The Search for John Melhuish

Every family researcher has their own brick wall, but mine seems to have been particularly well constructed. It has been there for 20 years and shows no signs yet of falling down.

 When I first began my own family research I quickly raced back through the Melhuish generations until I came to my GGGG-grandparents. And then I stopped!

Although I have gone several generations further from my GGGG-grandmother, I have made no progress at all with my male line which is, of course, the one of relevance to the Melhuish One-Name Study. So .....

My GGGG-grandfather is John Melhuish. On 5 June 1753 he married Catharine Middleton in Bampton parish church. The parish register reads simply:
John Melhuish of Morebath and Catherine Middleton Kings Brompton June 5.

So therein lies the first mystery; why did a man from Morebath (or more strictly, "of Morebath") and a woman from King's Brompton go to Bampton to get married? Bampton is not even between the two villages, and they appear to have gone to King's Brompton to live immediately after getting married. Their first child was baptised there 10 months after the wedding, as were all their subsequent children.

The best guide to John's date of birth comes from the register of burials in King's Brompton:
Mr John Melhuish was buried February 16 1799. A:70
He's the only person in the death register accorded a "Mr" title so presumably he was a person of some status in the village.

John Melhuish 1799 burialNow provided the age is correct, he was born in 1728 or early 1729. And here is the bigger problem; there is no baptism for a John Melhuish around that date in either Bampton, Morebath, King's Brompton or any of the surrounding parishes. There are definitely no Melhuishs in the Bampton baptism register for 1723 to 1730, and none were found in 1730 to 1736, although that section is difficult to read.

There are virtually no Melhuishs at all in Bampton during this period (just John's marriage and one other, plus the burial of William Melhuish). It has been noted that there are quite a lot of people "of Morebath" being married in Bampton during this time. Was there some particular reason why people chose to go to Bampton to marry? It is also noteable that there are very few entries in the Morebath parish registers at this time. Size of parish? Everyone used Bampton instead? They were all heathens?

There are a number of contenders for the title of being John's parents.

Robert Melhuish and Elizabeth, King's Brompton
These are the parents suggested by a number of researchers but there is no documentary evidence, to my knowledge. The Brompton Regis (King's Brompton) parish register shows six baptisms for children of Robert and Elizabeth: John, May 1705, Elizabeth, Dec 1706, Jane, Jan 1711, Sarah, Apr 1714, Robert, Aug 1718 and James, Aug 1721. Elizabeth was born about 1685 according to her age in the burial register so she would have been 44 when John was born. Although possible, it seems a slight stretch of the imagination, particularly if the previous child was born 7 or 8 years before.

John Melhuish and Caroline, Morebath
The big point in favour of these people as the parents of John is that they baptised other children in Morebath at about the right time. There are Sarah, Sep 1717, Robert, Nov 1719, Martha, Oct 1721 and James, Sep 1724. Another birth in 1728 is entirely plausible and would explain the "of Morebath" on John's marriage register entry.

Ferdinando Melhuish and Elizabeth Alstone, Tiverton
Now we are starting to cast the net a bit wider as Ferdinando's son John was born in Tiverton. The baptism is dated 18 Jan 1741 but the entry reads "John son of Ferdinando Melhuish deceasd. Janry 24 1727. "Viewing the register page as a whole it is clear that the date of birth is 24 Jan 1727, not quite agreeing with John's age at death but very close and probably close enough.

Philip Melhuish, Halberton
This John was baptised in Halberton in Aug 1729 so the date is very close. Halberton is the same distance from Morebath as Tiverton (about 11 miles) so it's not ideal, but possible. A point against this choice is that there are no Philips in the subsequent generations when most names repeated from generation to generation.

John Melhuish, Halberton
Another John was baptised in Halberton in Dec 1732, this time the son of another John Melhuish. The date is getting rather far from 1728/9 though.

So where do we go from here? The search of parish records has been exhausted (and exhausting!) over the years. Unless new evidence appears in the form of court rolls or wills, we are unlikely to get more from the documentation.

The best hope now is DNA. If we can match the Y-DNA of a male descendent of John and Catharine with a male outside of the group, we may finally solve the mystery.

8 Jun 2022, 12:34