Are the South East English actually Belgian?

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.

My Ancestry

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:

  1. The Bell Beaker.  During the Late Neolithic.  We believe that the British Bell Beaker people largely crossed over from the Lower Rhine Valley.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Roman Britain.  Britannia was often administered along with Gaul.
  5. 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?
  6. Norman.  1066 and all that.  A whole new elite arrived, often bringing artisans and supporters with them.
  7. Angevin and Medieval French.  For a time, large regions of France were ruled along with England.  French artisans, merchants, monks, priests, etc.
  8. 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.
  9. The Huguenots.  French Protestant refugees that arrived during the 17th and 18th centuries.
  10. 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.
Summary.

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:
Pretty similar.

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.

East Anglian Ancestry for far-away genealogists

User:Ras52, OpenStreetMap, Amitchell125 [CC BY-SA 1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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).

© OpenStreetMap contributors

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.

© OpenStreetMap contributors

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 c1325-1335 f74v - BL Add MS 42130

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

Understand that:

  1. Most East Anglians were not titled, nor recorded in heraldic records.
  2. Parish registers online are incomplete.  Not all parishes or registers have even been digitally photographed.
  3. Some parish registers have been lost, destroyed, or are badly damaged.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Widows and widowers, with children in tow, would frequently remarry quickly.  Support for the children was vital to keep them out of the workhouse.
  10. Infant mortality can be very depressing or sobering.  Expect some high rates.
  11. Don't be surprised to find ancestors listed as paupers, or as inmates in workhouses, gaols, or even the asylum.
  12. Check non-conformist church records, as well as the Anglican.  The Methodists operated by "circuits".

A few thoughts on political perspective

I really don't write this blog for anyone but myself.  I don't think that many people other than myself bother to read it.  When I launched this blog a few years ago, I launched it with that intention.  Somewhere to place my thoughts and interests, and just lately, with my hikes through the East Anglian countryside, I've had plenty of time to clear the cobwebs, and think.

This morning, I felt like making a post, and felt inspired to put down my latest thoughts on the recent paper "The Beaker Phenomenon and the genomic transformation of Northwest Europe" by Olalde etal (link).  I was thinking of comparing it's conclusion of a massive replacement of human genomes across the British Isles at the end of the Neolithic, with the much later Anglo-Saxon immigration event across Southeast Britain.  Then while cooking breakfast, I had a little look across Youtube for inspiration.  I found it, which then lead onto another video.  However, the Tuber was using the evidence to subtly make a case for his Englishness, his embrace of Anglo-Saxon culture, belief systems, and heritage, his link to a patriarchal warrior based Indo-European society. It had an undertone. He was selectively using evidence to support his underlying narrative.   At one point, a grin when he quoted a paper as promoting a particularly "healthy" genome.  References to a "Liberal Left Media" and a hostile Left Wing cemented the bias.

There's nothing wrong with being passionate about your ancestry, your roots.  Nothing wrong with celebrating your identity.  It all goes tits up, when people start to regard their identity as somehow any better than anyone else's.  Nothing wrong with being white, black, green or purple polka dot.  But supremacy, a belief in that "what you are" makes you better than others.  There's plenty that's unsavoury about that illness.  Paranoia that Lefties and the political correctness are out to get you, All of these attacks on the "Liberal Lefties".  What's all that about?

I'm pretty clearly very, very interested in ancestry, and in the past.  I've got no problem with anyone else being interested in their past, or our collective past.  My ancestry is no more important than that of another time traveller that for example, might have a mixture of ancestries from Sudan, Sri Lanka, and Poland.  Yeah, my politics are liberal left.  I look for bridges in population genetics, rather than trying to create narratives that build walls to fight over - that's my bias, and we all have bias.  When will some dudes, those that usually need to look for some sort of uniform, and a golden past, stop putting words into the mouths of us "left wingers".  There is nothing wrong with celebrating your heritage and culture - what ever it is.  Plenty wrong with thinking that it makes you better than others.

The First East Anglians Part I

A recent purchase in a Norwich shop, was a used book: The Anglo-Saxon Cemeteries of Caistor-by-Norwich and Markshall Norfolk by J.N.L Myres and Barbara Green.  The Society of Antiquities.  1973.  Caistor-by-Norwich, or as it is also known, Caistor-St Edmund, is located close to the confluence of the River Tas with the River Yare, in East Norfolk.  The Anglo-Saxon cremation urn cemetery there, was built outside of the walls of Venta Icenorum, a Romano-British town.  The book's authors suggest that the cemetery belonged to Anglo-Saxon mercenary soldiers, that were employed to defend the town, and their families that they brought over.  This fits the context of the Anglo-Saxon invasion, as proposed by traditionalist historians that support the accounts made in later centuries by Gildas and by Bede.  In this context, these finds could be suggested to have belonged to the very first East Anglians

I could wax on about it's extensive finds catalogue, and illustrations:

But instead, I'm going to copy here, a passage from the above book that I read this morning, after recieving an email from Stephen Arbon, concerning the Anglo-Saxon settlement of East Anglia.

"The suggested reorganization of the town defences in the third century implies a community still sufficiently large and viable to warrant such an expense.  The enclosure of some 35 acres must indicate that this area was thought worth defending.  Until the whole system is securely dated uncertainty must remain.  But the existence of external bastions does indicate that the defences were probably improved in the later part of the fourth century.  Further evidence for the existence of an adequate defensive system at the time comes from the forum and Building 4.  Five pieces of military equipment of the type associated with barbarian troops of this period have been found on these two sites, while a sixth was included in a nineteenth century collection.  All are late fourth - or early fifth century types and indicate the presence of a military force stationed in or near the town at this time.  A bone sword guard was picked up after ploughing in 1969 in the area of the Baths.  This too can perhaps be associated with the users of the metal objects.  By this time also, if the dating here suggested for the earliest barbarian burials in the Anglo-Saxon cemetery is correct, Germanic folk were already cremating their dead only some 400 yards outside the east gate of Venta.

It may also be significant in this context to note that a number of pieces of so-called 'Romano-Saxon' pottery have been recorded from the Roman town.  One such, unstratified, has already been published; three others are here illustrated on fig. 70.  Pottery of this kind has been held to indicate the impact of Germanic decorative taste on ceramic fashions in the later days of Roman Britain.  It certainly displays motifs that were popular beyond the Roman frontiers at this time; where datable, it occurs mostly in late fourth-century contexts, and its distribution lies mainly in those eastern parts of Britain where the barbarian influence was likely to be felt at the earliest date.  The presence of this hybrid pottery is another piece of evidence for the cultural conditions prevailing at Venta in its final phase.

Caistor is in fact one of the few Roman towns in Britain where Romano-Saxon pottery, late Roman military equipment, and early Germanic cremation cemeteries have all been found in close association.  The relationship between the soldiery to whom the military equipment found in the town belonged and the folk whose cremated remains were buried outside the walls is difficult to determine.  It is most natural to suppose that these finds represent two aspects of the same phenomenon, a body of Germanic mercenaries who in life defended the walls in their final form and in death were buried, in accordance with continuing Roman practice, outside.  If as is suggested by the presence of beads in some of the earliest urns, they had their families with them, they too would have been settled somewhere close at hand.  It may be objected that barbarian irregulars in Roman, or sub-Roman employment would be unlikely to cremate their dead with such persistence as the earliest users of the cemetery appear to have done.  It is true that most cemeteries of Germanic troops that have been recognized in Roman frontier areas on the Continent consist of inhumations, and the well known Dorchester burials are a similar instance in this country.  But it has to be remembered that most of the continental laeti in northern Gaul came of Frankish stock or from related German tribes beyond the Rhine who had long been familiar with Roman ways, while the Angles and Saxons who first settled at Caistor came from regions much further afield in north Germany and southern Scandinavia on which Roman civilization had made little cultural impact.  And, while it is true that no objects of Roman uniform equipment have been recognized in our cremation urns, such instances have been recorded in north German cremation cemeteries, indicating no doubt that individual Saxons who had served in Roman irregular units did sometimes return home to die and be cremated in accordance with their own ancestral customs.  At Caistor and elsewhere in eastern England such folk had fewer opportunities to return home to the Continent: they had come here to stay, and they continued to cremate their dead in their new homeland, unaffected by Romano-British habits, for which, in any case, they probably had some contempt.

The Anglo-Saxon Cemeteries of Caistor-by-Norwich and Markshall Norfolk by J.N.L Myres and Barbara Green.  The Society of Antiquities.  1973. 

A surviving stretch of Venta's wall at Caistor St Edmund.

An information board at the site of the old Roman town.

Drawing of Romano-British potsherds from a site that I recorded in Thetford Forest many years ago.  The bottom left sherd is of the type known as Romano-Saxon pottery.

In conclusion, I'm not prepared to take sides on this one.  we know that some very early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries surround the old Roman town of Venta Icenorum in Norfolk.  We still don't know with any degree of certainty what was the relationship between the town and these cemeteries. Another Anglo-Saxon cemetery has been found close to the walls of the Roman shore fort nearby at Burgh Castle.  Did they arrive as Gildas indicated, as invited guests and mercenaries?

Spong Hill Anglo-Saxon Cemetery to Gressenhall Workhouse

I recently visited Sutton Hoo, the ship-burial ground of early East Anglian kings.  However, Sutton Hoo, in south-east Suffolk, isn't the only known focus for the Anglo-Saxon kingdom.  Another exists closer to me, in mid-Norfolk.  Today I took a local field/road trip!

This blurry poor quality photo of a field was taken by myself earlier today.  I had to endure hunting around with grid references, and thorn scratches in order to take that.  I'm pleased.  I know what the legendary Spong Hill looks like now.  It doesn't look much does it?  However, this field has had the hell dug out of it over the past 250 years.  Why?  Because it yielded thousands of finds.  It is the site of a large and important Anglo-Saxon cemetery.  It is thought that around 3,000 people ended up here, the majority cremated.  That's a significant cemetery - 2,200 cremations dated to between 410 AD and 550 AD have been recorded here.  Many accompanied by stamped Anglo-Saxon urns, including some displayed in the Norwich Castle Museum exhibit below:

Cremations appear to have been the favoured method of disposing the dead in this cemetery, although later burials do exist on the site.  However, many of the early cremations here must have included the first wave immigrants from the Anglo-Saxon homelands on the Continent.  The most famous single artifact find in this field must be "Spong Hill Man".  The ceramic figure from an urn lid in the image at the top of this page.

My field trip today didn't end there.  Next stop had to be in the same parish.  A premium Late Anglo-Saxon site.  Again, it's appearance disguises it's former importance.  A low level ruin of a Norman chapel.  It is however believed that previous to being used as a norman chapel, and later as a medieval castle, it was the site of the very first Cathedral of East Anglia.

Today North Elmham is a village in Norfolk.  However, Spong Hill, and later, the Cathedral site, suggest that to the early East Anglians, this parish held far more importance.  North Elmham in mid-Norfolk was the first known ecclesiastical centre of East Anglia.  After the Conquest, the mantle was passed to Thetford briefly, before moving to Bury St Edmunds.  If you were not informed otherwise, today, you would have no idea that this village had once played such an important part in East Anglian, and English history.  An early base of the Anglo-Saxons perhaps?  Spong Hill had indeed been used by a significant local community.

Indeed, another site has recently been excavated - a Middle Saxon (AD 650 - AD 850) cemetery, only a few miles north of North Elmham, at Great Ryburgh.  This newly recorded site has hit the archaeological headlines for it's water logged timber coffins.

I love archaeology and all sorts of heritage.  However, I'm primarily a genealogist.  I'm of the school that 1) we should tell a story, and 2) we should embrace local history, archaeology and population genetics in order to tell a deeper story.  So how can I link the above sites to my family history?  Quite easily.  You see, I have lot's of recorded ancestors from my father's side - just a few miles to the south of Spong Hill.  Not all of their ancestry would have likely originated with the customers of the Spong Hill cemetery, or have venerated the timber cathedral at North Elmham.  However, in all likelihood - some of them would have.

So on this field-road trip, I venture only a couple of miles from Spong Hill, to a 19th century site of my ancestry that has a story worth telling.

Gressenhall Workhouse.  Built in 1779 to house the poor of the local hundred.  It transformed into a less friendly place with the Poor Law Union Act.  I have joked that this is the family estate, as a number of my father's ancestors were associated with it.  As inmates unfortunately.  My 2xgreat grandfather William Bennett Baxter was born here in 1846:

His birth was illegitimate, and his mother, Eliza would have been a Jacket Woman:

He was not listed in the workhouse during the 1851 census.  He did later, on in a marriage register, claim William Bennett (who was a young but married local miller) to be his father.  His known ancestry was all local to the Dereham and mid-Norfolk area:

Could this be his initials that I today saw there on a wall in what use to be the boy's courtyard?

He married Harriet Barber who had also been born in Gressenhall Workhouse!  She was born there in 1847.  Harriet was also of a local family - and one with a history of illegitimacy.  The below pedigree chart is of her mother, also Harriet Barber, born at nearby Swanton Morley in 1826:

Her family were mainly in Swanton Morley - and with that high level of illegitimacy, I have tongue-in-cheek, suggested that as Abraham Lincoln's paternal line were in that same village, that we could be related there.  The point that I'm making is that these were local, rural, poor people, with most likely, local ancestry in that area.  The people inhumed at Anglo-Saxon cemeteries nearby most likely did count within at least a part of their ancestry.

So both William and Harriet were born illegitimate in the workhouse at Gressenhall.  The surprise that follows is that so were their first two children some years later.  Then they settled down in the Swanton Morley and Northall Green area near to Dereham.

I'll finish off this photo-blog of today's journey through ancestry with a simple photo, of a local lane in the area:

A visit to Sutton Hoo - Kings of East Anglia

A day off from work, and I had promised myself that I was going to get out and tick off a job that's been waiting some time.  A visit to the Anglo-Saxon ship burial site at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk.  Maybe I should have checked the weather forecast first.  I would have seen that Storm Doris was going to hit East Anglia.  Never mind, I got there and back in one piece, having circumnavigated a number of fallen trees.  Luckily, I arrived before the centre shut it's gates.  I was advised not to walk to the mounds, for fear of windfall - but only mad dogs and Englishman.  At least it was quiet.

The nature of these mounds was revealed back in 1938, when the land owner, Mrs Edith Pretty, commissioned an investigative excavation.  The burials have included whole ships, warriors, swords, grave goods from all over AD 7th Century Europe, and a horse.  The interpretation is that it was the burial site of the Kings of East Anglia during the 6th and 7th centuries AD.

The 1938 excavation revealed the soil marks and iron rivets of a burial ship.  Built in a clinker design, it appears similar in many respects to ship burials in Sweden, only at least two hundred years before the classic Viking examples.  Initially Mrs Petty and her team thought that they had found a Viking ship burial, but at it's centre - although there were no surviving human remains, they found a treasure of grave goods that suggested an Anglo-Saxon origin.  Nothing like it had been found before.

Excavations of the mounds have also revealed that treasure hunters and grave robbers had removed many artifacts during previous centuries, and caused much damage.  One reported dig in another mound here, during the mid 19th Century reported that they found no treasure, just lots of iron rivets - that they sold to the local iron smith to produce horse shoes!  This suggests at least one other ship burial at this site.

Mrs Pretty lived in a house close to the mounds, that is partly open to visitors.  Artifacts, letters, photos of the 1938 dig are displayed in the house.

The original Sutton Hoo Treasure is held in the British Museum in London.  I've seen it several times, but this was my first ever visit to the dig site itself.

Above, a proposed reconstruction of what the chamber in the ship may have looked like at the time of burial.  Although no human remains survived, it is speculated that this was the burial of King Raedwald, who ruled as King of the East Anglians AD 599 to AD 624.  Raedwald is considered the most powerful early 7th Century Anglo-Saxon king in the British Isles.  He belonged to the Wuffinga Dynasty of early East Anglian royals.  Below is a replica reconstruction of the famous ceremonial helmet found in the 1938 ship burial.

The helmet appears styled on ceremonial helmets worn by Roman generals in the late Western Roman Empire.  It has been suggested that the craftsmanship appears Swedish.  The Swedish links have led some to speculate that the Wuffing Dynasty may have had links to Sweden.

More replica reconstructions from the treasure that can be seen at the Sutton Hoo visitor centre.

Grave goods appear to have came from all over contemporary Europe - from Ireland, France, the Eastern Mediterranean, and Scandinavia.  This demonstrates the ability of the East Angle elites to trade goods from far away.