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Update on research into BEST ancestry in Kent

Neil's BEST line can be traced back to a John Best (1776-before 1841), see the family tree on the Best ancestry page. The reason that the line cannot, with any confidence, be traced further back is not because of lack of records but because there are so many seemingly indistinguishable John Bests, a number of whom seem to have married an Ann. The earliest John Best who I have been able to find in Kent is from a record of a death on 20 July 1508 at Broughton-Under Bleue - and I have lost count of the rest of the John Bests in the Kent records. It is reasonable to conclude that they are in some way related if one goes back far enough and that the Bests are a very old, established Kent family.

Various secondary - and I stress secondary - sources (which focus on other lines) and which I have found as letters and emails in local archives seem to imply that there is a valid link to two previous generations, ie to individuals who I shall call John Best I and John Best II to distinguish between them. However, I am by no means sure that John II was indeed the father of 'our' John Best. Perhaps these secondary sources had some primary sources available to them that I do not. Mine come primarily from the listings in the family bible which start with our John Best who I identify here as John Best III, because he certainly came later than the other John Bests in the story.

There is no doubt from parish records that John Best I did exist and that he was the earliest confirmed John Best of what was to become several lines of John Bests, some of whom are certainly not in Neil's direct ancestry. John I does not seem to have been born in the Crockenhill area of Kent (parish of Eynsford, near Orpington) that was to be the home of generations of his descendants - or if he was, then the records have escaped us. Judging from the date of birth of his son (probably his oldest son), who I am calling John Best II, John I would have been born around 1725.

According to the IGI a John Best who could lay some claim to being John I was baptised on 29 May 1725 at Penshurst, Kent, parents John Best (yet another!) and (yet another) - this time Ann Emery. (His father John Best was baptised in Chiddingstone, Kent about 1713 where the mother Ann was also baptised about 1692, and the couple married at Chiddingstone on 26 May 1713.)

Another claim to the person I am calling John I, comes via Margot Corbett who has found a John Best, baptised at Ash (near Eynsworth)in 1708to parents John Best and his wife, bornElizabeth Skinner. That couple married in Eynsford 13th January 1679.

Whether or not any of these records genuinely refer to our Best ancestry, it is reasonable to assume, given the locality,that at the very least, the lines are related. From the birth/baptismal records of John II, we know that John I married a Sarah. We have not managed to locate the marriage record. By 1750 the couple and baby John were in Crockenhill.

John Best II was certainly the eldest son of John Best I and Sarah. Parish records show that he was born on 6 May 1750 in Crockenhill, Kent in the parish of Eynsford. (An IGI entry supports this - and it goes further by giving his death date. However the entry shows signs of having been submitted in haste by a somewhat careless family historian rather than a regular IGI records transcriber.) John II married Ann Stephen Turner(also recorded as Ann Stephens Turner and Ann Stevens Turner) in Eynsford on 31 Dec 1774. As far as I can make out, they had the following children:

  1. Sara Best born/baptised 17 Jan 1779
  2. Richard Best born/baptised 19 Nov 1780
  3. Mary Best born/baptised 20 July 1783
  4. John Best born/baptised about 1784
  5. William Best born/baptised 24 April 1785
  6. Ann Stephens Best born/baptised 20 May 1787
  7. Margaret Best born/baptised 5 Oct 1789
  8. James Best born/baptised 5 Aug 1791
  9. Rebecca Best born/baptised 28 Dec 1794
  10. Benjamin Best born/baptised 24 July 1796

These names do not persist in the names which "our" John Best and Ann gave to their children, which supports my view that John Best, son of John Best and Ann Stephen Turner is probably not the father of "our" John Best.

John II died on 4 April 1826, over a decade after an Ann Best who may or may not have been his wife, who died on 23 August 1815. We know of her from a booklet which documented what was left of the monumental inscriptions in the Crockenhill Old Burial Ground. A John Best is mentioned, along with his wife, an Ann (who could have been the one born Ann Stephen Turner) whose inscription reads:

Ann, wife of John Best
Of this place and mother of the above ...
who .... this life
August 23 1815
Aged 59 years

However, other Ann Bests appear to have died around the same time. According to the Crockenhill Baptist Church records, an Ann Best was buried at Crockenhill on 27th March 1813, aged 58.

In a booklet on the Crockenhill Burying Ground, researched by Shirley Burgoyne, an Ann Best features who was related to the Staples family. This is significant because of the Best's West Wickham connection. An Ann Staples married a John Best from West Wickham; the couple had a farm called Layhams Farm there; they died in West Wickham; are buried in its churchyard; and I have a copy of that John's will. So did this Ann Best who was born Ann Staples visit Crockenhill from about 8 miles away or was she another Ann Best?

I have also tried to trace the ancestry of the West Wickham Bests but on the basis of the available data, the task is impossible because of the number of clearly different individuals named Ann Best, Ann Staples and John Best, and the fact, known from various records, that there was considerable interaction between the Crockenhill and West Wickham Best families. Sadly I suspect that other researchers cannot be any more certain of their findings regarding the ancestry of these Bests, unless of course they are party to some source material that I am not. Close inspection of the data certainly exposes increasing complexity on what could at first seem like clarity. Even the ancestral files on the IGI website show different John Bests as marrying different Anns on the same day in the same place.

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