Name variations? What about last AND first name variations?

In 1635 my 10th great grandparents Crispin Hooper and Rebecca Leere married at Charleton in Devon; it was a second marriage for both of them.

Both were soaked in middle class gentrified heritage. Crispin had a coat of arms which suggests he was a descendant or relative of Tristram Howper of Musbury and had family of prominent standing: Sir Nicholas Hooper, MP for Barnstaple, and George Hooper, the Bishop of Bath and Wells.

Hill, Thomas; George Hooper (1640-1727), Bishop of Bath and Wells; Christ Church, University of Oxford; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/george-hooper-16401727-bishop-of-bath-and-wells-228991

Crispin acted on behalf of, in what capacity no-one knows, other Devon families of some note including major landowners the Bastard family of Gerston and the Crispins. My hunch is that Crispin was either a notary or a scrivener rather than a lawyer – there are no alumni or bar records for him in contrast to the namesake named after his son!

Speaking of which, Chrispine junior was baptised on 9th June 1616 at West Alvington. He probably took up a similar occupation to his father, for we find him on the high seas heading to the newish English colony of Barbados prior to 1667 and once there managing the affairs of one Robert Hooper.

Chrispine managed a plantation for Robert and possibly impregnated Kate, ‘the old negro Ollo’s daughter,’ for in his will he requested that his executors purchase her freedom along with that of her ‘little son William.’ I would love to know their fate.

Back in England, following his father’s marriage to Rebecca, three further children were born to Crispin senior including my 9th great grandfather Gyles.

These gentrified families rarely let anyone in from outside their class sphere unless they themselves had experienced the ladder being pulled from under them. Therefore it was not a large leap to consider that Rebecca was the daughter of yeoman gentry named Leere from Totnes or Bovey Tracey.

However, finding her baptism was tricky. Her calculated year of birth, based on her first marriage to wealthy Dartmouth merchant Thomas Waldrope, was 1600. That marriage took place at Totnes where there were but a handful of Leeres in the parish registers, but despite numerous searches of Findmypast’s Devon database, there was no sign of Rebecca Leere.

Studying parish registers and constructing family relationships based on clusters was covered in a blog post I authored called ‘Pulling back the covers! How to blanket search parish registers.’ In this post I discussed the methods and benefits of blanket searching and identifying family clusters.

One of the benefits is identifying potential fathers (and mother’s if they are mentioned) for our ancestor. In Rebecca’s case there were ‘William,’ ‘Tomas,’ and the most prolific of them all ‘Rychard.’ By identifying these three individuals, I could look specifically for their names in the register amongst the nebulous scrawling from the pen of a parish official.

Another benefit of blanket searching, and this really is the point of this whole blog post, is noting all the name variations that are not included in the name variants filter of some databases. Many get missed and we all too reliant on using Soundex and ticking name variant boxes. We get lazy and then overlook the all important candidate who could be our relative. This equally applies to FIRST names as well as surnames!

Blanket searching therefore forces us to take into consideration a name that is so outlandish, we would never have contemplated it would be the answer to our problem.

For the Leeres I identified the following variations from the registers: Leer, Leere, Lear, Leare, Lyer, Lier, Liere, Lyre.

But how well do these match up against mytree.com’s name variation list:

Mytree.com surname variants search box
Some of Mytree.com’s results – too many to include here!

The Mytree.com list is pretty exhaustive.

Once I made a list of the surname variations, I said them out loud. I thought about the local accent (which can change over time) and how many of the variations were plausible.

For other researchers, I would prompt you to do the same and if you have a potential immigrant ancestor, think about how their name may have been interpreted or misheard.

I kept what I had found in mind and I kept saying the surnames over and over again to make sure I heard them.

After this work, I reappraised my findings and searched again, this time I did not explicitly search for Rebecca, but for all children of a Richard in Totnes.

I found the following entry:

Image (c) Findmypast

Bayckey Layer baptised on 2nd May 1598 at Totnes daughter of Rycherd. Bayckey or Becky as I would interpret it, was not a name I had considered for the period and the variation ‘Layer’ for Leere/Lear had also passed me by! So in this instance, both names were unexpected and not what I was originally looking for!

I do strongly believe this to be Rebecca and think I have solved this particular conundrum.

As the century progressed, many of the variations of Leere (in that corner of Devon at least) fell away and the name stabilised to Leer, Leere, Lear, and Leare more often than not.

Interestingly, Richard/Rychard Leer’s great nephew Sir Peter Leere must have arrived in Barbados at a similar time to Chrispine Hooper – one may have inspired the other of course. His story, along with that of his nephew is briefly told on the History of Parliament database.

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