Select Page

Recently The Times offered a free two week trial of their archive search facility. I thought it unlikely that any of my Lowestoft ancestors would have merited a mention in The Times, but tried searches combining their surnames and ‘Lowestoft’ on the off chance.

In the April edition of FTF magazine I wrote about ‘Toot’ Cooper my great grandfather whose full name was William Capps Cooper. He was, variously, a boat owner, fisherman, salver and lifeboat man. Family lore had it that he also worked on a transatlantic cable laying ship. My grandmother had souvenirs that he brought back from the USA, so he certainly went there and my father also remembered conversations with Toot about his voyages. He thought Toot had said that there’d been a few years when the fishing was poor, so he signed on to support his expanding family. Toot was missing in the 1891 census so that looked a likely time. In 1881 and 1901 he was a ship’s master. There was always a living to be made in the fishing so it seemed strange that Toot would be prepared to leave his family for extended periods.

Cooper is a common name so I tried Capps, a family name for several generations, in combination with Lowestoft. There were a few hits, but they just had the name Capps on the same page as an article that mentioned Lowestoft and I almost gave up – but I’m glad I didn’t.

The London Gazette published details of financial matters and these were often reprinted in The Times. These included dividends, sequestrations and bankruptcies, and I had a ‘hit’ in the The Times edition reprinting details from The London Gazette dated January 25th 1890. William Capps Cooper, a boat owner of Lowestoft was the subject of a receiving order. Furthermore, in the column headed ‘First Meetings and Examinations’ I read that he was to appear in The Suffolk Hotel, Lowestoft on February 5th, presumably to meet his creditors, and then on March 12th in the town hall of Great Yarmouth, where judgement would be given.

While re-reading the details I saw that Elizabeth Mary Butcher, a boat owner of Lowestoft, was also to appear on these dates. Elizabeth was William’s sister. Boats were often owned by families and William and his sister must have been joint owners, so were both responsible for the debts.

At the time of the hearing my great grandmother would have been heavily pregnant with her daughter Dorothy, so it must have been an upsetting and stressful time for the whole family.

So now I had the answer to the mystery of Toot and the cable-laying ships. The money was good and he signed on because he had gone bust. His fortunes improved, however, and he lived to a grand old age.


I wrote this article as a quick example of how useful newspaper articles can be. I’m so glad I did because, through writing it, I have almost certainly driven a horse and cart through one of my brick walls. After writing it I got to pondering about William Capps Cooper’s mother.

I really like to hatch, match and dispatch my direct ancestors and great great grandmother Elizabeth Capps Cooper had been hiding for years. I lost Elizabeth Capps Cooper after the 1861 census. Her daughter Elizabeth Butcher and family had also proved elusive, but the article showed that she was likely to still be alive in 1891, so it prompted me to do some more searching. Even if I couldn’t find her mother, perhaps I could find more about Elizabeth Butcher.

I searched the 1891 census by the christian names of her children and their years of birth, and eventually found the family mistranscribed. Elizabeth Butcher was a widow, and living with her and her children was Elizabeth Crisp – widow – described as mother of the head of household.

So my Elizabeth Cooper had married again. For years I’ve been looking for either her death or remarriage but there are loads of possible Elizabeth Cooper events from 1861 until the time I could safely assume she was dead, and the few I sent for were wrong. I’d had no luck with the Suffolk Burials Index or the GRO index of marriages and deaths. Lowestoft parish records on film at the LDS were equally useless. However, now I knew she was still alive in 1891, so I searched the other post 1861 censuses under her new married name.

I found her with husband, Thomas Crisp, in 1871 and then a widow in 1881. Then I found the probable burial of Thomas in 1876 and his death registration. There were two possibilities for him in the 1851 census, one married to a Mary and the other to an Ann.

FreeBMD didn’t come up with a Crisp/Cooper marriage in Suffolk or Norfolk, the most likely places, between 1861 and 1871, so I abandoned the search to get on with some proper work.

The next morning I resumed the quest and I found the burial for an Elizabeth Woods Crisp in Lowestoft in 1898 on the online index of Lowestoft Cemetery. The first name, surname and age looked right …..hmm ….. could it be her? Then aha! Her mother’s maiden name was Woods, so it was very likely to be the right Elizabeth. I found her death on the GRO index and have sent for the certificate. All this before my second cup of coffee.

Next, I found a likely baptism entry for Thomas in Lowestoft on the IGI as Thomas Bunn Crisp. Bells began to ring. I have a Thomas Bunn Crisp in my files already, he married Mary Capps in 1848. Mary was Elizabeth’s sister, I already had a note of her burial in 1866.

So, perhaps Thomas married his wife’s widowed sister – if Thomas Crisp and Thomas Bunn Crisp were the same person. I had already found a Thomas Crisp married to a Mary in the 1861 census. Mary died in 1866 which gave me a narrower window to search for the possible marriage of Thomas and Elizabeth Cooper. The search would begin in 1866 and go up to 1871, by which time Thomas was, allegedly, married to Elizabeth. I had reconciled myself by now to thinking that they were probably living in sin. By the late 19th century it was no longer illegal to marry your wife’s sister, as it had been in the early 19th century, but maybe it was still frowned upon by the church and so they hadn’t married.

Another coffee and one last desperate look at FreeBMD before I tackled them a quarter at a time in There I found a marriage for Thomas Bunn Crisp and a probable match to Elizabeth Cooper in Greenwich in 1869.

I need the certificates to prove it but it looks like I’ve solved a mystery of years in less than 24 hours!


Certificates arrived and confirmed all of the above. One of the witnesses at the wedding in St John’s Deptford was a Sarah Lilleystone. I’ve found her in the 1871 census in Deptford and she was born in Lowestoft. Now I just need to see where she fits in. A tree is never finished, one mystery solved often produces another.


© Guinevere 2008