A couple of weeks ago I decided to investigate the Cutler family.  They are connected to my family’s tree through my great-great grandmother Mary Cutler-Paulin(e). I have known for a while that her father was John Cutler, that he was from Eton, that he died in 1843, and that he worked as a clerk at the Tower Ordnance (yes, Tower of London).

Mary Paulin and child, circa 1860-70s, c. Kathleen Paulin
Mary Paulin and child, circa 1860-70s, c. Kathleen Paulin

I had made some half-hearted searches on various genealogy databases and on the internet, but not much.  I found some notices from the Times for his marriage and his death, I had a copy of his wife’s will (she died in 1874), there is a lady in New Zealand who likewise found similar information on him and posted it online, in her search for more about the Freak family (his wife Louisa’s maiden name).  But there wasn’t much.  I have to admit that I was a bit intimidated by the number of John Cutlers I found when I bothered looking.

But really, how silly is that?  I mean, it is a relatively common name, but it is not Smith, like another two lines on my maternal line which I haven’t dared even looking into.  So I set aside my fear and decided to figure out the Cutlers.  After all, I am a good researcher, and I can do it!

So I started out with what I already knew.  John Cutler died in 1843, he was from Eton, he married Louisa Freak in 1824, he had a daughter named Mary, born in 1836, and he worked at the Tower. From his wife’s will I also know there was another daughter named Elizabeth and a son called Edward Francis. First of all there are two John Cutlers who died in March of 1843.  One died in Dorset and the other in Lambeth.  The one in Lambeth had the address of Camberwell New Road.  This was an important clue.

I tried the 1841 census for England, but I couldn’t find the family at all.  So I decided next to go to the children.  Mary’s birth was easy to find, I had the full date already.  I found her baptismal information, and John and Louisa are listed as living at Camberwell New Road.  So the death information was confirmed by the address.  He was listed as a gentleman.  I went on to find more children.  Elizabeth was born in 1828, and he was listed as a clerk for the Ordnance.  I then found a Fanny, born in 1834, and a William Henry born in 1835. All carried similar information, though Elizabeth and Fanny were baptised at Kennington St Mark, and Mary and William at Kew.  The 1851 census lists Edward Francis as being three years old, and the 1861 as 13, so he was not John’s natural child, born 5 years or so after his death.  I intend to get his birth certificate and see if his father’s name was listed.  Curious, but I digress.

So where do I go from here?  I decided to check out the member trees on Ancestry.ca to see if anyone else had some clues to provide.  I will say now that I am seriously cautious when I use these things, because a lot of the time people haven’t the sources to back up their allegations, they just pick ancestors.  What is even more unfortunate is that they post these trees online, and then never check them again.  Anyway, I found three different trees with John Cutler and Louisa Freak, and the generally agreed with one another, and in them all stated that John was the son of the Rev John Cutler and his wife Sarah Eliza.  Okay, so I go in search for baptismal information on John son of the Rev John, and find him in Dorset.  But he was from Eton according to all the stuff I had found.  I googled the Rev John and found that he was actually from Eton, but at the time of John’s birth, he was the headmaster of Sherborne School in Dorset.  Paydirt.

So here is where everything gets surreal, and damn cool. In that same Google search, I found out that the Rev John had attended Eton, had gone to both Oxford and Cambridge, was assistant master at Rugby, then master at Dorchester School, and then Sherborne.  His parents’ names were also listed.  Roger Cutler and Mary Bold.  I googled Roger Cutler of Eton and found that he had been part owner of the Eton waterworks.  More research on Google, Ancestry, Family Search, and Find my Past, and I had his siblings, his children, and more.  One family tree posted on Ancestry actually had an engineer’s certificate for William Henry Cutler (b 1835) working at the Eton Waterworks in the late 1800s. I was having a blast, but it gets better.

John Cutler portrait, courtesy of Sherborne School, Dorset
John Cutler portrait, courtesy of Sherborne School, Dorset

Once I had some information on John Cutler, I decided to see if I could find out about his wife, Sarah Eliza Guise.  I found their marriage registration, and they were married at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster.  On the thought that this would be her home parish, not his, I searched out Sarah’s name.  I eventually found her baptism at Windsor- St George’s.  Her father was Richard Guise and her mother’s first name was Elizabeth.  More searching and I found the parent’s marriage and her mother’s maiden name was Windham.

I then Googled Richard.  Oh lord!  According to a book about the burials at Westminster Abbey, Richard Guise was choirmaster and chorister at the Abbey.  On his death in 1806 he left an estate and money to his daughter Sarah Eliza Cutler. Bingo.  But step back a moment.  He is buried in Westminster Abbey, in the North Cloister.  I found that seriously cool.

I then went to the National Archives website (UK), and unlike its Canadian counterpart, it is marvellous, and allows you to search for and easily download material from its collection.  I found the will for John Cutler (d 1843), the will for Richard Guise (d1806) and the will for the Rev John Cutler (d1833). It’s like connecting the dots.

And just when you think it cannot get better, it does.  I had decided to see if Sherborne School had any records of my John Cutler, if he had attended his dad’s school, etc.  And that is when things get amazing.  So after several emails to the Sherborne alumni association, then their archives, I get the comment that Sarah Eliza was the niece of William Windham.  Who?  I had to ask, and I googled him too.  He was a Whig politician in the late 18C, and the son of a prosperous Norfolk family, living in Felbrigg Hall. According to a Wikipedia entry on his father, William sr, an illegitimate daughter was born to him. and his mistress Mary Morgan, named Elizabeth.  No I don’t take Wikipedia at face value.  I asked the archivist from Sherborne for her source of information, and it was a book on the school, and the author had researched not only school archives for information about the Cutlers, but also read the diary and letters of William Windham Jr.  He wrote to his sister, his niece wrote to him, and he wrote about them in his diary.

cutler tree

After a lot of Googling around on the net, I have been able to piece together the Windham family, and there are pictures, because Felbrigg is now owned by the National Trust, and they have the family portraits, some by some pretty famous painters, such as Lely.  I can trace them back into the 17C, and if I try hard enough, I think earlier, and I can look into their eyes and say my many times great grandparent.

William Windham, (1717-1761) portrait by Dagnia, copyright National Trust, Felbrigg Hall
William Windham, (1717-1761) portrait by Dagnia, copyright National Trust, Felbrigg Hall

I have to say that I was not expecting such discoveries.  I had this image of my family of being essentially of the middling sort.  Certainly not that socially high, where they have a family estate, and portraits by Lely.  What a fascinating journey it has been, and so quickly too.

Seeing the success of my Cutler search, I am now wondering what searching into the two Smith families in Birmingham might bring.

Well, I might just wait a bit on that…..