When Is A Holborow Not A Holborow?

Fun question, right?! Well, more for me than for anyone else reading this I suppose. But an interesting example of a surname … migrating. There’s probably a word for that phenomena, but currently I haven’t found it.

But I’m getting ahead of myself slightly. What am I on about?

It all started with a funeral notice in the North Wilts Herald published on Friday 10 June 1938.

Fairly self-explanatory. Some good biographical details, with wider family and close family, locations, age. George Holborow was born around 1865 in Sherston, married, had a son, lost his wife, had at least 3 siblings (if not 4), moved from Sherston to Willesley to Tockenham.

The registers of baptism of Sherston show no George Holborows born or baptised around that time. What they do show is this:

George, the son of James Holbrow [sic] Neal. Could this be our guy? The GRO birth index contains the following entry for the second quarter of 1865:

This George, son of James, marries Elizabeth Neale in Sopworth in 1893. Her surname certainly seems to match the brother-in-law, Harry, in the obituary.

Their son (and only child), William James Holborow arrived in 1900. Elizabeth died in 1934, presumably at their home in Willesley, and it was after this that George moved to Tockenham to be with his son. William and his descendants all continued to use the Holborow surname.

In fact, all of George’s seven siblings get married under the name Holborow, but were baptised as Neal (one brother appears in the baptismal register as Arthur Holborow Holborow Neal – presumably the vicar knew the family as ‘Holborow Neal’ and so when told the child’s name was Arthur Holborow did the dutiful thing and wrote down what he heard …).

One of the sisters, Kate, married Simeon Shewring, and among their children there was a Walter and a William – which matches up with two other points in the obituary.

What about the parents? The marriage in November 1864 clearly states that it is between James Holborow Neal and Mary Skirton. His father is listed as William Holborow Neal, and a George Holborow Neal is one of the witnesses recorded. In fact, James was one of six children of William Holborow Neal and his wife, Elizabeth Rice. All six sons were ‘X Holborow Neal’ – and yes, there was an Ethelbert in there. But did they also change their surname?

George emigrates to Ontario in 1871, Canada, marries, appears in electoral rolls and dies as Neal. Worthy, Mark and Ethelbert all continue to use the surname Neal until their deaths – none of them married (Ethelbert was 15 and Worthy spent most of his life in asylums). William also emigrated to Ontario and used the surname Neal, and also never married.

So it seems that it’s only James who drops his family name for his middle name, and only after he marries. In 1861 he is with family and is a Neal. In 1864 he uses Neal when he marries Mary. He and his wife and children are using Neal in 1871:

James H. Neal and family, living next door to his widowed mother, Elizabeth, and his brother, Mark H. Neal in 1871

… but have shifted to Holborow by 1881, which seems to stick from this point forward, although the youngest two children (Walter and James) are both registered at birth as Neal and James isn’t born until after the 1881 census.

I have no good suggestions as to why he did this. His father had died back in 1845, but his mother used the Neal name until her death in 1879. There are no suspicious criminal antics, and a search of British Newspapers doesn’t bring up anything either. Maybe he just … liked it?

As for James’ father, William, he was the illegitimate son of Ann Neal. I can only assume that his father was a Holborow, but as Sherston was pretty much Holborow Central at the early part of the 19th century it is impossible to pinpoint which Holborow he might have been. Ann was the daughter of an Ethelbert, and had a second illegitimate son named Ethelbert Howell Neal (again, I am assuming the father was a Howell). She would later marry the wonderfully named Flower Palmer Berry in 1811 and they would go on to have one son, James, the following year.

I’m descended from Ann’s uncle, Robert Neal, but one of Ann’s half-uncles, John, would marry into the Holborow family directly and two of his children were also baptised as Holborow Neal. These were Ann’s cousins, but they had no children of their own, and the last one died in 1858, well before James changed his surname.

So, when is a Holborow not a Holborow? When he’s a Neal. And figuring this bundle out? Definitely pretty sweet.


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