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Anne Brooks' Ancestry



"No better heritage can a father bequeath to his children than a good name; nor is there in a family any richer heirloom than the memory of a noble ancestor".
James Hamilton

  Fore St., Winkleigh around 1905

What are the odds that the solution to your genealogical brickwall lies in discovering that the surname of your ancestor is not his surname? What are the odds that this discovery will occur when you meet someone on your one and only trip to a family history centre 4000 miles from home? I think you will agree that such odds are minute; so much so, that the thought never occurred to meÖ nevertheless, it happened.

My great grandmother, Emma Phillips CROCKER, born April 10th, 1848 in Plymouth, Devon, was the daughter of Richard CROCKER and Elizabeth PHILLIPS as was stated on her birth certificate. Her parents lived in Plymouth from 1851 to 1871 based on census information; all report Richard was born in Winkleigh, Devon.

  Emma Phillips CROCKER's birth certificate

My search for a marriage between Richard CROCKER and Elizabeth PHILLIPS was futile. My search for the baptism of Richard CROCKER around 1811 in Winkleigh, Devon did lead me to possibilities but with further research these invariably were proven not to be my Richard. After much time and thought, I placed Richard CROCKER on my brickwall and concentrated elsewhere for several years.

In 2004 I had the luxury of returning home to Devon; my visit allowed me a one day trip to Exeter. I decided to spend a few hours at the Devon Family History Centre; it was my first visit. Shortly after arriving, a volunteer approached me and asked if she could help. I told her I was looking for the baptism of a Richard CROCKER around 1811 in Winkleigh, and that I had exhausted my possibilities. She looked at me and said, ďI can help you; please wait a minute and Iíll be back.Ē In less than five minutes she had returned, and proceeded to inform me that the reason I could not find Richardís baptism was because he was born Richard POPE, son of John POPE and Elizabeth CROCKER. My immediate response was skeptical but I thought I had little to lose by listening.

This lady had a personal interest in the POPE and CROCKER lines and had done her own extensive research of the parish records; while not directly connected to my specific line, she was familiar with it. She told me that oral history had it that Richard POPE and some of his brothers had had a rift with their father, John POPE, and sometime after the 1841 census they began changing their surname from POPE to that of their motherís maiden name, CROCKER. This information was the doorway through my brickwall. She gave me the baptism date of Richard POPE to John POPE and Elizabeth CROCKER, along with those of some of his ten siblings; she also gave the marriage of his parents. Significant proof for me was finding the marriage of Richard POPE to Elizabeth PHILLIPS on 8 May 1833 in South Molton. To see the marriage certificate click here.

  Winkleigh in early 1900's

After returning home I spent time exploring the conversion of the name POPE to CROCKER in this family by looking at baptismal, registration and census records in order to further demonstrate that this had actually happened. Richard POPE and Elizabeth PHILLIPS had a family of 10 children born between 1834 and 1857. Three baptisms prior to 1848 were in the name POPE, while the birth certificate of my great grandmother, Emma, in 1848 was as CROCKER. The 1841 census records the family as POOPE; from 1851 forward they are CROCKER. All of their sons who could be followed in the censuses have continued the name.

Of Richard POPEís seven brothers, only four have been found in the censuses. (His sisters changed their names upon marriage and are not a consideration.)
(1) Samuel, born 1806 appears not to have been influenced. Perhaps being the oldest, he had already left home by the time this rift occurred. Only one of his own three sons have been identified in the censuses and he too remained as POPE.

(2) John, born ca. 1807, might possibly have been the John POPE who married Nancy SAMPSON. If true, he also did not change his name; the surname POPE remained in succeeding generations.

(3) Thomas, born ca. 1813, married Maria BROOKING and by 1851 he had taken an intermediary approach by identifying himself as Thomas Crocker POPE; ten years later he had dropped the surname POPE and was known as Thomas CROCKER. His son, William Henry, baptized as POPE in 1848, subsequently named all his own children CROCKER. His son George, born in 1850, was registered as George Crocker POPE at birth, and a daughter born in 1854 was registered as Elizabeth Ellen Pope CROCKER. Elizabethís death two years later was registered as Elizabeth Ellen CROCKER; all births of his subsequent children were registered as CROCKER.

(4) Joseph, born ca. 1815, married Martha STUCKEY. Joseph baptized his first son, Josiah Stuckey, as POPE in 1839; baptisms and birth registrations for his other three children have yet to be located. The family was recorded under the surname POPE in the 1841 and 1851 censuses. In 1861 they were recorded as CROCKER; in 1871 as COOKER which was most likely an error for CROCKER. In 1881 they were again CROCKER; his sons continued the naming pattern with their own children.

  All Saints Church, Winkleigh, Devon


That is the unanswered question. We do not know what happened to John POPEís second wife, Elizabeth LUXTON, whom he married in 1822, only four months after the death of Elizabeth CROCKER. They were not together in 1841 since it appears that John and their son, James, (born about 1823) were working on a farm in Ashreigney. Interestingly this son, James, married and carried on the name POPE, so he appeared not to be involved. We know that only some of the sons were complicit in this arrangement and that by 1861 the process was complete. But because it seems to have been initiated at differing times, some earlier than others, perhaps there was not one major event which triggered it, but a succession of events. It would appear that money was scarce in Johnís home, based on his occupation, so favoring children with such a commodity is an unlikely reason. It is doubtful we will ever discover the cause, however one could safely assume, that whatever it was, a decision by some to revoke the family name would have divided the family sharply.

Considering a formal document of a name change within a family may not even have existed in those times, this approach appears to be the only way I can prove it occurred. I consider myself extremely lucky to have discovered this anomaly within my direct line. Having learned of its possibility, I must admit it is tempting to contemplate the same scenario with some of my other family lines, which consistently close their doors to me, but twice would be truly pushing the odds.

June 2008