My earliest in depth research at Lincolnshire Archives was carried out in December 1985 into the family of William and Elizabeth Copeland who lived in the village of Ruskington, a few miles due north of Sleaford, in the late 18th century. Looking back at my notes, some 35 years later, I am surprised at how much I discovered on my very first day of family history research, but, with hindsight now, how long it took me to tie up the loose ends that I found that first day.
William and Elizabeth had married in the village of Metheringham in May 1785 and their first child, also William, was baptised in nearby Ruskington in August 1786. Before this there are no other entries with the Copeland surname in that parish, at least not for very many years.
I estimated that the child William (b. 1786) was in all probability the William I had found in nearby Cranwell marrying Elizabeth Edwards in 1806 and fathering Thomas Copeland in 1813, but as I could not find a burial for the younger William in Cranwell, nor indeed for the older William in Ruskington, and perhaps therefore their ages at death, I could not be certain of any connection between these three men.
Only in recent years did I find the death of an Elizabeth Coupland * in 1845 in Sleaford, aged 55 - so the same age as the Elizabeth who married William junior in Cranwell - and described on her death certificate as the widow of William Coupland, labourer. As Elizabeth Coupland. aged 50 $, was living in the same household as Thomas, aged 25, and his wife Mary in Sleaford in 1841 it seemed certain that this was the right Elizabeth and so William (the younger, father of Thomas) had died at some time between 1815, the last time he is listed as being the father of any children baptised in Cranwell, and 1845.
Having made this discovery I had checked the indexes of burials in Lincolnshire for a William Copeland who might have died between those years but the only suitable candidate was in the parish of Frampton, 3 miles or so from Boston. The parish register shows him to have been aged 30 when he died, and the burial was in October 1816, so he was the right age, and the surname was spelled Copeland (which, as I say is not, strong evidence in itself, but nevertheless a good sign) so a strong candidate, but Frampton is 22 miles away or so from Cranwell, so what would he have been doing there? I hadn’t proved anything yet.
* The spelling of Copeland or Coupland in the Lincolnshire records is very much interchangeable at this time, bearing in mind that people themselves would not always have known how to write, let alone spell their own name, or be the person reporting the event, such as when registering a death, and the spelling would have been the decision of whoever produced the document in question - the vicar, or the local registrar for example. I have though noticed that where my ancestors themselves did sign their name they invariably wrote Copeland, going back as far as as the mid 18th century.
$ Ages were rounded to the nearest 5 years in the 1841 census
Returning to the older William Copeland, the one who had fathered the child William in Ruskington in 1786, on the very first day of my research, back in 1985 I had made copious notes of all the relevant entries in the Parish Registers, but I had also investigated other records for this parish, including the “Overseers of the Poor Rate Assessment Book of 1782 to 1814 ”. William Copeland is listed there many times as a ratepayer from 1789 onwards. In 1790 for example he is shown as paying rent of £18-00-00 a year and a thus rate of 1s 6d. Also, in 1790, he was appointed Overseer of the poor with one John Moor . There is a page for 1804 in what I wondered might be William’s own handwriting when again he was officer for the year and of which I have a photograph. Clearly he had become an involved member of the parish community and his name crops up in this book, one way or another, in each of the twenty years from 1790 up to and including 1810, but from that year on he is never mentioned again, nor do any of his family appear in the Parish Registers. William’s burial is not recorded there, nor that of Elizabeth his wife, nor any other family member. It seemed clear to me that the family must have left the village but when, and where did they go?
At the time of my original investigation I established that Thomas Tooley, the father of Elizabeth Copeland, had died in 1810 and in his Will left his daughter, who he names therein as Elizabeth Copeland, the sum of £40 which was a considerable amount at that time. This was to be given to her 12 months after his death and this timeframe coincided with the last entries in the Ruskington Registers. It also showed that at that time they had the wherewithal to change their lives, and for a while I even wondered whether they might even have emigrated, leaving their eldest son William in Lincolnshire. I couldn’t find anything to support this idea though, and was still no further forward.
As I say above, their first child to be baptised in Ruskington was William in 1786 and over the next 13 years a further 4 children were baptised in that church. Two of these entries raise a question as there are almost identical entries for the baptism of an Elizabeth Copeland, daughter of William & Elizabeth, the first in 1790 and the second in 1792. It is possible that the first of these daughters died in her first year, or at least before the birth of the second child, but there is no entry of a burial in the parish records at this time, nor in any other parish for that name. There is though a burial of a Deborah Copeland in 1801, aged 8, so perhaps this is the second of these two daughters and the entry for the second baptism has an error in the name. The other children baptised there were Henry in 1795 and Joseph in 1799. This detail is important later in the story.
That was all that I had established prior to April 2020 when, in “lockdown” because of the Covid-19 I Virus I, like many others in the UK and around the world, revisited some of the gaps and brick walls in my family history research. A couple of years ago I had investigated Henry, one of the brothers of Thomas Copeland (b 1813) and born in Cranwell, to see what had happened to him and his descendents and it occurred to me that I should do the same for what I believed to be their father’s brothers, those born in Ruskington, so as establish whether there were other branches that I knew nothing of.
The parish registers that I used to have to drive many miles to see are now available online so investigations that took whole days can now be done at home, sometimes in minutes.
I knew their father William had died because his widow’s death certificate said so, but I wondered what had happened to William’s brothers. The first one I looked up was Joseph, born in 1799, and the first relevant burial I found was, to my surprise, in Frampton, in 1824, a young man aged 24 so exactly the right age. The parish name rang a bell, and of course I realised quickly that his eldest brother, William (if he was his brother), also died in Frampton 8 years earlier.
As well as checking for baptisms and deaths I was also checking for any other records held by the Lincoln Records Office, such as Wills, that might be relevant to this particular research, and found in the index a Will of a William Copeland of Frampton who had died in 1834. I was fairly certain I had investigated this before, but given the coincidence of Frampton cropping up for a third time, I revisited my files and found a photocopy of this same Will that I had ordered from the Records Office back in 1985 or ‘86 but now I re-read it with greater attention.
William is described as a Yeoman (which implies that he owned his own land, or at the very least leased it for a long term) and his “beloved wife” is given as Elizabeth Copeland. She inherited all his estate in Trust, but the Will makes clear what should happen after her decease. William asked that his estate be divided into three equal shares, which were for his son Henry Copeland, his daughter Elizabeth and the third for the benefit of the six children of his late son William on attaining the age of 21. Unfortunately the six children are not named in the Will.
The wife and children of William who had lived in Ruskington had the same names - Henry, Elizabeth and a son William who had died. The William who had lived in Cranwell had had five children, baptised in Cranwell, but he had also had an illegitimate daughter Sophia in 1813 by Ann Muclow, also baptised in Cranwell - he is listed as the father. Might Sophia have been the sixth child listed in the Will? But on the other hand if the Overseers of the Poor record was in his handwriting then he had lost the ability to write at the time he “signed” his (undated) Will as he simply made his mark. Although perhaps I was getting close, I had still not proved beyond doubt that this was the same family.
I found William’s burial in the Frampton Parish Register where his age is shown as 73, two years older than would have been the William in Ruskington, but ages in death before 1837 and the introduction of Registration cannot be relied upon to be accurate. In the case of the William born and married in Metheringham his father died before he was born and his mother died almost immediately after his birth so he was brought up as a ward of his Grandfather, so it would not be surprising if he was unsure of his year of birth, and even more so whichever member of his family gave his believed age to the priest.
I then investigated whether there was a death of an Elizabeth Copeland in Frampton, and indeed there was, with a burial in January 1841 of Elizabeth Coupland aged 80 of Kirton. This made her exactly the right age to have been born in 1761, the year that Elizabeth nee Tooley was baptised in Metheringham. But still not definitive proof that this was she, although quite probable.
Searching the British Newspaper Archive I was able to find death notices in both the Stamford Mercury for the 15th January 1841 and the Lincolnshire Chronicle of 22nd January 1841 with almost identical texts which read “On 3rd inst at Kirton, Elizabeth widow of Mr Wm. Copeland. farmer of Frampton, and mother of Henry Copeland of Billinghay".
I was soon able to find Henry Copeland in Billinghay in the 1851 Census, the first census that asks for place of birth, and Henry’s entry shows his age as 56, so born in 1795, and place of birth as Ruskington. Finally and at last I had proved that the Ruskington family and their son William in Cranwell were my direct ancestors, and my 5 x and 4 x Great Grandparents respectively. It had only taken 35 years !
My research did not end there as I wondered whether it might be possible to find advertisements in the local papers in 1810 or 1811 that might show a farm for sale in Frampton that William and Elizabeth might have bought with her inheritance from her father, and indeed I have found 3 likely locations. Nothing is yet proved and further research is needed, and perhaps other Parish Records for Frampton at the Lincolnshire Archives will reveal more. That will have to wait until we are allowed to travel again and visit such places.