Category: England, Somerset, Portbury

The Sainsburys of North Somerset: The First Generation

To date, we’ve found and classified more than 100 Sainsbury descendants on Ancestry who have a DNA match to one (in a few cases, more than one) of our Somerset Sainsbury cousins. However, that investigation hasn’t answered the mystery of where our North Somerset ancestor came from. So it seems like a good time to step back and review what we know — and what we don’t know — about our family’s earliest years in the Bristol area.

Portbury 1745

The first appearance of our ancestor, Richard Sainsbury, is in the Portbury parish register that records the wedding of Richard Sainsbury and Mary Willis on April 15, 1745:

Theirs was one of only two weddings in Portbury that year — and both were on the same day. In a small village, this was unlikely pure coincidence.

Related through Sprods … and some other way?

We don’t know whether Richard Sainsbury or Mary Willis were related to either Thomas Baily or Susan James — the other couple in this double wedding — but it seems likely they would at least have been friends to have shared the same wedding day.

We do know that in the next generation these two couples do become related through the marriage of two of their sons to two Sprod sisters: Richard and Mary’s son, Richard Billet Sainsbury, married Elizabeth Sprod in 1782, and Thomas and Susan’s son, James Bailey, married Anne Sprod in 1796.

Where was Mary Willis from?

We know Richard Sainsbury wasn’t baptised in the area, and there are no other Sainsburys in the local church records to make us think he was from a local family. (Hence The Mystery of Richard Sainsbury and this project). But where was Mary Willis from?

It was common practice for a couple who lived in different parishes to marry in the bride’s parish and take up residence where the groom lived. In this case, Mary Willis may have been a resident of Portbury.

There are baptisms for children with this name in 1713 and 1715 in Easton in Gordano — a parish just to the north of Portbury. These two Mary Willis girls were likely cousins — both their fathers were named George — but which married Richard Sainsbury (or, indeed, whether either married him) is unknown.

One of the mothers of these two Marys (the one baptised in 1713) was named Martha — a name Richard and Mary would give to one of their daughters. So that may have been the Mary Willis girl who married Richard Sainsbury in Portbury in 1745.

Clapton in Gordano

After their Portbury marriage Richard and Mary lived in the neighbouring parish of Clapton in Gordano. This is likely where Richard was living before their marriage. We don’t know what his occupation was. He could have been involved in the local coal mining operations. Or he may have been a farmer like his son William.

Image of bell pit coal mines from Clapton in Gordano Parish Council, Parish History page: https://www.claptoningordano.org.uk/parish-history

The Sainsbury children

1. Anthony Sainsbury (1746? – 1768)

Richard and Mary’s son Anthony was probably their first child. If so, he would have been born in about 1746. (There is no baptism record to indicate his birth.) He married Mary Mansfield in Nailsea in August, 1767 but the next year he was admitted to the Bristol Infirmary for a large abscess on his back.

Bristol Infirmary register showing Anthony Sainsbury admitted on June 22, 1768 and discharged on June 30. (Bristol Royal Infirmary register. Bristol Archives.)

Anthony was discharged as an outpatient 8 days after being admitted. Back home in Nailsea, he died within two weeks and was buried on July 15, 1768.

There is no record that he left any children.

2. William Sainsbury (1748-1783)

William Sainsbury, Richard and Mary’s second child, was described as a husbandman on his 1773 marriage registration. As a husbandman, he likely held his farm land by copyhold or leasehold tenure and was more or less an ‘average farmer in his locality’. (The Oxford Companion to Family and Local History.)

He and his wife Mary Lewis had two children, William (bap. 1776) and Mary (bap. 1780).

We don’t know what became of their daughter, Mary (bap. 1780), but William married Jane Durbin in Nailsea in 1800. Of their three daughters, one lived to adulthood and had a family of four. Their descendants’ surnames include Brake, Snow, and Rooke or Rooks.

Of the 100 or so Sainsbury cousins we’ve identified on Ancestry, only four (two mother-daughter pairs) descend from William Sainsbury and Mary Lewis.

3. Mary Sainsbury (1751 – ?)

There is no marriage record for this daughter of Richard Sainsbury and Mary Willis — unless she was the Mary Sainsbury who married John Redgers in Nailsea in 1788:

Unfortunately, the register doesn’t indicate whether Mary was a spinster or a widow.

If a widow, then the marriage would apply to her sister-in-law, Mary Manfield Sainsbury.

However, both guesses could be wrong. This John Redgers was likely born in 1767 — which would make him about 22 years younger than the widow Mary Sainsbury, or 16 years younger than Mary Sainsbury, daughter of Richard Sainsbury and Mary Willis.

This marriage may therefore apply to a Mary Sainsbury in the next generation. If, for example, Anthony and Mary had a child (unbaptised, because there is no record) she would have been born in 1768 — so she would have been the same age as this John Redgers.

Whoever the Mary Sainsbury was who married John Redgers, two of her children were given the middle name Manfield.

Comparing the word “Mary” in the signatures of these two (?) brides, they do appear similar, so it may indeed have been Mary Manfield Sainsbury who married John Redgers in 1788:

In this case, to get around the apparent 22-year age difference, perhaps there was another, older, John Redgers in the village.

Which brings us to . . .

Lydia Sainsbury, daughter of Mary Sainsbury

Lydia Sainsbury was baptised in Nailsea in 1771 — the “natural daughter” of a Mary Sainsbury:

At first glance it seems reasonable to assume Lydia was the daughter of Mary Sainsbury, daughter of Richard Sainsbury and Mary Willis. And in fact, four of our Somerset Sainsbury cousins have a distant match to four descendants of Lydia Sainsbury.

However, there was another Mary Sainsbury in Nailsea at the time. Mary Manfield Sainsbury, widow of Anthony Sainsbury (who had died 3 years earlier), may have been Lydia’s mother.

This other option seems more likely because two of Lydia’s children were given “Mansfield” as a middle name, which makes sense if her mother was in fact Mary Mansfield Sainsbury, widow of Anthony Sainsbury.

This would also mean that the DNA shared by the four matches we have among our cousins to Lydia’s descendants must be on a “non-Sainsbury” line. Neither Lydia Sainsbury’s mother or (presumably) her (unknown) father were descendants of Richard Sainsbury and Mary Willis.

4. Richard Billet Sainsbury (1753 – 1811)

Richard Billet Sainsbury (the only time his middle name appears is on his baptism record) was a shopkeeper who lived in Yatton and Congresbury.

In Congresbury, he signed a petition requesting a meeting house for Dissenters in 1807. Other signatories included George and James Burgess and Thomas Sprod — all relations of Richard’s wife, Elizabeth Sprod.

In 1811, Richard’s will described the property he held in Congresbury — and included a stipulation about his son John’s share:

All my Effects for life [to my wife, Elizabeth], after her death to my daughter Elizabeth Sainsbury my Orchard and premises with the appurtenances called Pitmead Orchard, which I hold under the Dean and Chapter of Wells for all the remaining lives term & terms of years then to come & unexpired. The then Residue between all my Children their Exrs. [executors] & Admns. (except the share of my Son John Sainsbury, which I direct to be divided between his three Children by his first wife or the Survivors).

Duty on estate of Richard Sainsbury with abstract of will. Somerset Archives and Local Studies Service ref. Reel ED2, No. 543, p. 34-35. Emphasis added.

John’s first wife, Mary Shepton, had died in 1808. Then, in 1810, John married Sarah Jones and their first child, Edward, was born around 1811.

There was perhaps some ill will or disapproval on Richard’s part towards his son John’s second marriage. For whatever reason, he cut John out of his will in favour of John’s first three children: John, age 7; Henry, age 5; and Elizabeth, age 3.

Of those children, John and Elizabeth would move to London in their early twenties and raise large families. Henry would father a child in Congresbury (John Horler, bap. 1827), marry Elizabeth Lewis and have another son, John Sainsbury (b. 1844 Cardiff) and then disappear from the record.

The most matches

By far most of the cousin matches we’ve found on Ancestry are among descendants of Richard Billet Sainsbury and his wife Elizabeth Sprod.

We’ve so far identified about 80 descendants of this couple in England, Canada, the US, New Zealand and Australia, plus another 30 or so “highly likely” cousins (based on the DNA they share with various combinations of Sainsbury cousins).

Of those matches, here’s the breakdown by Richard and Elizabeth’s four children:

1/ John Sainsbury (1783-1857). As described, John had three children with his first wife, Mary Shepston, and another 8 children with his second wife, Sarah Jones. His children form our largest group of Ancestry cousins — 33 are descendants of John and Mary and 34 descend from John and Sarah.

2/ Prudence Sainsbury Burgess (1785-1872). Prudence married Robert Burgess in Bristol in 1808 and had four children. We’ve so far identified 5 descendants of this couple on Ancestry.

3/ Elizabeth Sainsbury Taylor (1787-?). Elizabeth married Samuel Taylor in Congresbury in 1813. Her sister, Prudence, was a witness:

Elizabeth and Samuel were likely childless. There are no baptisms in Congresbury in the years after 1813 to indicate they had a family. However, we have found a significant set of matches that go back to a local Taylor family in the 18th-century. So this is an area of active research.

4/ Richard Sainsbury (1790-1860). Richard married Mary Hemmens (or variant spellings) a few days before his sister Elizabeth’s marriage to Samuel Taylor in Congresbury in 1813:

Richard and Mary had 7 daughters (3 died as infants) and 1 son. We’ve identified four of their descendants on Ancestry: two descendants of their son William, and two descendants of their daughter Ann.

4. Martha Sainsbury (1756 – 1836?)

Richard and Mary’s youngest child, Martha, was baptised in Nailsea in 1756. She married John Wood in Backwell (a neighbouring parish) in 1786. The minister recorded Mary’s surname as “Sasbury” and although she could not sign her name, we’re confident this is her marriage because her brother Richard (i.e., Richard Billet Sainsbury) was a witness:

1786 marriage of Martha Sainsbury with brother Richard’s signature as a witness.
1782 marriage of Richard Sainsbury to Elizabeth Sprod, with Richard’s signature.

Two months after their marriage, Martha and James’s first child, James Wood, was baptised in Backwell. But after that, the family disappears from the area and we’ve found no DNA connections to any likely Wood descendants among our Sainsbury cousins.

The only clue we have as to where the family might have moved is the burial of a Martha Wood in nearby Keynsham in 1836:

Are you a descendant of John and Martha Wood? Please use the Contact button at the top of this page to get in touch.

Can you help?

Are you a descendant of one of these Sainsbury families? Would you like to be part of this research project by sharing your DNA results? Please use the Comments section or the Contact button at the top of this page to get in touch.