Counting Cousins and Descendants and Looking for Lockets

Warning – this post contains something resembling maths but does include jewellery if you persevere. As regular readers will know, I have recently been following the documentary evidence and seeking out my third cousins, in the wake of receiving my autosomal DNA results. This was thrown into particular focus last week when I met with my full complement of second cousins (6) for the first time in seventeen years. Although, inevitably, we were meeting for a sad occasion, a funeral, this was exciting for me as these are my only relatives in my own generation. But back to the third cousins (people with whom you share a great great grandparent).

I was surprised to find that 7 of my 8 sets of great great grandparents married within a thirteen year window 1852-1864; the final set married a little earlier in 1841. Ok, I’ll be honest, one set don’t seem to have married at all but I can estimate a ‘marriage’ date as falling between gg granny having a child by someone else and having a child by gg grandad. What I therefore wanted to know was how many, on average, great great grandchildren might a couple who married in the UK in the mid nineteenth century be expected to have.

I had already found that wiser folk than I estimate that the ‘average’ person has 175 third cousins (people with whom you share a great great grandparent) but nowhere amongst my Googling (other search engines are available) can I find data about the likely numbers of great great grandchildren. We are obviously dealing in averages here and clearly there will be wide deviations from the average; different cultures will have very different experiences. Maybe this is why this is a discussion that does not seem to have been aired very often in family history circles but it is interesting nonetheless. Yes, our families will not be ‘average’ but you would think that, if we look at all eight sets of our great great grandparents, prolific families would be counterbalanced by those with few children and things would even themselves out.

If I am expected to have 175 third cousins, on average, each pair of great great grandparents will have produced roughly 22 of them and me of course. If you have complete data for descendants of any of your great great grandparents I would be really interested to know how many people there are in your own generation, alive and dead, (not the total number of descendants) who are the great great grandchildren of one couple, especially if they married in the mid-nineteenth century. How close is it to 22? Do we have a vaguely accurate figure for first world countries here? How much difference does it make if you are a different generation to me, so your great great grandparents married in the 1820s or the 1890s?

I am confident that I have identified all the descendants of three of my eight sets of great great grandparents. My results for the number of people in my own generation (remembering to include myself in each case) are 5, 7 and 10, far short of the figure I have come up with of 22. So, how do you compare?


Caroline Jessie Leighton 1874-1965

Now the pretty jewellery bit, which also involves cousins. My grandmother had five cousins on her father’s side, sisters whose father was a silversmith. Each girl was given a heavy silver locket that their father made, which was inscribed with their initials. Only one of the girls married and she had no children. The family story was that the five lockets passed to the five girls in the next generation (my mother and her four cousins). The tale of who was given which locket has proved to be incorrect but as a result of last week’s funeral, we are currently investigating where the lockets are now. Two down, three to go! This is important to me. The original recipients have all been dead for fifty years or so. They have no one but us to keep their memories alive. So here is Caroline Jessie and here is her locket. Now you can get back to counting cousins.


A Chance to Meet Devon Authors in a Beautiful Setting


The View from The Cabin

It is time to announce an exciting weekend for our authors’ group. Seven Devon writers will be taking it in turns to spend time in the idyllic setting of Bucks Mills, being inspired and talking about our work to those who pass by. Our venue is The Cabin, the quirky retreat that used to be owned by the artists Mary Stella Edwards and Judith Ackland. The Cabin is now administered by the National Trust and has been unchanged since the early decades of the twentieth century. It is rarely open to the public, so this will be a  opportunity to see inside. The Cabin lacks electricity, running water or sanitation, obstacles that we are womanfully willing to overcome in pursuit of our art!

Do come along if you like chatting about books and writing, if you want to immerse yourself in beautiful scenery or if you want to see a relic of days gone by (that’s The Cabin by the way – though more than one of our authors may recognise the description). We will be in-residence on Saturday 29 April, Sunday 30 April and Monday 1 May. Only one or two of us will be there at a time, so watch the individual authors’ websites for who will be on duty when. Those taking part at some point over the three days are:-

Ruth Downie – author of crime novels set in Roman times.

Susan Hughes – author of twentieth century historical fiction.

Wendy Percival – author of genealogical mystery novels set in North Devon.

P J Reed – poet and author of horror and fantasy novels.

Liz Shakespeare – author of books inspired by the people, history and landscapes of Devon.

Pamela Vass – author of North Devon based fiction and social history.

Oh and me! How did I end up in such illustrious company? Hopefully I might use the opportunity to work on the chapters of #Daisy that are set in Bucks Mills.

Twentieth Century Family History

105372A copy of Karen Bali’s Tracing your Twentieth Century Ancestors (Pen and Sword 2016) has just arrived on my door mat for review. In the light of my recent blog post for the In-Depth Genealogist and as my ‘Discovering your British Family and the Local Community in the early C20th’ course for Pharos has just commenced, this was very timely. As someone who not only teaches courses that focus on the recent past but also as the author of a book on C20th social history [Remember Then: women’s memories of 1946-1969 and how to write your own] Karen’s book was bound to appeal. Like me, she stresses the importance of capturing our own personal history and memories; these are part of our family’s history.

Chapter one looks briefly at the social history of the twentieth century, providing a springboard for discovering the context for the lives of our nearest ancestors. The next five chapters describe different types of record that can be used in the process of C20th research: civil records, censuses, directories, wills and newspapers. The latter chapter also covers photographs and film. These are clear accounts of the sources and their use, helpful for those who are just starting on their family history journey and for more experienced researchers who have decided that now is the time to re-examine the generations closest to them. Family history is a fast-changing world, so although this book was only published in 2016, the scope for C20th research has expanded since then. This means, for example, that the very useful C20th source, the 1939 Register, which was newly released at the time the book was written, is covered only briefly.

Chapter 7 examines the theme of conflict and defence, considering sources that will help with discovering more about those who fought in wars from the Boer War to the Kosovo War and all the conflicts that occurred between these two wars that provide bookends for the C20th. A variety of trades and occupations form the content of Chapter 8 including: railwaymen, policemen, merchant seamen and publicans. In another important chapter, Karen encourages us to research the homes and communities in which our ancestors lived; something that I would certainly advocate. Here you will find information about one of my all time favourite sources, the Valuation Office records, as well as school records. It was a shame that one of my other favourites, the National Farm Survey was not covered. Karen then moves on to helping the reader through the maze of records that have resulted from the wave of C20th emigrations, primarily to the colonies. There is also an emphasis on tracing living relatives, a topic on which the author has written in greater depth elsewhere [New Cousins: How to Trace the Living Descendants of your Ancestors (Family History Partnership 2nd edition 2012) and The People Finder: reuniting relatives, finding friends (Nicholas Brealey 2007)]. Always a key part of family history research, this aspect has assumed a new significance as genealogists seek to establish how they are related to potential DNA matches.

Case studies, which are scattered throughout the book, help the reader to see how the information given could be applied. There is a handy chart that helps to sort third cousins once removed, from second cousins twice removed. The book finishes with suggestions of ways of preserving family printed and photographic ephemera. All in all this is an excellent book, which encourages researchers to examine a period in their family’s past that is often neglected. Even better, it is currently being offered at 20% off the cover price.

And in an Historical Household this Week….

Just to prove that my family have been busy training up the next generation and putting my booklet Harnessing the Facebook Generation: ideas for involving young people in family history and heritage into practice, Edward, aged nearly 3, has been investigating social history. He told his mother very seriously, ‘In the olden days they ate porridge.’ In the world according to Edward we now live in ‘newen days’ – got to love the logic.

I spent a lovely morning with my authors’ group, chatting about choosing titles and other book related gossip. We hope that we will soon be able to announce an exciting ‘writers in residence’ event for our group, in a stunning and inspirational location. All we can say at present is, if you would like to come and chat to us about our work, keep part of 29 April – 1 May free. Edward again, ‘Where have you been Granny?’. Me: ‘I’ve been talking to my friends who write books’. ‘I’d reeeely reeeely like to read those Granny’! That’s my boy! His cousins are just as keen on books, although, to be fair, the youngest tends to regard them as a dietary supplement.

#Daisy is actually making progress. You have no idea how long it takes to work out the state of the tide in relation to a newspaper account of a shipwreck. You’ve no idea but I can tell you that the answer is all afternoon, even with the expertise of a fisherman of my acquaintance. At 4.30am one morning inspiration struck and the blurb for #Daisy popped into my head almost fully formed. Even I am not up at 4.30am so I scrabbled for something upon which to write these beautifully crafted sentences before they slipped into oblivion. It is surprising how much you can scribble in the margins of a TV paper. As a bonus I could even read most of it afterwards, no mean feat with my handwriting.

ivy-and-gwenFamily history has led to fun tracing World War 1 Red Cross volunteers, oh and spending a small fortune on an online auction site acquiring a related medal. I’ve also enjoyed immersing myself in plague and pestilence, partly to revamp our Swords and Spindles history of medicine revision session and also to work on my new Pharos course In Sickness and in Death: researching the ill-health and deaths of our ancestors. I am looking forward to the start of Discovering your British Family and Local Community in the Early Twentieth Century on Tuesday – still time to sign up if you are interested. It is an online course so no excuses. In celebration this post includes one of my favourite family photos from the time.

The weather is taking a chilly turn so the garden bird feeding regime has been stepped up a notch. I am also still ploughing my way through the post-Christmas visitor laundry pile. My only method of drying laundry is to hang it on a washing line outside. Well fed birds and a line full of washing are not the greatest combination methinks, as I scrub away at the after effects of a very large flock of starlings.

New Year, New Discoveries, New DNA Results

Well, here we are, 2017. Who knows what the year will bring? This time last year I am sure few could have predicted the seriously scary political machinations and plethora of celebrity deaths that accompanied 2016. So far this year I have learned that it is possible for a memory stick to survive being vacuumed up along with Christmas tree prickles.

I would also like to share an incident from the lacuna that is that gap between Christmas and New Year during which the descendants descend. The phone rings at 7am. A phone call at this time of day normally means bad news – or that your daughter has arranged for T****s to deliver food to your house later in the day. I am a T****s delivery virgin; I know not how these things work. Having the food delivered was deemed easier than having my personal shopper struggling to identify various ‘modern’ ingredients on the list. We do not know our humus from our quinoa sadly – even spell checker doesn’t recognise quinoa, so we are not alone. The main challenge for the T****s delivery driver will be finding the house. If he uses his satnav he is doomed. It turns out, for some reason that he tried to justify, he was expecting to be delivering to a building site. The justification involved my house name – any suggestions anyone? He had a list of what had been ordered. What would a building site do with several dozen nappies of a suitable size for a two year old?

The DNA results arrived sneakily early, before I had finished restoring the house to a semblance of normality and before I had made any discernable impression in the mountainous pile of post-Christmas laundry. This means that I still haven’t completed my documentary trail hunt for third cousins, so more on that when I get the chance. What have I learned from my results? To be honest, not a lot. Sadly, no previously unknown half-siblings have climbed out of the woodwork. I have 788 matches. Big deal, or not, actually. Eleven people are predicted to be related in the range 2nd-4th cousins. Sorry FTDNA, unlikely I think. I know these people are not my second cousins (or second cousins with a few removes). I think it is very unlikely that they are my third cousins, so that leaves fourth cousins. Three of these matchees (it’s ok, I just invented that word) do not provide any surnames apart from the one they now carry. To be honest I don’t blame them. It was a bit of a learning curve working out how to add these. I have included the surnames of all my great great grandparents and will be adding those for the previous generation when I get a minute (like in about 2031).

As expected, most of the testees have families trees that seem to still be rooted in the US and the only surname that is common with any of my ancestors is Smith and I really don’t think this is the same Smith. What is slightly worrying is that there appears to be no commonality with members of the Braund family who have done this test, although, to be fair, our likely relationship is more distant than 5th cousins. This didn’t stop me from hoping for a remote cousin match. Two of the eleven 2nd-4th cousin matches have uploaded a family tree. I guess that this is the next challenge for me to tackle. No areas of commonality here either. There is one match that looks possible, although it wouldn’t be at 4th cousin level. He does at least have Cornish ancestry and a surname that appears on my family tree, although not amongst my direct ancestors. I know I am supposed to do something with my centimorgans. Maybe we don’t share enough of them. I will await instruction. I had a play with the chromosome browser. The most likely match and I share seven segments. I am not sure why therefore they are identified as a closer relative than someone with whom I share 18. I clearly need someone to explain the significance of this in words of half a syllable.

What other fun can I have with these results? I am 99% European, no surprises there then. This is allegedly Britain, Scandinavia and Western Europe, although not Iberia. As regards my ancient origins, I am 10% a Metal Age Invader. What does that even mean? I am 40% Farmer, which seems to mean I may have origins in Aleppo. Excuse me, I’m just off for a bit of hunter gathering, in line with 50% of my ancient origins.