My Brittain ancestors are the first family I traced back outside London. At first I thought they had come to London from Birmingham, but the trail led to Manchester in the early 1800s.
My grandfather, Ernest James Brittain was born in 1905 in Finchley, north London. His father, George Francis Brittain, entered the world in 1881 at 66 King Street, Camden Town, London, but his father Thomas was born in Birmingham in 1834 and was baptised there in 1835. For the first time in my research I had traced ancestors back further than their arrival in the big city! Thomas Brittain had married Mary Couling in St Pancras in 1863, and I learned from the certificate that his father had the distinctive name Thomas Nye Brittain. I was certain that it wouldn’t take me long to find out all about him – but of course it wasn’t that easy.
On the 1891 census Thomas Nye Brittain is shown as a widower living at Chalton Street, St Pancras. His birthplace was given as Cheshire – another step away from London. I was intrigued and set out to trace him and find out where he had come from. I found him in 1871, in Chalton Street with his wife Hannah and the additional detail that he was born in Wheelock, Cheshire. 10 years earlier he had given “Sandbach, Cheshire” as his place of birth, and although the two places aren’t far apart I wonder why he was more specific in 1871. As Wheelock is on the Trent and Mersey Canal I started to think that maybe the family had used the canal system to get to Birmingham but that was pure speculation and I had nothing definite to suggest this.
Despite the middle name “Nye” I was still no further forward in finding out more about my 3 x great grandfather. I found a possible baptism on Family Search for a Thomas Brittin who was baptised on 9th April 1815 in Sandbach. The surname has many variant spellings (as I learned when I was growing up as no-one seemed able to get it right!) so I was fairly sure that this was the right man. His parents were Thomas and Elisabeth Brittin. Again, there was no clue as to where “Nye” had originated. I felt that it had to be a surname and it seemed likely to be his mother’s maiden name. A year or so later a helpful contributor to an internet forum looked up the baptism and found that Thomas Brittin’s occupation was given as “boatman”. So maybe my instinct had been right and they had connected to the canals.
It took me some time to find the family in Birmingham in the 1841 census as it wasn’t online at the time, but eventually I found the excellent FreeCen site and located the family in Union Passage, Birmingham St Philip.
Random internet searches for the name “Elizabeth Nye” eventually threw up a reference to an Elizabeth Nye who had married a Samuel Lamb on 30th September 1790 in Horsham, Sussex. Another researcher had found the same reference at about the same time, but we had no reason to connect this to our Brittain line. Instinct suggested, however, that this was the right person: perhaps Elizabeth had been widowed and remarried, so I began to search for a marriage between Thomas Brittain and an Elizabeth Lamb from about 1800. I found them on Family Search: Thomas Britain married Elizabeth Lamb on 8th February 1807 in Manchester Cathedral.
Another helpful researcher on Rootschat looked up the register entry for me and found that Thomas Britain of the parish and township of Hulme, labourer, married Elizabeth Lamb of Hulme, widow. Reference back to the website where I’d originally found Elizabeth Nye confirmed that her brother, Charles Nye, had married a girl from Manchester, also in the Cathedral in 1807.
The mystery of the middle name “Nye” was solved at last, and I now had another “out of London” location for the Brittain family. Finding my 4x great grandfather,Thomas Britain of Hulme, Manchester, took me almost 10 years, but the advent of the internet made the task much easier. I think it’s very unlikely that I’ll be able to get back further than this as I have no leads (yet!) about whether Thomas Britain was born in Hulme or had moved there from somewhere else.