The story of the Hands and Cheesman families

Welcome to my second family history website. All About My Mother is about my maternal grandparents, Fitzroy (Roy) Hands and Joyce Cheesman.

Although my genealogy research in the 1990s was initially confined to my father’s family (see All About My Father), I did do a little on my mother’s side, particularly the Maple family of Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex. By chance I got into contact with a distant cousin and his wife living in Worthing who generously shared a great deal of information with me, including a number of photographs. My great grandmother, Amelia Maple, married a Cheesman but there was relatively little known about the latter family. Even less was known about the genealogy of Roy Hands’ family so I have had to start largely from scratch.

The main reason for creating this website is, like my other one, to share it with other family members but also to see if I can fill in any of the remaining gaps by getting in touch with distant cousins who may be able to provide more information and, hopefully, photographs.

Besides the Maple family, who were well-known in the Shoreham area, my mother’s ancestors initially seemed fairly unremarkable but having pieced together a considerable amount of information their lives they have proved to be equally interesting. Some were prominent members of their local communities and did good things for the benefit of others. A few had difficult lives and were visited by more than their fair share of tragedy.

As I say on my other website, watching the lives of long-dead ancestors unfold before one’s eyes through public records and faded family photographs is a fascinating experience.

Alan Bromley

My grandmother was born in Shoreham and her ancestors are to be found in the towns and villages around this part of West Sussex. My grandfather’s family lived in Shoreham but they were relatively new to the area and their origins can be found in Berkshire and Oxfordshire.

There were a number of seafarers on my grandmother’s side, several generations in fact, but that came to an end with the changing fortunes of Shoreham. My grandfather’s family did all sorts of things but, like many people at the time, the railways featured prominently in their lives.

Apart from a few people who emigrated, most of my ancestors and their descendants remained in the Sussex, Surrey and south London areas.

English surnames began to be adopted in the 14th century, partly for reasons of taxation. The vast majority fall into four categories: habitation names (the villages, towns and cities where people were living), occupational names (their jobs, although many are not obvious), ‘son of’ names (those ending in ‘son’) and, less common, various animals, particularly birds and fish. Rarer are those that suggest a physical feature, such as Copper for someone with red hair.

Hands probably has several origins, including the Dutch word Han or Hans, or someone with large hands, or someone who used their hands in their profession and where it was originally a nickname. The only significant variant I have come across is Hand singular.

Cheesman is easier as it’s obviously an occupational surname. Most commonly spelt without an E in the middle, you do sometimes find the alternative spellings Cheeseman, Chesman, Chessman, Cheseman, Cheesmond, and Chisman, all of which are probably phonetic variations. A number of my ancestors’ public records use the spelling with the middle E.

There is a useful tool on the Ancestry website which shows the distribution of surnames in England and Wales in 1891. The highest concentration of people with the surname Hands was around Oxfordshire, while for Cheesman the distribution is concentrated in Sussex and Kent, with Surrey and Hampshire not far behind.

As has often been said, widespread illiteracy prior to the 20th century meant that many people did not know how to spell their own names and officials in the church and Registry Offices around the country did little better.

Genealogical research is largely straightforward using the national censuses (which began in 1841) and the official register of births, marriages and death (BMD) which began in September 1837 and became compulsory in 1875. Before 1875 my impression is that marriages and deaths were almost always registered, possibly because both involved the church, but births (more precisely, baptisms) were another matter, particularly when it came to illegitimacy. Not everyone told the truth of course and I have come across quite a few deliberately misleading entries with regard to parentage.

Parish records prior to 1837 are fairly patchy. Not only have many been lost or destroyed over the years, it is a fallacy to think that most people went to church in those days, let alone had their life events recorded. Furthermore, unless your family were ennobled, landed gentry, wealthy merchants, or other prominent figures in society, it is rare to find out much about them. The National Newspaper Archive can be a useful source of information, particularly about family tragedies, but it is expensive (some public libraries may offer free access) and the OCR indexing system adopted is hopelessly inaccurate and this makes one wonder how much gets missed as a result.

The main sources of my information have been public records, especially the 1841–1911 censuses and the 1939 register (less useful as much of it is still redacted); parish records; birth, marriage and death registers; wills; and newspapers. Additional information has come from immediate family members as well as from distant cousins and members on Ancestry (but see Research Tips).

The relatively few photographs are from the family collection and from the scrapbook of my great grandmother, Amelia Maple. The Maple family appears in the local Shoreham photographic archives at the Marlipins Museum, plus several images have been provided by others researching the family’s history. Members on Ancestry allow others to download their photographs and I have obtained a few this way.

My family history is separated into the Hands and Cheesmans and is arrange mostly by generation. Small family trees are included in each chapter to orientate you as it is easy to get confused, but the whole tree is too large to include here.

Lastly, this account of the ancestors of Roy and Joyce is by no means complete but it does provide considerably more information that was previously known from the recollections of family members I have been able to talk to during its development. It will never be complete but I will continue to add new things as I find them.

If you are related or have information you think might be of interest, please do get in touch.

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