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

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Genetic cousins in England today

A couple of months ago, in my blog post titled Ring-ins [display], I evoked the existence of a significant number of out-of-wedlock births among my Dorset ancestors. It goes without saying that my observations were totally devoid of any kind of moralistic dimension. I wasn't scolding posthumously my naughty ancestors for cuddling furtively in the haystacks of Iwerne Courtney and rearing single-parent offspring who carried a surname, Skyvington, which was not in fact that of their biological father.

Cricket ground at Iwerne Courtney (photo David Squire).

My interest in such questions is inspired by two more subtle reasons.

— First, other individuals named Skyvington, living today, are interested in their origins. These people are likely to appreciate my Dorset research into recent Skyvington branches beyond my own direct ancestral line.

— Second, there's the question of our Y chromosomes. Up until now, this subject remains purely theoretical, because I seem to be the only person with a name like Skeffington who has put his Y-chromosome results in the database [access].

Well, a few days ago (on the same day, amazingly, that I heard about the family de Verdun), I was happy to discover that present-day Skyvington individuals in the vicinity of Worcester (named Stephen, Richard, Gary, Robert and Shaun) and Durham (named Robert, John and Graeme) would appear to be authentic genetic cousins, with exactly the same Y chromosome data as me. (For the moment, I don't have the addresses or phone numbers of any of these individuals.) It would be nice if some of these people were to obtain their Y chromosome specifications through, say, the Family Tree DNA company [access]. Incidentally, I believe that the best approach, costwise, is to order a test through the Skeffington group, whose page exists on the Family Tree DNA website.

For readers interested in the precise links between the English Skyvingtons in Worcester/Durham and myself, let me display a couple of genealogical charts. Their ancestor John Skyvington [1857-1901] worked as an agricultural laborer, at the age of 14, in Iwerne Courtney, before becoming a stonemason. But his principal vocation was the army, and he entered the ranks of a distinguished corps: the Royal Horse Artillery. It was no doubt in his role as a dashing mounted trooper that John met up with a young Scottish lady, Jessie Coulie (also spelt as Collie), who became his wife. Later, John was on active service in the Boer War.

Ambush at Sannas Post (Blomenfontein, 1900) by Terence Cuneo.

John is the person mentioned down in the lower left corner of the following chart (where I have retained the baptismal spelling of his surname):

The following chart, of an earlier epoch, mentions John's father George and his elder brother Charles, who was my 3-great-grandfather:

In other words, the couple at the top of this chart, John and Grace, were the most recent common ancestors of the English Skyvingtons in Worcester/Durham and myself.

Getting back to the man who served in the Boer War, there's a family legend concerning the identity of his wife Jessie Coulie. It was said that she was the daughter of a noble family associated with Guthrie Castle near Dundee, and that she was normally destined to wed an equally noble chap from India. To escape this fate, she eloped with John Skivington!

If John's wife never made it to India, his nephew Edwin Skivington (son of the Edwin mentioned in the first chart) ended up there in 1916, as a soldier with the 7th Hampshire Regiment.

A final detail concerning John Skyvington has caused me to meditate upon the quirks of fate. To enter the ranks of the Royal Horse Artillery, John must have been an experienced horseman. And I would imagine that he acquired his skills in that domain as a youth, working as an agricultural laborer in his Dorset village. It appears that John lost his life prematurely through being kicked in the head by a horse. Since it has been said that John was killed in the Boer War, we might imagine that this fatal accident took place in South Africa. But I would suspect that it occurred closer to his home in Somerset, for he was buried in the St Aldhelm's churchyard in Doulting.

Many years later, when I asked my grandfather Ernest Skyvington [1891-1985] why he had been tempted to emigrate to Australia, he told me: "I grew up with romantic ideas of a life connected with horses, cattle and sheep." Living in London, my grandfather looked upon horse-riding as a privilege of the wealthy upper classes, to which he did not belong. Evoking my grandfather's adolescent dream, I have used a splendid photo of horses in Australia on the cover of my paternal genealogical monograph:

If only young Ernest had been brought in contact with his few remaining rural relatives in the West Country, he might have discovered in one way or another, and almost on his doorstep, his mythical universe of horses, cattle and sheep. Instead of that, he sought that world in the Antipodes, in the legendary "last of lands".
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

Friday, February 10, 2012

Who's calling?

Thanks to Google Maps (which is an extraordinary device for a virtual globetrotter), I can wander leisurely through the narrow streets of the Dorset village of Shroton where my ancestors lived. Each morning, when they left their humble abode (in fact, the old village workhouse) to work in the fields as agricultural laborers, they would have walked past this elegant 18th-century farmhouse, on the other side of Main Street:

Maybe they even worked for the farmer Tom Crouch, who employed half-a-dozen laborers on his 120-acre property out behind the old white house with a thatched roof.

From time to time, when I get carried away by my genealogical research, my imagination soars into crazy realms. I find myself thinking that, if only I knew the number associated with that red telephone box, maybe I could put through a call, using my iPhone, on the off-chance that my great-great-great-great-grandfather John Skivington, or one of his lusty offspring, might be strolling by…

"Who's calling?" What, indeed, would I reply?

Monday, March 22, 2010

First rural residence

Not long after our return from Sydney in 1968, Christine and I decided to rent a small house out in the country, in a commune named Houdan, 43 km west of Versailles. This morning, I was thrilled to discover that the neighborhood in which we lived, named Mocsouris, can be seen through Google Maps. Here's the setting as you leave Houdan on the road towards Gambais:

[Click to enlarge.]

This is a view from the street of the actual house that we rented:

I remember above all that it was a terribly chilly house. The water in our radiators was heated by a coal-fueled stove, which I had to stoke up every evening, and the thermal efficiency of this archaic system was not far above zero.

I traveled daily to my work in Paris by train. After six months or so of this rural existence, we decided to get back to civilization. So, we bought an old flat right in the middle of Paris, in the rue Rambuteau. But I retain fond memories of that brief stay out in the country, near the main highway between Paris and Brittany.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

My DNA data

I guess I could say that this is the first official certificate I've ever received from an American institution. And I didn't even have to do any hard work to obtain it. Now, this is terribly personal information, like the image of my skull in one of my early blog articles [display], which greatly disturbed my longtime friend Odile. But there's no personal copyright attached to my DNA certificate, and I wouldn't mind at all if this data were to get stolen by all kinds of hackers and scientists with secret plans to clone me.

The Texan folk who tested me have also supplied a nice little map showing how my ancestors moved away from the territory of our African patriarch known as Adam, and finally ended up here in France... where members of the family were called Cro-Magnon long before they got around to adopting a nicer surname, Skyvington. Without wishing to appear snobbish, I'm happy they made that name change, because Cro-Magnons were as common, back at that time, as today's Smiths and Duponts.

My folk are indicated by the arrow marked R1b, which means that they followed a long trail through central Asia before getting here. In fact, it's a mere 25 millennia since they moved away from the territory marked R, located in the vicinity of modern Kazakhstan, and set off westwards towards Europe.

For the moment, I haven't found any genetic cousins (individuals with exactly the same marker values) with a surname like mine, but I'm trying to persuade various Skivington and Skeffington men throughout the world to get tested. This genetic genealogy adventure will be followed up in my specialized Skeffington Genealogy blog [display] whose banner appears in the right-hand column of the present blog. At an anecdotal level, I've mentioned there that I was proud to learn that Richard Dawkins happens to be one of my genetic cousins.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

November 11

The initial November 11 was in 1918, when the Armistice was signed on a cold wet day [like today at Gamone] in a railway carriage at Rethondes in the forest of Compiègne, to the north-east of Paris. Towards the end of that afternoon, in the Chamber of Deputies, French prime minister Georges Clemenceau read out the terms of Germany's surrender. The citizens of Paris started to dance in the streets, while watching a parade of captured cannons.

During more than four years of warfare, 1.4 million French soldiers had died, and 600 thousand had been wounded.

At the start of 1916, troops from the other side of the planet had moved to France to take part in the combats.

Referred to globally as the Anzac [Australian and New Zealand Army Corps], they were immediately hurled into the hell of the Somme. By the time the Armistice had been signed, 60 thousand Anzac troops had died on the combined fronts of the so-called Great War. Today, an Australian memorial is located at Villers-Bretonneux, up in Picardy, just to the east of Amiens.

While driving around in my Citroën this morning [looking in vain for a pharmacy, to obtain medicine for a severe cold], I discovered that commemoration services were taking place around the cenotaph of every town and village on my route.

I wish to conclude this evocation of the terrible events of 1914-1918 with this photo of a young Anzac soldier named Francis Pickering who succeeded in returning home safely to the family cattle station at Breeza in New South Wales:

As I've already explained on several occasions, this Pickering lad was the family hero whose nickname "King" (reflecting his prowess in various domains, including sport) was given as an official Christian name, in a spurt of zeal, to my father, born in 1917... who was embarrassed throughout his entire life by this silly regal name. Fortunately, the nurses in the maternity clinic at Rockhampton (Queensland) had a sense of humor, and they associated the new baby with a local Aboriginal celebrity known as King Billy. So, my father ended up being referred to by this nickname, soon shortened to Bill.

Thursday, November 8, 2007


In memoriam: Christian L

For the last couple of years, I've been participating as a guinea pig in a project conducted by the French medical-research organization named Inserm [Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale] aimed at determining whether a regular supplement of folates and omega-3 might have a positive effect upon the incidence of vascular accidents. In concrete terms, this means that I consume a couple of big tablets every morning... without knowing whether they might contain folates, omega-3 or simply placebo junk. Then, once a year, at the hospital in nearby Romans, I meet up with a Parisian nurse who tests me in one way or another for half an hour. Besides taking a blood specimen, she has a nice little test for seeing whether or not I might be developing advanced signs of something terrible like Alzheimer's disease. The test consists of asking me to name, say, every kind of animal (or country or color, etc) that springs into my mind in the space of thirty or so seconds. Now, to be quite honest, this kind of test scares shit out me... for the simple reason that it never fails to evoke the most nightmarish situation that I can possibly imagine. I'm referring to the idea that I might wake up one day and find that, for one reason or another, I no longer possess the most fabulous but fragile baggage that I've been acquiring over the last half a century: my mastery of French. I would like to imagine that my acquaintance with the language of Molière has infiltrated my brain to such an extent that my neurons now reek of it, as if they were eggs left to rot in a charming old French hen house, alongside a pig pen.

I imagine my brain, when I'm optimistic, as an aging Camembert cheese abandoned in one of those primitive fly-proof containers that we used to call safes back in Waterview, South Grafton, NSW, Australia. In the best of cases, if I wished to appear modern, in a technological spirit, my cerebral apparatus might be likened to the motor of an aging automobile, which seems to be branded Citroën, but which might well have been assembled imperfectly out in Australia. My soul is surely impregnated with the image of Notre-Dame de Paris, in the same way that the Shroud of Turin seems to convey a shadow of Christ... but I fear that my spiritual photo might simply be that of the humble redbrick church—referred to pompously as a "cathedral"—in my birthplace, Grafton.

In any case, I'm in no way opposed to the idea of exercising my brain.

"You are old, father William," the young man said,
"And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head —
Do you think, at your age, it is right?"

"In my youth," father William replied to his son,
"I feared it might injure the brain;
But, now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again."