e-mail N.James Bridge

Genealogy of the Bridge family from Smarden

Robert Bridge, ca.1735-1811, of Smarden
3 sons
James 1769-1834
James 1804-1871
Walter 1865-1958
James F. 1914-1940
N. James 1940-
Simon 1773-1860
Richard 1799-1880
Andrew 1829-1919
Barton B. 1871-1945
Floyd C. 1901-1998
Barton C. 1926-1998
John B. 1950-
Joseph 1787-1868
Robert 1819-1895
Walter J. 1851-1937
Cecil R. 1903-1947
David R. 1935-

Three fourth cousins

The best thing about web-pages of family history is the way they act as fishing lines, catching new relations. When I first published these pages, I didn't know anything about John (from Indiana, U.S.A.) or David (from Sevenoaks in Kent), just some of their more distant ancestors, whose names acted as the bait!

SmardenPic.gif (6K)March 2006: John visited me in Canterbury and we got together with David for lunch in The Chequers in Smarden. Our common ancestor Robert Bridge lived in Smarden 200 years ago but would have no difficulty in finding his way about the place today.

Don't expect much family resemblance in the photo; brothers have half their genes in common but each step down the generations, either side, halves it again. So David and I have only 0.2% in common and John only a quarter of that. However, at least in theory, we each have the same Y-DNA.

June 2007: I attended the wedding of John's daughter Carrie in Indiana and so got to know Greg and his brother Tracy and sister Bonnie as well as John's brother Tom. Together with their various families, they outnumbered all the other Bridges I had previously met!

August 2007: an e-mail from Don Bridge of Denver, Colorado. He says 'I typed "Bridge Smarden Kent" into my web browser and what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a "Genealogy of the Bridge family from Smarden" with pictures and diagrams and all kinds of neat information.' Like John, Don is a gggg-grandson of Simon Bridge of Wittersham, but through Simon's third son William ➔ George ➔ Henry ➔ Raymond ➔ Richard ➔ Donald. This makes him fifth cousin to John but still fourth cousin twice removed to me. Confused yet? Don sent me a CD of old pictures of various members of his family, some of which can be seen on the page for George Bridge. He also sent a copy of George's own account of his voyage from Liverpool to New York, in 1849, which I have converted to a pdf document here.

February 2008: an e-mail from Peter Bridge in England who alerted me to another line of descent from Robert Bridge of Smarden. He had a son Samuel, b. 1776/7, who moved to New Romney, a bit further than his older brother Simon. Samuel's only son William in turn moved to Chelsea in London and Peter is William's great great grandson (Robert ➔ Samuel ➔ William ➔ John ➔ John F ➔ Frank ➔ Peter). The same week I also heard from Tony Lawrence who is also descended from William, via his grand-daughter Jane. It's a small world!

June 2008: an e-mail from Michael Bridge, living in Cornwall. He is the great grandson of the Samuel Bridge who lived in Tenterden and has brought my material up-to-date for all Samuel's descendents. In turn, he learnt about Samuel's ancestors from these pages: like me he is descended from the first James Bridge, but through his first son rather than his second. We know the connection is valid because it has now been verified by a dna test.

In December 2008, a lady in South Australia wrote about her grandfather, Frederick E Bridge, who had emigrated to New Zealand about 1883 and whom she believed to have come from Maidstone; she sent a copy of a photograph supposedly of his mother. This fitted with the information I had so I sent the picture to a descendant of the Maidstone family who was able to match it to one in an old album of family photos. Snap, one might say!

Late in 2009, I heard from another Bridge family in New Zealand. Their ancestor William was known to have emigrated in 1879 and was thought to have been born in 1852 in Chelsea. Again an internet search led to these web pages where I had a William of the right age who vanished from the English records some time before the 1881 census. He was another great-grandson of Samuel in New Romney and one of his descendants in NZ, Brian Bridge, has now taken a dna test which confirms the link back to Robert in Smarden. In this case, the line of descent runs Robert ➔ Samuel ➔ William ➔ William ➔ William ➔ Alfred ➔ Alfred ➔ Brian, which makes Brian sixth cousin to John, Greg and Don.

Getting the info

JBridge.gif (5K)

My interest in family history was first aroused in boyhood when I was given a family tree showing the descendants of my great grandfather James Bridge; they spread around the world, to South Africa, South America, Australia and eventually New Zealand. As chance would have it I came to live in Canterbury in 1967 and realised that I could use the resources of the cathedral library to look for James's ancestors, who came from Smarden in Kent. It turned out to be harder than expected, because four generations of the family were Baptists and so there are few records of infant baptisms to connect the generations together. I therefore started to collect all the information available and use it to piece together the lives of the various families. Things like the Poor Law records can help fill the gaps and also add a lot of incidental detail and historical interest. It turned out to be something like a detective story, with the odd vital clue turning up unexpectedly after years of searching.

AndrewIco.gif (5K)

This was all in the early days of the internet and home computers and I decided it would be interesting to build a website as well as joining various newsgroups. One of my first contacts was Roger Bredin, who told me about the Bridge family in Canada and the USA. This led to the connection with Greg Bridge and his second cousin John in the USA, whose ggg-grandfather Richard had emigrated about 1842. John sent me a mass of information from which I have extracted a tree showing all the Bridge family in the US, descended from Richard's son Andrew. A lucky on-line search turned up an e-mail address for Clayton Allsop and so reconnected me with the various descendants of my great grandfather; Clayton, Margaret Cox and Ros Dachs have all visited Kent since. Once I had set up this web-site, I started to get e-mails from new relations (new to me, that is!) like David, Peter, Michael and Don, who have all added substantially to the overall picture.

WBridgeIco.gif (6K) Jim Bridge

More recently, I have started to organise my collections of old photographs and other mementoes and to build up a better picture of my more recent family, starting with my grandfather Walter and my father Jim, who was killed on war service in the RAF and whom I therefore did not know.

Anne and Flower

Several things inherited from my father's sister, Anne, are interesting, notably three large photographs apparently taken by a newspaper reporter in 1945 showing Anne with the horses then still in use on the farms. There is also a needlework sampler worked by my grandmother, probably around 1890, and a small table which seems to have been made using a display panel from a Russian geology collection. Most likely this came from her adoptive grandfather A. Bozzi Granville, since it was used to store his autobiography.

Before 1560, my main source of information is a set of wills, some in Latin, which prove there were already several families called Bregge established in this small area of Kent by 1470: one family had a house and land at "Hokyngbery" = Hawkenbury, two miles west of Headcorn village; others were based in Egerton and Hothfield. Unfortunately there is not enough information to provide a connected record, although it does seem clear the Bridge family has deep roots. Hasted's History of Kent (published in 10 large volumes, around 1800) mentions the Hothfield branch, writing that they occupied the manor of Swinford from about 1410-1630, and that they were 'descended from John atte Bregge, one of those eminent persons whose effigies are represented in the painted window in Great Chart church'. (Both Hothfield and Great Chart lie near Ashford, on the Smarden side.) Other historians mention the same window and list the figures shown but the glass itself has not survived. A quick on-line search for "atte Bregge" reveals several even older documents recorded in the U. K. national archives, though it is unlikely all of them refer to the same family. Surnames originally were descriptive; "atte Bregge" meant simply that John lived near a bridge and the bridge could be anywhere. Nevertheless, two documents dating from 1424 and 1436 do place John atte Bregge in Headcorn and in the smaller neighbouring parishes of Sutton Valence and East Sutton, together with three other members of the family.

Navigating the tables

Framed tables

I have sorted my data into tables which each refer to a single family unit (parents and children). It is fairly easy to do this if you have a marriage record followed by a run of baptisms or census returns but the reconstructions for the early Baptist families are less secure and supposed children may actually belong in a different family, perhaps even unrelated but with the same surname. So be aware that while individual records (rows) in the tables are based on documentary evidence, the relationships are sometimes more a matter of interpretation.

The tables contain links to preceding and following generations but navigation is simplified by using the family tree shown in a side panel; each page of tables has its own panel with just that part of the family tree which is relevant. Links to some of the main branches of the family are provided in the sidebar for this page. All the tables interlink, so once you are in one you can follow the links through to any other. I have tried to make the pages printer friendly: the table layout is more compact and the sidepanel is printed at the end. I have also put in pagebreaks to avoid splitting up entries which spread across several lines, as for a census or for images. However, this depends a lot on which browser you use. It seems to work quite well with Firefox.

If you want to make more space on screen for the main table you can press "Q" on the keyboard to move the navigation panel to the end of the page (provided you have Javascript enabled). Press "Q" again to bring it back. In any case, it will reappear if you jump to another page. Another technical trick is that if you move the mouse pointer over any image with a thin double border, it will automatically reveal an enlargement. The placing of this image on the screen is fixed and, like the navigation bar at the left, it does not move if the other contents are scrolled. This trick depends on the use of CSS (not JavaScript) and almost all browsers now get it right, though older versions of Internet Explorer (version 6.0 and earlier) did not. So if you notice that the navigation bar scrolls out of view, you won't see the enlarged pictures and you need to upgrade; why not try Firefox; it costs nothing and won't interfere with your existing browser.

Red herrings

red herring

Along with the family tree I was given all those years ago came the suggestion that Sir Frederick Bridge (Victorian composer and organist at Westminster Abbey) was a relation, though nobody knew how he fitted in. At first sight he appeared to be Kentish; however his father had moved to Rochester from the midlands in order to take up a position in the cathedral choir. It turned out that Sir Fred's great-grandfather was born in 1761 in Staffordshire, where the surname Bridge is common, so probably there is no link to the Smarden family and in any case it would be very hard to prove. Curiously, no-one wanted to claim Frank Bridge, even though he was a more significant composer (and teacher to Benjamin Britten) and also came from Sussex, just across the county border with Kent. The censuses for Brighton for 1851 to 1891 show the families of Frank Bridge, his father William Henry and grandfather William and show the last to have been born in Smethwick, in Staffordshire, about 1820. In 1841 William senior was living in Acton in Birmingham working as a bootmaker and his move to Brighton is easily explained by the hope of a more fashion-conscious clientele; in 1851 he was described as a "master bootmaker employing 2 men". So again there is no apparent link to the Kent family, nor is there any connection between Frank and Sir Frederick.

The Bridge family of Sittingbourne, Kent

In 1984 I got a letter from Margaret Reeve (née Bridge) who had been researching her family and wanted to compare notes. She sent me a tree summarising all her results, which shows an extended family in the Sittingbourne area, descended from Stephen Bridge and Jane Lithery, married 1701 in Milton Regis. There were no earlier records of any Bridges thereabouts and there is no way of telling where this Stephen came from. Milton is only 20 miles north of Smarden so the families could be linked but there is no way to prove it, other than by using a DNA test. I have converted Margaret's table to a tree. If any descendants of the Sittingbourne Bridges find this site, please get in touch!

Surname distribution

Maps showing the distribution of any surname, based on the UK 1881 census, can be generated (free) here, using a program developed at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at University College London. From this several interesting points appear. First, the names Bridge, Bridges and Bridger have completely different distributions and so even though they sound similar they cannot generally have been confused. Secondly, Bridge is a relatively rare surname in the UK, with a frequency of 224 per million. It is also strongly localised around Lancashire and in Essex, which means that it is even less frequent in Kent. Rootsmap generate (for a small charge) surname distribution maps in a rather different way, counting only heads of household in the 1881 census and analysing by county of birth (whereas CASA uses the modern postal districts). From the map and data for Bridge it is seen that nearly half the total of births from 1790 to 1852 were in Lancashire, while about 10% were in Essex and less than 3% in Kent.

These results make it all the more likely that two people with the same name living in the same area of Kent are related. In fact nearly half of the Bridge's in the 1841 census for Kent can be linked to the Smarden family, despite the returns for the West Ashford district being missing, including Smarden itself.

Genetic genealogy

I still find it amazing how our knowledge of the genetic code has grown; I was a schoolboy when Crick and Watson discovered the double-helix structure of DNA and at that time the notion of actually reading the code seemed an impossible dream. Now we not only have the complete human genome but the technique of reading the sequence of bases has become cheap enough to be routinely used as a tool for genealogy. The best known application is to use certain "markers" where a short segment of bases is repeated anything from 10 to 30 times. The exact number of repetitions varies from one person to another so a set of marker values obtained for a number of different DNA locations works like a bar-code for the individual; this is what makes it useful for forensic and police work. However, Y-DNA is passed virtually without change from father to son, so a set of Y-DNA markers does not identify an individual but rather the patrilineal family. This makes it an ideal tool for checking whether two men with the same surname are actually related.

As of January 2010, five Bridge males have given samples for testing by Genebase: John and Greg in the USA, Brian in NZ and Michael and myself in England. John, Greg and Michael have results which match exactly and which therefore must apply to each individual along the lines of descent from their most recent common ancestor, Robert 3, born about 1735 in Smarden. My result differs from the others, with DYS 456 = 16 instead of 17, so there must have been a mutation (copying error) somewhere along the line from Robert's son James 1 down to me. In the diagram I have shown this by the colour change from blue to green. Note that the colour gradient is not meant to indicate a gradual change but rather uncertainty about the exact step at which the change occurred. Similarly, Brian's result is also a match at all sites except DYS458, where he has 16 repeats instead of 17. This sort of thing is to be expected since there is a small but finite chance of a mutation each time the gene is copied from father to son. Markers DYS 456 and 458 are amongst the least stable, with nearly a 1% chance of changing per generation. Brian is seven steps down from Robert 3 so the overall probability of the DYS 458 marker value changing at some point along the way is close to 7%. In this way as the errors accumulate over many generations, different branches of a family tree gradually acquire a distinctive dna "signature".

Given that there are a couple of mutations, how sure can we be of the relationships? All the markers show a small range of possible values and the probability of two people matching for any particular marker varies from around 20% up to 80%. We can simplify a bit by assuming the probability is 50% for each marker. Then for a single marker, the chance of a match is 1/2 and each time we introduce another marker, the probability is halved. With 10 markers, it decreases to 1/1024, about one in a thousand. Each time we add in another 10 markers, the chance of a perfect match decreases by another factor of (roughly) 1000. So even though Brian and I have two markers which differ, we still have 42 which match and the probability that this is just a fluke is about one in a trillion.

However, the y-dna test only confirms that there is a close blood tie. It does not tell us what that relationship is; the results would almost certainly be the same if Brian were descended from the brother of Robert 3. We need the paper records as well. The dna test is most useful when the paper trail is incomplete, as it is for Robert's family. Because they were Baptists there were no records of infant baptisms and of course the births were much too early for civil registration. The dates of the births can be worked out from later records and they make a neat sequence following on from the recorded date of Robert's marriage. So they look like a family and the dna test shows they were related; the two strands of evidence reinforce each other. Putting all the information together, we can reconstruct a Y-DNA profile for Robert 3 as shown here. If your surname is Bridge and you want to explore a possible connection with the Smarden family, please get in touch. If you are interested in the idea of taking a Y-DNA test, you could use Genebase and for a reliable conclusion on the closeness of relationship you really need to get the 44 marker test.

The picture has been significantly changed by new technology which is now being used by AncestryDNA to test over 700,000 locations and for which they are charging just $99, if you are already a subscriber to Ancestry. Several rival companies have already stopped operating in the face of this competition and it is not clear what will happen to Genebase. The new test now looks at all your dna, not just the y-dna (passed down the male line) or the mitochondrial dna (female line). All the rest is the "autosomal dna" and you have one copy from each parent. Of the 700000 locations, half come from your father and half from your mother, one quarter from each grand parent and one eighth from each great grandparent. With enough related samples to compare it becomes possible to reconstruct the family tree simply from the dna record. However, this is not a job one could do by hand; it takes a computer and a specialised program. No doubt Ancestry will keep firm control over that.