Searching for a Stourton connection…

Today’s post is one I have been planning for a little while now, but have only now got around to writing. A few weeks ago, I mentioned an online resource in one of my posts relating to the coronavirus pandemic. This resource was the History of Parliament Online. Today I will be going into more detail about the site and how it has helped me in my own research for an elusive link to a Medieval Somerset family.

Searching for a Stourton Connection_Shersca Genealogy_Stourton Church
Stourton Church, Wiltshire: The resting place of members of the Stourton family.

Most of my ancestors, in whatever county, seem to have been fairly ordinary. Where occupations are recorded, they were generally agricultural labourers. If you think about how rural Somerset and the other South-Western counties are in comparison to others, then that kind of makes sense. The further back in time you travel, the number of people that are recorded, gets smaller. As you travel before the introduction of parish baptisms, marriages and burials in 1538 (at the earliest), the percentage of the population being record becomes more limited. Generally speaking, you will only find those who held land of some sort. Manorial records may give details of people lower down the social ladder- more on those another time.

History of Parliament Online

There are many resources which can tell you more about your ‘landed’ ancestors, but one that I found particularly interesting recently was History of Parliament Online. I mentioned in my previous post that it includes biographical details about Members of Parliament, but it does much more than that. It is an online extension of a research project called The History of Parliament. It is funded largely by the Houses of Parliament and employs a team of historians to research the history of parliamentary politics in England and later, Britain.

Some volumes have already been published and the first one covers the years 1386-1421. The project is not yet complete and there is still more research to be done for much of 15th, 17th and 19th centuries. You can find more detail about the project and the years already covered in the ‘About’ section of the website. The good thing is that the years already in print can be found on the website. The website is easy enough to search for a particular person, constituency or parliament and each article is fully referenced. This is of course, very important to us genealogists, as well as to historians. It means that the articles on the website have a higher degree of credibility and you can then go and look at the documents used yourself.

Useful biographies

So how has History of Parliament Online helped me? Well, I have been tracing back a line which originated with the Symons family (my Somerset brickyard managers). Travelling further back took them through a mixture of male and female lines (Saunders, then Siddenham/Sydenham) to Stourton. I am still trying to confirm the connection (if there is one) between the Sydenhams of Lydeard St. Lawrence (Somerset) and the Stourton family who were land holders in the county and played a part in county and country politics too.

In my quest to find out more information about the Stourtons (in the hope it would lead me to a link), I came upon some biographies about some of the male members of the family on History of Parliament Online. They were all from the earliest group of records (1386-1421). There may well be more to find in the future as the rest of the 15th century is still being researched.

John Stourton of Preston Plucknett

Searching for a Stourton Connection_Shersca Genealogy_Preston Plucknett
What used to be the site of Preston Plucknett Manor- a familiar place to John Stourton.

The first Stourton found was John Stourton of Preston Plucknett, who died in 1438.1 His entry on History of Parliament Online first gives the constituency he served as a Member of Parliament and the dates: Somerset, between 1419-1421, 1423, 1426, 1429 and 1435. It then gives an account of his family and education, the offices he held and then a detailed biography, followed by notes and references. The most important details for my family history are firstly the relationship details. The article tells me that he was the younger son of John Stourton of Stourton in Wiltshire and his mother was Alice, his father’s second wife. It also tells me that he was the half brother of William Stourton (the subject of another of the articles found). The names of John’s three wives are recorded and where known, their parentage, vital dates and possible marriage dates.

John’s biography section gives a lot more detail about his life. It seems he was a lawyer, working mostly with his half-brother William. Details are recorded about his work for Royal Commissions and the family’s relationship to the church. The wonderful thing about the article, is that it does not just talk about John, but his siblings, the marriages of his daughters and the subsequent marriages of his wife after John’s death. This helps to connect female ancestral lines, which are more difficult to research the further back in time that you go; male ancestors appeared in records a great deal more.

The details that can be filled in about John’s life are brilliant for any genealogist and give a sense of the man that you might not get for other ancestors of the same period. An entry like this is only as good as the sources available though. If a landed ancestor did not do anything of note, then they may not have been recorded in the same variety of records as John Stourton. Sometimes, an ancestor is only as important as the status of their family. As John’s biography notes, it seems that the Stourton family were held in some regard already by the time that John came along. I have come across various articles and histories about the family.

Is it worth it?

For the biographies of William Stourton (John’s brother)2 and his son (also named John),3 the level of detail is similar. Familial relationships are given, details of occupations, land and contents of wills can also be seen. It makes the website well worth looking at if you have a landed ancestor. If there is a possibility that he (and in this time-period, men are certainly more likely) was an MP, then he might appear on the website. Even if you don’t know whether he was an MP or not, I think it is still worth checking History of Parliament online. It is a very small undertaking for a potentially large reward.

Unfortunately for me, I am still searching and trying to verify my connection to the Stourton family. My problem area lies just outside of the years available on History of Parliament Online. Time to look at other records and resources!


  1. Roskell, J. S., Clark, L. and Rawcliffe, C., eds. (1993) ‘STOURTON, John I (d.1438), of Preston Plucknett, Som.’ in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421. Martlesham: Boydell and Brewer. : accessed 10 June 2019.
  2. Roskell, J. S. and Kightly, Charles. (1993) ‘STOURTON, William (d.1413), of Stourton, Wilts.’ in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421. Martlesham: Boydell and Brewer. : accessed 10 June 2019.
  3. Richmond and Woodger, L. S. (1993) ‘STOURTON, John II (1400-1462), of Stourton, Wilts.’ in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421. Martlesham: Boydell and Brewer. : accessed 10 June 2019.


Copyright © 2020 Shersca Genealogy


Their surname was what?!

Have you ever come across a surname in the course of your family history research which made you look twice? The kind of surname that belongs in a comedy sketch? Many people throughout history have changed their names. Perhaps because their name isn’t interesting enough, perhaps because their work wouldn’t be considered if they used their real name. Reg Dwight, the Brontë sisters and even J.K. Rowling are all examples. But, sometimes names are changed accidentally. Maybe a person’s handwriting was not very clear, or maybe modern sensibilities and experiences correct the name instead. Well, I have found seven generations of one particular surname in my family that has fallen victim to just such an unwitting change.

An ‘interesting’ name

As I have written before, many of my ancestors come from Somerset in England (see my other blog post on the subject). I have ancestors in the county on both my maternal and paternal side. A little while ago, I inherited some research from a relative for some Somerset ancestors on my maternal side. It has taken a little while to sort through it all, but recently I have been looking further at the Toogood family. They came from the Burnham, Huntspill and Wedmore area of Somerset (not far from Bridgwater). There were some notable members of the family from the Victorian period, namely local brickwork owners and managers. Their story would need a whole other post!

But this story begins in Wedmore with the marriage of James Toogood and Elizabeth Cock on 05 April 1785. Can you see where I’m going with this? The name Elizabeth Cock is not exactly one that is commonly talked about. It sounds more like something out of a Two Ronnies sketch! But Elizabeth Cock was her name and she did marry James Toogood. They went on to have at least nine children, including my 4 x great-grandfather, George Toogood (abt. 1787, Huntspill-1846, Wedmore).

Elizabeth was the daughter of James Cock (b. abt. 1716, Wedmore) and Joan Fisher (abt. 1735, Wedmore-abt. 1775, Wedmore). She had 6 siblings: Mary, Jane, James, Mary, Josias and Elizabeth. Out of those siblings, only James survived into adulthood. He would make another interesting project one day, to see whether his line has survived into modern times.

Their surname was what_Shersca Genealogy_Cock family tree
Pedigree tree for Elizabeth Cock (1764-1824).

Elizabeth’s ancestors

Working backwards then from James Cock senior (all events were from Wedmore), his parents were John Cock (abt. 1657-abt. 1730) and Mary Pethoram (abt. 1679-abt. 1745), John’s parents were John Cock (abt. 1631-abt. 1710) and Mary Bushe, the next generation was John Cock (b. abt. 1601) and possibly Anna Poole, this John’s parents were Nicholas Cock (b. abt. 1562) and Alice (no surname was recorded for her upon her marriage to Nicholas in 1598) and finally, Nicholas’ father was John Cock. He may have been born in around 1530 and possibly died in 1574, in Wedmore.

Now, you may think that the name ‘Cock’ would be fairly straightforward to find in the records I used. You would be mistaken. Most of the entries regarding the Cock family outlined above, were not found as ‘Cock.’ They were in fact, found under the name ‘Cook’ instead. Some I did find under ‘Cocke,’ but most were found under ‘Cook.’ The question is why? Was this surname a victim of modern sensibilities or was it simply a case of difficult handwriting?

What does it mean?

Let’s begin with the meaning of the surname ‘Cock.’ According to the Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames,1 the surname ‘Cock’ did not mean what some modern people would think it means. Quoting from the dictionary, ‘Cock’ came from ‘the pertness or swagger of the bearer.’ Essentially, someone who we would now call ‘cocky.’ Some of the early examples of the name given also come from Somerset (although the spellings do differ slightly- ‘Cok’). This would be an example of the surname developing from a person’s personal character, as opposed to other surnames which can be locational, occupational, patronymic, matronymic or a person’s physical characteristics.2 The other meaning of ‘Cock’ in this dictionary, comes from a local name- here called a ‘sign-name’ with the example of ‘at the Cock.’ So, neither possibility for the origin of the name has anything to do with the slang that we are familiar with.

How was it written?

What about the handwriting used to write the name? Could this have been the reason for the transcription error? The further back in time you travel, the more you notice the changes to people’s handwriting. Although each individual has their own unique hand, various time periods develop styles that are wide-spread and can be recognised. There would not be space to go into the complexities of different hands here, but generally after 1500 Secretary hand was common, until that gave way to Italic hand around the 18th century onwards. This is close to the way we form letters today.3

Their surname was what_Shersca Genealogy_Handwriting example
This handwriting example from one of my Toogood ancestors illustrates the problem- not the easiest to read!

The problem for the name ‘Cock,’ is that the letter ‘c’ is often mistaken for an ‘o.’ That is when you get ‘Cook’ instead. The other name I have come across is ‘Cork’ instead of ‘Cock,’ especially in some of the earlier records. This is because the ‘c’ in these cases looks a lot like the letter ‘r.’ If a person transcribing a record is not so familiar with these idiosyncrasies, then you get transcription errors. Spotting the differences in handwriting does take practice though and it is always helpful to have some good reference samples on hand.

And finally…

Obviously, I still have a lot of work left to do on the Cock family. Many of the couples were married by licence, which may give an indication of their wealth. Or, it may be that it was a particularly common occurrence in the area. In any case, they seem like an interesting family to research further. I have my own ideas, but I’ll let you make up your own mind as to the reason why the surname was changed. Was it simply mis-transcribed, or was it deemed too impolite, even if this was unwitting?

The point here though, is that when we come across a name in a record, we should always keep an open mind! It may not be quite what you think.


  1. Bardsley, Charles Wareing. (1901) ‘Cock.’ In: A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames with Special American Instances. New York: Oxford University Press Warehouse. p. 189. : accessed 23 April 2020.
  2. Ibid., pp. 1-36.
  3. Marshall, Hilary. (2010) Palaeography for Family and Local Historians. [unknown place]: Phillimore & Co. Ltd. p. 23.

Copyright © 2020 Shersca Genealogy

Not your average heirloom…

With all the time spent at home recently, I have finally got around to a few things on my family history to-do list. I may have mentioned before that my great-aunt left me some of her genealogy research and I am finally getting to grips with sorting through that. She was researching for years before I was even born, so you can imagine the amount of information she collected! This has prompted a bit of a re-organisation of my own research and bits and pieces I have collected over the years.

In amongst all of the paper, notes and documents, are a few more unusual heirlooms. Genealogists and family historians are used to dealing with photographs, certificates, birthday books and the like. But what about the other, less run of the mill objects? How do you preserve those and what exactly do you do with them? Let me explain what I mean.

A Tapestry…

Not your average heirloom_Shersca Genealogy_Tapestry_Joseph presenting his Father to Pharaoh
My family tapestry: Joseph presenting his Father to Pharaoh.

In one of my recent posts, I spoke about an Australian relative who made contact with me. I discovered that she had a tapestry in her family that had been passed down through the generations to her. This was quite a discovery, because there is also a tapestry in my family that had been passed down through my maternal grandfather and his mother’s family. After some digging around, I found that the subject of our tapestry is ‘Joseph presenting his father to Pharaoh.’ A further discovery was the will of the ancestor who made the tapestries. I found this in the research that my great-aunt did, all those years ago.

This will was made by Mary Ann Peirce (neé Symons), who died on 04 April 1915, in Bridgwater, Somerset (England). She was the daughter of William Symons of the brick makers, Colthurst and Symons. Her husband William Elstone Peirce was the brickyard manager for the company’s yard in Burnham on Sea. Mary’s will contains some details regarding money and property, but the most interesting thing is the part that sets out the process for dividing her ‘needlework pictures.’ So technically, what I have inherited is not a tapestry in the classical sense of the word as it was not made using a loom. We have always just called it a tapestry.

…or seven!

It turns out that not only did Mary produce my family ‘tapestry’ and the one in the family of my Australian relative, but she produced seven pictures altogether! She left one to each of her children. The will names them as follows: ‘Weighing the Deer,’ ‘Boaz and Ruth,’ ‘Robert Burns and the Highland Girl,’ ‘Leah and Rachel,’ ‘Pilate washing his hands,’ ‘Joseph being sold to the Ishaelmites [Ishmaelites],’ and ‘Joseph presenting his Father to Pharaoh.’ I cannot say what the dimensions for all of these pictures are, but they are described as being ‘large.’ The amount of work that went into them must have been staggering. There is a family legend in my branch of the family, that says that Mary was helped by one or more of her daughters. We may never know whether that was true, or whether Mary made them all herself. Whatever happened, I count myself incredibly lucky to have an heirloom like that in the family.

Now, as the will says, these pictures are certainly not small! I remember ours hanging in my grandparent’s lounge when I was younger. It was almost floor to ceiling and took up a quarter of one wall. So what do you do with something like that? Currently, it’s with my aunt as hers is the only house which has the space. I’m not entirely sure that she is joking when she says that she is putting it in her will that either me or one of my two cousins must have it.

Textile preservation

Another consideration is how to keep my heirloom in good condition. I’m no conservationist, but sitting it in full sunlight would be no good at all. Then there is humidity, damp and the danger of it being set upon by creatures. The National Archives (NARA) in Washington, D.C., has an interesting post on their website about the maintenance of antique textiles. It was written a few years ago now, but does advise on the major issues for textiles: light, temperature, humidity, insects. There is also some advice on handling, storage, displaying and cleaning.

My family ‘tapestry’ is in the best place we can find, somewhere cool, not damp and relatively dark. In the future, we may have to think about how to store it if there is no wall to put it on. I think I will take the article’s advice though, and not clean the piece of work. Right now it is not strictly necessary and it might do more harm than good (unless in the hands of a professional).

And some other things…

The Lily

Not your average heirloom_Shersca Genealogy_Plant, Lily
The Lily that came from a cutting of a plant in my ancestor’s home, at Burnham on Sea.

So what else have I found hiding in the items I have collected? There are a few more heirlooms that come from Mary Ann Peirce’s branch of the family. I mentioned that her husband was the manager of the Colthurst and Symons brickyard in Burnham on Sea. Mary’s family lived in what was likely the brickyard manager’s house for at least 100 years. A cousin of my mum’s remembers visiting the house when she was a child and the house is still standing now. This same cousin gave my mum a cutting of a lily a few years ago. It turns out that this lily came from a cutting taken from a lily that used to grow in the house at Burnham on Sea. Not a conventional heirloom, but what is essentially the same plant now grows in my mum’s garden.

The Tile

Not your average heirloom_Shersca Genealogy_Colthurst & Symons roof tile
Colthurst & Symons roof tile which was generously given to me by the speaker of a talk about the same subject.

Talking of brick and tile making, I went to a talk hosted by the North Sedgemoor Local History Group a few years ago. At the time, I was doing a bit of research into the family’s house in Burnham on Sea and the group presented a complete talk about brick and tile making in the area. The talk was incredibly interesting and gave me a lot of background on the industry. There were even some former employees present. I happened to mention to the speaker that I was a descendant of the Symons family and he presented me with a roof tile that had been made by the company. Whilst not strictly speaking a family heirloom, that roof tile was made by the company that had been owned by my ancestors.

The Veil

Not your average heirloom_Shersca Genealogy_Wedding veil
My paternal grandmother’s veil, from her double wedding in 1960.

There is one other more unusual family heirloom that I have inherited. This one comes from the paternal side of my family. My dad never knew a great deal about his heritage, beyond his own grandparents or people within living memory. My family history journey has become his journey too. So it is wonderful to have an heirloom from his family, although it is not one that he would wear! I say this because the heirloom in question is his mother’s veil from her wedding. My grandmother had a joint wedding with her sister in 1960, of which I have a few photos. The veil itself is obviously quite delicate, so I don’t think I would ever be wearing it, but it is a lovely thing to have. At least I can follow similar guidance for storing it as with the tapestry.

Some of these heirlooms I had completely forgotten about until I was really thinking about what I had inherited from my ancestors. Sometimes they just become part of the furniture and you forget that they have a story to tell too.

So what unusual heirlooms do you have hiding at home?

Copyright © 2020 Shersca Genealogy