Henry Shawers, - a weaver in the tree

The above image, St Philips, Bethnal Green, in London's East End, where Henry Shawers married Elizabeth Durran in 1857.

I've been researching my family history and genealogy, on and off for around 29 years.  I'm very pleased, that in the first few years, that I took the chance to interview elderly relatives that are no longer here to interview.  One of the stories that came out on my father's side, was that there was a "foreigner" in the tree.  One version said French, another said maybe Russian.  One late uncle even thought maybe German.  I hoped to find this exotic ancestry, and started to research documents.  I never found one non-English ancestor.  That is I hadn't ... until a few days ago!  He is on my father's side, a great great great grandfather of mine.

I discovered the Shawers line way back.  My great grandfather John Henry Brooker, born at Deptford, London in 1884, was the son of Henry Brooker and Elizabeth Rosina (nee Shawers).  Elizabeth Rosina Shawers was born at Haggerston, London in 1858, the daughter of my 3 x great grandparents Henry Shawers, and Elizabeth (nee Durran).

My 3 x great grandmother Elizabeth Shawers (later Elizabeth Hayes), was born at Deddington in Oxfordshire in 1835, the daughter of a tailor.  She was one of many rural Oxfordshire people that made the brave trip downstream into the growing 19th century metropolis of London.  She encountered Henry Shawers, a Harrow weaver.  I'm still trying to find out what that mean't, but Henry recorded Harrow weaver as his occupation more than once, as though it had a meaning to himself.  They married at St Philips, a poor East End of London church, built recently as a chapel-of-ease for St Matthews, in 1857.  Pictured at the top of this post.

So who was Henry Shawers?  My first clue, many years ago, was that his father was named John Shawers, who worked as a copper smith.  Other than that, I couldn't find them.  Before 1857, no trace of either Henry or his father.

Something really early in my research, I can't remember what, suggested Huguenot.  That feeling eventually faded away.  More recently, I wondered if he was connected to some Shawers at Cornwall, or to Shawers / Shores in Yorkshire.  He and his father were my dead end.  The only members of that generation, for who I could not give origins.  A brick wall in genealogy.  For over 25 years.

A Break Through

Then this week, FindMyPast.co.uk had a promotional free access period.  I've had a subscription there before, but revealed nothing new on this line.  Perhaps new archives have been added.  I searched for Henry Shawers, and I found a surprise.

It was in the Wandsworth Prison Register for 1862.  A Henry Shawers, lace weaver, age 34 (born about 1828).  Height five feet, two and three quarter inches.  Grey eyes, fresh complexion.  Christian.  Illiterate.  Weight, a mere eight stone, ten pounds.  A homeless vagrant.  He had been convicted at Wandsworth by C Dayman, magistrate, for the crime of "Begging", and sentenced to one month's imprisonment in the new Wandsworth Prison.  But what really caught me eye was that in the Where born column, most inmates had E for England, a few I for Ireland ... our Henry very clearly had an F for what looks by other entries to be Foreign Born.

What do I know about Henry Shawers in 1862?

He had married Elizabeth Durran five years earlier at Bethnal Green.  He was recorded as a 31 year old Harrow weaver, the son of John Shawers, a copper smith.  Both groom and bride were living at Banner Square, Bethnal Green.  There is no Banner Square today, but there is a Banner Street (see below map).  They lived and married in London's East End.  Silk and lace weavers had been attracted to Spitalfields, Globe Town, and the Bethnal Green area for centuries - many of them from the European continent.  they had included Huguenots, Jews, French, Walloon, and Flemish.  For some time they had weathered the rise of the power loom, silk and fabric factories, through protectionism from overseas markets - but now this protection was lifted.  Many weavers were made destitute, many looked for other work.  By 1862, it appears that Henry had hit rock bottom.

On his way down, he had met and married Elizabeth at the now demolished East End church of St Philips.  They moved from Banner Square, Bethnal Green to 29 Pownall Road, Haggerston, near to Dalston. Their first child was my great great grandmother Elizabeth Rosina Shawers, was born there in September 1858.

(“© OpenStreetMap contributors”.  Modified)

Elizabeth gave birth to a second child that they named Henry Shawers, at Pownall Road in January 1860.  He was still recording himself as a Harrow weaver.  I cannot find any reference to what this was.  Perhaps a form of weaving associated with Harrow in West London?  Silk weaving was the tradition in the East End.  In 1862, he was described as a Lace Weaver

I haven't yet been able to find the Shawers family on the 1861 census.  However' in April 1862, Elizabeth gave birth to their third child, baptised as William Henry Shawers.  They were now living at Austen Terrace, Lambeth, London.

Henry was convicted of begging and vagrancy less than eight months later, and received a one month sentence in Wandsworth Prison.  It looks on paper as though he hit disaster in 1862.

What happened to his family?

I think that they managed to hold out for a few more years.  But they kept moving.  Their third child, William Henry Shawers died in May 1863, age 13 months at Bletchingley, in the Surrey countryside far to the south of London.  His burial recorded that he was "a stranger's child".  Did this mean that they were travelling, or that his father was foreign born?

They turn up the following year much further to the south, on the South Coast in fact, where a fourth child is baptised Arthur Henry Shawers in November 1864.  That they kept giving their son's the name Henry makes me ask where had their first son Henry Shawers gone?  I don't find him again after his birth.  I suspect that he had died earlier.

They didn't stay on the South Coast for long.  Five months later in April 1865, young Arthur died.  He was buried at Enfield, North London.

After 1864, I lose any references to Henry Shawers, at least with that name.  He had emigrated to England, lived in the East End of London as a lace weaver, been imprisoned for begging on the streets.  He had two, most likely three sons die as infants.  Had Henry himself now passed away?

In 1871, I find his wife and daughter, living at Charlton, Woolwich, South London.  Only they were now living under the names of Elizabeth Hayes, and her daughter Rosa Hayes.  Elizabeth is recorded as a wife of a seaman.  A Mr Hayes presumably, I haven't found this marriage yet.  Does this indicate that Henry Shawers has died?

Ten years later, Elizabeth Hayes and her daughter (my great great grandmother) were now live-in servants for a Portuguese family living in Fulham.  Her daughter is recorded as Rosa S Hayes.  I wonder if the S was for Shawers?  A few years later, in September 1883, also at Fulham, she married my great great grandfather Henry Brooker, under the name of Elizabeth Rosina Shawers.

Where did Henry Shawers originate from?  What was his nationality?

So I've discovered from that prison record that my ancestor Henry Shawers was not British, but regarded as a foreigner.  Where did he come from?  He was a lace weaver in the East End of London, where many Huguenots, and other French and Dutch weavers, had been settling for centuries.  His surname is unusual, but I have found it in both the North of England, and in the West Country - just very rare.  Could this surname in his case however, have been anglicized?  Possibly for example, from Soyers (French), Schwarz (Germanic), or Shaers (Belgian).

I have found two clues to his origin.

On the 11th August 1852, passengers on the Lord Warden, disembarked at Folkestone docks.  The ship had carried them across the Channel from Boulogne, in France.  The List of Aliens recorded as arriving with this ship included a Monsieur Shawers, recorded as having French nationality.  Unfortunately all of the passengers had their occupations lazily recorded as Gents, but I wonder, not a lot of immigrants coming into the country by the name of Shawers, and only five years before our Henry married Elizabeth Durran in Bethnal Green.  My bet is that this was him, and our Henri was French.

However, before I close the book on that one.  There is just some evidence, that could dispell that, or even his death around 1865.

In July 1873, a 45 year old lace maker was imprisoned in Wandsworth Prison for seven days.  His crime? Drunk in the highway.  His name?  Henry Sayers.  He is described as five foot two inches, blue eyed, no marks.  In 1852, our 34 year old Henry Shawers, in the same prison was described as a lace weaver, five feet two and three quarter inches, grey eyed, no marks.  Both men were 1) Henry Shawers / Sayers, 2) lace weavers, 3) born about 1828, 4) similar desciption, and 5) Foreign born.  Were they the same man?

Only in this record, he is recorded as from Switzerland.

I never did find that marriage of Elizabeth to a sailor called Hayes.

Post Edit:  Just after publishing this post - I find a fresh clue!  In 1914, her daughter Mrs Brooker registered her elderly mother Elizabeth Hayes, into the the Greenwich (Woolwich Road) Workhouse.  Elizabeth's registration includes the following.  What is that saying?  Widow of Henry ?

Living DNA - June 2017 updates

Living DNA produced their first update.  An update by a "DNA for Ancestry" business can sound like an admission of failure.  To some, it could sound like a recall due to product failure.  "Your previous ancestry was a mistake".  This only applies if you have bought into some marketing campaigns, that autosomal DNA tests for ancestry actually work even close to 100%.  Surprise, they don't!  They are cutting edge, in development, and far from accurate below a Continental level. They are still somewhere in the twilight between being nothing more than a genetic lottery, and actually becoming a tool that is useful.  Therefore "updates" are to be welcomed.  They are a sign that the business wants to improve the test accuracy.  That is to the credit of Living DNA.

My latest results?  First of all, a quick recap on my actual ancestry, as supported by family history, local history, ethnicity, and by a traditionally researched record based family tree that includes over 270 direct ancestors over the past 380 years.  I'm English.  Indeed, all of my direct ancestors, appear to have been South East English.  More precise, I'm East Anglian.  On family history and recorded genealogy, I'd suggest that between 75% and 85% of my direct ancestors over the past three centuries were East Anglian, almost all from the County of Norfolk.  Others on my father's side, if not in East Anglia, still in Southern England.

That I feel, makes me an interesting subject for ancestral auDNA testing.  You see, my ancestry is very localised here in South East England.  DNA tests such as 23andMe that claim to accurately plot ancestry over the past 300 - 500 years should get me.  But they don't.  This is because their algorythms, and reference data set designs fail over different ages.  They also (although they sometimes deny it), fail to discriminate against older population background.  We East Anglians and South East English have been heavily admixed with non-British populations on the European Continent.  Not so much over the past 500 years, so much as over the past few thousand years.

The new Results.

Below are my Living DNA regional ancestry, based on Standard Mode.

Below are my Standard Mode results broken down into sub regions.

Below is a table, comparing my recorded ancestry, with my early Living DNA results in Standard, now my revised results.

Living DNA has now introduced two new modes of confidence called complete and cautious modes.  First the Complete results:

Below are my Complete Mode results in regional:

Below are my Complete Mode results for sub-regional:

Now the Cautious results:

Below are my Cautious Mode results in regional:

Finally, below are my Cautious Mode results for sub-regional:

Conclusions

No auDNA test, by any DNA-for-ancestry company has yet come close to assigning me 100% English or even British.  They don't get me.  23andMe gives me 32-37% "British & Irish".  FT-DNA gives me "36% British".  Therefore, to be fair, Living DNA, giving me 70% "Great Britain or Ireland", give me the best result.  However, Living DNA has started out with the largest, best quality British data-set of any DNA-for-ancestry company, and is often accused of a bias towards Britain in it's results.  If so, then my 70% still looks weak.  They are planning on producing similar quality data sets soon for Ireland, Germany, then France. Therefore any results, will as I started out saying at the beginning of this post, be perpetually progressive.  Businesses that do not improve data sets or algorithms, will not get any better.  They are not progressive.

I get Southern European in other tests besides this one.  Living DNA points to Tuscany.  FT-DNA before a recent update gave me 32% Southern European, although they have revised this down to a little noise from South-East Europe!  23andMe gives me 2% Southern European - but this appears nothing unusual for an English tester.  None-the-less, I am interested in trying to better understand, why some of these tests give me this "Southern European" admixture, for which my family history, local history, and recorded genealogy has absolutely no account.  It equally reflects in ancient calculators that give me a little bit more Neolithic Farmer than for other English, which on average, already have a little more Neolithic Farmer than other British or Irish populations do.

The New Complete and Cautious Modes

How do I feel about these?  At Sub-Regional level, the Complete mode starts to get silly.  For the first time, Living DNA at this level, starts to even suggest some ancestry from Wales, SW Scotland, and Northern Ireland.  Only small percentages - but I just don't buy them.

However, the Cautious Mode, I start to like.  My British ancestry doesn't increase, but it looks more realistic, although with strange enigmatic suggestions still of Italian ancestry in the mix.  At Sub-Regional level, Cautious Mode also looks a little more likely.  My East Anglian remains at 37%, I however, lose Lincolnshire (which does exist in my record), but retain Cornwall.  I think Cornwall unlikely - however, there is just a small hint that something could be there, in surname evidence of a brick-walled great great great grandparent.  So maybe, just maybe.

East Anglia

I seriously doubt that my East Anglian ancestry over the past 300 years genuinely falls much below 75%.  Living DNA only appears to recognise a half of it at 37% - but they claim to be easily able to identify East Anglian DNA.  They call it "Distinct" because of it's high levels of Continental admixture.  They have admitted that based on their early data sets, that it was hard to separate from Germanic.  I don't know why it isn't stronger in my results.  I honestly do believe that the test underplays it on my results, even though it is the strongest of any population in my test results.  My East Anglian ancestors lived mainly in Eastern, Central, and Southern Norfolk.

Living DNA also provide a chart of the Continental "contributing regions" to East Anglian ancestry:

Finally, a chart breaking down their proposal of my British ancestry at Cautious mode:

I'm not disappointed with Living DNA.  That it does identify me as 37% East Anglian is I believe, incredibly good, and far advanced over any other DNA-for-ancestry test.  I'm looking forward to more updates in the future.  Well done Living DNA.

The families that sailed far, far away

Above painting of a British passenger clipper that sailed the route to Australia.

Researching not just direct ancestry, but the branches down, I come across so many stories.  The story of my own lines is usually the one of those that stayed at home.  I have previously published the story of one of my direct ancestors, David Peach, that was forced through the process of convict transportation to leave home for Tasmania in 1837.

Recent research into what happened to the descendants of ancestral siblings has revealed another new story, of those that didn't stay at home.

My mother's family board the Epaminondas 

My 4th great uncle Thomas Thacker, was born in Salhouse, Norfolk in 1825 - the older brother of my 3x great grandmother, Susannah Thacker. Thomas married Mary Ann Emerson, and at the age of 26, with his wife and two young sons John and Walter, sailed for three months on the clipper Epaminondas to Port Adelaide, Australia. They berthed on Christmas Eve 1853.

The Launceston Immigration Aid Society 1855 - 1862

A group of congregationalists and anti-transportationists in Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) and Victoria formed this society, with the aim of attracting respectable and hard working new settlers to Van Diemen's Land, through a bounty resettlement scheme.  My father's ancestor David Peach, was a transported convict in Van Diemen's Land at this time, serving a life sentence after being found guilty at the Lincoln Assizes, of stealing two steers.  This new scheme hoped to attract "men and women who would leaven the labouring classes and become part of a stock that would supply the ever-increasing wants of a new and fertile country".  The Society focused on the rural labouring classes of East Anglia.

The Reverend Benjamin Drake sailed from Victoria to Eastern England in order to interview and select suitable migrants for the scheme.  Drake visited South-West Norfolk.  There he encountered members of my ancestral family from father's side.

My father's family board the Whirlwind

The Riches family had moved to Great Hockham, Norfolk, from the nearby parish of Old Buckenham.  Benjamin Riches was an agricultural labourer, born at Old Buckenham in 1779.  His wife Elizabeth Riches (nee Snelling) had given birth to at least nine children at Great Hockham between 1805 and 1825.

Drake must have interviewed some of their offspring at Hockham.  He offered a bounty resettlement package to Benjamin's son, my 4th great uncle, Henry Riches, his wife Harriet Riches (nee Hubbard), and to their three young sons, George, John, and Henry Riches.  They accepted.  Not only that, but an offer was made to Henry's older sister Maria Hudson (nee Riches), and to her family.  The two families, that most likely had never seen a ship, or had travelled more than a few miles, made their way from Norfolk to Plymouth over the 1854 Christmas holidays.  There they were to board a fast clipper ship called the Whirlwind.  The clipper embarked from Plymouth on the 4th January 1855, and made a fast 86 day passsage, and arrived at Launceston, Van Diemen's Land on the 5th April.  It wasn't all plain sailing however.  Read this, it doesn't sound good:

The emigrants have passed through a fearful ordeal. An accident to the rudder compelled the commander to put into Portsmouth, where the necessary repair could have been effected in a few hours, had not the use of the empty government dock been denied by the official personage in charge who eats the salt of that nation whose funds furnished the accommodation.

Scarletina broke out: its victims were removed to an inhospitable hulk, for which the British government charged a high price, forgetful of the first duties of humanity; inclement weather aggravated the disease, which assumed a serious type, and carried off a number of victims. Twenty- three died on the passage, and although the survivors are healthy and robust, the loss of relatives and friends casts a shade of sorrow on the enterprise. We deeply sympathise with the bereaved, and the painful circumstances in which Mr. Drake has been placed must evoke the kindest feelings of his friends. His was no mercenary mission, and though he may not calculate on the gratitude of those he has sought to benefit by a removal from comparative penury to immediate plenty and ultimate affluence, he has earned their respect, and will secure the esteem of the colonists. His position has been one of great responsibility, much risk, incessant anxiety, and no profit. When years have elapsed, he may expect adequate acknowledgment from those he has served, and not till then.

The captain, too, has had his trials: his crew have been in a state of insubordination in consequence of the proper and rigidly enforced rules that excluded the seamen from intercourse with the emigrants, and the sailors have, at the conclusion of the voyage, struck. The misguided men will soon learn that here their misconduct will not be countenanced—that punishment will visit the refractory—that extravagant pay no longer prevails, and that the gold-diggers, on the average, do not make ordinary wages.

We trust the hopes of the emigrants have not been unduly elated, and that they will be prepared to accommodate themselves, as thousands more affluent have done before them, to the exigencies of a new country. The farm labourer and mechanic will not be carried off by force at any wage they may demand: the unmarried females will not be surrounded by sighing lovers, solicitous to make then brides. Australia is a land where privations must be endured, and hard work encountered. At the end of the vista, which is not long, there is settlement and independence to the industrious, the economical, and sober. Every young woman will find a husband in process of time, but before she obtain a good one she must show by her behaviour she deserves him. Everything will be new to the emigrants; they must be surprised at nothing, and become quickly reconciled to the condition of the colony. If they display those qualifications of temper and aptitude which make people uselul they will be appreciated, and experience consideration and kindness from their employers, who will in general promote their welfare to the utmost. We repeat, hard work, frugality, and sobriety for a time will inevitably lead to independence; but those who seek the latter by the shortest line must be prepared to "rough it" for a season.

LAUNCESTON EXAMINER, Tuesday, April 3, 1855.

What intrigues me is that they had a relative already in Tasmania.  They must have known about him.  He was David Peach, Henry and Maria's brother-in-law.  David was married to their sister Sarah Peach (nee Riches).  He may have been on the other side of the island.  He had been transported to Holbart, then moved to Port Arthur, some 17 years earlier.  Did they ever meet?  He had been pardoned four years before the Riches arrived, but not granted Leave.  It was a Life sentence.  Did he manage to communicate with his wife, and daughter that he had left behind?  Did they get word of him back to their sister Sarah?

Two years after her husband was transported away, my 3rd great grandmother Sarah, now living in Attleborough, Norfolk, gave birth to a son.  She named him David Wilson Peach.  I'd hazard to guess that a Mr Wilson was the biological father.  However, she named him after her husband - David Peach.  She was trapped.  She could not remarry (although ironically the transported convicts could).  She worked hard the remainder of her life as a washer woman in Attleborough.

My mother's family board the Solway

Several years after the Whirlwind sailed from Plymouth, more of my family entered another ship under the same scheme.  My mother's family mainly lived at this time in the area of East Norfolk.  However, somehow, two sisters ended up working in service in South West Norfolk.  A family friend?  A trade fair?  They were both born to Thomas and Mary Ann Jarmy, who were parents-in-law of a fourth uncle of mine.  The Jarmy family lived for a while in Salhouse, Norfolk.  Although located in the Norfolk Broads, to the north east of the City of Norwich, two daughters gained employment in service in households in South West Norfolk.  In 1861, Mary Jarmy was a 25 year old cook at the local vicarage in Hockham.  Her younger sister Emily Jarmy, lived a few miles away, working as a 15 year old house servant in the household a butcher in East Harling, called Fred Jolly.

In 1861, settlers from local labouring families were selected, although Drake himself was not involved this time.  However, Hockham had clearly become known to the Society, as one of their East Anglian recruiting spots.  Mary, working in the vicarage was in the perfect place, at the right time.  My guess is that she messaged her little sister in nearby East Harling.  The recruiters wanted settlers that were "respectable and really useful persons - as far as it is possible to judge".  I believe that the father of the two sisters, Thomas Jarmy, a shepherd born 1812 in Salhouse, Norfolk, may have been imprisoned twice for larcony.  If this was the case, I'd guess that the sisters were careful to hide this past.

The Solway sailed the two sisters into Melbourne harbour on the 7th March 1862, and then they quickly boarded The Black Swan, which arrived at Launceston, Tasmania, a few days later.  En route, it appears that Mary had a friendship with Robert Mickleborough from Old Buckenham, Norfolk.  They were to marry in 1862.

Links / Sources

http://www.ayton.id.au/wiki/doku.php?id=genealogy:tasemigrantsbyship

http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~austashs/immig/title.htm

http://belindacohen.tripod.com/woolnoughfamily/id9.html

http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~austashs/immig/imgships_w.htm

How not to use online genealogy

I recently decided to invest in an annual subscription to Ancestry.co.uk.  I therefore intend to use it extensively over the next year in order to bolster my tree and to add leafs through their very fat database of resources.

A little background.  I've researched my family tree since at least 1988, but not continuously.  Back in the day, there were no online resources.  the most modern thing were census on microfilm and the Mormon IGI (International Genealogical Index - the ancestor of FamilySearch.org) available in the Local Studies Library.  My tree started, as it should, through interviewing elderly relatives, looking through their photos, the few birth and marriage certificates, and any other artifacts.  Those elderly relatives have all passed on now.  if you are just starting with genealogy - do it now.  I then moved on to the English & Welsh County record offices.  White gloves and pencils, in order to peruse through the original parish registers and other documents - no digitalisation, or even microfilming of them then.  Very little indexing as well.

Then I was ordering GRO certificates from London, paying professional researchers to collect them for me, as it worked out cheaper than having them mailed to me by the GRO!  Then rather than looking for DNA matches, it was searching through surname interests or through the annually published GRD (Genealogical Research Directory) for shared ancestry.  The good old days.

I said it wasn't continuously.  Interests changed, I lived out life recklessly, and moved on a few times, leaving all behind.  I lost pretty much all of my genealogy.  Meanwhile, digitalisation was coming in fast, indexing increasing, and the Internet was giving birth to online genealogy.  During this birth, I had used an early version of Broderbund Family Tree Maker (it installed on several floppy disks) on a personal computer, and even managed to upload data and a GEDCOM file to a few places.

Then maybe 16 months ago, after ordering a 23andMe test, I picked it up again.  I found my old GEDCOM file on a web archive.  Downloaded it, opened it with open source Gramps software.  It worked!  Since then, I've gathered surviving notes (so many lost), photos, and certificates.  I then discovered a remarkable resource.  Online Genealogy.

Online Genealogy

There are many online resources.  The big providers include Ancestry.com (Ancestry.co.uk), FindMyPast.co.uk, MyHeritage.com, and FamilySearch.org.  All but the latter website are subscription fee based.  Asides from these providers, there are many other services for genealogy online.  Of the above, I have heavily used FindMyPast, FamilySearch, and Ancestry.

Online Genealogy using Ancestry.com

The big advantage of Online Genealogy is indexing and the database.  Over the past 25 years or so, armies of volunteers and paid researchers, have been reading through microfilmed, microfisches, or digitalised images of masses of parish registers, parish records, wills, criminal registers, state records, military records, Bishop's transcripts, Headstone surveys, and more - from not only England & Wales but from all over the World, where they are available.  They read the names of those recorded, and add them to computer files with references.  Businesses such as Ancestry.com, buy access to these indexes, and often to the original digitalised images if they exist.  These are all added to their own database.  Their customers search, and find ancestors.

A Few Problems

  1. I can report this for English records, for which I have a lot of experience. The record is still very incomplete.  You might see a Joe Bloggs, but is it your ancestor Joe Bloggs?  Many of the parish records were missing, or damaged.  Parish chests in cold churches can be damp places, the registers pulled out for every baptism, marriage, or burial, thumbed through by all.  Paper was valuable in older records, and the priests and clerks cram their little scribbled lines in them.  There were stories of vicar's wife's using old registers to kindle the fire in the vicarage.  In addition, not ALL parish registers are online at any one depository.  I've noticed that Ancestry.com is very good for Norfolk registers, but abysmal for Suffolk.  FindMyPast is good for Berkshire records.  They are far from complete records.  In addition, some ancestors were not in any parish records.  They were rogues on the run, vagabonds, or even more often ... non-conformists.  Some priests were lazy.  All of this on top of those many missing or damaged records.
  2. The indexers were human beings.  Sometimes volunteers, sometimes more recently I suspect, poorly paid human beings outside of Europe (is this the case?)  They vary in skill at reading 18th century, 17th, even 16th century hand writing that has been scribbled down in often damaged records.  The database searches for names that sound similar (to a computer program), but they miss so many that are incorrectly transcribed.  Try to read through the original images if you can.

So the record is far from complete.  The online record less so.  A brilliant tool, but it's not going to hand you your family tree all perfect and true.  If you understand this problem, and you are more concerned about truth and quality, than about quickly producing a family tree back to Queen Boadicea (I have seen people claim such things!), then you are already aware of this.  The problem is, that you know that an ancestor was called Joe Bloggs.  Online, you find a Joe Bloggs, living 100 miles away, born about the right time.  With a click, you "add" him to the tree, then resume climbing up from him.  What you may not realise, is that there were maybe 20 Joe Bloggs born at about the right time within a 100 mile radius of the next generation.  You just picked the one that your online ancestry service flashed up to you.  He is quite probably not close family, never mind your ancestor.  All above him are not your ancestors.

Truth and quality in a family tree

Do you care?  Is it possible to trace back more than several generations, and to preserve that quality? The 20th and 19th centuries in England & Wales are great.  We have records from a national census every 10 years between 1841 and 1911.  They can be searched with your online service.  We have them as correlations for parish records.  We also have state records to correlate with from 1837!  Before that though, it gets a bit scratchy.  Particularly if your ancestors were not titled - as most of them were not!  Then we are down to scribbles in parish registers, a few tax books, tithes, military rolls.  Great stuff, but increasingly - we lose correlations.  We lose certainty.

When we lose certainty, we have to start to make judgments.  Do we add an ancestor based on little record?  We have to make that judgement ourselves.  We should add the resource, name it, perhaps publish our uncertainty.  We should be ready to remove if doubt grows rather than certainty.

I've not mentioned biological certainty here.  Haplogroup DNA can challenge some very old trees.  Things happen in biology.  We call them NPE (Non Parental Event).  Spouses cheat, lie, prostitute, are raped, commit bigamy, incest, confused.  People secretly adopt, particularly during a crisis.  I have seen a claim of the average NPE happening once in every ten generations on average.  I don't think that we can truly measure this.  Anyway, I'm of the school that although DNA genealogy is interesting in the pursuit of the past, that family is not always just about biology.  Who reared them?  Who gave them their name?  If that is family, it's also ancestry.


But the ultimate mistake with using online genealogy

This one is easy.  It is that companies such as Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com, allow, sometimes encourage the resourcing of other members family trees.  It has nothing to do with rights or property.  It has to do with the reproduction of mistakes, and bad quality research.  It indeed gives genealogy at online sites like these, a pretty bad name.

Many users of these sites are casual.  They have only used the online resources available through the quick click and collect ancestry of these services.  They are only trying to pursue as far back, as possible, within as short time as possible.  Truth and quality is of very much secondary value.  It's the consume society.  They leave their disjointed trees of fiction all over these web services.  Then Ancestry / MyHeritage, invites you to add them to your own.  Very much internet viral in form - the errors replicate like mutations in a strand of DNA, only with lightening speed.  It's so easy to add new layers of ancestry.  But they are fiction.  I've seen people marrying before they are born, dying before they give birth.  I've seen people marry their parents or uncles.   I myself, recently tried it en mass as an experiment to a tree.  It was incredible.  The discrepancies and errors.  Ugly.

So, if you have to, look at other trees. I strongly recommend that you avoid that temptation to simply click and collect ancestry.  Most of the genuine ancestry on these trees is available to be quickly found with your own use of the services on that site.  Do that, but make your own judgments.  Don't add to the virus trees.  Genealogy is for the long haul.

Our Norfolk wherrymen ancestors of Reedham


Image above by Snapshots Of The Past (Wherry leaving Wroxham England) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I've long wondered about some of the ancestors of my great grandmother Flo Curtis, on my mother's side.  She was born at Freethorpe, Norfolk in 1884, as Florence Key.  She is standing in the below photo, on crutches, behind my grandfather who is holding his daughter:


Florence's father, George Key, was a local carpenter of Freethorpe, and her mother was born as Sarah Goffen at the nearby riverside village of Reedham in 1853.  Here is Sarah, standing behind my grandparents wedding in 1932:


Sarah most likely met young George Key through trade links from her late father, Richard Goffen, who is recorded on census as a master carpenter of Reedham.  He was also recorded as an inn keeper or publican at a pub that was called the Brick Kiln at Reedham, close to the river.  Reedham was an important river side parish along the River Yare.  The river connected the medieval City of Norwich to the North Sea via Great Yarmouth. Rich pastures lay to the east of the village on the marshes of the Halvergate Triangle, which with Breydon water, once formed a great sea estuary.  A ferry crossed the strong tidal waters of Reedham.


Now, I have indeed found the evidence that the Goffens of Reedham were involved with the Wherry trade.  Until the late 18th Century, most cargo and passengers along the Broadland waterways of East Norfolk were carried by the old square mast long boats known as the Norfolk Keel:


Then from the early 18th Century, a newer series of vessel designs started to take over on the lowland waterways of the Norfolk Broads, that featured a high-peaked sail with the mast stepped well forward.  They corresponded with a great age of Norfolk windmills and wind pumps.  The classic Norfolk wherry.


Nancy at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The men that sailed them were often regarded as a particular breed.  They lived on the waterways, in small cabins fitted with a stove.  Moving cargoes and in some cases, passengers, between Norwich and the port of Great Yarmouth.  In 1833, a new canal named the Haddiscoe Cut, was opened up near to Reedham, that also allowed vessels to trade to Lowestoft in Suffolk.  The watermen carried cargoes of coal, timber, lime, chalk, cement, ale, grain, and other goods up and down the waterways of East Norfolk.

My ancestor, Richard Goffen was a riverside carpenter and inn keeper at Reedham, and almost certainly was involved with this trade.  I've suspected that for a while, but now I can see just how deeply his family were involved.  A census records that two of his brothers, Edward Goffen born at Reedham in 1793, and John Goffen born there ten years later were both indeed, watermen, with John specifically recorded as a Wherryman.  Brother Edward Goffen was also an inn keeper at another riverside Reedham pub, the Lord Nelson.  The whole family appear to have been involved with river trade, with a fourth brother, James Goffen born at Reedham in 1806 being recorded as a lime burner and coal merchant.  Without a doubt his coal, chalk, and lime were being transported along the river, possibly by his brothers.  As a family, they appear to have been particularly successful in this trade.  Wherries were being built at Reedham, and I suspect that our ancestor may have been involved as a carpenter in the boat building trade.

All four Goffen brothers were born at Reedham, to Richard and Judith Goffen (nee Shepherd). Richard the senior was most likely born at nearby Strumpshaw in 1731.  I have no record of his occupation, but I wonder if he was also involved in the river trade, that inspired his four sons.

Marriage of Richard Goffen (senior) to Judith Shepherd at Reedham in 1793.  This was his second marriage, after his previous wife Ann (nee Mingay) passed away.

Their son, Richard Goffen (junior) also married twice. I believe that his first wife was one Elizabeth Scarll, who he married at nearby Cantley in 1821.  In 1843, he married our ancestor Elizabeth Nicholls, who then at the age of 21, was no less than 27 years his junior.  This didn't stop them having seven children between then and 1860.  Clearly his trade supported him well at the Brick Kiln inn.

Richard (junior) died in 1861.  Elizabeth went on to marry again, this time to a Matthew Bush of Freethorpe.

That's my family link to the classic icon of the Norfolk Broads.  The Norfolk Wherry.

FT-DNA Family Finder My Origins 2.0 - April 2017 update

If there is anyone out there reading this blog, you know my recorded ancestry - all SE English, mainly East Anglian. No recorded evidence of anything but English over the past two or three centuries. This is not to say that I don't think any actually happened.




51% British might seem low for an Englishman - but I'm aware that my personal DNA flavour is a bit atypical for a Brit, more Continental. My Origins 1.0 gave me 36% British. 23andMe un-phased gives me 32% British / Irish. I do however suspect that my flavour isn't so atypical for an East Anglian of local rural ancestry. Living DNA gave me the most, a whopping 74% British. Therefore on that score, you could say that for myself, My Origins 2.0 actually comes in at 2nd place - better than 23andMe, DNA.land, or WeGene. I'm currently waiting for Ancestry.com results, but I'm not expecting better.

46% West and Central European where I have no record of any such ancestry - but East Anglian has been noted as close to North German, and certainly, SE England has plenty of early medieval admixture from that part of the world during the Anglo-Saxon event. In addition, we've continued to have immigration from the Continent over the past several hundred years, particularly but not exclusively, from the Netherlands and Northern France. I recently noticed that a 5xgreat grandparent had the surname Moll that is often found in Germany. However, it is also found in East Anglia, but are they connected? One day I'll find a recorded non-English ancestor! So as an East Anglian, I forgive autosomal DNA for ancestry algorythms that suggest that I have Dutch, German, French, or Danish ancestry. 23andMe (un-phased) gave me 27% French & German". Even Living DNA gave me 4.6% Scandinavian and 2% Germanic.

Now the Traces. I find these really interesting. Because they could fit in with other evidence. The My Origins 2.0 "Southeast European" designation appears to include Italy. My Origins 1.0 gave me a very silly 32% Southern European. 23andMe gave me 2% Southern European (although I have noted that the majority of English testers get a small percentage of this). Living DNA gave me a whopping 9.6% Tuscany. A friendly discussion with one of the LDNA techs, suggested that it looked to them, to be genuine. There was a family story on my father's side, that there was a "foreigner" - but I've never found any recorded evidence. I've scanned and scanned the tree for any sign, but nada. Not in great gp to 3 x great gp range. I'm open to a possible NPE, but I need more evidence than one auDNA test result.

The trace West Middle East and Ashkenazi are interesting, because although I have no recorded West Middle East or Ashkenazi ancestry, my Y-DNA does originate in SW Asia, possibly the area of Iran or Iraq. However, no auDNA test or GEDmatch calculator so far has provided any surviving evidence in the autosomes of any Asian, above that of average for a Brit. It all appeared washed out by genetic recombination. I share my Y with another family (different surname) from England, and we trace our lines back to the 1740's in Southern England (32 miles apart). That to me suggests that our immigrant Y ancestor most likely arrived in Southern England at least 400-500 years ago. I suspect earlier, maybe Medieval or even Roman. However, has the new algorithm picked something up? Maybe just a coincidence. The nearest non-English STR tester to us hailed from South Khorasan, Iran

A better prediction for myself than the My Origins 1.0 (below).

Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017


I caught four workshops!

Workshop 1. Total Genealogy. This one was a little disappointing. I hoped that it would combine genealogy with DNA, landscape archaeology, local history, etc. Instead it was surname study - genealogical collecting of all records of a surname and applying it to a database - then trying to work out the connections. Would have benefited if the speaker had also applied Y DNA projects, but I sensed that he was a DNA skeptic. Lots of those in British genealogy, although the number of DNA stalls and workshops clearly suggests that the tide might turn, although it was corporate money funding a lot of it. I say that, but a later speaker suggested that 85% of DNA testers have no or little family tree. They are not all traditional genealogists.

Workshop 2. The Y-DNA and mtDNA Landscape (of Britain).



This was presented by Mark Jobling, Professor of Genetics at Leicester University. He discussed the history of genetic studies of European and British populations, starting with blood types, moving onto STR, a few SNPs, mtDNA, then onto the flood of information over the past few years, including autosomal DNA and POBI (image above).

A few observations - that the Yamnaya R1b is of a different basal lineage, that they found that 1) POBI failed to recognise the Danish contribution to Britain as being ingrained into the Anglo-Saxon - along with later migrations from the Continent, 2) that the Anglo-Saxon event appears male mediated rather like the Steppe signal, and 3) that some British R1a (not all) do look likely to be "Viking". He also said that surprisingly, they had not yet found genetic evidence of Vikings in Ireland in the modern population.

Workshop 3. High Definition Ancestry DNA Testing across the World. This was lead by the Living DNA team. David Nicholson company MD started with the company profile and philosophy. Dr Martin Blythe, their bioinformatician head then took over, followed by Alex Cocker, their anthropologist. Observations that I noted: they are very proud of their fineStructure algorythm, the chip, and of their computation ability. They claim that their system works better at finding shared patterns on admixed populations than do some older systems still used by other companies. Nicholson duruing questions told us that they plan to (and he did state over the next 3 - 5 years for some of the following):

  • Complete the three confidence modes (very soon)
  • Map Ireland with 13 or 14 sub regions using POBI principles
  • Map Germany next with 26 - 28 sub regions
  • Map France
  • Enrich and fine tune the British data set
  • Introduce genetic matching / matches
  • Promote inter-company and 3rd party matching
  • Introduce parent and relative phasing




Above, Dr Mark Blythe of Living DNA.

Workshop 4. Outside the Law? Illegitimacy 1700 - 1987

This was presented by Professor Rebecca Probert. An interest to myself, but not perhaps of great interest here. It detailed the history of changing legislation towards children born outside of marriage in England & Wales.

Otherwise, I purchased a few Family FHS CD-ROMs, and a few small books. Talked to a number of specialists and FHS members. No exciting discoveries this year, but enough material to feed off for a while. I will just say that I had a lengthy chat with Dr Martin Blythe of Living DNA. I was highly impressed. He was a really nice guy, and clearly loves his job, and is enthusiastic as hell about what he and his company can do in the future. Kudos to him. I saw Debbie Kennett during a part of her workshop, and she would love to chat with her sometime. I've noticed a distant match between two of our kits.

Another great day, loved it.