Thursday, December 15, 2016

Doubting Thomas Tidball

William Tidball, the great-grandfather of John and Thomas who emigrated to Minnesota in the 1880s, was baptized at North Molton, Devonshire, in 1769. He was the son of Thomas and Agnes. Moving back through the parish registers, no Tidball baptism, marriage, or burial is found before 1769. Clearly, Thomas Tidball came from somewhere else.

Thomas was buried at North Molton in December 1814. The parish register states that he was 76, suggesting he was probably born about 1738. But where? Thankfully, the Tidball name was not common outside far southwestern England. One approach to narrowing down a search area is to find where a name commonly occurs. The International Genealogical Index, which includes birth/baptism, marriage, and death/burial information gathered from parish records, can help identify hot points for surnames. A search for Tidball (and close variants) in the IGI found numerous occurrences of the name in and near Cutcombe, Somerset. Cutcombe is nestled among the Exmoor hills about 15 miles northeast of North Molton -- close enough to be worth a closer look.

A search of Cutcombe parish registers found no record of either a baptism or marriage for Thomas. In fact, the earliest Tidball event recorded in Cutcombe is the marriage of Alexander Tudball and Anne Tucker in 1759. The Cutcombe Tidballs (or Tudballs, or whatever) came from somewhere else.

A search of neighboring parishes produced one solid lead. At Exford, adjacent Cutcombe to the east, numerous Tidball baptisms, marriages, and burials were recorded before 1760. Among them was the baptism of Thomas Tidball 23 August 1739 -- a plausible baptismal date for the Thomas buried at North Molton. The Exford Thomas was the son of Walter and Elizabeth Tidball.

Could this be Thomas of North Molton? Yes, it could be. For one thing, no burial record is found at Exford for this Thomas, meaning he could have moved away and died somewhere else. However, there is also no marriage record that could have linked the Exford Thomas to Agnes, the wife of the North Molton man. In short, no evidence has yet been found that directly connects Thomas of North Molton to Thomas of Exford. In the genealogy world, we say there is no "direct evidence" -- nothing that directly answers the question: Was Thomas of North Molton the same man as Thomas of Exford?

However, the timing is about right and the geography is good -- North Molton is only 10 miles on to the southwest from Exford. Three additional pieces of "indirect evidence" bolster the case. The first is naming patterns. According to baptisms recorded in the parish registers, Walter and Elizabeth had seven sons at Exford between 1728 and 1745: Alexander, Walter, Richard, Gregory, Thomas, John, and William. Thomas of North Molton had five surviving sons: William, John, Walter, Gregory, and Thomas. If Thomas of North Molton was, in fact, the Thomas baptized at Exford, he named sons after four of his brothers.

This still isn't proof. It might just be coincidence. But the similar set of names lends credibility to the idea that Thomas of North Molton was the same man as Thomas of Exford. Next week's blog will solidify the case with another bit of indirect evidence.

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