Blog

For family historians, enjoyment comes not just from seeing our ancestors’ names in print or learning about the worlds they inhabited, but in reading the very words they read.

Emma Jolly, in the article Historic Newspapers

Emma Jolly writer, historian, genealogist
  1. 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%
    • Central England 14.3%
    • South Wales Border 9.8%
    • North Wales 9%
    • South Wales 7.6%
    • Northumbria 6%
    • Cornwall 4.7%
    • East Anglia 4.4%
    • Devon 3.6%
    • Northwest England 3.2%
    • Southwest Scotland and Northern Ireland 2.6%
    • Cumbria 2.6%
    • Orkney 1.6%
    • Aberdeenshire 1.1%
    • British Isles (unassigned) 1.8%

    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” do also include 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 3xgreat grandparents were born in Wales. Others may have had Welsh ancestry which has been picked up autosomally.

    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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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/

     

     

  7. Family History for Kids

    This month marks seven years since the publication of my first book, Family History for Kids. I wrote the book with my own children in mind. Since 2007, my children (now in primary key stage 2) have enjoyed interviewing their grandparents, visiting old streets and homes of their forebears, and placing school history lessons in the context of their ancestors’ lives.  Family_History_For_Kids_SI have enjoyed sharing my passion for family history with them, and am proud of their deepening understanding of the past. One of the joys of family history is that there is always something new (or old!) to explore. None of us will ever know everything about our genealogies.

    This month, I’m pleased to welcome another guest blogger: Suzie Kolber. In the post below, Suzie writes about a project she has set up to help children explore their families’ pasts. It’s never too early to begin. With the help of older families, websites and books, hopefully today’s children can grow up strong in the knowledge of their ancestors.

    Helping Kids Learn Their Family History

    I have created a fun project for families is to study family history. It is a project that parents can do with their kids, no matter how young they are. It makes an interesting learning experience and can even turn into a gift for a grandparent or other relative.

    Be Visual

    The first thing to do is to decide how you will organize the information you collect. Since most kids are visually focused, a family tree template can be helpful. This is a great way to organize names and dates for easy access and to keep things from getting confusing.

    Choose a template that works for the age of the children you are working with. Young kids need a basic template that only contains basic information such as names. It can even be a good idea to select one that provides room for pictures. If you don’t have photos, you can have the kids draw pictures. This is an especially fun idea if the family tree will be given as a gift.

    Choose a Starting Point

    For the very young, you may want to stick with an actual tree as your template. Choose a three-generation wide or tall tree to keep things simple. You can decide if you want the child to be the beginning point and include his or her parents and grandparents or if you want to begin with a different generation. For the littlest kids, it is best to start with them to help them understand about genealogy. For kids that are slightly older, it is easy enough to begin with yourself or your parents.

    As kids get older, they are able to do more research and can go back farther into their history. In this case, you may want to make the oldest generation the starting point. Write down a grandparent’s or great-grandparent’s name at the bottom of the tree. Have the child talk to the living relative and ask the person about their parents and grandparents. Write that information in on the family tree template.

    For kids just getting started in genealogy, a three-generation family tree template is the ideal choice. It is easy enough to find that information without being too overwhelming. You can decide ahead of time how much information you will try to collect on each person before moving on.

    Advanced Researchers

    As your kids get older or learn more about researching family history, you can move onto more complex family trees. For instance, a four or five-generation family tree may be a good choice. You may also want to continue with the three-generation template but branch out in a different area.

    No matter which family tree template you choose, make sure it is visually pleasing for the kids to work with and easy to understand. Some kids will gravitate towards templates that look like actual trees while others may prefer a different format. The right template will make studying family history more fun and easier to understand for even the very young.

    Suzie_Kolber_Obits

    Suzie Kolber created Obituaries Help Free Printable Blank Family Trees to be the complete online resource for “do it yourself” genealogy projects.  The site holds the largest offering of family tree templates online. The site is a not for profit website dedicated to offering free resources for those that are trying to trace their family history.

  8. The Best Websites for British India Research

    I have been on the British Library‘s list of approved researchers for the Asian and African Studies Reading Room, for some years. In 2012, my introductory guide to the British in India for family historians, Tracing Your British Indian Ancestors, was published by Pen and Sword. Since then there have been some major developments in this area of research. One of the most notable is the digitization of large sections of the India Office Records collection by Find My Past.

    Fort William, Calcutta 1735

    Fort William, Calcutta 1735

    Descendants of Europeans and Anglo-Indians who lived in the sub-continent under British rule are now spread widely across the globe. Happily, there are several free and good value online resources that researchers can use to investigate British, European and Anglo-Indian family history in India, Burma, Pakistan or Bangladesh before, and just after, Indian Independence in 1947.

    As some ancestors who lived in the subcontinent also travelled more widely in the British Empire and beyond, a number of related resources from outside the boundaries of India may also be useful.

    Here follows a list of my favourite websites for researching the British in India online. Some of them will lead you to further research in archives, especially at the British Library or The National Archives. If you cannot access archives in the London area, please contact me to obtain copies of documents.

    India Office Family History Search http://indiafamily.bl.uk/UI/

    Discovery (from The National Archives; includes material from The British Library that was formerly indexed on Access to Archives www.a2a.org.uk) http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/

    Families in British India Society (FIBIS; essential database and Wiki resources) http://www.fibis.org/

    Family Search https://familysearch.org/

    British Association for Cemeteries in South India (BACSA) http://indian-cemeteries.org/bacsa/html/cemetery_records.html

    Index to HEIC [Honourable East India Company] Cadets
    http://www.ans.com.au/~rampais/genelogy/india/indexes/cadfram.htm

    Index to Original Papers, Letters, Photographs, and Manuscripts at the British Library
    http://searcharchives.bl.uk/primo_library/libweb/action/search.do?dscnt=1&dstmp=1410528032513&vid=IAMS_VU2&fromLogin=true&fromLogin=true

    Historical maps of India  http://homepages.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~poyntz/India/maps.html

    Untold Lives http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/untoldlives/

    Kabristan Archives (Ireland, Ceylon & India Genealogy) http://kabristan.org.uk/

    For ancestors in Burma, see http://www.angloburmeselibrary.com/index.html

    European genealogies for those who lived in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) can be found at the Dutch Burgher Reunion website: http://www.dutchburgherunion.org/genealogy.html

    A useful blog on India and Anglo-Indian family history is at http://geneblanchette.wordpress.com/

    The Colonial Film Catalogue holds many films of Empire families and of events that took place in British India http://www.colonialfilm.org.uk/

    Other colonial records, include Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), can be found in the Records of Former Colonial Administrations from The National Archives (TNA).

    Gibraltar Archives http://www.gibraltar.gov.gi/gibraltar-archives

    Malta Family History http://website.lineone.net/~stephaniebidmead/other%20sites.htm

    Ionian Islands Index http://website.lineone.net/~remosliema/Ionian1.htm

    East Africa records from TNA ref. RG36 www.thegenealogist.co.uk

    Mauritius – Association Maurice Archives http://www.amamu.org/

    East India Company at Home 1757-1857 http://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/eicah/

    NewspapersSG has a digital archives of historic newspapers from Singapore and Malaya published between 1831-2009. This resource can be searched at http://newspapers.nl.sg/

    Sarah Speedy, Mrs Livingstone, I Presume? Memoirs of Mrs S.M. Speedy, wife of Major James Speedy 1815-1859 (Allan Speedy, 1996) – see www,speedy.co.nz/recollections/

    Emma Jolly, ‘Open Access Microfilms in the Asia, Pacific & Africa Collections of the British
    Library in the September 2008 edition of The Genealogists’ Magazine – www.sog.org.uk

    I regularly post news on this area of research to the Tracing Your British Indian Ancestors Facebook page. Please ‘like’ the page to receive regular updates.

    And do read the blogpost on my client Evelyn Nelson’s experiences in India, searching for the church registers of St Stephen’s, Ootacamund (Ooty).

  9. Historic Newspapers

    Anyone who has spent hours poring over fragile, yellowing sheets in local archives or at Colindale knows how engrossing old newspapers can be. The popularity of the British Newspaper Archive, which recently celebrated its first year online, proves how keen many of us are to explore the past through the contemporary press. For family historians, enjoyment comes not just from seeing our ancestors’ names in print or learning about the worlds they inhabited, but in reading the very words they read. Depending on the nature of the publication, this can give us insight into popular opinion or into the mind of the establishment.

    Much as I enjoy using online newspaper databases, which I do at least once a week, I was delighted to receive a couple of old newspapers from Historic Newspapers at http://www.historic-newspapers.co.uk/

    The pleasures of holding a full-size paper, feeling the thickness of the pages, and being able to judge just how tightly my ancestors had to squint to read the fine details of Mr. William Shadforth’s “Special” Heart and Nerve Tonic are rare, and something I miss in the digital experience.

    Although companies like Historic Newspapers market their papers for special occasions, such as anniversaries or significant birthdays, the possibility of choosing a specific title from a specific date can be useful for family historians. I have collections from local archives of photocopied newspaper columns featuring my ancestors: my great grandmother’s obituary in The Stage, the inquest into my great great grandfather’s death, and more recent cuttings of the achievements of close family members.

    Sometimes I’d like to keep the entire newspaper, to see my ancestors’ activities in the context of what was happening around them. This is possible with companies like Historic Newspapers, although it can be more expensive than visiting a local history centre and copying from a microfilm or scanner. Occasionally, the cost may be weighed against the issue that dedicates an entire page to an ancestor’s military bravery or a detailed obituary, and that features a death announcement and a letter on the event elsewhere. Given how easy it is for researchers and library users to find an article in The Times Digital Archive or the Daily Mirror online, it is not surprising that these titles are the most popular with Historic Newspapers’ customers.

    One of the papers I was sent was the Sunday Pictorial of 25 April 1926. With smallish, thick pages and heavily illustrated, this is markedly different from other newspapers of 1926. I chose this particular edition as I was keen to see how contemporary newspapers reported the F.A. Cup victory of Bolton Football Club – captained to a 1-0 victory by my great grandfather’s cousin, Joe Smith. As mentioned in the post on the National Football Museum, my grandmother claimed to have drunk out of the F.A. Cup when she was 15. On the back page of the Sunday Pictorial was a large picture of the Bolton player, David Jack, draining a draught from the very cup. And at the bottom of the page was a smiling Joe Smith, surrounded by helmeted police officers, carrying the cup to the Bolton dressing-room at Wembley Stadium.

    The FA Cup final took place on a Saturday and was reported the following day. Copies of Sunday newspapers are harder to find. Historic Newspapers holds fewer newspapers for Sunday than for the rest of the week, and they are consequently more expensive. There are lesser-known titles among the Sundays, however, like the Sunday Pictorial.

    My favourite article in this issue is titled, “Is Dancing Overdone To-day?” This feature by Clifford K. Wright on the dance craze of the period begins:

    Has dancing to-day become an obsession?

    Do we dance too much? One would

    imagine so from the frequent attacks to which

    this form of enjoyment is subjected.

    When at the conclusion of the Great War

    people welcomed dancing as one of the easiest

    avenues to forgetfulness it was pointed out

    that wars and social cataclysms like the French

    Revolution were frequently followed by some

    similar craze. It was though that this out-

    burst also would prove a mere craze and be

    short-lived. yet in 1926 we find that the cult

    of the dance is pursued by everyone with un-

    abated zest and enthusiasm,

    Wright ends with the defence:

    But most important of all are the mental re-

    actions produced by dancing. It is the ideal

    cure for a fit of the blues. Through it we can

    find an escape from the usual groove of our

    lives into a secret and magical world of our

    own.

    Sources:

    Historic Newspapers has the largest private archive of British newspapers in the world. The archive has been built over many years from various sources: initially from the newspaper group’s original archives as they moved out of Fleet Street in the 80s, and continues today, as virtually all the national Scottish and English newspaper titles send us their daily editions. Papers are also continually being sourced from libraries and other collections from all over the world. The newspapers are stored in leather binding, from which they are carefully removed when sold, and sent out in presentation boxes. The company will sell the last paper for a date, but have scanned leading titles in order that an original archive remains.

    Historic Newspapers is offering readers of this blog an exclusive 15% discount on anything on the site by using the code: 15TODAY.

  10. Naming for Empire

    In the course of studying for an MA in Imperialism and Culture, I have been examining how enthusiastic working class Britons were about the Empire in the period 1870-1914. This debate has long exercised historians, such as John Mackenzie, Bernard Porter, and Antoinette Burton.

    Mackenzie, a pioneer of cultural imperialism argues that the working classes were enthusiastic about empire and that they were particularly influenced by propagandist media, such as music hall songs, popular newspapers and juvenile literature. He highlights the adventure stories and heroes of empire, and the fervour with which many working class people greeted them. He quotes Mafeking night, 18 May 1900 (when impromptu parties took place across Britain to celebrate the relief of besieged British forces), as a striking example of this imperialistic passion.

    In contrast, Bernard Porter writes dourly, “For the working classes who participated in Mafeking night the whole occasion was probably little more than a celebration of the safety of their comrades in uniform.”1 Richard Price challenges them both by arguing that the enthusiasm emanated more from the lower middle classes and that this was evident in the voting patterns of the ‘khaki’ election of 1900. The boundary between the upper working classes and the lower middle classes can be difficult to distinguish but at the time of the war in South Africa, four fifths of British society is believed to have been working class.2

    Wherever the balance of the argument falls, there is no denying that a passion amongst the British people for the heroes, military successes and adventures of empire grew hugely up to the turn of the century. In the Second Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902, this enthusiasm reached its peak. And it was in this period that an interest in current affairs spilled over into the naming of children.

    In my Naming Napoleon blogpost, I look at the popularity of the name Napoleon during the nineteenth century and why this was so. In assessing these, I came across siblings or middle names of the Napoleons which indicated an interest in heroes or military adventure. Napoleon’s British foes, such as Horatio, Nelson, Wellington and Wellesley were all in evidence, as were as the names of mythical heroes such as King Arthur. In the 1899-1902 period, names such as Arthur and Horatio, as well as those of Saxon kings, Alfred and Harold, were common.

    By 1898, however, Horatio was becoming associated with another Horatio Herbert: the hero of the Battle of Omdurman in the Sudan, then Lord Kitchener of Khartoum. Although Kitchener preferred to use his middle name, both forenames saw a surge in popularity in the birth registrations3 from this date. From 1900 (as he progressed to Chief of Staff during the Boer War, eventually being appointed Secretary of State for War in 1914), the hero worship of Horatio Herbert continued along with the popularity of his forenames. In 1892, a Horatio Herbert Bryant was registered in Bradford West, with several more following in subsequent years. Even ‘Kitchener’ was used as a forename; first appearing in the GRO birth registrations of December quarter 1898: Kitchener Sladden of West Ashford. There was a marked increase in Kitchener related names in 1902, but no Kitcheners4 were registered between 1905 and September quarter 1914 – the onset of the Great War. The imperial link also seems clear with Horatio Kitchener (Goole, 1898) and Horatio Baden (Hendon, 1900).

    The connection of Kitchener with the then Colonel Baden Powell continues with Kitchener Baden P R Coleman, who was registered in Ipswich in September 1900 (4a, 973). Baby boys with the names Baden, Baden Powell and Baden Mafeking appear regularly in GRO records between 1899 and 1920, when post war socio-cultural values began to turn against overt references to military imperialism. The GRO birth indexes for England and Wales5 show that between 1837 and the beginning of the Siege of Mafeking in October 1899, only ten children were registered with the first name Baden. In contrast, from the December quarter 1899 and the outbreak of war in 1914 there are hundreds of Badens, several of whom were given the middle names Powell or Mafeking to emphasize homage to the hero of the siege.

    Checking some of these Badens on the 1911 census6 shows many of them were from working class families, with fathers who were miners, labourers and factory workers. There is a sense that by making a lasting public statement of their enthusiasm for Baden Powell, and possibly support for his military and imperial activities, that the parents of these children wanted to show the wider world that they were part of the empire-supporting community.

    Besides Kitchener and Baden-Powell, other heroes celebrated through babies’ names include Field Marshal Fredrick Sleigh Roberts (1832-1914), commander of the field army in the Boer Wars, who was nicknamed “Bobs”. Kitchener Bobs Thornton in Headington (1902), Bobs Baden P Ellis from St Saviour (Sep 1900) and Bobs Baden Jones of Fulham in the same quarter are all clear examples. The forename “Bobs” appears in the GRO birth registrations from March quarter 1900 through to September 1901, and then reappears in March quarter 1915. This posthumous reappearance may show respect for Roberts’ death7 in France, three months into the Great War, when visiting troops from his birthplace of India.

    The registration of a Bobs Germiston V Sargeant in Lexden, 1900, highlights an enthusiasm for naming children after imperial places or scenes of military adventure. This phenomenom appears to have been particularly prominent during the Boer War specifically. Previous wars do not seem to have had the same effect: between 1854 and 1901, for example, only five births were registered in the name of the Crimea (Tayler, Ebers, Evans, Boswell and Price) and another five after Balaclava (Tucker, Gibbins, Lofthouse, Smith and Smith).

    Germiston is a city in the East Rand. Roberts commanded forces to attack there on the 29th August 1900, enabling the capture of Johannesburg two days later. Master Sargeant’s parents may have been influenced in their name choice by the overtly biased reporting of the time, as evinced in Winston Churchill’s The Boer War: London to Ladysmith Via Pretoria and Ian Hamilton’s March (Longmans Green, 1900):

    Advancing with great speed and suddenness through Elandsfontein, Lord Roberts surprised the Boers at Germiston, and after a brief skirmish drove them in disorder from the town, which he then occupied. So precipitate was the flight of the enemy, or so rapid the British advance, that nine locomotives and much other rolling stock was captured . . .

    Although the macho exploits of Roberts, Kitchener, and Baden-Powell were feted in newspapers and boys’ own literature across the Empire, there was one woman whose name became celebrated in this period. This was the war correspondent, Sarah Wilson8. Lady Sarah Isabella Augusta Wilson (1856-1929), to give her her full title, was the aunt of Winston Churchill (at the time, he was a war correspondent for the Morning Post). ‘Sarah Wilson’ was a common name, even when used as forenames, but in the period from June quarter 1900 to March quarter 1901 there was a marked rise in the number of female children registered thus with the GRO. More evident are the births of “Lady Sarah Wilson” (June 1900: West Bromwich and Hastings) and “Lady Sarah W Hunter” (Sep 1900, Middlesbro). Significantly,

    Sarah Wilson wrote for The Daily Mail, which was even then known for its sensationalist coverage and large working class readership. Its influence in 1900 is difficult to over-estimate. One history of the paper states: “By the start of the Boer War its circulation had risen above a million, far higher than any newspaper in the world.”9. When Sarah Wilson wrote in gushing terms about the heroic adventures of Baden-Powell, therefore, thousands of working class people would have either read or heard about them. It is probably no exaggeration to suggest that her writing10 influenced the naming of some of the “Baden”s mentioned above.

    “Sarah Wilson” aside, parents tended to stretch their imaginations when choosing to name girls after imperial themes. Several opted for place names, like Ladysmith and Pretoria. The reasons behind giving children these names are less obvious than in the case of naming for adventurous heroes. These parents may have wanted to celebrate the relief of sieges or British successes in the War, but in some cases (e.g. “Colenso Peace”) middle names suggest a less enthusiastic attitude to military activity. Some of the parents may have wanted to demonstrate their Britishness or to mark celebrations that they associated with the events of war. In the case of Pretoria, it may just be that they thought it sounded pretty as a name.

    From census returns and middle names, we know that most Pretorias were female, but there were exceptions: Pretoria Fredrick Adams from Devon, Pretoria Harold Banting from Gloucestershire, and Pretoria Mafeking Robert Randall from Berkshire. The most common combination for girls was Pretoria May – according to FreeBMD there were two hundred and nineteen registered between March quarter 1900 and September quarter 1908. British troops, under the command of Roberts, took Pretoria, the capital of the Transvaal, on 5 June 1900, but preparations had begun in the previous month. Other interesting, and obviously imperial combinations were Pretoria Mafeking Blomfom11 Ellis in Lancashire, Pretoria Anna Ladysmith Sexton from Erpingham in Norfolk, Pretoria Victress Spencer from North Yorkshire, and Pretoria Baden Wiseman in Bury St Edmunds.

    Some of the imperially named children had parents with a military connection. They may have wished to express support for British troops or demonstrate their association with their former regiments. Pretoria May Pritchard, for example, was the daughter of army pensioner, James Thomas Pritchard, and another was the child of a drill instructor. There are examples, too, of parents who had lived in various corners of the empire, such as the family of Pretoria Madge Taylor, whose brother, George A, was born in Dalhousie, India.

    Other parents seemed keener to give their children grand or distinctive names, not necessarily linked to the Empire: viz Pretoria Maud South (b1900), the daughter of Cartridge Foreman in Kensal Rise and her brother, Lord Algernon South.

    Before 1900 no child was registered in England and Wales with the name Mafeking. In May 1900-September 1901 forty-nine children (boys and girls) were registered in England and Wales with Mafeking as their first name. There was also a Mafeking Henry J Jones in Edmonton June 1905 and a Mafeking V Diskett in Dorchester June 1921. This Mafeking’s mother’s maiden name was Cawley; her mother may have been the Mafeking Cawley who was born June 1900 in Sherborne, making her naming less imperial and more familial. Middle names for earlier Mafekings, however, included Baden, May, Victor, Herbert, and Roberts.

    Between March quarter 1900 (when the Britains besieged in Ladysmith were relieved by troops under command of Lord Dundonald12) and Sep 1900, the births of twenty-four Ladysmiths were registered. There was also Ladysmith Winifred R Taylor, June 1902, in Islington, Ladysmith May Lambert, Sep 1903 in Sheffield, and Ladysmith J Lynas in Leyburn, 1931. This last may have been the daughter of Ladysmith Iceton (b. 1900), who died in Northallerton, North Yorkshire. Of the other Ladysmiths, the only middle name that stands out is that of Ladysmith Shamrock and Thistles Dujon of Peterbro’. As the shamrock and thistle were the national flowers of Ireland and Scotland respectively, this may suggest support for these nations or specific regiments. Miss Dujon appears to be of imaginative parents with a brother named Prince George Alexander Dujon (1910-1988) and a sister named Princess Edna A(E)lvizea Dujon. The name choice may indicate eccentricity, but also an emphatic patriotism from her father who was born outside Britain but within the Empire. John (later Julyan John) Dujon was from the West Indies but settled in Peterborough, where he was working as a labourer in an iron foundry in 1901. By 1911 he was working there as a greengrocer hawker.

    Not all families were keen to name every one of their children after imperial themes. However, it was amongst the working classes that these unusual naming practices most commonly appear. Plumber’s daughter, Ladysmith Lack, for example, had a younger brother named Buller – named after Victoria Cross hero, Major-General Redvers Buller. The name Redvers was extremely popular between 1900 and 1902, both on its own and in combination with the imperially-associated Bullers, Gordon, Victor, Baden, Stanley, Kitchener, Nelson, Cecil, Roberts, Hector, Macdonald13 and Colenso14.

    Kimberley is first recorded as a first name in June quarter 1896 with Kimberley George Foster of Totnes. The next set of Kimberleys were boys and girls registered after the relief of its siege, between March 1900 and June 1901. The name re-emerged in June 1915, but only regained popularity in the 1950s.

    Naming children for empire was more common than the examples here may suggest. Although names in this post are distinctive and show an obvious connection to the Anglo-Boer War and the Empire, many more children were named after imperial heroes with common names. Thus, children born in this period who are named Cecil after Cecil Rhodes can be difficult to distinguish from those named for non-imperial reasons. Where middle names are checked, the link appears stronger. “Cecil Rhodes” appears fairly regularly between 1882 and 1897 when larger numbers appear. 1900 saw thirty-five Cecil Rhodes, whilst the June quarter of 1902 saw the registration of twenty-two. The numbers of boys registered as “Charles Gordon”, for example, saw a marked increase in numbers from February 1884 when General Charles Gordon, Royal Engineer and Christian zealot was sent to the Sudan to ‘rescue’ Egyptian forces from the Mahdi, but soon became besieged in Khartoum. After his death, or popularly perceived martyrdom, in January 1885 to December 1910, hundreds of boys were registered with his name.

    Peace came to South Africa on 31st May 1902. After this, the obvious naming after imperial heroes faded away. Evidence suggests that this explicit imperial fervour reached its peak during this war. However, some of the overt support for militaristic imperialism was reinvigorated in the Great War and names such as Kitchener made a limited return after 1914. Naming for empire may have been short-lived, but it was significant. Unlike Winston Churchill and other establishment figures mentioned here, most of those who named their children after imperial themes never contributed consciously to history books. Through their children’s names, however, these parents were able to indicate to future generations how they felt about the War, and of the impact it, and its representation in the popular newspapers of the time, had on their lives.

    1Bernard Porter, The Lion’s Share: a short history of British Imperialism 1850-2004 (Harlow: Pearson, 2004)

    2 Michael Blanch in Warwick, Peter (ed), The South African War. The Anglo-Boer war 1899-1902 (1980), p210

    3 Birth registrations in this post are based mainly on the records of the General Register of England and Wales (GRO). The indexes of these records can be accessed via a number of online sites, including www.ancestry.co.uk (Ancestry), www.findmypast.co.uk (FindMyPast), www.FreeBMD.org.uk (FreeBMD) and www.thegenealogist.co.uk (TheGenealogist).

    4 As a forename

    5 Accessed via www.freebmd.org.uk

    6 Accessed via www.findmypast.co.uk

    7 Field Marshal Lord Roberts died 14 November 1914 of pneumonia in St Omer, France.

    8Wilson’s South African Memories can be read online at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/14466

    9http://www.dmgt.co.uk/uploads/files/The-Story-of-the-Daily-Mail.pdf

    10For an example of her support of Baden-Powell, see Wilson’s article: http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/9542340

    11Presumably a reference to Bloemfontein

    12The Relief of Ladysmith took place on 1 March 1900. Winston Churchill entered Ladysmith at the side of Lord Dundonald.

    13 Major General Hector “Fighting Mac” Macdonald (1853-1903) – Hector a very popular name: in Scotland in 1900 it was the 25th most registered boy’s name, but from September quarter 1899 there are hundreds of ‘Hector Macdonald’ forenames.

    14 The Battle of Colenso (in Natal, on the Tugela River) took place on 15 December 1899. It was one of the worst defeats of the war for the British, and thus may seem an unusual choice of name for British parents. Colenso appears in the GRO records in 1894. Up to March quarter 1904 there are four recorded. In 1902 a male child, Colenso Peace E Chipping was recorded in December quarter in Chertsey. His father, James Chipping, was a bricklayer.

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