Heredity, Hammocks and Heat: DNA and other adventures

I really wanted this post to be about some very exciting news but I am not allowed to tell anyone yet (no, no one in the family is, as far as I know, pregnant), so that will have to wait for another time. I could talk about the weather. Here in the UK we have been experiencing a mini heat wave. I was stuck in a northern city in a motel whose room did not go below 29 degrees for three days. What a joy to come back to my beautifully cool home (they knew what they were doing when they built houses in the 1600s) with the sounds of the local sheep baaing, I could even forgive the aroma of silage making. No problem, UK heatwaves never last long and we are back to normal today.

My partly revamped garden is still mid-makeover. Given the heat and my absence I am quite glad that I delayed laying new turf. I was pleased that the plants survived my healthy neglect during the record-breaking temperatures. The hot weather made it seem like a good idea to erect a hammock that I have had for about twenty years but never used (I think it was free with something). All it required was two trees sturdy enough to support my burgeoning weight (it’s all that eating on expenses that does it). My tiny garden isn’t over burdened with trees but two were identified and with assistance from the fisherman of my acquaintance we began to adjust the ropes to what seemed to be a sensible height. This kind of occasion is when it is useful to know someone who can tie a decent knot or two. After one or two false starts (I ended up sitting on the ground) the hammock was in place and I was enjoying a meditate. The observant amongst you will have noted the word ‘trees’ above. Hammocks tied to trees mean, inevitably, that you are, to some extent, under a tree. Trees mean birds. Birds have digestive processes, need I say more? No sooner had I laid back and closed my eyes than I was required to move. Somewhere there is photographic evidence of this. Fortunately the photographer finds getting pictures from his phone to anywhere else a little challenging – phew!

Actually there is some really exciting news that I can convey and that is that my DNA results from Living DNA have arrived. This company calculate your ethnic origin on a regional level. Having ancestry that is, at least on paper, 100% English, I was particularly interested to see what this would reveal. As a teenager I longed to be Spanish, pretended to have Spanish ancestry and despite my total inability at languages, even tried to teach myself Spanish. Was this due to some ancestral memory?

After more than forty years of researching my family history, I know the names and geographical origins of 31 of my 32 3x great grand-parents and 75% of the generation before that. This means that I have a pretty good idea where the families came from before they all began to converge on London in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Whilst I was patiently (well, ok actually not that patiently) awaiting the results. I analysed my documentary evidence to work out what I might expect. I am aware that the DNA that I have inherited does not come equally from all my 3 x great-grandparents and that some of them may have left no trace in my profile but I had no way of taking account of this. I had a slight issue in that Living DNA don’t seem to acknowledge the existence of Buckinghamshire, which accounts for an eighth of my ancestry but I used my initiative and counted it as South Central England.

So did the test support the proportions that I estimated and what surprises were in store? Living in Devon and having a direct paternal line that for 37 years I believed was Cornish but has now been traced back to Devon, I am particularly attached to the 25% of my ancestry that comes from south-west England. Based on my knowledge, my expectation was that my genetic make-up should show that I was 20% Cornish, with 5% from Devon. Living DNA’s percentages were 7.4% from Cornwall and 11.7% from Devon. As my lot spent their lives on both sides of the Tamar, very close to the Devon-Cornwall border, I can live with this.

Turning to the other end of the country, my estimated 12.5% for Northumberland became 5.8% according to Living DNA. I did wonder if some Scottish blood might creep in, as they lived in border parishes but it seems that I must leave Scottish descent to my children and grandchildren. Living DNA also suggested that 7.2% of my origins were from Cumbria, which, when added to the Northumbrian percentage, comes close to my estimate.

My DNA estimates June 2017

My estimates of my ethnic origins

The marriage of cousins in two successive generations (I know, accounts for a lot) means that I have what is known as a collapsed pedigree, with the same 4 x great grandparents appearing on my tree three times. They came, as far as I know, from the south-east and the bulk of my ancestry (37.5%) is from that region, why do I find this boring? Living DNA agreed, with 35.3% from south-eastern England. I calculated that 19% of my ancestry was from the south central region, not much more exciting. Living DNA put this at 3.9% but also identified 5.8% from Southern England and 2.7% from Central England, which redressed the balance a bit.

What appeared to be missing was the 6% that I believe came from East Anglia but this could be accounted for by the 5.6% that Living DNA attributed to Scandinavia. One of the East Anglian family names was Daines! I do however have another possibility for the Scandinavian connection. Interestingly my test results with Family Tree DNA make my origins 100% British Isles, with not a long ship or horned helmet in sight.

I am still mulling over Living DNA’s 11.1% from North Yorkshire. I somehow don’t see myself as a Yorkshire lass. No disrespect to my friends from Yorkshire, it just doesn’t feel like me. I don’t begin to understand cricket for a start. Could this be the missing 3 x great grandparent or the 4 x great grandmother, who appears three times in my ancestry but whose full name and birthplace I don’t know? Or does the North Yorkshire element represent something earlier in the Northumbrian line?

Interestingly, I also have 1.2% of my DNA from Lincolnshire. Although my maiden name, Braund, is firmly rooted in Devon and is found there back to the mid 1400s. Prior to that (11th-14th centuries) there are instances of the name in Lincolnshire but no connection has been found between the Braunds of Lincolnshire and those of Devon; could this minute trace in my DNA be attributable to this? The theory and it is just a theory, is that as both countries were key wool producing areas in Medieval times and are linked by drovers’ roads, this may have been how the name moved to Devon. The Lincolnshire Braunds are believed to have had Viking origins, so we are back to Scandinavia.


Living DNA June 2017

Living DNA’s analysis of my ethnic origins

Finally there is a random 2.1% from Chechnya. To save you looking that up, it is in the bottom right hand corner of Europe, not far from the Caspian Sea and given the political situation there, it probably isn’t the sort of place to be making an ancestral visit any time soon. I have heard of a few others whose profile contains this element and I feel this may be an anomaly that will be ironed out when more data becomes available. In the meantime Салам (hope Google translate has got that right). So much for being Spanish!



City Life and Technological Challenges

IMG_7263 (2).JPG

Photo credit David Griffiths

It has been as stupidly busy as ever over the past week. As the Braund nine day reunion drew to a close, I played truant in order to attend the British Association for Local History conference in London. This involved leaving home at 6.00am and getting the last train home, arriving back at 10.45pm. We know how to live in the country – our last trains aren’t exactly late. I had decided to stay up past my bedtime in order to collect my certificate as an author of one of the short-listed ‘best long articles’ that appeared in last year’s British Association for Local History digests. Well it seemed like a good idea at the time. Apart from a serious case of exhaustion, my friends and family, who were aware I was in the big city, panicked somewhat when the appalling news of the London Bridge incident broke but fortunately I was away from London long before the trouble started and I was in a different area. The worst I encountered was a stag party on the Exeter-Barnstaple train home. The driver did threaten to stop the train, which caused some consternation but fortunately she decided to carry on despite raucous shouting and copious amounts of alcohol being consumed.

Then Tuesday’s technological challenge. I closed the lid of my laptop and opened it up again to find zilch, nothing, a blank screen that no amount of ‘gentle persuasion’ a.k.a anguished key banging could rectify. Now we all know that there is never a good time for a laptop to decide that it will cease to be but with the job we much not mention, that is wholly dependent on computer use, looming, this really was not a good time. Quite apart from the job itself, everything else that needed doing before the middle of July needed to be done this week. I drove to the computer shop and threw myself on the mercy of the chap behind the counter. He hummed and haaaed and said it would all depend when he could get a part. I returned home and a fisherman of my acquaintance, who clearly could not tolerate the prospect of associating with someone who was lacking a computer for an unspecified period, came to my rescue. He is well aware that I start to twitch on the rare occasions when I am surgically removed from my laptop. He kindly decided to bring forward his own planned purchase of a new laptop so that I could borrow it whilst mine was being repaired. Back to the computer shop. They were trying to araldite some unidentified parts of my laptop together. In the end that proved unsuccessful and my laptop is currently on its way back to the manufacturers in Germany while I struggle with a new operating system and different software on the borrowed machine. I am very grateful that a) I had recently backed up the old laptop and b) that I have another machine to use. I am sure computer shops should offer courtesy computers in the same way that garages offer courtesy cars.

I am now in the throes of said job we must not mention. It necessitates more sojourns in the smoke – two trips to Manchester. I’ve said it before, I really am not fit to be let out. First, that moment when you turn up at a motel to be told you aren’t booked in. You insist you are. You are correct but that is next week’s trip and this week you are booked in to a different motel in the same chain. Then day one and I am working in a hotel that is in the centre of a protest march by a neo-Nazi group. I think the entire Manchester police force must have been in the street outside. There was shouting, there were police helicopters circling and I did wonder how I was going to get back to the motel. Fortunately, by the time we had finished, the protesters had dispersed, although the police were still very much in evidence.

Bees, Clutches and Bigots – the delights of a Braund Reunion

Has anyone tried prosecuting shower-gel manufacturers under the Trade Descriptions Act? Mine is allegedly ‘revitalising’ hmmm I could certainly do with some revitalisation. It has been a very hectic ten days, hence the social media silence. Nine day Braund reunions I can cope with, it is trying to combine them with normal life that is more difficult.

It was a Thursday evening when we set off to greet the early reunion arrivals, a US contingent who were new to the mayhem that is a Braund gathering. After introducing ourselves and leaving them to their jet lag, I headed home to find that three very loud bees had inhabited my bedroom and seemed intent on creating an insomnia inducing row whenever the light was on. Now you might think this would not be a problem – simply turn off the light. Even without bees I sleep badly and on the half dozen or so occasions when I wake up each night, the only successful way to get back to sleep is to read. This doesn’t mean, read, feel sleepy, turn off the light. It means read, fall asleep, hope the book doesn’t fall on one’s nose, light stays on. (I do know sleeping with the light on is supposedly bad for you – believe me I’ve tried other options!) Reading requires a light, which sent the bees into a state of buzzy agitation. I turned off the light and attempted to lure the bees out of the open window with a torch. It seems that torch light is insufficiently attractive. All the torch waving achieved was to thoroughly wake me up.

After about two hours sleep, I awoke at 5.30am as usual. We had already had to rescue two of our party from a clutchless camper van, now another pair of reunion attendees were up the A39 without a clutch pedal. Nonetheless it was glorious sunshine and the beautiful Devon countryside was on show as we took our guests to the homes of their ancestors. We spend quite a bit of reunion time in local churches as we know that family members will have set foot inside to be baptised, married or buried. We upset a bigot in one of these. We were explaining the history of the place to our visitors, in tones that could be heard by those of our party that were hard of hearing. A fellow visitor objected to us speaking in the church. Let me be clear, this is not during a service, he is not apparently praying, merely looking round, as are we. We are not screeching obscenities, just commenting on the state of the church in rural Devon and discussing the history of this particular establishment. Apparently we should keep our ‘conservative views’ to ourselves. I am in total bewilderment as to how anything that was being said could be construed as ‘conservative views’. Thanks sir, you effectively put people off re-entering the church and gave a very poor impression of British hospitality to our overseas visitors.

So what other reunion issues must we not mention? Well there was the incident where the person with the cheque book (that would be me) left a venue without paying. Then I am sat in the gloom at a place I won’t identify, watching a video about the history of the area. This is actually quite good but hidden amongst the information is a statement that is quite blatantly wrong. Thinking I was sitting with others of our party, I began muttering, ‘total rubbish’ and similar phrases. Well, to be honest, it was more of an exclamation than a mutter. I then realised that I was surrounded by total strangers.

making cob

Making Cob at Poundstock Gildhouse

We also don’t mention how several of us forgot to bring raffle prizes, so we had to postpone the raffle. We don’t explain why one of our party had a plastic bag on her head, or how many belts were needed to reach round the circumference of a reunion attendee when he was donning Tudor dress and we definitely don’t mention how long it took for Brian’s chips to arrive.