User Story: Knight, Masons and Loyalists


Leo Smith, 57, from Adelaide, South Australia contacted to thank us for helping him record and research his family history. So far he’s found a Dutch and a French Canadian connection in his family as well as various stories ranging from family members fighting with William the Conqueror to relatives being early American settlers and serving in the Revolutionary war. Find his experiences with using our site below:

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Leo, as a young boy

I became a member of in October 2009 when I found myself with a lot of time on my hands after a heart surgery. A neighbour told me about his family tree and I got interested. After trying a lot of sites I finally decided on It was easy to use and with Smart Matches it become easier as time went on, so I finally upgraded to Premium Plus for better results.

In the short space of time I’ve been a member I’ve added 1753 People and 401 families to my tree. I have traced my mother’s side is back about 17 generations and II’m yet to really start my fathers side. My mother’s Marvell family dates back to France prior to the invasion of England by William the Conqueror as the Marvells went to England with him.

The family name, Marvel is the result of an adoption of the French place name Merveille by the first man who bore it, as I’ve discovered from the historian Bettye Wheat of Fairfield, who has looked into the history of the name. When the gallant Robert de Merveille left his hometown in France to pursue fame and adventure with William the Conqueror, in the eleventh century, he became the progenitor of a family who for nine hundred years have had his name.

Drawing on different sources I’ve discovered that the first Marvells were recorded in the 16th century. But this lineage has been extended to Sir Rogerus de Marvyll of Sandbach, Kunsford, County Chester, who came out of France with William the Conqueror in 1066. With some imagination, it can be said that my ancestors include Hugh de Meurville who was one of the four Knights who assassinated Archbishop Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. The bishop had been engaged in conflict with Henry II of England over the rights and privileges of the Church and was assassinated by followers of the king. The Marvell or Marvel family settled in the parishes of Cambridgeshire where they resided for centuries. The name is now almost extinct in this locality, although there are a few of the name in Yorkshire, who no doubt are descended from this same family.

The mainstream family has originated from Cornwall in England. I’ve done a lot of research into the Nicholls family who were stonemasons in the Cornwall area, and built the church at St Kevernes in Cornwall. In fact I’ve discovered that they have established a family tradition of over 250 years of stonemasonry. As in many rural communities, skills are passed on from one generation to the next and, so, continuity and tradition are maintained. The name of Nicholls is quite common in the parishes of Ménage and is amongst the earliest entries in some church registers. Today, almost four hundred years later, there are still many families of this name resident in the area.

Church St Keverne
The St Keverne church in Cornwall

The first Nicholls stonemason in St. Keverne that I’ve found is Walter Nicholls who married Mildred Bossorrow at Manaccan in 1684. The family, without doubt, then moved from to St. Keverne in the mid 1690s, where I’ve found records of the baptism of their children, as well as of work that Walter and his brother George had done liming the church and repairing the church floor for the total sum of seven pounds.

This was the start of a line of stonemasons stretching nine generations, of who William John Nicholls, whose exact birth date is unknown but who lived around the mid nineteenth century, is probably best remembered; for sixty-five years he carried on a family business which was responsible for the construction of many important buildings in the parish, including schools at St. Keverne, Coverack and Porthallow and both Polventon and Treleague House.

Sadly, with his son’s Richard Nicholls’ death in 1954, this particular family business came to an end and so concluded over two hundred and fifty years of family history, nine generations of Nicholls stonemasons of St.Keverne.

The other interesting stories I’ve found concern Colonel James Brittian who is my great great great grandfather, whose claims to fame include his high rankings in the Revolutionary war, a life spent as a magistrate and the ‘founding’ of the Presbyterian Church.

Rebecca Hill
Rebecca Hill, Colonel Brittains gr. gr. granddaughter

Colonel James Brittain was a loyalist who fought for the British in the Revolutionary War. His house was robbed and plundered by rebels, Colonialists, from whom he escaped into the woods, where he was fed secretly by his wife for a month. He then joined the New Jersey volunteers, a Loyalist corps under Cortlandt Skinner. He went to New Brunswick, Canada with his Regiment in 1783. James served first as a Private in the 1st New Jersey Volunteers and was promoted to Lieutenant of that Battalion in 1782.

He served throughout the War and is said once to have been taken prisoner by the Colonials near the Delaware River and sentenced to death, but escaped and swam the Delaware to rejoin his corps. At the end of the War he sought refuge in the new Province of New Brunswick, Canada, where he settled on the free grant of land granted to the officers of this Regiment in what is now Kingsclear Parish. He was also a magistrate. At his death, he was the oldest magistrate in his county. He died at Greenwich at age 87. He had ten children.

Finally he also contributed to the founding of the first American Presbyterian church in Carolina by helping to erect, in 1797, a small log building on ten acres of his land to be used for religious and schooling purposes.

But I haven’t just been finding stories; I’ve also been finding relatives all over the world. I have been blown away with not just finding relations close by but also in so many other countries, by research, and through Smart Matches on the site.
I’ve continued my tree in all directions across the world, finding cousins and direct ancestors and their stories. I have contacted several of my relations across the globe and have had a great response, I haven’t yet finished contacting people as there are so many, I have found quite a few also using which has made it very easy to get information and become acquainted. I have actually just found a Dutch connection, and a French Canadian connection and have yet to explore those sites. The French Canadian connection is the Family Belyea who married Elizabeth Brittain, Colonel James Brittain’s daughter in Canada, and the Dutch connection is the family Neeltjen (Elinor), Colonel James Brittain and Elinor his wife’s grandparents.
Getting MyHeritage was the best thing I have done in the way of satisfaction and interest and I do not regret starting a history I can pass on to the rest of my family and grandchildren.

The continuing results still amaze me and the Smart Matches keep driving me further into research. I sincerely thank My Heritage for this great software package and support.

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  • Brandi Sanders

    December 27, 2010

    I am also researching the name of Robert de Marvelle, he is also in my family, I come from that line on my fathers side. My fathers name is Robert Craig Erlandson but that is his adopted name, he is really a Marvel. Craig was my grandmothers maiden name, Erlandson, my StepGrandfathers name. Anyway I was very excited to see this story about the name, the internet is awesome.

  • Dee

    December 31, 2010

    I too trace back to Robert de Marvelle through the Marvels. They migrated from Cambridgeshire England to VA to MD to Sussex County Delaware. Of all things I trace through the name Wilson, but it turns out the true family name is Marvel. My Grandfather died in the same year my father was born and we lost the history. Thanks for the info.

  • Steven

    June 21, 2013

    hi i am descendants from Robert de Marvelle my family are direct lines from them my grand father was john marvell and married a Margaret coincidentally !

    John (Marvell) Marvel born c. 1504, married Margaret (?), born c. 1508. from Cambridgeshire, England.
    Great info site.