Showing posts with label Skyvington family history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Skyvington family history. Show all posts

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Might I have Viking blood?

It's hard to imagine that a quiet and well-behaved old-timer like me might evoke the possibility of his Viking ancestry. Besides, I can’t really vouch for the authenticity of this nice old family portrait—of an ancient ancestor named Sven, on a beach outing with his mates—that was handed down to me by relatives in the Old Country.

Vikings were intrepid adventurers, who were afraid of nothing and nobody… which is not exactly my personal case. Some of them were seafarers who finally settled on the continental shores of the English Channel (like my son François, who is considerably more Viking than I am). On the other hand, the idea of a Viking living in a place like Choranche would be a bit like Nicolas Sarkozy moving into a monastery, and Carla entering a nunnery. (The ex-president has screwed up his return to politics in such a way that my image is maybe not as crazy as it might appear.)

Genealogical research is often similar to science in that we imagine such-and-such a scenario, and then persevere in believing that our speculations might be valid. That’s to say, we only abandon our scenario when we discover that something in our speculations simply doesn’t add up… whereupon we drop it all immediately, like a proverbial load of shit. And there aren’t even any sentimental thanks for the memories. Scientific research is a harsh business. No matter how much poetry was conveyed by the lovely old concept of an omnipresent ubiquitous ether permeating all the infinitesimal interstices of the universe, this theory was trashed instantly and forever as soon as the Michelson-Morley experiment of 1887, designed to record the existence of ether-drift, returned negative results. In genealogy, of course, we’re light years away from experimental physics, but family-history research and scientific research both necessitate the invention of imaginative yet plausible speculations. And such speculations are “born to die” in the sense that they must be discarded as soon as they no longer correspond to known facts. So, we advance through generations of better and better speculations, while burning all our poorly-built bridges behind us.

For the moment, therefore, I persist in speculating that our Skeffington patriarch in Leicestershire had come across the English Channel from Normandy in the wake of Duke William’s invasion.

Click the YouTube icon to watch a better presentation

I’ve investigated several theories in an attempt to ascertain the surname of this fellow’s family back in Normandy, but I’ve never been able to obtain any firm facts. Let me invent a plausible name for this Norman ancestor: Sven de Cotentin. I would imagine that Sven lived with his wife and children in the vicinity, say, of the modern town of Coutances. They probably led a simple but quite comfortable rural existence in Normandy, enabling Sven and his family to become candidates for settlement in the captured land on the other side of the English Channel.

I’ve always been intrigued by two obvious questions:

1 — When Sven left for England, did he leave any relatives back in Normandy?

2 — Back in Normandy, what was Sven’s family-history background?

As far as the first question is concerned, we might imagine that Sven had brothers or cousins (on his paternal side) who had not wished to move across to England, because they were happy with their life in Normandy. Going one step further, we might find that descendants of these folk exist today in France, maybe still in Normandy. If this were the case, then we can imagine that these people might decide to carry out DNA tests, in which case our Y-chromosomes would match. Alas, in the online Y-chromosome database, I've never yet come upon a living Frenchman whose data looks anything like mine. For this and other reasons, I tend to believe that the probable answer to that first question is negative. If Sven were sufficiently motivated to move across to England, then his male relatives would have surely been equally enthusiastic about this project… unless, of course, they owned valuable properties in Normandy.

Concerning the second question, it’s perfectly possible that Sven’s ancestors were Vikings (like the ancestors of Duke William himself) who had arrived in the Cotentin region during the 9th century, and decided to settle down there. As for their wives, they may well have been local Gallic girls. This speculation leads us to imagine that Sven’s Viking ancestor might have left male relatives back in Scandinavia, and that descendants of these folk might exist today in a land such as Sweden, Norway or Denmark.

Two days ago, I performed one of my regular searches in the Y-chromosome database. As of a couple of months ago, I’ve had a single match, with the Englishman Hugh Courtenay, an oddly-named grandson of my rogue great-grandfather William Skyvington [1868-1959], described here. Well, the name of a new match has just appeared in this Y-chromosome database. Here’s my current summary:

Click to enlarge

The Swedish lady who recently submitted this data—on behalf of her husband’s maternal uncle named Sven-Erik Johansson—has promised to send me the complete set of 67 marker values as soon as they’re available. Incidentally, the earliest known ancestor of Sven-Erik Johansson was a certain Sven Nilsson Durmin [1709-1780]. I'm awaiting explanations from the lady concerning the apparent change in surname.

For the moment, as you can see, my match with Sven-Erik Johansson is based upon a subset of 30 markers, and the so-called “genetic distance” (the difference between our respective values) is 2, which is the same as my distance from the Courtenay values (for 37 markers). Obviously, my excitement is premature, since the Johansson/Skyvington genetic distance might explode beyond acceptable bounds when we obtain the remaining 37 values. But I take advantage of this delay in order to revel in the idea (maybe only momentarily) that I might at last be sailing in the wake of our Viking…

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Chromosomes reveal the truth

Initially, Old Bailey was the name of a London street...

Four years ago, in a blog post entitled Family-history shock [display], I described my chance discovery of this record of a trial at London’s Central Criminal Court, better known as the Old Bailey.

Click to enlarge

The trial had taken place on 24 October 1898. A man named William Skyvington, said to be 26 years old, had been charged with
feloniously forging and uttering an endorsement on an order for the payment of one pound, three shillings and eleven pence, with intent to defraud.
The accused man had pleaded guilty, and he was sent to jail for six months’ hard labour.

Here’s an old photo of one of the courts at the Old Bailey where criminal trials for London and Middlesex were held.

The accused individual was placed in the dock on the left. The jury was seated in the box on the far side, below a pair of large windows. On a throne beneath the wooden canopy on the right, alongside a sword of justice, an alderman (sometimes the lord mayor himself) represented the city of London, whereas the judge, sheriff and trial recorder were seated at plain desks in the far corner.

I wondered immediately if the criminal might have been my great-grandfather William Jones Skyvington [born in 1868, and therefore almost 30 years old at the time of the trial].

Four months ago, in a blog post entitled White lies of men in love [display], I explained that an English lady named Nicola Courtenay had sent me an e-mail indicating that her grandfather William Courtenay [who had died in 1959] often used “Skyvington” as if it were one of his given names. Since this “Skyvington” name is rather uncommon (resulting from a 19th-century spelling mistake that replaced a letter “i” by “y”), I was greatly intrigued by Nicola’s news of somebody having, as it were, “borrowed” our surname and used it as an aditional given name. The story simply didn’t add up. Above all, several clues in Nicola’s tale evoked authentic details associated with my great-grandfather. So, I was automatically tempted to speculate that Nicola’s grandfather and my great-grandfather might have been one and the same individual.

Well, to cut a long story short, a Y-chromosome test carried out on a DNA saliva specimen from a living male member of the Courtenay family has just proved scientifically (with no room whatsoever for doubt) that this was indeed the case. In other words, after vanishing from the northern-London context in which his son—my future grandfather Ernest Skyvington [1891-1985]—was born, William apparently decided to adopt the “Courtenay” surname, invent a fictitious identity (in which he claimed to be a member of the ancient and noble family of the Earl of Devon from Powderham Castle) and raise a large family.

Insofar as this Courtenay Affair provides us with specimens of William Skyvington’s apparent tendency towards mythomania, I am now convinced that the individual convicted at the Old Bailey in 1898 was indeed my great-grandfather. Besides, I had reached that conclusion prior to meeting up with the Courtenay Affair purely through the perusal of genealogical archives.

This morning, I retrieved a document from the National Archives designated as a calendar of prisoners, which mentioned the trial and imprisonment of William Skyvington. Here is the cover page:

An index includes the name of William Skyvington followed by the letters NL, meaning North London:

For the moment, I’ve been unable to determine (while awaiting clarifications from the National Archives) whether this means that William came from North London, or that he was now detained in a jail in North London. Further on in the document, we find the actual reecord of the trial.

It contains several interesting elements of information that did not appear in the Old Bailey record that I found 4 years ago. William was a “traveller”: that’s to say, a commercial traveler or salesman who moved around to contact customers. The term “well” means (as explained on the cover page) that William could read and write well. Above all, I learnt that he was jailed in Pentonville Prison in Islington (North London).

That’s to say, William Skyvington was placed in a prison just to the south of the family home in Evershot Road, not to mention Finsbury Park, his son’s vast playground. Star-shaped Pentonville was thought of as a “modern” jail, because it had been designed in the early 1840s by skilled carceral engineers.

But it was surely a nasty place.

Besides, William had been condemned to so-called hard labor, which meant that he had to toil daily at heavy manual tasks. Amazingly, we have here a photo of such inmates at Pentonville:

Then there’s a ballad sung by Pete Waters, with a catching refrain:
I was sent off for trial at the Bailey
And remanded to Pentonville Jail

The situation is funny (weird). For ages, I had concluded that, if I wanted to enhance my family-history writing with melancholy ballads about the hardships of a convict's existence, it was in New South Wales that I would find such stuff, in the context of my maternal ancestors from Ireland... and certainly not in the refined English context of the Skyvingtons.

Today, I must admit that the tables of my genealogical temple have been upturned. And I can't even blame Jesus...

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Looking back on a London century

A century separates these two photos taken at exactly the same spot in a northern neighborhood of London.

The older lady was Martha Watson [1837-1915], while the young woman is Martha’s great-great-great-granddaughter Indiya Taylor, born in Australia. The following chart indicates that Martha’s married name was Mepham (which was loaded onto my unfortunate father as a second given name):

The second child, Eliza Jane Mepham, married a certain William Skyvington, as indicated in the following chart:

Their only child, Ernest Skyvington [1891-1985], went out to Australia in 1908 on a steamship named the Marathon.

Ernest, who was Indiya’s great-grandfather, became a prosperous businessman in Grafton (NSW), where he started up the Ford automobile dealership.

He once revisited the Old World and his native London in the company of his daughter Yvonne. In Paris, my wife Christine asked Pop (as we called him) to name the place that had most impressed him during his world tour. His reply: “Burleigh Heads.” That was the town on Queensland’s Gold Coast where he had been living in retirement for a decade or so. Pop had a great sense of humor, and that was his way of telling us that there’s no place like home. But the address that Indiya tracked down a few days ago was indeed Pop’s true home throughout his adolescence in London.

With technical assistance that I had obtained from historical authorities in London, Indiya was able to discover the quiet dead-end section of Mount Pleasant Crescent (called Mount Pleasant Road in Pop’s time) where the old Mepham house is currently numbered 72.

I’m amused by the symbolic aspects of the following photo, in which my lovely niece appears to be narrowing down her search for origins, while looking back upon a London century.

Incidentally, I should have normally published by now my genealogical book that talks about our London origins (amongst many other aspects of our family history). Its cover will look like this:

Publication is delayed, however, by fascinating last-minute news that I mentioned briefly in my recent post entitled White lies of men in love [display]. The potential “white liar” in question is the man whose name appears in the upper left-hand corner of the second chart: my great-grandfather William Skyvington. I’m hoping that the friends who have kindly revealed this curious affair—the Courtenay family in the UK—will be convinced that the only way of elucidating this enigma is to call upon modern science: namely, a Y-chromosome genealogical test.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

French village of family-history relevance

A couple of days ago, I made an intriguing discovery in the domain of my ancient family history. It's a little complicated to describe, but I'll try to summarize the situation. My paternal grandparents—referred to, by the offspring of my generation, as Pop and Ma—were Ernest Skyvington [1891-1985] and Kathleen Pickering [1889-1964], seen here in Sydney.

I've practically completed a genealogical document on my paternal grandparents entitled They Sought the Last of Lands, whose chapters can be downloaded here. Concerning the origins of my surname, I'm working on a document entitled Skeffington One-Name Study whose chapters will finally be downloadable here. (For the moment, I've only released the opening chapter of the latter document.)

Normally, when we work backwards in time from a couple such as my grandparents, who came together by chance out in the Antipodes, we would expect that their ancestral lines soon diverge, and that they remain divergent for as far as we move into the past. You only have to perform a little elementary arithmetic, though, to realize that this divergence is generally a temporary illusion. Sooner or later, as you work back in time, the distant ancestors of your grandfather are likely to merge into those of your grandmother (unless, of course, one of your grandparents happened to descend, say, from Australian Aborigines, and the other from Arctic Eskimos). Although this situation is logical, I was amazed when I happened to find that remote forebears of both my paternal grandparents actually lived in the same Old World village, indeed in the same household!

Here is the village in question, known today as Ambrières-les-Vallées and located in the French department of Mayenne:

The village is located on a secondary road between Alençon and Fougères that I used to ride along when I was cycling between Paris and Brittany.

Click to enlarge

I've probably ridden my bike through this intersection, alongside the church of Ambrières-les-Vallées.

At a genealogical level, please don't interpret too literally what I have to say. The historical context to which I'm referring is so far back in time, in the 10th century (before Guillaume, Duke of Normandy, became William the Conqueror), that we have to accept a certain degree of fuzziness in our findings. Don't expect me to show you a photo of a log cabin on the edge of the woods (or even an old stone house) and to explain: "That's the big room where my grandfather's ancestors used to sleep, and here's the corner of the house where their lovely female cousins used to stay whenever they dropped in." The kind of genealogical research results that I'm evoking in the present blog post are generally obtained after lengthy efforts, often stretching over decades (as has been the case for me) and necessitating countless guesses, some which are very bad, whereas others turn out to be quite fruitful, if not perfectly correct. The style of investigations is much like in scientific research, although I hasten to add that genealogy is by no means an exact "science".

Let me outline (without going into details) my genealogical links with this village in Mayenne. In the first half of the 11th century, before the Conquest, Guillaume built a fortress in this village, and he appointed as governor a certain Robert de Verdun, who was so named because his grandfather Godfrey had been the Count of Verdun in Lorraine. This Robert had a son, also named Robert, who was born in the Norman town of Estouteville, and therefore known as Robert d'Estouteville. After the Conquest, these two "surnames" would become famous, both in England and in their native Normandy. People of the Verdun family were among the first settlers in the Leicestershire village of Skeffington, which was the cradle of future families with names spelt Skeffington, Skevington, Skivington, etc. As for the Estouteville family in England, they gave rise to a lineage known as Latton, and my grandmother Kathleen Pickering was a descendant of the Lattons. So, between the father Robert de Verdun and his son Robert d'Estouteville, the village of Ambrières included primordial elements of the two English families from which my grandparents were issued.

Having identified this interesting place and its history, I'm obliged to say that there are still countless loose ends and fuzzy zones in my family history.

POST SCRIPTUM: In the current version of chapter 1 of my ongoing Skeffington One-Name Study, I wrote (somewhat recklessly):
Contrary to what their family name suggests, the de Verduns had nothing to do with the place in Lorraine where a terrible battle was fought during the First World War on the Western Front.
This statement needs to be reexamined and rewritten (maybe enlarged considerably) in the light of what I've just related in the present blog post. As in scientific research, I have to correct constantly my current family-history presentations and "theories" as soon as I happen to realize that they don't seem to fit in with the latest set of alleged facts.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

In 1857, a US scholar screwed up his Saxon

Ever since I've been interested in family history (that's to say, for over 30 years), I've wondered who was the shoddy scholar who created and spread the false idea that our family name, usually written as Skeffington, has something to do with sheep. Yesterday, I finally succeeded in identifying him, quite by chance. He was an American named William Arthur, and his Etymological Dictionary of Family and Christian Names was published in New York in 1857. Here is William Arthur's faulty explanation, which has spread throughout the domain of Skeffington history—over the last century and a half—like a mild virus:

He failed to see the difference, in written Saxon, between sheep and spears. I've summarized the correct situation in the form of two images:

Here are both words, presented in the celebrated Anglo-Saxon Dictionary by Bosworth and Toller:

 Click to enlarge

Furthermore, it's quite silly to use our modern term "town" for an 11th-century settlement in the woods. The chief of the settlement was simply named Sceaft (the Saxon word for a spear) in the same way that somebody today might be named Smith. But we might speculate that this Sceaft fellow had indeed earned this name through his skills as a spear-throwing warrior. On the other hand, there's no reason whatsoever to imagine stupidly that "Mr Spear" was a shepherd! Unfortunately, though, William Arthur's silly meme is not likely to disappear overnight.

Friday, April 27, 2012


Ever since I started to investigate my paternal Skyvington genealogy, back in 1981, I've been obsessed by an obvious question:
Would I ever know the name and origins of the Norman knight—a companion of William the Conqueror—who might be thought of as the patriarch of our primordial Skeffington family in England?

Such an individual surely existed, and he had received the territory of the Saxon place called Sceaftinga tûn—the tûn (settlement) of Sceaft’s people, to be known later on as the Leicestershire village of Skeffington—as a reward for helping the Duke of Normandy to conqueror England.

But, in the list of names of the Norman knights who accompanied William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, I had no means of figuring out which one of them was our future patriarch. I often said to myself that, if only I knew the identity of "my" Norman knight, and if ever this individual happened to have descendants in France today, then these folk would be my "genetic cousins" (as they say in the domain of DNA-based genealogical research). I realized, however, that these were two big and unlikely if conditions...

The standard version of the story of the Skeffingtons was written in the 18th century by a plump English chap named John Nichols.

Nichols was a prolific professional writer who succeeded in churning out a vast collection of historical tidbits about the county of Leicestershire. In this context, it was natural that he should devote numerous pages of his History and Antiquities of Leicestershire to a presentation of members of the distinguished Skeffington family. At no point, however, was Nichols capable of indicating explicitly the likely identity of our 11th-century patriarch.

Nichols did however mention the existence in 1231 (that's to say, 165 years after the Norman Conquest) of an individual named Odo de Scevington, who owned lands down in Kent. Clutching at straws, I wondered if this individual might have descended from a celebrated personage with the same name: the Conqueror’s half-brother Odo, bishop of Bayeux, represented vividly in the famous tapestry.

It was ridiculous of me to speculate about links based upon no more than a shared given name.  I had been momentarily enticed into imagining an association between the two Odo fellows because of another false reason, even more outlandish. Bishop Odo of Bayeux had a notorious habit, illustrated in the above image, of wielding a baton when he rode into battle. Now, the other Odo's surname, Scevington, evoked a Saxon warrior, Sceaft (meaning shaft, spear or baton). I was mesmerized into imagining that the battle skills of the legendary Sceaft had been inherited magically by the Conqueror’s wild half-brother. Need I point out that my family-history thinking at that time had little in common with rocket science?

Two days ago (on Anzac Day), for the nth time in three decades, I happened to be skimming through the Nichols pages on the Skeffingtons, and my attention was caught by the presence of a reference to a late 13th-century individual, "John lord of Verdun".

The term "Verdun" evokes, of course, the place on the Western Front in France where a horrendous battle took place in 1916, engaging the victorious forces of a certain Philippe Pétain. Maybe those nasty evocations of 20th-century military butchery had dissuaded me previously from bothering to look more closely into the Nichols mention of this unknown "John lord of Verdun". On Anzac Day 2012, however, I made an effort, but the weight of all the World War I stuff meant that Google in English wasn't particularly helpful. So, I switched to French, replacing "John" by "Jean". And almost instantly, the facts concerning our patriarch started to unfold before my astonished eyes.

The name of our likely patriarch is Bertram de Verdun. Today, his domain in the splendid countryside of Normandy has dwindled to a humble signpost on the outskirts of the town of Vessey. That should discourage any squabbles among us concerning rights to the family castle... if ever it existed.

The Verdun domain of our probable patriarch in Normandy is indicated by the red blob in the following Google map:

Chances are that Bertram's ghost got shook up a bit back at the time of the Normandy landings in June 1944, which took place not far away. After all, this was the splendid gateway into the eternal province of Normandy... or the eternal province of Brittany if you happen to be traveling in the opposite direction. The town of Vessey appears to lie alongside one of the rural roads I used to take—between Alençon and Dinan—back in my youthful days when I would ride my bike from Paris to Brittany and back.

The shield of Normandy is composed of a pair of golden lions (passant, as specialists say, meaning that the lions are running) with blue tongues and claws, on a red background.

Now, I can hear my readers saying that this Norman shield looks remarkably like the familiar banner of the kingdom just across on the other side of the Manche (the stretch of sea that folk on the other side persist in calling the English Channel).

Yes, it sure does, and that's not just a coincidence. The myriad of present-day associations of all kinds between Normandy and England were the consequences of the actions of a group of French tourists, in 1066, with names such as Guillaume, Odo, Bertram, etc. (If you're interested in this subject of heraldic emblems, click here to access an excellent Wikipedia article on the origins of various English coats of arms.) Even our respective languages reveal countless common features... which means that it's not really rocket science (I like that expression, don't I) when an English-speaking individual such as me gets around to communicating in French.

All the rumbling of canons on D-Day would not have alarmed unduly the ghost of an oldtimer such as Bertram de Verdun who had lived through the battle of Hastings, on the other side of the Channel.

After the Conquest, when things settled down a little in England, the Domesday Book reveals that our patriarch Bertram de Verdun was officially allocated enough earth to plant a vegetable garden on the conquered land (which happens to correspond exactly to my own activities at the moment of writing).

But what do we really know today about our patriarch Bertram de Verdun? Yesterday, following my discovery of this man, I was delighted to learn that a scholar at the Bangor University in Wales, Mark Hagger, has published a book about the family de Verdun:

For the moment, for me, this whole affair is totally new. So I know little about our Norman patriarch. Click here for an English-language Wikipedia article about the family, and here for the French-language version.

Another fascinating question emerges. Is it thinkable that our patriarch Bertram de Verdun might have descendants today in France and elsewhere? Well, to put it mildly, judging from what I've seen through a rapid visit to the Genea website, it would appear that the community of my so-called "genetic cousins" includes many present-day members of the old nobility of Normandy and France.
Les sanglots longs des violons
de l'automne blessent mon cœur
d'une langueur monotone.
 [Click here to see why I ended this article with those splendid lines of poetry.]

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Dorset censuses

Since much of my 19th-century Skivington genealogy was located in Dorset, I finally decided to purchase a set of CDs with the contents of the UK censuses for 1841, 1851, 1861 and 1871.

I believe that purchasing these CDs—expertly produced by a small private company—is a less expensive and far more user-friendly solution than subscribing to one of the companies that provides you with access to censuses through the Internet. But I've reached this conclusion primarily because my 19th-century preoccupations are focussed essentially upon the single county of Dorset.

The researcher still has to spend a lot of time and effort in locating relevant individuals. In the case of my ancestral relatives named Legg, I've more or less given up researching, because there were hordes of them in Dorset at that time. Maybe, if I were courageous, I would decide to get further involved in research concerning these Legg folk, with the help of big family-history websites that we used to refer to as "message boards"... which I tend to avoid these days. But I've discovered that my great-great-great-grandmother Eliza Legg, when she married Charles Skivington, had two out-of-wedlock sons of which Charles wasn't the father. And I'm wary of the inevitable rock 'n' roll that would accompany an incursion into Eliza's family background. So I'm inclined to let sleeping Dorset rockers lie.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Wiped-out generation

In my recent post entitled Latest deductions from Skyvington research [display], I explained that I've been grouping together all the Mormon references concerning surnames such as Skeffington, Skevington, Skivington, etc, and painstakingly sorting them by year. The immediate goal of all this work is to home in on individuals who might have been the immediate ancestors of my earliest clearly-identified patriarch: George Skivington, born in Belchalwell (Dorset) in 1670. I've often imagined that there might have been some kind of rupture not long before the birth of this "Belchalwell George" (as I call him). On the one hand, George's parents had no doubt moved to Dorset from a neighboring region. And, in so doing, they had probably replaced the old Skevington spelling by Skivington. Since George was a relatively uncommon given name in 17th-century England, I would imagine that my "Belchalwell George" probably descended from a family context in which that name existed already. Now, that set of likely constraints helps to narrow down the domain in which I'm searching.

In my article of 15 August 2007 entitled Midland ancestors [display], I spoke of my excursion to a charming little town called Turvey in Bedfordshire, which was the home of a big family named Skevington in the second half of the 16th century. I've always been persuaded that these folk were the ancestors of my "Belchalwell George", and this is my main line of research at present. Besides, there were Turvey individuals named George Skevington. Finally, at the end of my recent processing, when I was able to sort all the Skevington records by date, I was surprised to discover a big packet of Skevington burial records in Turvey for the year 1608. It's a finding that would have never struck me previously, when I was dealing with records in a casual manner. It was only when I had grouped together all existing records, and sorted them, that this observation suddenly hit me in the face.

Clearly, for almost an entire generation of a family to be wiped out in the space of a single year, there was only one possible explanation: the Black Death, or bubonic plague. I spoke already, in my article entitled Dressing up [display], of the beak outfit worn by plague physicians in the 17th and 18th centuries.

I have reasons to believe that this plague calamity played a role in causing a handful of young Skevington survivors to move away from Turvey, maybe down towards Dorset. And, in so doing, their links with the past were no doubt weakened. In the turmoil of this upheaval, it would not have been unusual that the spelling of our ancestral name should change, in certain cases, from Skevington to Skivington.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Latest deductions from Skyvington research

As every genealogical adept knows, the quality of the Mormon IGI database [International Genealogical Index] is truly amazing… particularly when we realize that the faith-based research efforts of the members of the so-called Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are motivated by beliefs that most of us look upon as totally ridiculous. Insofar as I see things in this way, should I therefore consider myself as a perfidiously dishonest double-dealer when using the Mormons' data to pursue my own kind of research?

No, not at all. If each citizen, in his daily preoccupations and activities, were to make a point of refraining from exploiting resources that had been created or obtained in ways that didn't necessarily conform to his personal convictions, then he would be condemned to sitting passively on his backside and waiting for events in the world to metamorphose magically into his ideal vision of reality.

There has always, however, been a curious weakness in the style of presentation of IGI entries. [I haven't checked whether this weakness has been corrected in the latest version of their search tool.]

The problem—unless I'm dumb—is that it doesn't seem to be possible to obtain a list of all entries sorted by date. This was annoying in that I wanted to know at what dates we start to find church records for individuals named Skeffington, Skevington, Skivington, etc. So, I decided to play around manually with the various Mormon IGI entries, using the excellent BBEdit text editor, with the intention of processing and examining all the available data... which has taken much time. My findings are summarized in the following chart:

After primitive Latin-inspired versions of the name—such as Sciftitone (Domesday Book of 1086) and Sceftinton (Leicestershire Survey of 1125 and Leicestershire Pipe Rolls of 1165 and 1192)—the earliest "modern" spelling was undoubtedly Skeffington, which appears in a Mormon IGI record dated 1315. The spelling with "ev" instead of "eff" appears a century and a half later, in 1478, and the "e" vowel is replaced by an "i" for the first time in 1563. The respective volumes of the various spellings present in the Mormon IGI are no doubt significant in a rough way. As you can see, there's a large package of Skevington entries, particularly for the 17th and 18th centuries, whereas the volume of Skivington spellings remains relatively low.

At a concrete level, what these deductions mean is that I might expect to find a Y-chromosome match, one of these days, with a fellow whose surname is Skevington. As for a match with a Skeffington, I've already more-or-less ruled out that likelihood, because I'm convinced that all the ancient male lines of that name ran aground (if I can be allowed to express myself in that fuzzy manner). In any case, for the moment, I would appear to be the only male individual with a Skeffington-based surname who has had his DNA tested.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Second thoughts on a skeleton

WARNING: Technical genealogical stuff.

Two months ago, in my article entitled Family-history shock [display], I revealed that I had just stumbled upon a skeleton in the family closet: a Skyvington record on the website of the Old Bailey (London's 19th-century criminal court).

I had the immediate impression that the 26-year-old condemned fraudster, referred to as William Skyvington, was surely the father of young Ernest, my future grandfather whom we called Pop. I explained that it was hard to imagine that Pop would have deliberately concealed such information from us. I preferred another explanation. Ernest's father would have been released from the notorious Newgate prison in the spring of 1899, and his wife Eliza Mepham died of tuberculosis just six months later. Maybe, in this tragic context, Pop's father had decided to build himself a new life, elsewhere in England, while leaving his son in the cozy cocoon of the Mepham family in Islington (northern suburb of London). So we might imagine that, if Pop failed to tell us what had happened to his father, this was simply because he himself was totally unaware of these events.

Over the last few days, in the spirit of my recent article entitled Painted myself into a genealogical corner [display], I have started to tidy up my Skyvington genealogical archives. Among other things, I was determined to unravel the elements of the new identity assumed (in my imagination) by Pop's father. Well, as of yesterday afternoon, I was forced to admit that my reasoning was erroneous. I still have no facts whatsoever concerning the destiny of Pop's father, who was mentioned for the last on his wife's death certificate, where he is described as a commercial traveler. But I've now examined sufficiently the archives to know that our William Skyvington cannot possibly be confused with any of the individuals I had in mind when I suggested that he might have taken on a new identity.

I'm now inclined to consider that I made a mistake in thinking that the William Skyvington condemned at the Old Bailey for fraud was indeed Pop's father. First, there's the age discrepancy. At the date of the Old Bailey trial, in October 1898, our William Skyvington was 29, as attested explicitly by a birth certificate established at Plymouth. So, the 26-year-old man at the Old Bailey was almost certainly another individual, because it's hard to imagine that an age discrepancy of that magnitude would slip through. It's easy to make an arithmetic error of a year, in either direction, but an error of three years is unlikely in administrative circles. Besides, I see that Pop's father is designated on his birth certificate as William Jones Skyvington and, on his marriage certificate, as William Henry Jones Skyvington. If he were the individual condemned at the Old Bailey, then why is there no mention of a second given name?

If the fraudster named William Skyvington were not in fact my great-grandfather, then what was his identity? We need to find a Skyvington male born in 1872. Such an individual exists: a certain Albert William Skyvington, about whom I know little for the moment. He was probably one of the 17 offspring of Oliver Skyvington [1847-1925], the Bournemouth milkman, married three times, whose descendants live today in Canada. This Oliver was indeed raised (along with his brothers John and Atwell) in the Dorset context of my ancestors at Iwerne Courtney, but I've never yet set out to determine their exact links to us. I had imagined that this task would surely be taken up by their New World descendants. Motivated by the Old Bailey anecdote, I now intend to examine these questions…