A Day at the Record Office

I took the above photograph of Besthorpe church graveyard, a few weeks ago on Rollei Retro 400S film, that was loaded in an Olympus XA2 camera, then developed in Ilford LC29 chemistry.

Well that was fun.  Five hours in a stuffy archive centre, wheeling through microfilms, with not much to show for it other than sore eyes.

I'm still concentrating solely on that mtDNA line - my strict maternal line.  I had got back to my G.G.G Grandmother, Sarah Daynes (nee Quantrill).  She stated on several censuses that she was born around 1827 at Wymondham, Norfolk.  She most likely was the thirteen year old family servant, Sarah Quantrill, employed during the 1841 census in the Long household at Wymondham.  It looks like she had to look after forty year old James Long, a farmer, and several of his children, some a similar age to her.  She went on to marry Reuben Daynes at Besthorpe, Norfolk on the 26th April 1849.  She appears to have remained at Besthorpe for most if not all of her remaining life.  Turnpike Road Cottages, to be precise, which I believe to be close to Morley and Wymondham.  Her husband Reuben, was a labourer, still employed in at the age of seventy.  He lived to a good old age, although by the age of 78, he was forced to turn to parish relief.  They were still living at Turnpike cottages in 1901.

So, we know by census that mtDNA G.G.G Grannie Sarah was born circa 1827, at Wymondham, and that her father was a labourer named Robert Quantrill.  I slowly scanned through the Wymondham baptism registers from 1813 until nearly the late 1830s.  Wymondham had a lot of babies.  Surely, by reason of thought, I should find the baptism of Sarah, and perhaps some siblings?  That would be the normal next step.

Nope, nada.  I wasted hours.  Although I know that there are splashes of the Quantrell/Quantrill/Quantrele surname around mid Norfolk (Bunwell and sometimes Norwich crop up on searches), it didn't crop up much in the Wymondham parish registers.  Which can also be a good thing.However, in this case, I found a mere five of them, and none particularly helpful.

  • One daughter of a Richard Kett and Sarah (nee Quantrill) in 1822
  • One daughter of a William Quantrele and his wife Ann (nee Blake) in 1824
  • Two daughters in 1826 and 1827 of a John Starling and his wife Maria (nee Quantril).

So where the hell were their children, or at least mtDNA Sarah, baptised?  I can immediately think of three top options to research, but they are not easy:

  • Nonconformist.  I have a hunch though, that they were not.
  • A nearby parish - but so many possibilities!  I could be looking for months or years.
  • Something happened to the family, such as moving far away for years, or death / break up - hence Sarah working as a servant at thirteen years of age.

Then, just before I had to go and walk a mile to move the car before I got a ticket, I quickly glanced through the Wymondham Marriage Register, and I found:

Robert Quantrill bachelor of this parish & Mary Page of this parish by banns 12th October 1818.

G.G.G mtDNA Grannie Sarah, born nine years after that marriage, claimed that she was born in Wymondham, and also claimed that her father was a Robert Quantrill.  They fit, it is so tempting, that I have provisionally claimed Mary Quantrill (nee Page) to be my next generation back, my G.G.G.G mtDNA Grannie.  However, it's not good paper genealogy.  Really I need to verify her as a direct ancestor.  I could have the wrong couple, or it could have been the right Robert Quantrill (the only Robert Quantrill so far spotted in Wymondham), but an earlier marriage.  I at least need to see Sarah named as the daughter of a Robert & Mary Quantrill, born of them around 1827, perhaps in Wymondham or nearby.  This would be pre-state birth registration, and before anything I can find on a census.  I can't find her or any siblings in the Wymondham baptism registers, so where next?  I need her baptism.

On the positive, I'm making some progress.  Before my recent campaign, all of my mother's recorded ancestors had been very much East or Broadland Norfolk.  That is where her autosomal DNA would largely originate for I suspect, many centuries.  Quite interesting, because the Far East of East Anglia is where some researchers such as Stephen Oppenheimer, have suggested the strongest genetic evidence of Anglo-Saxon admixture.  Place-name evidence there also strongly suggests Danish Viking  settlement.  The shores of East Anglia were the places where immigrants were most likely to beach.  I have also previously read that the sea levels dropped very slightly around the eighth century AD, making areas such as Norfolk Flegg, easier to drain for settlement by immigrants from across the North Sea.

And yet, my mtDNA line skips away from that Eastern fringe, into South Norfolk.  I didn't expect that.  In Besthorpe, it is only a parish away from some of my father's autosomal ancestors at Attleborough, and not so far away from his mtDNA at Hedenham in South Norfolk.  My parents grew up in very different districts of Norfolk, at least thirty miles apart, with the City of Norwich in between.  Yet follow the genes back, and you can start to see how earlier admixture between their ancestors could well have taken place within the past five hundred years.  The recent POBI (People of the British Isles) genetic survey (2015) suggested that despite admixture from many waves of immigration going back over thousands of years, that the present day English are very homogeneous.  The same survey also said that the patterns of the old Anglo-Saxon kingdoms still show on their genetic map.

I've only followed the mtDNA line back five or six generations so far.  However, I can't help noticing that it is swirling around South and East Norfolk.  It is more mobile than many of the autosomal lines.  Perhaps women were more likely to move over the past few centuries to new parishes, to their husbands?

I say swirling - I have got back so far to Wymondham.  That is the same South Norfolk market town that my parents retired to.  I even lived there for a while.  My mother, my sister, my niece, who all share my mtDNA, still live there.  Yet no-one was aware that we had ancestors there in the town.


There was no British Genocide


The Anglo-Saxon Invasion according to History

When I was eleven years old, and had just started secondary school, we had this odd lesson that I still recall.  Our headmaster (who we hadn't previously encountered) took our class, but pretended to be the caretaker, taking the class in the absence of a teacher.  Bizarre behaviour, I don't know what he hoping to teach us from this, except perhaps to be careful how we judge people. 

He was a Welshman.  At one point during the session, he told us eleven year olds, that his people, were the real Britons, and that we English kids were the descendants of land thieves.  Our ancestors had invaded the British lowlands following the collapse of Roman Britain, and had slaughtered his people, driving the survivors to the hills of Wales.  It must have made an impact on me.  Sure enough, when my interest in history turned to the making of England, the text books pretty much confirmed his story of genocide.  We English weren't the real British, our ancestors were marauding, barbarians from Northern Germany, the Anglo-Saxons.  The prime sources of this tale were two accounts, one from Gildas, written from the British perspective, during the century that followed this alleged genocide, and the other was Bede, written as from the perspective of an Anglian Christian monk, another century later. 

The Archaeologists revision

I became interested in amateur archaeology from around the late 1980s, and volunteered as an enthusiastic field-walker (surface collection survey).  My read list grew.  I completed a two year extra mural course in landscape archaeology with the UEA.  I encountered more and more interpretations from British archaeologists, writing from the 1970s on, that something didn't seem right about the traditional Gildas/Bede account of genocide.  There was no archaeology of genocide.  There was more evidence of continuity through that period.  The Roman towns started decaying long before hoards of Anglo-Saxons arrived to dismantle them.  The Roman shore forts of the "Saxon Shore" - despite the usual claims that they were erected to fight off Anglo-Saxon raiders into Roman Britain, just didn't seem particularly defensive.  The archaeology suggested that their role might have actually been to control and tax imports and exports across the North Sea to the Germanic lands.  There appeared to be more shifts of settlement patterns a full century and a half after the alleged Anglo Saxon invasion, than directly following it.

The Bede claim is that two Anglo-Saxon chiefs, Hengist and Horsa, conscripted by the Romano-British as mercenaries to protect south-east Britain from attack, mutinied, called over their cousins, and commenced the Anglo-Saxon invasion.  It doesn't sound right.  Their names Hengist and Horsa are sometimes used in Germanic folklore and mythology, associated with a pair of horses.  It's not too far from the Romulus and Remus characters of the Rome origin myth. 

Some archaeologists pointed out that the east and west Britains, had always been different - since prehistory, not just since the Anglo-Saxon period.  They suggested that the West had a maritime influence down the Atlantic seaboard - to Ireland, Brittany, the Bay of Biscay, and Iberia, while the East had a maritime influence from the North Sea World - Belgium, Netherlands, North Germany, Denmark, Norway, etc.  Seas, rather than dividing Britain from external influence, had long provided highways of ideas, culture, and maybe genes from different zones of mainland Europe. The suggestion was that these two maritime influences had brought cultures, beliefs, trade, and even people, differently since prehistory, to either side of Britain. England had long been a part of the North Sea World.  Wales and Cornwall on the other hand, had long been a part of the Atlantic Celtic World.

Archaeologists were also questioning traditional histories of the Celts in Europe, and particularly in Britain.  It was pointed out, that the Romans and Greeks appeared to use that description for a number of tribal peoples that lived outside of their world, in Central Europe.  No-one then had used the word "Celt" to describe the Britons.  It was only much later, with the rise of nationalist movements, that Western Britons started to embrace the identity.  Some archaeologists accepted that there was a grouping of cultures, Gaelic linguistic groups, and art forms, shared along the European Atlantic Seaboard, from Northern Portugal to the Western Highlands of Scotland.  They called it the Western or Atlantic Seaboard Celtic, to distance itself from the Hallstatt, and classical references to the Central European Celtic culture.  It was never proposed though, that this was ever a homogeneous, or self-identifying "people".

More and more archaeologists argued for a revision of Britain's Dark Age histories.  They could not find archaeological evidence of genocide.  They were arguing for a partial displacement - that the Anglo-Saxons were immigrants that settled the British lowlands during the 5th Century AD, but did not "replace" the Romano-Britons, and instead, intermarried with them.  Some suggested that only small numbers of Anglo-Saxon elites may have arrived - and that their culture trickled down to their British subjects.  Some dared even suggest that there was no invasion, nor substantial Anglo-Saxon settlement of Eastern Britain at all.  Cultural influence merely crossed the North Sea in the vacuum of a collapsed Roman administration. 

Not all agreed though.  Many conservative historians, and even some archaeologists, continued to use traditional models of 5th Century invasion hypothesis.  School text books probably didn't change much.  Popular history continued without too much interruption.  Archaeological interpretations of the 5th/6th centuries were often confused concessions. 

Then genetic testing started to arrive.

Stephen Oppenheimmer is a British paediatrician that has developed a career in researching and writing popular science books concerning the genetic evidence for human origins.  After his best seller Out of Eden, in 2007 he published a book examining British roots, titled Origins Of The British .

He argued that 1) there was no Anglo-Saxon invasion. The ethnic British today were descended mainly from people that arrived here at the end of the Ice Age - both East and West British.  There was more admixture from later immigrations in the East, but it was still a minority in the mix. There was a genetic marker difference between east and west, but both populations had descended from the same haplogroup, that he believed had spilled out of the Basque Ice Age refuge at the end of the last Ice Age.  2)  Saxon culture had been in Britain for a longer time than traditionally accepted, that it existed in Roman Britain, perhaps even Iron Age Britain.  He argues that the term Saxon used in Britain referred to ethnicities in Roman SE Britain, that already used a Germanic language.  Not to refer to people from Saxony in modern day Germany.  He proposed genetic markers that he regarded as Angle arriving during the 5th Century, but these were not, he argued, ever a majority even in England.  Indeed, he argued that the later settlement of Danes left a bigger impression.  3) He claimed that the English language appears to date it's divergence from other Germanic dialects, long before the 5th Century AD.  He suggest that is because a form of it had already long existed in SE Roman Britain, perhaps even earlier.

You can imagine that his conclusions and hypothesis made quite a stir.  Some revisionists were ecstatic.  Some conservatives regarded it as crackpot.  He was stating that the English were as British as either the Welsh or Scots.  Just as the old Celtic origin myth had excited Irish and Welsh nationalists over the past few centuries, I saw the leader of the BNP (a British Far Right political group) on TV, citing poor Oppenheimer's book as evidence that the English were an ancient British people, pure and free of immigration.  An unfortunate interpretation of an interesting and provocative book.

Since 2007, genetic studies and understanding of British origins continue to progress, and will do so in the future.  One of Oppenheimer's assertions has been contradicted by studies of European human genes in general.  He believed that something like 60 to 95% of British inheritance had been here since before the Neolithic, descending from hunter-gatherers that arrived before 6,000 years ago.  The European-wide evidence suggest that some of his haplogroups had arrived in Europe later.  At least two significant waves of genes have entered Europe over the past 7,000 years, replacing the vast majority of earlier hunter-gatherer genes.  The first, it is suggested, arrived with the Neolithic - originating in the Middle East, and reaching NW Europe by 6,000 years ago.  The second, only recently discovered, originated it is suggested, on the Eurasian Steppes, and has been associated with the Yamnaya culture of pastoralists.  This has revived the old Indo-European hypothesis.  There is a possibility, that there was a significant expansion westwards from the Steppes and Balkans, and that they carried the Indo-European language, that so many modern European languages descend from.  The genetic data hints that this wave of genes arrived in West Europe around 4,200 years ago.  Some people are also associating it with the arrival of the Bell Beaker assemblage of artifacts and monuments. 

The point is, that these two late prehistoric waves of genes appear to have replaced the vast majority of earlier European genes.  A study published only last week, of Irish origins found particularly strong links to this Late Neolithic wave, from the Steppes.  The modern English may have some genes that originated in the Ice Age refuges of Europe, but they appear to be swamped by later immigrations of farming populations from the Middle East and the Steppes.  It doesn't however, yet appear to disrupt his assertion that their genes had been here long before the 5th Century.

People of the British Isles Study 2015

A newer study of British origins that promises to be the most comprehensive of all, using new improved mathematical models.  It produced a few surprises.

  • There is no homogeneous British Celtic group.  Wales had more genetic diversity than anywhere else in the British Isles.
  • The Cornish are different from the English - but are more like the English than they are like the Welsh.
  • The English are a homogeneous group, although regionalism can be detected, that correlates with the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.
  • Anglo-Saxon immigration influence on English genetics is a mere 10 - 40%. Most of our genes were indeed already here much earlier.  The English are mainly British. There was no Anglo Saxon genocide of the British.
  • The Welsh do appear to have a high level of hunter-gatherer inheritance.  Maybe Oppenheimer is vindicated on this one.
  • The Danish are missing.  They could not find a visible genetic marker left by the Danish Vikings in Dane-Law England!
  • "The analyses suggest there was a substantial migration across the channel after the original post-ice-age settlers, but before Roman times. DNA from these migrants spread across England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, but had little impact in Wales."

So there it is.  Gildas and Bede overplayed the 5th Century Anglo-Saxon Invasion.  Genetic surveys suggest that less than 40% of English genes originated with the Anglo-Saxons, perhaps even as low as 10%.  Most English genes arrived here in Britain much earlier; between 6,100 and 3,800 years ago.  The ethnic English can look at Iron Age, Bronze Age, probably even Neolithic monuments across the British lowlands, and consider them built by our ancestors.  My Welsh headmaster had it wrong.

So what was it like in 5th Century England?

I have recently read Britain After Rome: The Fall and Rise, 400 to 1070. 2011 Robin Fleming.  A well researched history, where the researcher has not only referred to traditional historical sources, but leans heavily onto modern archaeology.  Fleming doesn't use Oppenheimer's suggestion of a Saxon presence in Roman Britain.  However, she does side with the new evidence of partial immigration, with few cases of any immigrant Anglo-Saxons outnumbering locals in any area of Britain.

How I interpret her book, I see the 5th Century Eastern Britain now as a very multicultural place, full of different dialects, languages, traditions and belief systems.  What people believed, and how they talked during the 5th Century, most likely differed from one farmstead to the next farmstead.  The largest ethnic group were the Romano-Britons.  How they dealt with the collapse of Rome varied from one community to another.  Some appear to have tried to revert to pre-Roman ways and even belief systems.  Others tried to preserve the Roman way of Life - the Romanitas .  Some communities preserved a form of Christianity, although in the absence of Rome, it most likely deviated towards the heretical.  Many of them would have embraced the new arrival cultures from across the North Sea - new fashions, dress, status symbols on the markets.  They became Anglo-Saxon.  Of the newcomers - 10% to 40%, there were a multitude of tribal ethnicities.  Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Allemani, Suevvi, Franks, etc.  They most likely arrived from Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, France and maybe as far away as Poland and East Prussia.  The lowlands of Britain were rich and fertile, it's rivers and coastline highly accessible.  The collapse of Roman administration, and a crisis in local society had left Britain open for adventure and investment.  A collapse of import duties, taxation, administration - the land to grow in.  A land of opportunity.

Some of these ethnicities may have had areas of Eastern England where they did dominate, where elites could gather power and identity.  However, genetic studies keep supporting the archaeologists - there was no major invasion.  The Romano-Britons left more of their genes to survive, than did the immigrant Anglo-Saxons.  English people had roots here in Britain since at least the Later Neolithic,  some of our roots may go back much further.  We have Anglo-Saxon roots from the Continent as well, but a minority of the genetic mix.

Fleming goes on to argue that it was in the following century, the 6th Century, that an Anglo-Saxon identity was developed.  Following the collapse of Roman society, and the immigrations from across the North Sea, at first it was sort of a free multicultural grab all.  Then as elites started to emerge, and expand their power into kingdoms during the 6th Century, they started to encourage cultural identities for their subjects.  Some emerging royal households were perhaps keen to claim descent from brave adventuring warriors of the North Sea World.  The "East Saxons", The "East Angles", the "South Saxons" etc.  This identity trickled down to their subjects regardless of the identity of their own ancestors.  The royal house of West-Saxon that survives today as the British Monarchy, claims the Germanic deity Woten (Odin) in their family tree.  It was now that lowland Britain transformed into Anglo-Saxon England.

I'm going to finish this incredibly long boring post with a thought. 

The past twenty years have seen a new wave of immigration, particularly into Eastern England.  EU immigration from Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, Romania, the Czech Republic, Portugal, and Bulgaria.  I live near to a town that has seen some of the highest percentages, maybe 20 - 40% of the town population is EU.  The last time that this area saw such immigration levels may have been the 5th century.  Okay, this is different.  We live in a 21st Century Capitalist nation-state with towns, cities, mass media.  I can see that in a generation - the kids of these new adventurers from the Continent will be undistinguishable from the Britons, except for some odd sounding surnames.  When I go down town, I can buy Bulgarian mushrooms, eat in a Lithuanian bistro, buy Polish vodka, etc.  I can't help seeing some similarities between the present and the 5th Century.  It's a cool time to live in England.  Here is my 5th Century England:

Edit:  More recent evidence from the Cambridge Area in 2016 here.