Following the Farmers – A Research Plan

Every newly discovered document points to further research, as does this week’s 50 Marriage Mondays entry.  The trick to successful research is to have a plan so that I avoid The pinball approach to genealogical research.

Marriage Certificate - Thomas Hirons & Elizabeth Mead

Marriage Certificate – Thomas Hirons & Elizabeth Mead

Bride: Elizabeth Mead
Groom: Thomas Hirons, a farmer resident in East Claydon
Date: 26 January 1853
Location: East Claydon, Buckinghamshire
Bride’s father: William Mead, a farmer resident in East Claydon
Groom’s father: Charles Hirons, a farmer resident in East Claydon

Thomas and Charles Hirons were both farmers, so I want to know more about their farming careers.  How might I go about investigating?  First, I’ll focus by asking some questions; second, identify types of sources that are likely to provide insights; third, locate said sources.  Then armed with a research plan I will access the records, analyse new information and formulate new questions.

Ask some questions

  1. Can I corroborate that the Hirons really were farmers?
  2. Did father and son farm the same land?
  3. Exactly where was the farmland, which fields within the parish?
  4. Did they raise crops or livestock, or a mixture?
  5. Did they own land or were they tenants?
  6. Was farming a profitable living?

I could ask many more questions, but I want to stay focused.

Identify potentially useful sources

Census records include occupational information, so should confirm the Hirons’ occupation and might name the farm.  As the censuses are readily available online and provide supplementary information, so I will check them before exploring other sources.

Tithe apportionments list land plots with owners, occupiers, land use and area for the calculation of tithe payments, a tax raised on the value of produce collected for the support of the clergy.  The land plots are marked on the accompanying tithe maps.  Tithe apportionments were mostly undertaken between the 1836 and the 1850s, in compliance with the Tithe Commutation Act.  If the Hirons were recorded on them, the tithe apportionments and maps could substantially answer my more detailed questions.  Three copies of tithe records were created, one each for the tithe commissioners, the diocese and the parish.  The National Archives collection of tithe commissioner’s copies, which can be ordered online for a fee or examined for free at Kew, are the most conveniently accessible.

Trade directories and county histories from the nineteenth century provide descriptions of the parish and list prominent community members and local businesses. This background context will give me a feel for the agricultural community in which the Hirons family lived.

Probate records such as wills and administrations indicate the value of the estate and may indicate if the deceased owned property.

Of course there are other sources, but in the interests of staying focused, I have limited the search for now.

I have jumped ahead, accessed and analysed the census records.  In 1851 Thomas Hirons, aged 41 lived with his father Charles Hirons, a farmer aged 79 at Moncklon [?] Farm, East Claydon, Buckinghamshire.  On tracking Thomas through later censuses, I find the birth places of his children reveal time frames of residence in several locations:

Event Location Date Thomas’ Occupation
census East Claydon, Bucks


farming 190 acres with father
marriage Thomas Hirons & Elizabeth Mead East Claydon, Bucks


birth Thos Chas Willm East Claydon, Bucks


birth Ann Elizth East Claydon, Bucks


birth Elizabeth Ann Westbury, Bucks 1857/1858
birth Sarah Jane Westbury, Bucks


birth Alice Ellen Westbury, Bucks


census Bucklebury, Berks


farmer 150 acres
birth John J E Bucklebury, Berks


birth Henry G W Shipton Lu, Bucks


census Grandborough, Bucks


Out of business

My original questions assumed that only one farm was occupied by the family, but this is not the case.  ‘Out of business’ tempts me to search for bankruptcy records.  I made a plan to avoid being sidetracked, so for now, I will only investigate the farm at East Claydon.

Locate and evaluate specific relevant records

A simple search using the terms ‘East Claydon tithe’ of the new National Archives catalogue, Discovery brings up East Claydon’s tithe apportionment and map entries.  The apportionment is dated 5 November 1857, so falls in 1857-1858 period when the census records suggest the family moved from East Claydon to Westbury, so could narrow down the date of the move.  The apportionment description comments, “Apportionment is in condensed summary form, with little detail”, so it sounds like the agricultural detail I had hoped for is lacking.  The tithe map description is similarly discouraging, “Scale: 1 inch to 8 chains. Only a few large enclosures shown”, so does not identify fields as I hoped.

The East Claydon entry in the Victoria County History for Buckinghamshire[1], available at British History Online, tells me that dairy farming was the main agricultural activity, mixed with arable crops of wheat , beans, roots and oats.  The description dates from the early twentieth century, so may not reflect the Hirons’ activities some 40 years earlier.

A couple of directories at Historical Directories include relevant entries for East Claydon.  The 1854 Post Office Directory lists Thomas Hirons as a farmer and the 1864 directory lists a Charles Hirons as a farmer at Monkomb Farm.  As Charles was aged 79 in 1851, this may not be the father of Thomas, but may well be a relative.  Monkomb Farm seems suspiciously similar to Moncklon.

The National Probate Calendar summarises estates that were administered after 1858.  An entry from 1879 states:

Hirons Charles
Personal Estate under £1,500
17 April.  Administration of the Personal Estate of Charles Hirons late of East Claydon in the County of Buckingham  Farmer who died 23 February 1879 at East Claydon was granted at the Principal Registry to Catharine Ann Hirons of East Claydon Widow the Relict.

Could this be the Charles listed in the 1864 directory?  I can order copy of this administration by post using the above information to complete the application form PA1S  for a £6 fee.

A search of the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies Wills database containing wills proved by the Archdeaconry of Buckingham court yields the following:

First name Last name Place Occupation Year will proved
John Hirons Chetwode Farmer 1842
Thomas Hirons Chetwode Dairyman 1801
John Hirons Chetwode 1766
Alice Hirons Chetwode Widow 1834
Charles Hirons East Claydon Farmer 1853

The 1853 entry is a good candidate for Charles the father of Thomas.  As Thomas’ birthplace reported on the censuses is Chetwood or Chetwode, I wonder if the earlier wills are relevant to this family.  The website includes online ordering, so I am tempted to save on postage by ordering them all.

Next steps

I have confirmed Charles and Thomas Hirons’ occupation as farmers, possibly dairy farmers.  Sadly the tithe records are not as detailed as I had hoped, so I think I will pursue more promising avenues before accessing them.  Investigating the younger Charles and ordering the wills is now my priority.  On to the next research iteration…

[1] William Page (editor), “Parishes : East Claydon,” A History of the County of Buckingham: Volume 4, British History Online,

© Sue Adams 2013

One Comment on “Following the Farmers – A Research Plan”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s