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27 Feb 2021

How did we find the babyfather of my forebear (born 1846)?

Just how did we do that?

Recently, after centuries of silence, we heard from beyond the grave, from the bio-father of my Grandma's grandma, Ellen Bagshaw (1846-1901). Ellen has been dead a long time and was a tough cookie. There was some kind of encounter nine months prior to her birth, most likely off the market place in a town like Buxton in early Spring after a cold winter. The protagonists were foolish, fecklish and delirious youth of 23 and 20, intent on embarking on a bit of comfort in the sun, which the sands of time would forget. Something from a Hardy novel. Ellen herself was the antitheses of these qualities and devoted serious time to ensure her own family's future. We had never considered her biological father to be a real breathing person, but he was.

So, here is the news:

My DNA matches screamed Staffordshire, but I didn't have any Staffs ancestry? Piecing together trees of varied 20cM matches led me through new surnames to the Turnock family of Leek and thus an unknown burglar 3xgreat-grandfather (had fling in 1845-Derbyshire). Yes! #AncestryHour


Let me say, there was no papertrail at all. This 'father' just vanished on arrival. I did have luck using DNA to find out who fathered my grandma's grandmother, but I definitely could not have predicted this would happen, in advance. So, just how did we do that?

The wind was just 'in the right direction', and a number of factors lined up in making this possible. I am listing them here, and may revise this over time, and after reflection:

  1. We would have a surname of the babyfather that is very rare: there are 36 times as many "Mortons" around than these Turnocks, for example.
  2. The quality of parish register and census data for the area where this group lived, North Staffordshire and southern Cheshire, was excellent, which combined with a rare surname made family tree reconstruction easy. 
  3. We had chosen to test on Ancestry which has a very large database of testers and a very user-friendly interface. I also had a current Ancestry subscription which would help when it came to looking at the trees of matched people.
  4. I knew the rest of the family tree very well, so as researcher I could eliminate lines that had nothing to do with it, and could also identify an 'alien' group of distant cousins as worthy of exploration.
  5. I had no other known ancestry in Staffordshire: that would have muddied the waters considerably.
  6. Ancestry was adamant that we had ancestry in the Potteries, Staffordshire. This meant that I had to take the information seriously. (I had been seeing Staffordshire-based people appear as matches for months and had ignored them.)
  7. Close relatives of the 'babyfather' (his siblings) had 'umpteen' descendants; and unbeknownst to me, a large number of them had tested (at least 40 I'm thinking) of whom a high percentage shared portions of DNA with us (20 people and rising).
  8. The DNA may be 'sticky' or highly-heritable (perhaps linked to a characteristic such as a strong nose maybe) and/or my relatives unwittingly 'favoured' this ancestor rather than other ancestors of the same generation - one does not inherit equal amounts of DNA from grandparents, still less from those in previous generations.
  9. A member of an earlier generation had tested - and this increased the number and quality of matches by an order of magnitude. Without this, I may not have established a connection and the last point would not apply.
  10. DNA matches themselves were largely co-operative and moderately chatty, enabling a few wrinkles to be smoothed or removed in the family tree.
  11. I also had three days spare and some experience of this work already, which meant clues were not overlooked but rather exploited, pet theories were ruthlessly demolished and had trained myself to keep going even when there was no obvious path to success.
  12. I had some experience of tracing families which meant those folks with blank trees, limited trees or wrong information could still be identified as part of the family. This was necessary as only 4 of our matches had the name Turnock in the tree.
  13. I had access to a clustering tool which 'flagged up' groups of living cousins that were connected to each other by DNA. In fact, slowly working through this tool's output had me pause (for several weeks) as the 'flagged' group could no longer be ignored.
  14. I was familiar with the concept of 'shared matches' with a reasonable grasp of probability, kinship terminology, genetic inheritance, the 'ThruLines' software.
  15. I had experience identifying birth fathers.
  16. And finally, a lone descendant of the 'babyfather' by a subsequent documented marriage was linked by papertrail to him, and had a demonstrably greater portion of shared DNA with us than anyone else from the line, meaning I could attribute parenthood to this gentleman rather than to any of his brothers/nephews.

8 Feb 2021

Hillbilly Elegy

Having just read Hillbilly Elegy, by J. D. Vance, I was heartened to see that my Middletown, Ohio, cousin, Lily was connected through the arteries to the same people, Vance writes on. Lily’s daughter married a man from Jackson, Breathitt County, Kentucky where ‘a women ain’t fully dressed without her gun’. I’m proud of that connection. Times ahead would prove tough and forty years down the track they had one heck of a fight on their hands to keep the family together. Lily sent my great-grandparents in Wales blankets during the War. They were good people.

3 Feb 2021

The Charwoman at the Poorhouse

Jenny Jory was born 1789 the 'baseborn' child of Jane Jory (then 25). I had thought that Jane was my forebear, but it turns out mine is two years younger and from Truro, 5 miles away.

The problem seems to have been the London Road just a ten minute walk away. All her children were born out of wedlock, and it seems by different fathers.

  1. James 1808 (dies age 11)
  2. Lissey Brown Jory 1813, father John Brown, farmer, Ninnis
  3. Mary Perry Jory 1816, father George Perry, farm labourer, Bodmyn Prison (dies age 33)
  4. James 1819, father Richard Lanyon, farmer Lamsear (dies age 26)
  5. Simon 1825, father William Bartis, labourer of uncertain location (dies age 15)
  6. John 1828, father John Cock, farm labourer, Churchtown in the parish

In most of these Jenny is described as charwoman, Butts Poorhouse or charwoman of Killivose

John Brown is worse as two months later his other illegitimate is born of Elizabeth Roberts, another charwoman in the parish (at Downs Tenement), who has illegitimate twins by him three years later (1816) by which time he is in 'Bodmyn Prison'. Elizabeth too has other illegitimate children (also with several children are two other charwomen, Honor Keast and Ann Batten).

The parish does a good job of naming the fathers. John Jory the youngest child becomes a farm servant and moves away.

Jane dies age 80 at Mile Stone House (or Hendra) in the parish, 1870. She lived for the last years with her son John who was a lead miner.

1 Feb 2021

Four Gone: A Disappearing Act

I have several people on the family tree for whom there exists just a birth or baptismal record, and nothing else. Yet the most puzzling disappearants, are a group of four. Outside of wartime, you don't expect to lose sight of a whole group: there ought to be a trace somewhere. The cast of four are:

1) Edward Pascoe, who signed his name Pasco. Occupation unknown, son of a butcher. Age unknown. All that is known is he married Mary in 1839 at Golant St Sampsons Church.

2) Mary Pascoe, born Mary Hitchens in 1806 at Gwennap. She had first been married to William Hawkings who was a blacksmith and later a schoolmaster, living in the parish of Tywardreath. I can at least divine that he had an accident, occasioning the change of occupation and likely leading to his premature death. Two friends, perhaps, assist the widow claiming his funds.

Now for the final pair of our party, Edward's two stepdaughters by Mary's first marriage:

3) Elizabeth Hawkings, baptised 1831 at Tywardreath.

4) Ann Hawkings, baptised 1833 at Tywardreath.

The next event we have is the marriage in 1839 and there is no sighting in Cornwall for them in census of 1841. Vanished!

Where could they have gone?

The story is intrigued by the Will of Mary's sister, Ann Hendra (nee Hitchens), dated 1877, some years later. She singles out her two nieces that had the name 'Ann' including Ann Hawkings. Baptised as Ann Hendra Hawkings, she is listed in the Will as Ann H_______ Hocking. Now I have no way of knowing if this is a true transcription, which I'm reading on the 'enrolled copy'. I suspect it isn't as the testator should have known the Ann H_______, as it was her own name! This casts doubt on the 'Hocking' too. Had Ann married, or is this a misreading of Hawkings? The aunt doesn't bother putting the married name of the other niece (Sarah Ann Verran) suggesting she might either not know or care about such details. One of Mary's sisters is named, despite being in Australia (this fact of course not being provided) suggesting that Mary was likely dead prior to 1877.

I have combed records. I have eliminated "Ann Hendra Uren" in Michigan. I have consulted obvious indexes. I looked in Avoca (where two Hawkings relatives lived), the Clare Valley (ditto the Verrans) and Whitby Ontario (ditto more Hawkings relatives). (I may have missed a shipping record). These folks are eluding me.

I glanced through 200 baptisms and 250+ marriages to home in on "John Pascoe the butcher", father of Edward, but he is not becoming apparent.

I wonder a bit about South America. If that was their destination, it will be a hard ride through the records to find them.

I hope to consult the Estate Duty returns for the aunt's estate: massive volumes inaccessible at the National Archives.

It would certainly be a feather in my cap to locate these folks: but it will be a waiting game thanks to this Disappearing Act.

30 Jan 2021

It's a No

Mary Ann Trewartha born 1805 in Redruth, left a widow at 22, and infant son dying shortly thereafter, where does she go. For awhile the lure of Mary Davey (nee Trewartha), who died in 1891 in Long Gully, Victoria, appealed. She was alleged to be 85. Although she marries as Mary Andrawurtha, her children all have the mother's maiden name of Trewartha. Curiously though this Mary never uses the 'Ann'.

That's because It's a No. Mary Andrawurtha is not (of course) Mary Ann Trewartha, she is a girl born at Gwithian 4 years later, whose sister, Mrs Bray also registers children with mother's maiden name 'Trewartha'. Mary Ann is still out there.


Mary Ann Trewartha born 1805 in Redruth, left a widow at 22, could have children in Redruth registration district in the late 1830s, early 1840s, who would be registered with mother's maiden name Trewartha. I go through all 56 births and eliminate each and every one.

It's a No from the birth and marriages indexes.


William Hunter baptised in 1828 in Camborne, might have died in 1882 in Bendigo. I get his death certificate and he's from Northumberland. No-one yet has put this information on a family tree, but then, neither have I.

So that was a No.


William Hunter baptised in 1828 in Camborne, could possibly be the 'Frederick William Hunter' born about 1828 in Cornwall who dies in 1900 in Balmain, NSW, being previously based near Geelong.

But it's a No.

Looking at the evidence it's apparent that he's from London with a brother named Charles, as shown in this dear little announcement in the Argus of 3 February 1853: 'Should this meet the eye of Charles Curtis Hunter, per Sir Francis Ridley, he will hear of his brother Frederick William Hunter, by applying at the Freemason's Tavern, Geelong...'


I wonder which theories will get exploded next?

22 Jan 2021

We are Abroad

Hugh Hunter, the reliable mine carpenter in Redruth, had four sons: William, Hugh junior, John and Jabez. All four went aboard, but the manner of our knowing this differs. No shipping records. (Hugh is granted an interview in a biography of Richard Trevithick who was about his age, but whom he outlived four decades, still working.)

William (1805) - the will of his father-in-law Thomas Trevithick in 1846 makes it clear that William's teenage son is abroad somewhere, ergo William is/was too. The implication is that Trevithick knew which part of 'abroad' we are dealing with, even if I don't. I am very inclined to think he was recruited by Robert Stephenson to go to Colombia.

Hugh (1808) - for this character we are obliged to look at the letter from Mr Smith of St Ives (1997) to myself which reports that he came back to Cornwall and never said where he had been. This cannot be any of the others as I know or it was known (distinction needed) where the others went. Hugh, no.

John (1819) - for this we have the probate registry to thank. I found this entry some years ago but the story has twisted and changed shape since. That is for another blog. The Will of John Hunter of the parish of Illogan in the County of Cornwall Carpenter deceased who died 31 January 1861 at Colombia in South America was proved at the Principal Registry (23 October 1861) by the oaths of Hugh Hunter of Illogan aforesaid Carpenter the Father and Edward Bullock of the same place Yeoman two of the Executors. This was linked to the railway engineer, Robert Stephenson, being desirous of recuperating abroad, and selecting the gold and silver potential of Latin America and Cornish wit, for the purpose.

Jabez (c 1821) - we are back to oral testimony for the youngest brother. His son specified the name of the town in Colombia where he had spent his formative years. We are to assume that the father died there, as the son returned to Cornwall and later shared a room with my own Grandfather.

I do not think the bones of any of these sons of Cornwall reside in these isles. We are Abroad.

A break in 1925: no descendants of Queen Victoria born

1925 is remarkable in the twentieth century as not a single one of the descendants of Queen Victoria (and of her husband Albert, the Prince Consort) appear to have been born in that year. In consequence, there is a gap of twenty months following the birth of the younger Lascelles son in 1924, until the birth of his cousin, HM the Queen Elizabeth II (then Princess Elizabeth of York) in 1926. The family were taking a break. However, Margaret Thatcher was born in 1925. Thanks to Susan Flantzer for her work in compiling a directory of these.

You could argue it took 86 years from the date of Victoria and Albert's marriage (1840) to achieve 'genealogical singularity', with every year from 1926 onwards having a descendant being born (as far as is known). I will take a look at an example from my own family to see if that point has been reached.

[Ok so checked and Martha Scott married 1808 in Somerset, has at least a thousand descendants born. She hit the genealogical singularity in 1864 after 56 years. And we're excluding her husband's illegitimate child. I had a note some years back saying 'in 1957, her older sister's descendants overtook Martha's in terms of total number born'. That is not true. Martha has eaten her sisters for genealogical breakfast.]

The genealogist Anthony Wagner counted the first Tudor princesses' descendants and formed some interesting conclusions about the two sisters. He also wrote Pedigree and Progress of which an interesting follow-up is here:

21 Jan 2021

Great-grandmothers who outlived their tribe

Sometimes the generations die in the wrong order. I give some historic examples from the family, below (the last one is a mediaeval Royal example). All of these had other family who did survive them.

1) Catherine Baragwanath born 1701 married age 23 to Martin Trewhella I.

her son Martin Trewhella II, died 1774.

her grandson Martin Trewhella III died 1789

her greatgrandson William Trewhella died 1790

Catherine herself passed away in 1799 in Cornwall aged 97.

2) Ann Dodd born 1758 married age 22 to John Charlton. 

her daughter Ann Charlton (Gibson) died 1831

her grandson John Gibson died 1844

her greatgrandson William Gibson died 1844 (before John)

Ann herself passed away in 1847 in Northumberland aged nearly 90, and was perhaps survived by her elderly husband.

3) Jane Creed born 1830 married age 20 to James Chappell.

her son (Oscar Chappell died 1934) 

her grandson Oscar Henry Chappell died 1916

her greatgranddaughter Gladys Chappell died 1900

Jane herself passed away in 1925 in Somerset aged 95 having survived many other children and grandchildren, and her elderly grandson-in-law (ten years her junior).

4) Katherine Neville born about 1400 married aged under sixteen to John Mowbray.

her son John Mowbray died 1461

her grandson John Mowbray died 1476

her greatgranddaughter Anne Mowbray died 1481 (child bride of a prince in the Tower)

Katherine remarried (the diabolical marriage) age about 65 in 1465 to John Woodville (the Queen's brother) aged 19 whom she also survived. She herself passed away in late 1483, likely in London.