Write your family history in 1,000 words!


10 June 2019
aaron-burden-64849-unsplash-15093.jpg Write your family history in 1,000 words!
In the latest issue of Family Tree we launched a challenge to write your family history in 1,000 words. Reader Stuart Cresswell has been been the first person to complete this challenge. Have a read, see how he got on, and take the challenge yourself!

Reader Stuart Cresswell has written the family history of his paternal side in 1,000 words, as part of the Family Tree challenge, to encourage us all to put pen to paper, and get those precious family histories written. Have a read and see how well he's done!

The 1,000 words starts here:

My paternal family “starts” at a “brickwall” in the 1690s, with James Cresswell of Middleton-on-the-Hill near Leominster. He was a yeoman farmer (possibly at The Hill between Leominster and Tenbury) and died from a fall from his horse – according to a piece of paper probably written about 1796. That piece of paper has a family tree for the 1700s.

James died in 1709 intestate, but the inventory of his estate shows he had significant farming assets of £302-1-8 including debts owing to him of £54 - a skilled farm labourer might have earned £20 or so a year.

He married Sarah Hill who had “several children by her first husband”, nine children by James (baptised at Middleton-on-the-Hill) and two by William Cook her third husband. She died in 1761 at 102 (according to that piece of paper). Her son James II mentioned her in his will – she was to have board and lodging or 40/- [£2] yearly. I doubt her age bearing in mind her child-bearing career.

Her first Cresswell child was baptised in 1694 (New Style) and assuming that “several” is only three Hill children, born at two year intervals, then her first was born in 1688. If she was only 15 then, she would have been born in 1673 and be 88 at her death. Her last Cook child was born in 1715 and she could have been as old as say 40, making her birth 1675 and her age at death 86, but she would have been 13 for her first child – which is unlikely. So maybe she was born about 1673 and died at about 88. As I do not know her first marriage and maiden name, I cannot search for her baptism – indeed we only have that piece of paper for the “several” Hill children. Also I have not found her marriage to James Cresswell nor his birth. That is the “brickwall” - though there are clues suggesting he came from Bodenham about 13 miles away.

James II was baptised in 1698 (New Style), so a minor at his father’s death, voted in Bodenham in 1722, though resident in Middleton (voters needed property qualifications) and moved to Newland near Great Malvern as a yeoman farmer but possibly also as steward to the Lord of the Manor. He married Elizabeth Downes at St Helen’s, Worcester, in 1728. The family remained established as farmers at Newland until 1869, but also had legal activities. However there were ups and downs.

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James II’s eldest son, another James, farmed at Wichenford and Great Whitley, but his second son Thomas continued at Newland. Thomas was a captain in the Worcestershire Militia for 23 years (again he needed property qualifications). He resigned because of personal circumstances, possibly financial because his sons Thomas II and his half-brother James III had to sort matters out and his estate was in mortgage with no equity. He left no will. It is probable that Thomas was the talker and James III the writer of that “piece of paper”. Thomas II and James III clearly sorted the problems, but in 1841 Thomas II had to sell “the whole of his estate” - some 400 acres of good Worcestershire land - to the Lord of the Manor for £19,000. The sale, which would save him £300 pa, was on a lease back basis for the lives of himself and his two farming sons. They did not marry, so there were no farming heirs. However one of them, yet another James, contemplated the possibility. He wrote a letter to himself relating a conversation with his father about a young lady to whom he was attracted, but would not make any move without his father’s approval. Thomas not only approved but was willing to meet her parents and to provide whatever funds were appropriate, saying that “farmers need capital but lawyers [his other two sons] do not”. We know no more because the girl was not named nor did he marry! Thomas II was also a lawyer and died at 86 five years after the sale.  The witness statement on a document shortly before his death shows he was then blind – the first of the family known to have been blind.

The lawyer sons Joseph and Charles married sisters Elizabeth Davenport Hobbes and Ann Costley Hobbes. A third sister became the ancestor of Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge. Joseph practised in Redditch and Folkestone and Charles practised in Worcester until 1851 when he took his family to Melbourne, Australia. His daughters married well and had many children. Of his four surviving sons the eldest and youngest became lawyers and the third took Holy Orders but lectured in geology and palaeontology at the University of Melbourne. The second Pearson Robert returned to Britain to complete his medical studies and did not return to Australia.

After qualifying Pearson was appointed Chief Surgeon to the Dowlais Iron Works at that time the greatest steel works in the world and later to become Guest Keen and Nettlefolds or GKN - taken over in 2018 by Melrose.

Pearson was a highly respected surgeon - he is credited with introducing Lister’s antiseptic techniques into his work and with the first successful amputation of a leg at the hip and being the first FRCS (Edinburgh) in Wales. He was also very active in the Volunteer movement rising to Colonel Commandant of the 3rd Battalion the Welch Regiment for which he was appointed CB. Both his sons were surgeons the elder Frank ophthalmic and the younger Stuart joining Pearson in the Dowlais practice. Stuart went to France n 1915, we believe to train soldiers in gas protection. He was not in the Services. Frank’s son John became a doctor in general practice. Stuart’s sons were Pearson who followed him in the Dowlais practice and was with RAMC at the beginning of World War II; Robert who was in the South Wales Borderers and commanded them in Burma, retiring as Lt Colonel; Pat who farmed at Cilwych near Bwlch.

The 1,000 words ends here.

To download our tips for writing your family history in 1,000 words: click here and for even more help on getting started, order our July 2019 issue here.