How to Research your
Foster Family in
England / Scotland


(Photo coming soon)

Ben Foster,
Research coordinator
Ben Foster,
DNA Group 7
Participant #166

St. Louis, Missouri

The first round of research I did was 450 and per the attached they are proposing the same budget.  Obviously I will continue to share any and all new discoveries, but I am not averse to making this a family project, so to speak. 

Generally I prefer to do research myself (because it is so much fun as we all know), but I felt as if I had exhausted all of the avenues on this side of the Atlantic, and would not be able to make the trip to the UK anytime soon with my two small boys.

While we are still searching for the paper documentation, Richard Foster has been linked to the Forsters of Northumberland, a family counted among the famous (or infamous) Border Reivers.  Northumberland families organized themselves along lines more similar to Scottish clans than the traditional English social structure.  For example, Border Reiver families such as the Forsters were often referred to as Surnames, a specialized usage of this word meaning an extended family or clan sharing the same last name, and each Surname was further divided into Graynes or branches.  Reiver families were loyal to their own interests and often shifted allegiance between England and Scotland.  There are also close historical and familiar relationships between the Northumberland and Scottish Forsters.

Yesterday I received a preliminary research report from a U.K.-based genealogy firm (Achievements of Canterbury)  tasked with finding documentary proof relating to the patriarch Richard Foster, his mother Dorcas, and his father.  While the report provides some helpful insights, there are certainly more questions to be answered.  In any event, I wanted to share a few of their findings with you. 

Here are a few points to ponder.

*        A review of the parish registers of St. Dunstan's provides to following entry:

3rd July 1628, St. Dunstan, Stepney, Bartholomew HOSKINS of St. Mary, Bothaw, London, gent, and Dorcas FOSTER of London, widow, L.F.O. married.

Note that the year is 1628, and not 1624 as often cited.  Bartholomew is also identified as a gentlemen, which carried a very specific meaning, and gives us insight into his social standing as well as that of Dorcas.

Unfortunately, the actual marriage license and associated documents are held at the Archbishop of Canterbury's London residence, Lambeth palace, and are not indexed.  The firm has proposed to search the archives for the license during a second research round, and this could provide additional information on the first husband of Dorcas.

*        The researchers were unable to find any reference to a marriage between a Robert Foster and a Dorcas Isham ; nor were they able to find a suitable will from this time period for Richard Foster's father.  This does not mean they do not exist, but that more research is needed. I would really like to know where the information regarding the proposed marriage between a (Sir) Robert Foster and a Dorcas Isham originated, as this could help focus the search.  In other words, where is the source document (not an un-sourced GEDCOM report). 

*        The researchers found some interesting confirmations regarding the Isham family, but no specific mention of a Dorcas in any of the visitations. 

*        Several additional research avenues were identified including Isham wills, and a specific birth date/location for one of Richard's proposed brothers, Robert, given as May 14, 1615 at Lowdham, Nottinghamshire.

I am still digesting the information, and debating whether to make the investment in more research in the UK.  I will be happy to provide a copy of the full report to those interested, but be warned, it is 15 MB.

Map of England
Our Foster's came from the Northumberland area bordering on Scotland

Click to Enlarge MapEngland Shire Map

Photo Tour of Gary & Janet Foster's
tour of England in 2003 and a visit to the
Forster Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland
where our Foster family got their start in England.

Click here for a full DNA discussion
Border Reiver
A Wee Bit O' Scottish History
 Click to enlarge Surname map
Border Reiver Surname Map - Scotland & England
Thanks to William Foster for this website URL link.

England Topo Map
So you can better see the mountain ranges
Click to enlarge map
England Topo Map


Ben Foster began researching in England to verify with proof sources the relationship of our common Virginia ancestor James Richard Foster born in 1619 and whose parents were Sir Robert Forster & Dorcas Isham.  He hired professional English genealogists and paid 450 (pounds) for their first official research report. 

If you would like to assist in the continual research in England for our common heritage just connect Ben by e-mail and let him know how you might help. 

can be made by sending your gift to:

Ben Foster,
626 Hawbrook Ave.,
Kirkwood, MO 63122

You may download the report here in an Adobe PDF format which will include actual images of the documents searched.  File size is about 15 MB.

Attached is a copy of the text found in the report w/o the images as they didn't convert well enough to include.

The Foster Family

Research concerning the Fosters began with the information that Richard Foster left London in August of 1635 on the ship Safety, arriving in Virginia. Richard was thought to have been born in around 1619 or 1620, the son of Dorcas Foster. Dorcas had remarried to Bartholomew Hoskins. This event was thought to have taken place on 3rd July 1624 at St. Dunstan in Stepney.

Our first action in this round of research was to seek reference to this marriage within the original parish registers, in the hope that the entry therein, may give us some additional information.

Records of baptisms, marriages and burials were undoubtedly kept from the earliest Christian times, but most of those that survived were destroyed during the Reformation. In 1538, Henry VIII's Vicar General, Thomas Cromwell, ordered that proper register books of baptisms, marriages and burials should be kept by every parish priest in the land. This edict was repeated several times during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, but the ravages of time have left us a very meager legacy of these early registers. In fact, out of more than 11,000 ancient parishes, there are fewer than 1,000 with registers going back to the sixteenth century. Although Cromwell's original mandate ordered every parson, vicar or curate to enter every wedding, christening and burial in his parish, the original order did not detail how the registers should be kept and until a standard printed form was introduced into the Church in 1813, or in 1754 in the case of marriages, the amount of information recorded was left entirely to the whim of the local clergyman.

We searched the parish registers of St. Dunstan, Stepney for the year 1624, and in particular the month of July. Having obtained a copy of the relevant page of the parish register, we examined it carefully, but were surprised to find that there was no evidence of the marriage of Bartholomew Hoskins to Dorcas Foster at that time. We are enclosing a copy of that page of the register, so that you may examine this for yourself. This was confusing, for we had been provided with an exact date for the marriage, however, we wondered if there may have been some confusion in the transcription of the parish register, and that the marriage of Dorcas Foster and Bartholomew Hoskins had taken place somewhere else, or at a different time. We thought it likely that since Bartholomew Hoskins travelled regularly to America, he would be likely to have a reasonable amount of money. We therefore thought that the couple may have married by license.

It is commonly thought that marriages by license were to facilitate a speedy ceremony for a pregnant bride and badgered groom. While in later times this was a reason for using marriage licenses, they began solely as a means of protecting an incumbent and his archdeacon from the consequences of an invalid marriage for which they would be responsible to the ecclesiastical courts and as a source of revenue for both. A marriage license was issued on the affidavit of the parties that they would not hold the person or his superiors responsible for any invalidity in the marriage and that they believed themselves to be free to marry. Often enough there was perjury particularly over marital state and age and the consents obtained in the case of minors. Bondsmen were demanded to indemnify the clergy and they were difficult enough to find. The clergy often used the legally fictitious personages John Doe and Richard Roe for the purpose! No doubt an extra fee was payable for this. Marriages by license allowed the parties to marry well outside their places of birth and the parishes to which they owed service and without the usual qualifications of residence. Although marriage by license was generally for convenience among certain classes and those rising in the social scale, it did become a preferred form.

We began a search for the marriage license of Bartholomew Hoskins and Dorcas Foster between 1619 and 1629, within the indexes of marriage licenses granted by the Bishop of London and the Dean and Chapter of Westminster, since the marriage was thought to have taken place in that city. We were disappointed to note therefore, that there was no appropriate matching reference within these two indexes. We decided to extend our search for the marriage, since there did not appear to be any reference to this within the relevant license indexes, and we thought it possible that the marriage may have taken place here also, outside of the date at which it was thought to have occurred. Therefore, we turned to the parish registers of St. Dunstan, Stepney. These were very large registers, and at this time, difficult to read. We also noted that many of the entries were fairly randomly placed, and it was difficult to ascertain which year was which. Nonetheless, we began a search of these registers between 1622 and 1628. This was an intensive and laborious search, but we were delighted to find that our hard work had paid off. We noted that:-

3"1 July 1628, St. Dunstan, Stepney, Bartholomew HOSKINS of St. Mary, Bothaw, London, gent, and Dorcas FOSTER of London, widow, L.F.O. married

We were delighted to have been able to locate the original reference to this marriage, and it appeared that it occurred four years after that which had been stated, in 1628. We were fascinated to note that this marriage was followed by the letters `L.F.O.'. We felt that this was likely to mean 'London Faculty Office', suggesting that Bartholomew and Dorcas had married by license as we had suspected, but one which had been granted by the Faculty Office. The Faculty Office granted licenses to couples from different areas of the country who wished to marry in a parish other than their own. Marriage licenses for this period from the Faculty Office have not been indexed, and it is a costly exercise to examine such documents. In future research, we could certainly repair to the Archbishop of Canterbury's London residence, Lambeth Palace, and to their archives, where these documents are held. We could then begin a search for the Bond or Allegation pertaining to the marriage of Bartholomew and Dorcas, in case this may give us some additional information about the couple. However, our focus on this research was to continue to trace the Foster ancestry. Whilst our searches for Dorcas's second marriage had been unsuccessful, we hoped we might be able to locate her marrying Mr. Foster.

As yet, we had had no indication that Dorcas was from any other area of the country, apart from London, and in particular Stepney, and therefore, we began by re-examining the marriage license indexes of the Bishop of London and Dean and Chapter of Westminster, for the marriage of Mr. Foster to Dorcas, between 1613 and 1623. We knew that Dorcas's children, Robert and Richard Foster, were both born within this time period, and it seemed likely that Dorcas and Mr. Foster had married within this time period, therefore. Disappointingly, we could find no reference to a suitable marriage here. We now turned our attention to the International Genealogical Index or IGI.

The IGI is a database that contains many millions of baptism and marriage entries from many but not all parish registers in England and Wales. Most entries in the IGI are extracts from original parish registers, but a number of entries have been submitted by members of the Church of Latter Day Saints. These are not subject to any checks or verification as to their accuracy or authenticity. Consequently, they need to be found in the original parish registers; nonetheless, the IGI represents a very useful finding aid.

We hoped that the IGI might be able to give us a wider overview of the possible results we obtained in this search, and therefore consulted the marriage indexes seeking particular reference to the marriage of Dorcas to Mr. Foster. Unfortunately, we found that there were no references made within the IGI to such a marriage which held any more detail than we had already been able to establish.

Any such entries that were present, were submitted by private members of the Church, and tended to appear to be supposition rather than hard fact.

Our next action in the attempt to establish some info'___ conciliation about Dorcas, was to seek the second husband of Bartholomew within the publication Boyd's Inhabitants of London. This index mainly pertained to people of note, and Bartholomew, described in his marriage entry as a gentleman, certainly conformed to this. However, as his career had taken him to America we wondered whether he would appear therein. We searched this index, but were disappointed to find that although there were many Hoskins entered therein, none had the appropriate forename of Bartholomew. Still keen to establish the identity of Dorcas's first husband, we decided to utilize wills and probate documents.

Wills and administrations are of the greatest importance to the genealogist. They are the principal and often the only records by which families in the middling classes of society can trace any descent before the institution of parochial records. The quantity of genealogical information may be enormous and frequently one finds two or three generations named in one will.

In particular we felt it necessary to examine the index pertaining to wills proved in April in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. We particularly sought reference to any Fosters in London in the early 17th Century. We were pleased to note two eminently suitable entries in this index. The first of these pertained to the will of John Foster and we duly obtained a copy. John's will was made in January of 1619. We prepared to make a genealogical abstract of this document, but in fact found that it was rather short and only mentioned one family member. This was Elizabeth Foster, who was the deceased sister. There was no mention of a wife or children in this document, and therefore we could only assume that the John Foster who had left this will was not married and had therefore not produced any offspring.

We now turned to the will of William Foster. William had made his will in the May of 1623, and we felt that this was a particularly suitable time for the first husband of Dorcas to have passed away, given that she remarried in 1628. Once again we extracted the genealogical details from this will. We noted that William's wife was name Elizabeth, and that William and Elizabeth had two sons. They were William and John. William also mentioned his sister Barbara and his cousin Job. It also appeared from this document, that William's mother was still alive, although she was unnamed within this will. We were disappointed to find that although William's wife was mentioned, she was not Dorcas, but Elizabeth. This conclusively ruled out this individual as a candidate for the direct ancestor, therefore.

It was clear that we needed more information about this generation of the family. It seemed likely that others were also working on this particular problem, and thus we turned to the public forums to see if anyone else might be able to provide us with more information about Dorcas Foster in particular. The name Bartholomew Hoskins appeared to be quite an unusual combination of forename and surname, and thus we searched for any reference to him. We were fascinated to note a page which suggested that Bartholomew Hoskins had married a Dorcas Anne Isham. The details provided were as follows:-

Bartholomew and Dorcas were married and had a daughter named Sarah. Bartholomew who was thought to have been born in 1600 in London, Suffolk, England, dying at the age of sixty-three years in 1663. Dorcas Anne Isham was born in 1600 in Braunston, Northamptonshire. She died at the age of seventy in 1670 in Virginia. There were several problems with this information, however, most notably that Bartholomew was thought to have been from London in the county of Suffolk. It is, of course, well documented that London is not even close to that county.

We also found it suspicious that both Bartholomew and Dorcas were born in 1600 exactly. We noted that Bartholomew and Dorcas were said to have been married, however, no details of their marriage were known. We were therefore confused as to how the originator of this material knew that Dorcas's name before marrying Bartholomew was Isham. This was, however, an interesting lead. Further information on Dorcas suggested that her father was John Isham and her mother Elizabeth Barker. We continued with our examination of public forum documents on this subject. We also noted a document which stated the following:-

Richard Foster who sailed from London on Aug 10, 1635 on the ship Safety, arriving in Virginia in the fall, whose passage was paid for by Bartholomew Hoskins. Bartholomew married, in England, Dorcas Foster, widow with two small children, and on 2 March 1639/40, Richard Foster calls Bartholomew "father" (i.e., this Richard Foster is the step-son of Bartholomew Hoskins).

This Richard Foster appears to have been literate. He followed his step-father into North Carolina. He was in England from 1648 to 1654.

This Richard Foster has been, on occasion, identified as the son of Sir Robert Foster and Miss Isham. If this were so, then Miss Isham would have to be the Dorcas that remarried to Bartholomew Hoskins, but I don't know if there is any substantiation for this.

We were very interested to see that Richard Foster had been identified as the son of Sir Robert Foster and Miss Isham on several occasions. It was frustrating therefore, that no reference had been given here, and we were unaware of the origins of this information. Nonetheless, we had now found that the Isham family were mentioned in two separate places regarding this research, and we felt that this would be something to follow up. It was particularly interesting to see that Dorcas was thought to have been married to a Sir Robert Foster. This suggested that the family was of quite a high social status and this was borne out by the fact that her second husband Bartholomew was also a gentleman. We wondered if there might be some reference to Dorcas Isham in the Heralds Visitations of Northamptonshire, where Dorcas was thought to have been born. We in fact examined the Visitation of Northamptonshire for 1681.

Heraldry developed in Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, coats of arms originally being used as means of identification on the battlefield where heralds officiated. The arms also displayed a man's status and vanity and therefore had a ceremonial purpose. The right to bear a coat of arms was granted to a man and his descendants, usually only in the male line. Each of the grantee's sons and their male descendants had a right to the arms as long as they were differentiated.

At first, men displayed coats of arms without approval or authority from anyone but gradually, their use became controlled by the Crown through the Heralds. The Heralds undertook Visitations to regulate the right to use a coat of arms and men who could prove the ancient use of the arms by their family were granted permission to continue using them. The Heralds also made new grants of arms to people who were raised to the peerage or knighted. Visitations were undertaken by Heralds in each county around every twenty or thirty years between 1530 and 1686 in order to record the use of coats of arms. These families had to prove their entitlement (by grant or long use) to those arms and the submissions include much genealogical information. The original records are held by the College of Arms but many Visitations have been published.

This visitation did indeed include reference to an Isham family based in Lamport. The examination of the pedigree therein we were delighted to note, included reference to John Isham and his wife Elizabeth, formerly Barker. This suggested that John was born in around 1525 at Ringstead in Northampton and died in around 1595 at Lamport. This would mean that John and Elizabeth were unlikely to be Dorcas's parents, as John would have had to have been around seventy-five years old at the time of Dorcas's birth. Additionally it seemed that he had died some years before the time that Dorcas was thought to have been born.

However, we considered it entirely possible that there may have been a mistake made here, and that John and Elizabeth were in fact her grandparents. We therefore examined the pedigrees pertaining to the sons of John and Elizabeth. These were Robert, Henry, Richard, Christopher, Euseby Thomas and John. Of these sons, Robert Christopher and Euseby all died young, and were therefore not candidates for the fathers of Dorcas. We were certain to examine the pedigrees pertaining to Thomas, Henry and Richard. We very quickly noted that Thomas Isham married Elizabeth Nicholson and had four children by her; John, Elizabeth Susannah and Jane. John would later go on to become Sir John Isham of Lamport and was knighted in March of 1608. Disappointingly, there was no mention of Dorcas here.

We were particularly interested by Richard Isham, for we knew that Dorcas would go on to name her son Richard and this may well have been in her father's honor. We therefore examined the separate pedigree which pertained to Richard Isham's family, particularly his offspring. This showed that Richard Isham was born in around 1564 in London. He was married to Barbara Fulnetby in 1587 at Lamport. Their children were Mary, Susan, Elizabeth, Thomas, Richard, Augustine, and Ann. Of these, we were interested to note that Ann Isham was present as this was Dorcas's middle name and we felt that she may well have used her name interchangeably, however, the visitation suggested that Ann was living unmarried with her brother Augustine in 1637. This only left Henry as a candidate for Dorcas's father. Henry's children were Barbara, Mary, Ann, Richard, John, Henry, Euseby and Edward. Whilst there was a clear pattern of familial names throughout the children of the Isham's, it did not appear that anyone here was named Dorcas. We also wondered if Bartholomew Hoskins might appear in the Visitations. We found that, whilst there was an entry pertaining to the Hoskins family of Surrey, no mention of Bartholomew was forthcoming.

Following our lead on the Isham family, we next turned to the index of PCC wills held by the National Archives. We hoped that we might be able to find some evidence of the Isham family therein, and that they had been wealthy enough to have had their wills proved by the Probate Court of Canterbury, the highest court in the land in these matters. We discovered the following Isham entries:

Will of Elizabeth Isham, Widow of Lamport, Northamptonshire Will of George Isham, Ironmonger of London

Will of John Isham of Braunston, Northamptonshire

Will of Thomas Isham, Gentleman of Isle Brewer, Somerset Will of Eusabyn Isham of Pytchley, Northamptonshire

Will of Dame Anne Isham, widow of Pytchley, Northamptonshire Will of Thomas Isham of Thame Street, City of London

Will of Gregory Isham, gentleman of Braunston, Northamptonshire Will of Robert Isham, Clerk of Pytchley, Northamptonshire Will of Thomas Isham of Lamport, Northamptonshire

21 May 1623
15 July 1613 4 May 1627

7 Feb 1589 17 July 1626 1 Jan 1628 10 Oct 1625

16 Nov 1558 3 Nov 1568

8 May 1606

We were particularly interested to note the will of Elizabeth Isham here, proved in 1623. This would certainly have been written at an appropriate time to recognize Dorcas, and it was likely to relate to the Isham family of that area that had been recorded in the Visitations. Equally, the will of Eusabyn Isham could hold some interesting possibilities.

As a final action in this round of research, we returned to the IGI in search of any other mention of Fosters and Isham's. We particularly sought reference to the baptism of Richard Foster, the direct ancestor. We found that, although there was no suitable mention of Richard's baptism, upon searching for that of his brother Robert, we were interestingly rewarded. We discovered an entry, submitted by a private member of the LDS church, which stated that Robert Forster was born on the 14th May 1615 at Lowdham, Nottinghamshire. He was thought to have been the son of Robert Forster and Dorcas or Mira Isham.  His date of death was given as 1672 at Norfolk, Virginia.

Although this was a member submitted entry, and therefore unverified, we were fascinated to note that a full date of birth was given for Robert here. This suggested that this information had been gained from a particular source. If we could establish the source of this information, we may be well on our way to proving that Robert Foster was the father of Richard and Robert, who travelled to America with their stepfather, Bartholomew Hoskins.

In future research, therefore, we would certainly purchase copies of the wills of Elizabeth and Eusabyn Isham, in order to see if they hold any valuable information. We should also begin an examination of the original parish records of Lowdham, in search of reference to the birth of not only Robert but also Richard Foster or Forster. We would also search the records of the local area for evidence of the marriage of Dorcas Isham and Robert Foster. There are some really exciting prospects for continuing this research, therefore. 

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