I was very pleased to hear from Anthony Adolph this week, about his new bookIn Search of Our Ancient Ancestors: from the Big Bang to Modern Britain, in Science and Myth especially as I had just been reading all about it in Your Family Tree Magazine and was intrigued as the magazine review called it ‘unusual and fascinating’.
According to science, life first appeared on Earth about 3,500 million years ago. Every living thing is descended from that first spark, including all of us. But if we trace a direct line down from those original life-forms to ourselves, what do we find? What is the full story of our family tree over the past 3,500 million years, and how are we able to trace ourselves so far back?
From single celled organisms to sea-dwelling vertebrates; amphibians to reptiles; tiny mammals to primitive man; the first Homo sapiens to the cave-painters of Ice Age Europe and the first farmers down to the Norman Conquest, this book charts not only the extraordinary story of our ancient ancestors but also our 40,000 year-long quest to discover our roots, from ancient origin myths of world-shaping mammoths and great floods down to the scientific discovery of our descent from the Genetic Adam and the Mitochondrial Eve.
In Search of Our Ancient Ancestorswill tell you where you come from, before the earliest generations of your family tree that you can trace using records. It also saves you having to think any harder about what to buy for your family and friends this Christmas!
I do hope you will enjoy it. Anthony Adolph.
Anthony Adolph’s book is available from the publishers, Pen & Sword books, and all good booksellers.
I wrote a Tip of the Week, about Ancestor Occupations and put it in my selection that I email out to my list if you are signed up. I decided to re-publish it as a blog post last week as: Take A Look At Your Ancestor’s Occupation. In its original email form it struck a chord with one of my readers, as she sent me some extra thoughts that I think deserve to be published here with her permission.
Another aspect of this topic to be aware of is that an ancestor may have actually held two occupations simultaneously and the census might report either one at random. For example, one line in my paternal tree in Pennsylvania (USA) had many generations with men who simultaneously were both farmers AND carpet/coverlet weavers, and well known known for both occupations during the same time span. Sometimes the census shows an individual as a farmer, sometimes as a weaver – yet I have confirmed that the individuals held both occupations concurrently for most of their adult lives. I also have a farmer/blacksmith, and several generations of farmer/pipe organ builders. Later generations worked as farmers and as local manufacturing employees, especially in years when crop yields would be under par. It would begin as a way to supplement income, then turn into a 50/50 arrangement. My maternal New England great grandmother was a teacher who also had her own dressmaking business at the same time.
When times are tough, in the past as well as today, it is not unusual for industrious individuals to hold down two jobs at once. Or in the case of some of my ancestors, one occupation that was “sensible” like farming and another that permitted some form of artistic expression (such as weaving, building beautiful church pipe organs by hand, and even creating practical and decorative goods as a blacksmith).
I’ve been dipping back into Mark Herber’s book “Ancestral Trails” published by The History Press 2005, looking at the subject of researching back before Parish records started in the mid-16th century. He warns his readers to expect difficulties tracing their ancestors in that time. It seems that before then, you are only likely to come across sporadic references to your ancestors – or perhaps more properly people who could be your ancestors – in wills, tax records or court documents. Herber writes that “… you are unlikely to be able to trace a line of descent in this period (and in particular find documents that evidence that one man was related to another) unless you find your ancestors in property records.”
Now property records can be found for people from various classes, those who were substantial land owners and also yeoman, tenant farmers and labourers. This is why it is said that English manorial documents are perhaps one of the few types of records in which genealogical information about the common man, as opposed to those from the upper classes, is likely to survive from medieval times.
So what was the manorial system?
In the England of the Middle Ages, land was held from the English monarch by a lord and on his land the peasants worked and received his protection in return. Anglo-Saxon society was, as in most of the other European countries, rigidly hierarchical. Social status depended on birth and family relationships. Power was gained through the ownership of land, as this was the principal source of wealth at this time.
After the Norman conquest of England all the land of England was deemed to be owned by the monarch. The king would then grant use of it by means of a transaction known as “enfeoffment”, where land grants or “fiefs” were awarded to the earls, barons, bishops and others, in return for them providing him with some type of service.
There were two sorts of tenure, according to the type of service rendered by the tenant to the lord, free and unfree. Free tenure can then be broken down into different forms again. A tenure in chivalry, for example “tenure of knight service”, would be where the tenant was charged to provide his lord with a number of armed horsemen. Mark Heber in Ancestral Trails points out that this type of tenure was soon commuted to a money payment (or “scutage”). He also explains that among the types of “free tenure” was to be found “spiritual tenure” where divine services, or “frankelmoign” by which a clergyman, holding land from the lord of the manor, would pay his due in prayers said for the lord and his family.”Socage tenures” existed where the tenant provided his lord with agricultural services such as ploughing the lord’s retained land for 20 days a year.
“Villein tenure” or unfree tenure applied to those men known as villeins, serfs or bondmen. This class of tenant was not free to leave the manor without obtaining the permission of the lord. They would be subject to many obligations, some of which were onerous and these individuals held their land in exchange for providing the lord a number of days work in return. This could be, for example, four days work a week -Â but the nature of the work could vary depending on what was required.
Manorial Documents are fascinating for family historians, as are will documents that were not the exclusive preserve of the rich. I shall explore this area again in other posts.
Ancestry.co.uk has published online the UK, Casualties of the Boer War, 1899-1902, detailing 55,000 British and colonial soldiers who were killed, wounded, captured, or who died of disease during the Second Boer War.
Highlighting for us the horror of the conflict by detailing over 20,000 deaths of British soldiers along with the injury of a further 23,000. Typically each record details the soldierâ€™s name, rank, force, regiment, battalion and date and place of death, injury or capture.
Most of the other records are of capture or disease, which was rife in South Africa during the early 20th century. Dysentery, typhoid fever and intestine infections were among the most common contagions and account for around 12,000 deaths in the collection.
As well as death through sickness and battlefield injuries, the collection reveals some unusual â€˜fatesâ€™ met by soldiers. These include records of 86 British troops who were killed or injured by lightning, including a mysterious case of two soldiers struck dead within moments of each other when a lightning storm swept their base in Stormberg near Cape Town. One soldier is even listed as having been eaten by a crocodile at the Usutu River.
As the number of deaths recorded in this collection correspond with the fatalities noted in other historical sources, this archive can be considered one of the most comprehensive resources of British soldiers in the Second Boer War available.
Anyone trying to find out more about an ancestor who fought in the Second Boer War will find these records invaluable, particularly as most British soldiers who fought in the conflict wonâ€™t appear in the 1901 Census of England and Wales because they were fighting in South Africa.
These include a number of famous men who were awarded with the Victoria Cross, the highest honour for bravery, upon their return from Africa:
Sir Walter Norris Congreve â€“ Congreve was a hero in both the Boer War and WWI, attaining the rank of general by the end of his 30-year military career. He was awarded his Victoria Cross for defending an abandoned gun emplacement during the Battle of Colenso, where he rescued a fallen comrade under heavy fire despite suffering from gunshot wounds
Charles Fitzclarence â€“ Fitzclarence was decorated for three separate actions of gallantry and became known as one of the fiercest soldiers of the Boer conflict. Major-General Baden-Powell himself even remarked on Fitzclarenceâ€™s bravery and importance to the cause. During several sorties Fitzclarence showed â€˜coolness and courageâ€™, defying insurmountable odds to defeat the enemy
Henry William Engleheart â€“ After completing a mission to destroy Boer railways behind enemy lines, Engleheart led the extrication through the Boer defences – even stopping to rescue a fallen comrade despite being outnumbered by more than four to one
Following on from the First Boer War, the Second Boer War was a dispute over territory in South Africa, fought between the British Empire and Dutch settlers (known as â€˜Boersâ€™ â€“ the Dutch word for â€˜farmerâ€™). The catalyst for this secondary conflict was the discovery of gold in the Boer-controlled South African Republic, also known as the Transvaal.
The resulting gold rush encouraged thousands of British settlers (known as uitlanders) to migrate to the republic. Before long the British numbers exceeded those of the Boer, prompting tension around â€˜uitlander rightsâ€™ and which nation should control the gold mining industry. When the British refused to evacuate their forces in 1899, the Boer declared war.
The so-called ‘Boers’ were farmers who were used to riding and hunting for survival and were therefore considerable opponents for the British Army and claimed the lives of around 8,000 British soldiers. The Boer themselves lost 7,000 troops.
In an attempt to cut off supplies to the Boers, a ‘scorched earth policy’ was introduced. This resulted in the destruction of Boer farms and crops, and subsequent introduction of concentration camps where the Boer and African women, children and workers were interned. Thousands of Boers lost their lives here, primarily through malnutrition and disease.
Ancestry.co.uk International Content Director Dan Jones comments:Â â€œThese records are a stark reminder of the atrocities of a conflict that is often eclipsed by wars that took place closer to home. They detail a dark and regrettable period of history, but one that should never be forgotten.