The Fearnside Page

All the evidence seems to point to the Fearnside family's origins being in the Pennine hill country of upper Calderdale and nearby areas of the Ribble valley, on the border between Yorkshire and Lancashire. (Just to add a little confusion, separate from the Yorkshire Calder is another River Calder - a nearby tributary of the Ribble!).

Like many surnames, the name is probably geographical, referring to a bracken-covered hillside. There may have been more than one such place adopted as a surname and, therefore, more than one Fearnside family. However, most (but not all) of the Fearnsides we have identified seem to be connected in one way or another.

where the Fearnsides come from

The Fearnside family appears quite frequently in the Halifax Parish Registers from the 1540s, in many cases described as Fernesyd de Ovenden. There are many gaps in the records and it is not untl the late 17th century that we can reliably connect them. So we cannot tell whether we are related in any way to the Robert Fearnside who lost his head at the Halifax gibbet in 1576!

It seems probable that all the 16th century Fearnsides shared a common ancestry. It is unlikely that we will ever be able to bridge the gap in the records with certainty but from time to time a new piece of information appears and hope stays alive. However,as we go further back into history, such records as we find contain less and less useful information. It is not until the mid eighteenth century that church records recognised that women played a role in the birth of children! Where there are several men of a similar age with the same Christian name (a common occurrence) the absence of a mother's name makes it difficult - if not impossible - to distinguish one John Fearnside from another.

You will find in some transcriptions of old records, names like Ffernsyd. The double f is a transcription error. In many old documents a capital F is the same as - or very similar to - two small (lower case) f's.

We have been assembling parts of this gigantic jigsaw in the hope of one day being able to link some, if not all, of them. But after nearly two decades of research, countless errors and false leads, it seems obvious that it will not be achieved in my lifetime. I have therefore had to content myself with concentrating on the "Textile" line, from which I descend, with occasional forays elsewhere, so most of the research is concentrated on the descendants of John Fearnside, whose baptism appears to be recorded in the Halifax Parish Register for 1 September 1698 in the words

John, f John Fearnsides

A second line descends from William Fearnside, born about 1678, also in Halifax. Unlike John's line, this branch of the family appears to have had no contact with the textile industry.

A third line, the Batley Fearnsides, was connected with textiles, particularly the development of mungo and shoddy. Unfortunately, there have been serious errors in my work here. The oldest generation I had recorded did not belong to those that succeeded it. So, not only should I try and discover who the true ancestors were, but also the descendants for the ones I wrongly inserted! I might get round to it, in the fullness of time.

Today we would identify people who spell their names Fernside, Fearnside, Fearnsides and so on as belonging to different families or, at least, to different lines of the Fearnside "clan". In earlier times, spelling was much more fluid. Most people did not "own" the spelling of their name. It would be written in the way some clerk thought appropriate. Even the literate (and that included most of the Fearnsides throughout history) were not consistent. Thomas Fearnside (or Fearnsides) (b Ossett 1770) married twice - in 1791 and in 1801. He signed his name differently in the Parish Register on the two occasions. His second wife, Sarah Dews, became Sarah Duce when they arrived in Scotland!

Sixteenth and seventeenth century records are commonly written in Latin abbreviations, spelling is inconsistent and content is minimal. So we find that on 13 February 1695 in Halifax

sepult ux Nath Fernsid

meaning The wife of Nathan Fearnside was buried. Which Nathan Fearnside? How old was the lady in question? (That might help to identify her or her husband.) What was her name? Sorry - women weren't important enough to have names!

More Scottish Fearnsides

In the early days of my researches I kept coming across a particular Fearnside whom I was unable to relate to those I knew about. He was Charles John Fearnside, baptised at Birstall on 02 Jan 1834. I first "met" him on a census form, where his place of birth was shown as "Bristol, Yorkshire". His parents were John Fearnside, Schoolmaster and Elizabeth (maiden surname Dodds). He joined the Army, serving in the Corps of Sappers and Miners, nowadays the Royal Engineers. He rose to the rank of Sergeant.

Charles was stationed at Durisdeer, Dumfries. There he married the daughter of a local shepherd, Jessie Armstrong, and they had four children. When he left the Army, Charles moved to the very North of Scotland where he worked as a quarry surveyor. In Clyne, Sutherland, he married Christina Murray, with whom he had another three children.

Charles was tried for bigamy at the High Court in Inverness on 21 April 1874, and sentenced to six months imprisonment.

Scottish National Archives, JC26/1874/35
Many thanks to Lesley Abernethy for pointing me to this information.

Charles died in Renfrew in 1903. On his death certificate, he is described as "married to Christina Murray". Christina died six years later in the Poorhouse in Barrhead and was described as "widow of Charles John Fearnside".

Charles's wife, Jessie, died at Durisdeer in 1922, at the age of 85. Her death certificate shows her as "widow of Charles Fearnside, Royal Engineers".

I later discovered that Charles was the brother of a more illustrious Fearnside. Edwin Horner Fearnside, like Charles, joined the Sappers and trained as a surveyor. He became a leading railway surveyor and designer and began one of the Fearnside family lines in Australia.

Batley Fearnsides

Another piece of the Fearnside jigsaw. I thought that this line was unconnected with the people we have already encountered. However, co-operation with Gillian Greaves and her cousin Val Asquith, is beginning to suggest that it is closer than we thought.

Included in this line is James Fearnsides, founder of The Batley News which is still published today.

I have removed this part of the Family Tree until I am satisfied that its contents are as accurate as possible. As it is at present, it is very confused and potentially misleading.

A Couple of Questions

What caused Benjamin Fearnside (2) to travel to Rothiemay in Scotland? Did he already know Carolina Montgomery whom he married there about 1801? Did Rothiemay belong to her family? Were there earlier family connections between the Fearnsides and the Montgomerys?

As far as we know, Benjamin (2) was the first of the family to settle in Scotland. So who was John Fernside, wool carder, who appears on the 1841 census in Nether Colquish, Tarland, Aberdeenshire, as aged 40, and born in Aberdeenshire?

© 2005 - 2018 Thelma and Peter Jones . . . Last updated 14 March 2018