Option D

bright-1In reviewing past literature on a family in England, I was reminded of the many potential scenarios afforded by kinship assignments in documents. In this case, these documents concern the ancestry of Henry Bright (1602–1686) of Watertown, Massachusetts, a native of Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk. Henry was the son of Henry and Mary (Woodgate) Bright, and the grandson of Thomas and Margaret Bright.[1] Thomas Bright wrote his will on 20 August 1587, mentioning, among other kinships, his wife Margaret and father-in-law Mr. Jervis, of Whepstead.[2]

From this document alone, there are several ways “Mr. Jervis” could be related to Thomas Bright. Without getting too imaginative, the main possibilities are:

A) He is the father of Thomas Bright’s current wife

B) He is the father of an earlier wife of Thomas Bright

C) He is Thomas Bright’s step-father

D) He is the step-father of Thomas Bright’s current wife

E) He is the step-father of an earlier wife of Thomas Bright

F) He is a later husband of Thomas Bright’s step-mother

G) He is a later husband of Thomas Bright’s current wife’s step-mother

H) He is a later husband of a step-mother of an earlier wife of Thomas Bright

In Henry Bond’s Genealogies and History of Watertown (Boston: NEHGS, 1860), a Bright chart compiled by Horatio Gates Somerby concluded Option A:


This page is an exact replica of Bond’s first edition in 1855. Jonathan Brown Bright, who had supplied material to Bond, published his 1858 genealogy The Brights of Suffolk …, which had hesitated at this above assignment:


Extracted afterwards are Chancery and will documents that clearly show that Thomas Bright’s widow Margaret was the daughter of William Payton, and Bright concluded that “we are unable to explain how Mr. Jervis, of Whepstead, was called [Thomas Bright’s] father-in-law, in any other manner than the one we have suggested.” The suggestion this author considered was that Margaret Elwolde, the second wife of Walter Bright (Thomas’s father), married William Jervis of Whepstead after Walter Bright’s death, making Mr. Jervis his step-mother’s second husband, sort of a “step-step-father.” (So, Option F, although, as will be shown, this author’s assignment of Mr. Jervis’s first name as William was a guess, mainly because that William Jervis did have a daughter named Margaret.)

The various works cited above demonstrated that Thomas Bright only had one wife, and that Thomas Bright’s father outlived his mother, so options B, C, E, and H are no longer relevant. Also in the Chancery proceeding briefly summarized in the Bright genealogy (but not mentioned) was that Margaret Bright’s father William Payton’s wife Johan was the mother of all thirteen of William’s children, which eliminates option G.[3] However, neither of these works had considered option D.

William Payton, the father of Margaret Bright, wrote his will 6 September 1556. In addition to mentioning his wife Johane, he also mentioned a brother-in-law John Webbe of Risby. Neither of the above works had explored John Webbe of Risby, whose will, dated thirty years later in 1586, names his wife Sybill and his brother-in-law Mr. Jervis of Whepstead.

Clearly Mr. Jervis was related not through Thomas Bright, but through Thomas’s wife Margaret, as her father called John Webb his brother-in-law, who in turn called the same Mr. Jervis his brother-in-law. Robert Jervis was the second husband of William Payton’s widow Johan, making him Margaret (Payton) Bright’s step-father, and Thomas Bright’s step-father-in-law (Option D), although by the time of Thomas Bright’s death (or soon thereafter), Robert Jervis had married his second wife Barbara. Robert Jervis’s will in 1594 leaves bequests to Sybil Hancock and the children of Adam Payton, both of whom were his step-children, as children of William and Johan Payton. These conclusions are largely summarized in Suffolk Manorial Families, which was published 40 years after the second edition of Bond’s Watertown:


At this point, I’m not sure how John Webb was the brother-in-law of William Payton and Robert Jervis, although it’s clearly through William and Robert’s common wife Johan. Johan could have been John Webb’s sister, or John could have been married to Johan’s sister, among other possibilities, but that’s for another day. These same endless possibilities need to be considered for kinships without the “in-law” assignment, as well, so exploring the families of all parties in full will assist in determining the correct relationship.


[1] Robert Charles Anderson, The Winthrop Fleet: Massachusetts Bay Company Immigrants to New England, 1629–1630  (Boston: NEHGS, 2012), 144–49; Register 155 [2001]: 379–81; Jonathan Brown Bright, The Brights of Suffolk, England … (Boston: J. Wilson & Son, 1858).

[2] Bright, The Brights of Suffolk, England, 39–40.

[3] Joseph James Muskett, Suffolk Manorial Families (Exeter: William Pollard & Co., 1900), 262, see chart.

Christopher C. Child

About Christopher C. Child

Chris Child has worked for various departments at NEHGS since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.View all posts by Christopher C. Child