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Making A Start

Early Theory


It was not until both my parents had passed away in the early 1980's that I thought about our unusual surname and where it had originated. I had lost my best sources of information, and some 40 years later I still don't have an answer but feel that I have at least made some progress.

Grandfather Thomas (1883-1966) had often told me that we came over with the Spanish Armada, but of course I never believed him. Others since have said that two Italian brothers came over to tile the floors of Jervaulx Abbey in Wensleydale.  More info on

In the early stages I contacted family relatives asking them to put down details of their own small group and then drew up various networks from the information received. From this I had obtained names of several of my Grandfather's siblings, and a casual remark while visiting Aunt May, raised the issue of mementos and souvenirs. Luck was on my side, and an old tin box appeared with two Victorian Funeral Invitation Cards which turned out to be for my Great Grandfather James (1853 - 1893) and Great, Great Grandfather William (1825-1907).

These remembrance cards pinpointed places that led me to East Witton in lower Wensleydale, near Ellingstring where my GGF James was born, and where my ancestors had lived and worked as tenant farmers on Jervaulx Estates in Lower Wensleydale. Ellingstring can be found on

In the nearby village of Ellingstring several generations had lived at Moorcote, and Tranmire farms and also Angram Cote Farm where there had been clear occupancy between 1800-1960.  Have a look at and use the site to locate Tranmire farm where GGF James was born, but he spent his childhood at Angram Cote. James was a farm hind who, with his wife Elizabeth had nine children and moved from farm to farm in the North Yorkshire villages of Tunstall, Gilling, Hartforth, Forcett, Aldbrough and Skeeby before they finally moved to Coatham Mundeville near Darlington.

James's parents William Vayro and Elizabeth Berry remained elusive, due to the fact that another William Vayro and his cousin Esther Vayro had been married in East Witton in 1850. However a second Marriage Certificate showed James's true parents were married in Newcastle in 1949. Initially this was confusing, a repetition of names, which one was correct, and a lesson to be learned.

Above marriage certificate for cousins William Vayro and Esther Vayro,     

Below marriage certificate for William Vayro and Elizabeth Berry, GGGparents of John Rennison

I never accepted anything as absolute proof. When searching records I had found numerous transcription errors. A prime example of this was the baptism records in a Masham register showing variations of Varo, Vayro and Pharoah for what were obviously the same family, a certain Thomas Varo and his wife Catherine nee Spence. Their son John was baptised as Pharoah in April 1830 whilst son William was baptised as Vayro in September 1832, and a further son George baptised as Pharoah in May 1834.

In that same year Thomas himself was buried at Masham, and his namesake and final son Thomas was born and died in 1835 having been baptised as Varo, and is buried in the same grave.

It is interesting to note that in the register for two of these children his wife is not shown as Catherine, but is inscribed as Ann or Elizabeth.  

On his gravestone the inscription reads Thomas died age 38 but the official register shows age as 34.

How can one be certain of tracing an ancestor with so many inaccuracies? And in this case just in one small group of individuals? Were the family illiterate? Probably! Or was it the clergyman or Churchwarden who made incorrect entries in the register? I think this is an example of what George Redmonds describes as "Clerical Misunderstanding or Mischief"

In the end I decided that it didn't really matter a great deal, and that it seemed to be a very familiar problem the further back I traced my ancestry.

Headstone for Thomas Varo in Masham


What I did eventually find out was that this particular Thomas Varo was a relation of a Stanley Varo living in Bingley, but that both his ancestors and mine traced back not just to the same areas of Wensleydale but also to the same William Vayro (1768-1826) and Esther Lye, and beyond. For some reason Stanley's ancestors had decided to drop the Y in our surname at some point in history, or mine had decided to include it.

The research has opened up new areas of the countryside never visited before and of course discussions with numerous newly found friends, distant relatives and contacts across the world. I gained an insight into the past by visiting East Witton St John the Evangelist Churchyard, and a certain sense of reverence whilst sitting beside the graves of George, Thomas, Richard and his son a certain William of Jervaulx, Though only a lowly tenant farmer, the large headstone for the latter may be a reflection of William's loyal service to the Marquis or Earl of Aislebury, who owned the Jervaulx Estates. The Thomas and George had apparently carried on the tradition as Joiners and Handymen for Jervaulx Hall until as late as 1970 and descendants are still living in the Masham area.

Research brings a few surprises; sometime details one might not want to know. Charity Vayro was buried in a pauper's grave in Coverham in 1795 aged 82, which for a pauper is a long life!  Thomas Vayro on the 1861 census was landlord of the Lora Grey Inn in Ellingstring, but one of his lodgers, George Metcalfe was entered as a castrator, which was/is obviously a profession in the farming community. My paternal Grandfather Thomas (1883-1966) was married twice, and on both occasions his future wife was pregnant before the marriage. Despite the stigma that these situations may have carried in post-Victorian times, I understand that his was a regular occurrence in both farming and mining communities.

Up to date I have not yet found evidence of Spaniards or Italian tilers, nor anyone rich or famous, but there were certainly other interesting characters in the family records. Grandfather's brother George emigrated to Canada in 1908 and enlisted at Medicine Hat with the Canadian Mounted Rifles, served overseas as a Sergeant Major in the first world war, and joined the Canadian Police Force on being de-mobbed. His relatives survive in the Canadian Rockies. Also the assisted passenger list of the SS Perthshire arriving in Melbourne Australia in June 1909 included James and Frances, whose descendants still live in Bannockburn, Queensland.  


Passenger list for SS Perthshire

Very early on I decided that memories and stories were not sufficient, and tracing my ancestors required meticulous recording of factual Information taken from Certificates, Wills, Parish Registers, Microfilms, Transcripts and any other source I could find.  Essentially I kept diaries and notebooks, with as much detail as possible, about individuals, dates, places, visits made and facts discovered, so that it was possible to cross reference and to ensure that I was not examining the same source over and over again, unless I needed to.

The villages and areas around East Witton, Coverham, Middleham or North Yorkshire still seem to be the place of origin of 9 generations of my own ancestors.

One particular baptism record for another James Vayro, born 1795, was missing until a parish register turned up at North Yorkshire County Records Office to make a link back three generations. His parents were known, and siblings' records were available, and persistence eventually brought success.

Recent contacts made across the United Kingdom, long lost relatives and others who are now close friends, have enabled me to share information and our database contains over 1500 names and identifies nine distinct generations and beyond. In Genealogical terms this is only minimal, and the tip of the iceberg. But my research continues to build up an unseen and unfinished jigsaw puzzle. The starting point was the living relatives, dealing with the present before looking into the past for further evidence.

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