Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Descended From Nobility

I have been doing the Ancestry.com thing, and pushed a couple of lines back before 1500 before I decided that this was way too much work for very little return. Records in Europe - England, Sweden, Holland, and Ireland, at least - are not as good as American Puritan (and presumably, FFV) records. Not close. One is clicking merrily along from John Jr to John Sr and suddenly recognises that wait a minute, this woman is giving birth at fifty-seven years old. Or twelve. I know that longevity runs in families, but two generations in a row living to be more than 100 seems...unlikely.  Especially as one seems to have moved from Somerset at 84 to Suffolk for no apparent reason.  As I have discussed before, naming was very conservative in England for 650 years, with a huge percentage of girls being named Mary, Elizabeth, Anne, Margaret, Alice; boys John, William, Robert, Charles, Henry, Richard.  Because of this, there are lots of people with the same name.  I had a weird situation of a John Neat in my ancestry around 1800, who had a parallel with a John Neat in England only about 20 years earlier, both having married a woman named Mary, and so showing up as hints for possible ancestors.  And don't even get me started on John Andersson, son of Anders Jonsson in Sweden.

Parenthetical:  When one is not really caring about the right answer, only trying to get one's work recorded for posterity, good or bad, one goes quickly to losing one's temper and muttering "Well someone was his mother, and who the hell cares if it's Josefina or Margeta?  They're dead!  They don't care!  We'll laugh about this in heaven if we all get there!" No, no, that was his first wife, which was also my sister's name, which is why you got confused.  Let me introduce you to them, they're both lovely.

This is clearly bothering me too much. I got distracted in my introduction and haven't gotten back to the title topic since.

We all find nobility, though perhaps not royalty, for good reasons.  They were better fed, had more descendants, and everyone kept better records about them.  People with a little money had twice as many surviving children, and those with lots of money about five times as many.  Yet because of primogeniture - which my oldest son keeps complaining is a conservative custom we should have retained - the title only went to one, or if deaths intervened, perhaps a second.  Yet those other sons of Earls got to be at least Knights, and some title or other would descend for a few years.  And those would remember. We're descended from Barons, doncha know. And if six people die before ye, ye'll be a baron yourself.  So it's probably not a lie if your aunt insists you have Duchesses in your background.  Of course you do.  You have a thousand ancestors from the late 1600s, and a million from the 14th C. But they didn't keep track of the serfs and scullery-maids so well.

Next, cool ancestors exert a gravitational pull.  People want to get there, and so lower their standards to make the claim.  I hit one set of hints about a Puritan Elizabeth about 1630 and saw the repeated assertion that she was the daughter of King James I /VI and Anne of Denmark.  The evidence seemed to be no more than that she was named Elizabeth, and they had a daughter named Elizabeth. Dude, I think we would have heard.  If James I/VI had had a daughter who sympathised with the puritans enough to come to America when it was a dirty, death-filled primitive colony it would have been all over our history books.  There would be not only statues, but towns named after her.  Maybe a whole colony.

I feel the tug myself.  I hit a Churchill in the ancestry and thought Oh! Winston! My wife reminded me that he was American on his mother's side, so any relationship would be...more remote. Yes. True.

I may do an entire post on the patent impossibilities that people put forward as reasonable on ancestry websites. If "researchers" only remembered Jamestown 1607 and Plimoth 1620 a lot of idiocy could be avoided. And that no Englishmen lived in North Dakota in 1726.  Plus, enough biology to know what ages women could usually bear children. Or that they wouldn't normally have one six months after another. I admit, naming towns in New England and Virginia after familiar places in East Anglia or Wessex does confuse the issue.  But you take on that responsibility when you type.

I hit something similar as my Massachusetts North Shore  ancestors converged on 1700, or ahem, 1692.  Everyone wanted to tie in to the Salem Witch Trials somehow. Or also, the Mayflower. Everyone want one of those.  I've got lots, mostly the least-respectable Stephen Hopkins and his many descendants. The next ship, the Anne?  Not so much. I probably have just as many from there, but people didn't work as hard to find those.


james said...

One of my cousins has done genealogical research--I haven't had the time or patience. She debunked what great-grandad told grandad--that we were kin to the Hatfields. The precise details are a trifle hard to pin down, though, and that was probably deliberate. Oh well.
On the other side, my mother told of a cousin of hers who wanted to get into the DAR, and did quite a bit of research to finally find that, yes, she did have an ancestor who fought in the Revolution. True, he was a smuggler and part-time slave shipper, but he'd fought on the American side. I gather the cousin wasn't keen on presenting the results. (He wasn't one of my mother's ancestors, so she got to laugh about it.)

Assistant Village Idiot said...

As records get uncovered, DAR becomes less impressive. Most soldiers were militia, who would show up for some battles but not others, depending on harvests and duties at home. So there are a lot of verified revolutionary soldiers - I've got almost a dozen - but their individual accomplishments don't light up the sky.

Donna B. said...

I love/hate genealogy.

On my mother's side, there's some fascinating history from the 1600s in Virginia. One is a woman whose records survives because of a breach of contract suit, multiple marriages, and multiple husbands dying. She is both my ancestor and the ancestor of the man my daughter married, though different husbands are involved. She must have been quite good looking to cause all the trouble she did. Or quite something else.

The thing that strikes me most is how easily I might not have come to be. One ancestor saved from hanging by mere hours (a Regulator), another who conceived a great grandmother in between his stint in a Union prison and one in a Confederate prison where he died. I'm sure he's not the only one who fought for both sides, but how many ended up in the worst prisons each side had? My aunt commented that you'd think he used up all the family's bad luck, but apparently not since her brother was in a Japanese POW camp for several years. I disagree since her brother was one of the 11 survivor's of that camp -- see Palawan Massacre.

I've identified four Revolutionary War ancestors so far, one of them an officer and one from the Carolinas who was in NY when the war ended, so perhaps these two at least were not part-time soldiers, though their accomplishments also didn't "light up the sky". There are multiple records for those two. The others I haven't worked on much. Someone else did a lot of work on the officer's family -- supposedly tracing them back to William the Conqueror. I found that amusing, but very unlikely.

I'm much more interested in tying the migration of my ancestors from Virginia through the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee to Arkansas and Texas to the history of what was happening around them at the time. It is this that I think will eventually interest my grandchildren.

The other thing my sister and I looked for was for cousin marriages. We were sure we'd find it -- you know the stereotype -- but we did not. We found one case where a man married his brother's widow and several cases where siblings of one family married siblings of another. That's where we thought we'd find the cousin marriages, but we didn't. The closest we came was my father being 2nd cousins to his step-siblings through his father... but it was his mother who married their father. We looked closely at the founding families of this small county in Arkansas and didn't find any cousin marriages at all.

Though the opening line at my step-mother's funeral were: So my Aunt married my Uncle -- it was that his mother's husband's brother was married to my father's 4th wife and that my father was his mother's step-brother and 2nd cousin. (Dad led an eventful life, divorcing his fifth wife when he was 88 -- I shopped for furniture and appliances for him when she moved out.)

This is why I just assume that anybody I meet in that county is cousin of some sort. My father's great grandmother was married three times with offspring from each union too. I honestly don't know how cousin marriages have been avoided there without the help of a professional genealogist, but as far as I can tell, they have.

Finding nobility or royalty in my line was never my interest. Searching my childrens' father might lead to some minor nobility -- there are cemeteries in Scotland that are good leads and I was lucky to visit and photograph them. They were amazed to see so many tombstones and historical markers with their last name. I think they can know their paternal ancestors came from that particular part of Scotland, but that is all. Except, of course, that they probably have ancestral tartans.

The other thing I hate about genealogy is keeping up with "current" generations. I think this is a battle I'm going to let someone younger fight.