Searching for the Wife of Josiah Bell of Mereworth, Kent, England

In my preparation for my recent trip to Kent I reviewed all my research, and assessed my ‘gaps’ and missing information for my ‘Bell’ ancestral line.

Last blog I wrote about my ancestor Josias Bell and the difficulty of trying to find his marriage to Mary Kennard about 1637.

When reviewing my research, I also found I have been unable to find the marriage, of the above mentioned Josias Bell’s grandson, Josiah Bell, who married Elizabeth (Unknown) about 1717. They had a large family, all of whom were baptised at St Lawrence, Mereworth.(Below)

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Over the years I have tried to resolve this problem from many resources including books, microfiche, CD’s, on-line and private databases, but I have not been able to find a marriage of Josiah Bell to an Elizabeth, or to anyone else about 1717.

Was it a case of lost or destroyed records, as I believe may be the case in a former generation?

To test this theory, I made a list of all the surrounding parishes, and carefully searched the parish registers to expose any gaps in their records. There are a few gaps where records appear to have been lost, but they do not occur in the early 18th Century time frame.

Another possible scenario is that the marriage did not take place. The usual reason is that one or both of the parties were already married, and without the privilege of divorce, then people lived as man and wife without the lawful marriage certificate. Some ‘separated’ couples took their chances of not being found out, and contracted ‘bigamous’ marriages in some far away parish. However, they would not be willing to risk it near their home parish, where the parties would be well known.

In the Bell Family Newsletter No 44 (July 2002) I wrote an article concerning the will of Edmund Crowhurst of Meopham in which he mentions’ his niece, Elizabeth, who was the wife of Josiah Bell, of Mereworth‘. This led me to investigate the marriages of ‘Elizabeth Crowhurst’s’ throughout Kent and near by counties, between 1710 and 1720. There were very few, but one that was of particular interest was ‘Elizabeth Crowhurst of Great Peckham (East Peckham) married at East Farleigh on 18 December 1716 to Thomas Sherbrooke of Offham.

On the 3 March 1716/7, Thomas and Elizabeth Sherbrooke had a son baptised at St Michael’s, East Peckham, whom they named Thomas.

There were no further entries for this family in East Peckham or any other likely parish near by.

On the 4 May 1718, Josiah and Elizabeth Bell had a daughter baptised at St Lawrence, Mereworth, whom they named Mary. They had a further eight children, all of whom were baptised at Mereworth, before Josiah Bell died and was buried there in 1757.

Josiah Bell, was the son of Nicholas and Susannah Bell (nee Hubble) and was born at Mereworth in 1692. Nicholas and Susannah Bell were formerly of East Peckham and still had family there.

Josiah Bell and Elizabeth, his wife would have been well known in the area, so they would not have tried to contract a bigamous marriage.

The Sherbrooke name was also known. Thomas is believed to have been the son of John and Margaret Sherbrooke baptised at East Peckham on 27 February 1696/97. He may have been employed at Offham, when he married Elizabeth Crowhurst at East Farleigh in 1716.

The family do not turn up in the parish Overseer’s Accounts, Vestry Minutes or Settlement records in the Medway area. I have not been able to find any further information on Thomas Sherbrooke,including his death, and believe he may have left the area.

If this is indeed what happened, it would explain why I cannot find a marriage for my ancestor, Josiah Bell to Elizabeth ‘Crowhurst’.

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