Squaring the circle Connecting from Cummins to Watkins

One of those “It really is a small world” moments – discovering a distant in-law cousin on my dad’s side is connected to a close cousin on mum’s.

Cutlock & Co has been researching the family tree for a second cousin’s spouse for quite a while. Roy’s line goes back to William Cummins, a ‘tide waiter’ (customs officer) and later ‘Chief Collector of Customs’, born 1835 in Portsmouth. William came from a humble background, his mother Jane the housekeeper (and perhaps more) to prosperous tobacco merchant William Cavander in Portsmouth. It was Jane’s will, written in 1858, that finally pinned in place his older brother Joseph {1, 2} and set the current line of investigation in motion.

Extract from Jane Cummin’s will

See ‘Where’s there a will’ below for the full transcription, and ‘William’s women’ for more on William Cavander.

Joseph marries Letitia Roark(e), probably in Limerick in 1850. Two of their eight children (as noted in Letitia’s 1911 census) reached adulthood: Letitia Jane and Helena Margaret Matilda Cummins. All of them end up in Bristol.

Making the connection

Two research prompts led to the discovery of the cross-family connectivity. Firstly, recent family history interest from Cummins cousins and secondly the release of “new” Bristol records by Ancestry. The latter led to a check of the HowesWatkinsNealScott tree for who had a Bristol link – easy to do in Family Tree Maker.

The renewed interest, and continuing poor weather, also meant that it was time to do more on Joseph’s descendants. And when a great granddaughter of his reveals herself as marrying a man with a familiar but fairly uncommon Bristol surname, the fact had to be followed through. The link goes like this:

  • Phyllis Ivy Hamilton, born 1906 Bristol, is the daughter of Gertrude Ivy Adcock, in turn a daughter of Letitia Jane Cummins. So a third cousin to Roy.
  • Phyllis marries Reginald Eric Fey 1929 Bristol.
  • Reginald is a brother to Ethel Ruby Fey, who marries Wilson Exworth Dent, 1935 Bristol.
  • Ethel and Wilson’s daughter, known as Fay, married first cousin once removed Islwyn Watkins, 1967 in Birmingham. {3}

A rather distant connection but still a little surprising. In some ways it’s more surprising that few other such odd coincidences have been discovered! The only one that springs to mind also concerns the same second cousin – see The Beasor Connection.

Where there’s a will

Here’s a transcription of Jane Cummin’s will, for reference:

Last will etc … of Jane Cummins of Portsea in the county of Southampton widow. I give and bequeath to my daughter Kate the wife of Henry Yeoman of Saint Vincent Street in the parish of Portsea a Tidewater in the Customs all and singular my wearing apparel absolutely and give and bequeath all my Estate and Effects whatsoever and wheresoever (not before disposed of) into and equally between my son Joseph Cummins of the town of Southampton now in the Employ of the South Western Railway Company the said Kate Yeoman and my son William Cummins now in Saint Vincent Street aforesaid a Tide Waiter in the Customs share and share alike as tenants in common. And I appoint Alfred Wills clerk to Messrs Cavander of Queen Street in Portsea aforesaid sole Executor of this my will ??? witness whereof I have hereto set my hand this ninth day of October 1858.

On the 18th December 1868 Admon (with the Will annexed) of the personal estate and effects of Jane Cummins late of Portsea in the county of Southampton widow deceased who died 29th October 1868 at Portsea aforesaid was granted to Joseph Cummins the son one of the residuary legatees named in the said will and having been first sworn Alfred Wills the sole executor named in this said will in having died in the lifetime of the said deceased.

William Cavander also names Kate Yeoman nee Cummins, plus William Cummins, in his will {6}. The bequest to Kate is substantial (income on £2,000), and £500 to William isn’t peanuts in those days, either. There are numerous other beneficiaries in the will, though, who may be worth further study – see Note 3.

Extract from William Cavander’s will, 1872

Note that a clerk to William Cavander is originally named as executor to Jane’s will. Why wasn’t Cavander himself selected by her instead, and why was her will not updated after the clerk died in December 1863?

William’s women

Mr Cavander had married Mary Ann Tucker in 1822 but she isn’t present at 1841, having probably died in 1828. There appears to be five children of William’s born before the 1822 wedding, and one more after {5}. He later remarries to Mary Emma Ferguson in 1867. Some Ancestry family trees show him as the father of Kate and William, by Jane. Supporting this is a baptism for William Rook Cavender 24 February 1837 St Mary’s Portsea, with parents William/Jane Cavender (the record is on Findmypast). See note 1 for Kate’s likely baptism.

Cutlock & Co has spotted an 1861 census entry in Rayleigh, Essex which appears to be for Mary Emma. This tallies with the 1871 census, which is obviously after the 1867 marriage to William Cavander. In both censuses she is with sister Eliza Moss and bears the same name (bar a minor spelling difference), of “Emma Cavender”. Perhaps the two children in the 1861 record with that surname are a clue to why she has taken the label some years early – John age 4 and Catherine age 3 are both shown as having been born in Guernsey, where both Eliza and Emma originate. Did William have business – trade and social – in the Channel Islands, perhaps? An employee based in Guernsey, Charles Matthews, is in William’s will.

Extract from 1861 census

Catherine transforms into Kate Ferguson, the daughter of Mary Emma who is named in William’s will, just before the entry for Kate Yeoman/Cummins, to benefit from the income from a £5,000 investment. As Kate Cavinder (!) she is in a private school in Portsea at 1871. She marries Edward Snow Lancaster (of Portsea) in Rayleigh, Essex in 1874, stating William Cavander as her father (Ancestry record transcription), and they have a nice little outfitters business in Plymouth by 1881.

Son Alfred, born in wedlock in Portsea about May 1870, hasn’t been spotted outside the 1871 census *, and nor has John Cavander/Ferguson beyond 1861, yet. Mary Emma Ferguson/Emma Cavander is still elusive for 1881 to 1901, but is in Bournemouth for 1911 census taking, and dies shortly after.

All these various facts rather indicate William’s lax approach to social norms of the time.

* Update re son Alfred. The will names a son of William, James, by his wife Mary Emma. He must be alive at 28th November 1871, when the will was signed. Baptism is 26th January 1872, just 5 days before William dies. However, the matching birth registration, with Ferguson as the mother, is June quarter 1870 (Portsea Island 2b/426). So it looks like Alfred is actually James! As such, he becomes a barrister, with a marriage in Grays Inn Road, London in 1899, but emigrates to Alberta, Canada in time to sign up for the army in 1916. Dies 1958 Victoria, BC, Canada.

One additional detail about Cavander/Cavender senior – his children’s baptism records (available on Findmypast) give his occupation as carpenter up to April 1820. The first mention of being a tobacconist is in Samuel Cavender’s baptism of March 1822. He also signs up to the local George III freemasons lodge August 1822 (info on Ancestry), giving this as his ‘profession etc’. Was it a new business or did he take over an existing one? Either way, he must have had some money, or a gift, to be able to make the switch.

Extract from Lodge roll


  1. Joseph Cummins was born about 1824 Portsmouth, and probably baptised at St Mary’s, Portsea, 14 March 1825, as Joseph Gossage Rook, mother Jane Rook. Sister Kate appears to have been baptised 12 January 1830 St John Portsea, as Kate Cavender Rook, mother Jane. (Both baptisms found on Findmypast.) At 1841 census a possible Joseph (Rook) age 16 is with presumed grandfather John Rook in Portsea while siblings Kate and William (Cummins) are together and noted as grandchildren to Thomas and Mary Padwick, also in Portsea. At 1851 Joseph and wife Letitia are in the same household as Mary Padwick. Mother Jane Cummins is a servant/housekeeper in the Cavander household in every census (1841-61), born about 1804 in Sussex. No trace in Hampshire of a marriage between Jane Padwick or Rook to Cummins – Padwick is almost certainly Jane Cummins’ maiden name.
  2. Jane Cummins’ will was obtained from the official probate search website in August 2019. Probate (or rather administration with will) was granted “to one Joseph Cummins [at 3 Sydenham Terrace Fratton] railway signalman Son one of the residuary legatees named in the said will”. For reference here is Cutlock & Co transcription of William Cavander’s will of 1871 (pdf).
  3. Cutlock policy is to limit information to protect the privacy of anyone living. Please make contact if you have a good reason to want to know more. For more on Islwyn, see our pieces Islwyn Watkins 1938-2018 and A tribute to Islwyn.
  4. Acknowledgements to the Pitcher Family Tree on Ancestry (wilaway1968) which provided a very quick way of checking out the Fey family. The HamiltonFeyMayHunt tree on Ancestry also connects.
  5. Marriage to Mary Ann Tucker is 11 April 1822. Eliza Cavander born about 1813 and Samuel Cavander born Feb/Mar 1822 are known to marry (to George Loe and Ann Hannam respectively) and have children of their own. Samuel takes on the family business in 1870 but dies September 1873.
  6. Source: ‘Jim’s family tree’ on Ancestry (avpapworth), “taken from records in Winchester Archives”.

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