My maternal Great- Great- Grandfather, George Bell, arrived in Sydney in 1837, as a sailor on the convict ship, ‘Asia’.
He was the fourth son, and eighth child, of Thomas and Mary Bell (nee Battlemore), and had been born at East Farleigh, Kent, England in 1817.
I’m in the process of finding out as much information as I can, not only for my ancestor, George Bell, but also his eleven siblings. I have been preparing ‘time-lines’ for each one, from which I write a biography, or life story.
Despite gaps in surviving parish records I have been able to locate most of the baptisms, and in some cases burials, of members of this family in various church registers throughout Kent, England.
However, if we are to write a ‘family history’, baptism and burial records are not enough to build up a picture of a person. We need to gather as much information as we can from a number of sources.
In England, prior to the establishment of the Poor Law Unions in 1834, the parish was responsible for its poor.
‘The Parish Chest’, which is a large wooden chest, can still be found in most parish churches all over England. This purpose built chest originally housed not only the registers of baptisms, marriages and burials of the parish, but many other records, which although not created for family history research purposes, are useful resources for such, just the same. These include apprenticeship indentures, settlement certificates, bastardy papers, militia lists, overseers minute books and accounts , and churchwardens account books. Not all these have survived for every parish, but I found some of those for East Farleigh had survived from 1800 to 1830, and this was the time period I was interested in. One set of records I had found useful in research in other parishes I have researched, was the Overseers Account Books, so I concentrated on those records to start with. These had been deposited with the Kent County Archives (now the Kent History and Library Centre)and had been filmed by the Church of Latter Day Saints Genealogical Department. They were available on microfilm through their Family History Centres and I was able to order the film and view it at the Grafton centre.
These records were in two lists. The first list was for those who paid the parish poor rate. This ‘tax’ was collected by the church overseers, from the more affluent members of the parish, for distribution to those in need of assistance. There were no Bell family members listed as paying this ‘poor rate’ at any time between 1800 and 1830 in East Farleigh.This meant as agricultural labourers they did not earn enough money to pay this tax.
However, I was more interested in finding if they were recipients of parish welfare. There were two instances found for this period. I found my ancestors had applied for parish assistance for a short period in 1816. This meant that despite difficult times, for most of the time, Thomas Bell was able to earn enough money to support his large family. Remember to receive parish relief you had to be born in the parish, if not, and you fell on hard times, you were sent back to your parish of birth. If you were allowed to remain in the parish, the parish overseers ‘billed’ your parish of birth, which left a paper trail.
The entries in the Overseers of the Poor Account Book distribution list was as follows:-
30 April 1816 – gave young Bell – 3/-
5 May 1816 – gave Mary Bell – 3/-
14 May 1816 – gave Mary Bell – 5/-
22 May 1816 – gave Mary Bell – 4/-
29 May 1816 – gave May Bell – 4/-
5 June 1816 – gave Mary Bell – 4/6
11 June 1816 – gave Mary Bell – 3/6
20 June 1916 – gave Mary Bell – 3/6
20 October 1816 – paid for relieving Bell’s daughter- 4/-
The Napoleonic Wars finished in June 1815, with the Battle of Waterloo, and many thousands of soldiers returned home to try and find work, both in the cities and on the land. That summer was a very poor season, followed by a servere winter and again followed by a poor harvest.
Scattered throughout these records was assistance given to the widows and wives of ‘Militia men’, but no Bell entries were recorded.
In April 1816, Mary Bell, the wife of Thomas Bell, had a daughter, who was baptised on 16 April, at St Mary’s East Farleigh, and given the name ‘Elizabeth Ann’ . I believe she was perhaps a sickly child and the above entries most probably had to do with her care. Whether it was to have a doctor or nurse visit, or to do with her ‘wet nursing’ we do not know, but as she had been born in the parish, she was entitled to make claim on the parish funds if her parents did not have the money for her care. She died and was buried on 7 October 1816. The above entry on 20 October was perhaps for her final ‘medical expenses’ and burial.
There is only one other entry in the parish poor list for our Bell family. That was in 1827 when Thomas Bell applied for assistance to bury his wife, Mary.
Although ‘Elizabeth Ann Bell’ the daughter of Thomas and Mary Bell only lived a few months, these entries in the Overseers Account Book help to give a glimpse of this little girl’s struggle for survival. As there were no entries between the end of June and early October, her parents may have had some hope that she was going to gradually get stronger . However, she lost the battle at about seven months of age and was buried in St Mary’s Churchyard.
In fact, eight of the twelve children of Thomas and Mary Bell, are known to have been buried in St Mary’s churchyard. The family or parish, may have erected markers at the time, perhaps in wood, but they have disappeared in the last two hundred years, so their graves are now unmarked and unknown.
This does not mean they are forgotten . I always try to find more than birth/ baptism and death/ burial dates for everyone in my family history. .