Month: September 2019

A Day of Coincidence: Urchfont Connections

The next cluster of DNA matches we’ll investigate in our series of DNA Match Profiles is one centred on the Wiltshire parish of Urchfont.

But before we get to that post in the next few weeks, it’s worth considering some connections that have come to light from wills and other documents that link individuals in 18th-century Urchfont to others in the Bristol area where our Somerset Sainsburys lived.

A documented Richard Sainsbury

Compared to the other clusters we’ve looked at in the past few DNA Match Profile blog posts, and as will be seen in an upcoming blog post, there are more matches among our Somerset cousins to descendants of the Sainsburys (or Saintsburys) of Urchfont.

In addition to more DNA matches, the Sainsbury family of 18th-century Urchfont is also worth an in-depth look because it includes a documented Richard Sainsbury.

Richard Sainsbury bap. Urchfont 1708

A Richard Sainsbury was baptised in Urchfont 1708. He did not die as an infant and he was alive in 1719 when he was named in a court case involving a debt his widowed mother claimed she could not pay.

After that, we know nothing about him. There are no area marriages or deaths of a Richard Sainsbury in the years following.

One unproven possibility (described in the Wild Weekend Theory post a few months back) is that he was, in fact, the Richard Sainsbury who appears near Bristol in 1745 and marries Mary Willis.

It’s true that a 1708 baptism would make the Richard Sainsbury of Urchfont a bit old (at 37) to be the same person who marries near Bristol in 1745 (at a time when the average age at marriage was closer to 26). But it would make him a reasonable age (77) when he died in 1785.

Richard Billet Sainsbury

When we started this research, one of the intriguing clues to our Sainsbury ancestor’s origin was the middle name he gave his fourth child, Richard Billet Sainsbury:

Richard Billet son of Richd. & Mary Saintsbury – Bpd. Octr. the 14 1753. Clapton in Gordano, Somerset.
Somerset Heritage Service; Taunton, Somerset, England; Somerset Parish Records, 1538-1914; Reference Number: D\P\

Billet or Billett was not an area surname. In fact, a search of parish registers in the Portbury area between 1700 and 1750 turns up only one record, the marriage of Gilbert Billet and Mary Skeats in Long Ashton (a parish beside Portbury), in 1711:

Search results for any Billet or Billett baptism, marriage or burial in Portbury or 100 additional places within 12 miles. (

(Side note: A little over a decade later, in November 1725, Gilbert was declared bankrupt. The notice in the London Gazette described him as a cider merchant and chapman who lived in Lacock, Wiltshire.)

Middle names, of course, were often family surnames from earlier generations. So was Billet or Billett the surname of Richard Sainsbury’s mother or grandmother?

Did a Sainsbury marry a Billet?

A search for any marriages between a Sainsbury or Saintsbury and a Billet or Billett in all transcribed English parish records turns up only one, in 1736, between a Robert Saintsbury and Mary Billet, which happens to be in the same time period we’re investigating:

Search results for any marriages between a Sainsbury or Saintsbury and A Billet or Billett. England, Select Marriages, 1538–1973 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014.

As it turns out, the Mary Billet who married this Robert Saintsbury in 1736 (at about the same time our ancestor, Richard, was starting his family in the Bristol area) was the daughter of Gilbert Billet and Mary Skeats.

However, as can be seen from the location of their daughter’s 1736 marriage (Corsham, Wiltshire), neither Gilbert Billet and his family nor Mary Skeats (or Skeate) or her family were from Somerset. They were from Wiltshire.

Who was Robert Saintsbury?

Robert Saintsbury was an innholder in Calne, near Corsham. When he died in 1775 he left multiple legacies to many cousins and associates in various parts of Wiltshire.

However, he doesn’t seem to have been a near relation of either the Richard Sainsbury who was born in Urchfont in 1708, or the Richard Sainsbury who married in Portbury in 1745. He was from a Sainsbury family that originated in Devizes, Wiltshire to which we’ve found no DNA connections:

Immediate family of Robert Saintsbury (b. Warminster 1717 d. Calne 1775)

So the investigation into a possible connection with these Saintsbury and Billet families came to an end. Or maybe just a pause. There’s still something compelling about both the 1711 Gilbert Billet – Mary Skeats (or Skeate) marriage in the parish next to Portbury, and the 1736 marriage of Gilbert and Mary’s daughter, Mary, to a Robert Saintsbury.

Ruddle v Weston

In 1741, five years after the marriage of Robert Saintsbury and Mary Skeates, depositions in a legal case were taken in the Bristol-area village of Brislington. This was part of a case known as Ruddle v Weston.

We don’t have the original documents, but the plaintiffs were Simon Ruddle, John Clark, and Thomas Hayward.

The defendants included a Samuel Sainsbury (junior), and given the time and place of these depositions, it seemed possible this Samuel Sainsbury could have been a relation of Richard Sainsbury who was living in nearby Portbury.

Who was Samuel Sainsbury junior?

However, just like the lead provided by the Robert Saintsbury who married Mary Billet, an investigation into the family of this Samuel Sainsbury junior didn’t lead to any discoveries about our Bristol-area ancestor.

The immediate family of Samuel Sainsbury junior (b. 1718 Market Lavington, Wiltshire d. 1778 Bristol)

In short, there was no Richard Sainsbury in Samuel Sainsbury junior’s immediate family and (so far) no identified DNA connections between Samuel’s family and any descendants of Richard Sainsbury North Somerset.

So if there’s no identified connection between Richard Sainsbury of North Somerset (who gave his son the middle name “Billet”) and either Gilbert Billet of Wiltshire, or the Robert Sainsbury who married Gilbert’s daughter, or Samuel Sainsbury junior of Bristol, is there any connection to Gilbert Billet’s wife, Mary Skeate?

The answer is a qualified “maybe.”

A Skeate family connection?

The defendants in the case of Ruddle v Weston include four siblings: Emanuel, William, Elizabeth, and Mary Skeate. A bit of research revealed they are, in fact, Gilbert Billet and Mary Skeate’s nieces and nephews, descended from William Skeate and Alice Ruddle:

The Skeate family of Bishops Cannings, Wiltshire; descendants of William Skeate and Alice Ruddle.

Meanwhile, ongoing research into the family tree of Richard Sainsbury who was baptised in Urchfont in 1708 turned up an intriguing connection, or coincidence — his great-grandmother was a Ruddle.

Rebecca Ruddle (d. 1688)

Pedigree of Richard Sainsbury (or Saintsbury) of the parish of Urchfont, Wiltshire. Rebecca Ruddle is his paternal great-grandmother.

A Ruddle connection?

The fact that the Billet-Skeate family of the Chippenham area and the Sainsbury family of Urchfont each had a Ruddle ancestor led to a search for the will of any Ruddle who may have lived in Urchfont in the 1700s.

If any such wills existed, they might have mentioned Sainsbury relatives and, with luck (a lot of luck), they might even have mentioned some distant kinsman, “Richard Sainsbury, formerly of Urchfont, but now living in Somerset.”

Well, that didn’t happen.

But what did turn up was the 1748 will of Simon Ruddle, complainant in the Ruddle v Weston case that held depositions in the Bristol area in 1741, and whose defendants included four Skeate siblings and Samuel Sainsbury junior:

Ancestry record of the will of Simon Ruddle (1748) of Urchfont, Wiltshire. The National Archives; Kew, England; Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 768.

The will of Simon Ruddle, 1748

We learn from this 6-page, single-spaced document that Simon Ruddle of Urchfont owned significant property in the City of Bristol. We also discover he left a legacy to the same four Skeate children named as defendants in his 1741 court case.

But we don’t yet know how he was related (if at all) to those Skeate children (and, by extension, to their aunt and uncle, Gilbert and Mary Billet).

Also, we don’t know if he was related through the Ruddle line to the Sainsburys of Urchfont (and, by extension, to the Richard Sainsbury who was baptised in 1708).

It will take time to work through all the details of his will and follow-up on any leads it provides:

But at a minimum, here’s what we’ve got:

  • The 1711 marriage of Gilbert Billet of the Chippenham area to Mary Skeate (aka Skeats, etc.) in Long Ashton (neighbouring parish to Portbury); this couple then returned to Wiltshire;
  • The 1736 marriage of a Robert Sainsbury (aka Saintsbury) to a daughter of Gilbert and Mary Billet;
  • The 1741 depositions in Brislington, near Bristol, in the case of Ruddle v Weston whose defendants included not only a Samuel Sainsbury but also nieces and nephews of Gilbert and Mary Billet.
  • The 1748 will of Simon Ruddle of Urchfont, Wiltshire, complainant in that 1741 court case, who had significant holdings in the City of Bristol;
  • The 1753 baptism of the fourth child of Richard Sainsbury (our mystery man) of Portbury who gave that child the Chippenham-area surname “Billet” as a middle name;
  • The appearance of the surname Ruddle in the ancestries of:
    • Simon Ruddle of Urchfont (will of 1748);
    • Mary Skeats (wife of Gilbert Billet) of the Chippenham area, Wiltshire, whose grandmother was a Ruddle;
    • Mary’s four nieces and nephews named in the 1741 court case (Emanuel, William, Elizabeth, and Mary Skeate) whose great-grandmother was a Ruddle, and
    • Richard Sainsbury (bap 1708) of Urchfont, whose great-grandmother was a Ruddle.

So, is there a connection?

Do these facts and coincidences point to some thread that connects:

  1. our 18th-century Bristol-area ancestor, Richard Sainsbury (birth date and place unknown);
  2. the Ruddle, Billet and Skeate families of 18th-century Wiltshire; and
  3. the Richard Sainsbury who was baptised in Urchfont in 1708 but about whose later life we have no information?

We hope more research and more DNA comparisons will provide the answer! For now, these documents and our DNA connections to the Sainsburys of Urchfont are providing many leads to pursue as we work to solve the mystery of Richard Sainsbury of North Somerset.

Disclaimer: As with any research project, when new evidence comes to light, former theories may change. This blog post includes theories and conclusions developed from the best available evidence at the time this post was written. It may be corroborated or refuted by later research. This post must therefore be considered in the context of all information presented in earlier and later posts.