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TRACING GYPSY FAMILIES BACK DESPITE THE LACK OF RECORDS EIGHTEEN: James and Eliza Dighton

Eric Trudgill    -    1 November 2014

James Dighton claimed to have been born in Sawbridgeworth, Herts about 1803 (in the 1871 census he was recorded, perhaps in error, as James Garston, the name of another place in Herts), and he died on Plumstead Common, Kent in 1873. His wife, Eliza, given as formerly a Lee at the baptism of a child in 1831, claimed to have been born in Sussex about 1801, and died in Wilmington, Kent in 1850.

Tracing their children is mostly straightforward, since all the following appeared with the widowed James in Wanstead, Essex in the 1851 census: James junior christened in Tonbridge, Kent in 1824; Justinia born in Rainham, Essex about 1827; John christened in Rainham in 1830; Saunders christened in White Roding, Essex in 1831; Isabella born in Capel, Kent about 1833; William christened in Gt Ilford, Essex in 1837; Matilda born in Swanscombe, Kent about 1839; Lawrence (aka Belcher) christened in Barkingside, Essex in 1842; and Henry and Andrew born in Swanscombe about 1845 and 1847 respectively.

You can make a case for James and Eliza having a daughter, Caroline, born either side of James junior, and missing in the 1851 census because she was with her gorjer husband and young family, or already dead. According to her birth certificate Portabella Dyton was born on Thistle Green, Bocking Essex in 1843 daughter of Caroline; according to her marriage certificate Portabella Brockhurst was married (aged 20 daughter of Henry) in Brenchley, Kent in 1862 to Joseph Lee (aged 20 son of Samuel), the witness being John Dighton, possibly son of James and Eliza, though John is a terribly common name; and according to her census details Portabella Lee had a daughter Caroline, born about 1869, and two sons, Emmanuel (baptised in 1871) and Walter, born about 1872.

You can make a territorial case for Caroline as James and Eliza’s daughter: Bocking, Essex is not that far from White Roding, and Brenchley, Kent is close to Tonbridge and Capel. You can make a relational case as well: Portabella’s husband was Joseph Lee (born about 1842 and christened in an 1850 family job-lot) son of Samuel or Sampson Lee, brother of Mizelli, the first wife of Plato Boswell son of Clark, the Plato Boswell with three younger siblings who married children of James and Eliza Dighton (Dueney and Miseretta Boswell were joint-wives of James junior, and Zachariah Boswell married Justinia).

However, you can also make a territorial case against Caroline as James and Eliza’s daughter: Bocking may not be far from White Roding, but it is in N Essex, close to the Suffolk border, not in S Essex, close to London, like Wanstead, Barkingside, Ilford, Rainham, and just across the Thames Plumstead, Wilmington and Swanscombe. And you can also make a relational case against Caroline as James and Eliza’s daughter: Caroline’s Portabella named a child Emmanuel, a name not found in John and Eliza’s family (neither is Caroline or Portabella), and she seems to have taken it (she was born in N Essex, remember, close to the Suffolk border) from a Suffolk, rather than Essex, Dighton family.

In the 1861 census, in Stoke Goldington, Bucks (far from James and Eliza’s patch) we find Portabella Dighton travelling with an Ann Dighton who claimed to have been born in Newport Pagnell, Bucks (just down the road) about 1783 (which is equally unlikely). Ann has with her, described as her children, an Alice Dighton born seemingly in Clare, Suffolk about 1830, and an Emmanuel Dighton born in Newmarket, Suffolk about 1834, clearly the Emmanuel Dighton christened in Newmarket in 1834 son of William and Horner (?Hannah, ?Honor). Portabella, born in Braintree, Essex about 1843, clearly Caroline’s child, is described as Ann’s niece.

Clearly there’s a lot here that’s very uncertain. Ann might be Alice and Emmanuel’s mother, step-mother, or mother-replacing aunt; she might be Portabella’s great-aunt; and she’s probably not in any case a Dighton by birth. The records are so sparse we need to tread very carefully. However, Caroline and Portabella look close enough to both James and William Dighton to suggest that the latter was the former’s elder brother and that Caroline was the daughter of a third brother).

And this James/William connection gives us something to work with. If we turn a little from the well-known James’ family towards the little-known William’s and the unknown Dighton families in counties close to Herts and Essex, we’ll give ourselves a better chance to trace back James’. If we develop William’s family, it may lead us to a plausible baptism for him (just possibly in Sandon, Herts, quite close to Sawbridgeworth, in 1785 son of William and Jessie), and if we find identical parents on a baptism for a likely James (which won’t be in Sawbridgeworth), we’ll know we’re in business. In gypsy genealogy you often have to go sideways to go forward.

Copyright © 2014 Eric Trudgill