Which West Dean?

12 Oct

One hazard that has the potential to trip up unwary family historians (and postcard collectors) is the presence of two West Deans in the county of Sussex. There is one in the present day East Sussex and another in the present day West Sussex, but family historians will be mostly dealing with a time when the two halves of the county were considered as one.

The potential for confusion is described in Black’s Guide to Sussex and its Watering-places (published by Adam and Charles Black, London in 1898):

This West Dean and its neighbour East Dean are likely to be confused with a pair of villages of the same names in the other division of the county, discriminated in ecclesiastical forms as orientalis and occidentalis; we shall come to that West Dean farther on. Dean of course is a valley or ravine, otherwise written dene or den.

In terms of Sussex family history research, it is important to make sure you have identified the correct West Dean. It could mean the difference between having to visit the East Sussex Record Office (in Lewes, East Sussex) or the West Sussex Record Office (in Chichester, West Sussex) to find your ancestors.

I have a large number of ancestors from the western West Dean (near Chichester) and things were nice and straightforward until a couple of months ago when I ran across a distant relation who married someone from the eastern West Dean (near Seaford). Then I was faced with making a decision on how to record this other West Dean.

I certainly didn’t consider using the words orientalis or occidentalis, instead I chose to record the eastern West Dean as West Dean (near Seaford), Sussex, England, because although I consider it to look a little untidy it is quite possibly going to be the only occurrence of this place name in my database, and I should try not to lose too much sleep over how to record it.

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