Finding a cohort in Troston

photo courtesy of the Norfolk/Suffollk medieval graffiti survey
....or the attempt to make something out of nothing very much.

After success in locating the Woolryches and the Scarlets from pieces of graffiti left on church buildings I decided to see if I could do anything with the initials at Troston.

All the information I have is TC 1698 and TG 1597 scratched on a pillar in Troston church.

I found myself thinking... "This is a fools errand; what am I doing even trying to match a plausible person to a piece of graffiti?" After all, there must have been hundreds of people with those initials pass through the doors of this church.

I look online to see if the parish records have been transcribed by FreeREG but sadly not. The records in Troston start in 1558 (information courtesy of Phillimore), so that at least is promising. If I find someone online, I can check them against the primary source of the parish records later.

I have also assumed that the date is significant to the person leaving it behind -  and that it is not someone just passing thorough. The three obvious choices are birth, marriage and death but I need to find a group of people whose surnames start with the appropriate letters before I can even start searching BMD records - in other words I have to construct a likely cohort.

A wills index provides me with a few names, but nothing that I can usefully employ. It confirms that first name / surname is the standard format for recording names and I comfort myself by saying that only those people with anything worth giving away would need to have their wills proved. TC / TG may still be found, just not leaving substantial goods or property.

 A charity bequest in 1666 mentions two men with the surnames of Greengrass and Gilly. I make a note as they may be local families from whom the "TG" graffiti some 70 years earlier may be taken.

The Hearth tax assessments make interesting reading. Introduced as a kind of luxury tax, each hearth triggered a charge of 2 shillings, to be paid in instalments. One payment was made on Lady Day, the other at Michaelmas. The initial assessments (including those who were exempt because of their poverty) were made in June/July 1662.  Beautifully anachronistically spelt, the hearth tax assessments are a snapshot of every household, and the status which each enjoyed.


I am pleased to see the Greengrass(e) name again - holding the office of Constable this time. This return also throws up the family names of Cranmour and Coumer. Now I have some family names to move forward with.
 
 I've ascertained that the given name followed by family name is standard (from the wills) and that the first initial probably stands for Thomas(in), or maybe Tobias. I do this by looking at the incidence of popular names during the period.

I pick the later of the two dates and decide to focus on "TC". Is it too much to hope that this might be a Thomas Coumer or Cranmour? According to "A Suffolk hundred 1283" there 23 inhabited houses in 1674. The search is looking positive.

I attempt to put this information into a free genealogical search engine and worryingly don't get any  result that matches with the date. Mildly bemused I lose the initial letter T. I search on variant surnames - nothing.
 
This is a worry, because I know that there are two householders living in Troston with solid "C" second names; the Hearth tax return proves that, and it's fairly unlikely both the Coumer and Cranmour families have moved away lock stock and barrel before 1698. This means that the search engines either don't have this parish record fully transcribed.... their algorithm needs tweaking (some of the suggested hits are wildly out), or I'm just rubbish at searching.
 
I widen out and get a mash of suggestions. I read and read through thousands of people (no exaggeration). I try the variants, including other surnames that crop up in the parish. I factor in the double dates issue, and search a year either way. I shift to from births, to marriages, to deaths, but nothing concrete.
 
Cadge, Carter, Carpenter, Carpinder, Carvil, Catton, Chambers, Cook, Cancellour, Costin, Coe, Coo and my favourite Chris(t)mas: all of them have lived in Troston (this list is not exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination). All of them searched through and not one of them has an initial T within the correct 2 year time window. I find a Thomas Coe born 1672 died 1748 but he has no reason to graffiti on the church.
I read through some happy events, like the marriages that took place. I find a book on marriage banns/licences that cover the area and scour that, but to no avail.
 
There are also sad entries. Thomas and Sarah Paske b 1697/8 who were probably twins, and who died before they were a year old; at the end of what was a severe winter (and it really was severe in 1698, the ice built up to 8 inches at some parts of the Suffolk coast). I almost expect more people to expire with the bad weather conditions.
No "TC" died. The closest I can get is two  deaths, those of  Sarah and Elizabeth Carpenter, which warrant further investigation.
Sarah is born and dies in the same year of 1699 - so as a child she must have had parents, a Mr and Mrs Carpenter somewhere. Elizabeth Carpenter (age unknown) dies in 1698 and another Elizabeth Carpenter dies 11 years later. There is in fact a Thomas Carpenter, but he dies and is buried in Troston on the 24th of April 1732.
This is like chasing ghosts... frustrated I turn to the geographical history for a break.
Troston lies in the Blackbourne hundred, some six miles north east of Bury St Edmunds. Bury has a grammar school founded in 1550 (they might have useful records).  Troston Hall was the seat of Capel Lofft, and Shakespeare's editor was born in the parish in 1713.  Troston's church is dedicated to St Mary and parish wise Troston  borders Ixworth, Colford, Ingham, Fakenham... rather a lot actually, as shown on the map below.












This is not good news. I have been searching and searching speculatively trying to identify matches using the parish name and date. I've looked at things like wills and hearth tax returns and charity bequests, all in an attempt to generate a cohort. But I didn't take into account  the movement of those people, especially through  and around these parishes with their odd vanishing point (which incidentally is a mere) and which means I now have another nine parishes to search through.

Do you know how many hits that is? It is a lot......

...I start chasing again and turn up the following
1) Thomas Carpenter who is buried on the 24th of April 1699 but at Great Barton (4 miles away from Troston).
2) Thomas Carpenter died 1704, again at Great Barton
2) Thomas Coe - born 1616 and buried on the 28th of May 1697 at Wattisfield (8 miles away). He would have been in his 80's when the graffiti was scratched
3) Thomas Cuttin, buried on the 18th of March 1696 in Thornham Magna (15 miles away)
That's it - I can't find any others in the area. My morale is in my boots.
In utter desperation I give in and purchase a months subscription to a genealogical website. With the Carpenter deaths in the right year they are my strongest name.
I allow myself a purely speculative fit of pique whereby I pull together all the Carpenters  that were living in Troston give or take 40 years and for whom the records are available and searchable. I plot them in, date and distance from the main date, and it falls out quite interestingly... 
There are no Carpenters in Troston in 1662 (according to the hearth tax assessment) and although the Carpenters could have been lodging with another family, there are quite a lot of them, probably enough to found their own household?
Which gives me some ground to argue that this group of Carpenters all belong to the same familial cohort. Now it is true that not all the births marriages and deaths can be neatly joined up. In fact, this supposition is built on deaths alone, which I accept, is weaker than birth or baptism records.
But having a male / female pair at +34 and +35 years away from the initial date of the graffiti and being the only people of that surname recorded in the parish, is (to my mind) suggestive of a married couple.

Which would mean that Thomas Carpenter who died and was buried on the 24th of April 1732 in Troston, (+34 years after the graffiti date) could be the husband of Jane Carpenter who dies a year later and is buried on the 21/2/1733  (+35)

If that is so, then the other Carpenters fall out like this (in chronological order).

Elizabeth buried 16/3/1698 (initial date of the graffiti)
 Sarah buried 24/3/1699 (+1)
 Elizabeth buried 6/4/1709 (+11)
Thomas 3/11/1710 (+12)
Mary buried 6/2/1713 (+15)
Mary buried15/1/1716 (+17)
They look like a sibling group, albeit a rather tragic and short lived one (that hard winter comes to mind again). You have the doubling up of names after the first recipient of that name dies, and the male child being called Thomas after his father.
 
Now time for the Maths bit...
 
If these children are siblings, then they are born within an 18 year spread; with the maternal death (Jane Carpenter) being 35 years from the birth of the first recorded child and 17 years from the birth of the last. 
If Jane's last pregnancy was at age 45 then Jane would have had her first child 18 years earlier, when she was 27. If she was 27 in 1698 then she would have died in her 62nd year (+35).
 
This now looks like a plausible family group and is it just possible that Thomas the father had the opportunity and motivation to scratch his initials, as head of the Carpenter family in the parish church on the interment of his first child in Troston's graveyard?
 
It's just a theory - and I feel like it's as sketchily scratched as some of the graffiti I look at  (I would still like it to be true though).
 
As for TG 1597... well that can wait for another day!