What's your story, Suzanne Ahier?
This article, which was one of the the Jersey Archive series of ‘’What’s your story?’’ talks in 2008, traces the Ahier and Buesnel families in the island, together with some related families. As our attempts below the article to unravel the family trees involved illustrate, it is a classic example of how difficult it can be to trace family lines when parish records are missing.
Ahiers and education
Suzanne Conoops, the head teacher of Plat Douet School, is a member of the Ahier family. She follows in a long line of Ahiers who have developed education in the Island.
She was born in 1957, the eldest child of Neville and Nanette Ahier (née Morrison). Her father has become well known within the Island as the bookie ‘Honest Nev’. He was the son of Horace John Ahier, a farmer from Trinity, and Dora Buesnel. He was one of ten children.
The family of Neville’s mother, Dora, was even larger. Dora was born in 1909 in St Saviour. Her father was John Gallichan Buesnel, a farmer who was born in Grouville. He married Mary Ann Ching at St Martin’s Church on 28 January 1882. Mary Ann died in December 1893.
Three years later John married Mary’s sister, Martha Jane Ching, at St Helier’s registry office on 27 October 1896. It is possible that Martha had moved into the family home after the death of her sister in order to assist with looking after the children, and romance blossomed. The new couple had more children, and Dora was one of the offspring from this second marriage.
Family legend has it that John Buesnel had 11 children with each wife, making 22 children in total. In the light of this it is perhaps unsurprising that the cause of death given on Mary Ann’s death certificate was exhaustion.
In Suzanne’s direct line on the Ahier side, farming was the family occupation. Suzanne’s grandfather was a farmer, as was her great-grandfather, Charles George Ahier, and her great-great-grandfather, Peter Ahier.
One of the family occupations of Suzanne’s maternal ancestors was fishing – another typical Island job. Suzanne’s mother, Nanette Morrison, was the daughter of Josephine Alice Battrick. Josephine’s father, William Alexander Battrick, ran a fishing business from which Josephine received ‘all the fishing nets and gear in connection with her husband’s fishing business’ in her mother’s will.
Back on the Ahier side of the family, notable ancestors include Suzanne’s 3x great-grandfather, Philip, who married three times. He outlived two wives before marrying his third, who survived. All of Philip’s wives were called Esther. He married Esther Nancy Perchard in 1810. After her death he married Suzanne’s 3x great- grandmother, Esther Le Sueur. After she died he married Esther Gaudin in 1833. Philip was the son of Aaron Ahier. According to family tales, Aaron was a soldier who lost his leg in the West Indies when fighting against France. It was replaced by a wooden leg. It is also said that Aaron was involved in the Battle of Jersey and helped to raise the alarm when the French landed in 1781.
Suzanne has followed in a long tradition of Ahiers by becoming a teacher. Although not directly of her line, Philippe Ahier was one of the early innovators in Island education. He was born in 1752, the son of Philippe Ahier and Mary Gruchy. In the 1780s he was made Regent of St Mannelier School in St Saviour and remained so until his death more than 50 years later in 1832.
During his time at the school he frequently used the Gazette de Jersey to advertise his school. In 1799 the school was advertised as costing 19 guineas a year with a one-guinea entrance fee and an extra guinea for permanent boarders. Ahier is reported to have visited England on a number of occasions in order to recruit pupils.
In 1810 his youngest son, J Mitford Ahier, was appointed undermaster of the school. He remained in the post for ten years until he died. In 1787 John Wesley paid a visit to the Island and remarked about St Mannelier in his Journal: ‘It is a free school designed to train up children for the University, exceedingly finely situated in a quiet recess surrounded by tall woods.’ However, despite being successful at first, by the end of Philippe’s time in charge St Mannelier was no longer a thriving school and only six pupils remained.
Philippe’s younger brother, George, was also involved in education in the island. He set up a number of private schools in various places, including St Aubin, St Saviour, St Helier and Trinity. He also later became the headmaster of Grouville School, before returning to opening private schools. One of his sons, Charles Ahier, became Greffier to the Royal Court between 1859 and 1861.
Another Ahier from the more recent past who had an impact on education was Philip Ahier. The only child of Philippe Ahier and Jane Le Brun, he was born on 18 April 1887. After graduating from the University of London he become a pupil-teacher at St Paul’s School. His career took in a number of posts on the mainland before retiring to Jersey in September 1950.
He continued to teach at Victoria College, the Jersey Collegiate School, New Street Boys School and St John’s School. He also indulged his love for history by writing a number of books and papers.
The Ahiers are a family who have given a great deal to the island in the education sector. The Ahier name is also one of the oldest in island history, with roots dating back to at least the 15th century.
Tracing the Ahier family tree has not proved easy, because of a conflict between what has been concluded by the Archive researchers and what is shown in online trees, and the absence of church records to support the information in the article above.
There is no difficulty with the first few generations back from Suzanne Conoops, nee Ahier. Her father is Neville, son of Horace John, son of Charles George, son of Peter, but here the difficulties start. We have not been able to find a baptism record for Peter, who online trees suggests was born in St Helier in about 1825, but we think would more likely have been born in Trinity, if he and his son were farmers in the parish.
Although the marriages of Philippe Ahier (not Philip, as he is described in the article) to Esther Nancy Perchard in St Saviour in 1810, to Esther Le Sueur in St Saviour in 1821 and Esther Gaudin in St Saviour in 1833, are all shown in the parish register, we have not been able to find any baptisms of children of these marriages.
And there is confusion over which Philippe this is. If he was the son of Aaron Ahier, he was born in 1787, the son of Aaron and Esther Filleul, and baptised in St Saviour, but online trees show him as born in 1798 and marrying Ann Grandin. There were two Philippes born in 1798, one, the son of Francois and Marie Baudains of St Martin, the other the son of Francois and Elizabeth Renouf of Trinity. The St Martin Francois died the year after his birth.
We tend to the view that the Archive researchers are correct and that the Philippe in this family was the son of Aaron and Esther Filleul, but we are far from certain, and also not convinced that as well as having a mother of that name, he married three different Esthers.
We already have a tree for the descendants of Aaron Ahier, but have added a second with some more detail, and shown Philip’s tree separately as a precaution in case the Archive article is wrong.