Thomas and Jane Atcherley: Evidence of matrimony in a case at Chancery

Bookmark and Share

At the churches of Shrewsbury St Alkmund (pictured right) and St Chad, from 1692 to 1698, four Atcherley children were baptised, sons and daughters of Thomas and “Jane his wife”. But where was the record of Jane’s marriage to Thomas Atcherley? Even when Jane’s maiden surname became known to me, I was left wondering about the whereabouts of her wedding. In the end a Chancery case has explained the missing matrimonial information – and revealed much more besides.

Thomas Atcherley was the youngest son of John Atcherley of Stanwardine in the Fields. Baptised on 3 May 1668 at the parish church of Baschurch All Saints, he was the fourth of five children born to John (then aged 56) and his second wife Mary (neé Spendlove). Following John Atcherley’s death in 1672, Thomas and his siblings were brought up by their mother.

It was most likely the widowed Mary Atcherley who arranged Thomas’s apprenticeship to George Evanson of Shrewsbury’s Mercer’s Company in 1682. (Thomas’s father John had been apprenticed, but to a member of the Drapers Company, in a similar fashion back in 1627 – see John Atcherley, draper of Shrewsbury). The Mercers, Ironmongers, and Goldsmith’s Company (to give this body its full name) had been in existence since at least 1424-5. Along with the Drapers Company it was one of the “two most important Guilds of Shrewsbury”. Thomas was “turned over from George Evanson to Robert Hill” in 1688, and would have completed his seven years apprenticeship about a year later, aged around 21.

Almost certainly it was through his association with the Mercers Company that Thomas Atcherley met his wife-to-be Jane. Although the renowned genealogist Joseph Morris (1792 – 1860), in his Genealogy of Shropshire, claimed that Thomas married Jane Williams of West Felton, Jane’s true identity was revealed to me by the Atcherley pedigrees and genealogical notes from the collection of the Rev John Newling (1762 – 1838). (See also Atcherleys reunited, in which this same source resolved a mystery involving Thomas Atcherley’s younger sister Mary.) Through the Rev Archdeacon Plymley, Newling knew that Thomas Atcherley of Salop, mercer, had married Jane, daughter of Mr Richard Plymley of Shrewsbury.

Richard, his surname written as Plimley, was listed as one of the Wardens of the Mercers Company in 1684. The following year however, he was recorded as “Mr Richard Plimly mercer from Snt Chads” in very different circumstances – an entry in the parish register of Shrewsbury St Julian for his burial on 2 July 1685.

Three days before his burial, “Richard Plymley of the Town of Shrowesburie in the County of Salop Mercer” made his last will and testament. He made provision for Anne his wife (who was to receive £200 plus an annual payment of £40), for his daughters Jane and Anne (they were bequeathed £500 apiece, to be paid to them on marriage or at the age of 20 whichever came first, with an annual sum of £10 each in the meantime) and for his son Joseph (who was to receive Richard’s lands and property in Shrewsbury and at Norton in Hales).

Richard Plymley’s will ended with a request “to my deere wife to bee kind unto my poore Children” and the appointment of his “said deere wife” to be sole executrix. But just four weeks after Richard’s burial, “Mrs Anne Plimly widow from Snt Chads” was also interred at St Julian’s. Jane, Richard and Anne’s eldest surviving child, was only 16 (or thereabouts) at that time, having been baptised at Shrewsbury St Chad in 1669.

Before she died, Anne Plymley had taken steps to ensure that her children would receive the legacies bequeathed to them by their father. In her own will, made on 21 July 1685, Anne stated: “And whereas my late deare Husband Richard Plimley did make his last Will and Testament which I have not yet proved … my mind is that the contents of my said Husbands Will shall be performed in every thing by my Executors hereafter named”.

Jane Plymley probably reached the age of 20 in the Summer of 1689. It appears however that she did not receive the inheritance which was then due to her. Nor, it would seem, did she receive it when she married Thomas Atcherley. Thomas and Jane therefore submitted a bill of complaint to the Court of Chancery in London, in an attempt to obtain what was rightfully theirs.

Although various documents relating to this and subsequent cases have survived and are now kept at The National Archives at Kew (pictured right), they do not seem to include the outcome of Thomas and Jane’s actions. What I do know is that in pursuing their legal case, one of the problems that Thomas and Jane came up against was the same one which I encountered over 300 years later while pursuing the couple’s genealogy. That problem was the absence of a record of their marriage! To address this issue, Thomas Atcherley’s brother Roger, a Counsellor at Law, prepared a list of questions (or interrogatories) which were to be answered under oath by witnesses:

Imprimis Doe you know the parties plts & Defts or any & which of them & how long have you soe known them. Speake yor Knowledge herein with reasons of and for the same.

Item Were you present when the Complts were married when & by whom were they married, have they cohabitted together since as Husband & Wife, speake your Knowledge & beliefe herein with yor reasons of & for the same

Item have the Defts or any & which of them received all or any & what parte of last Michas [= Michaelmas] & Lady Day Rents due for certaine Messuages Lands & Tenements late of Richard Plymley deceased late ffather of the Complt Jane situate lying and being in the Towne of Shrewsbury & Norton in the County of Salop, speake your Knowledge & beliefe herein with yor reasons of & for the same

The “Depposicons and sayings of Witnesses” were “taken at the dwelling house of Dorothy Cotton widow situate in Baschurch in the County of Salop” on 4 May 1693. One of the three witnesses was Robert Yates, a yeoman of Baschurch aged “ffifty yeares or thereabouts”. He deposed that he had known Thomas Atcherley from his childhood, and Jane for about five years.

Robert Yates also stated that he had been present and had seen Thomas and Jane married by “George Hudson Vicar of Baschurch in the parish Church of Baschurch aforesaid neere about Two yeares since about Eight of the Clocke in the Forenoone of one Lords day and that they have Cohabited loveingly as husband and wife ever since And the reason of this his beliefe is that hee hath bin severall tymes att their dwelling house in Shrewsbury in the said County of Salop and particularly at the baptizing of a child of their bodies begotten as this Deponent is informed”

Another witness was Thomas Atcherley’s sister Mary, then aged about 19. She deposed that she had known Jane for about seven years, which gives us a clue as to when Thomas might first have met the young lady who was to become his wife. The record of Mary’s deposition concluded:

To the second Interrogatorie this Deponent saith that shee was psent [= present] and did see the Complts Thomas Acherley and Jane his wife married by George Hudson Viccar of the parish Church of Baschurch one Lords day betweene the houres of Eight and Twelve in the forenoone in the said parish Church of Baschurch aforesaid neere 2 yeares since and that shee saw them bedded together the first night and severall tymes since and that they have cohabited loveingly ever since as husband and wife att their dwelling house in Shrewsbury

The key witness was George Hudson himself, then aged “ffifty one yeares or thereabouts”. He had known both Thomas and Jane from their childhoods, and had in fact baptised Thomas. His deposition continued:

To the Second Interrogatory this Deponent saith that hee this Deponent being Viccar of the parish Church of Baschurch in the said County of Salop by vertue of a Licence from Sr Richard Raines Knt Chancellor of the Diocese of Lichfeild and Coventry bearinge date the nineteenth day of July One thousand Six hundred ninety one to him directed did upon one Lords day in the month of August in the said yeare of our Lord god One thousand Six hundred ninety one Marry the Complt Thomas Acherley and Jane his wife in the Parish Church of Baschurch aforesaid betweene the houres of Eight and twelve of the Clocke of the aforenoone of the same day according to the order of the Church of England by law established …

Even though George Hudson made a deposition along with Mary Atcherley, to confirm details of the marriage which he had failed to record in the Baschurch parish register, I suspect he also neglected to enter details of Mary’s own marriage – which almost certainly took place at Baschurch – a few years later (see Atcherleys reunited). On the plus side, despite his failure to record Thomas and Jane’s marriage in the parish register – because of it, in fact – I now know far more about that happy couple than would otherwise have been the case.

To be sure, I don’t have an exact date for the nuptials. But I can say that Thomas Atcherley and Jane Plymley, having met around 1686, were married by licence at Baschurch one Sunday morning in August 1691; that family members saw them “bedded” on the first night after their wedding; and that Thomas and Jane cohabited together lovingly at their home in Shrewsbury, where they were visited by both family and friends. I am very glad that when I chose the documents I wanted to study at The National Archives on Saturday, I took a chance on the Chancery case of Thomas and Jane Atcherley!

Picture credits. Shrewsbury St Alkmund: from The History and Antiquities of Shrewsbury, 2nd edition, volume I, published 1837 and therefore out of copyright. Apprentices and Wardens of the Mercers Company: from Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, published 1885 and therefore out of copyright. The National Archives, Kew: photo by the author.


[1] Shrewsbury St Alkmund, Shropshire, parish register covering 1692. Entry dated 29 September for baptism of “John the Sonn of Thomas Atcherley & Jane his wife”. Copy viewed at Findmypast. Transcript viewed at Shropshire Archives. Indexed (as John Thomas, parents Thomas Atcherley and Jane) at FamilySearch, Batch C03722-2, Film 510675.
[2] Shrewsbury St Alkmund, Shropshire, parish register covering 1694. Entry dated 10 April for baptism of “Mary the daughter of Thomas Atcherley & Jane his wife”. Copy viewed at Findmypast. Transcript viewed at Shropshire Archives. Indexed (as Mary Thomas, parents Thomas Atcherley and Jane) at FamilySearch, Batch C03722-2, Film 510675.
[3] Shrewsbury St Alkmund, Shropshire, parish register covering 1696. Entry dated 5 April for baptism of “Richard the sonn of Thomas Atcherley and Jane his wife”. Copy viewed at Findmypast. Transcript viewed at Shropshire Archives. Indexed (as Richard Thomas, parents Thomas Atcherley and Jane) at FamilySearch, Batch C03722-2, Film 510675.
[4] Shrewsbury St Chad, Shropshire, parish register covering 1698. Entry dated 20 November for “Ann daughter of Thomas Atcherley & Jane his wife mercer”, born 15th. Copy viewed at Findmypast. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch P01575-1, Film 908235.
[5] Baschurch, Shropshire, parish register covering 1668. Entry for Thomas Atcherley. Copy viewed at Findmypast. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch C03390-1, Film 510651.
[6] W A Leighton (1885), The Guilds of Shrewsbury. In: Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological and Natural History Society. Part II, volume VIII (Feb 1885), pages 269 and 285; Part III, volume VIII (June 1885), pages 376 and 367.
[7] Joseph Morris (undated), Genealogy of Shropshire. Volume 1, page 285. Extracted data at FamilySearch, Welsh Medieval Database Primarily of Nobility and Gentry, entry for Jane Williams. (Note: This part of the FamilySearch site was ‘down for maintenance’ on 10 and 11 Jun 2015.)
[8] Staffordshire Record Office item S. MS.256/8/5, undated, Pedigrees and genealogical notes from the collection of the Revd. John Newling for various families including Atcherley. Indexed at Gateway to the Past.
[9] Staffordshire Record Office item S. MS.269/1/14, undated, Pedigrees of families in Shropshire (etc) from the collection of the Revd. John Newling: Atcherley, co. Salop. Indexed at Gateway to the Past.
[10] Unknown author (1892), Corbet-Winder of Vaynor Park. Pedigree. In: Collections Historical and Archaeological relating to Montgomeryshire and its Borders. Volume XXVI. Pages 253-4. Copy viewed at Internet Archive.
[11] The National Archives, Kew, item ref PROB 11/381/450: Will of Richard Plymley, Mercer of Shrewsbury, Shropshire. Proved 24 Nov 1685. Copy viewed at Ancestry – England & Wales, Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills, 1384-1858. Indexed at TNA Discovery catalogue.
[12] The National Archives, Kew, item ref PROB 11/381/117: Will of Anne Plymley, Widow of Shrewsbury, Shropshire. Proved 18 Aug 1865. Copy viewed at Ancestry – England & Wales, Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills, 1384-1858. Indexed at TNA Discovery catalogue.
[13] The National Archives, Kew, item ref C 22/8/25 (Court of Chancery, Six Clerks Office): Acherley v. Wareing. Depositions taken in the country. Indexed at TNA Discovery catalogue. Also indexed (with names) in The British Archivist, 1913, pages 76-77, snippets viewed at Google Books.
[14] The National Archives, Kew, item ref C 7/7/8 (Court of Chancery, Six Clerks Office) dated 1692 shows: Atcherly v Waringe. Indexed at TNA Discovery catalogue.

Posted in Family history articles | Comments Off

Putting the genes into genealogy (Part 1)

Bookmark and Share

For many years, genealogists have constructed family trees, or pedigrees, by applying deductive reasoning (and in some cases blind faith or even wishful thinking) to oral and documentary evidence concerning individuals and their family relationships. Computers and the internet have made the records more accessible and furnished new tools for assembling trees, but haven’t changed the underlying process. In recent years however a completely new source of information has become available to genealogists: the stuff that makes us who we are, our DNA.

There are three types of DNA test used for genealogy, and all of them work by comparing elements of a person’s DNA with those of others who have taken the same test. The most useful for a surname study – such as my Atcherley One Name Study – is the Y-DNA  test. This uses the DNA passed from fathers to sons on the Y chromosome. In most cases the father’s surname is passed on along with his genes.

Since I am the son of a female Atcherley, if I took the Y-DNA test it would not help to reveal anything about my Atcherley ancestry. Even if I were a direct male line descendant of my Atcherley grandfather, great grandfather or great great grandfather, the test still would not help. This is because my 2x great grandfather, Henry Atcherley, was the offspring of Mary Atcherley and an unknown male. (I would, incidentally, very much like a few Atcherley males, who are descended from a continuous line of male Atcherleys, to take the Y-DNA test. If a few Atchley and Ackerley males took it too, we might establish whether or not people bearing these surnames share a common ancestry.)

Mitochondrial (or mt) DNA is passed down from a mother to her children, so testing this can help trace relatives descended from a common female ancestor. By its very nature this test is of no value to my Atcherley One Name Study. My mt-DNA comes from my mother, Elizabeth Atcherley, from her mother, Louisa Hall, from her mother, Harriet Richards, and so on.

Finally, there is the autosomal or ‘family finder’ test. This analyses DNA inherited from the full spectrum of  a person’s ancestors and can detect relations as distant as fifth cousins (those sharing the same 4x great grandparents). In my case, this test just might reveal something about my Atcherley ancestry. In theory at least, some of my DNA (around 1/32 or just over 3%) comes from my unknown 3x great grandfather, the father of Henry Atcherley. If he, or any of his siblings, have descendants alive today who have taken the autosomal DNA test, there is a chance that I would get a DNA match with them.

I am in any case a ‘learn by doing’ kind of person, so taking a test is probably the best way for me to find out what genetic genealogy has to offer. At “Who Do You Think You Are? Live” in Birmingham earlier this year, Ancestry offered me the opportunity to do just that, with their (autosomal) AncestryDNA test (see Part 1 of my report on the show). How could I refuse?

The process of taking the test is simplicity itself. Unlike other tests which require cheek swabs to be taken (a painless procedure, I should add), the AncestryDNA test is non-invasive – all you have to do is dribble some saliva into a tube. Once the saliva is at the correct level in the tube (in my head I can hear Mary Poppins saying “spit spot!”), the funnel is removed and the cap is screwed on. This releases a blue stabilising fluid into the tube (see photos below). Next, the test kit is activated online by entering the number printed on the tube, onto the Ancestry website (this is also when the saliva provider should be identified in the Ancestry family tree in which they appear). The tube then goes into a plastic bag, which is in turn sealed and placed into an pre-addressed, post-paid mailing box. This is then popped into a post box, and from this point the postal services and AncestryDNA take over.

Then, the waiting begins. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about DNA testing, it is that patience is required. It takes a while for the saliva sample to make its way across ‘the pond’. It takes a while longer for the analysis to be carried out and for the outcome to appear online. Ancestry advises that all this can take from 6 to 8 weeks. In my case, the email telling me that my results were ready arrived a little sooner than I was expecting.

The first thing that caught my eye when I viewed my results was my Ethnicity Estimate. This is another feature of the autosomal DNA test. Certain ‘genetic signatures’ occur more frequently in some populations than in others, and the presence of these signatures is used to provide a guide as to which peoples the test subject’s DNA has come from. I was quite prepared to see a mixture of ‘British’ and ‘Western European’ origins for my DNA, with perhaps a smattering of Scandinavian, reflecting the mixed ancestry that is typical of most Brits. And that is broadly what I got – along with a suggested 14% from Ireland.

Since I have never found even a hint of Irish ancestry while tracing my family tree, the news that I was (as I then saw it) 14% Irish was something of a surprise. Had one of my great grandmothers ‘played away from home’? A well-timed blog post about ethnicity (or ‘admixture’) results by genetic genealogist Debbie Kennet – Comparing admixture results from AncestryDNA, 23andMe and Family Tree DNA – put things into perspective:

Admixture tests really need to be used for entertainment purposes only at the present time, and the results should be taken with a very large pinch of salt. However, the tests can sometimes provide useful insights.

Digging a little deeper into the information available at Ancestry, I learned that the genetic signature for Ireland is “Primarily located in: Ireland, Wales, Scotland”. A map suggested that much of northern England – and the western Midlands (where many of my ancestors were born) – are also included. So a recent Irish incursion into my family tree is not necessarily indicated. Indeed, I may have no ‘Irish’ DNA at all. The imprecise nature of ethnicity estimates mean that behind the headline figure of 14% Ireland, my ‘Irish’ ethnicity estimate ranges from a maximum of 30% down to a minimum of zero!

On to the DNA ‘matches’ then. I have 38 pages-worth of them. The closest matches however – a dozen of them – are on the first results page. They all fall into the “possible range” of 4th  to 6th  cousins, each of whom potentially share a pair of my 3rd, 4th or 5th  great grandparents. As far as I can tell, all of these matches are American. Three of them have no Ancestry family tree to compare with my own. Two of them have private Ancestry trees, which I cannot access without asking for (and being granted) permission. The match whose 4th  to 6th cousin status is rated at a confidence level of “Extremely High” (the rest are “Very high”) has a tree with just 24 people in it.

That leaves six matches with accessible family trees each containing hundreds or even thousands of people. For each match I can view a summary of their tree, with a basic pedigree chart and a list of the surnames within it. A handy feature is the “Map and Locations” summary which highlights the birthplaces  of the ancestors for both myself and my ‘match’. Though all my top matches have ancestors from the British isles, there is little geographic overlap between most of their ancestors and mine. My known ancestors, for the most part, were born in Birmingham and in counties to the north-west or south-east of that city (Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire). The map below shows their birth places on an Ancestry Map and Locations summary, with none of the ancestors of my DNA match in the vicinity!

I can also look at the public Ancestry family trees of my matches in the normal way, and I have done so to find surnames shared by their ancestors and mine and to look at the individual profiles of any likely ‘suspects’. But this has not yielded any promising leads, and I have not yet seen anything which has made me feel that contacting any of my matches would be worthwhile.

To some extent, this is not surprising. The Ancestry DNA test, which was launched initially in the USA, has not been available in the UK for very long. As more of Ancestry’s UK customers take the test, the chances of getting a closer match (closer both genetically and geographically) will increase. It’s a waiting game again.

While I’m waiting, there are other avenues to explore. When it comes to DNA tests for genealogists, Ancestry is not the only game in town. And I don’t have to take another test to find out what some of the other players can make of my genetic heritage. The raw data from my test results at Ancestry can be downloaded, and then uploaded to Family Tree DNA and Gedmatch for their analysis. I have in fact done exactly that, and the initial results will be the subject of Part 2 of this article.

Picture credits. DNA: Public domain image from Pixabay. Fred Atcherley ancestry, and AncestryDNA test kit in use: by the author. All other images are screen grabs from AncestryDNA.

Posted in Research notes | Comments Off