The story of the Bromley and Coppard families

Welcome to my family history website. As the name suggests, All About My Father concerns 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 30 years ago when there were no internet resources and all the research had to be done in local libraries or at the public records offices in London. The internet has revolutionised genealogical research although it’s not without its drawback, as I explain in the Research Tips. I decided to make a story out of my family history and putting it online makes it much easier to update. This is the fourth major revision since launching the website in 2012.

Thanks to the internet – and to this website – I have made contact with some distant family members who have provided photographs and personal memories that have helped to bring my ancestors’ stories alive. They have also helped to identify some of the mystery faces in the family’s photographic collection.

A few recent breakthroughs have come about via DNA analysis which has confirmed the identify of a 3x great grandfather as well as some distant Yorkshire lines. I’m sure more connections will be made in the future.

One of the reasons for creating this website was to see if I can 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 only a few skeletons, I can only wonder what all these people were really 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 The former fact I found out from my great aunt, Emily Langridge (née Bromley), whose sketchy family history and unpublished account of her childhood in the early years of the 20th Century were what stimulated my interest in genealogy.

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 and Amelia 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 with their family in the 1860s. However, things are never quite what they seem and unravelling the story of Amelia’s later life has proved to be very interesting.

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 with on line of ancestors hailing from Yorkshire.

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 information about my father’s family have come from public records, especially the 1841–1921 censuses; parish records; civil birth, marriage and death registers; wills; various railway, shipping and military archives available online; and the British Newspaper Archives. What I have not yet delved into are the many local archives available in the counties of Sussex and Kent since this would require considerable time but this is something for the future.

Additional information came from 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 father’s genealogy is divided into the Bromley and Coppard families and is arranged mostly by generation. Although the majority of the maternal lines 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. If you would like to see it, you can view it on Ancestry where it’s called Bromley-Coppard. Lastly, this account of the ancestors of Steve and Nellie is as complete as it is likely ever to be, although there are still a few lines to the more distant cousins to explore. This website provides considerably more information than was previously known from the recollections of the family members I was able to talk to during the early years of its development but I will continue to add new things as I find them.

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