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.
Last Thursday night, on BBC TV, saw what many people on my facebook page are saying was the best programme in the 12th UK series of Who Do You Think You Are so far. The subject was Frank Gardner, the BBC’s Security Correspondent who made the news himself in June 2004 when he was shot six times and seriously wounded by al-Qaeda sympathisers in Saudi Arabia.
It was his maternal family tree, that was the subject of the one hour show. It would seem to have delighted those viewers that have commented on social media because, while it did pick out certain key ancestors to look at in more detail, the episode went on to trace Frank’s line as far back as the research would take them. This happened to be to William the Conqueror himself and so it more than validated the family story, that Frank had heard as a child from his mother, that they were descended from the Normans.
You certainly couldn’t have wanted to find a better ancestor than the Norman King, if you were trying to prove that your family came over with the Normans! Without any shadow of a doubt William, Duke of Normandy, is one Norman that no one can dispute arrived in England at that time.
The satisfaction of being able to trace one generation back to another and then back to another, and so on for 31 generations, is something that very few of us can have the gratification of being able to do. Yet I was asked by a contact this weekend if I had noticed that it was often a pretty zig-zag line that was taken. The lineage, they had spotted from the pedigree shown on the screen, would meander back though the mother of an ancestor and then her mother. The next generation back was again via the female line and then, perhaps, the male branch for a couple of generations before going up the female line again.
“How could the Herald at the College of Arms have told Frank that he was directly descended from William the Conqueror?”
“Because he is!” I replied, nonplussed. “A direct line does not mean everyone has to have the same surname and be descended from the male. Women are just as important as ancestors to us all.”
I believe that this is a mistake that many may make in their family tree research. Unintentionally concentrating on charging back up one line following the father, the grandfather to trace the surname back. This can even happen if our quest started with a woman.
It takes two to create an offspring and the child, we know now, receives half their DNA from each parent. So take time to investigate some of your female lines and see where they take you. You too may be as lucky as Frank Gardner in your discoveries.
TheGenealogist website’s researchers have also turned up an interesting fact about the journalist’s dad.
Did you watch the Paul Hollywood programme in the 12th series of Who Do You Think You Are?
I thought it was a great show to start the new series off. Paul came across as a genuine normal guy who like many of us wished he had taken the time to speak more to his relatives about the past before they sadly died.
Even though one of the main lessons in my Family History course is to talk to your relatives and jot down what they tell you, as a basis for then trying to substantiate their stories with research in actual records, I too am guilty of not having done this before it was too late with some of my own family.
In this week’s TV show Paul Hollywood, from The Great British Bake Off, was taken back to his grandfather’s WWII experience in North Africa. It was here that his grandfather Norman Harman (1913 – 2003) had been sent as soon as he had completed his training. At Medjez el Bab in Tunisia, Norman’s Light Anti-Aircraft division were protecting the infantry from enemy air attacks at the time of the major Allied offensive to take Tunis from the German forces. With the enemy throwing bombs and missiles at them it was hard on these men.
From there Paul travelled to Italy, where he learnt about how his grandfather was part of the landing force that became trapped on the beaches at Anzio for four months, surrounded by Germans and all the while under constant aerial bombardment. Paul gets to see the landing area where his grandfather and the other men would have felt like sitting ducks, with death and devastation all around them. Norman and his comrades finally managed to land and their gun was then transported five miles inland. Unfortunately for them the regiment was soon surrounded by the enemy in a dangerously exposed area. Huge numbers of men had no choice but to dig themselves into 7ft long fox holes and spend months trapped, coming under repeated German shell attacks.
In May 1944 and thanks to Norman’s regiment’s extraordinary efforts, the stalemate at Anzio was broken. The next month the Allied armies went on to liberate Rome, but not without the loss of 14,000 lives. Paul’s grandfather brought back from this conflict a visible memento of his terrifying time. He had developed a facial tic that stayed with him until he died.
Researching his line even further back, Paul Hollywood was seen in the Who Do You Think You Are? programme to use TheGenealogist’s ‘family forename search’ to find Alexander McKenzie, a Wood Turner who had come down to Liverpool from his native Glasgow. I was very glad to see that this company’s excellent resource was used by Paul, in place of one of the other two subscription sites who normally always get a look in.
Following his Scottish family line up to Glasgow Paul then found that the next generation in the McKenzie family was a Glasgow Policeman, down from the Highlands, who had a certain amount of trouble avoiding alcohol and was eventually dismissed from the Police force, moved to Liverpool before returning to Glasgow and death in the Poorhouse.
Paul then discovered in the programme that his great, great, great, great grandfather Donald McKenzie, was a Highland postman with quite extraordinary stamina. As a crofter with little land he had to make ends meet with other employment. Donald’s was a post runner. Not having a horse, with which to cover his rounds delivering the mail to 30,000 people, Donald simply ran the 120 miles with the mail every week from one side of Scotland to the other.
With thanks to TheGenealogist for permission to use part of their article as a basis for this post. You can read the full piece, that reveals even more about Paul Hollywood’s family history, by clicking this link:
I’ve been on a little road trip around the UK recently. Some of you may know that I live in St Helier in the Channel Island of Jersey and so a trip to the mainland with the car on the fast ferry needs some planning.
Although having been born in Jersey ( not “on Jersey” if you are an islander, you’ll understand) my family roots, however, are north a bit in England and Scotland. Although my Scots line turns out to be Norman when you trace it back to the 12th century, but that is another story.
Last week, with the freedom of my own car, I was able to go to the County Record Office in Dorchester, the Guildhall Library in London, the Portsmouth History Centre in the central library there and many other places as well that were not especially connected to family history.
My purpose in the Guildhall library was quite specific. I was there to look at their extensive run of Lloyd’s Register of Shipping. I spent a good few hours going through the old books looking for the details of an iron built paddle steamer to find the name of its Captain.
Now while I could have accessed copies online at the really useful resource of the Crew List Project website www.crewlist.org.uk/
What I gained from handling the actual books was a greater familiarity with their layout and content. I was able to read the rules and regulations that they set out for the construction of vessels and what was very interesting was to find that at the back of each register was a set of alphabetical pages that listed new vessels to the registers that year. If I had been searching online I would never have come across those extra pages of ships and so I could have missed an entry that was in the book after all.
A lesson to us all that not everything is online and also the value of the fantastic resource that an actual archive and a visit to one affords the serious family historian.
As to my other archive visits, I’ll talk about them in another post!
One of the tutorials in my new course the Family History Researcher Academy, is on the Merchant Navy. If you want to get on board, so to speak, its available at www.FamilyHistoryResearcher.com
Hooray! This month’s Your Family Tree Magazine ( May 2013 Issue 129) has a feature on uncovering your Channel Island kin and it is very good.
Naturally, as a local – I am a Jersey-born resident of this most southerly point in the British Isles – I was immediately attracted to this article. I flicked through to page 34, as soon as I opened my copy.
You may have noticed that I say above “I am Jersey-born” and not that “I am a Jerseyman”. This is because, when you live here, you become aware of certain linguistic conventions that we islanders abide by.
To be regarded as a proper Jerseyman I would need to have not only been born here, but to have come from a line of Jerseymen and women that have roots here stretching back several generations. It is also best that those roots can be traced to nearby Normandy and that your name has a French origin to it. My roots and name just do not qualify!
I am the son of incomers, my father is English, and my Norman blood is courtesy of an ancestor called de la Haye who emigrated to Scotland from Normandy, around the 12th century, established the Clan Hay and has filtered down to me here.
I can, however, and do claim to be a local.
Within this blog I have several pages written by guest contributor James McLaren of the Channel Islands Family History Society that will complement the YFT magazine’s feature. Take a look at Jersey Family History for tips on researching in Jersey.
For the record, here in Jersey is how we refer to what goes on within our island. Locals may wince if you refer to “researchingÂ your family history onJersey”. We are, after all, a separate legislative jurisdiction.
We do owe allegiance to the English Crown – the successor to the Dukedom of Normandy and are British. We do not owe allegiance to England, nor are we part of the United Kingdom. We are a Crown Peculiar.Â So to avoid annoying Channel Islanders, do not insinuate that we are loyal to England, and then you will find that we are a friendly and welcoming bunch.
When I was a schoolboy, here in Jersey, I learntÂ a splendid repost to someone from the Mainland asking: “So how long have the islands belonged to England?”
The answer always was: “I think you will find that we conquered you in 1066.”
The logic behind this is that the Channel Islands are the last remaining part of the Duchy of Normandy that remains loyal to our Duke, H.M. Queen Elizabeth II. That as Normans we conquered the English with Duke William. Simple!
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I believe myself lucky to have ancestors that hail from very different backgrounds as it makes my research all the more interesting.
On the one hand I have the ubiquitous Ag Labs, some small business men, dressmakers, mariners, landed gentry,Â the odd Victorian Army officers of various ranks and if I go back far enough down one branch, Scots Aristocrats who trace their lineage back to Normandy.
Looking at the records of The Great Western Railway, sometimes affectionately refereed to as â€œGodâ€™s Wonderful Railwayâ€, I find that one of my great-great grandfathers was an employee of the company at the end of its Dartmouth link. Henry Thomas Thorne was the Captain of the paddle steam ferry that ran across the Dart from Kingswear, serving the GWR and its predecessor companies for more than 40 years. In today’s world ofÂ job uncertainty this seems like a very long time!
I found him in the Ancestry.co.uk records for UK Railway Employment earning 5 shillings and tuppence in 1897 up from 4/8d in previous years.
In my maternal branch I have discovered one of my other great-great grandfather’s in the list of shareholders of the GWR at findmypast.co.uk as one of the owner’s of the gilt-edged stock.
The Society of Genealogists produced its GWR Shareholders Index from ledgers created by the Great Western Railway and now in the Societyâ€™s possession. The Great Western Railwayâ€™s original ledgers were compiled by the company for transactions relating to all shareholdings which changed hands other than by simple sale.
The GWR called the ledgers Probate Books, which reflects the fact that the great majority of such share transfers (approximately 95%) were as a result of the death of a shareholder and their shares changing hands during the administration of the deceasedâ€™s estate. The proportion of the GWRâ€™s total number of shareholders included in the Society of Genealogistsâ€™ GWR Shareholders Index is not known but is estimated to be between 50% and 75%; this is because the railway shares were regarded as gilt-edged stock to be held for the long term. Source:Find My Past
To search the records of shareholders you have to either belong to the Society of Genealogists or they can be viewed at Find My Past website where you can get a 14 day free trial!
ClickÂ below for a 14 day free trial..
Disclosure: The Link above is a Compensated Affiliate link. If you click on it then I may be rewarded by Findmypast.co.uk should you sign up for one of their subscriptions.
Following on from the series earlier in the year on researching family history in Jersey, we turn our attention south to France.
Over the centuries there has been considerable immigration into Jersey from France. The principal waves of immigrants arrived firstly as a result of Huguenots fleeing around the time that the Edict of Nantes was revoked in 1685; secondly as a result of political uncertainty during the period after 1789; and thirdly as a result of famine and rural poverty in Brittany and western Normandy from about 1850 onwards. The last wave was the largest of the three, with some thousands of people arriving and settling â€“ and consequently there are a substantial number of Jersey families who have a French connection.
Aliensâ€™ registration cards (those issued under legislation passed in 1920 are in the Archive catalogue in series D/S/B, and the registers that accompany them are in series D/S/C. Those relating to French nationals present during the Occupation are at reference D/S/A/24)
If available, records of public bodies such as the courts, the prison and the hospital (all of whom would want this information for accounting purposes). These could be your best bet if your ancestors arrived in the early part of the third wave
French law set a series of benchmarks in 1803 as to what needed to be recorded to legalise registration of births, marriages and deaths, much as England did in 1837. Part of this was that every commune had to keep a book recording births marriages and deaths. The book would cover ten years: there would be an index to every year and an overall index for the whole ten year book. While the entries are numbered one-up each year and include births, marriages and deaths in a single numbering sequence, the indexes for birth, marriage and death are separate.
We are looking at the book covering 1843 to 1852 so we find it among the 17 books listed and click the image, then we click the image on the right-hand side of the page. This launches the viewer software.
We actually need to start not at the first page but at the last page â€“ the tables decennales covering all ten yearsâ€™ worth of entries are there. Working backwards we start with the deaths, then come to the marriages, then the births.
A more typical entry is that for the marriage of Jean-Pierre Le Gentil in 1844. There is a format to entries: each entry always begins with the date (and indeed the hour of day), and is followed by the name of the official and his credentials (usually the mayor). In the case of a marriage we then have the prospective husband, his date and place of birth, where he is living and the names of his parents. In this case his mother has died and the necessary papers have been presented to prove it. At the end of that you spot the phrase dâ€™une part; this means that what follows is the same details for the prospective wife. The rest of the documentation is the legal wording affirming that the marriage has been notified and legally witnessed, and also gives the names of the witnesses.
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.
Establishing who owns land or a house on it is important, and pretty well every country has a land registry. Jerseyâ€™s is small but perfectly formed because every property transaction goes before one single body, the Royal Court. Apart from a small number of mid-17th century transactions, records are complete back to 1602. The first 150 years of records are on paper, but everything subsequent to about 1800 has been scanned and indexed into a computer system called PRIDE. There are two terminals at the Archive. One is upstairs in the reading room, the other is downstairs in reception â€“ which is exceedingly useful as it can be used between 1pm and 2pm when the reading room is shut. You will need a member of staff to log you on.
PRIDE has a very simple search interface, and for most purposes you need a name to investigate, but it can be a hugely useful tool. Not only do you find sales of property, but after 1841 you will also find wills and details of partages â€“ arrangements which exist to deal with the complexities of Jerseyâ€™s Norman-based system of inheritance.
You will also find details of rentes. Rentes are a little like a mortgage â€“ you agree to long-term instalment payments in return for a capital sum â€“ but unlike modern mortgages they are theoretically perpetual, and they can be inherited or traded between individuals, although there are very few left today. Also on PRIDE you will find details of procurations â€“ in other words, appointments of attorneys to act on behalf of an individual â€“ for more recent times.
If you start in modern times â€“ after about 1980 â€“ you can search properties. Any sale contract has to include a recital of title â€“ in other words, who the seller acquired the property from and when. If you are fortunate it is then possible to work back up the chainâ€¦
Even if you donâ€™t understand all of the legal niceties, PRIDE can still be hugely informative. A search for Philippe Du Feu threw up a document dated 1826. It didnâ€™t actually concern Philippe so much as his wife Elizabeth Amy: the Amy family had created what we call a partage des heritages to ensure that the five daughters were provided with money for homes by their brother who had inherited the estate. In doing so the document gives us the names of all of Elizabeth Amyâ€™s siblings, the names of their husbands (if they were married at that point), her parents, her brotherâ€™s grandparents and several aunts and cousins. None of that detail is on the Du Feu family tree. And study of the contract itself could give a great deal more information to the family historian â€“ how generous the settlement was (or wasnâ€™t) could indicate the social standing of the family.
I had to be up, showered and breakfasted for 6 am, in order to make my way to Jersey airport and the 7 am â€œred-eyeâ€ to London Gatwick. The fact that I, not in any way a morning person, was prepared to do this stems from the timetable of workshops that I had seen for the Who Do You Think You Are? LIVE show at Olympia.
First on, in the Society of Genealogist’s Regional theatre was â€œResearching Your Family History in Jerseyâ€ given by Sue Payn and James McLaren and I really wanted to be there for the workshop. My bus to the airport, the flight to London and the coach transfer to central London all ran reasonably to schedule and so I was in the building by 10.15. and taking a seat in time for the presentation.
James’ began by clearing up the perennial misunderstanding by people from outside of the island, regarding Jersey’s constitutional position. As a Jersey born and educated person, myself, I have spent most of my life making similar statements to his and so a smile warmed my face as the familiar words rang out.
I am often heard saying that we are not part of England and Wales, nor are we part of Great Britain, nor the United Kingdom and we are not in the EU, but are British Islands.
As James said: â€œWe are a Crown Dependency: we owe allegiance to the British crown, but in most other respects we are self-governing. We have our own legal system, large parts of which are quite different from English law. In this respect we are similar to Guernsey, but please understand that we are not the same! Itâ€™s like the difference between a Mercedes-Benz and an Austin Allegro â€“ the principle is the same, a vehicle that gets you from A to B, but the detailed implementation is rather different.â€
This brought another smile to my lips as the old rivalry, with our sister Bailiwick of Guernsey, was introduced to the good folk in the workshop. Both Bailiwicks trace a Norman heritage and when in 1204 King John lost his French possessions, the Channel Islands kept allegiance to the British Crown.
One of the first things you are going to find, if you are researching your ancestors from Jersey is that the records are invariably going to be in French, as this was the official language of this island until very recently when English has become dominant. James pointed out that Jersey was very largely French or Jerriais-speaking until the middle of the 19th century, and so a lot of legal records long after that were kept in French. The deeds to my house, for example.
I have often heard people in the island refer to these documents being written in â€œproper Frenchâ€ to distinguish the language used from Jerriais, the name given to the Jersey French patois spoken in the island, which even comes with variations in pronunciation across the 45 square miles of the island!
Jersey people have always travelled far from their island; some to settle away in places such as Canada, Australia and of course to the United Kingdom. Some stay and some return. As James said the reason Jersey folk travelled was â€œâ€“ partly because of our rules on inheritance, partly because there was money to be made in trade, partly to serve Queen and country in the armed forces, and more recently because the only way to get higher education was to go to the big island to the north of us. Consequently there are numerous people in the UK who have Jersey ancestry somewhere in their past.â€