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.
At 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.