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From 1822, when the Dickens family settled in Camden, to 1860 when the author took permanent residence at his Kent home of Gad’s Hill Place, London was his home.

Emma Jolly, in the article Dickens and London

Emma Jolly writer, historian, genealogist
  1. Photo Restoration Services

    Recently, I was contacted by Nick Harris from Photo Restoration Services offering to demonstrate his skills on some of my old family snaps.

    Increasingly, family historians are using photo restoration companies to repair damaged images digitally and to enhance dull likenesses, thus helping us to discover what our ancestors looked like and even to peek into their world.

    Although there is a variety of image editing software, I have never learned how to use it well. Far easier to email the images and let a professional bring them back to life.

    I sent Nick two photos from my family’s collection. The first was this portrait below of my great, great grandfather, William Jolly (1842-1889).

    The image on the left is the photograph I sent. On the right is the photo that Nick restored. As you can see, the first image has an odd colour, hiding the details of William’s face and the features of the garden. Thanks to Nick’s restoration skills, I can now see my ancestor’s face and the world he lived in far more clearly. The right side of the photograph was less damaged and it is now possible to make out the door handle and bell. It’s disappointing that my relatives left the lace curtains hanging as we may otherwise have been able to see some of the children peering out!

    My family believes this shows my great, great grandfather standing in his Royal Engineers uniform outside his home in Enfield. His bearing in the image suggests his pride in his military career. From a descendant’s perspective, though, I would have preferred to see him without the cap as that is hiding the shape of his face. It is difficult to be certain of the date, but we do know he was overseas from 1880-1885 and he died just fours years later.

    Nick also offers a black and white colourising service which could be used in military photos like the above to highlight the colour of the uniform.

    The second photo (pictured above left) I sent to Nick is more mysterious. No one in the family knows who this is, but I was hoping that if it was enhanced, we would be better placed to identify the sitter. Helpfully, Nick restored not only the portrait, enabling us to better see this young man, but also the details of the photographic studio where the image was taken.

    The photographers, Emberson & Sons, were based at three locations at the date this portrait was taken: Emberson & Sons, 6 Wilton Rd, Belgravia S.W., 57 St. Paul’s Churchyard E.C., and Chertsey, Surrey. According to the Photo London website, the firm was in  6 Wilton Road, Pimlico, Westminster 1885 – 1896, 1904 – 1925; 57 St Paul’s Churchyard, City of London 3 floor 1889 – 1908; and in Chertsey 1873 – 1905.

    We have many London ancestors, but few who lived near Chertsey. This suggests the photograph was taken either in the City or Belgravia (near Westminster) – both central London locations.

    There is so much to explore with old photos and I am in the early stages of poring over my family’s snaps. Restoration is a great way to aid historical photography investigation.

    Based in the Maidstone/ Medway area of Kent, Nick has over 10 years’ photo restoring experience in digital restoration and can be contacted via his website.

  2. Book Review: Tracing Your Pre-Victorian Ancestors

    Tracing Your Pre-Victorian Ancestors: A Guide to Research Methods for Family Historians by John Wintrip (Pen & Sword, 2017)

    Last week I was sent a copy of a new handbook from Pen & Sword publishing. This new guide to researching ancestors before 1837 is aimed at advanced researchers and is the first book by John Wintrip, an established professional genealogist, AGRA member, and holder of the Diploma in Genealogy from the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies (IHGS).

    Although few at the time may have realized, 1837 would become a key year in the research of family history. Not only was it the year that Victoria became Queen, but it also saw the beginning of civil registration in England and Wales. Four years later, the first national census to record full names, occupations and ages took place.  Throughout the Victorian period, administrators in hospitals, schools, businesses, politics and social policy created and carefully stored records that genealogists use in their research today. Many documents from this period have now been digitised and can be searched easily online.

    Before the Victorian era, however, records were often produced and stored in a less efficient manner and usually on a regional, rather than national, basis. This can lead to researchers finding pre-1837 research more challenging. As a result, Wintrip was inspired to write this guide to meet the challenges and complexity presented by pre-Victorian research. He emphasizes that, “Although sound genealogical research is more demanding than many people realize, it can be made slightly easier with appropriate guidance.”

    In Tracing Your Pre-Victorian Ancestors, Wintrip breaks down the advice into fourteen detailed chapters, covering:

    • challenges of research
    • knowledge and skills
    • sources
    • names
    • social status
    • religion and occupation
    • relocation
    • searching for information
    • archives and libraries
    • evidence and proof
    • family reconstitution
    • missing ancestors
    • mistaken identity
    • help from others.

    Among the strengths of the guide is its focus on methods as well as sources. It does not simply present a list of specific records, but instead focuses on understanding sources better in order to use them correctly. Throughout, Wintrip emphasizes historical context and its importance in family history research of all forms. I also liked the way he identifies why a search may have failed, using case studies, and his explanations on how to improve search methods, indicating practical steps with online services, archives and their catalogues.

    Overall, I am pleased to welcome this book to my family history shelves. Even the most experienced genealogist should agree that in his new work, Wintrip proffers valuable advice for all of us in breaking down our pre-Victorian brickwalls.

     

  3. Guest Review by Barry Jolly of The Lost Story of the William and Mary

    The Lost Story of the William and Mary: The Cowardice of Captain Stinson by Gill Hoffs (Pen & Sword History, 2016)

    Gill Hoffs book on a nineteenth century maritime disaster has received a number of favourable reviews. This is understandable as it uses contemporary sources to develop the drama as the ship, and its benighted passengers, moved inexorably closer to their doom.

    As an historian of modest claims myself, I welcome the use of resources that modern technology makes available. Books published in earlier times are increasingly being digitised, bringing new – or recovered – insights into otherwise lost events. Similarly, the ever expanding newspaper libraries now coming on stream enable the historian to follow events as they unfolded in the reporting of the day.

    Both sources, of course, are no more certain than books and newspapers of today, and a healthy scepticism, with the realisation that the reports of the day are often incomplete or partial, remain essential elements in the historian’s tool locker.

    At the same time, the expense involved in travelling to dusty archives can be daunting to the professional historian let alone the amateur. Gill Hoffs has made extensive use of the internet to contact descendants of those who survived, and thus access family records and reminiscences, as well as newspapers of the time and a fair range of modern texts mostly of a fairly general nature.

    The story commences with the passengers themselves, as they were leaving various parts of the United Kingdom, especially famine racked Ireland, and the Netherlands. Their travails in the unique culture of the port of Liverpool are followed by details of the only too obvious deficiencies of the ships – British and American – being used to convey, in dreadful conditions, people with hopes of a new life. Conditions for sea-going passengers in the nineteenth century were all too often uncomfortable in inevitably hazardous circumstances, but these ship-owners appear to have been at best thoughtless, at worst utterly heartless, in the paltry arrangements for their human cargoes.

    In a nutshell, the William and Mary was a toxic mix of Roman Catholic Irish and Dutch Protestant emigrants, a crew ill at ease with each other and an incompetent captain, all in a dangerously over-loaded ship. Some childbirths added to the unhealthy conditions, exacerbated by poor rations, lack of privacy and insanitary accommodation.

    As the unhappy ship approached American waters, the captain decided upon an unsafe route through dangerous channels, and the William and Mary paid the almost inevitable price. The real horror of this already alarming story lies in the subsequent events. The captain and the crew, almost to a man, not only abandoned their ship and its passengers to their fate, but also declared on arrival in the United States that the ship had gone down. Newspaper editors wondered how so many of the crew and so few of the passengers had survived, and in due course the dreadful truth emerged. The ship had foundered, but not before many of the passengers had been rescued.

    Gill Hoffs succeeds in developing the dramatic events in breathtaking style, quoting extensively from newspapers of the period. One negative point is that the majority of the reports do not relate directly to the William and Mary. Many indeed pre-date this ill-fated voyage.

    One or two other doubts persist, particularly in relation to context. The Great Famine in Ireland of 1845-8 is well documented, but not well explained here. This concern extends also to the circumstances of sea travel in the nineteenth century, and the specific losses in coffin ships, as they became known, carrying – and losing – vast numbers of destitute and starving Irish peasants to the New World in the mid to late 1840s. Ultimately the problem of overloading ships was remedied by the introduction of the Plimsoll Line in 1876; the absence of adequate regulation is mentioned briefly but could well have been developed further.

    In fairness, these comments detract little from the telling of the story. For the general reader, this is a gripping and fascinating read.

    Barry Jolly is Publications Editor for Milford-on-Sea Historical Record Society, but writes here in a personal capacity.

  4. My DNA: Living DNA Results

    Recently I was sent a complimentary test by a new British ancestry DNA company, Living DNA.

    The company, based in Frome in Somerset, has just launched in the UK, but is working with experienced mathematical genomicists like Professor Simon Myers of the University of Oxford (one of the team of academic researchers (https://www.gensci.net/) from various UK universities who in partnership with Living DNA developed the autosomal ancestry test) to help interpret customers’ results.

    “This is a whole new approach to DNA ancestry testing, and it is highly personal. No other method – either in scientific literature or in the field of personal genomics – can identify the ancestry of a single person to the level of regions within the UK.”

    Dr Dan Lawson, University of Bristol

    As such, Living DNA claims to have developed the world’s first DNA test which allows people to break down their British ancestry to any of 21 regions in the UK, and that shows how their worldwide ancestry from 80 population groups has evolved over history.

    The 21 regions covered are:

    • Aberdeenshire – Aberdeen and the surrounding areas of Northeast Scotland
    • Central England
    • Cornwall
    • Cumbria
    • Devon
    • East Anglia
    • Ireland
    • Lincolnshire
    • North Wales
    • North Yorkshire
    • Northwest England
    • Northwest Scotland
    • Northumbria – “a unique genetic signature that can be detected within the region today”
    • Orkney
    • South Central England
    • Southeast England
    • South England
    • Southwest Scotland and Northern Ireland – “There is a shared genetic signature for the areas now known as Northern Ireland and the Southwest of Scotland, including Dumfries and Galloway. The areas are divided by a watery barrier, yet historical migrations across the sea have led to a shared genetic legacy between them.”
    • South Wales Border
    • South Wales
    • South Yorkshire

     

    This test uses the latest GSA Illumina chips, and their algorithms have been developed in partnership with members of the team behind the landmark People of the British Isles study of 2015. Living DNA is keen to stress that this is a geographic test, focusing on where people have lived, rather than on ethnic diaspora/population community groups such as Jewish Askenazi.

    The aim of the project is to show how we are all connected and the company is keen to use DNA testing to help combat racism by demonstrating that race is only socially constructed – there is not genetic foundation for the concept of race. To that end, the company is working in schools on projects with Show Racism the Red Card.

    “Compared to other ancestry tests out there, Living DNA is like viewing your family history on a high definition TV. By combining the latest DNA testing technology with the most robust academic research, we can give users the most accurate picture of their estimated ancestry.”

    David Nicholson, managing director, Living DNA

    Claiming to be the most academically robust on the market, the test does not use admixture but examines the way DNA is linked together. The aim is to bring academic work to individual consumers around the world, including family historians. As the test is new, results will be updated continually and results amended over time. This is particularly the case for areas where samples are currently low, such as with the area of southern Ireland.

    For my test, I did not need to send a DNA sample. I simply submitted my raw data (taken from a prior genetic genealogy test). The test works autosomally, reading from the 22 of the 23 chromosomes that make up each person’s DNA using technology based on the Living DNA Orion chip (comprising software and unique reference databases). Autosomal DNA is inherited randomly from our ancestors, meaning that siblings can show a different inheritance in this test. One brother may have inherited more DNA from a Welsh 4x great grandmother, for example, than his sister. Thus the test provides a unique insight into each individual’s geographic inheritance.

    Map showing the distribution of my DNA.

    Professor Myers told me that while the team is able to quite precisely identify regional contributions within the British Isles, the genetic differences they are identifying are also very subtle. Most people’s ancestors are likely to come from a more geographically diverse set of locations in the 6-10 generation period than are exactly traceable using genealogies. In general, it’s harder to precisely pin down contributions that make up only very small amounts of DNA geographically, because they give less data for analysis.
    On first glance, my results make sense compared with my known ancestry. They indicate that I have 90.7% British Isles DNA, which matches roughly with results from other autosomal tests.
    In comparison, my Ancestry test indicated 85% Great Britain, Family Tree DNA suggests 72% British Isles, while DNA Land has me as 76% Northwest European (which covers Scottish Argyll_Bute_GBR and British in England; Icelandic in Iceland; Norwegian in Norway and Orcadian in Orkney Islands).

    Within the Living DNA’s 90.7% British Isle results, my genetic breakdown is as follows:

    • South Central England 18.2% [update Aug 2017: 19.3%]
    • Central England 14.3% [update Aug 2017: 4.5%]
    • South Wales Border 9.8% [update Aug 2017: 23%]
    • North Wales 9% [update Aug 2017 8.8%]
    • South Wales 7.6% [update Aug 2017: 9%]
    • Northumbria 6% [update Aug 2017: 5.5%]
    • Cornwall 4.7% [update Aug 2017 4.3%]
    • East Anglia 4.4% [update Aug 2017 2.3%]
    • Devon 3.6% [update Aug 2017 2.5%]
    • Northwest England 3.2% [update Aug 2017 2.5%]
    • Southwest Scotland and Northern Ireland 2.6% [update Aug 2017 2.7%]
    • Cumbria 2.6% [update Aug 2017 2%]
    • Orkney 1.6% [update Aug 2017 1.4%]
    • Aberdeenshire 1.1% [update Aug 2017 2.8%]
    • British Isles (unassigned) 1.8% [update -]
    • Southeast England [update Aug 2017 1.3%]

    As I have recently been learning Welsh in order to help with family history research (as well as visits to Wales), I was pleased that, according to these results,  the Welsh contributions adding up to 26.4% indicate that I am 1/4 Welsh. In these results,  the “Welsh borders” also includes some English regions bordering Wales (such as Shropshire where I have known ancestors). However, Professor Myers clarified that usually, Welsh ancestry is not mistaken for other places. 5/32 of my 3x great grandparents were born in Wales. Others may have had Welsh ancestry which has been picked up autosomally. [August 2017 update: my Welsh contribution now adds up to a whopping 40.8%. It remains to be seen how much of this is from the English border counties . . . ]

    Description of the Central region from the Living DNA website.

    Regarding my ancestors from Central England, this area seemed a bit vague. The description references Mercia, which in the past included Staffordshire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Shropshire. Of my 32 3xgreat grandparents, 15 were born in this region. The test broadly divides Central England into two zones, one more Northerly and one more Southerly.

    I was a little confused by the definition of the “S. Central England” region (which would also include Gloucestershire, Somerset, Oxfordshire etc.), as I do not have any recent ancestry from those counties. However, Professor Myers told me that Wiltshire, where 2 of my 3xgreat grandparents were born, heavily overlaps and they would expect/hope for ancestry from Wiltshire to be attributed to this region (and sometimes also to S. England). I told him that I had ancestry from Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, also, and he suggested that this might contribute more to the N. Central England region, but that as these regions are neighbouring and also extremely similar genetically, some overlap is expected.

    Two of my 3xgreat grandparents are from Norfolk and my genetic connection to them has been proven through another genetic DNA test. East Anglian DNA is very similar to that of Germany – indicating that of all the British regions, this is the most Anglo-Saxon. Others contain the presence of Vikings, Jutes, Danes, Normans and, of course, Celts. Although, my East Anglian results are only small here, they fit with the small percentage contributed by these Norfolk ancestors. Professor Myers explained that as my Norfolk-born great, great grandmother, Maria Pymer Jolly, is separated from me by four generations of random inheritance (or non-inheritance), this means I won’t always get exactly 6.25% (the percentage presented by a 2x great grandparent) of DNA from her. She might genuinely have only given me 4-5% of my ancestry – with other ancestors being over-represented instead. He went on to say that the test is not *so* precise currently that the proportions for these small contributions are exactly accurate.

    For me, the oddest results were those indicating that I have ancestry from Cornwall and Devon. I wondered if within the 10 generations, I might have South Western ancestors who moved the relatively short distances north to Wales or Wiltshire. Plymouth in Devon, but on the border of Cornwall, is just 143 miles from Devizes, where one of my 3x great grandmothers was born, for example. Newport in south Wales is just over 60 miles away from Devizes. Professor Myers agreed that this interpretation of local movements seems very sensible, as the test is reasonably confident there is some ancestry from these regions at some point.

    For the 1.8% unassigned (British) ancestry, he explained that this means Living DNA thinks the ancestry is from the UK, but in their evaluation of uncertainty in my results (where they essentially reanalyse my genome after “resampling” its parts, a standard statistical approach) this 1.8% could not be confidently pinned down geographically. After a second look at the data, Professor Myers said his “best guess” for the 1.8% is actually Southern England, which could fit with my Wiltshire ancestry.

    My 2x great grandfather, William Jolly, was born in Montrose, Forfar (now Angus) but his parents were from Kincardineshire, which Living DNA places in Aberdeenshire and/or Northwest Scotland as it falls right at the border of the two different regions). It is possible that the evidence of ancestry in South west Scotland & Northern Ireland, Orkney, Aberdeenshire, and possibly Cumbria, all comes from this part of my family tree.

    There is still more research to be done on my tree by more and more analysis by Living DNA on my genetic data. However, the results so far appear to be a positive start to understanding my British genetic ancestry.

    Living DNA’s test itself is run on a custom-built “Living DNA Orion Chip”. It is one of the first bespoke DNA chips in the world to be built using the latest GSA technology from market leader Illumina, and tests over 656,000 autosomal (family) markers, 4,700 mitochondrial (maternal) markers and 22,000 Y-chromosomal (paternal) markers.

    A lifetime membership to Living DNA costs £120, including a swab kit, the DNA ancestry test itself and access to a personalised, interactive results platform. Test results typically take 8-12 weeks before they are available, and a bespoke coffee table book of the results costs an additional £39 plus postage and packing. A membership also includes free lifetime updates to people’s results as new ancestry research and population groups are added to the platform and as science evolves.

  5. Review of Amelia Dyer and the Baby Farm Murders by Angela Buckley

    ameliadyer

    Angela Buckley is well-known among family historians as the Chair of the Society of Genealogists and for her work on true crime. Her first book, The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada (Pen & Sword, 2014) explored crime and criminals through the life of a 19th century Italian-Mancunian detective.

    This latest title is the first in Buckley’s historical true crime series, Victorian Supersleuth Investigates. Focusing on the crime (or in this case, crimes), Buckley carefully pieces together the facts using contemporary reports supported by her research into socio-historical sources.

    Buckley was inspired to explore the crimes of Amelia Dyer when she discovered she lived close to the Reading location where the baby farmer’s victims were found in the River Thames. The true number of Dyer’s victims will never be known, but the book names all those identified through Dyer’s trial, the police investigation, and the rather sensational newspaper reporting of the time. As such, this is a valuable resource for family and social historians. There are details, too, of those who found the victims, along with other witnesses and neighbours.

    One of the mysteries of this case for a modern reader is why did anyone hand over their infants to the murderous Dyer? Buckley provides the background to this, explaining the myriad difficulties in the late Victorian period for women who were unmarried or unable to care for their own children. In my view, the socio-historical detail is one of the book’s greatest strengths.

    Another strength is the lucid writing. Not only is the book easy to read, but the complexities of these crimes and the motivations of the rather puzzling Dyer are explained clearly. Although the subject matter is harrowing, criminal details are balanced against fascinating passages of social history. Despite being full of dates, names and times. the book is short and well-paced. As such it is suitable for anyone wanting to read a book on holiday or during a daily commute. It certainly transports the reader to another world.

  6. Futura Genetics Review

    DNA and Disease Risks

    There are a number of DNA tests available which claim to be able to tell your risk of developing named diseases. I have never taken any such test before but I was recently offered the opportunity to test with a company named Futura Genetics.

    The company promotes its tests with five reasons why you should have your DNA tested. Many family historians have taken tests for family history purposes, but have not looked at health risks in their DNA. Futura Genetics’ five reasons for testing health risks are:

    1. There’s a high chance you have a predisposition for a disease
    2. Troubles might be hidden waiting to strike
    3. Only those who know the truth can make right decisions
    4. You want your kids to be healthy
    5. Because you can!

     

    These seem fairly reasonable assertions. Everyone has a different approach to knowledge of possible ill health, but I agree with Futura that if I am aware of genetic risk I am better prepared to avoid future problems. I also like the fact that these kinds of tests are being more affordable and commercially available to all (or mostly all, depending where you live).

    Like other companies that assess genetic risk, Futura Genetics looks at the SNPs (single-nucleotide polymorphisms, pronounced “snips”) that, as Futura explains, “are usually located in genes or near the genes, but sometimes also inside the long stretches of DNA where no genes have been found. If you were to compare your chromosomes with those of a random person, we would expect to find, on average, one SNP that differs out of every thousand DNA nucleotides. SNPs are the results of alterations or mistakes in DNA, usually called mutations. These mutations accumulate very gradually as DNA is passed on from parent to child, generation after generation. Because all cells contain two copies of each chromosome, you may have two identical or two different copies of each SNP. Either one of the copies is passed on to all of your children. Scientists all over the world are trying to understand which differences in our appearance, personality, or disease susceptibility comes from which SNPs. Many associations have already been found, but there are still many more to discover.” 

    This tests looks at the risk of the following conditions:

    Alopecia
    Alzheimer’s Disease
    Atrial Fibrillation
    Basal Cell Carcinoma
    Bladder Cancer
    Breast Cancer
    Celiac Disease
    Colorectal Cancer
    Coronary Heart Disease
    Exfoliating Glaucoma
    Gastric Cancer
    Graves’ Disease
    Intracranial Aneurysm
    Lung Cancer
    Lupus
    Melanoma
    Migraine
    Multiple Sclerosis
    Obesity
    Open Angle Glaucoma
    Peripheral Vascular Disease
    Prostate Cancer
    Psoriasis
    Rheumatoid Arthritis
    Type 1 Diabetes
    Type 2 Diabetes
    Venous Thromboembolism

     

    I was sent the kit very quickly and a few days later a courier came to collect. Like many DNA kits, this involved spitting into a tube. I then waited several weeks for the results report to appear in my online account and even longer for the paper copy to arrive in the post.

    Screenshot_20160729-121639

    As shown in the above screengrab of my report, my raised risks are for lung cancer, celiac disease, migraine and type 2 diabetes. Although the highest level of risk appears to be for type 2 diabetes, I found this surprising as this is not something I am aware in my family. Nevertheless, this is helpful to know and something to bear in mind when offered a health check. Anyone else with this genetic risk may be interested to know that the NHS has a free online type 2 diabetes self-assessment tool. On the other hand, as one of my great grandfathers suffered horribly from rheumatoid arthritis, it was a relief to discover I have 0.42 times lower than average risk of developing that condition.

    Futura Genetics’ report presents the risks in managed terms. For example, although my celiac disease risk is raised, the report notes that, “only 25% of persons with risk types develop the disease.” It does not detail the research that has gone identifying the relevant SNPs or the factors involved. For example, certain lung cancer research has focused on identifying SNPs in smokers. If you are not a non-smoker that may not be relevant, but the report does not indicate either way. This contrasts with the service offered by Promothease, for example.

    One benefit of the Futura Genetics report is that the risks are clearly identified and presented neatly in a report that can be taken to show a medical professional. In certain cases, these risks could help your doctor with easier diagnosis. Advice is also given for how best to protect yourself with the raised risk condition, such as in my case, by taking physical regular exercise and maintaining a well-balanced diet to help me avoid migraines.

    The report contains a paragraph description of each condition. At the end of the report is the Scientific Data. Unfortunately, this is not personalised which means you cannot analyse the raw data for yourself. The list of genetic markers that were analysed is given, but which SNPs were found in your DNA is not reported.

    To find out more visit the Futura Genetics site at or watch their online video.

  7. Review of Sue Wilkes’ Regency Spies

    Regency Spies by Sue Wilkes (Pen & Sword History, 2016), 203 pages, £19.99 from Pen & Sword.

    Regency Spies Image

    In 1819, in response to the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester, Shelley wrote his revolutionary poem, The Masque of Anarchy. The poem was seen as a declaration of nonviolent resistance and an exhortation on the poor to stand up to oppressors, but without resorting to arms. This is reflected in its most memorable line,

    Ye are many – they are few!

    The tone of the poem echoed not only Shelley’s political views and those of the Peterloo protestors, but also of the strong revolutionary spirit of the 1780s-1820s. As Sue Wilkes makes clear throughout her latest book, Regency Spies,  this was an era of revolution in politics, industry, social policy, and (as evinced by Shelley) literature.

    The Peterloo rebels are just some of those Regency protestors and reformers whose plans and plots Wilkes explores in this richly detailed account.

    Wilkes sets her history of British rebels in the difficult context of the aftermath of the  Regency crisis of 1788-9. She emphasizes that, “the government of the day certainly believed the danger was real.” Today, some of those radical campaigners are regarded as heroes in a fight for equality or as inspirations for progress in political liberty. The early 19th century government, however, thought differently.

    Such was the concern over the perceived threat from the alleged traitors that several of the spies featured in the book were executed. It is perhaps surprising to the modern reader that such executions took place in a period regarded by many as “enlightened” and modern.

    One negative point about Regency Spies  is the preponderance of men, with the few women who do feature being known by titles only, such as “Mrs Hepworth” or Miss Piozzi”. One of the few women who is identified by a full name, Sarah Hickling, appears in an unheroic role as an informer against the Luddites. Having said this, it is worth noting that the small number of women included here may reflect the paucity of records on female history of the period rather than on their inactivity as revolutionaries or spies.

    Other aspects of the book reflect a fresh approach to the historiography of this era. For example, Wilkes is keen to emphasize the Luddites’ original motivation of wanting to feed their destitute families and their anger against poverty, rather than of their role in popular mythology as enemies of progress.

    This refreshingly original history is attractively presented in an illustrated hardback. Well-researched and immaculately sourced, each chapter is rich in original parliamentary and home office material.

    Overall the book would be an asset to the shelf of any family historian interested in the revolutionary background to the lives of their Regency ancestors in Britain.

  8. Books I Read 2015

    books 2015 blog

    This time last year my New Year’s resolution was to read more for pleasure. As a professional genealogist and writer, I constantly dip in and out of history books, articles, websites, databases, social media links, blogs and historic literature. This repeated skimming of words can become stressful over time. I was concerned my concentration was becoming affected and determined to take time out from snatched paragraphs and screen-reading. Outside work, I am a fan of the Slow Movement. I take long walks, eat organic food and avoid air travel where possible. In 2015, I decided to extend this to Slow Reading. This involved taking time to savour books that I fancied – avoiding those I felt I *should* read – and sitting (or lying) with a paper copy rather than a blue-lit screen.

    I began the year with a Christmas present volume of Ngaio Marsh’s Inspector Alleyn 3-Book Collection 2 including the novels, Death in Ecstasy (1936), Vintage Murder (1937), and Artists in Crime (1938), Australian genealogist Judy Webster recommended these to me as a preferred alternative to Agatha Christie for anyone interested in interwar crime fiction. Like Christie, Marsh focuses on upper-middle class life between the wars. Also like Christie, Marsh was prolific, completing 32 Inspector Alleyn novels. Her protagonist, Inspector Alleyn, is the younger son of a titled Buckinghamshire family.  Marsh’s theatrical background brings plausibility to the murder of a theatre manager in Vintage Murder, but there is an almost televisual eye for detail in each of the three novels. After enjoying all three of these novels, I was surprised not only that Ngaio Marsh isn’t better known but that none of her stories have been adapted in recent years for prime-time television.

    Suzie

    In February, I was delighted to welcome Suzie Grogan to my local Highgate Library for a talk on her latest book, Shell-Shocked Britain: The First World War’s Legacy for Britain’s Mental Health (Pen & Sword History, 2014). inspired by the impact on Grogan’s own family (by her shell-shocked great-uncle’s suicide and murder of an ex-girlfriend in nearby Hornsey in 1922), Shell-Shocked goes further than previous histories in examining the wider impact of war on the mental health of shell-shocked veterans, their extended family, the next generation, and society at large. This enables even those with an extensive knowledge of the Great War to look at wartime experiences (and consequent interwar reactions) in a new light. An experienced writer on mental health issues, Grogan explores the effect of what is now recognised as post-traumatic stress disorder. For decades this was evident only in symptoms such as anxiety or alcoholism. Therapy was minimal: the quiet easing of nightmares and twitches as portrayed in J.  L. Carr‘s 1980 novella, A Month in the Country, remained far out of reach for most veterans. The book also touches on the mental health toll on civilians from new horrors, such as the Zeppelin air raids. The last chapter explores the legacy of shell-shock:

    This book has not set out to establish that war trauma has left an indelible legacy on all families, or on all aspects of modern society. It has sought to highlight, however, the stresses endured by our recent ancestors and to encourage us to examine how our views of their quiet acceptance, silence or reluctance to share may be misplaced.

    A few years ago, in a conversation on Twitter, Jen Newby,  the then editor of Family History Monthly, advised that as I enjoyed the BBC adaptation of Winifred Holtby’s South Riding, I should try the novel. I’ve been meaning to read it ever since. On finally settling down with a copy, I discovered how different it is from the televised version. The book is far more rewarding. Having previously read Testament of Youth, I knew how highly Vera Brittain respected her close friend. On reading South Riding, I discovered why. The novel was published in 1935, shortly after Holtby’s death from Bright’s Disease at the young age of 37. These dates and her young age were in the forefront of my mind as I noted Holtby’s strong empathy with characters from a broad social spectrum. Her remarks on Dachau concentration camp and local government cuts are startlingly prescient. Anyone interested in today’s 21st century socio-economic conditions is likely to be inspired, and perhaps frustrated, by Holtby’s sharp observations on the lives of those administering or affected by the local government institutions of a fictionalized South Yorkshire local authority.

    Both Winifred Holtby and Vera Brittain served in the First World War. Brittain was a nurse with the Voluntary Aid Detachment and Holtby enlisted in the Queen Mary’s Auxiliary Army Corps (QMAAC) in summer 1918. Brittain chronicled both of their services in articles and books. In her new book, Women Heroes of World War I: 16 Remarkable Resisters, Soldiers, Spies and Medics (Chicago Review Press, 2014), Kathryn J. Atwood looks at other notable women and their war experiences and service between 1914 and 1919. Atwood, a writer based near Chicago, explores the lives of 16 women from across Europe and the States, including Edith Cavell, Elsie Inglis, Maria Bochkavera and Flora Sandes, all of whom I touched upon in my latest family history guide, My Ancestor was a Woman at War (Society of Genealogists, 2013). Some of these names are well-known: the centenary of Edith Cavell’s execution, for example, was marked extensively in 2015. Atwood studies each in some detail. Among the portraits, I was struck particularly by the lives of Helena Gleichen and Nina Hollings, radiographers who were hired by Italy but who were shown little respect by their home country. At the time, the Duke of Aosta said:

    We are cleverer than the English then, because we employ who and what we can for our wounded, regardless whether they wear trousers or petticoats.

    Atwood explains further of how, despite Italian support, the women worked in difficult circumstances:

    The women were both given the rank of majors in the Italian army and initially traveled to 11 different field hospitals as well as multiple dressing stations. Their equipment was hooked to as power generator located in their car. They would use it to locate the bullets or pieces of shell that were embedded in the wounded men.

    After the war, Nina and Helena lived together in a large manor “in Great Britain”. They were both awarded the OBE and during the Second World War, Helena organised a Home Defence Corps. She died in 1947, just before her 74th birthday.

    12079078_10153644163376800_5403040423197020849_n

    In October, I attended a talk on the history of swimming in London by Caitlin Davies and Jenny Landreth at a local literary festival, Archway With Words. Davies’ latest social history book, Downstream (Aurum, 2015) is a history and celebration of swimming the Thames. Although I am not a great lover of swimming, I am passionate about celebrating female achievement through history. On this note, I was pleased to discover the remarkable lives of Agnes Beckwith (who in 1875, aged 14, swam 5 miles to Greenwich), typist Mercedes Gleitze and Ivy Hawke. Despite being a celebrity in her lifetime, I was surprised that the feats of Thames swimmer Gleitze have been so quickly forgotten in popular culture. Her 1927 record as the first British woman to swim the Channel stands as testament to her achievements. Beyond swimming, she set up the Mercedes Gleitze Homes for the homeless in Leicestershire using sponsorship and her charity continues. Davies writes:

    Women  . . . were still seen as the weaker sex – physically and mentally – and yet here they were swimming for hours over long distances in the Thames.

    Now we have entered another new year, I have decided to continue with last year’s resolution. Slow reading is enjoyable, relaxing, healthy and educational. My new year’s book, In the Blood, has been recommended to me by numerous genealogists and a copy has been sitting on my shelf for months. A recent newsletter from Lost Cousins prompted me to dust it off, with blogger Peter Calver’s description of Steve Robinson as “one of my favourite authors of genealogical mysteries”. Apparently, Robinson has now sold over 100,00 copies of his debut. Having read the first few chapters I can see why. Fast-paced and with richly-drawn characters, In The Blood is enjoyable and easy to read. Although all genealogists are detectives up to a point, I’m thankful our work isn’t as dangerous as that of Robinson’s protagonist, Jefferson Tayte. The family history research is accurate to archives and sources, but the story is escapist enough to make this a book for leisure and help me maintain my commitment to reading for pleasure in 2016.

  9. Dangerous Characters In London’s Little Italy Fascists, Anti-Fascists, Suffragettes and Spies

    IMG_1683Last week I went to see the latest exhibition at Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre in Holborn and was amazed to learn about a little-known tragedy of the Second World War. The exhibition, “Dangerous Characters in Little Italy” is curated by Alfio Bernabei. Among its exhibits is a section on the sinking of the Arandora Star on 2 July 1940. 805 souls were lost, of which 470 were Italian. It struck me that this is an event that we should commemorate in the way of the Lusitania or other wartime maritime losses. Astonishingly, the exhibition reveals that at the time the event was hidden and little attention was paid to it in the decades that followed.

    Built in 1927, the Arandora Star was originally a leisure cruiser belonging to the Blue Star Line. Recommissioned for war service in 1939, the ship served as a carrier for troops and civilian evacuees. In June 1940, she sailed from Liverpool, transport 734 Italians and 479 Germans who had been interned in Britain to Newfoundland in Canada. Also on board were 86 German prisoners of war and 174 officers and crew. Accompanying them were their guards: 200 Allied naval and military personnel. There was no supporting vessel, indicating that the ship was carrying civilians, and no Red Cross had been painted on the ship.

    Around 100 miles west of Bloody Foreland, Donegal, the Arandora Star was torpedoed by a German U-boat. As the internees clambered into lifeboats, some were shot by their guards to prevent them from escaping. A Canadian destroyer rushed to the scene, managing to rescue 868 lives. In all, 713 internees and 92 guards and crew lost their lives. They included the Captain, E. W. Moulton, 12 officers, 42 crew, 37 military guards, 470 Italians and 243 Germans.

    IMG_1682

    This incident and the silence that followed it, reflected the fear of Italian fascism in Britain during the war. “Dangerous Characters in Little Italy”, first exhibited by Centro Studi P. Calamandrei,Palazzo della Signoria, Jesi, Italy, highlights how fascism grew in Britain’s underground, and how many Italians sought to challenge it. The audio-visual display is based on Bernabei’s research about Italians in Clerkenwell and Soho in the period 1920-1940 and features the rise of Fascism and within the Italian community in London, as well as the activity of the Italian and non-Italian anti-Fascists to oppose it. The exhibition covers the period between the rise of Fascism in Italy in the early 1920s and Italy’s declaration of war on the side of Nazi Germany.

    “Dangerous Characters in Little Italy: Fascists, Anti-Fascists, Suffragettes
    and Spies” is a free exhibition at Camden Local Studies and Archive Centre, 32-38 Theobalds Road, London WC1X 8PA and runs until Friday 3rd July 2015 (Opening Hours: Mon 10-6 Tues 10-6 Thurs 10-7 Fri 10-5 Alternate Saturdays 11-5).

  10. Genetic Genealogy: My AncestryDNA Results

    Genetic genealogy is becoming increasingly important to contemporary family history research. When a paper trail fails us, a DNA test may provide the missing piece to the puzzle of an illegitimacy, unofficial adoption, or unclear ethnic origins. Recently there have been well-publicized accounts of foundlings discovering a parent and of others finding biological ancestors previously unidentifiable in historical documents.

    AncestryDNA-kitPaper documents are essential to family history research. The birth/marriage/death certificates, censuses, wills, church records, newspaper reports and so on tell us (or give us clues about) the identities of our ancestors. But where the “wrong” father’s name is given on a birth certificate, or no clue exists as to parental identity, genealogists can become stuck.

    With improved accessibility and competitive pricing of family history DNA tests over the past five years, the potential of genealogy has been transformed. You may not know the identity of your father, for example, but through DNA testing you could discover a relative of his, or establish his ethnic origin. To this end, AncestryDNA launched its tests in the UK early this year. I received the results of my tests this week and have analyzed them below.

    Autosomal DNA

    There are three main types of DNA test for family history research:-

    • Y-chromosome (Y-DNA)
    • Mitrochondrial DNA (MtDNA)
    • Autosomal

    Y-DNA is used to research the paternal line. The test can be taken by males only. The MtDNA test can be taken by men or women but is used to research the maternal line only. The autosomal test can be taken by men or women and tests the DNA inherited from autosomal chromosomes. In a nutshell, this is DNA inherited from all of our ancestors back to our 3rd great grandparents and some of the DNA inherited from ancestors up to the 10th great grandparents. For a detailed account of autosomal DNA see this ISOGG Wiki.

    In family history, we can use autosomal DNA primarily for three aims:

    • to find matches with our genetic cousins
    • to identify our recent ethnic origins
    • to find information on our health.

    The largest companies that provide tests for the first two of the above aims are Family Tree DNA (FTDNA), AncestryDNA, and 23&Me. I tested with FTDNA in 2012. FTDNA provides Y-DNA and MtDNA tests alongside their autosomal test, which is known as Family Finder.

    The third of these aims, health information, is provided commercially by the company 23&Me. Otherwise, raw data from Family Tree DNA and AncestryDNA tests can be uploaded for free to Promethease, but care should be taken with this as no analysis of results is provided.

    AncestryDNA tests only for autosomal DNA. Currently, the company does not offer any Y-DNA or MtDNA testing.

    The AncestryDNA Test

    Taking the test was relatively straightforward. I did have to activate the kit by using Ancestry in Chrome rather than my usual Firefox browser, but other than that there were few problems. Unlike FTDNA, which requires a cheek swab, for the AncestryDNA test I had to spit several times into a vial. I then had to fasten the lid tightly without breaking it – which I found quite tricky. Eventually I managed it and then posted off to Ireland.

    A few weeks later, I found my AncestryDNA results by checking on the DNA tab on the Ancestry website. Below is the page showing my results. For privacy reasons, I have removed the images of my genetic cousins which sit below the “DNA Matches” heading.

    AncestryDNA main page

    The results are all summarized on this one page. On the left is a pie chart showing a broad estimate of my ethnic origins. By clicking on this option the full breakdown is revealed.

    Cousin Matches

    On the right in the screenshot above is the section revealing my DNA matches. The last point on the far right suggests that I have 19 4th cousins or closer. In fact, when I click on these cousins, they are all suggested “4th-6th cousins”. The confidence of these cousins being within this range is only “Extremely High” for one match but “Very High” for the other 18. I have 37 pages of matches. Most are in the 5th-8th range, and are thus difficult to match with my known ancestors.

    DNA tests for family history do not tell you how you are related to a match. You have to work that out for yourself. The test can be used to confirm a relationship with a second cousin, for example, whom you may have found through your family history research or from a shaking leaf on your Ancestry tree. A second cousin should almost always (99% probability) show up as a match in an autosomal DNA test. There is a 90% chance that a 3rd cousin will show up, but far less probability for a 4th cousin. This is because while the two 4th cousins could inherit DNA from their shared ancestor, this may be from different parts of distinct chromosomes. For this reason, care should be taken when using the test to match with those cousins who match distantly on paper. On the other hand, you could find that you share DNA with someone who shares a far more distant ancestor, like a 10th great grandparent. For these reasons, it is helpful to ask as many of your known cousins to test: it is difficult to predict beyond 2nd cousins who will show up in your autosomal DNA matches.

    One of the benefits of AncestryDNA is that, in theory, you can correspond the ancestry of your matches with your own ancestry using the Ancestry Family Trees. Unfortunately, this only works if both you and your match have uploaded a detailed family tree . . . and if the corresponding ancestor has been added. Of my “close” 19 genetic cousins, only 12 have added a family tree. Of those 12, 6 have added less than 100 ancestors to their tree. I have contacted 4 of these matches to see if we can find a common link, but have received only one reply so far. This can be one of the frustrating aspects of genetic genealogy.

    On the FTDNA website, you can use phasing to work out the possible branches on which you match your relative. Below is a screenshot from my Family Finder matches showing the option to click on “In Common With”. After clicking this, a list of all the cousins who match with this relative (in this example, it is my father) will appear. Family Finder also includes details of the amount of shared centimorgans (cM) and a chromosome browser which reveals on which chromosome(s) you are connected to each cousin.

    FamilyFinder pageIn contrast, AncestryDNA has a “Most Recent Common Ancestor” feature. When you review your matches you will see whether some of the proposed cousin matches have trees attached to their results. Once you click into this (provided they have made their tree public), you will be able to see a list of common surnames across both your tree and theirs.

    DNA CirclesLinked to this, Ancestry has a “DNA Circles” section to identify another user who is a DNA match and has the same ancestor in his/her tree. Using the circles you can add a third person who also has matching DNA, or a fourth. The idea behind this is that it is more likely that you’re all related because you’re descendants of a particular ancestor. However, as you can see from the screenshot of my Ancestry results above, I am yet to be included in any circles.

    Another feature for finding common ancestors is the maps and locations tab which allows you to find matches using a location perspective (i.e comparing the people in your tree versus your potential matches).

    So far, it seems that AncestryDNA has good potential for identifying my genetic cousins. One oddity I have found concerns a match who appears in both my Family Finder and my AncestryDNA matches lists. He is clearly the same person as not only does he have the same name, he has exactly the same photograph. For privacy reasons, he shall remain anonymous here, but what is notable is that on Family Finder he is identified as a 2nd-4th cousin, whereas on AncestryDNA he is only a suggested 5th-8th cousin. There is a big difference between the two. I have been in email contact with this cousin but we are yet to prove the link between us. Until then, it is uncertain whether Family Finder or AncestryDNA is the more accurate in measuring our cousin relationship.

    Ethnic Origins

    Family Finder estimates that my ethnic origin is 87% European. This is broken down into 72% “British Isles”, 10% Eastern European, and 5% “Western and Central Europe”.  What it did not identify was any Indian ancestry. For my mother, however, the test identified 2% “Central South Asian” which includes some of the area covered by India during the period of British rule. This was an interesting discovery for us as we had no suggestion from paper research or from family rumour that we had any Indian ancestry.

    On Ancestry, the test has picked up Indian origins in my test. “Asia South” is recognised as providing less than 1% of my DNA and the Caucasus of West Asia also provides less than 1%. This fits with me having half of my mother’s 2% Indian ancestry and I was impressed that the Ancestry test had identified this from my personal DNA.

    Regarding my European origins, Ancestry identifies me as having 85% from “Great Britain”. Separately from those, 5% is “Irish”. In the Ancestry test, “Irish” is regarded as separate from British ancestry. From Y-DNA testing we know there is some Irish ancestry on my Scottish JOLLY branch. However, contrasting this with the paper trail suggests that 5% may be too great an estimate. Nevertheless more work needs to be done on this and it is possible that there is Irish ancestry on one or more other branches of my tree.

    Conclusion

    For DNA tests to be useful for family history research, more people are needed to test. The larger the pool of testers, the more likely it is that those of us who have taken tests will find matches. As shown by both Family Finder and AncestryDNA, most of my ancestors in the past 15 generations are from Great Britain. It is probable, therefore, that I will match with more testers if they or most of their ancestors originate in Britain. That AncestryDNA has only recently launched in the UK is exciting for users like myself. I am looking forward to finding more matches over time as more Britons take the test. I just hope that when they do, they take the opportunity to add as many ancestors as they can to their Ancestry trees and that they respond to online messages.

    On that note, if anyone reading this blog recognizes me in their matches on either Ancestry or FTDNA, I would be very delighted to hear from you!

    In this post I have touched only briefly on the very complex science of genetic genealogy. For a clear and comprehensive account of family history tests and the genetics behind them, I recommend Debbie Kennett’s DNA and Social Networking (The History Press, 2011).

    UPDATE APRIL 2016

    Since I posted this, I have received two Ancestry DNA “hints”. These are indicated in the DNA section of my Ancestry profile by the shaking leaf symbol. In the examples on my profile (see screengrab below) the two matches were suggested to be a 4th cousin and a “distant cousin”. Ancestry user names have been removed from the screengrab below to protect privacy.

    Hints page Ancestry DNA

    Both of these Ancestry users have proved to be identifiable cousins thanks to the information in their (and my) online trees. As you can see in the above image, both of my newly-found cousins have high numbers of people in their online Ancestry trees. I also have several thousand people recorded in my Ancestry tree. Using the information we have inputted, the Ancestry DNA technology was able to identify our mutual ancestors (as shown in the screengrabs below).

    This screengrab shows that my match here was correctly identified by Ancestry as my 4th cousin. We share Norfolk ancestors, Clark Pymer and Ann Oxborough.

    Update Ancestry DNA Mar 2016 screengrab

     

    Ancestry DNA blog update

    The second screeengrab shows that this ancestor, Emanuel Billingham (1750-1837), is further removed from my cousin and myself. Here Ancestry is able to identify that my match is my 5th cousin 1x removed.

    I was hoping that there would be a way of confirming that these two Ancestry users were my cousins, as there is on FTDNA. Unfortunately, the only method appears to be through the Ancestry DNA Circles I mentioned above. In order to create an Ancestry DNA Circle (or for one to be created for you), there need to be three confirmed matches. So far, I only have two for each ancestor.

    Thanks to Debbie Kennett for pointing me to this Ancestry DNA blog which explains in detail the requirements for Ancestry DNA Circles: http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2014/11/20/new-ancestrydna-technology-powers-new-kinds-of-discoveries/

     

     

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Member of The Association of Genealogists and Researchers in ArchivesGraduate of the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies CanterburyMember of the Society of Genealogists