The Irons family of Cambridgeshire

My maternal Irons family lived in the fenland village of Little Downham, Cambridgeshire, England, from at least the early-18th Century.

Their earliest appearance in my tree is in 1703, when my 8x Great Grandfather, Richard Irons married Ruth Betts at the parish church on 7th November. She was at least 5 months pregnant with the couple's first child Elizabeth.

The couple had at least five children between 1704 and 1722, but by 1728 their son William Irons had died aged about 13 years, and by 1734 it seems that Richard was dead. Ruth, now a widow, baptises a 'spurious child' named Richard Irons in the summer of 1737, but there's another burial of a Richard Irons in 1741. It seems that this son, named in memory of her late-husband, died as an infant.

There's clearly something wrong with dates here, unless little Richard was born during Richard senior's life, and was simply late to be baptised. That doesn't count for why he's 'spurious' though. The meaning of 'spurious' in this context is that the child was 'illegitimate', a 'bastard', or even 'false' - there's many phrases for this, and all come laden with stigma.

Amongst their four surviving legitimate children was son Joseph Irons, who was my 7x Great Grandfather. He married local girl Mary Nicholas, and the family grew again as they settled down to have six children.

The Irons family connection to Ely

My 6x Great Grandmother, Rebecca Irons was the fifth of Joseph and Mary's children, and after marrying Robert Barber in 1778 at Little Downham, the couple set up home in nearby Ely where they were to raise their eight Barber children.

Other members of the Irons family remained in Little Downham.

Common variants of the Irons surname

My research through parish records in Little Downham and Ely, have thrown up a few variants of the Irons surname. These are complete phonetic variants and evidence of an illiterate (and probably highly accented) fen population. There is no consistency within registers.

  • Ion
  • Ions
  • Iron
  • Ison

Interestingly, the Ison surname is a common one in its own right, and having only seen one instance where it's clearly been swapped out for a definite Irons ancestor, I can only assume that its use was coincidental and that these surnames are not necessarily the same.

In the Encyclopedia of Surnames (Ayto, 2007), he lists the surname of Irons as meaning 'person from Airennes' in Northern France. Whilst my mother's DNA results suggest that she has some western European ancestors, there's no sign of records to support this yet.

Connected families

There are a few other ancestral families that are connected to the Irons family, and those are: