Thursday, October 17, 2013

My English story is finally finished

A week ago, I announced [display] that my maternal family-history document was completed. Today, I'm happy to announce that the complementary dimension of my genealogical challenge has been completed. That's to say, I've finally finished a full version of my paternal family-history story, entitled They Sought the Last of Lands. It's 276 pages long, and can be downloaded from this address:

In my title, the expression "last of lands" (with might be thought of as an exaggeration) has been borrowed from a great Australian poet.
They call her a young country, but they lie:

She is the last of lands, the emptiest,

A woman beyond her change of life, a breast

Still tender but within the womb is dry.
Without songs, architecture, history:

The emotions and superstitions of younger lands,

Her rivers of water drown among inland sands,

The river of her immense stupidity
Floods her monotonous tribes from Cairns to Perth.

In them at last the ultimate men arrive

Whose boast is not: ‘we live’ but ‘we survive’,

A type who will inhabit the dying earth.
                                     — A D Hope, Australia

My paternal ancestors sailed from the Old World to the Antipodes because they had romantic dreams of a young continent where they would be able to lead a happy, healthy and prosperous rural existence... including, among other things (for my grandfather Ernest Skyvington), the possibility of riding horses: an upper-class privilege in England. In modern terms, it might be said literally that my ancestors were thinking of a fabulous sea change. And so they were.

Created in a similar style to my maternal genealogy, A Little Bit of Irish, this second document reflects a new kind of family-history research and presentation, based largely upon the resources made available through the Internet.

To my mind, it's sad that too many people imagine that the genealogy/Internet tandem must necessarily give rise to antiseptic documents that look more like pages out of a phone directory than something you might wish to read, like a novel. The key to producing a readable family-history document consists, I believe, in unearthing and then transcribing poignant anecdotes that place the story in a human-all-too-human context. So, one of the heroes of the tale of my father's forebears was the Bournemouth milkman who sired so many Skyvingtons (from several mothers, but all perfectly legitimate) that he placed our surname indelibly in Northern America. And another hero was the Pickering brother who stayed at home in London (leaving the discovery of the New World up to his two elder brothers) and then created an amazing double-life inspired by his passion for ancient ancestors.

A family historian is so intimately linked to his stories that he cannot evaluate objectively the quality of his writing. For me, as far as They Sought the Last of Lands is concerned, I like to imagine myself drinking Billy Tea and talking to a kangaroo.

Our Aussie beast would surely understand everything.


  1. I'm impressed yet again! Permission to add this to our catalogue too?
    Small grandmother told us that we are descendants of Simon de Montfort, but I'm at the very beginning of that story. It would be amusing if your ancsetor and my ancestor were pals.

  2. Narelle: Of course I would be pleased if you were to add this second document to your catalogue. Concerning individuals named Simon de Montfort, the closest I ever got to this celebrated medieval family was when I resided with my wife and our daughter in the charming municipality of Houdan, west of Paris, which lies alongside the ancient Montfort-l'Amaury territory (which has always been one of the most sought-after addresses for wealthy Parisians seeking a weekend residence). In my third genealogical document, entitled Skeffington — One-Name Study (still far from completed), I evoke the Earls of Leicester named de Beaumont, who may or may not have had something to say concerning my ancestral village of Skeffington in Leicestershire. When the de Beaumont dynasty ended, the French baron Simon de Montfort [1165-1218] became the 5th Earl of Leicester, and in turn was the father of the 6th Earl of Leicester, who's the individual that most English people are referring to when they speak of Simon de Montfort. In my personal genealogical research, I've never encountered any direct links to this celebrated individual and his English operations, although it's a fact that his name resurfaces often among present-day family historians in the New World.