

 All-together Mary and Thomas had 8 children: Hannah (1814), Edward (1816), Thomas (1819) Jonah (1822), Robert (1824), Margaret (1826), David (1828) and Charles (1830).

Thanks to the detailed record-keeping of the Curate (later Rector), William Dowker, we can also learn a little more about the lives of Thomas and Mary. In all records up to the baptism of Robert we see that Thomas was recorded as a Wright living in Hawnby. For Robert’s baptism, Thomas and family are recorded living in Easterside, although he’s still working as a Wright. When Margaret came along in 1826 Thomas had switched to a Farmer but was still living in Easterside. By 1828, and David’s baptism, Thomas was now both a “Wright and Farmer” and the family have moved to “Ox-Pasture”. Finally their last child, Charles, born in 1830, the family had returned to Easterside and were Farmers.

If all this detail is too much for you, I’ve tried to condense the information into a nice map. I can’t be sure exactly where Thomas and Mary’s young family lived, however I’ve found both Easterside Lane and Ox Pasture Lane marked on current maps, so I’m going to go with those locations.

I also used the excellent on-line map sources at the National Library of Scotland to confirm these names. Below is a small section of an 1857 map of Hawnby. You can just see both Ox-Pasture at the bottom of the map and Easterside Lane at the top. If you’re interested it’s probably better to have a look at the original scalable-version here.

Yorkshire OS-map 72, Surveyed: 1854, Published: 1857 Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Yorkshire 72, Surveyed: 1854, Published: 1857
Ox Pasture Lane (bottom left) Easterside Lane (top-right)
Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

These are the last important church records for Thomas and Mary before the UK Census starts in 1841. Thomas appears in the three censuses up to 1861, but Mary died in 1860, so is absent from the last one. Naturally, they’ve moved again, first to Sportsman Hall in Ladhill Gill, in 1841, and then to their “retirement home” at Bridge End for the 1851 and 61 Censuses. Sportsman Hall is interesting, as it’s where Thomas’ son, Thomas will eventually move to, and where my Great-Grandmother, Hannah Cornforth, was born.

Mary and Thomas were lucky enough to see all but one of their children (Charles) grow to adulthood and (as far as I can see from my research) get married. Hopefully their children did look after then in their old age.

Mary died on the 11th July 1860, aged 73, and Thomas, aged 80, on the 4th March 1868. They are buried, along with their son Charles in the graveyard around Hawnby Parish Church.

Finally there is one last record we need to look at, and actually it’s the main point of this blog posting. Reproduced below is the baptism register for both Mary and Thomas. As you may remember they were both born in 1787, so are conveniently on the same page. The records are some of “Dade Parish Registers“, named after the Rev. William Dade. The Rev. Dade recommended that more detailed records be kept in Parish Registers. As far as I can see there were very few Parishes that followed his recommendation, however I’m glad that the Hawnby Minister at the time, Alex Bayne, did; clearly life in the small rural parish of Hawnby left him enough time to record these complex details. Thank You Mr Bayne. The records are a little hard to read, so I’ve reproduced the full text below:

The Baptism register for 1787 including Mary Barr (baptized June 24th) and Thomas Cornforth (baptized October 7th)

The Baptism register for 1787 including Mary Barr (baptized June 24th)
and Thomas Cornforth (baptized October 7th)

Mary Barr, eldest Daughter of Edward Barr of Hawnby, Farmer, Son of Edward Barr of Hawnby, Farmer by Rachel his Wife Daughter of William Barr of Eastmoor, Farmer. [&] Bella Daughter of Nicholas Tully of Kepwick, Schoolmaster by Mary his wife Daughter of Bellasis Mothersill of Kepwick, Blacksmith. born: June 4th [1787], baptized: 24th June [1787]

Thomas Cornforth, Son of Thomas Cornforth, Daleside, Wright, Son of Thomas Cornforth of Bilsdale, Farmer, by Hannah his wife, Daughter of Charles Harrison of Bilsdale, Farmer [&] Elizabeth Daughter of Robert Barker of Hawnby, Farmer by Sarah Daughter of Thomas Chapman of Hawnby, Wright born: July [1787] baptized: October 7th [1787]

So here we have not only the parents recorded, with location and occupation, but all four grandparents are also recorded, as well as the fathers of both grandmothers. I doubt I will ever see better church records than these.

Most of the ancestors named here have typical “Moors” names: Barr, Barker and Chapman, however there is one name that stands out: Bellasis Mothersill. It took a while until I sorted the name out. I suspect that Bellasis is somehow derived from the de Bellasis family who purchased nearby Newburgh Priory upon it’s dissolution by Henry VIII. The de Bellasis name appears to be an French-Norman name. Bellasis’ surname also gave me a little trouble. The surname Mothersdale is common to North Yorkshire and I suspect that Mothersill is just a dialect variant. Still there are enough Mothersills in later records to encourage me to keep this name, rather than try and correct it.

From memory the Minister, Alex Bayne, recorded about 12 years worth of baptism records this way. If I ever get stuck at home for a couple of months with nothing to do, this would make a great one-place study.

Final Thoughts

I have to admit I’ve never thought there was much benefit in joining FindMyPast, in addition to Ancestry, however it was clearly a mistake. If you have Yorkshire ancestors it’s well worth investing in the site. The one-month subscription fee of £9.95 is trivial compared with the results, although you can also go for the slightly cheaper pay-per-view model of £6.95 for 60 credits (approx 6 original records). Another advantage of the FMP model is that one you have paid for and accessed a record you can come back and review it long after your paid subscription has ended.

Coincidentally, FindMyPast has just announced that they have added another 2.2m Baptism records to their archive. FMP have also published Parish listing of what records are available, otherwise go here to search for yourself.

Only whilst I was researching this article did I realise that I’ve actually stayed in Easterside. A few years ago I semi-deliberately booked my family into the B&B at Easterside Farm near Hawnby. We had a lovely time there and I would love to think that this was exactly the place that Thomas, Mary and family lived for a while. Pictured below is the farmhouse as it is today.

The rather nice looking Easterside Farm, Hawnby

The rather nice looking Easterside Farm, Hawnby

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4 Responses to Mary Barr & Thomas Cornforth of Hawnby – Ordinary Folk, Extra-ordinary Records

  1. Penny says:

    That’s a lovely story, and what a reward you have from all your searching. I found your blog when searching for a way to plot my ancestors in google maps – thank you very much for going to all that trouble to put a tutorial here for folks like myself. Cheers, Penny

  2. Pingback: The Chapmans: Hawnby, Nova Scotia and Methodism | learnalittleeveryday

  3. Jane Wilkinson says:

    Thank you for this post. I found it when I was Googling the name ‘Bellassis’ because I was curious about unusual name. We are distant cousins of some sort because I am also a descendant of the Mothersill family via William, brother to the first Bellassis Mothersill. There is no record of a baptism for Margaret Mothersill (or Nicholas Tully) that I can find, so she and her descendants would have been lost to me without your post. Arabella Tully was the only child of this couple that survived beyond infancy and Nicolas died in 1776 after just 13 years of marriage.

    In Yorkshire at least, it seems that only the Mothersill family ever used ‘Bellassis’ as a forename. Margaret’s brother was the last of only three generations of Mothersills to use the name; he died in 1759 at the age of 28 before he was able to marry or produce children. My hypothesis about the name ‘Bellassis’ is that it comes from a marriage between the Bellassis family of Coxwold and the Mothersill family who were at Coxwold in the early 1600s. This is the same Bellassis family with connections to Newburgh Priory. Of course, it could be a non-paternal event, or maybe a case of paying tribute to a respected local family.

    At that time in Coxwold there was a Thomas Bellassis, 1st Viscount Fauconberg of Henknowle(1577-1653). The fate of his many children has been documented, so I don’t find a connection there. Amongst other things, Thomas had connections to Catholic recusants, was an MP for Thirsk, a JP, was knighted by James I and eventually raised to the peerage.

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