Blessing, Blyssynge, Preaste ancestors of New England immigrant Joanna Blessing Towne

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Free Space Page to capture information about the English ancestry of Joanna Blessing-3, who married William Towne-3 in 1620 at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England. This page is only concerned with records and analysis prior to that 1620 marriage. The name "Blessing" will be used for convenience on this page.

The main source of information about this family so far has been the 1957 article by Walter Goodwin Davis published in The American Genealogist Vol. 33.[1]

A 2020 "Towne Family" book by Lois Payne Hoover also deals with this family but (having been reviewed in Jan 2022) it did not deal with the English origins of this family nor make any specific claims about the age or origin of Joanna Blessing Towne's parents, nor about her mother's surname.[2]

See this G2G post for additional information and analysis.


What Do We Know and When Did We Know It?

There is a short set of parish records and that's it. No wills, no land deeds, nothing in the UK Archives or British History Online or anything else found to-date. All analysis by Davis, Hoover, WikiTree, everybody is based on the information below and nothing more. Davis (and Hoover citing Davis) did not have the Caister on Sea records available nor apparently the Great Yarmouth burial records, so they were working with a subset of these records. None of these records said "daughter of" or "husband of" other than where specifically noted below, otherwise there was no supplemental information given.

  1. 1569 Oct 15 John Blessing married Joan Preaste at Somerleyton, Suffolk.
  2. 1571 Sep 21 Julian Blessing, daughter of John and Joane, christened at Somerleyton, Suffolk
  3. 1590 Aug 20 Margaret Blessing, daughter of John & Margaret, christened at Caister on Sea, Norfolk
  4. 1593 Jan 13 John Blessing, son of John & Margaret, christened at Caister on Sea, Norfolk
  5. 1593 Jan 23 John Blessing buried at Caister on Sea, Norfolk
  6. 1595 Jun 22 Joanna Blessing, daughter of John & Joanna (the transcription says "Jane", a WikiTree user who claims to have seen the parish register in an apparently paywalled database called "The Genealogist" asserts that the mother's name was written as "Joanna" and looked just like the daughter's name except for an ink-blot in the middle)
  7. 1597 Sep 23 John Blessing buried at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk
  8. 1612 Nov 9 Margaret Blessing buried at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk
  9. 1613 Aug 20 Margaret Blessing married Robert Buffam at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk (their children are not relevant to this analysis)
  10. 1620 Apr 25 Joanna Blessing married William Towne at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk (Joanna and William's children are not relevant to this analysis)
  11. 1622 Jul 13 Julian Blessing (spinster) married Thomas Goose (widower) at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

Alice as the sister of Margaret, Joanna and Julian is assembled (convincingly) from wills and records mainly in New England where Margaret's widowed and re-married husband Robert also relocated. The death of Margaret Blessing (who married Robert Buffam) is only known to be by 1634 based on the date of his re-marriage.

W.G. Davis Lineage Theory: 2 generations of John Blessing and 2 of daughter(s) Julian

In summary, Davis believed (but did not claim to prove) that John Blessing and Joan Preaste who married 15 Oct 1569 at Somerleyton, Suffolk[3] were GRANDPARENTS of the four Blessing sisters (Margaret, Alice, Joanna and Julian) who were found in christening and marriage records at Caister on Sea and Great Yarmouth, Norfolk from 1590 through 1622 (Caister is about 10 miles from Somerleyton and Great Yarmouth is directly between them).

Very Important Note: Davis did not have the Caister on Sea parish records showing the christenings of Margaret (1590), John "Jr" (1593) and Joanna (1595)[4] when he wrote his article, he was working strictly from Somerleyton and Great Yarmouth records. This means that he was unaware of the exact time between the 1571 christening of Julian Blessing and the 1590 christening of Margaret Blessing. Nor did he apparently have the 1597 and 1612 Great Yarmouth burial records of John & Margaret Blessing or at least he did not mention them.

Davis identified the only proven child of John Blessing & Joan Preaste; daughter Julian christened 21 Sep 1571 at Somerleyton.[5] Davis believed there was also a son William born there in 1575 but as is now known, the rector who researched the records apparently mis-read the register; that child was William Rysynge, son of John and Elizabeth. To be fair, the rector did not have a digital image that he could amplify and work with. Davis made no further claim as to the fate of this William.

It must also be noted that no christening or marriage record for Alice Blessing has been found; Davis goes into great detail on how she is proven to be a sister or half-sister of Joanna and Margaret Blessing.[1]

Davis' reasoning for there being an extra generation between the couple of Somerleyton and the four sisters seems to be based mainly on the time between the 1569 marriage in Somerleyton and the Great Yarmouth marriages between 1613 and 1622, leaving room for another generation.

He was not aware of the christenings of 2 children of a John Blessing in Caister; Margaret 20 Aug 1590[6] and John 13 Jan 1592/93.[7] who was buried 17 days later.[8] The mother of both these children was written as Margaret in the parish registers. The 3rd child of John at Caister, Joanna the later emigrant, had her mother's name written as "Joanna" (transcribed as Jane, see below for more on this).

Davis also believed that the Julian Blessing who married Thomas Goose at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk on 13 Jul 1622[9] was NOT the Julian born 1571 but was a likely namesake niece. This is certainly possible, and there were 2 children named Thomas Goose christened at Great Yarmouth in the early 1590s (found at who would not likely have married a woman 20 years their senior. Against this is the parish register image from Great Yarmouth (see below) which seems to show a "w" (widower) next to Thomas' name and "S" (spinster) next to Julian's name and the lack of any additional christening record found for a Julian Blessing in the area. However, many Blessing records seem to be lacking, so this failure to find a younger Julian Blessing should not be weighed too heavily. No children or further record of this couple has been found, so possibly it was a late-in-life first marriage for Julian. Whether Davis' "grandparents" theory is accepted or not, the Julian Blessing who married Thomas Goose in 1622 is believed to be the sister or half-sister of Joanna Blessing Towne born 1595. Whether this was the same Julian Blessing who was born in 1571, is the unproven assertion. This particular mystery is not solvable with records found to-date.

The Problem with the Davis Lineage

The weak link in this chain is the age of the proposed "John Jr" and again, this is after-the-fact analysis using records that Davis did not have. The elder (and only known) John Blessing and Joan Preaste were married 15 Oct 1569 and daughter Julian was christened 21 Sep 1571, just under 2 years later (the Somerleyton parish register is very small and easily readable, they had no other children here). Then John Blessing and "Margaret" of Caister had daughter Margaret on 20 Aug 1590. Say the Blessing/Preaste couple of Somerleyton had a son John Jr in another parish 9 months after daughter Julian was christened i.e. June 1572. That means John Jr was still 2 months shy of 18 years old when he was married and had a daughter Margaret at Caister. This is extremely unlikely. It also seems unlikely that between Oct 1569 and Sep 1571 the Blessing/Preaste couple moved from Somerleyton to another parish, had John, moved back, had Julian and had her christened at Somerleyton. However, given all this, it is still possible that there was a John Jr. as the father of Joanna Blessing Towne and that he was married either to a Margaret Unknown or both a Margaret and Joan Unknown. Maybe he was illegitimate, maybe he was born to a still-earlier unknown wife of John Blessing.

Internet Theories: Nonexistent William Blessing and Ur-Mother Joane Preaste

A common unsupported and unsourced theory is that Joanna Blessing Towne was the daughter of John Blessing and Joan Preaste. While it is consistent with her mother's name written in the Caister parish register, this requires Joan (estimated birth c. 1549) to have had children over a 24-year period. Biologically possible as an extreme outlier, but not likely especially with such large gaps between known children. Plus this ignores the two children listed in Caister who's mother's name was written as Margaret. It can be argued that daughter Margaret had a parish register mistake made, i.e. her mother was really Joanna but was written as Margaret. But this argument falls apart with son John, why would a priest make the same mistake twice, 5 years apart with a differently named male child? The supposed birth date of this Joan Preaste varies widely on the internet with many people asserting "about 1570" in order for her to be a more appropriate 25 when Joanna Blessing was born.

The other most common theory seems to be a Davis mutation i.e. Joan Blessing Towne is the daughter of WILLIAM Blessing and Joan Preaste. This allows for a son of John Blessing of Somerleyton to be Joanna's father but ignores the fact that Davis said William was the SON of Joan Preaste, not her HUSBAND. Plus it ignores Joanna's christening record stating that her father was John, not William.

Most likely these theories just reflect a desire to provide a name for an ancestor despite lack of evidence and in contradiction to what little evidence we actually have.

Simpler Explanation: One John Blessing with 2 wives, Joan Preaste and Margaret Unknown and one daughter Julian

A simpler explanation for the records found to-date is this: There was only one John Blessing and it was the man who married in 1569 at Somerleyton, putting his birth at c. 1544. His first (assumed) wife Joane Preaste died sometime between 1571 (Julian's birth) and 1590 (Margaret's birth in Caister). John remarried a Margaret and she was the mother of his next four children (Margaret, John who died as an infant, Alice and Joanna). Julian, John's eldest daughter by first wife Joan Preaste was the one who married a Thomas Goose at Great Yarmouth in 1622, possibly to take care of an elderly man or it was just a late-in-life pairing.

  • A John Blessing was buried at Great Yarmouth 23 Sep 1597[10], this was likely the above John Blessing at age 53 as the only other "John Blessing" found was the 1593 Caister burial, 10 days after a "John Blessing, son of John" christening, very likely an infant death.
  • A Margaret Blessing was buried at Great Yarmouth in 1612, this was likely John's widow.[11] Unfortunately these parish registers provide no supplemental information such as "widow of" or "daughter of".

The only "suspension of disbelief" this requires is that when Joanna Blessing was christened in 1595, the priest accidentally wrote "Joanna" instead of "Margaret" as her mother's name. It is also possible that between 1593 and 1595 John's second proposed wife Margaret died and he remarried another Joanna, but this requires multiple supsensions of disbelief i.e. that while John lived in the same parish we are:

  1. Missing the burial of wife Margaret
  2. Missing his marriage to another Joanna (or alternatively the priest wrote the wrong mother's name for both children Margaret and John Blessing Jr. and then we are back to Joanna Preaste having children 24 years apart with large apparent gaps in births)
  3. Missing any further record of his widow Joanna after John died in 1597
  4. We now have an extra Margaret Blessing buried in 1612 and it was NOT the daughter who married Robert Buffam 23 Aug 1613 at Great Yarmouth.[12]

The Case of the Missing Parish Registers

It is likely that the missing parish register entries (christening and marriage of Alice Blessing, death of Joan Preaste Blessing and re-marriage of John Blessing & Margaret Unknown) are still waiting to be found in another nearby parish, if they still survive. Leaving aside the missing "Alice" entries which don't affect the ancestral origin theory at all, this leaves us with just three missing parish entries and one mis-written entry to support the theory of "One John Blessing with two wives, Joane Preaste and Margaret Unknown". All other explanations seem to require more missing or incorrect entries.

Key Findings from Davis (1957)

Key findings from his seminal work include:

  • Cites Boyd's Suffolk Marriage index for 1569 Somerlyton marriage of John Blyssinge and Joane Preaste.
  • Cites Somerleyton baptisms for two children of the above couple: Julian (daughter) b 1571; William b 1575 (NB: William now disproven).
  • Cites Great Yarmouth, co. Norfolk (on Suffolk border, 7 miles from Somerleyton), parish records for marriages of three Blessing girls (who the author surmises were the granddaughters of the Somerleyton couple above):
    • Margaret Blessing m 1613 Robert Buffam (who emigrated to New England, settled in Salem); she died in England by 1634 when he married Thomasine (Ward) Thompson
    • Jone Blessing m 1620 William Towne (who both settled in Salem, MA; see bequest from Alice to sister Joan Towne in Alice's will below)
    • Julian Blessing m Thomas Goose 1622
  • Concludes that Alice Blessing was a fourth sister; that she married about 1615 ____ Firmage (var. spellings). He died either in England or on way over as she is a widow by 29 Oct 1639 when she appears in Salem with her brother-in-law Robert Buffam and her son Mark Firmage. She removed to Boston by the mid 1640s. Alice made her will 8 Feb 1656 and died the next day. It is this will that places her in this family unit. It names:
    • my sister Joan Towne
    • my daughter Esther Estick
    • my grandchild Susan Goose
    • my daughter Sary Langdon
    • my son Mr. Edward Hutchinson
    • my daughter Abigail Hutchinson
  • Makes case that Mark Firmage and Benjamin Vermayes were also Alice's sons (or step-sons), even though not named in her will; both had long since left New England.

Additional Notes

  • The book "Towne Family: William Towne and Joanna Blessing, Salem, Massachusetts, 1635 : Five Generations of Descendants" by Lois Payne Hoover (Otter Bay Publishing, 2010) was reviewed on 18 Jan 2022 and it sheds no additional light (nor does it claim to) on the English ancestry of Joanna Blessing Towne. Ms. Hoover cites Davis' 1957 work which seems to remain the most informed publication on that English ancestry so far. She asserts only that Joanna Blessing was the daughter of John Blessing and Jone (Unknown) which matches the Caister on Sea parish register. She describes "Jone" as John Blessing's apparent second wife given that Margaret was the mother of his prior two children Margaret and John (Jr), again matching the parish register. The author did not touch upon Joan "Preaste" at all, nor the age or origin of John Blessing, nor the 1597 and 1612 burials at Great Yarmouth of John and Margaret Blessing which is not surprising, as Davis was also seemingly unaware of those records. In short, this book does not contradict or further support any particular origin theory of the parents of Joanna Blessing Towne and her sisters.
  • Joan Preaste on WikiTree was at one point shown as the daughter of a Thomas Preaste and Barbara Dockynge of Somerleyton. The problem is, this couple actually married about 10 days after Joan Preaste married John Blessing at Somerleyton.[13] Thomas was very likely her brother given the small parish size. This probably came about because people were anxious to show Joan Preaste as the much younger mother of Joanna Blessing Towne and married to an unproven younger generation John Blessing.
  • Indexed searches alone were not relied upon while researching this family. Visual review of Somerleyton, Great Yarmouth St. Nicholas and Caister at Sea parish registers from 1571 (birth of Julian) to 1595 (birth of Joanna) showed no marriage of a John Blessing; no Blessing burials or christenings past 1571 in Somerleyton or Caister other than those from 1593/4 onwards as already noted. So if Joan Preaste Blessing died after 1571 and John remarried, it was not shown in these three parishes. Great Yarmouth burials between 1593 and 1595 were reviewed for a Margaret Blessing burial with no result.
  • Davis' 1957 work proved reasonably well that the Alice Blessing (emigrated to New England) who married a Firmage and Margaret Blessing who married Robert Buffam (emigrated to New England) at Great Yarmouth were sisters or at least half-sisters of Joanna Blessing b. 1595 although no christening or marriage records for Alice are yet found.

Original and transcribed Parish Register Images

Apparently the Caister images are available in a proprietary database, a wikitree researcher who has seen them stated that the transcription of Joanna's mother as "Jane" may not be accurate. His opinion that the mother's name was written exactly the same as Joanna's name with an additional ink blot in the middle, i.e. that her mother's name was written as "Joanna" and the transcriber chose to interpret as "Jane". This doesn't prove that the priest writing the record originally made a mistake, and that he wrote "Joanna" as the mother instead of "Margaret", that is an unprovable theory.

WikiTree Cleanup

  • edit john blyssinge-1 to be man married to joane preaste-2 in 1569 - done
  • merge john blyssynge-1 into blyssinge-1 - merge submitted
  • merge john blessing-101 into blyssinge-1 - merge submitted
  • create new margaret Unknown-588641 to be his second wife, her death 1612, estimated marriage 1589 - profile created
  • edit john blessing-24 to make him the infant son who died 1593 - done
  • merge margaret blessing-22 and margaret blessing-26, daughters of john - merge submitted
  • sever thomas preaste-7/barbara docking as parents of joan, edit appropriately-done
  • merge joan unk-186716, joan priest-449 and joan preaste-2 to first wife of john blessing, her death before 1589 - merges complete
  • sever seth Blessing-19 & phillip blessing-18 from joan preaste-2 - done
  • edit julian blessing-20 -done
  • merge joan blessing-3 and blessing-546, keep 3, set new margaret unknown as her mother - merge submitted
  • William Blyssynge-2 edit to note actual name & parents-done
  • Edit Alice Blessing-23 to reference FSP and add Davis source - done
  • Edit Margaret Blessing-26 to reference FSP and add Davis source, add Margaret Unknown-588641 as her mother - done


  1. 1.0 1.1 Walter Goodwin Davis, "The Four Blessing Sisters" in The American Genealogist, Vol 33(1957) p. 206 $subscription some of this article is extracted (without citation!) here.
  2. Towne Family: William Towne and Joanna Blessing, Salem, Massachusetts, 1635 : Five Generations of Descendants by Lois Payne Hoover Otter Bay Books, 2010
  3. "England Marriages, 1538–1973 ", database, FamilySearch ( : 13 March 2020), Joane Preaste in entry for John Blyssynge, 1569.
  4. "England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975", database, FamilySearch ( : 20 March 2020), Jone Blessing, 1595.
  5. Somerleyton Parish Register images 1571 christening of Julian Blyssynge
  6. "England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975", database, FamilySearch ( : 20 March 2020), Margret Blessing, 1590
  7. "England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975", database, FamilySearch ( : 20 March 2020), John Blessing, 1593.
  8. "England Deaths and Burials, 1538-1991", database, FamilySearch ( : 15 March 2020), John Blessing, 1593.
  9. "England Marriages, 1538–1973 ", database, FamilySearch ( : 13 March 2020), Julian Blessings in entry for Thomas Goose, 1622.
  10. Norfolk : Great Yarmouth : St Nicholas : : "Parish Register" database, FreeREG ( : viewed 16 Jan 2022) burial John Blessynge 23 Sep 1597
  11. Norfolk : Great Yarmouth : St Nicholas : Parish Register : "Parish Register" database, FreeREG ( : viewed 16 Jan 2022) burial Margeret Blessing 09 Nov 1612
  12. Norfolk : Great Yarmouth : St Nicholas : Register of unspecified type : "Parish Register" database, FreeREG ( : viewed 16 Jan 2022) marriage Robert Buffam to Margeret Blessing 23 Aug 1613
  13. "England Marriages, 1538-1973 ," database, FamilySearch ( : 10 December 2014), Thomas Preaste and Barbara Dockynge, 22 Oct 1569; citing Somerleyton, Suffolk, England, reference item 5; FHL microfilm 991,974.

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WikiTree reports the Julian Blessing baptized 1571 is the same person who married Goose.

According to Davis, the Blessing-Goose marriage took place in 1622.

Very, very low probability of a first marriage over the age of 50. --Gene

posted by GeneJ X
edited by GeneJ X
That's one of the eyebrow-raising questions, 51 years old is awfully late for a first marriage. Plus the two younger Thomas Gooses born in that parish who might be more likely candidates.

OTOH, if this was the woman born 1571, it eliminates the problem of "what happened to her" and also "where did the Julian Blessing of 1622 come from" in one fell swoop bearing in mind that Thomas Goose seems to have been flagged as a widower and Julian as a spinster. And, there were not children born of this marriage in Great Yarmouth or Caister or Somerleyton, supporting the idea of an "elder" marriage.

I think it more likely that in whatever parish this family lived OTHER than Somerleyton, Caister and Great Yarmouth, several things happened including the death of Joan Preaste and re-marriage of John Blessing, the birth of Alice Blessing and her sister Julian who was married 1622. But until/unless we can find those records, it's all speculation. I haven't found anything yet in the UK national archives but I haven't had a chance to look for local Norfolk/Suffolk archives yet.

posted by Brad Stauf
edited by Brad Stauf
Using this as a work space for some comments.

(1) Davis' based his findings, in part, on the measure of how "exceedingly rare" the Blessing surname in England seemed to be. He mentioned that in all of Boyd's Suffolk marriage index "which covers every recorded marriage in that county" only one marriage was found ("in the tens of thousands of entries"), that of John Blyssynge and Joane Preaste (1569, at Somerleyton).

(2) The Suffolk parish register entries were provided to Davis by the rector, and Davis acknowledged "the clergy do not, and probably cannot be expected to ... understand the objects of record searching and too often cannot read the ancient writing in the registers." It was the rector who called out the second child, "William."

(3) Again working from Boyd's index, Davis identified three marriages, "forty or fifty years later," in the parish of Great Yarmouth (Norfolk), "about seven miles from Somerleyton as the crow flies." Davis noted, "Here again, [these three marriages] are the sole representatives of the name in the Great Yarmouth marriages indexed by Boyd."

(4) Of the three brides, Davis wrote, "It seems most likely that these young women were granddaughters of the Somerleyton couple, their parents marrying and bringing up their children in some other parish before settling in Great Yarmouth, but unless one is personally on the ground ... a search of the registers of the neighboring parishing is almost prohibitive." He then goes on to list the three marriages, and to suggest the fourth.

posted by GeneJ X
edited by GeneJ X
I agree that Blessing/Blyssynge records were thin on the ground in that area, so likely it was all part of a family unit, I agree with Davis there.

But upon what basis did he call Julian a "young bride"? Joan, Alice and Margaret were at least young-ish because they had children but not Julian, she had no recorded children. To be fair, nobody has found her death, emigration or anything else yet.

(deleted part of my comment since Davis did not have the Caister on Sea christenings or the Great Yarmouth burials he was making a "best fit" theory with the information he had available at the time)

It's certainly possible that there was another generation John and that he was married and having children unusually young, but my vote is to align the WikiTree profiles with the simplest explanation which means only one generation of John Blessing.

posted by Brad Stauf
edited by Brad Stauf