During the Black Friday sales last December, I bought two Ancestry kits. I actually mean't to order one, but made a bit of a mess of it. Still, I thought, they were as cheap as I've seen a DNA kit, so I let the order process.
Some people might exclaim - but you've tested your DNA to death! These kits were not directly intend for myself though. I intended them for the art of Genetic Genealogy. To help me verify my paper tree, biologically.
Although I enjoy the kick that I get from matching segments of DNA in strangers, to shared ancestors of the past on all lines, I'm particularly interested in one line, from one great grandfather. You see, I had a very naughty great grandmother. I have uncovered evidence of two bigamous marriages by her, as well as other relationships. A second cousin of mine, through her, doesn't appear to have the amount of shared DNA that I would expect for a full second cousin. It looks worse than even the old family rumours.
As I do have an extensive family tree down to that birth certificated great grandfather, even though I know full well that biological family isn't always as good family as non-biological, which the paper trail honours, I'd still like to know. With Genetic Genealogy, I hope to verify - or otherwise, his biological relationship.
So... I used one kit to test one of my siblings, and the other to test my mother. I've tested my mother before on 23andme. Mistake. I've learned a lot about DNA testing over the past few years or so. Ancestry.com might seem like a heavy marketing, greedy big DNA company, with some slightly dishonest sales ploys (find out if your ancestor was a Viking!), and pressure to subscribe to more services in order to get the full benefit of the test - BUT ... it 1) has an awesome family tree building website for subscribers, that link to DNA tests, 2) has the largest customer database, and 3) through it's genealogy services, as well as marketing, has the most UK testers in it's database.
Okay, it's a little dumbed down. The messaging system sucks (so I always send my email address), It doesn't provide a chromosome browser. It doesn't provide segment locations on chromosomes. But - for my uses - using DNA matches to verify a family tree pedigree, it serves extremely well. I have had almost ten times more matches on AncestryDNA, than from 23andme, FT-DNA, and GEDmatch combined. And many have online trees!
I've received my siblings results. Wow. I suspected it. That the sibling has inherited some quite different DNA from the parents mean't that although we share some DNA matches, there are many that we don't! Up to now, I've just used a spreadsheet to keep results of verified matches. I could see that I now need something more powerful. Something that I could search on - and filter different lineages. When my mother's results arrived, I'll be able to divide all of my matches into maternal, or paternal sides. On top of that, I have a 1C1R (first cousin once removed) on my father's side, that I can sometimes use to indicate some ancestry on his side. I can look at all of my matches and their shared matches, and triangulate, where abouts they fit into my family tree. I built a personal database for my DNA matches.
So I'm pretty pleased that I invested in those two kits during the sales. It's kept me busy.
I used Open Office Base to build the database:
Okay it's basic and not pretty, but I can extend on it. I've imputed our closest 187 DNA matches, nearly all from Ancestry, plus a few verified from FT-DNA and GEDMATCH. It's a family match - I've included forms for imputing my mother's and sibling's matching segments - not just my own. Any genuine matches that my sibling has - are also my cousins. Just that I don't have personally share DNA segments with them. I've also included a yes/no check box for that 1C1R.
I've used it to query an up-to-date list of "our" shared DNA matches that share a correlating common ancestor or two on their trees with ours. My biological "verifiers".
Using the open source GRAMPS app, I produced a fresh family pedigree fan chart. I then used open source GIMP to colour in the ancestors that I have verified with shared DNA segments. The darker the tone, the more matches:
It's generally looking pretty verified isn't it. My birth certificate grandparents were all very clearly, my biological grandparents. The great grandparents, and the majority of great great grandparents are also looking pretty verified. But what about that great grandfather? The birth certificate version was my surname great grandparent, and biological version was my Y-DNA great grandparent. Were they the same?
Well I still do not have evidence that I'd regard as overwhelming. But I am gathering evidence that he may have been the same guy. I have two DNA matches that strike directly through him. Unfortunately, both were distant ancestry, with only a small shared segment each (around 7 cM). That small, they could either belong to an undocumented relationship elsewhere, or even be identical but not by descent. But it's evidence that I'm building, and it's more reassuring than if he'd had no DNA matches strike through his lineage to us. The other supportive evidence was that my biological paternal line great grandfather carried an incredibly rare haplogroup: Y haplogroup L-SK1414 (L1b2c). The only other L-SK1414 so far found in the British Isles, traced his paternal surname line back to Basingstoke, around 1740. My documented surname line traces back in 1740 to Long Wittenham, Berkshire. Only about 32 miles away from the Basingstoke L-SK1414 by road. Could be a coincidence, but it supports that the Y-DNA could still correspond with the surname line back in 1740, and that my great grandaddy, was my DNA great grandaddy.
Such is the power of genetic genealogy. Roll on the results of my mother. That will reduce the number of matches that are likely to be on my paternal side.
Here's the latest that 23andme gives me in their test. First my mother:
Her recorded ancestry is ALL East Anglian in SE England. 225 named in records, some lines going back to the 16th Century. Very localised, rural recorded and documented ancestry. No known ancestry other than British:
What she gives me with phasing:
My recorded ancestry by location:
At Generation 6: 97% SE English and 3% Swiss.
The rest of my 23andme report (V4 after phasing one parent):
A British grandparent? Absolutely, all four were!
A French or German great grandparent. I'm afraid not. At least this is an improvement on my old TimeLine that suggested a French or German grandparent, but still wrong.
Actually I had a Swiss 3rd great grandparent, but he was likely to have only given me 0% to 5% of my DNA.
A Scandinavian 4th or 5th great grandparent? Not impossible, but a little unlikely. Of course, most English get a little Scandinavian. Old admixture.
As for my mother's TimeLine. I know ONLY of East Anglian ancestors on record. Of course, she would have had some other ancestors at some point, but French / German, Scandinavian, in the past four or five generations? No. The African would be very cool. It's always possible - there were Africans around in very small numbers. But likely in rural Norfolk? Unfortunately not.
The new "dots.
I predicted Dutch for both of us. I thought I might also get Belgian or / and French. Not because I have recent ancestry from those places, but because they share much older common links with SE England. We are close.
No Irish - that's true, nor Scottish. So they did okay to eliminate that one. Finally, even though I get only 38% B&I (32% before phasing), 23andme awards me 4 out of 5 dots for Britain!
I guess that if I was to believe the line, then I had Dutch ancestors arrive here over the past 200 years. Perhaps Scandinavian a little further back, between 200 years and 500 years ago.
The above image illustrates of some of my ancestral locations, as according to documented genealogy. As can be seen. I have quite a lot of East Anglian ancestry. What might also be observed, is the location of East Anglia, and of South East England, in relation to Belgium, the Netherlands, and North East France.
I'm an East Anglian. Much of my family tree is East Anglian. Before documented genealogy picks up my family trail, who were the East Anglians, what were their origins? The traditional answer would be that they were the descendants of the Angles. An early 5th Century AD tribe, that relocated from Angeln, now in Schleswig Holstein, on the North Germany, South Denmark border. Them, and maybe a few Saxons, Jutes, Suevvi, etc. All pretty much from what is now North Germany and Denmark. See the map below:
Archaeology sort of backs this up ... but also offers some slight alternatives. At first, British Archaeology supported the Historians - that there was a near genocidal event during the 5th and 6th centuries, where the Anglo Saxon tribes arrived and displaced the Romano-Britons that had until then, lived in South East Britannia. There certainly is plenty, even, overwhelming evidence, of Anglo-Saxon culture if not settlement in East Anglia at this time. Below are the locations of a few of the many Anglo-Saxon cemeteries found in East Anglia - and their closest artifact correlations on the Continent - in Northern Germany:
It's all adding up. However, then, a new trend appears in British Archaeology that plays down the Anglo-Saxon invasion hypothesis. From the 1980's onward, some British archaeologists started to argue that they saw patterns of land use continuity between the Romano-British and Pagan Saxon periods. They argued there was no archaeology of genocide. No battle sites. No mass graves. Instead they proposed that only limited numbers of Anglo Saxons arrived - and that their culture was largely adopted by the Romano-Britons that already lived here. Some even suggested that no Anglo Saxons came here - it was merely a cultural import.
Then Genetics stepped in. Most notably with POBI (Peopling of the British Isles) 2015, but also with a number of other studies, often comparing the DNA from excavated remains to modern populations. They proposed a new middle house consensus. No there was no genocide. The modern English have more old British ancestry than Anglo-Saxon. However, there was a significant Anglo Saxon immigration event. But they mixed, intermarried. Anglo-Saxon culture was adopted, but Anglo Saxons had not displaced the Britons. They had married them. The modern English it seems have around 10% to 40% Anglo Saxon ancestry, and 60% to 90% British. Sort of watered down Celts.
The assumption that we have made, is that rural populations on the front-line immigration - such as East Anglians, were the most watered down, with highest percentages of Anglo-Saxon ancestry. Why not. The archaeology would support that. The East Anglian landscape is littered with Anglo-Saxon, and Anglo-Danish place-names. It is the most Anglo-Saxon landscape, and later, was firmly within the Dane-Law.
It's all over this blog. However, in summary, I am an East Anglian. Born at Norwich, with all four grandparents of Norfolk birth. I have been researching my family tree using genealogy, for thirty years, on and off. I have accumulated the recorded names of 490 direct ancestors. Around 80% or more of this ancestry lived here in East Anglia. At Generation 6 (3rd great grandparent), my ancestry was 97% South East English, and 3% Swiss. This is demonstrated in this fan chart of my recorded ancestry:
If that's not East Anglian enough - look at the right hand side of that fan chart, my mother's side. My mother has 225 of her direct ancestors recorded, and everyone lived firmly in East Anglia.
I have documents, likenesses in family photos, and family stories to back my narrative ancestry; but I am also gradually building biological evidence through the use of DNA matches to other testers, that share a common ancestry with me, that correlates well with the shared DNA:
That the vast majority of our ancestry is very rural, and poor agricultural working class, would suggest that we have had ancestry here in East Anglia for a very, very, long time. I have traced some lines back to early parish records in the 16th Century. I would expect that many of our ancestors belonged to peasant families in Medieval Norfolk and Suffolk. These, I'd expect were the descendants of Anglo Saxons, Romano-Britons, and Danes.
Here comes the paradox.
Population Genetics and the DNA
Documentary evidence confirms that I'm an East Anglian, and English. But when I tested with the commercial DNA-for-ancestry vendors, such as 23andme or FT-DNA, my results, although seeing me as pretty firmly, a North West European, doesn't really see me as particularly British. 23andme suggested only 32% British. They instead suggest that my ancestry is rather Continental. High levels of "West European" or "French & German". I at first assumed that this was ancient or early medieval ancestry, my Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Danish East Anglian roots showing through.
But is that the case? Analysis using some of the latest calculators challenge that. Here are the PCA locations of myself and my mother, on one such calculator. This one (By David Wesolowski) includes many modern references grouped on language family, but also includes some references from actual ancient DNA in Northern Europe, including some extracted from Anglo Saxon remains in Cambridgeshire, close to East Anglia:
You see the red squares represent the Anglo Saxons in Cambridgeshire? Mine and even my very rural East Anglian mother's place well to the right of them, closer to modern day Irish speakers, overlapping with modern day French speakers. More Celtic it seems than Anglo Saxon.
Here's another PCA showing our positions (red myself, orange, my mother), this one by Lukasz, but based on the Eurogenes K36 calculator:
It puts me closer to Flemish then Walloon, followed by SE English. Finally a third PCA, from Eurogenes K15:
We consistently position between SE England and North France, Belgium, and the Netherlands; rather than between SE England and Northern Germany and Denmark. It appears that we relate closer to Normans, Belgians, Walloons, Flemish, and Dutch - than we do to modern day North Germans or Danes. Here is our K36 Oracle maps by Lukasz:
My mother has a slight more pull from Denmark and Schleswig Holstein. Perhaps this is from early medieval Angle/Danish settler in East Anglia? However, we both pull strongest outside of England, from the Low Countries. Flemish, Dutch, and Walloon come up as closest Continental matches. I'm not surprised. I've noticed for some time, that the big vendors appear to give some testers of Normandy, Hauts-de-France, Belgium, and the Netherlands ancestry, very similar results to my own.
If our results were at all representative of East Anglians of local ancestry, then the modern East Anglian is perhaps as much, or more of a Belgian than he or she is a Dane or Angle. So I've added a secondary circle to the map that I used above, to illustrate what are popularly beleved to be the origins of the East Anglians. The new blue circle, represents not what history or archaeology suggests, but what my family's DNA currently suggests:
Note that I have included South East Britain in there - because clearly, there was no displacement. The Romano-Britons were among our ancestors.
The Language Connection.
It has long been noted, that the very closest dialect or language to English, is West Frisian. Old Frisian and Old English (or Anglo Saxon) were close. Linguists group them together as "Anglo-Frisian". Why is this? If we all descend from Angles and Danes?
When did our "Belgian" ancestors arrive in Britain?
By Belgian, I'm referring to ancestors that we share not only with Belgians of local ancestry, but also the North French, and the Dutch. Answer. I don't know. All that I am pointing out, is that the DNA of my East Anglian family appears to be more like that of people that today live in that part of the Continent, than in Denmark, Norway, or even North Germany. However, here are a few ideas:
The Bell Beaker. During the Late Neolithic. We believe that the British Bell Beaker people largely crossed over from the Lower Rhine Valley.
The Belgae. I'm not quite so sure about this one, but let's just go with it. Roman historians recorded a late Iron Age migration from the Belgium area, into South East Britain. They described them as using a Celtic language and culture, but being closer related to Germanic tribes to the east.
An unrecorded migration from Northern France to Southern Britain during Late Prehistory. This one was suggested by POBI 2015, that claimed to detect a relationship between the Southern British and Northern France, that they claimed was most likely Late Prehistoric.
Roman Britain. Britannia was often administered along with Gaul.
Saxo Frisia. Saxons didn't only Southern Britain, they also settled the Low Countries, where they took the name of the earlier tribe there - the Frisians. Did many Anglo-Saxon settlers actually crossed over from Frisia?
Norman. 1066 and all that. A whole new elite arrived, often bringing artisans and supporters with them.
Angevin and Medieval French. For a time, large regions of France were ruled along with England. French artisans, merchants, monks, priests, etc.
The Elizabethan Strangers. Protestant refugees were invited from the Low Countries, both Dutch and Walloons. They particularly settled towns in South East England such as Norwich, and Colchester during the 16th and 17th centuries.
The Huguenots. French Protestant refugees that arrived during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Background migration. My favourite. In addition to all of the aforementioned proposed migration events, the slow, gradual contact between South East England and the Low Countries / Northern France, that has always been there. The drip-drip in the background. That the North sea and Dover Strait separating the two areas is so narrow. Merchants, refugees, masons, artisans, weavers - the Dutchmen and Frenchmen recorded as Aliens in many post medieval surveys. The fishermen from Haut-de-France that frequently beached on the Norfolk coast. The dutch herring fishermen that traded herring at Yarmouth market.
All of this hinges on the DNA test results of just one Norfolk family. I'm just making observations here, and I would so love to see more East Anglians test, and to use these calculators, to explore their ancient ancestry as well. I have seen only one other East Anglian of a local family test, and their test results were similar to my own:
My 23andme "speculative Ancestry Composition results:
The other East Anglian local tester:
I'm NOT claiming that modern East Anglians or South East English, of local ancestry, do not have Anglo-Saxon, or perhaps Old Danish ancestry. My mother's K36 radiates slightly around Denmark and Schleswig Holstein. I'm NOT claiming that all East Anglians with local family trees would have the same results as my family. However, if they did turn out to do so... then it would appear that we have so far under-rated our close relationship to the Low Countries.
We need more ancient DNA from Anglo Saxons, Angles in Schleswig Holstein, Frisians, Iron Age South-East British, South-East Romano-British, Franks, Old Danes, and others if we are ever to sort this out. And we need more South east English of local recorded ancestry to DNA test, and to take an interest in population genetics.
Until then, I will postulate that on top of that red circle (Denmark, Northern Germany) - we South East English have more ancestry from that blue circle (Netherlands, Belgium, and North East France), than is popularly assumed.
I'd uncovered a Robert Smith who took part in the riot in Attleborough, but a question always arises when researching an ancestor with a common name - was he / she my Smith, Brown, or Jones?. So I need to look closer. And I do see a problem:
His son, my 2nd great grandfather, Robert Smith (the junior), was born 15th December 1832. Yet Robert Smith (the swing rioter), was sentenced to two and a half years imprisonment in January 1831. How did he do that? Was Robert Smith the Swing Rioter NOT my 3rd great grandfather, Robert Smith of Attleborough, born there in 1807?
Then a few days ago, on the England & Wales, Prisons &Punishment, 1770-1935 collection at FindmyPast.co.uk, under correspondence, I find this Norfolk Court record, dated 30th November 1831:
I had problems reading even this copy that I had optimised with an image editor, so I had to get help on a Facebook genealogy group. Apparently it is an appeal by James Stacey, one of the three imprisoned ring leaders, for sentence remission. It also gives notice that the other two, Robert Smith, and Samuel Smith would also be appealing as soon as they had served one year in prison. Did they receive remission?
I also found this under the same collection, dated to "1832" under Home Office Registers Of Criminal Petitions:
James Stacey, Robert Smith, and Samuel Smith are all still serving time. I don't know how early in 1832 they are being recorded there - but, their sentence types are all recorded as "Rem" (remission), so it does look to me as though their original sentences were reduced. If they were released on remission by late March 1832, then Robert Smith the Swing Rioter had just enough time to return to my 3rd great grandmother Lydia Smith (nee Hewitt), and to father Robert "Hewitt" Smith, the junior. If so, do you see who the rector was at their son's baptism? The Rev. Franklin himself. The guy that Robert Smith held a mattock over, that with the thresher burning, attacks on the workhouse, and general rioting, landed him in Norwich Castle Gaol in the first place! Two years later he's baptising Robert's son.
Also at FindmyPast.co.uk, I've found more newspaper reports of the case. In my previous article, I reported:
Times were incredibly difficult for the poor. I wonder if he was behind the voice that was reported during the Attleborough Riot by a witness:
Above the confusion of the voices one rang out, more stridant and confident than the rest 'We are the strongest party' the man cried. 'We always have been and we always will be. This is only the beginning. We have begun at the foot, and we will go up to the head.'.
Well. One newspaper report stated that it was indeed our ancestor Robert Smith that said this:
Why did he do it? What was Robert's status? Around that time, he was recorded as a labourer. Later, a hawker, and an umbrella maker. Even later in life, after our 3rd great grandmother Lydia, died, he married Frances Saunders (nee Husk), and they moved up North on the railways, to work in the cotton spinning town of Sulcoates.
But I may have discovered another element to his story? Why he was angry, and why he was accepted or identified as a ring leader of the riot?
Had Robert himself recently experienced a loss in status? Did this finally drive him against the local Establishment? In 1841, he was living with his wife Lydia, and six of their children, at his father-in-law's farm on the edge of Attleborough at Hill Common:
Maybe we can now understand him, just a little more. Also on that 1841 census report - you can see his son Robert (Hewitt) Smith the junior, there aged eight years. He's the guy that became the Attleborough bricklayer, and the victualler of The Grapes Inn, that was held up at gun point in 1879. My 2nd great grandfather, and another story.
A vicious and armed attack on two of my ancestors in 1879.
The Grapes Inn, Attleborough, Norfolk. I wonder if that is my great great grandmother Ann Smith (nee Peach), standing in front of the beerhouse in this old photograph?
I first heard of The Grapes from my late grandmother Doris Brooker. She recalled in her childhood, her father, Frederick Smith, once taking her by horse and cart to a pub in Attleborough, that had a grapevine growing in the doorway. If you look at the above photograph, I think you can see growth on the front of the building. Was that the same vine? I had just seen a census that recorded her grandfather, as the victualler of the Grapes Beerhouse in Attleborough. It connected. She didn't know, but that beerhouse was where his parents had lived.
Here's how they relate to my late paternal grandmother:
My 2nd great grandfather Robert Smith, had been born in Attleborough in 1833, to a local family. His father, Robert the senior, at one point, lead a local riot against the background of the Swing Riots. After a sentence imprisoned in Norwich Castle Gaol, Robert the senior made a living as a hawker, umbrella maker, and as a labourer. In his fifties, he finally escaped the Agricultural Depression by taking a second wife, on the new railways to Sculcoates, a cotton spinning town in Yorkshire. Robert the junior and other siblings though, remained in Attleborough.
Robert the junior's wife, my 2nd great grandmother, Ann (nee Peach), had been born at Etton, Northants, in 1835, although her mother, Sarah Peach (nee Riches) was from a local Norfolk family. When Ann was an infant, her father David Peach was convicted of stealing two steers, and transported to Tasmania. Sarah and Ann returned to Norfolk. Ann subsequently must have grown up in a very poor single parent family in the town. Her mother Sarah, unable to remarry, made a living as a charwoman.
So both Robert and Ann were born into more poverty rather than riches. They married at Attleborough in 1857. Robert had become a bricklayer.
Between then and 1876, Ann gave birth to at least six children - Harry, Frederick (my grandmother's father), Alice, Emma, Samuel, and Nellie Smith. They must have worked hard to get what they had. By 1879, they were running the Grapes Inn on Levell Street in Attleborough. From there, they ran a beerhouse, a bricklayer's yard, a builder's merchant yard, and possibly a pork butchers. Here they are at the Grapes in 1881:
That's the background. That 1881 Census shows the family two years after the event that I am now going to retell.
The Attleborough Burglary
It was about one o'clock in the morning on the first of March, 1879. The beerhouse was closed. My great great grandmother Ann Smith, was suddenly awakened by a noise and a light on the landing. As she reached out to the bedroom door in order to investigate, a masked man carrying a revolver pushed into the bedroom, exclaiming "hoi-a-hoi!". Her husband Robert now awake, the intruder pointed the pistol at his face. The threat made, the burglar backed out to the landing. Just then, their eldest son Harry, awoke by the commotion opened the door of another bedroom. The intruder turned his revolver onto Harry, pointing it at a distance of six inches into his face. Harry slammed the bedroom door shut, and the gun was fired into it, splintering the door. The burglar then bolted from the Grapes, running out of the front door. Robert, Ann, and Harry surveyed the house. The intruder had kicked over a lamp, which needed to be extinguished. The house had been ransacked. Robert's silver pocket watch and chain had been stolen, some money, a carving knife, and some silver from a dresser.
The thief was a 20 year old John Clarke, originally from Shields in the North of England, but who had spent some time himself as a bricklayer, on the West India Docks in London. He was on a rampage in Norfolk. Armed, he committed a spate of burgalries at Attleborough, Spooner Row, Shipdham, and Foulsham.
The following Tuesday, he was at Little Walsingham. It was becoming to risky for him to continue his crime spate in Norfolk, and he was heading for the railway station, to escape back to London. He was tracked by the Police to a Little Walsingham pub, where they preceded to question him. He made a dash for it. As the police officers pursued him through the village, three times he raised his revolver and fired the gun at them - missing every time.
He reached the village of Great Walsingham. The Police officers had by now commodeared a horse and cart to pursue him. Locals joined in, including a game keeper's son called Codman. More shots were fired - one through Codman's apron! They chased him across the fields. Another bullet struck a horse in the neck. The rider of that horse, PC Goll, diismounted and forced Clarke to the ground - the gun fired again during the struggle. Goll managed to part him from the revolver, and to handcuff him.
Clarke was found with a number of stolen items including my great great grandfather's watch. He also had a piece of glass, painted with a death skull, that he would use with a lamp to frighten his victims. The next morning, he gave a full confession.
He was taken later that day to Norwich Shirehall. Angry crowds beseiged the building and a force of police had to keep order. There he was charged, and Robert, Ann, and Harry gave their accounts, and identified their stolen properties.
At the May Assizes, John Clarke was sentenced to twenty years penal servitude.
Norfolk News 10th May 1879
Eastern Daily Press 8th March 1879
Norwich Mercury 8th March 1879
My great grandfather Frederick Smith with his son Lenny.
This guide is really aimed at distant cousins with ancestry from the English counties of Norfolk and Suffolk. It's the perspective of a present day East Anglian from the ground. My ancestors were the ones that usually stayed in East Anglia.
First - definitions of what constitutes East Anglia. One modern governmental definition: "the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire". Estate Agents, trying to sell properties in idyllic East Anglia, often go even further, also including Huntingdonshire, Rutland, parts of Lincolnshire, and Essex. The ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom of East Anglia (see above image), didn't really include these add-ons. I go with that, but include parts of northern-most Essex. Why? Because on the ground, those areas still feel (and sound) East Anglian. Norfolk, Suffolk, eastern Cambridgeshire, and northern most Essex. That feels East Anglian. But it's heart remains the English counties of Norfolk and Suffolk.
East Anglia is situated on the North Sea coast of South-East England. It is lowland. A chalk bed lazily slopes down from west to east, with a layer of boulder clay on top running through mid Norfolk and high Suffolk. I say high, nowhere in East Anglia is high. This is Low Country. Our hills are in the main, very gradual, slight affairs. To the west of the chalk bed, lays even lower country - the ultra-flat landscape of the East Anglian Fens. Wetlands that have been drained for agriculture in rich peat and silt soils.
East Anglia is rural. It is agricultural. Largely arable, with favoured crops of wheat, barley, sugar beet, and oil seed rape. Medium size agri-business fields of crops across a very gently rolling lowland landscape, with parish church towers around every corner, and a buzzard in every copse of trees. Ancient narrow roads with bordering hedgerows, twist around long forgotten open fields and farmsteads. Mixed farming enters the river valleys, where cattle are fattened on rich grasses. Intensive pig and poultry broiler units also dot the landscape.
What about the East Anglians? That is one of the subjects of this post.
East Anglia isn't on the road to anywhere, but East Anglia. You don't pass through East Anglia on the way to the Industrial North, Scotland, Cardiff, Manchester, Birmingham, or London. It's far out on the periphery of Hub.co.uk. It's main urban centres are the small City of Norwich, and the towns of Ipswich, Kings Lynn and Bury St Edmunds. They are all, 'small'. Norwich comes in at a lowly 48th in English town by population size. You see, small. Far more medieval towers than modern high rise towers.
After the urban centres, most modern East Anglians probably live in or near the market-towns. These are really tiny "towns" some little more than villages. Some are lovely, ancient, with unspoiled centres and market places. Places such as Wymondham, Holt, Diss, Woodbridge, Swaffham, Beccles, Pulham Market, Laxfield, Long Melford, etc. There must be dozens scattered across East Anglia.
Wymondham market-town centre.
The rest of the East Anglians live in the countryside, outside of the market-towns. Trying to explain this to American genealogists where the old Roman ideal of planned city prevails, is difficult. We have villages. We have lots of them. Most are early Medieval in origin. They are set in ancient divisions known as parishes. Many East Anglians now live in suburbs on the edges of towns - but until a century or two ago, most of them lived further out in the countryside, in these villages.
How many villages have we got in East Anglia? Would you believe, somewhere around 1,300, with over 700 in the county of Norfolk alone. They absolutely dot the East Anglian countryside. Living in the countryside, in farmsteads and villages - that really is the Anglo-Saxon way of Life. Look at the below snip of a part of south Norfolk. See all of those red circles. Villages. The Blue circle is a market town on the old Roman road (A140).
Until a few centuries ago, most East Anglians lived in the countryside. Most of these villages will have a medieval church. There are more than 600 of them in Norfolk. They'll also often have a later non-conformist chapel as well. Over 600 medieval religious buildings in Norfolk! Possibly the highest density of medieval churches anywhere in the World. This is because Medieval Norfolk was central. It wasn't so peripheral before the Industrial Revolution. The medieval City of Norwich was the second or third largest city in England after London. All of those empty medieval churches. Where did the populace go? Some of them may have been your ancestors.
How about the origins of the East Anglians themselves? Who are they?
There are very few "Celtic" place-names in East Anglia, other than the Ouse river system. Most of the villages and place-names in East Anglia are of Anglo-Saxon origin, dating to between the 6th and 10th centuries AD, around 1,200 years ago. In addition there are a number of place-names that are Anglo-Danish in origin, dating to the 9th - 11th centuries AD, with a cluster of them in eastern Norfolk. See the map below, of the area called Flegg, an Anglo-Danish place-name in itself. All of those -by place-names - they were most likely settled by "Viking" Danish immigrants during the 9th to 11th centuries.
Previous to the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons during the 5th century AD, the region that we know call East Anglia had for centuries, been a part of the Western Roman Empire. Even further back than that, at the turn of prehistory to written history, the northern parts of the region were the home of the Iceni tribal federation, and the southern part to the Trinovante. These Late Iron Age peoples were descended from an immigration event from the Continent into the British Isles that took place some 2,000 years earlier. Call their ancestors Bell Beaker, Celt, British Celt, or Ancient Briton - their DNA is still the most dominant aspect of the modern British, and even English gene pool. The Roman occupation appears to have had little impact on their genetic make up.
Then the Anglo-Saxons arrived. They came from what is now Northern Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands. Early Anglo-Saxon artifacts found in East Anglia, have their closest correlation on the Continent with artifacts in Northern Germany, south of the Danish border. This was the origin of the Angles - which the early kings of East Anglia clearly identified with. Saxo-Frisians in what is now the Netherlands were well placed to migrate to the region, and contributed to this migrant community.
The most recent genetic studies suggest that rather than displace the Britons in the lowlands, that the Anglo-Saxons admixed with them in marriage. Indeed, as I said, genetically, the DNA of the earlier Britons is still the majority component, even in England. There was no genocide. However, an Anglo Saxon identity, culture, and language was adopted by all during following centuries.
West Stow reconstructed Anglo-Saxon village in Suffolk. The birth of the East Anglian village.
Not all of the Continental DNA in East Anglia arrived here during the 5th or 6th centuries AD. Some may have already been here from the Empire, or earlier. Some arrived during the 9th to 11th century settlement of Danes in the region. Then the Normans. The Medieval saw Angevins from Aquitaine, and other French arrive. Then during the 16th century, there was a significant settlement of Elizabethan Strangers (protestant refugees) from what is now the Netherlands. Huguenots followed. Asides from these noteable immigration events, there would have been a drip-drip feed of foreigners into the region. Dutch herring fishermen and engineers, Lithuanian timber and fur traders. Drovers from the Midlands. Indeed surname studies suggest that during the late medieval and following Tudor periods, there were a number of people moving into the Norfolk countryside - from the Continent, but also from other parts of England such as for example, Yorkshire. East Anglia isn't on the way to any where, but neither is it totally isolated from ingress of new settlers.
The consequence of the location of East Anglia in the North Sea World, is that Genetic Genealogists looking at their DNA "Ethnicity Estimates" or "Ancestry Composition" results might see high levels of DNA matching the panels for the Continent, rather than for the British Isles.
How did the East Anglians live?
Many genealogists proudly brag of documented descent from early medieval kings and emperors (usually Charlemagne). The lines that they trace in order to claim this must be those of the minority of the medieval European population - the titled and landed nobles, with their heraldic records. This elite weren't really representative of the entire population.
East Anglians were mainly rural, untitled, and really didn't have a lot of wealth. During the feudal Medieval, most East Anglians would have been within the ranks of the common peasantry, owing a range of fealties to their lords, in return for protection. Not all were particularly free, although there were high percentages of freemen peasants in eastern Norfolk. Others were tied in levels of servitude to their manors. They tilled their strips in the communal open field systems. They grazed their meagre livestock on the commons. They also worked the lord's land, supplied him with sheep fencing, ale, fuel, and grains. When called on, the men would have served the lord in wars against the Scottish, French or other houses. Life was hard, brutal, and often too short. However, the abundance of medieval churches across the region testify to the wealth that their labour actually created. It testifies to the success of their medieval economy here in East Anglia.
Two men threshing sheaf - Luttrell Psalter (c.1325-1335), f.74v See page for author [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons. Originally published/produced in England [East Anglia].
Most peasant families didn't even adopt hereditary surnames until around the 13th to 15th centuries AD. Except for brief mentions in manorial records, tithes, and polls, most don't even enter the records until 1538, when parish registers were introduced with the English Reformation. So unless you tie into an aristocratic line - you are not going to trace your East Anglian ancestry much further back than 1550. Indeed, many parish registers are damaged, lost, or destroyed. Many records are illegible. There is no guarantee of making it back that far. I find it difficult to trace back rural East Anglian roots with a high degree of certainty much earlier than 1720, for the lack of correlative evidence from censuses, transcripts, etc.
Hoard of 12th century (Henry III) hammered silver coins recovered in Norfolk, and recorded by my late father.
Not all East Anglians worked the soil. There were skilled crafts people such as the cordwainers, potters, smiths, and weavers. Some based in villages, others in the towns. Protestant beliefs and practices spread across Eastern England following the Reformation, particularly in urban areas. This was re-enforced during the late 16th century AD, when protestant refugees from the Roman-Catholic crown, in the Netherlands, were invited to settle in Norwich, Ipswich, and elsewhere across East Anglia and south east England. One poll of Norwich at this time suggested that as much as one third of the City population consisted of these Dutch and French protestants. They were invited not only as allies against Roman Catholic Europe, but to bring their valuable crafts and skills to East Anglia.
Their protestant vigour was infectious. East Anglia became a hot bed of Protestantism. As the Crown and Establishment turned down the Reformation, opting for keeping Conservative values in their Anglican Church, so the Protestants ... protested. Some hopped back over the North Sea to the Netherlands, which had for the time being, repelled the Catholic powers. However, some of these most puritan protestants then asked the English king for permission to set up their own colonies in New England. Permission was readily granted. The Puritans left Eastern England en mass. The point though is that this particular chapter of East Anglians migrating away, was centred in main, on urban classes, skilled workers, and those that could actually afford the voyage.
Norfolk saw little bloodshed during the 17th century English Civil War, as it was safely Parliamentarian. Except for a riot and explosion in Norwich when the Puritans tried banning Christmas.
Back to the countryside...
Between the 16th and 19th centuries AD, the descendants of the old East Anglian peasantry had to adapt to a number of economic changes that were not in their interest. The great land owning families were enclosing and renting out their lands to free tenant farmers, breaking up the old manorial estates. Some fields were enclosed, and the peasants found themselves replaced by more profitable sheep. Even the commons were enclosed and privatised. While the more entrepreneurial freemen rented out land to farm themselves, as tenant farmers, many others found themselves surplus to requirement, and alienated from the soils that had fed their ancestors for generations. They became farm hands, the great army of "ag labs" (agricultural labourers) of the 19th century censuses. Not all labourers were equal. The more fortunate, loyal, and skilled might find themselves almost in full employment, with a regular wage and a tied cottage. The less fortunate were the paupers. Seasonal workers that had to constantly look for work, or beg for parish relief. The rural poor didn't always accept these changes without resistance. In 1381, Norfolk and Suffolk peasants joined in a rebellion that threatened London. In 1549, Norfolk peasants rose into an army that captured the City of Norwich. In 1830, East Anglia was a centre of the Swing Riots.
Many agricultural labourers and their families still married and baptised as Anglican at the Church of England, but although much of the puritanical fervour had by now swept away from East Anglia, many were increasingly turning to non-conformist chapels of the Baptists, Congregationalists, and Methodists. The Primitive Methodists were particularly successful in East Anglia during the 19th Century.
If you had rural working class East Anglian ancestors during the 16th to 19th centuries, imagine them very poor. Following the Agricultural Revolution of the 17th and 18th centuries, new machines and technologies replaced much seasonal and manual labour on the fields. The commons, where the poor had grazed their animals had been taken away. Poor relief was ceased, and the desperate were forced to enter prison-like workhouses, in order to be fed - families split into separate dormitories, the poor harshly penalised, and discouraged from asking for relief.
How the land owners, farmers, and parsons saw it - the East Anglian countryside simply had a large surplus of unwanted labour. They were encouraged to leave. Some to far away colonies - Australia and Canada. Others to feed the factories and mills of the Industrial Revolution in places like Newcastle, Yorkshire, or London. For many - the railways arrived just in time to escort them away.
Example of East Anglian Accent.
Researching rural East Anglian ancestry
Most East Anglians were not titled, nor recorded in heraldic records.
Parish registers online are incomplete. Not all parishes or registers have even been digitally photographed.
Some parish registers have been lost, destroyed, or are badly damaged.
The transcriptions of the registers on some online genealogical services are sometimes incorrect. Always if you can, try to see scans of the original registers online. Because of these frequent errors, the databases often fail on searches.
If your ancestor was rural, use OpenStreetMap.org and magnify down to get to really know the area that they lived in. Appreciate distances by foot. People did sometimes move more than several miles - but very often in East Anglia, didn't! It's not unusual to see one family in the same small parish for several generations. Sometimes marrying cousins. It was the arrival of the railways, that sometimes allowed families to finally escape the rural poverty.
You find Harry X marries Mary Z in a village. You search the online databases for his baptism (and parentage). You find a baptism of a Harry X in the same county. You add him and his parents to your tree. Problem is ... the baptism was 23 miles away, and you don't realise it, but there were a number of Harry X at the same time, several closer to the place of marriage - you have made an error. You just saw the one on the database. More research might have uncovered a more likely candidate, with siblings named like his children, in the village next to that in which he married Mary Z. Getting to know the area really well may have made you search harder.
Illegitimacy is a surprise to some. You will see plenty of it in 18th and 19th century East Anglia. It was generated by poverty, poor housing, poor education, and desperation.
Most of your rural working class ancestors will be illiterate, and sign with an X. Education of the labourers was discouraged. However, now and then, you will find one that served as the parish clerk. Some could read.
Widows and widowers, with children in tow, would frequently remarry quickly. Support for the children was vital to keep them out of the workhouse.
Infant mortality can be very depressing or sobering. Expect some high rates.
Don't be surprised to find ancestors listed as paupers, or as inmates in workhouses, gaols, or even the asylum.
Check non-conformist church records, as well as the Anglican. The Methodists operated by "circuits".