Showing posts with label They Sought the Last of Lands. Show all posts
Showing posts with label They Sought the Last of Lands. Show all posts

Monday, August 25, 2014

My second family-history book

This morning, the postwoman brought me a first copy (from the printer in the UK) of They Sought the Last of Lands, which can be thought of as a companion volume to A Little Bit of Irish.

Click to enlarge

I’m more than satisfied with the result.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Farewell to family history

It’s 2 o’clock in the morning, and I’ve just finished uploading the files of They Sought the Last of Lands to the IngramSpark platform in England. Here’s the cover, which I created this evening:

Click to enlarge

There don’t seem to be any technical errors in my files (which are automatically verified by the IngramSpark robot as soon as they’ve been uploaded), so the book should be published very soon. Finally, with the index, it’s 384 pages long, whereas A Little Bit of Irish was only 266 pages long.

As of tomorrow, I’ll be packing up all my family-history archives and storing them away. It’s a funny feeling to think that this lengthy adventure is now terminated… except, of course, for my Skeffington One-Name Study, which will be not be a personal family-history document in the same sense as the first two books, but rather a kind of historical monograph.

In fact this Skeffington book is no longer the exciting challenge that it appeared to be when I first started looking into genealogy, many years ago. To be perfectly honest, I’m not particularly motivated by this Skeffington project, because I know already that this future book is unlikely to satisfy lots of people throughout the world who received the Skeffington surname in circumstances that I’m not capable of explaining. The only reason why I intend to continue this one-name study is that I now possess such a complete collection of documents on ancient Skeffington history that it would be a pity not to take advantage of them.

Above all, I continue to hope that a certain number of male individuals with our surname will end up providing Y-chromosome data, which remains the only sound method for discovering who’s who… as we’ve just seen in the context of the Courtenay Affair.

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...

Friday, March 28, 2014

Genealogical pilgrimages

My highfalutin title simply designates touristic travel excursions motivated by family-history interests. So, a good example of a genea-pilgrimage (as I shall call them) was the recent visit of my niece Indiya to places in northern London, described in my blog post entitled Looking back on a London century [display]. And I hope I’m not being pretentious in imagining that the publication of my two family-history books, A Little Bit of Irish and They Sought the Last of Lands, might end up increasing the popularity of genea-pilgrimages in the context of my family and relatives.

Obviously, since neither of my books has been written in the spirit of a tourist guide, the steps involved in moving from the books to down-to-earth excursion plans would necessitate some work. Well, I’ve been thinking that maybe I have the personal responsibility of facilitating this work in one way or another. After all, I’ve had a minimum of experience in the domain of tourist guidebooks, through my Great Britain Today [Jeune Afrique, Paris, 1978].


Let’s refer to such an excursion plan as a Genea-Pilgrimage Guide (GPG). Maybe I’ll place such GPGs in the webspaces that have housed, up until now, the PDF files of the chapters of my family-history books.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Cover for my book on paternal genealogy

I’ll soon be needing a cover image for They Sought the Last of Lands, which describes the paternal dimension of my family history. Here’s a possible maquette:


For the moment, I’m not convinced that this maquette is good. My choice of the theme of wild horses in the Australian Outback (an image that belongs to Les Hiddins and ABC Books) evokes, above all, my grandfather’s childhood dream of leaving London and finding freedom in the Australian bush. Meanwhile, I've contacted ABC Books in the hope of obtaining a high-resolution file of this image.

We’ll see. All suggestions are welcomed. I plan to bring out this title at Gamone Press as soon as possible, shortly after the publication of A Little Bit of Irish.

POSTSCRIPT: I'm aware that a talented graphics artist (highly paid) would solve rapidly my cover-design challenge. But a professional operation of that kind would propulse me out of the self-publishing field, and disrupt the whole friendly common-sense idea of producing and distributing a family-history document without falling into the trap of paying a fortune to vanity-press printers. Please accept my amateurism!