09 October 2012

Sorting out the Rich family of Somerset

I've been working on the family of my great great grandfather, William Rich (abt 1832-1927), who apparently came from Somerset - I'm still trying to work out exactly where. I'm hoping that if I can track down his family it might shed some light on where it was that he was born. Sometimes you just have to gather together all your information and try and make some educated guesses. So here goes.

His parents, according to his death record from the NSW BDM (6651/1927), were William Rich and Elizabeth Milton. William Rich, the father, was listed as a farmer. We can verify some of this with the death record of his known sister (known through her funeral notice), Avice Bindon, as her parents were both William and Elizabeth as well (14845/1908).

I have not been able to find a marriage record for William Rich senior and Elizabeth Milton - perhaps they weren't officially married. At about the time they appear to have started producing children there is a conglomeration of Richs in the area of Nether Stowey and Over Stowey. The Miltons are mostly found further west, around St Decumans and Sampford Brett. Wherever William Rich senior came from (which may or may not have been over at Nether or Over Stowey), I think that after he "married" Elizabeth they lived near her family rather than his - in searching for their potential children I have not found any baptisms for other Rich families in the same parishes.

The following is a table of the potential children of William and Elizabeth Rich, mostly according to baptism records:

Name Baptism date Parish Father Father's occ Mother Abode
James Milton RICHE 26 Dec 1817 Stogumber William Yeoman Elizabeth Ann Stogumber
Mary Ann RICH 3 Feb 1820 Stogumber William Yeoman Elizabeth Ann Vexford
Eliza RICH 23 Jan 1821 Stogumber William Maltster Elizabeth Ann Watchet
Harriet RICH 23 Nov 1823 St Decumans William Maltster Elizabeth Watchet
Anna Maria RICH 23 Nov 1823 St Decumans William Maltster Elizabeth Watchet
Avice RICH Abt 1828 - based on 1851 Census St Decumans
Louisa RICH 28 Aug 1831 Crowcombe William Maltster Elizabeth Stogumber
Ann RICH 19 Jul 1836 Stogumber William Farmer Elizabeth Higher Vexford
Emma RICH 19 Jul 1836 Stogumber William Farmer Elizabeth Higher Vexford
William RICH 19 Jul 1836 Stogumber William Farmer Elizabeth Higher Vexford
Frederick RICH 7 Dec 1842 St Decumans William Baker Elizabeth London

I have looked at this information for a long time, trying to solve the mystery of whether this is two families - one with a father who is a yeoman/farmer, the other a maltster - or one where the father does all three (setting aside the final entry for "Frederick Rich"). It wasn't until I was working on the Milton branch of the family that I discovered that the second option was very likely to be true: Elizabeth Milton's sister Ellen Wood Milton married Jonathan Date, and in the baptism records of their children he was also noted variously as a yeoman, farmer and maltster (he was also a baker). Although it might be possible that there were two families of William and Elizabeth Rich, the likelihood of there being two families of Jonathan and Ellen Date, with their less common names, is much smaller. Also, the Dates lived and worked at Snailholt Farm, Watchet, and I think it is quite possible that William Rich worked with/for Jonathan whilst the Rich family were in Watchet. Snailholt Farm was quite a large farm, about 143 acres, and so the Dates would have had many workers. I can imagine that William may have worked for him.

I have not been able to find any electoral lists that cover the period in Somerset where William Rich senior's occupation is listed as a yeoman. But it would appear that he was farming somewhere around the Vexford, Stogumber area. Perhaps a change in fortune lead to him and his family moving to Watchet, to work as a maltster, possibly with his brother-in-law Jonathan Date at Snailholt Farm. A maltster made malt, usually from barley, and often the maltster farmed the barley first. Being a maltster at a farm suggests that they were also farming barley there. There was a brewery at Stogumber that the malt would have been produced for.

By about the early to mid 1830s the Rich family had moved on from Watchet, back to around Stogumber/Higher Vexford, to take up farming again. Barley? Who knows. Although I have not been able to locate William and Elizabeth Rich in the 1841 Census (or any census in fact!) living at Higher Vexford in 1841 were Benjamin, Sarah and John Milton, brother, sister and father of Elizabeth Rich. The 1841 Census also lists a 10 year old Louisa Rich (F.S. - farm servant/female servant?) living/staying with the Miltons in Higher Vexford. So I think it is safe to assume that William had been working with his in-laws in Higher Vexford. I don't know where the majority of the Rich family were during the 1841 Census. I don't actually know when either William or Elizabeth died. There is the possibility that the family moved to London for William to work as a baker, using skills he possibly picked up whilst working with his brother-in-law Jonathan Date. The 1851 Census has daughter Avice living with Benjamin and Sarah Milton in Vexford - where all the other living members of the Rich family were is anyone's guess. By 1857, when Avice was married in Lambeth, Surrey, William is listed as a farmer. He is not listed as deceased on the marriage record, but then I'm not sure if they would do that anyway.

And that's about as far as I can get with guessing what the Rich family were up to in Somerset. I can only assume that the William Rich who was baptised at Stogumber in 1836 with his sisters Emma and Ann was my great great grandfather, unless better information turns up!


  1. Hi Prue,

    My name is Andrea Rich and I am also researching my family tree of the Rich Family in Somerset. So far I can see some connections with my tree and the information you have posted on here. My email address is arich803@gmail.com, it would be great if we could put our heads together. Regards Andrea

  2. Interesting. I am interested in a Harriet Rich born 1826 in England, that is all I know for now. At some stage, she eimgrated to Canada and married my great, great (etc.) grandfather, Charles Hirlehey, in Canada sometime before 1856. I am going to try th check the shipping lists

    hirlehey 'at' gmail dot com