The file which I had received from Malcolm and Elisabeth Lee had begun with Stephen Jefferys who had married Elizabeth Stiles. I’ve since discovered that it was Stephen’s father Edward who married Amy (aka Amie) Stiles, thus bringing the Stile names into the family.
Stephen had married Elizabeth Harding (though it took me a long time to discover her surname and where she was from). Their first child was born in 1795 and their youngest son, Robert Stiles Jefferys was born in 1811. Robert was my great great grandfather.
Having rejoiced in all these previously unknown (to me) branches of the family tree and spent hours poring over the detail, there came a point where I began asking questions: who was Stephen? Where had he come from? Who were his parents? It wasn’t sufficient that I now had over 200 years of the family connections laid out in front of me. Like Oliver Twist, I held out my bowl for more.
It was 2004 when I began looking for more information. But where to start? And how?
In the 1841 census, Elizabeth was widow at Spilman’s Farm in Hilmarton and from other censuses, it was clear that Stephen and Elizabeth’s children were born in Hilmarton.
I found the birth of Stephen Jefferys in 1763 on the International Genealogical Index (Church of the Later Day Saints) which led me to his parents Edward and Amy, who were married in Hilmarton in 1755.
There was a birth for an Edward Jefferys in Bremhill, giving his christening in 1727 and his parents Edward and Elizabeth of Nash House, Bremhill. I found a marriage for Edward Jefferies and Elizabeth Tuck in Bremhill in 1726. Study of the maps showed that Bremhill is the neighbouring parish to Hilmarton.
I knew that Nash (or Naish) House Farm, Bremhill, appeared on the censuses following 1841, with children and grandchildren of Elizabeth and Stephen resident there, as did other farms and places in Bremhill such as Siderow and Spirthill.
It appeared that the family had strong links to Bremhill and Hilmarton and so I began to focus my attention on the two parishes.
I struck gold on the IGI with transcriptions of the parish records and I think most kindly of the parish vicars and wardens of Bremhill who diligently kept to their task over many years and of the many volunteers who deciphered the old style writing to transcribed the records, including those of the Wiltshire Family History Society.
I purchased copies of the WFHS baptism and burial transcriptions of Bremhill and extracted all the Jefferys of any spelling. As the Hilmarton registers hadn’t been published yet, I employed the services of a specialist Wiltshire research team to provide details of Jefferys extracted from the baptism and burial registers in Hilmarton.
In addition, as marriages generally take place in the parish of the bride, I requested details of all the marriages in Wiltshire where the Jefferys (plus variant spellings of the name) came from Bremhill or Hilmarton.
I subscribed to a website which gave me the details of baptisms, marriages and burials at the small Non Conformist church in Charlcut, which forms part of Bremhill.
And, from the Wiltshire County Archives, I purchased copies of fourteen wills and two administration bonds made by sixteen of the people who either appeared on a LDS Ancestral File or were members of the extended family.
Piecing together a family history from parish registers is not an exact science, and the writing in most of the wills is difficult to transcribe, but after many hours comparing, scrutinising and verifying, I have drawn up a family tree showing the Early Jefferys of Bremhill and Hilmarton.
I am confident that I have proved all the names and relationships shown on the tree in black print. There are additional ones shown in grey for which I am still seeking a link to prove their lineage and bring them into the family fold.
The will of our earliest ancestor (as known at the time of writing, November 2011) was made in December 1601 and probated in Janaury 1603. His age at death isn’t known but, if we allow him a life of 60 years, a good age at the time, he would have been born around, say, 1540.
His name was David Jeffery and he was my 9 times great grandfather.
And so begins the story of the Early Jefferys as I know it today.
The Bremhill parish burial register didn’t begin until 1590, It has the names of 52 people with the Jefferys surname (including several variations in the spelling) between 1590 and 1690.
The Bremhill baptism register began in 1626 and there were four Jeffery baptisms between 1626 and 1676.
None of those baptisms and only some of the burials are accounted for in our chronicle and so it seems that David was born into a large Jeffery / Jeffry / Jefferys family already settled in Bremhill.
So far I have only purchased copies of the wills which prove our lineage back to David. There are several more wills available from the Wiltshire Archives and the National Archives. Perhaps one day, when I finish all other family history projects, I will be able to return to the study of the Jefferys and those wills may provide the information to be able to fit those other Jefferys into our wider family tree.
David Jeffery of Siderow, in the parish of Bremhill made his will in December 1601 and probate was granted in January 1603.
He made bequests to his son William and his grandchildren Agnes, Joan and John. The bequests were to be kept for the children by their father until they came of age. They were the first of William’s children, the others being born after David died, which is unfortunate for this family historian.
David also made a bequest to his son in law Henry Orchard but did not mention his daughter so I wondered if she had died by then, perhaps in childbirth.
He left bequests to three people, named Henry, John and Christopher and to the children of John. They all have the same surname but I am unable to read the surname. It appears to end in …ell and I have combed the baptism and burial registers of Bremhill looking for suitable names to fit but cannot find any. David gave no sense of kinship but, as we don’t know the maiden name of his wife, I wonder if they were related to her.
As was the custom, David left money to the poor of the parish and then he left the residue of his estate to his wife Agnies, who was also appointed his sole and only Executrix.
David appointed three people as overseers, one of whom was a Robert Jeffery. This, of course, raises the question: who was Robert Jeffery? A brother or a cousin?
The overseers carried out an inventory but it is impossible to read the items. And the values, in pounds, shillings and pence are given in roman numerals, in a form with abbreviations which are not easily read or interpreted.
The will is four hundred and ten years old and unfortunately the writing style and language, both of the original will and of the transcription into the original record book is such that it is difficult to read the details of most of the bequests. I have used my book on palaeography (the study of early handwriting) so much that the pages with illustrations of the alphabet are falling out.
William Jefferys made his will in 1639. He referred to himself as William the Elder of Siderow, in the parish of Bremhill and as a yeoman.
William’s will may have been the first time that the title yeoman appears in our chronicle but it appears in several more wills and was still used by several of our ancestors and close family members in the censuses from 1841 onwards.
The censuses show that they did employ servants and farm labourers, though these became fewer in number as the men and boys were replaced by the new agricultural machinery.
Elizabeth I became Queen in 1558 and from Elizabethan times to the 17th Century and beyond, the title of yeoman was used to denote a free man owning his own farm, either as a freeholder or a leaseholder.
Historically, rural society utilised a three tier structure of landowners (nobility, gentry and yeomanry), then came tenant farmers, and finally farm workers or labourers.
The yeomanry was a respectable, honourable rural middle class which ranked below nobility and gentry but above tenant farmers, husbandmen, artisans and farm labourers.
In effect, a yeoman was member of a class of small landholders of common birth, of lower class than a gentleman, who cultivated his own land.
The wealth and size of a yeoman’s landholding could vary but many were prosperous and wealthy enough to employ servants and farm labourers and even rent land to the gentry.
Sir Anthony Richard Wagner, Garter Principal King of Arms wrote that “a Yeoman would not normally have less than 100 acres” (40 hectares) “and in social status is one step down from the Landed Gentry, but above, say, a husbandman.” (English Genealogy, Oxford, 1960, pps: 125-130).
The Concise Oxford Dictionary, (edited by H.W. & F.G. Fowler, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1972 reprint, p. 1516) states that a yeoman was “a person qualified by possessing free land of 40/- (shillings) annual [feudal] value, and who can serve on juries and vote for a Knight of the Shire. He is sometimes described as a small landowner, a farmer of the middle classes”.