The Missing Link

Until very recently, if I were to have been asked to name a deceased person with whom I would most want to spend a short time, without hesitation it would have been Robert Blackwood of Wreningham in Norfolk, England.

Who was he?

He was an agricultural labourer who married a Mary Watts in 1756, in the adjacent parish of Hethel. They had nine children.

Extract from the Hethel parish records documenting the marriage of Robert Blackwood and Mary Watts

It is significant that Robert Blackwood could sign his own name, in an era when most people could only make a mark, as did Mary Watts and one of the witnesses. None of the Blackwood children were able to sign their own name.

Robert died in Hethel in 1782 and his wife in 1800. They were my 4th great grandparents, and I am descended from their son, John.

Given the opportunity, of all the deceased people I could spend with, why would I choose him?

Because he has been my genealogical ‘brick wall’. For about 35 years, on and off, I had been trying to find his birth record, without success. My father had never heard mention of him, but he did say that his father had once told him that the Blackwood family was from Bungay, on the Norfolk/Suffolk border.

It was later, when I was researching in the Norwich archives, that I decided to take a side trip to Lowestoft, where I was told that there was a copy of the Suffolk records. It proved to be a worthwhile trip, for I found evidence of a Blackwood family residing in the Bungay area in 1688-1700 – James and Elizabeth Blackwood, with children James, John, Elizabeth, and Robert.

So, my grandfather’s claim proved to be true, but which of the three Bungay sons was the father of my 4th grandparent, Robert of Wreningham. Over time I carefully searched all the parishes in a wide radius, but the missing link eluded me. I found the marriage of Elizabeth, but no sign of the sons nor the birth of Robert.

Until one day last year when I received a mail from a lady in Australia. She had come across my blog, when researching information on Blackwoods in Norfolk. She was also descended from Robert of Wreningham and had hit the same ‘brick wall’. But using a genealogical site, to which I did not have access, she found the birth of a Robert Blackwood (born 1723 in Bixley), and his father James, that approximately matched up with dates and the names of my families in Wreningham and Bungay. As the Blackwood surname was relatively rare in Norfolk in that era and in that area, I am convinced that we have found the missing link.

Then, following up on my knowledge of the Bungay family, the lady found a copy of James Blackwood’s will in the Sussex archives and transcribed it.

So, what do we now know of James, Robert of Wreningham’s grandfather?

From the record of his death, we estimate that he was born about 1668, and his wife was called Elizabeth. We don’t know where he was born, nor where he was married. He owned a public house, The Crown, in Bungay. He left a will in 1700 and he died shortly after.

An extract from the will of James Blackwood, written not long before his death

I am not certain of the location of the public house. There was a pub called ‘The Crown’ at 24 Cross Street, but it closed sometime between 1925 and 1930. On 22 February 1777, the Ipswich Journal advertised a ‘Crown’ for rent at the end of Cross Street, on Market Place and that pub appears on the Ordnance Survey map of 1905.

An extract from the Ordnance Survey map of 1905

The Crown Inn was at 24 Cross Street, Bungay, but the business no longer exists. The building now houses retail shops

So my Blackwood ancestral linenow looks like the following:

James Blackwood (c1668-1700) = Elizabeth?

-> James Blackwood (1692-?) = Elizabeth Smith

-> Robert Blackwood (1723-1782) = Mary Watts (c1733-1800)

-> John Blackwood (1764-1848) = Mary Harvey (c1764-1847)

-> Robert Blackwood (1809-1867) = Susannah Ringwood (1811-1889)

-> William Blackwood (1847-1927) = Lucy Ann English (1846-1934)

-> Leonard Clive Blackwood (1881-1965) = Agnes Pilgrim (1883-1958)

-> Harry William Blackwood (1918-1995) = Beatrice Elizabeth Stewart Douglas (1924-1985)

-> Leonard Douglas Blackwood (1946-)

I doubt if we will ever uncover any more evidence from Bungay, so now we now have the challenge of finding the birth of James Blackwood, his marriage, and the identity of Elizabeth.

As always in genealogy, when one door closes, two more open.

And I wonder what ever happened to that silver tankard…

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