Family History Moment: Old Brass Plaques Expand Research

Contributed By Sarah Adelaide Weaver Cowles, Salt Lake Granite Stake

  • 16 September 2016

English countryside; two brass plaques were found on the wall of an English church, expanding the family history research of Sarah Adelaide Weaver Cowles.

Article Highlights

  • Two brass plaques on an English church wall unveiled lost family history.
  • Utah researchers contacted parish officials to find the plaques.
  • Family researchers located a 1634 heraldic pedigree of the Clarke family.

Two old brass plaques on the wall of an English church recently expanded our family history and made it possible for many of our deceased relatives to receive their temple ordinances.

Previous research and family traditions had suggested that the ancestors of Samuel Clark (1798–1885), a Mormon pioneer, went back to the Clarkes of Hertfordshire, England. However, the close relationships among many of the Clarke families of Hertfordshire were not well understood until recently.

In June 2016 volunteer researchers of the Samuel Clark Family Organization of Utah discovered an online source that mentioned there were two old brass plaques inside St. Peter’s church in Benington, Hertfordshire, which reportedly contained inscriptions about two Clarke families who had resided in the area during the 1500s.

Upon learning that these two brass plaques might still exist inside the church, Utah researchers contacted parish officials in Benington, who kindly took multiple photographs of the two plaques, which were “all but hidden from view these days by the organ which sits in front of them at an angle.” These brass inscriptions mentioned that a William Clarke had died in 1591 and that he was the fourth son of a George Clarke, and that a John Clarke had died in 1604 and that he was married to an Edith Cole, by whom he had a son Willm and three daughters named Anne, Edith, and Elizabeth.

Recognizing that the Clarkes mentioned in the brass plaques must have been notable individuals within their communities, family researchers were soon able to locate a 1634 heraldic pedigree of the Clarke family that listed the ancestors and relatives of these two families back to the 1400s.

Using parish registers and wills listed on FamilySearch and its partner sites, family researchers then combined the information from the brass inscriptions and heraldic pedigree to identify and connect multiple Clarke families in Hertfordshire. Within a few weeks these efforts resulted in dozens of early Clarke family members being listed on FamilySearch and their needed temple ordinances produced.

Thanks to today’s powerful search engines and online sources, that which once took many years to discover now takes only a few weeks or months to find. In fact, one Clark family member recently said, “Our family history research is now easier than ever before because of FamilySearch and its website partners.”

—Sarah Adelaide Weaver Cowles, Salt Lake Granite Stake