Friday, May 3, 2019

London Calling For My Cornwall Ancestors

Work brought me to London, so I added a few personal days to revel in one of my favorite cities.

Oh, and of course, delve into some family history!

London calling in search of my British ancestors

My English Roots

It was just last summer that I discovered the origins of my most recent British ancestry.

My third great-grandfather Thomas K. Stevens (spelling on his headstone in Colorado) was baptized on November 21, 1845 as Thomas Stephens in the small town of Breage in Cornwall, England (See A Felled Genealogy Brick Wall Paves the Way to Cornwall).

Thomas - who was killed in a Colorado mining accident on November 22, 1886 - was the son of Henry and Sarah (Kitto) Stephens. But who were their parents? Henry and Sarah's marriage record gave me names.

Henry was the son of another Henry and Elizabeth Stephens. Sarah was the daughter of John and Mary Kitto.

Could I learn more about my fifth great-grandparents?

RootsTech Research Pointers

Earlier this year, I attended a RootsTech presentation that featured Else Churchill, a genealogist with the Society of Genealogists in London. Since discovering Thomas Stephens' ancestral home village, I haven't spent much time researching the Stephens family line. This session equipped me with a lot of ideas on what to do when I returned to the investigation.

Else Churchell speaking at podium, RootsTech 2019

Finding myself on the other side of the pond, I decided I'd pay a visit to the Society of Genealogists in London and see what I could turn up on my recently-discovered English ancestors.

A Two Hour Search Yields New Clues

I checked in with the front desk and paid a nominal fee, affording me two hours of research time. After locking my bag in a locker, I found myself descending into the "lower library."

The clock was now ticking! Would I learn anything new?

Family Sleuther outside the Society of Genealogists in London.

I settled in front of a computer and began using the library's access to a handful of online databases, including Finding My Past (which I don't presently subscribe to) and the Cornwall Online Parish Clerks' database, which I have snooped in a bit.

With dedicated time focused on the Stephens, I found that the name was very popular. Not only the surname, but also the forename of my fourth and fifth great-grandfathers Henry. I took notes on all the Henry Stephens for further scrutiny at a later date when I wasn't under the pressure of the counting clock.

I soon landed on an exciting find: England's 1841 census for the town of Breage in Cornwall.

Enumerated were the households for Henry Stephens and John Kitto, my fifth great-grandfathers. In those respective households were Henry Stephens Jr and Sarah Kitto, my fourth great-grandparents.

Perhaps most exciting was the discovery that both heads of household were also miners. Their occupations were given as "copper miner." Apparently, Thomas K. Stevens carried on a tradition after immigrating to the United States as he continued in his grandfather's professional footsteps.

1841 England Census for Breage, Cornwall

The census also provided me approximate ages for my fifth great-grandfathers - information that will help guide my continued research at home. John Kitto, aged 45, was born in about 1796. Henry Stephens, aged 40, was born in about 1801. The record also confirmed both men and their households were born in the county. 

I now had time frames and geography to guide future research.

Alas, as I found this record my research time was drawing to a close. Ages and occupations: not bad for a couple hours in London.

My next visit to England will have to include a trip to Cornwall, where I can walk the footsteps of my ancestors at Land's End.


  1. Kudos of your finds, Michael. Truly not bad for a couple of hours research in a new location.

    1. That's what I thought. And nice to scope out another genealogy resource overseas.

  2. We are heading to Cornwall in two and half weeks! I don't think we will be anywhere near Breage (I googled it), but if I am, I will wave to your ancestors. (I have no ancestors from that region, but will be spending a few days in London to see where my 3x-great-grandfather Hart Levy Cohen lived in the early 1800s.)

    1. Amy, this sounds like a fantastic adventure! I'm looking forward to reading your blogs detailing the journey. Enjoy!

  3. Oh Michael - What a Joy! I just can't wait to go to London. I'm waiting to see how Rootstech stacks up and gets the kinks out on their 1st time. I know you had a awesome time. So dreamy. I have a friend Fran Kitto the UK, I wonder if she would know more of your Kitto Surname? Have you met her yet? She is usually part of the Ambassadors Contingency from UK. I met her 4 years ago and we have kept in touch. I know this is a genealogy piece but would love to hear your personal excursions. So glad you got to do this. Your bringing your Travels right to us! Hoping my Living DNA tells me more about my English Roots. xoox's, True-

    1. I love London. It’s one of my favorite cities. My first trip outside the United States was to London (20 years ago next month!). I’m definitely an Anglophile and love British history, drama, literature, architecture... You name it!

      I had never heard of Kitto as a surname until I landed on this family line. I wonder if Fran traces her ancestry to Cornwall. Or maybe the name is more common across England?