The Gillett Spoons
I knew that my great grandmother was born Susan Gillett, that her father’s name was John, that she was orphaned early, so she was initially brought up by one of her grandmothers and then later by John Tompkins as his ward. Susan married John’s son Osborne Tompkins and Osborne’s sister, Rosa Ellen, married Thomas Turner De Fraine in a double wedding in 1890. Later, the daughter of Osborne and Susan, Kathleen Mary Tompkins, married the son of Thomas and Rosa, Thomas Leigh De Fraine. They are my maternal grandparents.
We had a partial family tree drawn up by John Manning, a grandson of John Tompkins from John’s second marriage, but it didn’t go into any detail about the Gilletts, so some detective work was needed to fill in some gaps.
I remember my grandmother showing me the picture of the double wedding and talking about brothers and sisters marrying and mentioning adoption when I was little, but of course I never really took it in. In fact I had a very confused mental picture of two brothers marrying two sisters after one lot of parents dying in a car crash!! Given the dates I now know, I don’t know where a car crash came into it. Stow-on-the-Wold was important somewhere in the story.
A Susan Gillett, aged 8, appears with John and Emma Gillett in 1871 in Maugersbury, Glos, listed as daughter. The 1881 census shows Susan living at the home of John Tompkins in Aveley, Essex and described as his ward – his wife’s name on this was Emma. We have a portrait photograph of John Tompkins wife – we knew that her name was Sarah Jane and that she was the mother of Osborne and Rosa, so Emma must have been his second wife.
The assumption from this would be that Emma was Susan’s mother. If you try to find Susan’s baptism on the FamilySearch website you would also assume from the Pedigree Resource File entry that her parents were John and Emma Gillett. Since I was fairly sure that Emma was not Susan’s real mother from what little I remembered from my grandmother, I had a strong feeling that this was wrong and it fact it proved to be so.
To be sure, I had to send off for her birth certificate. From the census entries, I knew Susan’s year of birth, and a trawl through the FreeBMD site gave me the birth reference. The birth certificate named her parents as John Gillett and Susanna Gillett formerly Gillett which of course matched the JSG on one set of spoons, but which set of Gillett parents had owned the other set? (I was intrigued by her also being a Gillett, but that is another story of sets of cousins marrying and has been just as difficult to disentangle.)
I knew that Susan had been orphaned which was why she was taken in by John Tompkins and luckily a very short trawl through what was then called the 1837online indexes, now findmypast, gave the reference for the death of Susanna, which when I had received the certificate gave me her age to work back from. I was very sad to see that Susan’s mother had died only 13 days after Susan’s birth on the 19th January, 1863 aged 25, of consumption which she had suffered from for some time.
I found a baptism for Susanna, as an extracted entry on the International Genealogical Index (IGI), in 1837, daughter of a George and Ann Gillett in Brize Norton. This was unfortunately too early in the first year of Civil Registration to be able to obtain her birth certificate but remembering about the GAG monogram on the second set of spoons made me think that I had found my great great grandparents. To be as sure as I could, I sent for the marriage certificate for John and Susanna and this confirmed that her father’s name was George Gillett, farmer of Brize Norton.
So how did Susan end up as the ward of John and Emma Tompkins? Susanna had died in January 1863 and John Gillett married Emma Godfree in May 1864. He died himself in December 1871 when Susan was aged 8. Sarah Jane Tompkins had died in January 1872 leaving John with 10 children to raise and in September 1873 John married Emma, who happened to be Sarah Jane’s younger sister (!), and took her step-daughter in to his household.
My grandmother died in 2003 (aged 105) and recently, my mother discovered that Granny had kept a spoon which had once belonged to Susan. It is a well worn baby’s feeding spoon and the engraving reads:-
“In memory of
died 19th Jany 1863
Aged 25 Yrs.”
Had I known earlier about the existence of this particular spoon the detective work would have been a whole lot easier!
Also, tucked away in Granny’s writing case, there was a newspaper cutting reporting on the double wedding, which listed the wedding gifts and named the donors. My mother and I once spent a fascinating afternoon matching up the rest of the cutlery collection, and other bits and pieces which had been passed down through the family, with the list of gifts!
Sorting out Susan’s parentage is a tangled story which needed the BMD certificates to sort out and made the point to me very early on in my research about how important it is to confirm your sources. Unfortunately, once uploaded, mistakes are impossible to correct, so the error in the Pedigree Resource File may well be perpetuated by other researchers. This was a case of just relying on census returns and is an understandable mistake to make. Without the picture of Sarah Jane and the spoons, I too might have assumed that Emma was my great great grandmother and left it that.
An Important Envelope
Another piece of paper which Granny had tucked away, was an empty black edged envelope. It had been in my grandmother’s writing case with other seemingly insignificant bits of paper, some of which had been her mother’s. Unfortunately the envelope was empty, but even so, any family historian would understand my excitement when I saw it.
The sender was obviously in mourning, hence the black border, but why? A comparison of the postmark and my tree showed that a great(x2) great-uncle, Joseph Gillett, had died in the first quarter of that year. His mother, Ann, was living in Bampton at the time.
What was particularly exciting, was that I hadn’t been 100% sure that I had found the correct Gillett relations for my great grandmother, Susan Gillett,as by this time she had been taken in by the family of her stepmother’s second husband, with whom she was living in 1881. The letter had been addressed to her at the address of her paternal aunt where she was presumably visiting her grandfather!
Since then, I have found the announcement of Joseph’s death in Jackson’s Oxford Journal. He died on the 13th February 1882, the letter was sent on 17th February. The collection of postmarks on the back also show the way the letter travelled – postmarked the 17th in Bampton, Oxfordshire, travelling via Brize Norton and Moreton on the Marsh on the 18th to arrive in Maugersbury, Stow on the Wold also on the 18th.
Even though it is ‘only’ an empty envelope it tells me several stories and, more than likely, I also have an example of my great great great grandmother’s handwriting.
This is a hard one. Should it be the picture of Sarah Jane Tompkins née Godfree, a maternal great x2 grandmother, which I see every day as it is hanging over my mantlepiece? She also appears at the top of every page of this website. Perhaps it could be the group one...
Researching our family history depends on careful research over time, but is often progressed by a large slice of luck! I have had two major ones - both when I was looking for something else, one for my paternal line and one on the maternal. Maternal lucky find My...
I have already got a post about my "hand-me-downs", so I have recycled that one this week. It traces the story of Suie Gillett, my maternal great grandmother and shows how easy it is to get things wrong when tracing your family history! The Gillett Spoons Since I...
Susan Gillett was the mother of Molly de Fraine née Tompkins.Both of Susan Gillett’s parents were Gilletts. Her father, John, was the son of Richard and Ann Gillett and her mother, Susanna, was the daughter of George Gillett and Ann Andrews. John and Susanna were...
George Gillett of Brize Norton married Ann Andrews, daughter of William Andrews, butcher, by licence, on 16th August 1836 in Bampton. Thomas Burrows officiated and the witnesses were George Andrews and Mary Smith. [George Gillett has a niece called Mary Smith...
I was contacted through an earlier version of my site by JG who has offered me his own collection of Gilletts to add to mine. He has been lucky enough to be close to the Gloucester Records Office and so has seen the original documents!! I am really pleased that...
William Andrews, butcher (and gentleman), was the maternal great grandfather of Susan Gillett, future wife of Edwin Osborne Tompkins. He was the son of Charles Andrews, of Eynsham, who was a collar maker, and Elizabeth Lawrence, who married in Stanton Harcourt...
The de Fraine, Tompkins and Gillett families often sent both their sons and daughters away from home for a few years of education, and I have several times spotted familiar surnames on lists of pupils, which when I have tracked them through other census returns and through birth registrations have turned out to be related to the name I was originally looking for.