“Right name, wrong body syndrome” can best be described as, when looking for the origins of someone who has married into the family being researched, out of several possibilities the wrong body is chosen. This is the story of one such occurrence.
Who was Mary Potts?
When researching Judge Robert Day of Kerry1, 1746-1841, I discovered that he married Mary Potts in Marylebone on 8th August 1774; one of the witnesses being Samuel Potts. A newspaper report stated that she was an heiress and lived in Berners Street. A quick internet search showed a few items wherein Mary Potts was the daughter of Percivall Pott2, 1713-1788, the surgeon. While being somewhat confused by the different spelling of the surname (Potts or Pott?), I thought “Good – a signpost” and decided to leave my research into primary sources until later.
What a Mistake!
“Later” eventually arrived and to my surprise and horror I discovered that Mary Potts (Mrs. Robert Day) could not be Percivall Pott’s daughter, as his daughter Mary Pott, 1754-1831, had married James Earle3, 1747?-1817, a surgeon, in June 1782. Percivall Pott’s will4 stated
“my son-in-law James Earle and my daughter Mary his wife”.
So who was “my” Mary Potts?
Robert Day kept a diary5 and a careful reading gave two clues.
The first, on 8th September 1807, mentioned “Mrs Day and her sister Miss Potts”. Research showed Miss Potts to be Elizabeth Potts, a spinster, who died on 23rd March 1818 in Twickenham. In her will6 she mentions
“my sister Mary Day the wife of the Honourable Mr. Justice Day of the Kingdom of Ireland.”
Investigation suggested that Elizabeth was the daughter of Samuel and Elizabeth Potts, baptised in St James Piccadilly in 1744. Her parents had a number of other children including Mary in 1746, and Samuel in 1735. However more proofs were needed in order to be certain that this was the right family.
The second cue was a diary entry on 30th June 1828 saying,
“I learn at the house that Mr. Salmon, married to the Archdeacon’s and my niece (Sam Pott’s daughter) and who returned last winter with a shattered constitution from India, has just died.”
Mr. Salmon was William Orton Salmon, died on 6th June 1828, who had married Elizabeth Potts in India on 10 February 1803. A newspaper report of the wedding stated that she was the daughter of Samuel Potts, the late Comptroller of the General Post Office. A Samuel Potts had married Elizabeth Pott, another daughter of Percivall Pott, in 1776, and a newspaper said that Samuel was resident in Berners Street – the same street mentioned when reporting Mary’s marriage.
The Archdeacon, mentioned in the diaries, was Joseph Holden Pott7, 1758-1839, a son of Percivall Pott. Therefore Elizabeth Potts (Mrs Salmon) was the niece of both Robert Day and the Archdeacon.
From research, using parish records, newspapers (thanks to the British Newspaper Archive and to the Burney Collection of C.17th & C.18th newspapers), and employment details of the General Post Office (thanks to Ancestry), a family tree for “my” Mary Potts was constructed.
A Completed Family Tree
Samuel Potts, Snr, died 1752, was one of the Six Clerks in the General Post Office. His brother was Henry Potts, died 1768, Secretary to the General Post Office; there is a memorial plaque to him in St James Piccadilly (see photo). Samuel Potts, Snr, had a number of children, including Samuel, Jun, who married Elizabeth Pott, Henry Potts, Mary who married Robert Day, and Elizabeth Potts. Both Samuel, Jun, died 1815, and his brother Henry, died 1787, were employed by the General Post Office. There are a number of other children but they have yet to be researched.
So while the story of Mary Potts as daughter of Percivall Pott is an example of “right name, wrong body syndrome” there is still an element of truth in it. Percivall had no connection to Mary Potts or Robert Day, however he was the father-in-law of Mary’s brother Samuel.
For me this has been a lesson – always immediately go back to primary sources to substantiate or reject the stories as told by others.
- FERGUSON, Kenneth. “Day, Robert (1746-1841)”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/63084 , accessed 31 July 2012
- KIRKUP, John. “Pott, Percivall (1714-1788)”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/22604 , accessed 22 May 2014
- MOORE, Norman. “Earle, Sir James (1755-1817)”, rev. Michael Bevan. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/8399 , accessed 24 May 2014
- Will of Percivall Pott, Surgeon of Hanover Square, Middlesex. The National Archives – PROB 11/1174/28
- O’CARROLL, Gerald. (2004). “Robert Day, 1746-1841): The Diaries and the Addresses to the Grand Juries, 1793-1829)”. Ireland, Polymath Press.
- Will of Elizabeth Potts, Spinster of Twickenham, Middlesex. The National Archives – PROB 11/1695/309
- JACOB, W. M. “Pott, Joseph Holden (1758-1847)”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2004. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/22603 , accessed 24 May 2014
About Linda Eccles
I discovered family history research somewhat late in life. My previous careers have included being a librarian, a restauranteur, a company director and running a garden maintenance business. For the last 23 years I have lived in Spain which means most of my research is done on-line with increasingly frequent trips to England for hands on research in archives.
About 12 years ago, when discussing a family myth, I said, with all the confidence that only ignorance can give you, that I would solve it. Of course I failed as have others, but I discovered an interesting family and I was addicted. I went on to do other parts of my family tree and soon had amassed so much detail that it seemed very selfish not to share it. My route for sharing was to create my own family history website – www.caliendi.com and it now has four separate family history trees on it together with a number of photo pages. It was redesigned a few years back and Julian Towsey joined the website for the “Towsey Tales” section. The next logical stage was to start a blog, which came into being this year. The blog will not only look at individuals but also some of the issues and events that cut across the various trees and individuals therein. I do hope you will drop into my blog and read the stories of my ancestors, their friends and their businesses.
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