I guess the place to start narrating this family history is with the earliest known fact, but for a long time I could not verify either the stories I had been told as a child about the Stephenson family or the ideas I had myself about their origins. Indeed even now; armed with what is known as fact today; this is not the start of the family history, and there will be possibilities in the future to gain access to records which at this time are not available to me.
So the earliest fact (and indeed one of the first pieces of documentation I found) was the entry on the 1851 Census relating to William Stephenson and his family. William was born in 1801 in Stephens Hall, Ryton, Co. Durham, and lived in 1851 on Lime Kiln Shore, Chirton, North Shields. William was listed as a Steamship Owner and was living with his wife Sarah, two daughters; Eleanor who was twelve years old and Sarah about eight years old; and son George who was five years old.
Stephens Hall sounded a bit posh, so I thought I would look into the history of the house; which still exists and is a listed building. It dates from around 1635 and has a very rich history. It seems the current owners began a huge restoration of the neglected property a few years ago which was partly paid for by a grant from English Heritage. During the restoration a 17th century mural was discovered above the main fireplace, which has been preserved now behind a clear plastic case. The terms of the grant from English Heritage oblige the owners to open the house to the public once a year so that visitors can view this treasure.
Stephens Hall, Ryton
But who was William? It seems he was the grandson of the first Stephenson to tenant the farm, another William! This William was born in 1735 and was canny enough to marry the widow of the previous tenant of Stephens Hall a Joseph Strawpart. Mary, (nee Stokoe c1743-1793) inherited the tenancy as Joseph Strawpart had no male heirs and on her second marriage on August 6, 1767 the tenancy passed to her new husband.
William and Mary had at least eight children, Jane b. 1768, Charles, b. 1769, Ambrose, b. 1771, John, b. 1773, Joseph, b. 1777, William b.1780, George, b. 1777 and Catherine, b.1782.
The third son William (b. 1780) was listed as a husbandman and married Ann Young of Ovingham on November 23, 1800. William and Ann had at least five children William, b. 1801, Michael, b.1804, John, b. 1806, Mary, b. 1808, and George, b. 1810.
Although this history seems very detailed, I do not have documentary evidence of any of the births or marriages, as all the information was found on internet sites. Until I can verify the dates by checking parish records physically, I cannot be certain they are correct.