Runaway Ancestors

Charles Richard Curteis/Pilcher 1836-1915

Runaway to New Zealand and my cousin three times removed

This is a lovely example of how DNA evidence and family hearsay can come together.

One of my DNA matches, RP, caught my eye.  We shared enough DNA to be approximately third cousins, and had a number of more distant matches in common.  I could not see any connection between me and RP, between RP and the other matches or even between the more distant matches.  A fair number of them seemed to be located in Massachusetts, but RP was in New Zealand.  Sadly, RP did not answer my message, so I was left to do my own detective work.  As his name was quite unusual, it did not take long for me to work out who he was and put together what the genealogy forums call a “quick and dirty” tree tracing his ancestors back to where they should meet mine.


There was one surname in RP’s tree that looked instantly familiar: Curteis.    The Curteis family were an extremely wealthy family of politicians and solicitors who lived near the Beales in Biddenden – in fact, there is an area named after them: Curteis Corner.  Two Curteis had married Beales.

  • In 1783 my 5th great aunt Anne Beale had married a Robert Curteis – but their descendents would be too distantly related to me to explain the strong DNA match with RP.
  • More recently, my 3rd great aunt Elizabeth Beale  (daughter of Rich Richard, the dog doodler) had married a John Curteis – but their only child was a daughter, thus the Curteis name was lost.

RP’s ancestor was called Charles Richard Curteis, and I could not find any trace of him prior to his arrival in New Zealand.  I had a feeling he must be the link, but I couldn’t get things to add up.  How was he related to my family?

Fanny Curteis, only daughter of Charles Richard Curteis (photo: Natasha Stanford via Ancestry)

My old friend Google provided the answer.  I typed in “Charles Richard Curteis” and landed upon a forum post from 2004.   Someone calling themselves “Dovedale” had written about his ancestor, Charles Richard Curteis.  According to Dovedale’s research, Charles was born in 1830 in the USA and had come to New Zealand and changed his name and destroyed all his documentation.  He’d heard a family rumour that “Frances Beale Pilcher” of Biddenden was his sister, but couldn’t prove it.

Suddenly it all made sense.  Charles Richard Pilcher did indeed exist in my tree (although he was born in 1836, not 1830).  He was the son of another of Rich Richard’s daughters, Frances, who was married to Charles Simmonds Pilcher, and indeed he had a sister named Frances Beale Pilcher.  But in 1841 little Charles is living with his grandmother, and in 1851 he is at boarding school.  After that, he was nowhere to be seen, and if I hadn’t seen Dovedale’s post there would be nothing to link him with the Charles Richard Curteis who turned up in New Zealand several years later.  Normally I would take family rumours with a pinch of salt, but here we have the DNA evidence to tell us that it is true.  

 A couple of mysteries remain:

  1. Why did Charles run away and change his name?  Why did he choose Curteis – the surname of his aunt’s husband?  It could just be that this was the first name that sprung to mind, of course, but what if John Curteis was his biological father?  That would explain why he seems to have been rejected by his parents, and it would also explain why I have such a strong match with RP.  If we are just connected via the Beales, then we are only 4th cousins once removed and the match indicates we are closer than that.  If we are also connected via the Curteises, then we could share more DNA from that more distant match too.
  2. What about all the matches in Massachusetts?  Why did Charles say he was born in the USA?  Could he possibly have run away to the US first and then on to New Zealand?  We don’t know where he was between his last census appearance in England aged 15 and his marriage in New Zealand fourteen years later and there just happens to be a Seaman Charles  Curtis enlisting in the US Army in 1862…

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