Finding late 18th Century service record of soldier William Hobbs in Somersetshire Militia? was a question about my 4th great grandfather William Hobbs who married Jane Courtenay at Truro St Mary, Cornwall, England in 1798.

In that question, which was focussed on finding Somersetshire Militia records for William, I wrote:

I am not yet confident that I have the correct christening for William. I have a current leaning towards the one below on which his mother's name is given as Betty Hobbs (no father mentioned), and William and Jane named their second daughter Betty.

"England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975," index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/J9PK-Z8C : accessed 23 Sep 2014), William ... Hobbs, 12 Mar 1762; citing Ditcheat, Somerset, England, reference Item 21; FHL microfilm 1526603.

I have now realized that this candidate baptism was mainly chosen based on a naïve assumption that someone in the Somertsetshire Militia would probably have been born in Somerset.

However, in Ancestry.com's Cornwall, England, Militia and Sea Fencibles Index, 1780 - 1831 which is from Cornwall Record Office; Truro, Cornwall, England; Cornwall Militia; Class Number: P236/15/1, I have just found two records that look like they may belong to the same William (and Jane) Hobbs:

  • Name: William Hobbs, Birth Place: Truro St. Mary, Military Year: 1810, Military Place: Cornwall, England, Unit or Occupation: 3rd. Regt. Local Militia, Spouse: Jane Hobbs, Number of Children: 3, Status: Substitute, Notes: Paid 6s. per week for 4 weeks
  • Name: William Hobbs, Birth Place: St Mary Truro, Military Year: 1810, Military Place: Cornwall, England, Unit or Occupation: 3rd Regt Militia, Spouse: Jane Hobbs, Number of Children: 3, Notes: 6/- per week

I think these are highly likely to belong to my ancestor William Hobbs because:

  • they have the correct name for his spouse
  • they have the same birthplace for him as where he was married (Truro St Mary)
  • they have the same occupation (serving in a Militia)
  • they record 3 children when the expected number in 1810 would be 3-4:
    • William (1798-1859)
    • Eliza (1801 - ?) - perhaps deceased by 1810
    • Elizabeth (1804-1869)
    • Matthew Courtenay (1808-1811)
    • Matthew Courtenay (1811-1894) - not yet born in 1810
    • Jane (1815 - ?) - not yet born in 1810

The only lingering doubts in my mind are whether:

  • a soldier born and living in Cornwall would be a likely recruit for the Somersetshire Militia while based there around 1798
  • a soldier in the Somersetshire militia in 1798 would be likely to find his way into the Cornwall Militia by 1810

I think both are plausible, and am wondering whether a service record involving a switch of militias has been observed previously?

In the National Archives there are two records that clearly belong to the same William Hobbs. Both indicate that he had left the Somersetshire Militia by 1802.

The first from Sessions held at Lostwithiel names his father-in-law Matthew Courtenay and informs me about the occupations of both at 13 Jul 1802:

William Hobbs of Truro, brickmaker to appear, and his surety Matthew Courtenay of Truro, woolcomber.

The second Sessions held at Bodmin names his wife as Jane (nee Courtenay) and also Jane's sister Philippa. It indicates that William would be spending the next 12 months at Bodmin Bridewell (presumably not the former Bridewell Palace).

QS/1/7/190, 191
William Hobbs, lab., Philippa Courtenay, spinster, and Jane, wife of W.H., all of Truro, indicted for assault on William Jolly: Jane Hobbs acquitted. P.C. fined 1s. paid in court and one month in house of correction. W.H. fined 1s. paid in court and 12 months in bridewell, and to enter into recognizance of £50 to keep the peace, particularly to W.J. for 7 years.

  • As always, I would encourage you to make a family timeline and review it starting with the most recent records then going backwards in time (i.e. starting with probate records and working backwards from the death to the persons birth). Pay special attention to any witnesses for FAN club research.
    – Jan Murphy
    Aug 21, 2016 at 17:39
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    @JanMurphy your reminder is timely. Of all my known direct ancestors only three appear to have been soldiers: William Hobbs, Francis Green and Edmund Rouse. Hobbs' daughter Elizabeth married Green's son Henry and Henry's daughter Agnes married Rouse's grandson William Henry. All three old soldiers, or their widows, lived in Pydar Street, Truro. It's a "coincidence" that I think warrants a FAN study.
    – PolyGeo
    Aug 22, 2016 at 0:00

2 Answers 2


Tricky questions... If no-one here comes up with an answer, I recommend The Napoleonic Wars Forum - looks like The Home Fronts section might be correct.

Re the switch of militia - the hope was that men would transfer from the militia into the Regular Army. On the Cornish records, two phrases stick out - 3rd. Regt. Local Militia and Status: Substitute. The Local Militia was not the same thing as the, ahem, ordinary Militia. It seems to have been established to form a pool of militia who could be fed into the Regulars. See The Local Militia Act of 1808. Secondly, he is a substitute - in other words, he is serving as a substitute for someone selected by ballot who does not wish to serve in the Local Militia (and can afford to pay someone in his place??? Not sure but ability to pay is in there somewhere). That being so, he would surely never be allowed to be a substitute if he were already in. The logical (if not necessarily correct) deduction is that therefore he's finished his term with one lot (Gibson & Medlycott, mentioned in your previous question indicate that people served 5y in the Militia) and is now out of service and available to go in again.

Next point is a couple of caveats - P236 is the CRO reference (see Cornwall RO Catalogue) for St Mary's Parish Church, Truro parish records, and P236/15/1 is Payments for local militia families, Truro St Mary's so it records payments to his wife and family (and others, of course) while he's off serving King & Country. That being so, it's not necessarily certain that the militia in question is the Cornish. However, given my previous logic, it sounds both unlikely to be the Somerset and unnecessary to invoke the option. The other caveat is that without seeing the original for the earlier Truro marriage, we are assuming that "Somersetshire" is correct. But again, my instinct is to say that an error in that is not a particularly plausible option.

So if we deal with the transfer by saying that his time was up in one and he served in the other some years after, that still leaves the issue of a Cornishman serving in the Somerset Militia. And being back in Cornwall...

This is where my basic knowledge makes me worried. The militia was raised by the Lord Lieutenant of a county by ballot. Self evidently, the Lord Lt of Somerset would not be holding ballots in Cornwall. So either

  • William had been working in Somerset when caught up in the ballot or

  • recruitment altered if the militia in question were embodied (i.e. in uniform), stationed elsewhere and needed some recruits to make up numbers. For instance, if the Somerset Militia were stationed in Cornwall, could they recruit locally, asking for volunteers, outside the ballot? Or could they ballot for top-up recruits back in Somerset but get substitutes locally in Cornwall?

Or could a draft selected for the Cornwall militia be diverted into the Somersets?

I have absolutely no idea but offer the ideas up as a suggestion for avenues to explore.

  • 2
    Somebody selected in the ballot could definitely pay a substitute to take his place.
    – user104
    Aug 21, 2016 at 16:03
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    I thought that once you were in, you were in. Particularly since you'd be under military discipline if serving with the Somersets in Cornwall.
    – AdrianB38
    Aug 22, 2016 at 9:53
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    I have edited my answer because you have suggested a slightly different option - Somersets stationed in Cornwall, need more recruits, ballot back in Somerset, guys decline to serve, substitutes selected in Cornwall. That would suggest a substitution mechanism different from another run of the ballot.
    – AdrianB38
    Aug 22, 2016 at 10:02
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    A keyword search for "3rd" in those Ancestry records brings up 30-odd matches with that dual "3rd Regt Militia" and "3rd Regt Local Militia" pattern that William Hobbes has. Virtually all of these men show a birthplace of Truro St Mary. If that's right, it does look like a local (Truro) militia. Rather oddly, all of the "3rd Regt Local Militia" results that I've looked at are substitutes too. Would a regiment have been composed only of subs? It seems unlikely. Or could there have been something like a secondment from a locally-stationed "full" militia into the local militia?
    – AndyW
    Aug 22, 2016 at 11:57
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    Interesting @AndyW - I can't see the secondment from full into Local Militia being likely because that would defeat the purpose of the Local Militia - to increase the number of men in uniform. Recruitment into the Local Militia definitely looks local - search for Penzance and you get all 4th Roy. Cornwall Local Militia. Being all substitutes is very odd, though...
    – AdrianB38
    Aug 22, 2016 at 14:23

In addition to the suggestions in my answer to your previous question, I'd add the following:

  • Review TNA's Research Guide on Militia records to make sure that you are getting the most out of any record you find.
  • Look for how-to books such as the ones mentioned in the bibliography of the TNA's research guide.
  • Search for similar guides at other sites like the GenGuide's Army - Soldier's Documents (Pension & Service Records) - Other Ranks before 1914 (Military)
  • Whether or not the record itself is online, read the catalog description to glean clues about the form the records are in, who created them, why they were created, how they were created, and when they might have been transferred from the record creators to the archive.
  • The older a record is, the more likely it is that someone has transcribed the record and published the transcription, either online, in a journal, or in book form. Yes, these are derivatives, but they can provide a lot of useful information and serve as placeholders while you are deciding if you wan to order copies of the original records (or wait for them to be published online).

Genealogist James M Beidler advises anyone doing research in Germany to "think three times" when considering a place name -- we need to be aware of the modern-day name for a place, the name the place had when your ancestor was there, and the name that will be listed in the standard gazetteers if you are looking a place up in the FHL catalog. The same principle applies here -- be aware of the modern-day unit in the British Army, the name of the unit when your ancestor served, and what happened to the units during the re-organizations in between. With that knowledge, you can leverage resources like the site index on Paul Nixon's Army Service Numbers 1881-1918 and articles on Wikipedia to find websites about the modern-day units, which may have research guides about the historical units as well.


Don't neglect other sites which may not be geared specifically to genealogy, such as WorldCat, JSTOR, the British Newspaper Archive, the British Library, etc. I found material from the USA at Trove, so you may be able to find material about your English research questions in libraries near you.

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