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Ennever & Enever family history & ancestry. Click here to return to the home page WJ Ennever (1869-1947). From the portrait by J Seymour R.A., exhibited in the Royal Academy.

Close family links in a Victorian rural community (Norfolk)

Tilney All saints c1826  

In rural communities until the first half of the 19th century most people would travel only occasionally to other parishes and when they did it would usually be on foot, on horseback or by horse and cart.  Before the shift to a more urban economy families would often only move to find work and then relatively short distances would be the norm.  Closely knit extended families were a feature of rural communities with relatives living and working together in close proximity.

It is unsurprising with this rural backdrop that many village marriages will have taken place between a few tens of families and that marriages between first cousins was relatively common and, indeed, often considered more desirable than marriage to non-relatives1.  It was not until the end of the 19th century, when mobility had become more commonplace and public opinion had begun to change, that the levels of these marriages declined. 

The rate of first cousin marriages in the generation estimated to have married during the 1920s was just 0·32% while in the previous generation more than 1% of marriages were between first cousins2.  An earlier study by George Darwin, in 1875, found that 4.5% of aristocratic marriages were between first cousins, 3.5% among the gentry and upper-middle classes, 2.25% in the countryside and falling to just over 1% for all marriages in London.

Census data for Tilney All Saints (Major family is 5+ of same surname)
Year
Number of
people
Number of
major families
 
1841
441
41
 
1851
575
50
 
1861
480
46
 
1871
571
40
 

Queen Victoria's own happy marriage to her first cousin, Albert, may have been seen as promoting these marriages and many Victorian novels featured happy marriages between cousins (Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, Bleak House by Charles Dickens and other cousin relationships occur in books or verse by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Anthony Trollope and others).

In 1861 more than 50% of the residents of Tilney All Saints, near King's Lynn in Norfolk, where some of my ancestors were born and brought up, had been born in Tilney and 90% of them had been born in Norfolk, the vast majority within a 10 mile radius of Tilney.

England was full of villages in which generations of intermarriage had resulted in a community tied together by a complex network of blood relationships1.

Summary

The following diagram attempts to present some of the complex blood relationships that existed within the Tilney families who appear in my family history:

  1. Two Overton brothers (BTO & WEO) marrying two Failes sisters (SF & AF)
  2. Two Pollyn brothers (BJP & RRP) marrying two Overton sisters (AAO & ESO)
  3. Two sisters marrying their cousins (EAP & GHS and AEP & AO)
  4. Two Overton cousins (CO & MO) both marrying John Shepherd Miller
  5. Two Nicholls cousins marrying (BEN & HN)
  6. It also seems probable that two Failes brothers (WF2 & CF) married Coe sisters but this has not been proved
  7. Although not represented in the diagram below, it is now known that further blood ties existed in the Failes family. Watson Failes' (WF1) daughter, Elizabeth, married James Failes in London in 1834.  Their son, also Watson Failes, also marrying a Failes (Elizabeth Caroline, daughter of Christopher Failes CF2 & Caroline Coe).  While the relationship between James & Elizabeth is not yet known (they are thought to be cousins) it means that 3 of their children's 4 grandparents were Failes (these children can be found here).

Close family links in a Victorian rural community - Failes, Overton, Pollyn etc

Key
Name
Date of birth
Date of death
Key
Name
Date of birth
Date of death
AAO
1833
1875
JN
1835/6
Not known
AEP
1867
Not known
JSM
1833/4
Not known
AF
1811
1902
MAJ
1812/3
Not known
AH
1836/7
Not known
MJ
1838
1932
AO
1864
Not known
MO
1843
Not known
BEN
1914
RO
1872
1965
BJP
1843
1907
RRP
1840
Not known
BTO
1804
1878
SF
1807
1841
CF1
1780/1
1841
SO1
1806
1811
CF2
Christopher Failes (see note 7 above)
1821
1891
SO2
1847
Not known
CO
1829
1894
ST
c1779
1810
CO2
1838
1911
TP
c1811
Not known
EAP
1869
Not known
WEO
1802
Not known
EB
1873/4
Not known
WF1
Watson Failes (see note 7 above)
1773/4
1830
ESO
1841
Not known
WF2
1805
Not known
GHS
1876
Not known
WHN
1864
Not known
HN
1908
1993
WO
1781
Not known
JEN
1869
1956
WS
1849/50
Not known

Sources

1 Family ties in Victorian England by Claudia Nelson (recommended reading if this subject is of interest to you)
2 Cambridge University Press Copyright © 2001
3 UK census returns www.ancestry.co.uk (Subscription required)

If anyone has any further information on the subject of these families or family links in rural communities I would be delighted to hear from you.

Author:  Barry Ennever

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