Ed Elmer, Regular Guy

In my previous post, I came to the conclusion that Edward Elmer was likely a small farmer or a husbandman when he arrived in the Americas. Unlike John Talcott who seemed to be a Yeoman farmer and carried his prominence with him from his family in England. Edward was in a lower class and built on the resources he had and those things he was given in the new world.

I’ve read that every land owner had some say in Puritan civic affairs and that every man was given some portion of land. Edward is listed as one of the names of men who have right in undivided lands, so it would seem he has some resources to furnish himself with 12 acres while his betters may have seen up to 160 acres and men lower on the ladder could see 6 acres.

He was not listed among “The Names of such Inhabitants as were Granted Lots to have only at the towns courtesy, with liberty to fetch wood and keep swine or cows by proportion on the common”. Those men saw 6 acres at the top end and 3 acres at the bottom end, which makes them sound a lot like the class of labourer in 1600s England. Here is one definition of labourer:

Labourer lacked enough land to maintain himself and his family, (though he often had a cottage and garden, and grazing rights for cattle on the local common),  and consequently had to work for wages.

The Puritans giving everyone some land didn’t overturn the apple cart of English social and financial hierarchy in the colonies, but it did create a new class of …I don’t know, landed labourer? They had land to their name and also use of the common. It was probably a better opportunity for everyone involved than they would have seen at home and it gave them some say in the town.

In any case it looks like Ed is one step above that latter group but well below the educated gentry and many of the yeoman farmers.

Trying to Place the Real Ed in England

In my previous post, I talked about how Edward being in the social under-story of the Gentleman and Yeoman farmers in the new world, made him more reachable for me personally.  I also talked a little bit about how I thought his economic standing in the colonies could be used as a guide to his unknown family in England. 
the pillory

The Elmer-Elmore group put together our thoughts on the ancestors of Edward Elmer and agreed that we would need DNA evidence because paper trail evidence is either lacking or has been proven false.

Although family trees currently have, and have had, since the 1800’s many different families assigned to Edward, none can be shown to be correct. Many, with the evidence available to us today, can be shown to be incorrect.

That is a good thing, but it’s not winning us any friends in the world of family genealogy.

As with any group there are several camps. I was in the “Edward Elmer is the grandson of Bishop John Aylmer through his son Sheriff Samuel Aylmer” camp until another member of the group found documentation that proved that connection to be false.

Then I was in the “Elmers of Saint Mary Le Bow” camp, placing Elmer as a wealthy merchant in London, until I ended up finding the documentation that proved that connection to be false.

We then found some records of an Edward Aylmer related to Theophilus Aylmer (archdeacon of London) but cannot connect him to our Edward.

I have a lot of misgivings about that possible connection given what I learned while looking for possible families of Edward’s wife Mary.


The Elephant in the Room

Before I get to Edward Elmer from Braintree, I need to talk about the Edward Aylmer related to Theophilus Aylmer listed in the Harleian Society, Volume 50:

theophilus aylmer family showing son Edward Aylmer alive in 1618

Edward Aylmer son of Theophilus Archdeacon of London, legatee of his uncle Zachary, alive in 1618.

Why do we keep picking on the Aylmers? Largely I think it’s because at a certain period in the U.S. it was important to find our colonial roots and documentation was lacking. The Aylmers are easy to find because they were a wealthy landed family and well integrated into the Church of England.

Given the the importance of the Puritans to the U.S. psyche, it’s easy for me to see the need to assign Puritan colonial families to important families in England. Some of them undoubtedly were members of important families in England. The Aylmers fit well with that need. Puritans are religious and Anglican Bishops are religious. Puritans are important and the Sheriff of Suffolk is important.

Overall it seems like a very pious, honorable and direct connection and much easier to find for a person searching in the 1800s because the Aylmers are important people worth documenting and are prolific writers.

Another reason to want to connect them is that Aylmer, Elmer, Elmore, Ellmore, Ellmer, Elmor, Elmar, Almer, Ailmer and Aelmer all seem to be interchangeable. I explored the Elmer surname quite a bit in Elmers, Aylmers and the Normans. Spelling in documents in the 1600’s seems to be phonetic and loose. So it’s possible that an Aylmer might be recorded as Elmer or Ellmer in a court document.

So, Why not Edward Aylmer Grandson of the Bishop?

My first red flag is Edward’s puritanism. It is generally frowned on by Bishops of the Anglican church. John Aylmer apparently hated them on par with Catholics. It doesn’t seem likely to me that the grandson of the Bishop and son of the Archdeacon would choose to leave his life as a gentleman behind and forego the family’s preferred spelling of his name to be a Puritan.

The second red flag is the existence of Justinian Aylmer (grandson of Theophilus, great grandson of John Aylmer) born 1636 who matriculated from Oxford and spent time as a Reverend in Jamestown. He left for the new world, but maintained the tradition of the spelling of his family name, college education and religious duty. Showing that those ties are not easily broken.

The third red flag (and most recent) is Edward Elmer’s social and financial standing in the colonies. He’s low on the totem pole, not befitting the Aylmers who seem to be, at a minimum, landed gentry or professionals.  If Edward was an Aylmer why didn’t he garner the lands and positions afforded their class in the colonies. If he had fallen out with his father in a fit of puritanism, taking exile in the Americas, why did he have any resources in the new world at all?

I’m pushed further away from a connection to the Aylmer family and into the “Edward Elmer of Briantree” hypothesis.

To be clear, I can’t say that Edward Aylmer did not steal his father’s purse and run off with the Puritans, causing the earth’s rotation to slow because of the inertia created by Bishop John Aylmer spinning in his grave. I will say that I now personally think it’s highly, highly, highly unlikely.

The problem is the drive to tie Edward Elmer to the Aylmers is so strong and so long standing, that I would have to disprove the connection by finding documentation for Edward Aylmer showing him to be buried in England..or otherwise not available to take part in the great migration.

That puts me back in the same genealogy boat as proving that we’re not Thompsons, which is an uncomfortable place to be.

The Trouble with Braintree

bradford street Braintree

As with many colonial ancestors who may have been from Braintree, the parish records appear to be lost. So the paper trail is non-existent from the standpoint of documented births, deaths and marriages.

Edward is in the Braintree company on his way to Massachusetts, but not everyone on the ship is from Braintree proper. Some were and some weren’t. It becomes a confusing mix of places given that several of the people are just as lost to us as Edward.

The region around Chelmsford seemed to be a collecting point for the Puritans and I’ve read that all of Essex was active with Puritans in the time of Ed. More prominent people tend to be better documented and show a lot of mobility within England, but so many people from the lyon passenger lists have been guessed at by various historians over the years that it is hard to tell what is fact or the best they could come up with at the time.

I decided to look at Essex as a region. Are there definitely Elmers there in the 1600’s? Because of the missing parish records, I went to legal records and bought a single day subscription to the Essex online database.

My search was really general, Elmers and surname variants like Elmore, Ellmore, Aylmer, Ailmer, Almer in documents in Essex between 0 and 1700 AD. In all that time, I got 36 hits. Easier than combing through thousands, but sort of unsettling in it’s own way. So there are historically Elmers with documents in Essex before 1700. As it turned out, not all the documents contained in Essex pertained to Essex.  There were documents from surrounding counties. So, some care is called for in giving a headcount of Elmers.

I want to get this out of the way though. Are there Elmers in Braintree in the 1600s? Yes. At least one.

record for Elmer braintree whipple whitehead

Gad Elmer, labourer from Braintree is found guilty of striking Thomas Whitehead with a sword. In the witness list is another recognizable name, John Whipple. At least two Whipple families also make the trip to Massachusetts. This John may be the John Whipple of Bocking who arrives in Ipswich 6 years after Edward Elmer’s move to the new world.

This is not a smoking gun or…sword, but it goes to the point that although we have little documentation for Elmers in Braintree, there was at least one there before Edward departed in 1632. My guess is that there would likely be more than one, but this is what I have.

Based on this record for Gad Elmer, I think my next steps will be to try to get copies of the Braintree Poll Tax lists from the U.K. National Archives. The Poll tax records aren’t searchable by person, but they sometimes contain personal information and you can search for records that contain people based on the area (like records from Braintree that contain people).

Searching that way in the E 179 Database I was able to see that Braintree has several tax listings between 1620 and 1633 that contain people. Including one from 1629.

It’s a gamble though. I don’t know what the documents contain or even if I can get copies of them. Because they are not already digitized, I need to order a page check first to make sure they can be copied. I also don’t fully understand the nature of these tax listings. I’ve read that they do not always contain everyone in an area, but only those who would be taxed. So some contain people above a certain age and others contain only people who have enough wealth.

I could expect to see John Talcott there based on the family history for him, and possibly others.

The questions I have are, is Ed old enough to be listed and then would he be wealthy enough? Is he really from Braintree or should I look at pages from Bocking or any number of other towns in the area? Are they all included the Hinckford Hundred? The format of the documents is a scroll and it contains five “Rots”. What is a Rot?

listing of poll taxes from 1620 to 1633 in braintree

There is just a lot I don’t know, with the opportunity to nickle and dime myself at $11 per search and then an unknown quoted amount per copy if a copy can be made.

Reading about Puritanism, I get the idea that Essex is a hotbed for the movement, so it makes sense to look at other Elmers, Elmores and Aylmers from Essex.

Yes, Aylmer is in the list. While I don’t think Ed is a main line Aylmer from the wealthy family of the Bishop, he could be from a lower, cadet branch, distantly related to the Bishop and his offspring or a completely unrelated family of Ailmers.  The names really do appear to be interchangeable up to a point.  I’ll have to consider them too.


Elmers in Essex…or at least with records there

Back to the Essex online database. again, I also searched for various Elmer (and surname equivalent families) outside of Braintree and found Essex records for Elmers and variants in these areas:

  • John Almer, Earls Colne, 1582 (my screenshot failed)
  • Thomas Elmer in a will dated 1696, Little Coggeshall (interesting because others from Coggeshall are in the braintree company)
  • Samuel Almer, 1612 in Hattfield Peverel. The Churchwardens tried to take his cow.
  • Theophilius Aylmer (apothecary), 1683 in Chelmsford
  • Edward Elmer, 1565 Havering-atte-Bower – not sure if he is related to Edward Elmer, fish monger of London in some way.
  • Thomas Elmer, 1623 labourer in London
  • Mary Elmer, 1606…or 1696, will in Stapleford-Tawney, interesting because she lists a male “Cattlyn” and our Mary Unknown (Edward Elmer of Hartford’s wife) married Thomas Caitlin after Edward’s death.
  • Thomas Aylmer, 1513, Gentleman of Harlow near Thaxted.
  • Rob Elmer, 1578 in Tollesbury
  • John Elmer, 1608 in Tollesbury
  • William Emler 1623 in Tollesbury
  • Robert Elmer, 1644 Seaman. Will from West Mersea
  • Robert Elmer alias Tyler, 1614 and again documented in 1616 from Wivenhoe outside Colchester.

Also in this group are records for the Aylmers of Mowdon (Mugdon) Hall related to the Bishop, but since we’ve already surveyed them pretty well and there are many records for them, I left them off this list.

I want to take a moment to talk about Robert Elmer alias Tyler. At first I thought this was very strange that a person would have a listed alias or that possibly Tyler was his real name and that he was part of some criminal enterprise. What I learned is that people with common names would use an alias name in legal documents to differentiate themselves from others. So a person like myself, Mike Thompson, might use Mike Thompson alias Tyler to differentiate with other Mike Thompsons in the area. I also learned that members of the same family might carry on the alias, almost a second family name. This aliasing, to me, means there may be other regional Elmers around Wivenhoe that the Elmers alias Tyler were trying to differentiate from.

Tollesbury is interesting for a seemingly long history of Elmers who were important enough to leave wills and be recorded in documents. The Elmers in Tollesbury and West Mersea seem persistent and might be good families to target for DNA testing (should any still exist).

Earls Colne, Coggeshall and Braintree are all within a few miles of each other so those records are of interest for the general Braintree Puritan population.

The take away for me in this search is, there are many documented Puritans from Essex, and there are representatives from various 1600’s Elmer families in Essex too. The intersection of those two groups makes Essex a really compelling area for finding non-conformist, yeoman or husbandman class Elmers.


A Lot of Ground to Cover

Turning back to the U.K. National Archive online search, I went digging for Elmer families elsewhere in England, paying special attention to wills. The few wills I got from the Essex database were informative for the other people mentioned in them. First sons seem to get the lions share of inheritance, but younger sons, brothers and nephews are often left something.

The opportunity is to learn about Edward Elmer through a relative that might leave him enough money to make his way to America (which I’ve read cost about 5 pounds in the 1600s).

Overall I found some form of documentation of 1600’s Elmers (and variants) in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, London, Middlesex, Norfolk, Northamptonshire, Suffolk, Surrey and Sussex.

Some items from the archives are free, but others have a cost. So far, I’ve been able to purchase several wills.

By the way 1600’s script is very hard for me to read. I had to kind of make a translation table in my mind to figure out what a d was or why a capital R in some instances looked like the symbol for the Euro. Some of them had either confusing Latin or French sections as well which can really throw you for a loop when you’re struggling to read them in English.

image of the script from the will of Henry Elmer grocer of London 1617

Some of them, like the will of Richard Elmor, Husbandman of Mursley, Buckinghamshire have exactly the sort of thing I’m looking for. He leaves his son Edward 15 pounds in 1659. Henry Elmer, Grocer of London leaves his brother Edward 5 shillings in 1617…not going to cut it for a trip to the colonies. I also have to wonder if the London Elmers are related to Edward the fish monger. John Elmer (alias Filewood) yeoman from Rushden Northamptonshire leaves his nephew Edward 10 pounds in 1599, but that means that Edward was alive in 1599 which is too old for us.

Others have no Edwards at all. In 1667 and 1670 two Elmers (yeoman John and weaver George) in different towns a few miles from Shillington in Bedfordshire are listed as members of non-conformist congregations. Non-conformist Elmers will always get my attention. The will of Robert Elmer from Shillington in 1619 was a high priority target for me. I had to order a scan of it because it was not already digitized. It mentions two sons, John and Thomas, but no Edwards. Thomas Elmer Gentleman of Weybridge Surrey was similar. He mentions many people in his will in 1657 but no wayward Edwards who ran off to the colonies.

With all of these available records it’s easy to get click happy, which leads to spending a lot of money on digitized documents in $4 to $10 increments. It’s not an incredible amount of money to spend for information that would normally not be available to someone like me in Michigan, but with so many shots in the dark, it does begin to add up. At a certain point, I had to tell myself to stop because it felt too much like a gambling habit.

Each record is a roll of the dice, either looking for a contemporary relative who happens to mention an Edward in the colonies or a possible parent or uncle who leaves him a sum of money before he makes his journey.

Clearly, even with all these resources basically at my fingertips, finding the second or third son, brother, nephew or cousin of a farmer or professional is going to be much harder than finding the descendants of a celebrity family like Bishop John Aylmer’s.

It’s easy to get disheartened but I think this survey will be just as informative in the long run as looking at colonial land records has been, if for nothing more than showing the sheer diversity of Elmer families available to us in the 1600s. Each will and court document gives a better, broader picture of Elmers in England in the time of Edward.

We have a lot more options than we’ve given ourselves previously.












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