How My Kitchen (and I) Became Famous

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Liz Shakespeare

I am mopping. I am cleaning. I am tidying. What is going on? I hear you cry. Are you having visitors? Well no, not exactly. Some of you may remember the story of my friend, author Liz Shakespeare, discovering that my kitchen held a significance for her latest book about the life of Edward Capern. I’ve mentioned before that the book is to be accompanied by a CD by Nick Wyke and Becki Driscoll, who have set some of Capern’s poems to music. This includes a fishermen of my acquaintance reading the occasional poetic excerpt. As the launch draws nearer, the publicity machine is grinding in to action. Actually, it is whooshing into action at breakneck speed.

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Nick and Becki

My kitchen has been the setting for a photo-shoot; it features in a lovely article in Exmoor Magazine Then, yesterday, the local TV came to call, so I am eagerly anticipating an episode of the local news in the coming weeks.

Strangely, it isn’t just my kitchen that has been in the media lately. Peter Calver reviewed Putting Your Ancestors in their Place: a guide to one-place studies in his Lost Cousins newsletter. Then my seventeenth century social history course for the Society of Genealogists was mentioned in Dick Eastman’s newsletter – wow – fame at last.

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Who I Really Am – More Adventures with #DNA

The further back we delve into our family’s history, the greater the chance that there has been a ‘non-paternity’ event somewhere in our chain of great great grandparents and that one of our ancestors, child of Mrs X, was not the genetic offspring of Mr X, despite what the baptism register would have us believe. In fact, historically, the child of a married woman was always considered to be the progeny of her husband, however compelling the evidence to the contrary. I have heard of baptism entries reading along the lines of ‘…. son of William and Mary X, the husband was transported two years ago.’

I am a great believer in tracing not just blood parents but also those who have taken on parental responsibilities, such as adoptive or step-parents. These people’s values and attitudes will be passed on every bit as much as genes, so they are important. Nonetheless, most family historians do have a particular interest in their genetic line. How ever much we look like other members of our family, there is always that niggling doubt that one of our great great grandmothers may have strayed and we may not be who we think we are.

Next month marks the 40th anniversary of my first forays into real genealogical research, as opposed to just absorbing what my family members already knew. I was interested in all my blood lines but my direct paternal line fascinated me the most, mainly because I knew so little. I visited what was then the Public Record Office (PRO). I looked at the 1871 census returns (the most recent then available) on microfilm at Portugal Street (remember that?). I purchased my first certificates, for I believe £4.50. This confirmed that my family did indeed originate from a small Cornish village on the banks of the River Tamar, as I had been told.

cargreen-shop-old-postcardAt the age of twenty one I took a solo trip and visited Cornwall for the first time. I arrived at the nearest railway station on a Saturday evening. I stayed in a lovely B & B, which sticks in my memory because the proprietor was obsessed with recounting how her late husband had worked for the electricity board. On the Sunday, I obviously wanted to go ‘home’. The village was seven miles away and there was no public transport. Undaunted, I set off to walk. Since then I have firmly held the belief that Cornish miles are longer than those elsewhere. The local shop, which bore the family surname, was shut. I eventually wandered in to the local pub, not the easiest thing for a lone female in the rural Cornwall of 1977. I asked for relatives and met several fourth cousins. For the first time I saw someone of my own generation from my father’s side of the family. Despite being a clone of my mother and maternal grandmother, others perceived a physical resemblance. I was, naturally, very excited.

Although I research all branches of my ancestry, I suppose I have most emotional investment in my Braund line because it has been the subject of one-name research since 1982. We hold extended family reunions every year, I belong. What if I wasn’t really a Braund? I tried to tell myself that it didn’t matter, that I have borne the name and I am a Braund in all that counts. Despite having encouraged others who have taken DNA tests and received the results that do not match, with those words, ‘it does not matter’, I had a horrible feeling that I might be devastated if it turned out that my genetic roots lay elsewhere.

Someone from my branch of the family had already had a non-matching Y DNA test result but that was done because there were doubts about parentage in that line. So far, I didn’t match other Braunds who had done autosomal DNA tests but I had been convincing myself that that was ok because the paper trail showed that any connection would be very remote and date back to the seventeenth century or earlier. Within my first year of research I had traced back to my 6 x great grandfather Samuel Braund, thirty seven years later I added another generation but were these Braund ancestors really mine? Could DNA prove my genetic line? Apart from the lack of matches with other Braunds so far, my 3 x great grandfather was born out of wedlock to a Mary Jeffery. Ok, so he was named James Braund Jeffery, later took the surname Braund and appears to have been brought up by the Braund family but there were a few misgivings regarding how honest Miss Jeffery may have been.

If you have been following along with my weird and wonderful life you will know that I recently took an autosomal DNA test. My closest matches were in the 2nd-4th cousin range and one of these had a surname that I recognised as marrying in to the Braund family in my 4 x great grandfather’s generation. This person had the largest segment of common DNA of any of my matches. I emailed a tentative enquiry. The response confirmed that we were fourth cousins twice removed. My 5 x great grandparents were his 3 x great grandparents, thus confirming the genetic pedigree back to a couple who married in 1766. So I am sorry I cast aspersions on poor Mary Jeffery. I don’t even know what happened to her. I believe that she may have died in childbirth. Maybe one day I will find an autosomal match with a member of the Jeffery family. For now, I am relived that the DNA match has confirmed the pedigree that was crafted from 40 years’ of documentary research.

Things that go Bump …. in my world of spinning historical stories

Yesterday was a first for me. I attended two workshop for writers of historical fiction, led by Vanni Cook, who is a reviewer for The Historical Novel Society. This was an excellent and thought provoking day, run by the Way of the Wharves project and we were taking the eastern bank of The Torridge at Bideford as our inspiration. The area breathes history and there was plenty to stimulate discussion, from a variety of eras. We were meeting in the beautiful Kingsley Room, with its unique snake bedecked ceiling, overlooked by a portrait that was allegedly of Francis Drake. We were sceptical about this identification; sorry Royal Hotel if this sells rooms but Francis Drake this was not. Our suggestions were Richard Grenville or John Davie, the tobacco merchant who was probably responsible for the seventeenth century building. We were using Grenville as a possible character inspiration and one of our group was reading biographical information about him when a wine glass, thoughtfully provide for water, sudden moved from well away from the table edge and any people to the floor, where it lay in two pieces…… The next sentence of the contemporary description of Grenville that was being read was……. “He would carouse three or four glasses of wine, and in a bravery take the glasses between his teeth and crash them in pieces and swallow them down.” Well there’s an inspiration for a story then.

#Daisy is making gradual progress; this week’s investigations centre round bankruptcy proceedings, hiring domestic servants and walks from Horns Cross to Bideford. Oh, and more on writing, my house is now part of the publicity material for the eagerly awaited Postman Poet  novel by Liz Shakespeare and accompanying CD by Becki Driscoll and Nick Wyke, which also has a contribution from the fisherman of my acquaintance.

For those of you who are following the story of the five lockets, we have now located a third. Strangely, this one has the initials of the first christian name and surname of its original owner (although she had a middle name), whereas the others use the first and second christian name initials. The only possible explanation that I have for this is that the first name/surname one, which belonged to the oldest daughter, in shades of Pride and Prejudice, was a reflection of the etiquette of the time. Suggestions on a postcard, well in a blog comment box at any rate.

gwen-and-dep-c-1933I have also submitted some pre 1939 photographs of my family’s pets, in order to assist in a research project. Pets are an often forgotten aspect of our family story, do submit your own if you have any.

Finally, in an interesting blog post Jane Roberts asks if Family History is ‘proper’ history. My response: To me (an academic historian and a family historian) the answer is, ‘it depends’. For some, who take their research seriously, investigate context and immerse themselves in primary sources, then the answer has to be yes. They are a valuable part of the historical debate and this intensely personal brand of history is a wonderful way of encouraging people (who might otherwise be disinterested) to engage with history and heritage. There are also pedigree hunters who leap from branch to branch of the family trees of others in pursuit of the shaky leaf. I am not saying this is wrong (ok, deep down it really irritates me but it is none of my business what people do with their leisure time) but it is not history.