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3 Dec 2018

The Girl from Wirksworth - Part One

If you have read my post The Teenagers, you will know what a tough time they had. Sarah Brasier (b. 1751) was sixteen on her marriage and sent far from home to live; Ann Shaw (b. 1774) was orphaned age 12; her daughter Hannah Bagshaw (b. 1792) never knew her mother, and was totally orphaned at 13. I can add another one, Sarah Carr (b. 1859) who sent herself many leagues across the Sea to South Africa aged 18. Why did she do that?

But it is Ann whose story we are trying to tease out. She was evicted from Wirksworth age 12, in 1786, the year when her mother and two sisters all died. They died before the move, and after move, but in the same year. I am almost certain she would have been one of Arkwright's Girls, workers at the cotton mill a few miles away in Cromford. A long uphill journey back, but at least it's downhill in the mornings.

She may be no connection at all. The trail for her goes completely cold in 1786, age 12, and there are no further references. But I think she is my ancestor. And DNA will prove it, very soon. Very soon indeed.

19 Oct 2018

The product of three canals

Hundreds of tonnes of clay and granite. That's what had to be shifted to create the Staffs & Worcs Canal, and then the Chesterfield Canal. Without these two canals I wouldn't be here.

My forebear, Hannah Gee, born at Chesterfield in 1792 is a product of these canals. She is also the product of a third canal, the not-yet-constructed Cromford Canal, where her parents arguably met. However no earth or sand needing shifting ahead of her birth. Her father didn't even lift a sod of earth before he had eyes smitten on the young millworker (Hannah's mother).

The Staffs & Worcs is staggeringly pretty. They say you are taken through gently rolling West Midlands countryside, never quite making it to an urban settlement. I walked along this canal by accident last February, little realising it was where my ancestors met.

Jonathan Gee, the canal builder, came across Sarah, a girl from Swindon, Staffs, in 1767. He was working on the Staffs & Worcs, which ran through Swindon. She fell for his charms immediately and they were married.

They are enticed into Derbyshire by the building of the Chesterfield Canal, that's canal number two.

Their son Nathaniel breaks away from his father's influence, and casts about for work on the third canal, the Cromford, with plans beginning in 1791. Nathaniel's interest is very much diverted by the presence at Cromford of a girl called Ann. She fell for his charms immediately and they were married.

Hannah, their child, is born at Chesterfield in 1792, the product of three canals.

Watching her bake bread and cakes in later years, living in a pit village - you never would guess at the millions of tonnes of earth moved ahead of her birth. Did she sing?

♫ I feel the earth move under my feet, the sky tumbling down... ♫

12 Sep 2018

Most un-Royal

Why can't I seem to get back to any Royal forebears? Cornish cousins just a snitch away in Gwithian have ancestry through the Edwards family of Lelant and back to some lord in Devon, namely Mr William Crimes, and thence back to the famous Neville family, who made Kings and were grandsons of Kings.

I come close at times, brushing purple cloaks with the real deals, but then in my dreams the ancestor bows and scrapes away and is revealed simply to be a passing medieval tradesman. Again!

Hard-working Cornish folk in my tree washing filthy big yards of linen and left it stewing in massive dye pots, and produced politicians poets and physicists in two generations. Yet more are quoted in their earthy tones talking at us from centuries past [see Hunter].

Our ancestors the Holme family, Kings of Mardale, now under Haweswater, had massive beef with King John back in the 1200s, and as such none of their descendants would have dallied with the royals, living as they did in Norse obscurity in their hidden valley in the Lakes. So that profitable line of enquiry goes nowhere.

Our forebear Thomas Beresford, had 21 children and lies in a grand old tomb in Fenny Bentley, Derbyshire. He is accused of sending a private army of men to Agincourt, approximately 5 years before he was born - so again, perfidy disrupts a really nice story.

My grandmother's maternal line hails from Derbyshire, the scene of much of this frustrating screed. It seems that they might just merge with the Gell family of Hopton Hall, Derbyshire in the mid 1600s. Some enterprising fellow has scoured the Gell ancestral origins for anything remotely Royal, and found the following piece of mediaeval scrag end:

Hugh Lupus, 'Fat Hugh' 1047-1101, who probably wasn't a nephew of William the Conqueror, and who probably wasn't the father of Geva Lupus. Geva did marry in to the Basset family who eventually washed into the Beresfords, and thus Gells.

It is almost as if my determinedly independent ancestors sheered away from the royals at every and any opportunity.

Nobody ran away to become a mistress of the King or his functionary or anything similar. They just weren't having any of it.

Most un-Royal.

11 Aug 2018

Road Outta Town... Take 2

Of course everything you read and feel has to be right. Doesn't it? My Carlines migrated to the city in 1865 marrying in one big town, then making Manchester and Salford their home for ever more. In 1865, like I said. Previously they were in a the little mining village of Eyam, where people tipped up their incomes from the scrubby land by digging out what they could in a primitive way.

Villager comes to city. What a story. Love it. Except it's not true... exactly.

Ellen Carline did arrive in Salford in 1865 with her husband in tow, and for sure she grew up in that lead-mining settlement in the northern Peaks. But this wasn't the end of the tale. It wasn't even the beginning.

Roll the clock back please. Five generations if that's ok? In this family, that equates to only 100 years.

Sarah Brasier was baptised in Kinver parish church, rural Staffordshire in September 1751. Before she was two the family were on the road. You can see the picture of the actual road, above. In September 1753 her sister was baptised in the new home, Swindon, half-way to Wolverhampton. It's a lot more built up, with 2.5 acres per person rather than 4 acres in Kinver (from information at GENUKI).

Trivia note: Sarah was even younger than 2, owing to traumatic calendar changes around her first birthday - causing 1752 to lose 11 days in the wrangle. Some bender.

Leaving Kinver was a seismic change and the kind of move that, they say, only happens once. "That's it. We're townies now". Except, of course, that her great-great-granddaughter ended up having to repeat the rite of passage a century later.

What happened between 1751 and 1865 then?

Well. Sarah married in big old Dudley's 'Top Church' age 16, 1767, and the family moved to an admittedly rural area working on canal infrastructure and later moving raw materials up the conduit to big old Sheffield. Her son Nathaniel opened a public house opposite the iron foundry in reasonably-sized Chesterfield and died young, 1805, owing to his wild ways - we suspect. That left granddaughter Hannah armed with no choices at all but plenty of latent business acumen. She married a lead-mining widower from a small peak village, 1807, aged 15, and catapulted herself back to rural obscurity. Great-granddaughter made no changes to the marker. Great-great-granddaughter eventually left the obscure village in 1865.

29 Jun 2018

End of the line

The remnant
Down the end of the lane, where grass still grows in the middle of the road, lies my landlady's old home. It's still there, untouched, unvarnished. Like a book sitting on a library shelf, it contains all you might need on the long dead subject.

Hannah Dooley was agreed to be the last of the family residents in Eyam, passing away in 1946 (not bad for a grandfather born in 1771). I've got a letter from someone who remembered her little cottage, plus some postcards she wrote, and she also left a Will. The Will isn't very interesting, but we're happy enough overall.

Another last-of-the-line was the box-of. -frogs that was Miss Stuart Barone. Rich,storied, and in ill health, her light odometer reading  masked an exciting life in exile during the war. With her dying gasp you can hear the grief in her Sicilian village home. And to accompany this there'll be plenty of candles. She leaves a document, another Will, hopping around the decades. Announcing her birth in Alberta (1908); sorting out her grandparents for posterity, and scattering about the American connections like wild mountain herbs.

Treasure is a wonderful name for any family member, and this one was also, last-of-the-line. Someone told me he made a bonfire around the time he was in poor health, making his peace with the world, of all the family effects. Bonds of indemnity for obscure field purchases from the 1860s, solicitor's letters to his long-dead grandfather. It all needed to go up in smoke before he died, he felt.

Harrumph was my reaction, ambitious as I was to find a photograph of the parents and children, or even his grandmother, a key person in the tree.

Last week a gentleman wrote me from southern Somerset, exorcising his own ghosts. There were photos of cows from the 1960s, old cottages in hamlets the motorcar hadn't seen. And round the corner, in every frame, out of shot, was Treasure, carefully described. These memories have been pickled in amber for us.  And better by far, after a wait, than silly old parchment from the bonfire.

My mustachiod great- great- grandfather, William, has 85 descendants living, at a conservative estimate. Yet his two sisters Arundel and Catharine had children and grandchildren but no surviving descendants at all!

One spinster lady I met thought that her sister, who'd died age 16, would have been the one to get married. Catharine's grandson Phillip wanted to marry, but nobody wanted to go through with it. In a small town in Oregon, his father's shame  was too much to bear.

Three troubling events occurred in poor Percy's life (the only child of Catharine to have issue): losing his elder boy in the swollen waters of the Washington River in 1921; being found to defraud local people out of their money at his small town in Oregon. But the trigger for all the sorrow and insecurity was decades earlier in 1896, age 22, when this mild but bright fair skinned lad-on-the-make got too close to the flames. Witnessing a Chinese gangland murder in L.A., he went on the run. I honestly think if he'd kept his pretty nose out of Chinatown, Catharine (his mother) would have descendants, and Phillip, buried in a Veterans grave, would not be End of the Line.

20 May 2018

Their lives in 65 characters

The sisters, by which I mean, mine and my mother's, asked for kind of a one-pager on the family history.

Key facts, quirky discoveries, who's who, exactly who the cheese maker lady was, which relative went to Bogota, the name of the place in Ohio where they all went.

They want me to empty my pockets in the school yard and show them all my best marbles.

Or, they want me to 'fence off' all the soft leaves of the forest floor and hurry them quick to the one or two precious orchids.

After nodding my head enthusiastically at this idea, because I do want to share, I realise that's not the way it should happen.

You all need to comb through the dull pages and discover gems for yourself. To read through the source materials and pick out passages that you personally like.

I don't mind making that process a bit easier by providing typescripts of cramped original text, providing a master chart showing how the mini-charts fit together, setting up a keyword index to aid navigation...

But the discovery, that's got to be a personal matter.

Let me know how you get on 😁

7 Apr 2018

Letters from 1921 and from my DNA sequence

You can't hide your letters from me, bud.

A long time ago, back in 1921 as the world settled down to a brief peace, my grandmother was due, and, later, born. "I hoped she would be called 'Ellen' after me," wrote the baby's grandmother, a crotchety old woman born before the Crimean War.

Everybody in the letter is now gone of course, including my grandmother (aged 96) who limped on until 2018.

But in the letter from the time of her birth is mentioned an abstruse relative, cousin Margaret from Westcliffe(-on-sea). One of my first tasks as a child genealogist was to peer at old maps and yes to conclude this was probably the Westcliffe near Southend rather than the one in rural Lincolnshire.

Margaret appears once, at the dawn of my grandmother's long life and is never mentioned again. It eventually transpired she was Ellen's first cousin a poor orphan thing, a jewellery polisher from Soho no less.

(And yes that is the Soho in London not the one in the Mendips!)

The shutters have long since come down on Ellen's day. The letter briefly puts Margaret and her very London childhood on the same page as Ellen, who, I slightly exaggerate, grew up in a castle. The accidents of birth and the lives of two very different sisters in the previous generation.

Well now, it is indeed very much 2018 and why am I telling you allthis?

The letters in my DNA are recently sequenced and they shout very loudly that I'm related to folk in Rensselaer county, New York, a mostly German area in the eastern upstate bordering New Hampshire. It's the place where cousin Margaret's sister Mrs Starck arrived a lonely undocumented teenage bride from Soho with her older Prussian husband, in 1863.

Margaret would hardly remember her and you'd never tell from her will, penned from Hildaville avenue, Westcliffe, that she had any relatives at all. Only her devoted cousin Ellen.

What a shock that was to learn.

So, as the dust eats us all up, memories, dislocated teenage brides (delivered to a lunatic asylum before time progressed further), hand-penned letters about long-ago babies, a silent box holding 96 years disinterestedly... My deeply encoded genetic letters back it all up.

You can't hide your letters from your genetic buds.

I'm off to marvel at the Hanoverian prinzessen and their likeness to my somehow-cousins over in Rensselaer county.

And say a quiet prayer for Sarah (yes, that was her name).

30 Mar 2018

A Blast of Fire and Ice

Five senses aren't enough... to describe everything. Heat rising from the roof of my skull, my temples pulsing. Some other force is at work: sometimes fire, sometimes ice.

Phillimore is an American-sounding company. They published vanity books, seeming replicas of parish registers in a typed format on heavily textured cream paper, artistically torn down the sides. To me age 12 their product looked the real deal. Forgetting the medium I went straight to the message:

Catherine Marshall, my forebear, had married James Lowry at Truro St Mary in 1809. And the witnesses were William Marshall and Nicholas Marshall. A powerful, strong, entry to come down through time.

The creamy paper, the incredibly high ceilings of the Westcountry Studies Library. The new names, the family unit. The sense this was deep Cornwall. The heat blew off the roof of my skull.

Since then, well, I've learnt it's bad to be obsessed with genealogy. We all descend from the same ancestors after all and maybe we're a chaotic mishmash with no real threads that can be followed backward meaningfully. Throw in a vast number of "non-paternity events", confused clerics muddling or omitting the names of females...

And, here's the killer fact. Apparently the DNA of some ancestors gets diluted away to nothing in the random cement mixer that is the cell meiosis. In effect over time their contribution was just an empty box.

Hmmmph. Let's raise an empty glass to ancestral anonymity!

This week has restored the story I always knew had to be true. That history, our private family history, is passed down through real named people, every step of the way. What your Grandpa said, true. What the registers said, true.

I match exactly the DNA of a descendant of Nicholas Marshall.


My other Cornish blow-your-head off moment was the day I sat with salt in my hair in the microfilm reading room in Truro. This time I was a few years earlier, in the 1780s on the coast near St Ives. By virtue of another forebear, I was a Trewhella. The temples pulsed. Dang I can still feel it.

This week, two decades on, I match the DNA of a Trewhella descendant.

These people are in my veins.

The character in Daphne Du Maurier's House on the Strand loses his grip on reality through connecting with the past. I'm happy just to have a blast of fire and ice.

24 Feb 2018

The Teenagers

When I first heard that Henry VII's mother was only 14 at the time she have birth to him I was understandably appalled.

It is very rare in my family for couples to marry below the age of 21, and I can only think of one example where the bride was below 18. That was Mercy Haine an orphan who married at 16 in East Pennard, Somerset, sailed to Prince Edward Island and gave birth to her first child the following year, 1834 age 17. She was a remarkable lady having 12 children in all and becoming the first lady of the Island.

Consequently, I was highly sceptical of the published dates of Hannah Bagshaw (1792) and her eldest son John (1808). Was she only sixteen? I ignored the problem as she was a healthy 34 when my ancestor Milly came along in 1826.

We eventually found the marriage for Hannah to Mr Bagshaw and it was in 1807 so she was in fact only fifteen. I had never heard of such a marriage. It took place in Rotherham where the records were shockingly bad. Money must surely have changed hands with the clergy here.

Hannah's daughter Milly and Milly's daughter both had their first child age 19/20. So this makes already the generations of young relationships, 15, 20, 19.

Going back into Hannah's past was going into the unknown. Her father's mother was only sixteen when she got married back on Christmas Day 1767 in Dudley.  Dudley at Christmas would be bad enough perhaps... (I'm sure its lovely!)

Hannah's mother marries at the church of the unusual spire, Chesterfield, and the record is beautifully kept - unlike that of the next generation at Rotherham. We don't know her age for sure but with a husband of 23 she has to be fairly young. The handwriting says as much. We think she was 17, as a candidate of that age fits all the naming patterns and biographical setting.

So we have Ellen 19, mother Milly 20, mother Hannah 15, mother Ann 17?, mother in law Sarah 16 (and her mother 19). At least five generations of inexperienced women becoming wives and mothers, surely a recipe for disaster and social ills.

I am absolutely not condoning the circumstances under which these women might have lived, but they were not sixteen forever. They lived, mostly, to become wise elders offering counsel and guidance to the next generation.

This series of episodes remained hidden in our family tree until last year but covers I suppose the periods 1767-1808 plus 1846-65. I am aware that at least two of the girls were in service when they fell pregnant, while two may have been romances and the other a rational choice to escape a family situation.

Sarah has then the dubious honour of being my youngest six x great-grandmother. I recently walked in her footsteps of the family move in south Staffordshire from the 1750s.

There is more yet to find about these folk.

Research on age at marrying:
From Average Age at First Marriage for Women in Mid Nineteenth Century accessible by NFR Crafts, 1976, shows the estimated median age at first marriage for women in Staffordshire (1861) was 22.4, whilst for women in Derbyshire it was 23.2, a full year older. Those in the Westcountry and the Welsh borders added another year on top before marrying. Habakkuk (1971) found that urban classes married earlier than their rural counterparts, adding that urbanisation is therefore a major cause of population growth. Crafts argues against this believing that infant mortality (in the time in question) countered out the earlier marriage dates.

Even in 2014, women in Wolverhampton were still marrying at an age two years younger on average than those in Derbyshire. Fertility across the two areas is dauntingly higher in Wolverhampton, too, see here and here. The younger relationships which happened in Derbyshire can be explained by illegitimacy.

Further reading:
Population Growth and Economic Development since 1750 in History Review. Habakkuk, 1971
Age at Marriage in England from the late Seventeeth to the Nineteenth Century in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society. R B Outhwaite, 1973.
Age Patterns of Marriage, Population Studies. A J Coale, 1971.

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.