Friday, November 18, 2011

Family-history breakthrough

Three decades ago, when I first became interested in genealogy, one of my basic motivations was to shed light, if possible, upon my strangely-spelled surname, Skyvington. I now know that, if the "y" in our name has always been pronounced as an "i", that's simply because it was in fact an "i" up until various parish clerks in Dorset started spelling our surname with an ungainly "y" during the first half of the 19th century. In the context of my direct ancestors, the first example of this anomaly is found in a marriage certificate of 1844, and this erroneous spelling was rapidly adopted within our family. Today, an observer might feel that the presence of a "y", pronounced as if it were an "i", looks old-fashioned and quaint in a superficial way… but I insist upon the fact that it is no more than a silly error, made relatively recently, by a careless clerk or clergyman. If it were easy to do so, I would be tempted get our name restored to its original spelling… but this would be a complicated and burdensome task, with few merits other than the pleasure of signing my name authentically (?) as William Skivington.

There's surely a fly in the ointment. The correct spelling of my surname is probably neither Skyvington nor Skivington, but rather Skevington. In my genealogical research focussed upon my patriarchal surname, I've succeeded in describing precisely no more than eleven generations.

[Click to enlarge slightly, then ESCAPE to return to blog]

After all the years of work I've devoted to this subject, it looks like a meager harvest. But the truth of the matter is far from disappointing, in the sense that I now have a reasonably clear vision of the likely itinerary of my patriarchal ancestors from the Saxon village of Skeffington in Leicestershire down to Dorset. We know, above all, that the various spellings of our surname—including the official (but not necessarily authentic "Skeffington"—are derived from a Scandinavianized form of the Old English Sce(a)ftinga tûn: "the tûn (village) of Sceaft’s people". Incidentally, as I've pointed out already, this means that names such as Skeffington and Shaftesbury have identical etymologies.

While we have no information whatsoever concerning the Saxon chief named Sceaft, we know that his name might be translated into English as "shaft", as of an arrow or a spear. So, he may have been a celebrated warrior. (Websites concerning the village of Skeffington persist in disseminating the erroneous notion that the name of the Saxon chief and his village had something to do with sheep.)

Besides, the above chart suggests that I might use the given name George as a hint when searching among earlier archives.

It's a fact that, in the 17th century in England, George was not yet a commonplace Christian name, since it invoked a Middle-Eastern Catholic saint whose cult had been brought back by the Crusaders. Even though George was supposedly the patron saint of England, he was probably not a homely personage who might inspire rural folk who were searching for a name for their son. In any case, it's a fact that, in the course of my research, I've come upon relatively few individuals named George Skivington (apart from my direct ancestors) or George Skevington. So, this George name could well play the role of a flashing beacon pointing to the possibility of ancestral threads.

In any case, I've just stumbled upon the kind of situation that I've been seeking in the Mormon database known as the IGI [International Genealogical Index]. Two distinct sets of Mormon records describe a marriage that took place inn the Lincolnshire village of Great Gonerby on 18 August 1648. In one set of records, the groom is designated as William Skevington; in the other, as William Skivington. In other words, the expert Mormon researchers were apparently incapable of deciding whether the man's surname should be spelt with an "e" or an "i". Now, an observer might say that this was no more than a trivial incident concerning a poorly-written letter, which turns out to be unreadable. But, in view of the normal exactitude and rigor of Mormon transcribers, I see it as much more than that. We have a case in which there appeared to be total uncertainty concerning the question of whether the individual's name was Skevington or Skivington.

In these circumstances, I am wondering whether this couple, married in Lincolnshire in 1648, might have been the future parents of my ancestor George Skivington [1670-1711] down in Dorset.

No comments:

Post a Comment