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6 Jan 2018

Daughters of Hannah

Many of you will know the story of Henrietta Lacks, whose body kept on giving before death (in the form of lots of babies), and after death (in the form of her cancer cells which have divided at an incredibly rapid rate). Keeping up with her descendants, or the location of all her cancer cells, would keep someone occupied for a long long time.

I gave given myself the task of finding the descendants of Hannah Shaw born 134 years earlier in Derbyshire 1776, around the time we lost the American Colonies. There are loads. At first I thought there would hardly be any, as only a rag-taggle bunch are still at home in 1841. Hannah really struggled to get going, finally getting a good rhythm with her cousin (and husband) in her late 30s. It was Ellen, born when she was 37, who really got the tree moving. I am losing track of all of her granddaughters, and great-granddaughters.

My plan is to find one descendant of Ellen (and Hannah) in the female line each week. So that by June 2018 I will have a suitable candidate from Hannah's line ready to do a DNA test. The candidate must be in the female line, in other words 'of the body' of Hannah.

We have my cousin Klaus waiting in the wings, descendant of Hannah's older sister Ann. Hannah and Ann lived very different lives but much seems to link them together. Until we do the DNA test we won't know for sure they were sisters. The test will very much cement together exactly what happened in those key years 1790-1 in the family tree.

Putting it crudely, who exactly screwed who.

I am flitting back to Bonsall Bank where much of the action took place with a view to establishing even more postcodes of living relatives, of the body of Hannah, who will be suitable for the DNA project. Watch this space.

18 Dec 2017

Hidden Roots: Behind the Marriage

All I really wanted was to find out something, anything!, about the couple in this marriage entry - which is for 1791 in Chesterfield, north Midlands.
Most of the marriages that made me were mature couples solemnly throwing their lot in with another, having had something of a life already. I didn't think this one was.

What lay behind the marriage was my biggest discovery of 2017.

I knew the only child of the marriage very well: Hannah. She founded a dynasty of hardworking, short-lived women, all working-class business women who took their plenty of nothing, and made plenty of something.

But her parents were one big closed door. And when you burst open a door, you don't get to control what you see.

######
Nathaniel Gee and Ann married for love, of that I'm sure. Their first and only child was already on the way. When Ann died the very next year, Nathaniel's next daughter (by a new wife) was given her name. He only reached 37 himself. So by 1810 the couple were both dead and their love folded up and gone like dry leaves.
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Finding the story

You didn't tune in to watch me clang open filing cabinets, and scroll through microfilm for the right baptism. But tippie-toing along the path, DID lead to the right baptism, for both Nathaniel, and Ann. Bear in mind please I knew NOTHING about them. Not even their real ages.

Reality struck. There was nothing I liked about possible baptisms for Nathaniel in London fringes, the east coast or urban Manchester. Bearing in mind he died 1805, I like the look of this family unit, based in Derbyshire, but with a Nathaniel in the mix. Something needed exploring here.
I really thought there was a vacant position here for Nat, maybe the son of Jonathan and Sarah? To my amazement, the door clicked open and there were plenty of riches to behold. Turns out I was right.

The groom

Nathaniel Gee was baptised 1767 in West Bromwich, just outside Birmingham, our second city, some years before his parents came to Derbyshire. Jonathan and Sarah Gee married the previous Christmas (1766) in Dudley, administratively in Worcestershire, clear the other side of Britain's second city.

Wheesh!! The pages kept turning and turning. I scribbled 5 pages of trees no problem. I checked out 2 wills and there are at least two more to check at some point. The family kept rabbits, wine and something to do with hot metal. They were interesting and an eight-year old girl got a pet sow as a gift to bring piglets in to the family equation. And that's just the mother Sarah.

The father Jonathan - well he turns out to have been a formidable builder of canals. You name a big stretch of man-made waterway from the 1700s and this man Jonathan Gee had his finger in whatever pie there happened to be going. Let's just say I have a barge trip around the UK booked as a some-day project, and that is going to be all about Jonathan with almost no down-time to see all he did.

Nathaniel has the blood of 3 counties whirling in his veins, and that's great, but what about Ann?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The bride

Ann the bride was probably 17 years of age and definitely not 'from Chesterfield' as the marriage entry implies. I know now that Nathaniel was a bold young buck of 22 and capable of relabelling 'black' as 'white' if he chose to do so. He had his father's big ideas and all his talking shook his later children right up the ladder. A hundred years later, one of his granddaughters would hold court in Nottingham, giving the only published account available of life in that city across the 1800s. Effortless and faultless, she was a rich woman at the castle alright, and stuff the poor woman at her gate.

Ann was from a poor family with an ambitious and clever mother who died. She was probably baptised at Wirksworth, Derbyshire, right in the heart of John Palmer's famous project, in 1776. (John is researching the family of the ambitious and clever woman, and appears in Dave Gorman's Googlewhack with his website apparently managing to host the words 'baptise' and 'slurry' on the same page.)

I would like to tell you that the ambitious and clever woman lived a long and happy life and that her influence lasted. Well no and yes, in that order. Every single woman in the family since Ann's mother downward (on our line) had the ability to read and write. There were a couple of wobbles along the way.

I would never have believed that Ann from Wirksworth could be the lady marrying at Chesterfield, if it wasn't for the go-getting Nathaniel. Look at his bold signature. Can you believe he wooed a girl 20 miles away (under 18) got her pregnant and convinced the vicar at Chesterfield that she was of a majority age and also living locally, for three consecutive weeks? Of course he could! The two towns are marked on the above map.

The landscape west of Wirksworth, where Ann's less-than-spectacular father scrabbled a living from the lead mines, is quietly stunning. Although she shot her bow before attaining 20, she left a sister. Aha! I didn't mention her. The sister has descendants in the female line, who if they can shake their cheeks loose of genetic material will have the same uterine line as my father and other relatives.

Do you remember Hannah, only child of these remarkable parents? She's a remarkable lady also, in her own right. And do you think you might tell the name of her ambitious and clever grandmother, who whiled her short life away up in the hills of Wirksworth. That's right she was Hannah too.

My Hannah is locked securely into her own landscape, her patient and determined ambition a family inheritance. She did not die her mother's death at 20, she did not reach for the stars and get smashed on the rocks like her father. She was not extraordinary like her grandfather the canal-builder. She has a whole other family just like her somewhere about. We will find if the DNA matches, but even if not, the synthesised back-story of her parents remains my fondest discovery of 2017.

Read more in Love on the Canal the story of Nathaniel and Ann's romance.

Story penned for Elizabeth O'Neal's December blog party Holiday Twofer.

25 Nov 2017

Love on the Canal ❤

Did my 5xgreat-grandmother, Ann, meet her husband on the canal? Believe it or not, probably only a DNA test can reveal the answer.

Ann Shaw was born in the 1770s In Derbyshire, and until recently I was having a hard time picking out which one of the many local girls of this name was my forebear.

Then I pushed and pulled all the records, shoving filing cabinets and index cards out of the way. If Ann was literate, which she was, then her sisters should be too. Looking again at the box of her signature, there's a lot of space around her name. I'd say she was young, like maybe only 18.
Ok, that's good, and that brings me to an Ann baptised 1774 in Wirksworth parish church, who actually lived her childhood both sides of the valley west of the church called Via Gelli. A stunning ravine, wooded, just right for the scene our DNA test hopes to peek in on.

We jot down the few facts we have about Ann scratched up from the register: She was young, 18, on her marriage, she could write her name and maybe more, and she landed up on the north side of the Via Gelli right by a certain canal at Cromford...

Whoa. That is of interest. The Ann we're looking for married Nathaniel Gee a young buck of 22 who:
...owned a boat on a canal in the 1790s (a few years later)!
Have we got a case of Love on the Canal?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Options ahead 
To test our hypothesis we have two apparent options:

1) Wait for the Minute Books of Cromford Canal 1789-96 to hit inter-library loan.
They might show Nat Gee bidding to construct a portion of the canal east of Cromford. I suspect and hope they do, but in the absence of documentation of the Love from the 1700s, we have Option Two.

2) Get folk tested.
Ann was 18 it seems, pregnant with her only child, and died of likely complications from the birth barely a year into our story. Yet my late father, and others come down from the child through the daughter's line. Including my cousin Klaus.

If, if if, Ann was the girl from Middleton-by-Wirksworth who by happenstance acquired the ability to write, then we need to look at her elder sister Hannah, who also showed she signed her name (rather than making a mark). This ability did not extend, interestingly, to their much younger half-sister, suggesting the older girls' mother (a Doxey) was the guiding force in the family, even as it hovered perilously on the bread-line.

Hannah has family too: the fabled other side of the looking-glass. They started out with few means, living off the lead lying locally, and not drifting far along the social scale, many remaining in a setting overlooking that Via Gelli for as long as time allowed.

If Klaus (from Ann) and a.n.other (from Hannah) could reach across the centuries and compare their diverging DNA.....

Klaus would have a perfect copy of Ann's mitochondrial DNA, while a.n.other bears a rock-solid version of Hannah's. Could they be identical?

Identical DNA would tell us that Ann did indeed fall fatefully for her boat-owning lover and make 20 an impossible age that she would never reach, from their Love on the Canal ❤

4 Nov 2017

The Three Counties Challenge

Come on then folks! Which of your forebears do you reckon qualifies for the Three Counties Challenge? Entrance qualifications are simple: they need to have exactly three counties of origin! Here are my four contenders who had a massive impact on my tree.

(1) My first forebear was my grandmother Mary, born 1921 in Cheshire. She has ancestry in Somerset, Cornwall and Norfolk, which impressed me very much at the time.
Q. What brings these genes together?
A. Methodist ministers marrying girls from 'out-of-county' two generations in a row.

(2) Then we go back nearly a century to Dad's great-grandma Annie Gibson, born 1836 in Allendale, near the geographical centre of mainland Britain, but far north of anything I'd heard of before. She brought three new counties to the yard: Cumberland, Northumberland and some part of lowland Scotland, most likely Dumfriesshire. I can't help thinking of John Peel with his coat so gay, out hunting in the Cumberland countryside when I think of this line.
Q. What brings these genes together?
A. The uber-meddling Christopher Bird, vicar of Chollerton, who pulled my relatives across the Pennines. Then a certain knee injury on the railway in 1844, which proved fatal, and which spat poor Annie back the other side of the Pennines again.

(3) We reverse another 25 years to the birth of Blanche Morton, my Grandpa's great-grandmother, born about 1811 in Newport, south Wales. She brings Monmouthshire, Glamorganshire and, much earlier, Carmarthenshire to the table. This is an impressive haul, and without her, I'd really have no proper Welsh ancestry at all, so big thanks go to Blanche on this one. As a bonus we have her photo too.
Q. What brings these genes together?
A. Water and boats. The boatbuilder moved along the coast and up the rivers, marrying and moving as he went.

(4) It's now time to put the time-machine back in fast rewind, to get back another whole 43 years before this. That's right folks, we need to whoosh past Trafalgar, the French revolution and even American independence, back to 1768. I'm sorry it's a little cold out here, with the mini ice-age just having left and we're only halfway through the hundred years of Georges.

It's time to introduce Nathaniel Gee, born in West Bromwich in 1768. His birthplace is not somewhere I expected to find on my tree - ever. My family have managed to avoid the Midlands, carefully skirting around it, but Nathaniel is born slap-bang in the middle, just as the industrial revolution is hitting. Exciting times, no doubt. Nathaniel provides yet another three new counties: Cheshire, Staffordshire and the much earlier Shropshire.
Q. What brings these genes together?
A. The magnetic pull of Wolverhampton and its satellites, sweeping ironworkers into town. And more importantly, water and boats. The boatbuilder moved around the canal network, marrying and moving.

The final list of counties hauled in by these individuals is impressive: Somerset, Cornwall, Norfolk, Cumberland, Northumberland, Dumfriesshire (probably), Monmouthshire, Glamorganshire, Carmarthenshire, Cheshire, Staffordshire and Shropshire. And the causes were Methodism,  a meddling vicar, a trapped knee, and plenty of boats on the water.

Can any of your ancestors pass the three counties challenge? I'd be interested to hear about them.

17 Oct 2017

A Canal's Gonna Come

Sooner or later a blog is gonna come. A big old splash concerning the most recent news from the 1700s. Just like my Taylors who kept me going for blog after blog (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 , 8, 9, 10, 11, 12). I know the titles of the pages will be: A Christmas in Dudley, Gee Whizz, A Walk along the Canal. But I'm not ready to post: not yet.

23 Jun 2017

Two Sides of Town

Picture the scene, a pretty town where a river runs through it.  Much bevisited by Americans keen to note down their heritage whilst swans and fresh cygnets queue up to enter.  A park, a castle, a group of youth; a theatre, some pubs, an ugly dual carriageway.  A reality star popping in to try some baby yoga.

In one corner of the town, up on the hill, is an ugly pub.  Squat, flat, squeezed into the estate, with cheap doubles whenever you want and locals escaping the grime for an hour or two's oblivion.  Karaoke blasts out across the estate as the bladdered locals slash up against the wall.  Gerald Phipps (not his real name) scratches a tattoo as he greets the new arrivals from behind the bar.

Let's go back down to the centre of town, and steeply ascend a hill facing the other way.  Broad open fields greet us and a happy cow winks approvingly at the cut of our jib.  Surprisingly quickly open country hits, and then a very posh school - fields and yawning tennis courts roll out in front of us.  Cynthia Claydon (almost her real name) rolls down her starched white tennis pleats and adjusts her ponytail as her friend Charlie's Merc peels off into the distance.  She finished her sixth-form here a few years ago, and is back, purely for artistic licence, and doesn't have anything to actually do, except look great.

As you've guessed, Gerald and Cynthia are cousins.  Well not exactly, Gerald just got one of Cynthia's 4th cousins pregnant, and is the babyfather.  The point is Cynthia descends from Miss Sophy Smith of South Lopham, Norfolk; whilst Gerald's pregnant ex-missus descends from Arthur Smith of South Lopham, Norfolk. They are both siblings of Miss Ellen Smith of South Lopham, Norfolk, who is my Granny's fearsome granny, Granny Smith.

Sophy quickly married in the upward direction, selecting a young accountant who rapidly turned his family into drapers, and the daughter was soon engaged to an auctioneer, and the next generation were farmers in Sussex and before you know it, it's time for a posh school for the daughter.

Arthur decides to head down the social ladder,  starting having a lot of children before he is really ready, and the wedding bells ring midway through a pregnancy, and then he turns 21 as the next one arrives and then it's time to quit his job and act as a blackleg and remarry (not in that order) before finally at 50 he wraps it up and heads to Australia.  Leaving 3 generations in straightened circumstances.  His grandson kicks cans around the place in WW2 digging up scrap age 12 to help the family get by.  To be fair, the family did good, but they did end up on the other side of town in this case.  No question.

I'll stay in the middle.  I'm not climbing a hill to sing karaoke, and I have no idea what a tennis pleat is, or if it even exists.

Thank you Ellen for weaving a happy medium between Arthur's chaos and Sophy's money.  I'll take your side of town on this occasion.

22 Jun 2017

1940s Google Map

Introducing a Google Map to show where people lived at the time of their death in the 1930s and 40s - based on the probate index of England/Wales from this time period.  It does include addresses worldwide and is well worth a browse.

http://www.haine.org.uk/toms_wills/1940s_Google_Map.php

Questions, comments, via the homepage...

2 Jun 2017

Love is...

Love is... A Powerful Text Editor! When you have, as I do, 508 million wonderfully tender pieces of data, the laptop is going to cough and splutter a bit.

After a frustrating 24hrs where I couldn't get the data sorted at all, came salvation.

EditPadPro. This handy gadget was hastily downloaded at Swindon station before the WiFi conked out. It can insert carriage returns wherever you'd like in a long line of data. I wished this to occur every 30,000 characters in order to be re-imported into Excel cells, which have a maximum capacity.

Until I demo'd EditPad I'd not considered that my problem was essentially one of word wrapping. Word wrapping is fiendishly complex, similar to those bucket measuring or optimal grain storage problems from Egypt and Greece. Once you have too much text for a line, we automatically go on to the next line, making decisions about where the words should break. I needed the same approach for my string of values.

The data all lined itself up to be processed like innocent lambs through a sheep wash. It all trotted through and is back sitting pretty in my spreadsheet.

Very hairy moment successfully navigated. Will I finally get the wretched project up and running this weekend? We'll see.