My Anglo-Saxon Mother (Moder)

This is a follow on from my last post, concerning the mapping of my paper ancestry over the past three centuries.  A noticeable cluster of ancestry (on my mother's side) appeared on the maps from three generations ago, in Broadland or East Norfolk, including the villages of Reedham, Limpenhoe, Cantley, Freethorpe, Stokesby, Beighton, Postwick, Hassingham, Buckenham St Nicholas, Halvergate, Tunstall, South Burlingham, Moulton, and Acle.

That this cluster is so firmly entrenched, suggests that I have had ancestry in that locality for a long time.  I have already postulated that this area would have acted as a prime settlement district for immigrants from between the fourth and eleventh centuries, from across the North Sea.  I thought that I would play on this idea a little more.

The map below shows East Norfolk as it would have appeared during the Fourth Century, with slightly higher sea levels than we enjoy today, and previous to any substantial engineered drainage:

The red dappling, outlines the main cluster of my mother's paper ancestry, that provenances there during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Such a strong cluster would suggest deep roots in that zone.

Very different to the present day Norfolk Broads and Coast.  Great Yarmouth and Breydon Water are replaced by a Great Estuary.  Reedham literally faced the North Sea at the head end of the estuary.  Indeed, 20th Century works in the parish church of Reedham, revealed hidden herringbone decorations made from Roman bricks.  it has been hypothesised, that these bricks may have come from a nearby Romano-British lighthouse.

Revisionist historians and archaeologists have for many years, argued that the Roman forts of the Saxon Shore, were in fact not defensive, defending the province from attack by marauding Anglo-Saxon pirates, but were instead used to control and tax North Sea trade with the province.  Some have even gone so far as to suggest that areas like this were already being culturally influenced by the North Sea Anglo-Saxon world.

The collapse of Roman administration, and the disintegration of much of Roman society, and the Roman way of life, made it easy for Continental adventurers to cross the North Sea from outside of the old Empire, and to settle in Eastern England.  Some of them may have been escaping exploitation from the elites that were gathering power in their homelands.  They knew how to live with a rural barter-economy, without the niceties that the Empire had offered the British.  A recent study of human remains in the Cambridge area, noted that within a very short time, even the local British were adapting the customs and artifacts of Anglo-Saxon culture.  Not only that, but those remains that were genetically profiled as of being of local British origin not only aped the new immigrants, but their burials were higher status and richer.  The poorer graves mainly profiled as newly arrived immigrants from the Low Countries or Denmark.  The researchers suggested that in the case of immigration (rather than invasion), this is what we should expect to see.  The immigrants had to settle for whatever they could get, which would often be poorer land.

I'm going to restate my view.  I support a number of recent genetic surveys, also backed up by many archaeologists, that the 5th Century AD Anglo-Saxon Invasion of Britain was exaggerated in it's ferocity by Gildas and Bede, rather like the Daily Mail exaggerates present day immigration and it's "damaging effect".  It was certainly a very major migration, but it appears to have left the lowland British genome with no more than 20% to 40% of it's DNA share.  It seems from recent genetic studies, that the present day ethnic English, inherit more DNA from prehistoric British populations, than they do from Continental Anglo-Saxons.  Not only that, but the immigrants seem to have married into British society, rather than slaughter it.  It was during the later Sixth Century, that emerging elites of the lowland British kingdoms started to claim ethnic identification, and descent from heroic Angles and Saxons.

In this post, I'm not going to particularly distinguish between the Anglo-Saxon settlement of the 5th/6th Century AD, from the hypothesised Danish settlement of the 9th/10th century.  Perhaps we should see them as waves of North Sea immigration, but perhaps not so entirely divorced from each other.  The earlier may have originated more from Frisia and Angeln, and the latter from a little bit further north in Denmark, but the cultures don't seem to have been that much different.  When I was a boy, travelling through the loam soils of Broadland to see my relatives in Cantley, I was always struck by the big Dutch barns on the landscape.  I was told that the Dutch had long had connections to the area.  Maybe my parents underestimated how far back these links across the North Sea went.

This 20% to 40% Anglo-Saxon DNA spreads across all of England.  Even the Welsh and Cornish have a percentage of it.  However, I was intrigued by a comment in Stephen Oppenheimer in his book Origins of the British 2007, when he did just remark that the highest marker was from an East Norfolk sample!

When I look at the above maps, and in relationship to Frisia, Saxony, Angeln, and Denmark, it appears to me that the Great Estuary must have seemed like a magnet to the boat loads of new settlers.  Rivers opening up from the North Sea, to rich arable soils and lowlands.  A recently closed shore fort - tax, customs, and immigration control free!  I can't help but imagine the first boats beaching or mooring at Reedham, Cantley, Halvergate (-gate, another Norse place-name) etc.

Not only that, but during the 6th and 7th centuries, the sea levels dropped.  Desperate settlers could easily create new land with simple drainage methods.  This appears to be particularly relevant to the East Norfolk district of Flegg.  An island surrounded by new marshes, with the sea waters draining away.  Almost every parish on Flegg, finishes with the classic place-name suffix of Danish settlement - Fil-by, Stokes-by, Rolles-by, Ormes-by, Hems-by etc.  That the later settlers left so many place-names must reflect a great land grab by immigrant families.  The settlers had to fit in where they could.  their ability to exploit a drop in sea levels, and to perhaps make use of their engineering skills at draining land, must have been an advantage at settling in this area.  The drained salt-marshes proved top quality grazing land.  The marsh grasses of the Halvergate Triangle were used to fatten sheep, cattle and other livestock for centuries after. The marshes are dotted by small medieval man-made islands known as holmes (from the Old Norse holmr).

Conclusion

I've basically been making claims here, of direct descent from the North Sea Settlers that arrived in the eastern extremes of East Anglia between the 4th and 11th centuries.  I'm daring to suggest that my mother's established deep links with that area, may indicate that she has a heightened percentage of their DNA.  Of course, I could be wrong.  Perhaps there was more shuffling of genes across Britain into and out of that district during the medieval.  Perhaps the POBA 2015 survey was correct in dismissing any Danish settlement.

Why does it matter to me anyway?  I am equally proud of my Romano-British ancestry as I am of my Anglo-Saxon (or perhaps Anglo-Danish) ancestry.  The Romano-Britons seem to have largely descended from late prehistoric Britons - the people that erected all of those round barrows across Britain, that went on to build wonderful hill forts, the people that rebelled against Rome during the 1st Century AD.  However, I'm also proud of having North Sea settler ancestry.  They were the go-getters of their day, that uprooted to look for adventure.  Hard working migrants and pioneers.  Perhaps similar in some respects, to the Europeans that uprooted to settle the Americas, or dare I suggest, to the present day EU immigrants of Britain.

Years ago, I read a fascinating landscape history on this area, called The Norfolk Broads, a landscape history.  By Tom Williamson, 1997.  Unfortunately, I lent the book out.  I really would like to read this again now.

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.


Chasing the mtDNA II

Okay, I posted this photograph of Sarah Thacker below, but here is a fresh scan with a little bit of enhancement using open source software Gimp 2.2.

I visited the Norfolk Record Office yesterday, for the first time in many years.  Indeed, when it has moved a few times since I would haunt the basements of Norwich Central Library, and is now in a much larger complex on the edge of the City, at the County Hall.  I didn't have any need to access the original registers - everything they had for me is now on either microfilm or microfiche.  Staff were pleasant and helpful.

What did I learn?  Unfortunately, I didn't get any further back on my maternal line yesterday.  I did fill in some details and siblings.  I did go back another generation on Sarah's father, the Daynes of Brandon Parva, Norfolk.  I also discovered her parents, Rueben and Sarah Daynes (nee Quantrill), were not as I thought married in Wymondham, but nearby in Besthorpe.  I found the banns in a transcript, but however, the parish marriage registers for 1849 are missing.  Presumably still at the church.  I feel that I need to see their actual marriage next.  It should verify their ages, and give me the name of Sarah Quantrill's father.  That might help me locate Sarah's baptism and her mother.  It is her mother that I most want to find.  She would be the next generation around to donate that mtDNA.  Sarah was born circa 1827, I believe in Wymondham, or maybe again, in Besthorpe.

I left the record office, and visited my mother.  We then took a look at Besthorpe Church.  The church was locked, I tried to telephone the vicar, but no answer.  Many of the headstones had unfortunately been moved, but I did find one in memorial to a William Quantrell".  He was born a few years before my Sarah Quantrell, so it is quite possible that he was an older brother, if the family originated in Besthorpe.  A thought was, if he was indeed the brother, then his remains somewhere in that church yard would carry our mtDNA - from his mother.

I was playing with the idea of going back another day, to see if the vicar does have that missing marriage register.  However, with time and petrol, I've ordered a copy of the state document from the GRO (General Register Office) online.  Hopefully the certificate will arrive next week.  Then I'll have another go at seeing if I can trace Sarah Quantrill's mother.