View Full Version : Record Office: Need to Find a Genealogist or Historian Who Is Family with Berkhamsted

31-05-13, 21:51

I've started researching a book that will be about Thomas Stevens, an adventurer who was the first person to ride a bicycle around the world (he also rode a mustang across Russia and went in search of the missing Stanley, who went looking for the missing Livingston). Secondary sources say Stevens was born in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, on December 24, 1854, and that his parents were William and Ann. For a variety of reasons, I suspect his listed birth date is incorrect and I want to find original documentation (or a copy thereof) to get this right. A search of all the online genealogical databases to which I have access found two matches: one said he was christened on August 19, 1855, and was the son of William and Ann Stevens (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/N8PW-WXQ), and a census report listed him as 6 years of age (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/M7J4-DSG). Both records are found in some sort of master index but no more information is forthcoming. Searches in a large variety of newspapers via databases found no record of any Stevens being born in either 1854 or 1855 in Berkhamsted, but this hardly means anything since he was the son a laborer and may not have gotten a mention.

Does anyone know a local genealogist or historian for hire who can find definitive proof that Thomas Stevens was indeed born in Berkhamsted, plus determine his official birth date? I believe this is a case where looking for the original documents, such as a certificate or a name in some church registrar or some sort of hard census record is what is needed. If anyone can help steer me toward finding this information or someone capable of helping me, I'd greatly appreciate it.


Elizabeth Herts
31-05-13, 22:44
I make no claim that this is your man, but this birth registration was easily found:

Name: STEVENS, Thomas
Registration district: Berkhampstead
County: Hertfordshire
Year of registration: 1855
Quarter of registration: Jan-Feb-Mar
Volume no: 3A
Page no: 290

Elizabeth Herts
31-05-13, 22:51
You would need to order his birth certificate to establish his parents.

There is indeed a Thomas on the 1861 census with parents William and Ann. They are living in the High Street, Berkhamsted, and his father William is a labourer and mother Ann a straw plaiter.

It is proving the link between this Thomas Stevens and the man you are researching which you need to do.

Elizabeth Herts
31-05-13, 23:16

I can't verify what is written here, but I found him in London as a theatre manager on the 1901 and 1911 Censuses.
You need to look at his employment in America.

This might help as he seemed to be quite a local celebrity:

There must be people you can contact to obtain further information.

31-05-13, 23:25

Wow, that was fast! And I quite appreciate it. Can you tell me where you found your info (in case I can access it online) or, failing that, who I can contact to get a copy of the birth certificate? Thanks for taking the time and effort to answer my questions. It is much appreciated.

01-06-13, 02:31
You're asking where Elizabeth found the birth information?

Freebmd provides a free index to British Civil Registration:

All birth-marriage-death events were registered with the government beginning 3rd qtr 1837. With the info on freebmd, you can order the actual certificate from the GRO for L9.25. Well, theoretically all events...

Birth registrations would have name of both parents (including MMN), as well as their address and father's occupation, and the informant of the event (usually, but not necessarily, one of the parents)

Elizabeth Herts
01-06-13, 05:39
Here is the link for ordering certificates:


If you want to look at censuses you need to go to Ancestry or FMP (FindMyPast).



01-06-13, 16:53

Again, thank you for your help. It's much appreciated!

Christine in Herts
01-06-13, 23:25
Herts Names Online (https://www.hertsdirect.org/ufs/ufsmain?formid=HALS_INDEXES)
comes up wit this "hit", amongst others...

Newspapers & Magazines (1758 - 2013)


Mr Thomas Stevens : Berkhamsted man rides round world on bicycle


Herts Advertiser page 7

Publication date:

1 February 1890


Cycling and cyclists; People



Personal names:

Thomas Stevens

I think that means that you can get a copy for a fee - not sure how much. Alternatively, you may be able to find that newspaper on one of the other online archives to which you may have access. Or you may be able to get a Berkhamsted librarian to get you a copy - with or without a fee - under the Ask A Librarian scheme, which seems to be pretty much worldwide.


01-07-13, 08:56
I will ask at the local history society on Wednesday what they have in their archives, I live in Berkhamsted. My father was president of the local history society until the day he died ( last oct) otherwise, I bet he'd have known.

If he was indeed born and baptised in berkhamsted, I guess it will be in the parish Church of St Peter, just a spit from where they were living on the high street. ( cant work out quite where they were living on the high street, except ''St peters church' is listed in the margin a couple of pages back on the census)

If you ant any photographs of the area,let me know.

01-07-13, 15:14

Thanks for your offer of help. I appreciate it. I did get hold of Stevens' birth certificate. A good thing, too, since all published biographical info about him I could find had his birth date incorrect. I suspect this is because when Stevens filled out a passport form in the U.S. decades later, he had that erroneous date.

In any case, I'd love to locate any of his personal papers if such a thing exists. So far I've had no luck locating anything like that.

01-07-13, 16:53
I will go and see what Jennie can find for you/me on Wednesday and get back to you

04-07-13, 08:23
Not a lot Jenny could tell me really, the article they published in the gazette is pretty much all the info they have on him. She is going to find where the parish records are for that era, and see if they have anything else tucked away, she she isn't hopeful.

If you want any photographs, please say. They will have photo's of the cottages that he lived in - they are gone now, if its the ones I think it was. Castle street itself and the High Street, obviously still exist.

04-07-13, 13:46

Thanks so much for all your help. I suspect if Stevens' personal papers still exist, they are stuffed in some ancestor's attic long forgotten, but you never know.

07-08-13, 04:36

Do you happen to know if the UK keeps some sort of national records of people's wills. It has occurred to me that if I could find Stevens' will, it might point me in a direction I can follow trying to track down his personal papers, if they even exist.

Thanks for all the help so far.

Christine in Herts
07-08-13, 18:50
Do you have a date of death? (even approximate). There is the England & Wales National Probate Calendar, which lists the Wills (and Letters of Administration) granted each year. Ancestry has the index online up to a point. We'd need to have a few other associated names / places to be sure of finding the right one.


Elaine ..Spain
07-08-13, 19:22
One of the earlier links (in post 4) gives his date of death as 24 January 1935.

If that is correct then it seems to tie up with the following entry in the probate calendar:

Thomas Stevens
Probate Date - 11 Mar 1935
Death Date - 24 Jan 1935
Death Place - Devon, England
Registry - London, England

STEVENS Thomas of Dolforgan Hotel Exmouth Devonshire died 24 January 1935 at 20 Devonshire-place Marylebone Middlesex
Probate London 11 March to Violet Bourchier single woman.
Effects £5583 6s 6d.
(Source: www.ancestry.co.uk (http://www.ancestry.co.uk))

You can obtain a copy of his will from the Probate Office - http://www.justice.gov.uk/courts/probate/copies-of-grants-wills
Under the section headed "What if I cannot get to First Avenue House or a Registry?" you will see a link to download the application form (PA1S)

Christine in Herts
07-08-13, 19:54
Thanks, Elaine. I had read through quickly, and thought I'd seen a DoD, but then couldn't spot it.


08-08-13, 13:17
Thanks to everyone for all this great help. I really appreciate it.

Jill on the A272
12-08-13, 18:31
Looking at one of the links Elizabeth provided shows he married a Mrs Vanbrugh, and using Thomas Stevens Vanbrugh as the search term there are two "hits" on The British Newspaper Archive for 1935 which mention Violet Vanbrugh (stage name) whose real surname was Bourchier having a legacy from her stepfather.

Ancestry has the probate of Thomas Stevens of Dolforgan Hotel, Exmouth Devonshire who died 24 January 1935 at 20 Devonshire Place Marylebone Middlesex Probate 11 March 1935 to Violet Bourchier single woman Effect £5583 6s 6d

17-08-13, 21:09
Violet died a spinster

Name: BOURCHIER, Violet Catherine
Registration district: [?] Cuckfield
County: Sussex
Year of registration: 1975
Quarter of registration: Apr-May-Jun
Date of Birth:15 March 1901
Volume no: 18 Page no: 2007

You need to check whether she left a will and if so who was involved in case they inherited and papers belonging to Thomas Stevens. The index on ancestry for probate only goes up to 1966. You probably need to apply to the Probate Office as mentioned earlier for them to check around the date of death.


18-08-13, 00:24

Thanks so much for all this help. It's much appreciated!