Thursday, 6 November 2014


Emily and Richard Hinckley (1902)
My love of history has always been the small stories, the little bits and pieces of a life, a sentence that encapsulates the life or event in the life of an ancestor. The big brushstrokes of history have always left me cold. I can remember writing HSC essays in high school on questions like ‘The Treaty of Versailles provided an effective framework to contain European powers after WWI. To what extent do you agree with this statement?’……….. yuk. Someone once said to me that genealogy brings history alive to them. I knew what he meant. Any interest in the ‘big brushstrokes’ I have comes from researching an individual person’s life and where they fitted into the ‘brushstrokes’.
Historians who are not interested in genealogy don’t realise how it can be a pathway into history for many people. I remember Dr Ian Hoskins, the North Sydney Council Historian use the phrase ‘the nuts and bolts of history’. That describes it well. It’s the personal small things that people identify with that connect them with the big pictures. I think every local historical society should realise this, especially if they are trying to increase their membership. Genealogy is a hook that pulls people into history.
My family has in its possession a treasure. It’s the diary of my great grandmother Emily Hinckley, written over a three year period from 1912 to 1914. She would start on January 1st of each year writing a short entry describing the day’s events. They were brief entries of ordinary daily life. This was a typical entry.
Sun. Aug 25 (1912)
Cloudy warm day. Went to church with all the children. Anna sick. Restful day. Elmer got small pail of blackberries.
This was a typical farming family that lived in the US state of Vermont. I’m sure there were millions of families just like them all over North America.
Emily Hinckley's diary
In the diary there was always a statement about what the weather was like that day. There were little notes about her children and her husband Elmer. What Emily did during the day; baking bread, bathing children, sewing, mending clothes, cooking food, sawing firewood. There would be notes about whether a neighbour came to visit or a relative. Small business transactions were mentioned and the amount of money received. The entries are very similar to Tweets that, these days, would be put onto Twitter.
The diary doesn’t seem like much at first glance, but if you read the text closely though it really says a lot as to what life was like for her and her family back then.
For a woman at that time life was mundane, endless chores, washing, cooking and looking after the children. Hard endless work. There were occasional visits from neighbours and relatives, maybe they would go for a picnic. The entries usually stopped in late summer or autumn. Was this because of the extra effort the family all had to put in to harvest their crops? I don’t know.
A cousin of mine once pointed out one entry that is a bit different. It’s a small personal note that hints at bigger events happening at the time.
Thursday August 29th (1912) Cold Day, went to Rutland stores closed. Richard and I went to see President Roosevelt. Got home late.
Emily and her eldest son Richard, who would have been ten years of age at the time, went to see a campaign speech for the upcoming Federal election. They went to see Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt who was campaigning to be president. He toured the state of Vermont in one day making eight speeches in eight different regional cities one of which was in the city of Rutland, nine miles from where Emily Hinckley lived.
Roosevelt had already been president for almost eight years by then. For this campaign he was up against both Woodrow Wilson (Democrat) and William Taft (Republican). He was a third party candidate for the Progressive Party which a breakaway group of progressive Republicans that formed around him when he left that party.
Teddy was an amazing man by anyone’s standards. He was a man’s man, a dynamo at one time a cowboy, big game hunter, war hero, naval scholar, author and politician. He was a hugely engaging speaker popular with people from both the left and right side of politics. He was a firm believer in free market capitalism and at the same time an advocate for worker’s rights. When he wasn’t building canals in Panama he was winning Nobel Peace prizes. He was one of life’s believers. He never stopped.
Emily wouldn’t have voted in the 1912 election, as a woman she wasn’t eligible. But there were many policies of the newly formed Progressive Party that would have appealed to someone from a poor working background: Workers comp, social insurance, an eight hour working day, a national health care scheme and women’s suffrage to name a few. I suspect that when Emily and her husband Elmer named my grandfather Theodore they were naming him after the president. 
Teddy Roosevelt (1858-1919)
A few months after Roosevelt’s Vermont visit he was shot in the chest while campaigning in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Deciding that the bullet wasn’t going to kill him, he famously said it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose’, and gave his campaign speech with blood seeping into his shirt. The Progressive Party became known as ‘The Bull Moose’ Party. The bullet stayed in his chest for the rest of his life.
Maybe Emily’s interest wasn’t in politics that day but just in seeing the great man himself. I’ll never know. But through her little bit of history I have researched and understood the bigger brushstrokes of that day much better.
They were ready for Teddy in 1912 but they got Woodrow

Sunday, 26 October 2014


Phar Lap (1926-1932) Australia's Wonder Horse
Over the past week there has been a huge response to my last blog post from right across Australia. I have been flooded with emails about the idea of a Wikipedia Ancestor Challenge, with people wanting to know more about it, suggesting ways that it could be run successfully and offering help.
Also the idea of choosing our national leader by their Wikigree number has also been creating a lot of chatter on various social media sites. A Wikigree number, I might remind you, is the number of ancestors you can find in your family tree who have their own Wikipedia page. It’s similar to your pedigree but it’s a measure of how interesting your ancestors are rather than what genetic material you inherited from them.
We have been doing much searching to find the Australian who has the highest Wikigree number and at this stage I think we have found a winner. I think we have found a great leader for our nation.  It’s not quite who you would have imagined I can tell you that. No it’s not Ray Martin or Dick Smith or Germaine Greer or one of the artistic Boyd family. We have found a better candidate. I would like to announce it on this blog for the first time here. It is……….none other than………………Phar Lap. Yes, Phar Lap. The horse of course, who did you think I meant. Australia’s ‘Wonder Horse’, ‘Big Red’, ‘The Red Terror’.
You might be questioning at this point the suitability of choosing Phar Lap as having the highest Wikigree number. Yes the judges know he was …… put it bluntly, a horse, but we think that an exception should be made in this case. We do this based on the size of his heart, bigger than any other Australians. I can verify that, I’ve seen it bottled in a jar in a museum.  It’s big. It really is.
Phar Lap really does have a huge number of ancestors with their own Wikipedia pages.  His father ‘Night Raid’ has his own page. There is his Great Grandfathers Spearmint, BendOr and William the Third (no, of course not the man, the horse) and there is also his Great Great Grandfathers St Frusquin, St Simon, Doncaster, Carbine, Isonomy. They all have Wikipedia pages and if you look on the Wikipedia pages of those ancestors of Phar Lap and you can find links to even more. I’m not making this up. Look on Phar Lap’s Wikipedia page and you will see.  In fact there are many horses with their own Wikipedia pages both here and overseas. It’s quite amazing.
Night Raid (1918-abt1932 ) Phar Lap's Dad
Why do so many horses have Wikipedia pages anyway? They can’t read them. They can’t use social media. Their hooves are too big to use a computer keyboard.
Horses are the main non-human animal that we human animals create family trees for. There are others, like dogs, that can be well documented but horses are different. Some are bred for racing speed and are an expensive investment. It’s the direct ancestors that are important here not the siblings or second cousins twice removed or more distant relations. When you buy a racehorse, a reliable record of it’s pedigree is essential.
Spearmint (1903-1924) Phar Lap's Great Grandpa
Not every horse owner is motivated by how much money their horse could win for them. Some people just love horses. We know that. They are just ‘horsey’, and I guess for them one of the biggest thrills in their life is finding that their horse has THEIR OWN WIKIPEDIA PAGE!   I’m very surprised that the big genealogical record companies haven’t cottoned on to this. There is lots of money to be made here. Why doesn’t have a Horse Edition ©. They could have a section they charge extra for, just for war horses. They could call it something like ‘Foal 3’. There could be a site called, there are many possibilities.

I am mystified as to why there are so many Wikipedia pages for horses. There really are lots of them. Besides the fact that their economic value is based on their ancestry I know they are important historically, particularly if they were winning big races, but I think there must be more to it than that. I have never been interested in horse racing so that might explain why I don't get it. If anyone has some thoughts about this I would love to hear them.
Carbine (1885-1914) Phar Lap's Great Great Grandpa
As far as choosing our national Wikigree leader I know what you’re thinking. Phar Lap can’t be counted because he’s dead, it should be one of his living descendants. That’s true I can’t argue with that but unfortunately there are no descendants. Phar Lap was a gelding. They didn’t have Wikipedia pages back then so no one was fully appreciating the consequences when they got out the gelding scissors. It also explains Phar Lap’s rather high pitched whinny but that’s a story.
Musket (1867-1885) Phar Lap's Great Great Great Grandpa
In conclusion, dear reader, if you don’t want your leader to be a, like Phar Lap then you should be doing more research into your family history so you can increase your own Wikigree number.  I don’t know how many times I have to keep repeating this. You should be spending more time on the website and less time reading other people’s silly blogs.
The time is now! Do it!
PS I have been informed after writing this that Phar Lap was in fact born in NZ, like Russell Crowe, and unfortunately we can’t count him as one of our own.
PPS I mean to say that it’s unfortunate that we can’t claim Phar Lap as one of our own.

Friday, 17 October 2014


It’s a great feeling when you find an ancestor you didn’t know you had for the first time. It’s an AHA moment, a moment of recognition. You might let out a little sigh or scream or swear word. But when you have been doing genealogy for a while it’s not as much of a thrill. You start thinking Okay I found another 4th cousin twice removed from my great uncle’s third marriage, where do I stick them in my family tree? If you can even be bothered. But what I find really interesting and gets me really excited is when you find an ancestor that you didn’t know you had, you Google their name and you find THEY HAVE THEIR OWN WIKIPEDIA PAGE!

Yes sir, there is nothing like a Wikipedia page about one of your ancestors. I can’t say I have many. But when I find one you could peel me off the ceiling. It’s an amazing feeling. All that information about an ancestor’s life, often with a picture of them, and with references underneath. Genealogical Heaven!

I propose that there should be a competition to see who has the most number of ancestors that they can find in their family tree who have a Wikipedia page dedicated to them. I think it could be called something like the WIKIPEDIA ANCESTOR CHALLENGE. It could be a national or international event held every year. First prize would be something like a life subscription to or a copy of the 12 volume Encyclopedia of Ahnentafel (2014 edition), or a well written book that someone has written about their family history (eg Eckhart Tolle’s book ‘The Power of Then’)
Eckhart Tolle's Family History Memoir
There would have to be some very strict rules to the competition to make sure it’s fair. I propose these seven rules to begin with.

Rule One: You cannot count any ancestor who has a Wikipedia page that you created for them. For obvious reasons.

Rule Two: You cannot count any ancestor who created their own Wikipedia page (sorry Dad)

Rule Three: You cannot count any ancestor who has a Wikipedia page that another family member has created for them. For a similar reason to Rule One.

Rule Four: The Wikipedia page about your ancestor must solely be about him/her. (ie you cannot count a Wikipedia page where they only get a mention.)

Rule Five: You cannot count any ancestor more distant than a second cousin from your direct line of descent. (Okay if you can’t find one we will accept your 5th cousin twice removed of you Great Great Uncle by marriage but we will only make that acception once. The judges won't be totally devoid of genealogical compassion.)

Rule Six: You must be able to verify your connections to each Wikipedia ancestor you claim you have.

Rule Seven: Queen Elizabeth II or any member of the Royal Family of Great Britain is forbidden to enter this competition.  They would win it hands down every time.
Queen Elizabeth II
Now for all of you who might be saying, but I don’t have any ancestors who have their own Wikipedia page, I say to you, humbug. You’re just not trying hard enough. You will have to spend some time at a genealogical boot camp. Have you looked through page after page of the parish records of your ancestor’s village for 300 years to find the record that has been misread by’s OCR (Optical Character Recognition) program that you can’t find? You know that the parish priest back then, who had a drinking problem and needed glasses, couldn’t write his Os and Rs legibly especially when he was in the throes of delirium tremens. Do you expect’s computers to pick out your ancestor’ name from that illegible mess? Come on, I have no sympathy, you’ll just have to try harder.
I want you to be up at 5am doing genealogical push ups out in your back yard. I want you to be cleaning your genealogical toilet with a genealogical toothbrush. You’re in the Genealogical Army now and you’ll have to start carrying your weight.
Genealogical Boot Camp
(Training Centre, Kapooka, NSW)  
You might say you have no Wikipedia ancestors just out of modesty. Total hogwash! Modesty is not a virtue when it comes to the Wikipedia Ancestor Challenge. I think people who say that should have their Wikipedia ancestor’s names tattooed on their foreheads for all to see or banners with their Wikipedia ancestor’s names on them displayed from their houses.

These days the word Pedigree has fallen out of fashion. It has connotations of elitism, racism, snobbery, exclusion etc. It’s all bad. I think though it should be replaced with a new exciting word. Wikigree. It’s not who you inherited your genetic makeup from that is important it’s how interesting your ancestors are! How many of them are worthy of having their own Wikipedia page. Can you drop a few into a casual dinner conversation and see who can be the most interesting.

The word Wikigree could have a number attached to it depending on how many ancestors in your family tree have a Wikipedia page. This would be your Wikigree number. You could be a Wikigree 3 or a Wikigree 7 etc. This could be quite useful for many things, for example, when visiting genealogical dinner parties and events.
The Genealogical Dinner Party
(by Peder Severin Kroyer 1851-1909)
Obviously you don’t want to go to a party with other people who have a Wikigree number different than your own. If you had a high Wikigree number you went to a party for people with low Wikigree numbers you might find the conversation a little dull. You would be bored. Similarly if you had a low Wikigree number and you went to a party for high Wikigree number people you might find that you run out of things to say and felt a little out of place.

It would be interesting to see who we’d get if our national leaders were chosen  by the person with the highest Wikigree number. For Great Britain it would be one of Queen Elizabeth II (or one of her grandchildren), So not much change there. For the USA it would be easy too. It would be a Kennedy and with the occasional Schwarzenegger thrown in as well. Australia would be a tricky one. Would it be Malcolm Turnbull, Paul Hogan, Dick Smith or Ray Martin? It’s very hard to say until people have worked out what their Wikigree number is.

So this is what I urge you to do. Go out there and work on your family trees. Right now! No excuses! You shouldn’t be wasting your time reading other people’s silly frivolous genealogy blogs. You should be researching and writing one yourself.



Friday, 10 October 2014


View of Sydney Harbour from Waverton c1895 (watercolour by C H Woolcott)
This was a question was received by local history staff at Stanton Library. It was pointed out to us that there are two places in England with this name, one in Cumbria and the other in Cheshire, and the one in Cheshire had a place named Crows Nest right near to it, similar to the Sydney suburb of Waverton which adjoins the suburb of Crows Nest. We had anecdotal evidence that our Waverton had been named after the Waverton in Cumbria, but we did not know for certain.
At first glance you would not think that this historical question would be solved by looking at genealogical records. But once you know that the suburb Waverton was named after Waverton House, one of the first homes built in the area and you know that many house names came from the place of origin of its inhabitants then you know this is a good place to start looking.
Waverton House c1880
William and Charlotte Carr bought the estate which included Waverton House in 1849. The estate was originally owned by Joseph Henry Purser (1818-1848) who built the house in 1845. William and Charlotte Carr were probably the Mr & Mrs Carr who arrived on the ship ‘The Australian’ from London on 5 May 1840 with two children. They had two sons Mark and Henry. William Carr died in 1854 (aged 50) and was buried in nearby St Thomas Cemetery, North Sydney. His widow Charlotte Carr was thought to have moved to St Leonards Cottage, 6 Napier St North Sydney (today’s Don Bank Museum) after her husband’s death. She returned to live in the UK around 1865.
So where did they come from? I started the search by looking for where Charlotte died.
In the English Probate Index there is a Charlotte Jefferson Carr who died on 16th September 1885 in St Andrews, Scotland. It says she lived at ‘St Leonards Cottage’ but there is no mention that this is a cottage in Australia, indeed there is a St Leonards parish close to where she lived in St Andrews, Scotland.
from the English Probate Index
I retrieved Charlotte Jefferson Carr’s Will from the ScotlandsPeople website, it says she was ‘sometimes residing at no 4 Lockhart Place afterwards at St Leonards Cottage, St Andrews, and widow of William Carr of Sydney.”   
This connects her with Sydney and William Carr.
St Leonards Cottage (now Don Bank Museum, 6 Napier St, North Sydney)
Looking at the benefactors in her Will, there were a few named Jefferson (Henry, Jane, Mary, Elizabeth). The Probate Index suggests her maiden name was Jefferson. In both her Will and the Probate Index her relatives with the surname Jefferson come from Springfield near Whitehaven. Looking at a current map of England Whitehaven is a small coastal town in present day Cumbria (formerly Cumberland). It is 44Km from the village named Waverton in Cumbria.
There is a birth record for a Charlotte Jefferson who was born on 25 Feb 1806 (chr 7 Mar 1806) at Holy Trinity Church in Whitehaven as well as a marriage record of a Charlotte Jefferson marrying a William Carr in the same church on 1 May 1832. If this is the right person the dates look plausible. She was married when 26 yrs of age they left for Australia in 1840 with the two children they had in the previous years.
According to the parish records of St Andrews in Scotland the Charlotte Jefferson Carr who died there in 1885 was 79 years of age when she died. She would therefore have been born in 1806 which is the right birth year.
Looking at records for her husband William Carr, he died of dysentery in Sydney in 1854 aged 50 so he should have been born around 1804. Looking at the records for Holy Trinity Church in Whitehaven there was a William Carr born there on 13 May 1805 (chr 14 May 1805) whose parents were William and Mary Carr. Looking at William Carr’s headstone date this would mean that, if this was him, he would have died two months short of his 50th birthday.  That is a close date but not exact. Possibly a mistake on his headstone.

(A more likely explanation is that the William Carr of Whitehaven was not this William Carr. See KatyNick's comment at the bottom of this blog post showing that Hexham, Northumberland was a more likely place of origin for William Carr)
(More research is being done into this and a follow up blog post will be coming soon. Thanks KatyNick for the info you provided!)
William Carr's Tombstone St Thomas Cemetery
Although close these are still not direct references to the village of Waverton which is 44km from Whitehaven.
Waverton, Cumberland is in the parish of Wigton. The parish records of St Mary's Wigton, which is the local church, are available transcribed on line. There isn’t a William Carr christened there, or anyone named Charlotte Jefferson, but there is a marriage between:
Wm Carr batchr of this parish aged 24 and Mary Watson Spinster of this parish aged 25 by Banns in the Presence of John Peet & Mary Ismay (26 March 1798). Could that be William Carr’s parents who shortly afterwards moved to Whitehaven?
Unfortunately the records of land ownership for Waverton are not available online or in any local library so we cannot be sure if the Carr family owned land there.
Another possible connection with the Carr family and Waverton Cumberland was the small boarding school in that village called Waver House Academy (it had about 20 boys in 1841). William might have been a student there but there are no online lists of the school’s students from around 1820’s so this can’t be confirmed. There is a James Carr there in the 1841 census but no connection between him and William has been found.
While the connection between the Carr’s and the village of Waverton is not totally clear, there is a definite link between the Carr’s and the county of Cumberland. The place of the Carr’s marriage and Mrs Carr’s birth, Whitehaven, being 44 km from Waverton, makes that village a more likely source for their house name in Sydney than Waverton in Cheshire.
It’s always interesting to me that you can find answers to historical puzzles like this from looking at genealogical records. It’s not the first place you would think of looking but I’ve seen a lot of examples like this. I think a good understanding of family history research should be an essential skill for every local history librarian.

Dedication of Brennan Park, Waverton 1913
(photos copyright North Sydney Heritage Centre, Stanton Library)

Friday, 3 October 2014


How do you put a price on history? I am always amazed at how cheaply you can buy a historical artefact. I love visiting antique shops. When I do, I see such amazing things, clothing, furniture, crockery, items the function of which has been forgotten. I particularly like old photos and postcards, they will often have a little writing on the back the name of the person in the photo or, if a postcard, will have a little note written on the back by the sender. If it was displayed in a museum it would look priceless but in an antique shop the price be very small.
I personally enjoy visiting antique shops better than visiting museums. In an antique shop you can touch things, pick them up, turn them over and look at what’s underneath. Maybe, if the shop keeper isn’t looking, you can also give things a little shake or see how they smell. 
I bought this photo on ebay a couple of years ago for $10. It’s a handsome photo of a very well dressed mature man with, what I thought, was a sympathetic face. ‘Rev F L Kelly’ was written on the back. On the front it had the photographer’s name ‘Brenton R Rice’ and the location of his studio: North Sydney. As a local history librarian I thought this would be a great one to research and add to North Sydney Library’s photo collection.
The surname Kelly is not the easiest name to research but the fact that he was a Reverend narrows it down quite considerably. It is a cabinet card photograph. I thought, from the quality of the photo and backing cardboard, probably taken in the late 1890s. I looked in the Sands Sydney directory of the time and found nothing. I tried the Trove website and looked through library files on the various churches that were in our area. Nothing there either.
I thought Rev Kelly might have only been visiting North Sydney when he decided to get his photo taken here. But where was he visiting from? I approached the nearby archivist of St Mary’s Church (North Sydney) but he knew nothing. What was going on here? I was completely stumped.
I thought I’d try researching the photographer. Even if I couldn’t find the subject the photo would be a great artefact of a local North Sydney business.
You might know that the best reference sourcebook for this kind of thing is a book entitled, ‘The Mechanical Eye in Australia: photography 1841-1900’ by Alan Davies & Peter Stanbury. It really is the bible of Australian historical photography. It has a complete listing of every commercial photographer in Australia, when they operated and what address their business operated from. Every photograph that was commercially produced back then had the business name of the photography studio printed on it. This can be really helpful when dating old photographs and finding where they were taken. This book is now out of print but there is usually a copy kept in the reference section of most libraries. The information in it is priceless I don’t know why they don’t reprint it.
Unfortunately ‘Brenton R Rice’ was not listed in that book as a photographer anywhere in Australia. I was amazed.
A friend pointed out to me something else mysterious about the photograph. Under the words NORTH SYDNEY were the initials C.B. What did that mean? CBD would have meant Central Business District but it was only C.B.
It was during breakfast when I was pouring some maple syrup on my pancake and about to tuck into a large helping of chocolate moose that I realised that there is another city named Sydney on this earth. That city is located in Nova Scotia, Canada. Looking on Google Maps revealed that it is on an island in Nova Scotia named Cape Breton island – C.B. and sure enough Google Maps showed there is a North Sydney there too.
I contacted Ian MacIntosh the librarian at the Cape Breton Regional Library in Sydney Nova Scotia and he said the photographer was from Cape Breton island and that the Rev Fenwick Lionel Kelly was a local of North Sydney, Nova Scotia.
Not only, it turns out, was Fenwick Lionel Kelly (1863-1944) a prominent local he was prominent nationally as, at one time, the Liberal Party member of the Canadian parliament for the seat of ‘North Cape Breton and Victoria’. He was part of Prime Minister William Lyon MacKenzie King’s government from July 1923 – September 1925.  He has his own brief Wikipedia page if you are interested.
I don’t know if the person who sold me the photo thought he was being clever by advertising it as being from North Sydney, Australia. He certainly wouldn’t have thought he was clever if he realised that he only got $10AUS from me when he could have got more like $50CAN from someone else if he knew who Rev F L Kelly really was.
I, in the end, did what I always intended to do and donated the photo to the North Sydney public library photo collection for the inhabitants of North Sydney to enjoy in perpetuity. Of course that is the North Sydney public library in Canada not the North Sydney public library here in Australia.
I had the hopeful thought that someday, if a local history librarian over there should happen to find a photo in their collection of, for example, a kangaroo hopping down one of the main streets there in Nova Scotia, that they might realise it came from an erroneous ebay purchase and send it here to add to the photo collection of Stanton Library, so that we, the inhabitants of North Sydney Municipality, could enjoy in perpetuity instead.
Ps I never found out why someone wrote he was a ‘Rev’ on the back of the photo. Any ideas or info about this is welcome.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014


When we research our family history what we are primarily doing is discovering stories. Almost always these are stories that we are discovering for the first time. They are unique and our own. We are explorers trudging through the darkest jungles of dusty records until the moment of recognition….. Dr Livingston I presume.  Sometimes though the story is found not by what is written on the page but by what is not written. The blank page says more than words could ever say. There is an emotional profundity, a silence, a space, as we find in the final page of a war record or the death record for a child.

In the St Nicolas Church graveyard in Nuneaton, Warwickshire there is a headstone for an Elizabeth Ball. It says, whose death was occasioned by her fall from her horse.  A few words. A tragedy encapsulated in a sentence. Nothing else about her is said.
St Nicolas Church, Nuneaton parish burial record
It’s always harder to find information about female ancestors than male ones. There were no photographs back then. Women would appear on very few documents. They wouldn’t appear on tax records or voting records or military records as their husbands did. Her story can only be surmised through the lives of the people who lived around her. Her story is told by the silent spaces.

She died on the 7th of July 1793 when she was 52 years old. She had 9 children five of which were under 18 years of age, the youngest, William was aged 10. What happened to them?

She was Mrs Ball after marriage and she was Miss Ball before it. Her husband Timothy Ball was most likely a cousin. He was two years younger than her. They were baptised, married, worshipped and buried in St Nicolas Church Nuneaton. Did they meet there too?
Parish record from St Nicolas Church, Nuneaton
Timothy Ball was variously described as a yeoman and a grazier. He owned land in a place nearby called Hides Pasture. He was a prominent citizen of his local community.  His name appears on many documents but not much is known about him either.

Timothy remarried a year after Elizabeth’s death but then died himself shortly after in 1795. Was this from grief?

It’s not known if Timothy’s second wife, Hannah, became a step mother to the orphaned children. In her will of 1830 she leaves Timothy’s children 50 pounds each, referring to them as her ‘friends’. Were they more than that?
For all of us who pursue genealogical research we are always collecting fragments like these; a name, a birth date, a death date, an occupation and so on. No matter how many fragments we find we are always just looking at the tip and trying to piece together the iceberg of our ancestor’s lives. It is an iceberg that is only conceived when we imagine the vastness of the ocean that contains it. It is what’s not said that speaks the loudest here. The story is told by the spaces that surround the fragments. It’s a story that comes from the silences.

Twenty seven years after Elizabeth Ball’s death, in a church 1 kilometre away from St Nicolas, Nuneaton a baby girl was christened. Unlike most women of her age her thoughts feelings and life would be well-documented. Thought to be too physically unattractive to have any serious prospects of marriage but having a sharp intellect her father decided to invest in her education. Something not typically afforded women at that time.
Mary Ann Evans, who was christened on 29th November 1819 in All Saints Church in Chilvers Coton, was educated and grew up in Nuneaton and the surrounding area. She was an intelligent and voracious reader and when she wrote what was to become her first novel, at age 37, it was her childhood and adolescent memories that she drew from. Choosing the nom de plume George Eliot, the characters in her novels were said to have been based on people that she knew from her early life.
Mary Ann Evans (1819-1880) aka George Eliot

There is only one character from her novels which is definitely thought to be someone from my family tree. The character of Rev Archibald Duke from her book Scenes of Clerical Life (1858) was thought to have been based on the real Rev Henry Hake, vicar of Chilvers Coton. He was the husband of Elizabeth Ball’s great niece.

Her description says he was: a very dyspeptic and evangelical man… whose hair is brushed straight up, evidently with the intention of giving him a height somewhat less disproportionate to his sense of his own importance than the measure of five feet three accorded him by an oversight of nature.

She doesn’t describe him as much of an iceberg. Mostly ‘tip’ I think.

As with any ‘person of note’ the events of Mary Ann Evans life are incredibly well documented. Her novels have been described as psychological portraits of the characters within them and as such, I think, they are also psychological portraits of herself. This much genealogical information for an ancestor would be an exceptional find for anyone let alone for a woman of that era.

Elizabeth Ball’s grandson John Ball was, like Mary Ann Evans’ father, a farmer. John farmed a small piece of land in a hamlet called Griff not far from Nuneaton. He went to All Saints Church, Chilvers Coton, where his son Benjamin , my grandfather’s grandfather, was christened.
It’s hard to believe that Mary Ann Evans who lived nearby in Griff House wouldn’t have had some contact with the Ball family nearby. Did she see them passing on the street? Did she ever say hello, have a conversation or shake their hands? I’ll never see what filled the silent spaces of my ancestor’s lives, but did she? Did they inspire a character, a sentence, a word in one of her books? I can only imagine.

The spaces of our lives can never be known without imagining the vastness of the ocean that contains us. The blank pages and record fragments that are left from a life will never tell it all. It’s what is unsaid that often speaks louder than what is said. Will our descendants find our stories, will they understand them, or will they only be revealed through the silent spaces?

Wednesday, 10 September 2014


How far back does your family tree go? Usually people with an English ancestry, with a lot of hard work and a bit of luck, can get back to around the 1600s, or late 1500s. This was when the parishes started recording baptisms, burials, marriages and the like. However if one of your ancestors was nobility you can often go back much further. If you were a noble it was because you were born one. It was in your blood it was your pedigree. Your privileges depended on a well recorded line of descent. Each aristocratic family had one. It was vitally important for them that they had a record of this.
If you are lucky enough to find someone of noble birth lurking somewhere in your family tree you can often find a recorded trail of descent that goes back 1000 years. There were books of pedigrees that were published such as Burkes Peerage in the UK or the Almanach De Gotha in continental Europe that can be a great source of information about this.
Almanach De Gotha
My Great Great Grandmother was Caroline Davenport (1846-1921) who was born, and died in Davenport, New York. The town she lived in was thought to have been named after Thomas Davenport (1615-1685) who was Caroline’s Great Great Great Great Grandfather. Thomas Davenport arrived in Massachusetts Bay Colony around 1635. Thomas was born in 1618 in Macclesfield, Cheshire, England. His grandfather was William V Davenport (1561-1640) Lord of Bramall Hall. The Davenports lived in Bramall Hall for 500 years. They have a well-documented pedigree that goes back to Orme de Davenport who was thought to have been born in Normandy in 1086.
All people named Davenport in the English speaking world all go back to Orme who was part of the Norman conquest of England and was thought to be a cousin of William the Conqueror. The Davenport family owned numerous manor houses in the Cheshire area.
You might feel disappointed that you don’t have an ancestor that you know of who lived as far back as Orme de Davenport but you shouldn’t. Because if you have English ancestry I can tell you with absolute certainty that he is your ancestor too. Yes, Orme de Davenport is your ancestor as well as he is mine. In fact it’s been estimated that 86% of the people who lived in England at the time of the Norman Conquests in 1066 are your ancestors if you have English ancestry. The 14% who aren’t are people who didn’t have children.
In fact just about everyone who lived in England in 1066 (1.11 million people) are ancestors to all current residents of England. For anyone with an English ancestry that means you.
He's one of your ancestors
Not only is Orme de Davenport your ancestor once he is your ancestor multiple times. If you read my last blog post you will know that if you go back 30 generations you have a trillion ancestors, which is more people than have ever lived, so ancestors will appear in your tree multiple times. We are all cousins with each other many times over.

A page from the Domesday Book c1086
86% of the people in this book are your ancestors
Does this sound incredible? It did to me but this is a mathematical certainty. I’ll tell you why.
If a family tree was binary, that is the number of ancestors doubles every generation you go back, then when you go back 30 generations you would have 1,073,741,824 ancestors, which is impossible. Because cousins marry that number is much less. So how much less? If we were all Egyptian pharaohs and we married our sisters, as they did, after 30 generation going backwards we would have two ancestors. If every generation going back first cousins married then after 30 generations we would have 60 ancestors. We know that both of these scenarios are impossible. If every generation going back were 2nd cousins marrying then 30 generations back we would have 4,356,616 ancestors. That is still more ancestors than there were people in England back then. For 3rd and 4th cousins there is a smaller increase than the 2nd cousins marrying scenario, but still much too many.
The only way that you will find enough ancestors to fill every spot in your family tree is if everyone who lived back then was your ancestor. That's right everyone. For people with an English ancestry the point at which this happens is around the 1300s. If you have partial English ancestry you might just have to go back a little further, but not much further.
A disagreement between a group of your ancestors
aka The Battle of Hastings 1066
You might ask things like what if my ancestors only stayed in a little village for generations isolated from everyone else. I know from my family tree that this did happen but not for a thousand years and no village is totally isolated from every other village anyway. There were often sudden mass movements of people as well for various reasons.
Looking at it this way genealogy really is a pointless occupation. If you are looking to see if you have an ancestor like Orme de Davenport you don’t really have to. He is your ancestor. Everyone who lived back then was your ancestor. There is no need to find a line of descent at all. I’m personally going to cancel my subscription to immediately. What’s the point? Why do I write this blog at all. I could be watching re runs of ‘I Love Lucy’.
Lucille Désirée Ball (1911-1989)
no relation
For European family trees you will never get much further than the 1000s. No one has yet gotten past the European ‘Dark Ages’ but there is a family tree that does go back further. It goes back to 1675 BC. This is a family tree that is still actively being worked on and living descendants added to. It is none other than the family tree of Kong Qiu 孔丘who is known to us in the west as Confucius.
If you are interested in pointlessness this one the most pointless of them all. The Confucius family tree has about 2 million known and registered descendants and goes back 77 generations to reach Confucius (551-479 BC). It starts way before Confucius with an ancestor who lived in 1675 BC named Zhao Ming. This ancestor lived before the Romans and the Ancient Greeks. He lived in the Bronze Age. There are people alive today who can trace an ancestry back to him.

Confucius (551- 479BC)
The Confucius Genealogy Compilation Committee meets regularly to update this tree which records male ancestors only. To make it really pointless, in 2007, the Committee decided that women should be included too. This is pointless not because women don’t deserve to be included but because if you include them then it will inevitably include every living Chinese person. It’s a mathematical certainty. How pointless is that?