The Martin family

James Martin and Sarah Elizabeth Giddings in Downham Fen with pony and trap.
Above: James Martin (1851-1934) with his wife Sarah Elizabeth (née Giddings, 1852-1925) with their pony and trap in Downham Fen, Cambridgeshire. Photo: Andrew Martin.

The Martin surname is my own, and was the starting point of my research.

Unlike my maternal family, all of my paternal Great Grandparents had died before I was born. Some so long before, that even my father didn't know who they were. So I set about pooling all the information that i could with help from my Uncles, my Grandfather's last surviving sibling, their cousin, and their elderly Aunt Ethel.

Fortunately my research soon led me to another researcher in the family - my Grandfather's cousin from Somerset, England. Along with his research and the wealth of photos, and knowledge from Ethel May Martin (my Gt Grandfather's youngest sister), I was soon able to build up quite a collection of photos and collate a lot of information.

Ethel sadly died during my research at the grand old age of 103 years old but she remained sprightly and coherent to the end - able to help in many ways with stories, photos, memories and information of her parents and siblings.

Martin of Cambridgeshire

The Martin family have lived in the fenland surrounding the village of Little Downham in the county of Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom, for at least 220 years and rarely moved around.

After originally following a wrong branch (which may well crop up in a different part of the tree later), I pruned the tree back down a few generations after returning to earlier research notes and evidence and discovering my wrong turn.

I suspect that my earliest ancestors were Robert Martin and his wife Elizabeth Mendham respectively of Coveney and Little Downham, Cambridgeshire. They were married in 1778, and were parents of at least 5 children, but I need to continue research in order to be sure that this is correct.

The Two James Martins

My 4x Great Grandparents, Robert Martin and his wife Avis Tall (or "Avice") provide me with a puzzle. Their son, (my 3x Great Grandfather), James Martin, was born in about 1814 but he does not appear in any baptism indexes in Cambridgeshire or Huntingdonshire. However, his siblings do - prior and after his birth. Perhaps he was missed out? - after-all, many were and some were even baptised twice!

James is most definitely the son of Robert and Avis. "Robert" is given as the father at James' 1841 and 1850 marriages and there is only one Robert Martin in the area. Robert died in 1826 and the following year, widow Avis Martin married James Wisbey of Little Downham. On the 1841 census, a James Martin is living with Avis and James Wisbey but an identically aged and named James Martin is also living with the Moxon family. The daughter of the head of this Moxon family was Mary Ann Moxon, and the following day, James Martin (of Robert Martin) married her.

This suggests that James featured twice in the same census - once with his mother, and once with his bride-to-be on the eve of their marriage.

When Avis dies in 1858, she is living at 2nd Drove, Little Downham - incidentally where 'my' James Martin is also living - and he is named as the informant.


Nineteenth century fenland communities must have faced some pretty gruelling times. A combination of low income and poor living conditions provided the perfect environment for the onset of disease. Everyone was vulnerable to it.

In the 1850s and 1860s, my 3x Great Grandfather's family, living out at Second Drove, Little Downham, saw nearly all his family wiped out by disease.

Of his five children (with his second wife), only one survived into adulthood - that being my Great Great Grandfather James Martin. The other children died from conditions such as kidney disease, scarlet fever, consumption (a term for TB or Tuberculosis). Four years after his youngest child's death, James senior also died.

Working Life

During the 19th Century, my Martin ancestors worked as Platelayers, Farmers, Labourers and Gatekeepers.

In 1890, William Martin, the younger brother of my Great Grandfather, died whilst at work when he was thrown from a horse and cart. He died from internal wounds before the doctor could arrive. He was just 10 years old.

Years earlier in 1868, William's Grandfather also met an untimely end whilst at work. He worked for the Great Eastern Railway as a Platelayer. However, on 20th October 1868, whilst aged 53, James Martin was accidentally struck by the buffer of a Goods Engine and killed.

Martin family connections

The Martin family are directly linked to many of my ancestral families including: