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Berkshire Family Historian
December 2001

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Berkshire Family Historian
Main Page, December 2001 Contents

The Berkshire Overseers Project

Brian Hunt

It is some time since I submitted a report on the progress of the Berkshire Overseers' Project but we have been held up by the delayed move of the Berkshire Record Office. 22 of the proposed 26 volumes have been completed. The remaining four volumes will comprise the 2000 or so documents from Reading St. Giles and work is already well advanced on the first of these volumes.

Until recent times the only access to the results has been by reference to the five copies of each volume I have prepared and placed in the BRO, the Society Research Centre, Reading Reference Library, the Society of Genealogists' library and another selected Berkshire Reference Library, usually in the west of the county. This has now all changed with the issue of 21 volumes produced by the Society on microfiche, providing unlimited access to members everywhere.

Over the years I have found that many people are unaware, how useful the overseers' documents can be. As well as the obvious use of removal orders and settlement certificates in locating previously unknown whereabouts of ancestors (where parish register entries have provided no possible clue), an examination before the Justices of the Peace can result in a potted life history of an individual and their family. The only surviving overseers' documents from Newbury consist of more than 400 examinations and these have been issued in Volume 26. The examinations reveal that the people involved came to Newbury from many parts of the British Isles.

While transcribing documents for Reading St. Mary in the most recent volume issued (Volume 21), I came across an interesting examination for settlement taken before Harry Austin Deane, Gent., on gth June 1753, who was then Mayor of Reading. The person involved was a William Stretton (who signed as Stratton) who had been born in the City of Limerick, Ireland. In about 1732 he had been apprenticed for seven years to Benjamin Barrington of the Parish of St. John's Limerick, pewterer and founder. He served the full apprenticeship and afterwards rented two houses, three outhouses and garden in the Parish of St. Munchin in Limerick, at a yearly rent of 13. He paid two years rent for the same and had not since gained any other legal settlement. The interesting development was that 'about ifi years ago [1751-52] he was married by one Thomas, a Roman Catholic Priest, between Marlborough and Calne in the Roman Catholic way, but not by the form established in the Common Prayer Book. The ceremony was performed in the open field near a barn'. He further stated that his wife's name was Sarah Tarrant and that she lived at Lamborn, Berkshire. Is there somebody who has been unable to locate the marriage of Sarah Tarrant or Stretton/Stratton? Even if the couple later legalised their union in a church in Wiltshire or Berkshire it is highly unlikely that there would be any indication that the groom was a pewterer and founder from Limerick. Is there also anybody in Ireland who is wondering what happened to William Stretton or Stratton, who was born and apprenticed in Limerick in the early eighteenth century and then disappeared?

There is ample scope for our strays' co-ordinator amongst these volumes, a task which I have made easier since I have indexed each item by personal name, placename and occupation. Just glancing at the placename index in this recent volume for Reading St. Mary I see that there are references to many places in Berkshire and 32 other counties in England and Wales, in addition to Ireland, Scotland and America. There must therefore be members of many other family history societies who might find interesting entries in the volumes.

Within Berkshire the survival of the documents varies hugely parish by parish, but the lack of any entries for somebody's particular parish of interest does not necessarily mean that all is lost. With the removal orders and settlement certificates, there were always two parishes involved and copies were produced for each. The document of the 'other' parish may have survived. This means that anybody with Berkshire interests needs to search all the volumes.

The overseers' documents also include many relating to bastardy. We all know that post-1837 birth certificates for illegitimate children rarely give a father's name. Unless there is a very helpful vicar, the baptism registers are also of little assistance. The ancestry then has to proceed along the mother's family line. In the bastardy examinations, orders and bonds the father's name is revealed - which usually costs him about '40 shillings for the lying-in and maintenance to date, and then one shilling and sixpence weekly'. To genealogists the overseers' volumes may therefore open up a completely new line of interest - that of the named father.

It is not possible to forecast when the last four volumes (all for Reading St. Giles) will be issued, but now that the end is in sight it may spur our efforts to get the task completed. So the whole project, when the final combined index to all 26 volumes is completed, will have taken a little over ten years.

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updated 25th February 2002