Sunday, May 17, 2020

James Whybrew revisited

St Andrews Church, Wormingford, where
most of James and Sarah  Whybrew's family were baptised.
After discovering that records for Sarah Baldwin's family are now available online, I decided to look again at the background for James Whybrew, Sarah's husband. Previously I'd come to a brick wall with his birth in about 1801 (a very rough date provided by the 1841 UK census). I didn't know where he was born or who his parents might be.

As I'd hoped, there are now records on genealogical sites for James' family too. I've been able to trace his family back several generations. Some of what I found was quite unexpected.

The first surprise was that James was born in Bures St Mary, the same Suffolk village as Sarah Baldwin. That's not surprising in itself, but the 1841 census indicated that he was born in Essex, while she was born outside that county. Since Bures St Mary practically straddles the border between Suffolk and Essex, perhaps that's the explanation.

James was born in 1797, to William Whybrew and Elizabeth Carter, whose families both came from Bures St Mary. (I'll write more about them in future.) The next surprise was to discover that James had at least seven siblings, all but one of them younger than him. Unfortunately most of them died quite young, but at least two, his older brother William and his sister Louisa, seem to have outlived James.

While I was looking at James and Sarah's family, I also came across two short-lived infants born to Sarah that I hadn't seen before: John (1829 - 1829) and Elizabeth (1835-1837).

The final surprise was discovering that James remarried after Sarah died in 1841. This was James' third marriage, but the first for his new wife, Mary Smith. They had two daughters, Martha, born in 1846 and Matilda, born in 1848, a few months after James' death. Altogether, James fathered (at least) fourteen children with his three wives.

All this left me wondering, once again, why James and Sarah's youngest son, David Whybrew, found himself in the Lexden and Winstree Union workhouse sometime before his thirteenth birthday. I knew that James Whybrew died in 1848, leaving David an orphan at the age of ten. But with so many family members around on both his mother's and his father's side, not to mention older siblings and a stepmother, why was there no-one to take him in?

It's perhaps understandable that his stepmother, Mary Smith, would be unable to look after him, being a young widow with two small children of her own to care for. She eventually married again, in 1857, but until then she would almost certainly have been struggling to survive. Her younger daughter, Matilda, died in 1854 at the age of six.

I don't know what date David entered the workhouse. Perhaps family members did care for him for a while, until he was almost a teenager, with a big appetite and little earning capacity. Most of James and Sarah's surviving family were farm labourers with large families to feed.

Whatever the case, it has been interesting and satisfying to put both James Whybrew and Sarah Baldwin into their own family contexts, instead of them being a full stop at the end of that branch of the family tree.

For more details about David Whybrew and his life, see my book Susan: convict's daughter, soldier's wife, nobody's fool. It's available on Amazon and other online books stores. To read a preview of the first chapters, click on the cover image.


  1. James was the brother of my 2x great grandmother Louisa Whybrew it was so interesting reading about the Whybrew family of Bures St Mary

  2. Thanks Susan, I'm glad you found the information interesting.

    1. I have got as far back to John Whybrew 1750 - 1832 of Bures St Mary who married Elizabeth Bateman (my 4x great grandparents) John Constable land is such a beautiful part of England. Thanks