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22 Jul 2016

Aggravating Ancestor: The Butler's Daughter

The July Blog Party entry for Elizabeth O'Neal's aggravating ancestors blog party:

Ok, I do have the world's worst logic problem in the shape of three couples in the same village with identical names, all producing children at the same time. (Crowan, 1800s). But... that was easy.

My elderly great- aunt sent me a letter in 1985 which I still cringe at "Dear David, I'm sorry I sent you a book you already had. You asked about the family [ even though you are barely toilet-trained ]. Well, my grandmother was Annie Gibson, a Northumberland farmer's daughter. Bye!!"

Seven years later I had the toilet cracked, but my 150 year-old forebear was fast retreating into history. I ordered her marriage certificate via an intermediary. Document said her father was John Gibson butler. Butler, oh dear. I wondered if this was auntie giving me the middle finger.

From Country Club Drive NW in Olympia, USA, came a letter from third cousin Roger. I was now 16. "Contact my family again and I'll properly sort you." I took his lead and he did as he promised.

Annie, our forebear, was indeed some kind of orphan. She arrives into town for the 1851 census with a birthplace in Northumberland being the niece of one James Atkinson, coal agent.

She was of course born a beat before civil registration (1837), which puts her parents' marriage also in that category. There's no baptism but two vital clues hung out, which I ignored.

It's 2008 and really time to sort Annie. For the first time in a while I was not the person to do this. Credit goes to Roger and his second (my third) cousin, R.G.

I'd got as far as her having an aunt Miss Dodd and then backed off. What a fool. Roger had followed a green leaf hint on Ancestry and spied Annie and her kids visiting her unknown mother in 1861.

Annie was unlucky. Her dad, a putter not butler, died in a knee injury in 1844 in Westoe, South Shields age 33. She was then sent off to the Lakes where she released her genetic potential, having ten kids. Her grandfathers both worked for Rev'd Christopher Bird of Chollerton, near Hadrian's Wall. Her earlier forebears had been wealthy farmers (as was her stepfather) and one had married Bird's brother.

I spent a whole weekend glued to the computer, with jelly legs finally emerging for a kebab late on Sunday night.

Annie's tribe is massive, with loads of hidden corners and rock pools to explore. The internet made it quite easy. I'm still hoping we'll find her photo, though.

And the butler? This was Annie telling the poor priest 'putter' in her Tyneside accent.


  1. Good for you getting started on the family history when you were that young. I've gone down more than one rabbit hole because someone misheard information and wrote it down the way they heard it. At least you now know her parents and, more importantly, she left many descendants. Hope you find her photo - that would be a nice bonus.

  2. What a fascinating path to discovery. Annie the putter's daughter! And by the way, you are SO lucky to have cousins who are not only interested in family history but actively researching! Thanks for sharing. Hope your ancestor Annie can swim now that she's in the pool.

  3. Great post! "released her genetic potential" gave me quite a laugh! Very glad you got it sorted although it sounds like it was a rather dangerous journey at times for your younger self ;)

  4. I, too, have had misinformation lead me down a few rabbit holes. You found your way out, though! I especially enjoyed reading your tale because it is written in British English which has a lovely flavor of its own. :)

  5. 10 kids is surely genetic material. Great post!

  6. Congratulations! Congratulations! Your post “Aggravating Ancestor: The Butler’s Daughter” for the July Genealogy Blog Party was the top vote-getter for the month of July! Please check your email for a special graphic that you can use for "bragging rights." Thank you for participating! :-)

  7. Congratulations on winning Elizabeth's July blog party challenge.

  8. Thank you all for stopping by, and for your gracious comments. I was in a tent most of last month and missed the chance to engage. Annie is very dear to me as a gateway ancestor and likely also bearing a resemblance to one of my siblings, so she won't be going in the pool but will be treated to one last outing on Lake Windermere her adopted home courtesy of y'all.


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