Oct 042009

When I showed my father a copy of my recent research, he loved the fact that he was related a Methusaleh (Methusalem) Pethick (1801-1881). The name probably tickled my father’s funny bone due to his almost non-existent religious inclinations and the name’s hard-to-ignore religious implications.

As it turns out, Methusaleh was quite a luck name for me. It is an unusual name, and it helped me to establish that Methusaleh’s mother Mary Thomas (1773-?) was the daughter of, you got it, Methusaleh Thomas (1752-1833). This would have been a rather straight-forward connection had it not been for some strange wording on Mary Thomas’ marriage record to William Pethick. The record claimed that Mary was a sojourner in Hartland, Devon, at the time of her marriage. For a long time, I took this to mean that Mary was from Devon. In fact, the record is quite right: she was just visiting. She was actually from St. Teath, Cornwall — you know, that parish where all of my other Bray relatives are from.

Mary’s father Methusaleh (or Methusalem — the variations seem to be interchangeable) was the son of another Methusaleh Thomas (1715-1759). You see, my friends, it pays to name your children something unusual — your ancestors will love you for the unmistakable trail you leave behind. As it turns out, my Methusalehs are a lovely genealogical case study. And for more than teaching me to actually read (and believe) the wording of marriage records!

According to the Cornish Online Parish Clerks (COPC) web site (a must if you are doing research in Cornwall), Methuselah Thomas the Second (my name for him, not official) was either baptized in Feb 1751 or Feb 1752. There are two records. One record is from the parish register and states that Methuselah was baptized in 1752, the other from the Bishop’s Transcripts (a list of records which was regularly created for all of the parishes in a Bishop’s jurisdiction) which states that Methuselah was baptized in 1751. I just ignored this difference, and chalked it up to bad transcription. However, I recently started to pay more attention to the calendar changes that took place in England in 1751. Two important changes happened that year: First, January 1 was declared the beginning of a calendar year (as opposed to March 25). These changes began after December 1751, i.e., 1751 ran from 25 March to the 31 December and 1752 started on 1 January. Secondly, England moved to the Gregorian calendar in order to rectify the errors caused by the Julian calendar. To eliminate the extra days, the days from 3 September to 13 September were skipped. (You can read more about the calendar changes here, if you are interested).

Now, what does this have to do with our Methusaleh? Well, if you look closely, notice that poor Methusaleh could not have been baptized in February 1751, because 1751 did not have any February! Methusaleh must have been baptized in Feb 1752. The Bishop’s Transcripts are wrong and the parish records are right.


A buried in woollen certificate. From www.devonheritage.org.

Now Methusaleh’s father, Methusaleh, also has something interesting to say for himself. When I was looking through burial records on the COPC, I noticed a strange annotation beside Methusaleh Sr’s possible burial record from 1759. It was noted that Methuselah had been buried in woollen. Now to our age, the thought of being buried in a shroud of woollen seems awfully cold, and I thought that this must indicate that he was poor or ill. However, as I learned, in the 1700s burial in woollen was actually mandated by law. The Burial in Woollen Acts from 1666 to 1680 required that corpses were buried in woollen “for the Encouragement of the Woollen Manufactures of this Kingdome and prevention of the Exportation of the Moneyes thereof for the buying and importing of Linnen.” Affadavits were required to prove that the dead were buried in woollen (see the image for an example). Failure to provide proof would result in a 5 pound fine (approximately 425 pounds by today’s standards according to the National Archives currency converter). Now that would be a fairly strong incentive!