Travelling through time

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Working on family history far back in the past isn't  a matter of it being more difficult to do  - it simply becomes a completely different task. There are no census returns, and no registration of births, marriages and deaths to help you. Parish Registers vary considerably - some are beautifully preserved, the ink as clear as the day upon which the entry was written  - the pages of others are in shreds, ravaged by damp, mould and the passage of time. The Meavy Registers would have been extremely valuable to Stentiford researchers but as far back as 1866, Kelly's Directory notes that 


"The earliest Registers have been much injured and part of them re-copied; the earliest date now to be traced is about 1700"

This is not quite true today - with the aid of modern technology, it is possible to read a few lines here and there in the earliest records. Thankfully, there are other resources and here in Devon, we have the best-preserved records in the UK - only the original wills are lost to us through enemy action. Many Parish Records are complete back to the 1520s - all you need is time to develop the skills to read them! Like us, our ancestors were liable for income tax and the subsequent records were cherished by the Inland Revenue because you never knew when they might form useful evidence of non-payment.  Strangers were viewed with great suspicion in case they became a charge on the community through the Poor Law system so all kinds of people made lists of legitimate local inhabitants that were very like census returns  - see Issue 18 for details of the Wembworthy census of 1778, for instance. 

There are Hearth Tax Returns,  Protestation Returns, Militia Returns and thousands upon thousands of Deeds, Leases, Settlements, Mortgages and other legal documents. There are Licence Applications, Court Records, Churchwarden's Accounts, Settlement Certificates, Apprentice Indentures, old newspapers, letters, diaries and surveys - and many more sources besides.

There will always be gaps in the early research of any family historian because not every detail has survived but fewer gaps than you might think - you simply can't help noticing that it was (and still is) very, very difficult, if not almost impossible, for any Englishman to slip quietly through life, minding his own business and escaping the attention of the Authorities - whoever you were or are, somebody somewhere has put your name on a list - and somebody else is carefully preserving that list!

Meet the family who feature in the document which follows:


John Stettaford and Loveday Harris

Married at Meavy 15 May 1703


ba 22 January 1704 bu 9 Nov 1708 (aged 4)

No Issue

ba 26 Apr 1707


ba 22 Oct 1710


ba 19 Apr 1714




Meavy c.1900

There is good documentary evidence that "The Meavy Oak" pictured above has survived   for centuries - Certainly, John and Loveday would have passed under its branches as they entered the church for their wedding in 1703


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