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The story of the Bromley and Coppard families

Welcome to my family history website. All About My Father is, as the name suggests, about the ancestors of my late father, John Martin Bromley, whose parents were Stephenson Bromley and Nellie Coppard.

I started researching my father's family history in the late 1990s when there were no internet resources and all the research had to be done in local libraries or at the former Family History Centre in London. I shared a ‘first edition' of the history in hard copy format with family members in 1999 but with the growth in internet genealogy I have been able to fill in many of the gaps and go back much further, particularly on the Bromley side.

Furthermore, thanks to the internet – and in particular this website – I have been in contact with some distant family members who have provided information that would have taken me a great deal of time to obtain myself. Some have even been able to provide photographs of people no one else in my family can ever remember meeting, or in most cases, even hearing of. This has also led to the identification of some of the mystery faces in the family’s photograph collection, particularly on the Bromley side.

The main reason for creating this website is to see if I can fill in any of the remaining gaps and get in touch with some of the many distant relatives who I believe are still around. If you think you may be related do please get in touch via the Contact Me page as I would love to hear from you.

While none of my father's family achieved fame or glory, and there are no skeletons (at least none that would be considered as such today), I can only wonder what these people were like. Watching the lives of long-dead ancestors unfold before one’s eyes through public records and faded family photographs is a fascinating experience.

Alan Bromley

My Bromley family history begins in the villages around Cranbrook in Kent, while the Coppards have their origins around Burwash in Sussex. The former fact I found out from my great aunt, Emily Langridge (née Bromley), whose sketchy family history and as-yet unpublished account of her childhood in the early years of the 20th Century were what stimulated my interest in genealogy. On the other hand, no one in the family knew much at all about the Coppards, except that they came from Newhaven (which is true of my father’s grandparents) but their origins actually lie further afield in the Sussex weald.

According to Emily, farmer Samuel Bromley and his wife, Amelia, lived in Cranbrook in Kent in the early 1800s. Her story says that Amelia died and her three sons – John, Mark and Stephen – left home because they could not get on with their stepmother, and that Stephen emigrated to America.

Some of this is true: Samuel lived in Cranbrook and he had two sons called John and Mark, but he also had a daughter called Olive. Since it was Samuel who died young, it must have been Amelia who remarried and one assumes that the children did not get on with their stepfather. Samuel did not have a son call Stephen, although that was the name of his father. There are possible clues to the emigration story in that Samuel’s aunt and uncle emigrated to Canada, via New York, with their family in the 1860s.

The rest you will have to read in the chapters on this website.

Bromley and Coppard are relatively uncommon and that has made researching the family history a little easier. While most Coppards lived in the South East corner of England in the 19th century, the surname Bromley is more widely scattered. Steve and Nellie's families mostly lived, married and died in the counties of Kent, Sussex and Surrey.

Bromley is a habitation name which accounts for its wider spread, since there are towns with this name in Essex, Hertfordshire, Greater London, Greater Manchester, Staffordshire and, of course, Kent. In fact, Bromley is a far more common surname in the north of England than it is in the south, while there are also a surprising number in Wales. There are many variations on the spelling and I have come across the following:

Bromilley Bromiley Bromily Bromleys Bromly Bromely Bromlea
Bromlee Bromlay Broomley Broumley Brumley Brumly

Many of these variations are due to simple misspelling by the registrar or vicar. Widespread illiteracy in the early 19th Century meant that people did not know how their surnames were spelt and officials sometimes did not fare much better.

Coppard (and its variations Coppeard and Copard) is a Sussex name and is derived from the word ‘copp’ meaning ‘hill’ or ‘head’, with Coppard variously meaning living on top of a hill or ‘big head’. The surname also derives from Copper, meaning redhead. My family line is recorded as Copper in the 18th century but this became Coppard in later records.

The main sources of my information have been public records, especially the 1841–1911 censuses; parish records; birth, marriage and death registers; wills; and the British Railways archives in the Public Records office in Kew.

Additional information came from various family members, including my father’s cousins, Barbara Kahan and Mary Bromley, and my aunt and uncle Jean and Peter Bromley (all are sadly deceased). Jean and Peter held the family photographic archive which, although not extensive, did at least provide some faces to go with the names. Additional photographs have been kindly provided by some of the distant relatives who I have managed to trace through one means or another.

My family history is divided into the Bromley and Coppard families and is arranged mostly by generation. Although the majority of the maternal ancestors (ie, with surnames other than Bromley or Coppard) are described within their respective chapters, I have create separate chapters on the Rhodes, Buckwell and Paine families – the maternal ancestors of Nellie – as quite a bit is known about them and there are some photographs.

Small family trees are included in each chapter to orientate you as it is easy to get confused, but the whole tree is far too large to include here.

Lastly, this account of the ancestors of Steve and Nellie is by no means complete but it does provide considerably more information than was previously known from the recollections of family members I have been able to talk to during its development. It will never be complete but I will continue to add new things as I find them.

There are several websites which can help you in your research and some of these allow you to build an online tree but you might find it easier to install one of the many software programs designed for the purpose. Family Tree Maker, one of the most popular programs, synchronises with Ancestry.co.uk which is an added bonus.

One word of warning if you are starting out researching your family history. One of the downsides of letting everyone loose on the public records and allowing them to create online family trees is that the level of proof required by many amateur genealogists is pretty low. Several Ancestry members have freely admitted to me that they have linked people from my tree to theirs simply because the names were the same.

Ancestry members also save information and photos from the trees of other members to use in their own with little attempt to check authenticity, simply taking the information at face value. This is particularly true of the pre-1837 records but I have seen Nellie Coppard’s photograph from my tree added to a completely unrelated person with the same name.

As a result, Ancestry in particular (I have no experience of other genealogy websites in this regard) is full of the most dreadful misinformation which is a real shame.

Evidence of a link between a name on a census to your family needs to be based on clear facts or some very strong assumptions. This is particularly tricky when it comes to parish records prior to 1837 when formal recording of births marriage and deaths began (and that did not become compulsory until 1875). Parish officials relied on phonetic spelling of surnames (and even first names) which led to a lot of mistakes. Furthermore, linking families even within the same parish, let alone different parishes, is virtually impossible with any degree of certainty.

Not everyone was a church-goer in 18th and 19th century England. Indeed, if the whole population of Brighton turned up at the town’s main church on a Sunday in 1841 they would have found it very crowded (the census showed that there were 46,661 people). It is reasonable to assume therefore that many parents did not have their children baptised and this has proved to be the case as you see quite a few baptisms of older children and even adults.

Therefore, while many people were very dutiful in having their life events recorded in parish records and/or in the official state records, some did not. One can’t help but think that the hard lives many of them endured meant that registration was not at the top of their list of priorities when trying to survive. Records before the 19th century are particularly patchy and you can only trace your ancestry if they were wealthy. The poor didn’t get a look in in those days.

Illegitimacy was widespread, much more so that one might think. Marriage while pregnant was equally common because engagement was often taken as a sign by couples that they could begin having sex, which is one reason why breach of promise (the man breaking off the engagement) often resulted in the man being sued in court by the woman (it did not work the other way round).

Ancestry’s attempt to make things easier for inexperienced users has resulted in the search capabilities being dumbed down somewhat and Find My Past has a much better search tool. Both websites have the basic databases – censuses and births, marriages and death – but they have different sets of other useful sources of information, such as military and immigration records.

Both websites offer a means of correcting clearly erroneous information, the vast majority of which have come about by records being mis-transcribed.

When it comes to the parish records, you start to see generations of the same family in the same (or adjacent) village, the same parents, occasionally group family baptisms, ages at death, fathers’ names against child burials, that kind of thing. All these can guide you in making links between people but this should be approached with caution.

Ancestry is not all bad by any means. There are some very well researched trees with lots of images of various kinds. You can even contact other members, although Ancestry’s messaging system is rather poor and you often don’t get an answer.

Good luck!


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