Monday, 10 January 2011

10 things my ancestors did to annoy me

The Society of Genealogists sells a booklet called "My Ancestor was a Bastard". I have to admit that is often the way I feel about my own kin.

Here are 10 things they did to annoy me:
  1. They settled where three counties meet. That way they could get married in one county, baptise their children in a second and be buried in a third, all without travelling more than a few miles from home. But I have to travel to three different record offices, miles apart, to have any hope of tracing their complicated genealogy.
  2. Namesake cousins married namesake girls. I am either descended from John Coles and Mary Holloway, who married at Damerham, Wiltshire on 23 October 1737, or from John Coles and Mary Holloway, who married at Damerham, Wiltshire on 16 December 1738. I bet they are all having a good laugh about that one at the great family reunion in the sky.
  3. They were not wise children and did not know their own fathers. Mary Ann Baldwin gave her maiden name as Blakey but her father's name as William Clayton. It took years to find the marriage of Susannah Blakey and William Clayton which proved he was her step-father. William Prebble Barnes invented a bank manager called George Barnes as his father. It took decades to find his illegitimate birth to Elizabeth Prebble.
  4. They moved around. Joseph Bentley served as a Methodist minister in 17 different places. Frederick Davis lived in nine different counties and three different countries.
  5. They baptised their children in batches, in a place remote from where they were born. Susannah Baldwin was born in Portsmouth and baptised four years later in Gravesend. Thomas Heale baptised his first four children as babies but made the last two wait over twenty years until he had died.
  6. They left the country at census time. Thomas Bluett went all the way to New Zealand to avoid an entry in the 1841 census which would have told me whether or not he was born in Ireland.
  7. They lied about their ages. Frederick Rayman claimed to be 23 when, aged just 15, he married his pregnant 21 year old bride. Catherine McCarthy stayed 40 for two successive censuses. Alice Wiles was 55 in one census and 72 in the next.
  8. They kept just off the page of any printed pedigree. The Red Book of Perthshire contains detailed family trees for the Haldanes, Haliburtons, Reids and Stewarts which stop just short of connecting with my own proven research. Douglas' Baronage of Scotland mentions two of the children of John Smith of Glasswall, but not the daughter through whom I am descended.
  9. They disappeared. John Winn sailed to North America, where he vanished. Clement Davis went out prospecting in the Nevis mountains of New Zealand and never came back.
  10. They spent all the money. When William Winn died in 1891 he left £82,446 12s 9d, the equivalent of £5.5 million today. His son, William, inherited one quarter. By the time he died in 1906 it was all gone. In the space of 15 years he had squandered the equivalent of over one million pounds on yachts and gold plated taps.


  1. love that. a new angle for sure.I have a few bastards too. they play hide and seek. come out come out where ever you are. I might follow you today.!

  2. Very cute - let me add my own variation on "namesakes". Having six sons - all six sons name their first boy after grandpa. Each namesake grand son names their first son after (you guessed it, the same grandpa) - then THEIR kids started to inter-marry! It took me years to figure out how inbred we really were!

  3. Those bastards! I find I have a few of most of those types in my own family. Thanks for posting, this was an entertaining read!

  4. Wonderful! I can relate to so many of those.

  5. Terrific post! And I thought it only happened in my family!

  6. Superb post! Let me just add the families with naming traditions where ALL children were named John, George, Maria or Anna. Not until the 4th or 5th child would you get a remotely unique name.

  7. Do we get to slap them at the grand reunion in the sky? :-) Jo

  8. Let me just add to what the others have said. It is a great post -- really amusing.

  9. I chuckled my way through this post - and then the reality hit me. Poor you! Either you are an exceptional family historian; you've been at it for a hundred years; or you've been lucky. Not only is it a great post, it also suggests some other ideas for searches for my own ancestors. Thanks!

  10. Thanks to everyone for the kind comments. This post clearly struck a nerve as it has been by far the most read on my blog.

    GR8Dame: I can relate to the grandsons and great grandsons being named after Grandpa. In communities where there are strict naming patterns, that sort of thing can quite rapidly get out of hand!

    Nolichucky Roots: Have you also come across the twist where, if little John, George, Maria or Anna died, they named a younger child after the dead sibling?

    Nancy: I wouldn't claim to be an exceptional family historian but it certainly feels like I've been at it for 100 years (actually 26). I've had my share of luck but most breakthroughs have been down to the sheer slog of step-by-step research. All the more satisfying when they come that way, I think.

  11. Great post! I laughed, cried (out of frustration) and related to almost everything you wrote! I am hopeful that when we reach heaven, we can ask our ancestors the questions AND GET ANSWERS for the things we couldn't figure out down here!

  12. www.hungarianfamilyrecord.org25 July 2011 at 18:55

    Love it ! And they are having a good laugh watching us trying to unravel it all .

  13. Thank you so much for your comments, Liz and Magda. It is wonderful that this blogpost continues to resonate with people.

  14. Hi Caroline, I have one very frustrating fella who interesting enought has the same name as one of yours... and a rather suspicious background.

    My GGG Grandfather is Thomas Davis. He was born abt 1820 (at this point location unknown). His father was Clement Davis.

    My GG Grandmother thomas's daughter (Louisa) is noted on her marriage certification as being part maori. We are uncertain at this point whether that comes from her mothers side or her fathers side... what we do have is family folk lore that say her father was a wesleyan minister who hooked up with a local... and that they fled to Australia after a fall out with the maori family

    Like I said, nothing solid, but similar types of names (especially given that Clement isnt exacly a common name ... these guys have driven me up the wall until about a week ago, when I got confirmed death dates for Thomas from a newspaper clipping... now just waiting for the Death Certificate and hoping for that break thru...