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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. Book Review: Hitler’s Forgotten Children: the shocking true story of the Nazi kidnapping conspiracy by Ingrid von Oelhafen & Tim Tate (Elliott & Thompson, 2017)

    Hitler’s Forgotten Children: the shocking true story of the Nazi kidnapping conspiracy by Ingrid von Oelhafen & Tim Tate (Elliott & Thompson, 2017)

    Hitler’s Forgotten Children is a powerful, personal history of the Nazi Lebensborn programme and its long-lasting effects.

    Next year marks 80 years from the beginning of the Second World War. This book highlights just one of many aspects of that conflict that are yet to enter mainstream historiography.

    As we move further from the end of the war, more secrets of the conflict are being revealed. Ingrid von Oelhafen was born in 1942 as ‘Erika’. Although Yugoslavian, she was forcibly adopted into a Nazi family and given a new identity as part of the Lebensborn programme. This was created in 1935 by the SS, under the charge of Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945).

    . . . the older I became, the more I wondered about my personal history. I am not alone in this: it is part of the human condition to revisit the past as the years slip away.

    Von Oelhafen’s story, told here with the help of filmmaker and author Tim Tate, covers not only her wartime struggles in Nazi Germany but what happened after she discovered she was adopted and her attempts to understand the truth. These enquiries would reveal the full scale of the Lebensborn scheme, including the kidnapping of half a million babies and the deliberate murder of children born into the programme who were deemed ‘substandard’.

    Van Oelhafen wrote, ‘All those I have met – whether born into the Lebensborn program or kidnapped to strengthen it – have been scarred by their experience.’ Not all history stays in the past. This book raises many questions, not just about the war, but also of the subsequent division of Germany, and the manner in which Europe recovered from the conflict – often leaving truths hidden and crimes unsolved. The troubled history of Eastern Europe is something about which many of us in the West still do not know enough. This is not just a story of the tragedy of war, but of the suffering that continued long after it. Many families were ripped apart forever, as the conflict left a dark legacy for decades ahead.

    With the current climate of tension across Europe, and as extremist parties are again on the rise, personal testimonies such as this make an essential contribution to a period many today are yet to fully understand. Von Oelhafen dedicates the book to, ‘all the victims of Nazi Germany – men, women and, above all, children – and to those throughout the world today who suffer from the persisting evil which teaches that one race, creed or colour is superior to another.’

    . . . the Lebensborn experiment had been based on the Nazi’s belief in blood as the determining factor of human worth. Himmler’s obsession with blood and bloodlines was the reason I had been plucked from my family – whoever they were – in Yugoslavia and reborn as a German child.

    A thought-provoking book about identity, which is a subject close to the hearts of all family historians. Although much work is being done in genetic genealogy to combat false beliefs, sadly the Nazi’s pseudo-scientific concept of racial purity has not fully been destroyed. Roma, amongst others, remain persecuted in the 21st century.

    The book ends in hope, illustrating how von Oelhafen has been able to move forward with her life. The survivors of Lebensborn have created an organisation, the Fount of Life, to help with their understanding and recovery. Members chose the following quotation from French activist and philosopher, Simone Weil, to head their articles of association. Its words will resonate with anyone who has thought about investigating their family history.

    Uprootedness is by far the most dangerous disease to which human society is exposed.                                           Whoever is uprooted, uproots others.                                                                                                                                          Who is rooted, himself doesn’t uproot others,                                                                                                                                 To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognised need of the human soul.

  2. Explore the Past Guide

    Recently I was contacted by Rebecca Meekings, who works on behalf of Explore The Past (the Worcestershire Archive & Archaeology Service).

    Several members of my maternal grandmother’s family are from Worcestershire. My 3x great grandmother, Elizabeth Hannah Mould (1825-1904) was born in Smethwick, Staffordshire. She lived in the area of Smethwick all her life, but moved into the neighbouring area of Oldbury – which is in Staffordshire. Afte the early death of her first husband (my 3x great grandfather, Henry Harrison (1834-64), Elizabeth married George Hall Dearn (1845-1913), a man 20 years her junior, and settled in Warley, Worcestershire. Unlike nearby Oldbury, Warley remained an area of rural farmland until after the First World War. Elizabeth came from a line of dairy farmers and Warley seems to have been the perfect place in this part of Worcestershire for her to continue her family’s rural practices.

    The West Midlands generally can be a difficult area for family historians to research as boundaries often changed over the years. Researching family who lived within a ten mile radius can require visits to four or five different record offices. Anything that makes family history research clearer for those of us with ancestors in this part of the world, therefore, is something to be celebrated.

    Thus I was delighted to learn that Explore The Past has created a comprehensive 70-page guide designed to provide advice for people getting started with exploring their family history in the Worcestershire area. The team say, “It doesn’t matter where in the world they are researching, this guide covers general support for everyone, as the team at Explore The Past understand that it can be difficult knowing where to start.”

    As I often find West Midlands geography confusing, my favourite section of the guide is that of maps and plans. This gives tips on exploring places relating to my ancestor’s homes and their surroundings.

    The guide also helps researchers learn more about the types of resources most commonly used to research family history, as well as providing guidance on how to gain access to original documents, maps, photographs. Overall, it is intended to help family historians understand more about what kind of records & services will help them on their journey of discovery.

    Full details on the guide are online at the Explore the Past website: www.explorethepast.co.uk/discover-your-past/

  3. Book Review and Interview: The Chicago Stones by Darcie Hind Posz

    The Chicago Stones: A Genealogy of Acquisition, Influence & Scandal by Darcie Hind Posz (Darcie M. Posz, 2017) 
    Price: $14.99 (U.S. Dollars)

    Darcie Hind Posz wrote The Chicago Stones as part of her studies as a professional genealogist. This extensive and engaging romp through one hundred years of Stone and Yager family history originates in 1835 with one man who bought land, which would go on to fund three generations. Family historians – and others keen to explore further – will appreciate the transcriptions of original records, pre- and post-1871 Chicago fire records and discussions, a Register style of the Yager genealogy, and recommended listening (my favourite part). As an Englishwoman, I savoured the tales of upper-class US society and the history of the rapid growth of American cities, alongside the later depiction of the early transatlantic social scene. Prince Harry and Megan Markle are perhaps the most recent couple to follow this long line of transatlantic couples from the upper echelons of society.

    In order to find out more about this family and family history research across the pond, I interviewed Darcie about the book and her inspirations.

    What first drew you to the Stone family?

    They lived in an interesting time in American history and they had so much, but a majority of the recorded moments in their lives were of great unhappiness: deaths, divorces, escapist travels. It was so dissimilar to my ancestry; I just had to discover more about these people.

    It was an opportunity to broach subjects that have been mentioned too briefly in genealogical publications.

    I used the deaths of minors to explore dimensions of the major characters. A biographer once mentioned to me that she really felt like the deaths of children (who do not live past infancy) really do impact a subject’s timeline, let alone their psyche, but people tend to leave out those events because the children did not live past a certain age. If it impacts us now, why would it not have impacted our ancestors? I wanted to show all of the little ones in Horatio I’s generation.

    I also discussed contraception, uterine issues, and miscarried and terminated pregnancies in all three generations, because this is something that our female ancestors would have been aware of or in contact with. Elizabeth’s uterus is mentioned by way of a lawsuit in Part 1, contraception in the form of “Dr. LeFevre’s French Regulators” are considered in Part 2, and Dorothea’s stressful pregnancies are broached in Part 3. Our ancestresses deserve more practical consideration, rather than accoutrement.

    I was fascinated by the dramatic rise in wealth of Horatio Stone juxtaposed with the growth of Chicago where he made his fortune. For UK readers who may not be familiar with the history of cities in the USA, what do you find most interesting about this period?

    In the UK, you either inherited land or worked on it. At that time in the US, you could practically go out and take it. Just by squatting on the land and filing the right paperwork (if you even did that) you could make a multigenerational investment. Sometimes it became a generationally burdensome responsibility.  In this case, Horatio saw the potential in a muddy piece of land that became the epicenter of Chicago daily business and life. Similar stories can be seen all over America during the 1800s as the people of the east migrated west and found pockets to invest in.

    Your genealogy of the Stones is extensive. Do you have a favourite member of the family?

    I have a soft spot for Frank A. Parker. He was a collateral family member and not directly of the biological line of the Stone family, but he really did make an impact on their timeline. He kicked a morphine habit in the 1890s and went on to live a clean life, eventually ending up in Florida, fishing and running a restaurant.

    Younger members of the Stone family travelled and lived all over Europe, and some even married UK citizens. Did you enjoy researching European records?

    I did enjoy researching European records! There were so many courses and lectures I had attended regarding UK and European genealogical research that I was able to apply to this book.

    One character that I found particularly intriguing was Mabel Rapp – a woman on the fringes of the family. Do you feel that the full truth of her life has been discovered or is there more to find?

    I have a case study on Mabel that will be published in The American Genealogist (https://americangenealogist.com/) in the future. Since she was on the fringes I didn’t want her to dominate this story, but the outsiders really did steal the show in the book. What the book taught me is that, although you may want to focus on the direct line or a specific surname, in genealogies those outsiders can breathe life into these pedigrees. They showcase context, shake up the system, and keep the descent going.

    What’s next?

    Several projects. One that will last several years is on my Hind and Blakiston ancestors in counties Northumberland and Durham. It will take several trips abroad to firmly settle that story and lineage, but I am up to it.

    Darcie Hind Posz, CG, lives in Washington, D.C. Her work has been published in The GenealogistThe American Genealogist, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. For a complete list of her works, please visit darcieposz.weebly.com

     

  4. Book Review and Author Interview: The Malice of Angels by Wendy Percival

    The Malice of Angels by Wendy Percival (SilverWood Books, 2017)

    The reality of life as a genealogist can be quite mundane. I spend most hours in front of a computer, with the odd day out to archives or networking events. In the world of genealogy fiction, however, our imaginary counterparts have eventful lives, regularly being held at gunpoint, taking helicopter flights, or being lured into tunnels by sociopathic clients. Fortunately, my clients are invariably pleasant individuals but the part of me that wanted to be a detective when I grew up wouldn’t mind sharing some of the fictional adventures occasionally.

    I previously blogged about popular genealogical mystery writer, Steve Robinson, and his hero, Jefferson Tayte. Recently, I decided to try the work of Devon-based author, Wendy Percival, and discover the world of her researcher protagonist, Esme Quentin. Wendy has written three books so far, but I chose to begin with the third. The Malice of Angels is a novel based upon the experiences of women in the Second World War – a topic of personal interest to me. I very much enjoyed the book and look forward to reading more by Wendy. I most enjoyed the little-known aspects of the 1940s that Wendy brought into the plot. I also appreciated the intelligent focus on women’s history, as this is still, sadly, an area that is too often overlooked.

    In order to find out more, I interviewed Wendy about the book and her inspirations.

    This is your third Esme Quentin mystery. How long have you been a professional writer?

    I suppose the point at which I became a “professional writer” when the first Esme Quentin mystery, Blood-Tied was published by Robert Hale in 2008. I’d been writing for a few years by then, learning my craft, so to speak. I wasn’t sure then whether there would be more Esme stories but it was clear from the reaction I got from readers that Esme was a popular protagonist so it seemed a good idea to write another. By the time I’d written the second, The Indelible Stain, the world of publishing had changed hugely. The rights of Blood-Tied had reverted to me by then, so I decided to re-publish it as an ebook and paperback, following it with The Indelible Stain the following year and then in October 2017 with The Malice of Angels. In between, I wrote Death of a Cuckoo for SilverWood Books, for their sBooks “short reads” imprint.

    Before becoming a writer, I was a primary school teacher for 20 years. I moved to Devon in 1980 to take up my first teaching post in a small rural school, back in the days when primary education was much more holistic, integrated and inspirational. I left the profession when I could see the way things were heading!

    Much of the plot of Malice touches on the work of female agents of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). I researched some of these agents for my Society of Genealogists’ guide, My Ancestor was a Woman at War. I never fail to be amazed by their bravery, ingenuity and varied skill sets. What drew you to feature SOE in this novel?

    It really started with a local news report about an elderly lady who’d died in Torquay in 2010. To her neighbours, she was someone who, although polite and not unfriendly, kept herself to herself and they knew little about her. But it emerged after her death, that she’d been an SOE, and her name was Eileen Nearne. Something must have triggered a memory of the story a few years later, I really can’t remember what — it was probably WW2 anniversaries and personal recollections reported on the news — which prompted me to read Eileen’s biography, followed by Bernard O’Connor’s book Churchill’s Angels, which systematically logs the experiences, some of them terrifying, of all the women SOEs. What I read inspired several plot points in Malice! I then came across a fascinating book called A Life in Secrets by Sarah Helm about Vera Atkins, who’d made it her personal mission after the war to find out the fate of every SOE she’d waved off to occupied France. It’s a brilliant book. If you’ve not read it, I can thoroughly recommend it.

    Photograph of the coast where The Malice of Angels is set.

    You live in north Devon, where most of this book is set. What appeals to you about this area, both as your home and as a setting for your fictional characters.

    I moved to Devon from the Midlands 38 years ago to take up a teaching post and I’ve never wanted to live anywhere else! For many years I lived and worked close to the North Devon coast so I know it well. I love the wildness of the area I use as the settings for my later books (Blood-Tied was set in Shropshire, where my ancestral “journey” began). I now live right in the middle of Devon, in unspoilt countryside, overlooking a lovely river valley, in a very pretty village with a 13th century Grade One listed church and a cluster of traditional thatched cottages (one of which is ours!). Even the parish hall is thatched! (As you can probably tell, I’m a glutton for old buildings.) It’s a bit further to travel to the north Devon coast these days, but from an author’s perspective, I’ve found it useful to stand back from the place I write about. I think you see it through fresh eyes when you’re not living there all the time. We often take our camper van and stay at the campsite when we need a sea “fix”. The views are magic and the rugged coast is amazing.

    What’s next for you and Esme?

    I promised myself that once Malice was published, I’d give some time to my own family tree and sort out what has become a bit of a chaotic jumble of records and photographs over the years. I also have a few stories about my immediate family I want to write — about my dad who as a child spent 3 years in hospital and was told he’d never walk again but did, about my maternal grandmother who became a professional opera singer at the age of 16 and toured the country’s theatres, about my mum’s recollections of growing up in WW2, including having a bomb drop on to her bed and about the mystery (as yet not completely unravelled) of why my great-aunt walked out of the family home, aged 16 in 1904 and “was never heard of again” until, in her 90s, she was reunited with her only surviving sibling, my paternal grandmother. Not to mention the urge to record my own memories…

    But on the back-burner of the fiction section of my writer’s brain, there is already something brewing for Esme to get her teeth into, so I’m sure it won’t be long before I’ll start plotting again!

     The time-honoured ‘box of old documents in the attic’ stirred Wendy’s interest in genealogy – the inspiration behind her Esme Quentin mystery novels. When not plotting fiction, she’s either digging up her own family history secrets or enjoying the coast and countryside of Devon, which has been her home for the past 38 years.

     

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

     

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

    Update 26 October 2017

    Living DNA sent a press release revealing that their, “One Family One World project is the first of it’s kind to attempt to analyse people’s DNA results from around the world allowing them to see where they fit into a One World Family Tree, demonstrating how everyone is related if you go back far enough in time and produce an in country regional breakdown of DNA from around the world. The project involves the use of proprietary technology, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and will see tens of thousands of computers working together to identify distinctive and shared patterns in people’s DNA. Eventually we will be running in-country regional projects across the world, today people can join no matter where they are from and we already have a number of specific projects that can be seen here – https://www.livingdna.com/one-family/research. You can find out a lot more information on the project, and how to get involved by visiting the website at www.livingdna.com/onefamily.”
    Living DNA goes on to say that, “If you know anyone that’s already taken a DNA test they can upload their DNA for Free and will benefit from a new type of DNA Matching in mid 2018. . . DNA Matching is in final stages of testing for Living DNA clients, we are still aiming to get this live by the end of the year. People taking part and uploading their DNA for free don’t get the regional UK breakdown just DNA matching when live and all the other things that will come out of the project. Therefore it’s not a substitute for a Living DNA test.”
  9. 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.

  10. 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.

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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