Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Names - an unusual family name

Paula shares a new discovery from her family history.

My grandmother Catalina is the youngest
child standing in front of her father.
This photo was taken in 1879/80, after the
death of her mother in February 1879, and
the death of her sister (the one on the right)
in December 1880  
My grandmother was born in 1875, and was given the first name of Catalina. An unusual name for a girl born to a Victorian working class family in a small mill town in the north of England, where the most common names were traditional ones like Mary, Sarah, or Jane.

Catalina is, of course, the Spanish version of Catherine, and at first I thought she must have been named after a family friend, or even some local dignitary. Then, about 15 years ago, when I starting working on my family history, I discovered that the name Catalina wasn’t unique. In fact, it appeared in every generation of her family as far back as the early eighteenth century.

Catalina’s grandmother, Grace Dalton nee Catlow, had a sister named Catalina and her brother Jonathan named one of his daughters Catalina. One feels quite sorry for these girls who rejoiced in the name of Catalina Catlow!
Going back 2 more generations, I found Jonathan Catlow (born 1703) who was the rector at the parish church in the town in the second quarter of the 18th century. He was the father of my ancestor, James Catlow - and yes, one of James' sisters was called Catalina.
Jonathan married Grace Smith in 1727 – and I must admit, when you get a ‘Smith’ in your family tree, you throw up your hands in despair, because it is such a common surname.
Having reached what I thought was a brick wall with Jonathan and Grace, I did a search in the parish records (which fortunately were all online at the time, therefore relatively easy to search) for anyone named Catalina who was baptised, married or died in the same town as my grandmother Catalina. Imagine my amazement when there were about two dozen of them in addition to those I’d found in my direct line.
Eventually I managed to compile a ‘tree’ of all these, which took me back to a Catalina Pickford, born in 1695. I remember thinking at one point, ‘Either there’s a link between these families and mine, or I’ve been compiling someone else’s family tree!’

To cut a long story short, I didn’t find the link for a couple of years. I made contact with an American descendant of the Catlow family, who gave me the information that ‘Grace Smith’ was a widow when she married Jonathan Catlow, and her birth name was Grace Pickford.
From there, it was easy to link Grace Smith nee Pickford (born 1701) to her sister Catalina Pickford (born 1695). They were both daughters of John Pickford of Macclesfield, Cheshire, who in 1692 married  – yes, you’ve guessed it – Catalina Brewster.
The trail ran cold again. Catalina Brewster (born 1673 in Kent) was the daughter of Edward Brewster, but I couldn’t get any further back than that.

Until last week, when I happened to be sorting through my family history files, and decided to do a quick online search for Catalina Brewster.
I found a family history of the Brewster family, which showed that Catalina’s father, Edward Brewster married Dorothy Neesham. Dorothy’s parents were Thomas Neesham and – wait for it! - Catalina Cole (born about 1599). From there it was an easy jump to Catalina Cole’s father Roger Cole, and then to his father, William Cole, who married in 1525 in Devon. His wife’s name? Catalina de Gallegos - born in Spain about 1497.
At long last I had found a definite Spanish connection for the name which persisted through several generations and many branches of the family until the late 19th century.

When and why my Spanish ancestor Catalina de Gallegos came to England in the early 16th century is impossible to determine. However, Henry VIII had a Spanish queen from 1509 to 1531 (Catherine of Aragon) so was Catalina’s father, Ferdinando de Gallegos, part of her entourage? It’s interesting to speculate, although we’ll never know for certain!


  1. Interesting post, Paula. In genealogy, when you follow the crumbs they often provide an answer--though not always what you seek.

    1. Very true, John - and in this case it's taken several years to find all the crumbs! But it's so satisfying when you do find them!

  2. Wow, that's fascinating! My mom and I have worked on our family tree on her side of the family back to the 1700s I think? My grandfather had it all written out by hand and we computerized it as best we could. I love following the branches and seeing where it leads.

    1. I've spent many hours following the different lines in my family history. I've also met several 'cousins' as a result, and spent one afternoon at the Greenwood cemetery in Brooklyn tracking down the graves of family members, including the two who emigrated to NYC in the early 1800s. I've been amazed at what I've been able to discover, and of course there are now a lot more records online than when I was first researching about 15 years ago.

  3. Wow, Paula. You've really done some in depth research. My aunt and cousin put together a family tree for one side of the family, but it's more a list of names and who begat whom rather than a lot of detail.

    We did manage to trace down the name of the ship my grandma came over on from Germany.

    1. Some of my lines are just lists of names, too, but I've been lucky enough to find out more details about a few branches - but we won't mention one of my g-g-grandfathers who was a sea captain and was fired for being drunk in charge of his ship LOL!

  4. Fascinating research, Paula. You are holding seeds for a potential historical romance.
    My dad did genealogical research for his side of the family. I have lots of British ancestry.

    1. Don't think I could cope with all the research for an historical novel!
      Where in Britain did your dad's family originate?

  5. Lovely to read how an unusual name helped open more doors for you. Now I'm encouraged to try googling a couple of my family's weird and different names to see if anything bounces back to me. Thanks

    1. Hi Anne! Hope you find something interesting. It's amazing what you can find on Google these days, far more than when I was researching my family history about 15 years ago! Good luck with yours.