Neal relations at Cuckoos Cup, The Wrekin

Sideways and backwards for the Neals A different root to the Norwich line

Other family history researchers with an interest in the same Neal line as Cutlock & Co have identified Henry Neal and Elizabeth Gedge as ancestors, via the couple’s son Robert – they would be our four times great grandparents. Robert is referenced in the marriage record of two times great grandfather Robert Neal (born about 1816, Norwich) as his father, with a trade of ‘printer’.

Trying to firm up this connection, however, hits a barrier in that little else comes up in an online search for Robert senior outside his possible baptism. Coming ‘sideways’ to an elusive subject can often be productive, so a quick end of year research exercise on his siblings seemed a good idea.

The marriage for Henry and Elizabeth had already been identified (6 May 1782 St Peter Mancroft, Norwich), so no problems doing a search on the Ancestry website for baptisms involving Henry Neal in the Norwich area over the next decade or two. And six children duly found from 1784 to 1796, all baptised at St Paul parish church which helpfully recorded maiden names for the mother – not the practice everywhere. See Note 1.

More on the sibling search in a while (and Notes 2, 3), but having more than one Robert turn up in this baptism/birth list requires further investigation first.

Delving deeper

Luckily members of Norfolk Family History Society have transcribed parish register entries for the county, available online in their NORS database (access requires NFHS membership). This can fill in gaps in the ‘Bishops Transcripts’ – themselves copied from parish registers, not always accurately or completely – which make up a large part of the Ancestry Norfolk material.

Checking on NORS to prove the assumption that the first Robert in the baptism register died young, up pops not one but two burials for an infant Robert, giving the parents’ names (fairly uncommon in burial records) with matches to both possible antecedents. It is highly unlikely that there would have been a later third Robert for this couple, yet to be discovered in the records.

Extract from the burial register for St Paul, Norwich, 1796 – just a few of the entries for infants that year, including Robert Neal.

That rather demolishes the Neal/Gedge pair as Robert senior’s parents, so are there others who could fit the bill? Or is there something else going on? The source of his name is purely an entry in Robert junior’s marriage register, a well known repository of white lies or misunderstandings on parentage. Time to go back to more reliable connections data in the 1841 census.

Robert Neal, woolcomber, with Ann Postle and Mary Neal in 1841 census

The record has Robert, a woolcomber (matching later records) with his presumed mother Mary, a nurse, plus an Ann Postle, milk seller, in the same household in King Street, Norwich.

Sisterly suspicions

Mary and Ann are both still in King Street at 1851, with Ann shown as ‘head’ of household and Mary her sister. Ann is noted as a widow, while her sister is unmarried – assuming Ann gave this information to the enumerator, surely she knew Mary’s marital status.

Then there is the additional fact that the closest matching baptism discovered for Robert Neal, born about 1815/16 in Norwich, is as the illegitimate son of Mary ‘Niel’, baptised 10th April 1814 St John Sepulchre parish church. Things are clearly heading in a different direction.

The censuses generally don’t differentiate between a sister or a sister-in-law, but is it possible to work out the relationship here? Ann’s birth happens to be a good match to Ann Neal, the third on the list of siblings in Note 1 below. At this point of the research Mary’s name hadn’t made the list, but trawling on NORS quickly surfaced her baptism entry, with mother transcribed as Elizabeth ‘Grdge’!

The ages for the duo per 1851 census (usually more accurate than 1841’s) give birth years of about 1786 (Ann) and 1785 (Mary). Not far out from 1786/1782 (Note 1). Looks like they really could be sisters and Mary a single mother to Robert ‘junior’.

Was the wedding register entry information on Robert’s father his best belief of the facts, or was he embellishing the truth? Maybe his dad really was a printer, who can say at this remove?

Back to the beginning

It is still possible that there could be a better match for the sisters Mary and Ann somewhere in the records. At the moment however, the surprising conclusion is ending up back at the starting point of Henry Neale and Elizabeth Gedge as 4x great grandparents. Just not via the route previously thought.

The family tree gains a further Neal generation, while losing a great great great grandfather!

Additional observation: The baptism for Mary Neal is 8th September 1782, only 4 months after Henry and Elizabeth marry. Perhaps that explains why the marriage takes place on a Monday, the soonest possible time after the third reading of the banns in church (5th May).


  1. Children of Henry Neale and Elizabeth Gedge (married 6 May 1872 St Peter Mancroft, Norwich), all born Norwich and baptised at St Paul, Norwich:
    1. Mary b 2 Sep 1782
    2. John b 3 Apr 1784
    3. Ann b 19 Feb 1786, likely died 1857 (Ann Postle age 71)
    4. Henry b 11 Mar 1788, burial 1 Nov 1792
    5. Robert b 19 Nov 1791, burial 4 Oct 1792
    6. Robert b 29 Jul 1794, burial 14 Dec 1796
    7. Elizabeth b 10 Apr 1796.
  2. Possible marriage for John Neale to Mary Curtiss 21 Jul 1813 St Paul Norwich (Elizabeth Neale is a witness).
  3. Possible marriage for Elizabeth Neale to Richard Howes, 23 Feb 1816 St Paul Norwich. ‘Spinster’, so this isn’t the mother.
  4. Norwich St Paul’s parish church no longer exists – it was hit by incendiary bombs in 1942 and subsequently demolished. There are a number of websites giving some information, and images, on the building and its history, such as Norfolk Churches and The Round Tower Churches Society.



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