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Brentford Families - Parsons

The starting point

When I started tracing my family tree I had not heard of Thomas Parsons: he was my gt gt gt grandfather, too far back in my family for any information to be handed down.

I found him named as the father on the marriage certificate when his daughter, Maria Sarah Parsons married John Donville TAYLOR in 1840 at St Mary's Ealing. He was just a name and occupation: shoemaker, so what was I able to find out about him?

Thomas Parsons was born around 1786-1791 according to the 1851 census (age 60) and his death certificate later that year (age 65). The 1851 census gives his birthplace as Harrow, Middlesex.

The Harrow Parsons

So far I have not been able to locate Thomas's baptism. His trade (shoemaker) is the same as that of a Joseph Parsons, who with his wife Elizabeth, baptised nine children (John, James, George, Joseph, Samuel, Sarah, Charles, Mary Ann and another Joseph, the first having died in 1801) at Harrow between 1786 and 1803.

Joseph Parsons senior was buried at Harrow in 1825, and was described as 'from Brentford'; he may have lived with one of his children in Brentford after his wife died in 1818. Joseph and Elizabeth seem good candidates to be Thomas's parents. Unfortunately there are no gaps in the first few baptisms to Joseph & Elizabeth to allow for an (unbaptised) Thomas. It is (just) possible that their eldest son baptised John in 1786 became known as Thomas.

Marriage and children

My first firm sighting of Thomas is at his marriage at Hanwell in 1813 to Lydia HARRIS. Their marriage day was about 11 months after the banns were published - unusual. Perhaps Thomas was waiting to finish his apprenticeship (although I would have expected him to have already accomplished this by the age of 26). Perhaps there were problems in his bride's family requiring a delay (illness?), or they were unable to find a property to rent, or were waiting for Thomas to establish his trade so he could keep a wife and family?

The newly married couple settled in Old Brentford and baptised their first nine children (Thomas, Joseph Samuel, Charlotte Lydia, Lydia, Mary Ann, Maria Sarah, Emma, James and Lydia Susannah) at the parish church of St Mary Ealing between 1814 and 1825. By the time their tenth and last child George Henry was born in 1828 the family were able to baptise him at St George's church, Old Brentford, as it had been raised in status to a district chapelry that year.

Thomas is not recorded in the 1826 Pigot directory for Middlesex in Old Brentford, but a James Parsons, boot and shoe maker is. Other local Parsons include Henry & Martha Parsons, of Old Brentford, shoemaker who baptised three children at the same church as Thomas & Lydia: Henry in 1816, Martha Sarah 1819 and George 1821. James and/or Henry may be related to Thomas.

More information about Henry Parsons has been uncovered in 2023- see below.



In 1836 Thomas was an overseer for St Mary's church, Ealing. The church had two overseers for the poor from the Upper Side (Ealing) and two for the Lower Side (Old Brentford). "They were responsible for the many aspects of poor relief, and they collected the poor rate which met their expenses." ('Ealing in the 18th & 19th C', Abstracts from the Vestry minutes of St Mary's parish church Ealing 1797-1879', Ealing Local History Society & (

The Vestry Minutes abstracts include two references to Thomas:

#204 14 April 1836 Mr ROUND moved and Mr RALFS seconded "That while the vestry is willing to give praise that is due to them as overseers, they cannot consistently as men and Englishmen approve of the conduct of Messrs LAYTON and Parsons, who, whatever may have been their motive, have by their extraordinary conduct in many instances, sacrificed the character this parish has long born for humanity, liberality and justice" Lost by 5 votes to 22

Mr Ralfs may be Samuel Ralfs, sawyer, who lived at 31 High Street in 1861 (census).

#237 6 September 1838 Decided that all parish books etc. should be kept under lock and key in vestry clerk's office at Old Brentford. Agreed that a copy of schedule of books and papers ordered to be delivered to Mr. Thos. Parsons for safe custody be lodged in hands of vicar.

In 1839 Thomas's wife Lydia died at the age of 54. She was buried at St George, Old Brentford, on May 12.


In the Ealing Tithe Apportionment the following year Thomas Parsons was recorded as owning two adjacent houses, gardens and a workshop on the High Street, one house occupied by him and the other by Thomas SWEET. A Thomas Sweet death was registered in Brentford in the Jul/September quarter of 1841 and the 1841 census shows Thomas and his son Joseph Samuel occupying the adjacent properties, which later were to become number 281 and 282 High Street.

The next generation

By the time of the 1841 census his two eldest daughters had married:

Mary Ann Parsons married William WATSON at Islington in 1841: William was the son of William Watson, staymaker and as Thomas Parsons' neighbour was William Watson, staymaker it seems likely that William junior was his son. Thomas Parsons witnessed the marriage.

Maria Sarah Parsons married John Donville TAYLOR at the parish church of St Mary, Ealing on February 6. Thomas is recorded on the certificate as a shoemaker and his son, Joseph Samuel, was one of the witnesses.

Later in 1841 Thomas's second eldest son, Joseph Samuel Parsons married Mary Ann BURNESS, who was born in Old Brentford, in Windsor. The couple settled in Old Brentford where Joseph Samuel was a watchmaker.


Another Marconi link

The 1841 census provides a clue about Thomas Parson's family, as living in his household was Harriet MARCONI, aged 6, not born in Middlesex. The only woman in Thomas's household following the death of his wife and departure of his two eldest daughters was Lydia, who was just 16 at the time of the census. It seems likely that Harriet was related to the Parsons family, although the 1841 census does not include relationship details as later censuses do.

Mary Ann Parsons married Louis MARCONI at Teddington in 1827 and they had three (maybe four) daughters: Frances (Fanny) at Great Bookham, Caroline, Harriet and possibly Ann S. Louis Marconi was 'customs' in the 1841 census and he died in the July/September quarter of 1841: so it is possible the youngest daughter Harriet was sent to live with relatives when her father was ill. As Mary Ann Marconi (nee Parsons) was born in Wembley (in Harrow parish), according to the 1851 census, it is assumed she was the daughter of Joseph & Elizabeth Parsons baptised at Harrow in 1800.

Thomas's will and Old Bailey Trial

In 1843 Thomas wrote his will on March 15th, mentioning his 7 surviving children and two sons in law William Watson and John Taylor.

In March 1847 William WOOD stole a pair of men's boots and a pair of low shoes from the High Street shop, having spoken to Lydia Susan Parsons, Thomas's daughter. William Wood was tried at the Old Bailey, found guilty and imprisoned for 3 months. The trial records include other snippets of information, for example that Thomas's name appeared in his boots and shoes.

Two years later in 1849 Lydia Susannah Parsons married Robert GAINSFORD, a gardener, at the parish church, Acton. Witnesses to the marriage were Mary Ann Marconi (her aunt?) and George Henry Parsons, her younger brother.

The 1851 census shows Thomas living on his own at the same High Street property as in 1841, with his son Joseph Samuel next door.

Thomas died on 3 November 1851 of 'Inflammation of the larynx' and his death was registered by Elizabeth TAINT on 7 November; his age at death was noted as 65. He was buried at Old Brentford on 9 November. I wondered why Elizabeth Taint registered his death rather than one of his children and in November 2015 Peter Stuart emailed 'Elizabeth Taint was my wife's 4th Great Grandmother and she was a professional nurse. Maybe she registered the death as she was present at death or had nursed him'. Thanks to Peter for this information.

The will was proved at London (Prerogative Court of Canterbury) on 25th November by his executors, son Joseph Samuel Parsons and son in law William Watson.


More marriages

The following year his son James Parsons married Caroline Priscilla NORMINTON at Heston parish church (he professed to be a gent but was a grocer in subsequent census returns). George Henry Parsons, younger brother, witnessed the marriage.

In 1860 Thomas's youngest son George Henry married Harriet Jane GAINSFORD: sister to Robert who married Lydia Susannah Parsons eleven years previously.

One final link between the Gainsford and Parsons families: the youngest son of Robert Gainsford senior, Charles James, married Catherine PIPER in 1861. Following Charles James's death 6 years later she married George Henry Parsons, whose wife Harriet Jane died in 1871.

Henry and Martha Parsons

This couple was encountered whilst searching for Parson baptisms in Brentford and they are of interest as Henry was a boot and shoemaker, like Thomas.

More information about Henry and his wife was found in 2023. Henry Parsons married Martha CALLIS at St Martin-in-the-Fields, by banns, 14 Sep 1815. They were both of that parish and they and the witnesses - Jno TAYLOR and Bridget CALLIS - all signed the register.

The timing of the marriage fits the baptism of their first child in 1816. A family tree on Ancestry shows a firmer link to Brentford: Martha Callis was baptised in 1792 at St Mary Ealing, the parish church for Old Brentford, daughter of Richard Callis and Martha West. Richard was a carpenter and he features in research into the Callis family by Sue Thomas.

Whilst Martha's origins are known, Henry Parsons remains a mystery. He has not been found in the 1841 census. Searches for Martha Parsons found one in the 1841 to 1861 censuses in Harrow. If this was the widow of Henry, then her move to Harrow parish from Brentford supports the theory of Henry having a family link to Thomas Parsons and Joseph Parsons, who lived in both Harrow and Brentford.

In 1841 Martha Parsons was 50 and the widow of a cordwainer. Living with her were Eliza 15, Thomas 10, Joseph 8 and Lucy 6. A baptism at Harrow-on-the-Hill of Thomas Parsons, son of Henry and Martha of Roxeth, cordwainer, 21 Nov 1830, fits.

In 1851 just Joseph (18, labourer) and Lucy (16, servant) remained at home with Martha ('chairwoman', presume charwoman); all were born in Harrow but Martha's birthplace should be Ealing, or Brentford.

In 1855 Joseph Parsons, age 22, married at Harrow; he was the son of Henry Parsons deceased and was living in Harrow Weald; he was a carrier.

In 1861 Lucy (26, dressmaker) and her mother Martha (69, laundress) were recorded, and Martha's birthplace was recorded as Brentford. Her grandson William J. GRAY, 10, scholar, born Haggerstone, was here too.

Just after the 1861 census, Lucy Parsons (full age) married Edward William CRAKE at Paddington. She was the daughter of Henry Parsons, shoemaker. Her unusual married surname made it possible to find her in 1871, by which point she and her husband were in Bushey, Hertfordshire. The entry gives her age as 36, birthplace as Harrow-on-the-Hill, a good match to earlier censuses. A bonus: her mother, Martha Parsons, was living with the Crakes, widow, age 78, born Brentford.

It is concluded the information above relates to one and the same couple, Henry Parsons and Martha Callis. They married at St Martin-in-the-Fields in 1815 and had children baptised at Brentford to 1821 and then at Harrow to around 1835.

Ancestry family trees are worth checking for new leads that can be verified. A search for Martha Callis found one includes the burial of her husband Henry: at St Mary, Harrow-on-the-Hill, 19 May 1841, weeks before the census. He was 49 and of Roxeth. That puts his birth date at 1791/2. No local baptism for Henry has been found however.


DNA evidence

Later in 2023 I investigated a DNA match on Ancestry, a descendant of a Henry Parsons (1816-1907), which ThruLines shows may be a son of my Thomas Parsons.

ThruLines are dervied from the way Ancestry matches information from various family trees. First, Henry was not a son of Thomas Parsons. Thomas's first four children were born in 1814 (Thomas), 1815 (Joseph Samuel), 1817 (Charlotte Lydia) and 1818 (Lydia): no room for a Henry around 1816. However, the dates for Henry, 1816-1907, are a match for the first son of Henry and Martha Parsons; this Henry was baptised at St Mary's, Ealing on 7 Jul 1816.

BUT this Henry led a different life to that suggested by Ancestry's Thrulines. Censuses from 1841 onwards show Henry was a bootmaker who remained in Ealing throughout his life. He married Sarah Ann FROST in 1839 and they had 11 children between 1840 and 1860.

Even odder, the tree of my DNA match confirms she is descended from a different Parsons family to the many shoemakers of Ealing and Harrow. Her greatgrandfather was Henry Parsons (1839-1888) and his wife Eliza HARRIS. Her Henry was the son of George Parsons, a brass founder. When Henry married in 1866 at Tottenham he lived in Tottenham and was a grocer.

The DNA match is no doubt genuine, but does not come from shared Parsons ancestry. One day I will try to work out who our elusive common ancestor is.

Where does that leave the quest to find Thomas Parsons' origins? More is known about Henry Parsons, boot and shoemaker (1816-1907). He had links to both Brentford and Harrow and was of the same generation as my Thomas. Like Thomas, no baptism has been found for Henry, but both men named sons Joseph, George and Thomas.


Writing up these notes was useful in highlighting what I did and more importantly what I did not know about Thomas. It also made me revisit original conclusions.

Notes have been added in 2023 about Henry Parsons, a contemporary of Thomas, who lived in Brentford and Harrow and was also a shoemaker (or cordwainer). But his origins remain a mystery.

The most compelling evidence to link Thomas to the family of Joseph Parsons of Wembley is Harriet Marconi staying in Thomas's household in 1841. Harriet was a granddaughter of Joseph Parsons by his daughter Mary Ann and her husband Louis Marconi. I have concluded this is enough for me to place Thomas as a son of Joseph and his wife until any contrary evidence is found.

Originally the information about my Parsons family was based on 'old school' research. Now it is possible that DNA matches may verify Thomas Parsons' ancestry, but as at October 2023 it has confirmed the line back to Thomas, not that extra step to Joseph Parsons and his wife.


FreeBMD; for censuses, parish records, DNA test and public family trees; birth, marriage and death certificates; published extracts from the Ealing Vestry Minutes held at Leicester University Library; Old Bailey web site; Ealing Tithe Apportionment.


Page published January 2010; last updated October 2023