Deceivers spell it out

The graveyard of St Cuthbert’s Church, Crayke, where many of the Severs’ family ancestors lie

My columns about the graves at St Cuthbert’s Church in Crayke continue to bear fruit. If you remember, John Severs from Middlesborough solved the mystery of a set of initials on one of the headstones I mentioned. This week I was contacted by David Severs from Northallerton, who shares a common ancestry with John through the shoemaking Severs and Sivers of Crayke. John’s ancestors moved to Teesside while David’s settled in and around Settrington, near Malton.

David wrote: “John told you about the earliest record of his Severs ancestors at Crayke, the marriage of Richard Siver [sic] to Ann Dunning in 1771. The first Severs entry in the registers is actually even earlier: ‘Thomas, a Bastard-child of Jane Leckonby (charg’d by her on Thomas Siver) was Baptised on ye 28th day of January 1700’. The very next entry reads ‘Thomas Siver & Jane Leckonby were Marryed on ye 10th day of February 1700’. It seems Thomas waited to see if the child survived before he was prepared to marry Jane. Despite this inauspicious start, the couple’s marriage seems to have thrived for they had four more children.” Although this is yet another variation on the spelling of ‘Severs’ (others were Siver, Seaver and Seiver, with and without an ‘s’ at the end), David believes that Thomas Siver must also be an ancestor.

He explains how names came to be spelled differently. “All the Crayke entries from 1700 to 1734 are Siver. After the burial of the vicar in 1735, all the entries but two were Seiver, so the change of vicar brought about the change in spelling. From 1767 to 1784 it was always Siver and then became Seiver again. The first ‘s’ on the end is to be found in 1789. Only two Severs appear in the registers and they include the signature of a witness at a wedding in 1808.”

He adds: “William and Mary Severs of Settrington had a daughter in 1803, but they were recorded as Siver when a son was born in 1805, Sivers when a daughter was born in 1807, Siver again when children were born in 1809 and 1810 and Sivers again when four children were born between 1813 and 1818. The spelling depended on who made the entries. This is confirmed by the censuses: in the 1841 census the brothers Joseph and Benjamin  were recorded as Sivers, in 1851 Joseph was Sivers and Benjamin was Severs – different villages and different enumerators – and in 1861 both men were Severs.” So it looks like whoever was writing the name down decided how it should be spelled, rather than families themselves.

David goes on: “Even within families, spelling varied and I found a flagrant example of this at an Aysgarth wedding in 1779 when the vicar wrote Spensley, the groom signed Spenceley and the witnesses signed Spencely, Spensly and Spencley respectively!”

David then recalls a tale of teasing his son. Upon discovering that his ancestors’ name was recorded as ‘Seiver’, David announced he was going to change his name back to that of his forbears. His 10-year-old son protested that he should not do it when his employers, their schools and the government all knew them as Severs.

“Continuing to pull his leg,” says David, “I said he knew how important family history was to me and it could be done. It clearly bothered him, for at breakfast the next morning he told me he had been thinking about it and it would be most unwise because changing my name to Seiver would make me ‘deceiver’ (D.Seiver)! I purported to change my mind about my intentions immediately.”

David finishes his letter with two other fascinating stories to one day follow up. “One of the Crayke Severs collected the tolls on the Helmsley to York road and went to the debtors prison in York after he failed to pay the sum he had agreed to pay for the right to collect them. More recently a distant Severs relation murdered his parents.” That relative is a man called Roger Severs, from Leicestershire, who was jailed for life in 1993 for murdering his father Derek and mother Eileen after they refused to support him financially.

Many thanks to David for all of this fascinating stuff. I wonder if you have found any shady characters lurking in your own ancestors’ past?

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


This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 6th and the Gazette & Herald on 4th August 2021

Keep it in the family

Diane Lund’s ancestors, who died before they were christened, lie in unmarked graves in Crayke churchyard
Diane Lund’s ancestors lie somewhere in the graveyard but she doesn’t know where

Following my column about Crayke village a few weeks back, I had an email from a reader concerning the the graveyard there.

Diane Lund, from Lealholm, wrote, “My grandparents were married in Crayke Church in 1923. I have a copy of the newspaper report of their ‘pretty wedding’. They went to live in Grandpa’s home village of Huttons Ambo. Less than a year later, on a day they returned to Crayke to visit Grandma’s parents, my grandmother went into labour and gave birth to triplets. John lived for four days, Geoffrey lived for two days and Ronald died after one day. Such a tragedy; no scans, no incubators. The triplets were buried in Crayke churchyard but as they hadn’t been christened, their grave was unmarked.”

What a sad and tragic story, and as I mentioned in that column, people were often buried with no grave markers either because they could not afford a headstone or, as Diane says, because they were not christened. I find it quite sad that their ancestors living today can’t go and pay their respects because they do not know where their relatives’ remains lie.

On a slightly separate but related note, I was doing some research for another project recently that talked about the effect on people whose loved ones have, for example, gone missing, or are lost at sea. According to Professor Pauline Boss, a pioneer into the study of stress on families, if we do not have physical proof that our loved one has died, then our human brain can’t let go. It’s known as ‘ambiguous loss’ and is one of the worst things anyone has to experience. To achieve some kind of closure, we need to see for ourselves evidence of their transformation from life to death.

Churches and graveyards have long been rich sources of information for anyone doing research into their forbears. Graves with inscriptions usually give dates of birth and death, and sometimes they give occupations and details of other family members too. Church of England churches also used to be tasked with holding the parish registers of baptisms, deaths and marriages in what was known as the parish chest.

Parish registers were formally adopted in 1538 when Thomas Cromwell ordered that records of all christenings, weddings and burials had to be kept and stored in a secure chest in the local church. At first, they were written on loose leaves of paper, but it wasn’t very efficient as they could get mixed up, pages could get lost, and the paper could easily disintegrate. In 1598, Elizabeth I decreed that these records be copied on to more robust parchment and transcribed into proper books, starting from the beginning of her reign in 1558. That’s why many parishes today have registers dating back to then, but not before, as the nearly all the loose leaf versions have perished.

I was doing some research into these chests and discovered that at St Mary’s Church, Kilburn, they still have the original wooden chest in which these records were kept. However, the fragile documents have been moved to a more suitable place for preservation within North Yorkshire County Council’s Record Office.

Researching family history used be far more difficult than it is now, as today you can subscribe to websites that offer a huge amount of information and advice on how to do it and where to go. In my dad’s column from 6th June 1981, he says, “People doing research into their family history have to be prepared for long hours of painstaking work in libraries, churches, museums and various other record offices, and on many occasions, their efforts meet little success.” I can imagine that the physical effort may be less these days, but I’m sure, as there is so much more stuff so readily available, that you could quite easily disappear down an information rabbit hole and never come out again.

But it is very satisfying when you do find a nugget of useful material. My dad also mentions in his column that a reader from Buckinghamshire had contacted him asking if he could help them trace some family members who lived and worked in Wensleydale 200 years earlier.

My dad was able to assist because, unbeknownst to the reader, a descendant of theirs lived just a hundred yards away from our house!

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

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 11th and the Gazette & Herald on 9th June 2021