Of Procrastination and Potash Makers

Where have you been? I hear you cry. Actually, I suspect that you never noticed that this is probably my longest gap between posts ever. My recent adventures have included a lovely week on the Isle of Wight with some of my descendants, frantically trying to keep up with the grandchildren on Pokémon Go and some uplifting walks along the beach in the early morning. I have also been able to meet more than one set of old friends who have been holidaying in the area. It is a wonderful feeling when you get together with people you haven’t seen for twenty years and you can’t believe that you didn’t last chat a few weeks ago. There was also the chance to meet much newer online friends in person.

Mistress Agnes has ventured into a school for the first time since lockdown, you really can’t keep that good woman down. She is now frantically concocting herbal cures for some aggressive bites, acquired when standing in a field whilst her colleague shot a few people. There have been talks to give to audiences across the world, sadly only a virtual trip to Australia this time and courses to prepare. Next up is my five week online course for Pharos Tutoring and Teaching that focuses on researching family and local history in the first half of the twentieth century, with a whole new section to write on the 1921 census. Still space for you to enrol if you want to join in the fun on this one. As I was reviewing the course, I decided to go through it myself and add to the biography of my grandmother, which is making very slow progress.

The next non-fiction book now has nearly three chapters done, the latest has seen me researching a fascinating family from the Romani community, which includes the notorious ‘Gypsy King’, Wisdom Smith. The final term of my post-grad course has begun and with it the incentive to focus on a great great grandmother’s story but more of that in a separate post.

I have also done a fair bit of procrastinating and doing things that aren’t even on the frighteningly long to do list. I can’t even remember why I thought I’d do this but I took a look at how many direct ancestors I have discovered in 45 years of research. To save you the maths, if you go back to your 6x great grandparents, who, if you are my generation, were probably born in the first half of the eighteenth century, there are a potential 510 direct ancestors. I have full names for 203 of them, approximately 40%. I don’t count the ones where I don’t have the woman’s maiden name. I do have the names of more distant ancestors but after the 6x great grandparents the numbers are frightening and the success rate dwindles significantly, so I stopped at this point. My percentage found is probably not bad for someone with English ancestry; these ancestors come from nine English counties. One quarter of my ancestry suffers from pedigree collapse, as first cousins marry in two successive generations. This probably explains a lot but also means that one set of 4x great grandparents appear in my direct ancestry three times.

I decided I would put off doing what I should be doing and see how evenly spread these ancestors were across different branches of my family. To explain what I mean: I looked at each of my eight great grandparents in turn and calculated how many of their direct ancestors I had found in the preceding five generations; there are potentially 62 for each great grandparent. The greatest success is with my direct paternal, west country, line. I can identify 40/62 of great grandfather William James Braund’s ancestors, closely followed by 35/62 ancestors for his wife Fanny Thomasine Bishop. In fact, my father’s family holds third place too, with 33/62 ancestors of Caroline Howe on the tree. We will draw a veil over the 9/62 for great grandfather John Hogg. In my defence I am 95% sure of some of the missing ones. I just feel that I need one more piece of supporting evidence to ink in several generations of John Hogg’s Northumbrian ancestry. The statistics on my mother’s side are hampered by those pesky repeated 4x great grandparents who create a brick wall in three places, although again, I have my suspicions of who fits in the gaps.

The upshot of all this is that I tried to boost the numbers by looking again at a brick wall that I hadn’t investigated much before. Oh boy this looked interesting, potash makers, gentlemen, a chap who endorsed a quack doctor, claiming to have his hearing restored, in a newspaper advert of 1785 – great stuff. Slight side-track while I check exactly what potash makers did and add the newspaper advert to my history of medicine course. This branch was not a straightforward family to trace, due to their use of a very limited range of Christian names and the fact that they come from a county whose parish registers are only online in indexed form. Ooh look though, they left wills and I could obtain these from a very efficient record office within twenty four hours. This would be just the final confirmatory piece of the jigsaw I needed, then I too could follow the lead of the umpteen online trees who joined the potash maker (he of the miracle cure) and the gentleman to my tree. Except I can’t. A great will, mentioning five generations of the testator’s family, which clearly none of those online tree compilers have read. Back to the drawing board and I feel a mini one-name study coming on, when I should of course be doing something else entirely. Is the potash maker mine or not? Watch this space.

To add to the fun, the job I must not mention has now arrived with a vengeance but I may post here as light relief.