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Multiple baptisms in Record Office

by Nick Thorne, The Nosey Genealogist on September 16th, 2012

When I was in the Devon County Record Office the other week looking for ancestors to put in my family tree, I came across a job lot of children bearing my surname and all being baptised on the same day in 1811. Now as far as I can tell this multiple baptismal party are not direct ancestors of mine, but their record interested me all the same.

I had been looking for a John Thorn, at around the turn of the century from 1799 to 1805, and had noted on the familysearch.org website that there was such a christening in 1811 for a child born in 1803. (“England, Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/J79W-GBY : accessed 16 Sep 2012), John Thorn, 23 Jul 1803; reference , FHL microfilm 917191.)

There can be many reasons for a late christening and indeed some people were not baptised until they were adults.

Archive Church Register

A Church Record from the Archive

While in the DCRO I followed up this lead by looking at their microfiche copies of the original St Petrox, Dartmouth church registers. What I found was that there were actually 5 children, all being the offspring of a John and Mary Thorn, being baptised that day and the original records gave the explanation for this in a note by the vicar.

“The above 5 children were born at Little Bay, Newfoundland.”

Dartmouth, it would seem, has a long history of men sailing across the other side of the Atlantic to the rich cod fishing grounds. A tradition that is mirrored in the island of my birth, Jersey.

While my interest was raised by the partial explanation for the multiple baptism in the records, I searched the web for details of Little Bay, Newfoundland. It would seem that there is still a place with that name in today’s Canada, but there was also a previous settlement in Newfoundland that is now called St Georges, but previously had the same name as well.

Dartmouth-history.org.uk has several documents that explain the development of the town and its harbour. It would seem that the Newfoundland trade was greatly reduced by the the Napoleonic wars, the number of ships annually involved dropping from 120 to 30 by 1808   (see: http://www.dartmouth-history.org.uk/content_images/upload/Nfland_fishing.htm)

Also this same site notes that… “the dominant families in Dartmouth for over 100 years were the Holdsworths and Newmans, both of whom acquired land in Portugal and Newfoundland, and became prosperous in the triangular trade between England, Newfoundland and Spain/Portugal/the Mediterranean.” While my family were humble mariners, much like the family I had identified in these church records.

I have ruled out that this family group are my direct ancestors by the dates given in the parish registers for their births. Of course, often in a church record you only get the baptismal date, but because the vicar was doing a batch of little Thorns at one time he has very usefully included their birth dates!

I wonder if this family, having been making a living in Newfoundland for some years had found the reduction in trade, caused by the Napoleonic wars, forced them back to England? Then, having put up in a small community like Dartmouth, they had come under pressure to christen their brood of children. Or perhaps there was no church at Little Bay that they felt able to use.

Who knows the answer to these questions; but this little example shows how family history, as opposed to genealogy, can be about the stories that are behind the bland statistics of births, marriages and deaths.

 

The websites that I am using the most at the moment are Find My Past and The Genealogist.co.uk. To take your family history further I highly recommend that you too consider a subscription to these websites. Take a look now and see what great data sets they have to offer:

 

The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online


Disclosure: The Links in the above are Compensated Affiliate links. If you click on them then I may be rewarded by Findmypast.co.uk or The Genealogist.co.uk should you sign up for their subscriptions.

 

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  1. James McLaren (CIFHS Jersey) permalink

    There are several other reasons for batch baptisms:

    – one is that the parents may have had several children over a period where they were not in a recognised marriage. I use the term advisedly; there are cases where a man and woman simply lived together and had children, but equally they might have had a form of betrothal (as I believe was not uncommon in France) and come to a place where that was unrecognised. Either way, the question of legal inheritance usually drove thesse people to both marriage, and the subsequent use of a baptism service to declare that these children were theirs for the purposes of law.

    – another is that the family may have converted. This would not be common, because the sort of church that preached believers’ baptism is historically the worst for keeping accurate records. But records do exist in Jersey for the likes of Zion and Albion independent evangelical chapels.

    – a third is simple practicality. Part of my wife’s family were from Wiltshire: most of the agricultural labourers thereabouts were shepherds who lived nearly all the year up on the chalk plain and could only guarantee to come down for Christmas Day (which is why there is a massive spike in baptisms on 25 December). Come up with an occupation where people are away to a significant degree like this (and shipping is the same), and the incidence of batch baptisms will rise.

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