Thursday, February 16, 2017

Wherefore art thou Shakespeare?

No living individual descends from William Shakespeare the Bard and Poet of the Elizabethan age. There are likely descendants of his sisters, and perhaps a theoretical brother. While I do not ever aspire to prove my lineage to someone of nobility, I do think it is a reasonable possibility that my Grandmother's Shakespeare ancestors were related to William Shakespeare through his grandfather or earlier ancestors.

So how can I say this? It starts with my Shakespeare family who reside in Henley in Arden and Wootton Wawen, both villages in Warwickshire just outside of Stratford on Avon. The same vicinity where the Bard and his family lived. There is a strong possibility that like William Shakespeare, my lines descend from the Wroxall Shakespeare family, but getting them there is going to be quite a feat.

Mary Shakespeare who was baptized in Henley in 1788 the daughter of Thomas Shakespeare and his wife Elizabeth was married in the parish of Wootton Wawen in 1817 to John Phillips. Like both of her parents, Mary signed her own name, but her husband did not. The marriage was witnessed by Elizabeth and William Barrett.

Of curious note is that records for this family are found in both the Wootton Wawen and the Beaudesert parish books. Fortunate for me at least partly, because of water damage to the Wootton Wawen books that makes much of it unreadable.

Mary's older brothers, John Shakespeare (1784) and Thomas Shakespeare (1786) were baptized in Henley (Beaudesert parish book), and younger sisters, Hannah (1800 in both) and Elizabeth (1803 in both). The same parish book in beginning in 1773 shows baptisms for a William Shakespeare and his Elizabeth (then Mary) and a John and his wife Eleanor.

The father of my Mary Shakespear was baptized in 1766 in Wootton Wawen, the illegitimate son of Sarah Shakespeare. It looks like Sarah also had a daughter Eleanor who was baptized in 1758 also in Wootton Wawen. I haven't found anything for John or William this early in the book, but a lot of it is not readable.

When Thomas Shakespeare marries, it looks like a John Shakeper (Shakespeare?) and a Mary Tidmount are witnesses. It is possible that the witness John is the same as the John who has children baptized in the parish, and he is likely a relative, most likely a cousin or an Uncle. It is also worthy of note that both Thomas and his wife Elizabeth Marrell sign their names. So not only did they educate their children, but they them selves were educated enough to sign their names. It is also important to note that a Thomas Shakespeare married to a Jane has a daughter Eliza in 1804, this is not the same as Thomas who was married to Elizabeth Marrell (Merrill).

Thomas Shakespeare who resided in Henley was buried in the Wootton Warren parish in 1819. His wife Elizabeth died in 1839. I found a record for the death of an Eleanor in 1799 in the Wootton Warren parish register, but it is impossible to say if this is Eleanor the wife of John or Eleanor the sister of Thomas.

Looking at the Wootton Wawen parish book, I found a burial in April 1713 for a John Shakespeare an apprentice boy. Thomas the son of William Shakespear was baptized in 1733. Edward Skinner and Margaret Shakespeare where married in 1738, then the baptism for Eleanor, some for William and John Shakespeare's children. Because it is so hard to read, there is without a doubt probably more listings than I can find.

So where does John, Sarah and William come from. They would all be born prior to 1745, and there is one family (which seems a bit of a stretch) that could fit. The family of Mordecai Shakespeare who has several children baptized in Aston Juxta parish, but that is in Birmingham proper, and really quite far from the area where my Shakespeare family lives. I am not going to rule it out, and like so many of the Shakespeares, the use of family names of Thomas and John seem prevalent in both lines.

If I want to get my Shakespeare family back far enough to tell if they are indeed from the Wroxall family bunch, it would mean finding a father for Sarah, and then his father and grandfather, because I really need to go back at least another 60 years. I like to think I can get that far some day. There is a lovely research site on the web, but it's not been updated in a while and the web masters email is invalid. So asking questions seems a bit hard at this point.

It is always a challenge to research my British ancestry, especially when there is so much I do not know about the area and the time period. Parish records are available in most cases, but the areas change over time.

As for DNA, well, my great Aunt (who is a great great granddaughter of Mary Shakespeare) is matching some of the Dudley and Leicester Shakespeares but not many. And we do have another Phillips we have matched that may have some as well. According to the website both families are connected to the Wroxall family group.

1 comment:

  1. I love it!! If anyone can dot the i's and cross the t's it will be you. Shakespeare is not the kind of name that is likely to be unrelated so I bet that you are related to him also. I Loved reading this and hope that you are able to unequivocally make this connection one day. The way you write, it is a given.. lol.