A relatively grave situation

When I took this picture, I didn’t realise this was the back of the grave, because the others I saw in the same graveyard had nothing but initials on them.
The mystery of the anonymous initials in Crayke church yard is revealed, thanks to reader John Severs revealing that it is the grave belonging to his great-great-great grandfather Henry Sivers and his family.
Reader John Severs’ great grandfather Henry Severs, who was descended from a Henry Sivers, whose grave is in Crayke church yard.

This week another reader has been in touch regarding the gravestones in Crayke church yard. If you recall, there are a number of headstones that are adorned with simple initials and nothing else that gives any information about the individuals buried beneath them, and I wondered why that may be. As yet, I have not had a definitive answer to that particular question.

However, we do have the answer to one mystery thanks to John Severs from Middlesborough. He got in touch via my web page to say that he recognised one of the gravestones in the pictures and is in fact a descendant of those it commemorates.

The headstone in question was a more elaborate one than the others and had the initials ‘H.S.’, ‘F.S.’, ‘A.S.’ and ‘A.S.’ carved onto it below the following inscription: ‘The redeemed of the Lord shall return.’

I noticed it from the footpath on the way out of the church yard and took a picture. John recognised it as the grave of his great-great-great grandfather Henry Sivers, his wife Francesca, and their daughters Ann and Arabella. Because they were on the same headstone, I did fear that they may all have perished at the same time, perhaps in a tragic accident.

John helpfully sent me a picture which, to my surprise, showed that there was in fact a full inscription on the other side of the gravestone which revealed that there was no particular tragedy but that they had all died at different times. When I had taken my picture, it hadn’t occurred to me that there may be more information hidden from my view because I thought I was looking at the front of the headstone, and all the others I had seen that day had been blank apart from the initials.

The first to perish was mother, Francesca Sivers, who died in 1845, aged 67, followed by daughter Arabella, who died in 1862, aged 50. Henry passed away in 1866 at the age of 87, while Ann died in 1892, aged 73. It appears that the two daughters had not married and although John has been doing some research into his family’s history, as yet he has not found any more information about Ann and Arabella.

John is connected to Crayke through the Severs side of the family from the 18th and 19th centuries. He enlightened me with a few of his discoveries which I found interesting. First of all the family name was spelled several different ways, including Sivers, Seavers, Seiver and Scivers. The earliest record of his family in Crayke was a marriage in 1771 between Richard Sivers, a yeoman, and Ann Dunning, which was recorded in the local church registers.

It was Richard’s son, Henry, who lay in the churchyard with his wife and two daughters. Henry was born in 1779 and became a cordwainer, another word for a shoemaker. He had a son, Richard, in 1809, who also became a cordwainer and, later in life, the village postmaster. Richard had seven children, two of whom became joiners and builders, and one of whom was John’s great grandfather, another Henry, born in 1841.

At some point this Henry moved up to Teeside, as records show some of his children being born there. He bought plots of land across Middlesbrough and made money by building houses on them. There was even a Severs Street attributed to him, but John tells me that it disappeared in the 1980s. Henry died in 1931, aged 90, and was buried in Linthorpe Cemetery in Middlesborough. According to John, there is another Sivers’ grave at Crayke, that of a Richard, so he plans to go and check it out to work out if that is another relative.

What I would like to know is when was the spelling of the name changed from Sivers to Severs? And why? By the time we get to John’s great grandfather (the Henry who moved to Middlesbrough), he is a Severs, despite the family name still being Sivers only a few generations earlier.

I’d be grateful if anyone can shed light on why someone might change their surname, albeit only slightly. I can understand how that happened in days before anyone really wrote much down, but this change seems comparatively recent.

And has anyone else reading this got an interesting story they have discovered about their own ancestors? I’d love to hear it!

Contact me, and read more, at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug


This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 16th  July and the Gazette & Herald on 14th July 2021

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