Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Midland ancestors

My Norman ancestors, arriving in England in 1066 with William the Conqueror, settled at the Saxon site of Sceaftinga tûn, the place of Sceaft's people, which became the village of Skeffington in Leicestershire. A few centuries later, a branch of their descendants became celebrated as Tudor lords, one of whom was in charge of Ireland. And that main branch of the family, after settling in Northern Ireland, has been headed by Viscount Massereene.

I now believe that my Skyvington/Skivington branch of the family was formed shortly before the epoch of the Tudor Skeffington lords. My ancestors were probably farmers, in Bedfordshire, where they spelt their family name with a "v" instead of "ff": Skevington. Consequently, during my recent rapid excursion to England, I decided at the last minute to visit Bedfordshire rather than the Leicestershire village of Skeffington. The departure station was St Pancras, which is being vastly modernized so that Eurostar trains will terminate here, in the heart of London, from next November.

I arrived in the charming city of Bedford on Wednesday afternoon, 1 August 2007, and booked into a modern hotel in a tall building on the far side of the bridge over the River Great Ouse.

In the center of the city, I came upon a statue with a familiar name.

The busy town markets were closing, so it wouldn't have been possible for me to buy a bouquet of flowers to place at the foot of the pedestal.

Early the next morning, I took a bus to the village of Turvey, about a dozen kilometers to the west of Bedford, which is one of a cluster of half-a-dozen villages, near the border between Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire, where there was a presence of Skevington people, recorded in the archives, from as far back as the early 16th century.

The splendid old parish church is located in the center of the village.

In the genealogical domain, I'm particularly interested in a Turvey man described in the Mormon archives as George husbandman Skevington [1562-1608], younger brother of Thomas yeoman Skevington [1560-1615]. At that epoch, well before the appearance of the Hanoverian monarchs named George, this was a relatively uncommon firstname, inspired no doubt by the legendary saint of that name. Well, my earliest Dorset ancestor was a George Skivington [1670-1711], and I've often imagined that these two Georges might be linked. There are tombstones all around the church, but time and the elements have rendered them faceless.

On a wall inside the church, there's a map of around 1785 which indicates the property of a William Skevington.

This William Skevington [1734-1784] is indeed mentioned in the Mormon archives, along with his wife Elizabeth Skevington [1736-1770]. At that same epoch, just a few kilometers away from Turvey, in the Buckinghamshire villages of Lavendon and Cold Brayfield, the Mormon archives reveal the presence of individuals who actually spelt their name as Skyvington, like me, whereas in Bedford itself, others had got around to using the Skivington spelling. Consequently, there are strong reasons to believe that this corner of the Midlands—often designated by a nice expression: the Home Counties—might have been our ancestral home place prior to the Dorset phase.

Inside the church, there are several tombs of members of the 15th-century noble family named Mordaunt.

It is sobering to compare these magnificent alabaster effigies of these local lords and ladies, in a perfect state of conservation, with the faceless tombstones outside. But neither alabaster nor stone are as permanent for posterity, of course, as data of the kind stored in the computerized Mormon archives... or ordinary words of the kind I am writing now.

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