Showing posts with label genealogy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label genealogy. Show all posts

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.

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.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

White lies of men in love

In the context of my genealogical research, I was intrigued, if not amused, by the behavior of my ancestor Charles Walker [1807-1860], probably a Scottish Protestant, who maintained that he was an Irish Catholic, ostensibly in order to be able to wed a 17-year-old Tipperary nymph, 15 years his junior. Religion can't compete with sexual passion!

Recently, on the side of my paternal grandmother, I heard of the astonishing case of John Pickering [1851-1926] who decided to call himself "John Latton", enabling him to wed a new wife (while holding on to the original one) and to create an entire parallel family.

Yet another case of this kind was brought to my attention, unexpectedly, a couple of days ago. Here’s the only photo I have of Devon-born William Skyvington [born in 1868], my paternal great-grandfather.


And here’s a photo of William’s son, my future grandfather Ernest Skyvington [1891-1985], in his general store in the Queensland outback.


Whenever I quizzed my grandfather about what might have happened to his father, he had no clear answers… apart from suggesting that William Skyvington may have died in World War I. Needless to say, I found that answer unsatisfactory, because my great-grandfather would have normally been too old to get enlisted as a soldier. So, I concluded that we would probably never know what had happened to him.

Yesterday afternoon, I received an astonishing e-mail from a lady whose maiden name was Nicola Courtenay. She told me that the second given name of her grandfather was somewhat strange. He called himself “William Skyvington Courtenay”. After examining the bits of data that Nicola had included in her e-mail, I realized beyond any doubt whatsoever that her alleged Courtenay ancestor was in fact my great-grandfather. In other words, after the premature death of his wife (my great-grandmother) in London, William Skyvington had succeeded in convincing a young woman—his future bride—that he was a descendant of the celebrated Courtenay family: the Earls of Devon. Clearly, William had fallen in love, and he took the liberty of inventing this white lie to make sure that he would capture his beloved female. Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it…


For a family historian, the annoying aspect of such identity changes is that there’s no obvious way of searching for them or even detecting their existence. There's no other method of discovering such an identity change than to receive an unexpected message from a total stranger. And shortly after such a contact, the “total stranger” has suddenly become one of your closest relatives, and an excellent friend. What a silly idea to imagine that genealogy is a matter of fossicking around among tombstones!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

My mother's birthday

I must admit that I tend to talk and think as if everybody in the universe has been enthralled by Kurt Vonnegut [1922-2007] in general and his eye-opening novel Deadeye Dick (1983) in particular. Maybe they have, and I simply haven’t noticed…


Employing Vonnegut talk, I celebrate today the fact that the peephole of my dear mother Enid Kathleen Walker [1918-2003] opened exactly 96 years ago, on January 19, 1918. Here’s a lovely studio portrait of Kath when she was two years old:


If ever it could be said that one’s date of birth is “chosen” (how, and by whom?), then the least I can say is that the occult forces of the universe chose a crazy date for the opening of my mother’s peephole, in the year of the end of the Great War. I find it fascinating to be able to throw a simple argument at Google, such as the date of my mother’s birth [display], and to discover everything that was happening at that moment in the past.

In the posthumous celebration of my mother’s birthday, the best man at the party is surely Wikipedia. And all I can hope is that he’ll be constantly in attendance at my own future birthday celebrations…

Monday, January 13, 2014

Cover for my book on maternal genealogy

Up until now, I’ve been using the following cover for the typescript of my book on maternal genealogy, soon to be published by Gamone Press.


I’ve always been aware that this dull cover (based upon a Xmas card sent to me, 33 years ago, by an Australian uncle) was a temporary thing, and that it would need to be replaced, sooner or later, by a more attractive design. This morning, I created a couple of possible models for the cover, making use of Australian images that I can purchase (for some 50 euros) in high-resolution format (300 dots per inch).

Click to enlarge

In both cases, I’ve used the metaphor of a rural road, symbolizing, as it were, the paths of my pioneering ancestors in Braidwood and the Clarence River region. An observer can no doubt guess that "my mother's people" came from Ireland, but we cannot know, of course, what lies ahead, beyond the crest of the hill. A little bit of greenness by the roadside reinforces the title (without seeking to “explain” it, since there are several subtle reasons for my choice of this title).

You might say that the left-hand maquette is classical, whereas the right-hand maquette is more “modern”. I would appreciate any reactions to these models.

FIRST REACTION: Each new blog post that I publish gives rise automatically to a Twitter message from my @Skyvington account. And that's how I received my first reaction, from a friendly Canadian woman, Diane Rogers, whom I thank greatly.


SECOND REACTION: And here's another Twitter vote in favor of the right-hand model, from a Skeffington lady in Scotland. I thank her very much.


VARIATIONS: It's not all that easy to submit variations that might respect the suggestions of critics. Here, for example, is a version of the right-hand cover with a totally different typography:


The title—A Little Bit of Irish—is certainly highlighted here, and the readability of the cover text is surely maximal, but I have the impression that the heavy typography is being shoved down our throats. I prefer the lightweight style of the initial version with its intriguing font. To be honest, though, I simply don't know how artistically-gifted critics (that's not my case) end up evaluating questions of this kind. So, please, help !

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Photos of World War I

As soon as the Great War broke out, the French psychiatrist Frantz Adam [1886-1986] was enlisted as a medical officer in a French infantry regiment. Throughout the years that followed, he was present at major events on the Western Front: Vosges (1915), Somme and Verdun (1916), Chemin des Dames (1917)...


Besides his professional activities, Frantz Adam got into the habit of taking photos of all kinds of situations, both grim and pleasant, in the context of the Western Front. A few years ago, his descendant Arnaud Bouteloup inherited 600 photos taken by his great-uncle, and many of these images have been cleaned up and recently published in a French-language book entitled Ce que j'ai vu de la Grande Guerre (What I Saw of the Great War).


Click here to visit an AFP webpage on Frantz Adam with a few specimens of his photos. An image that caught my attention shows a group of eight Australian soldiers relaxing on a Belgian river bank in May 1918.

Click to enlarge

Anecdote: At the time the above photo was taken, my ancestral relative Francis Pickering [1897-1945] from the Quirindi district (NSW) was surely not too far away. His greatest military deeds were performed in the autumn of 1918 at Joncourt, to the east of Amiens, midway between Cambrai (to the north) and Saint-Quentin (to the south).


Nicknamed "the King" (because of his athletic prowess), Francis Pickering was awarded the Military Medal in 1919 "for bravery in the field". When my grandmother Kathleen Pickering gave birth to a son in October 1917, she chose the nickname of her young brother as the given name of her baby... and my poor father carried the burden of this embarrassing given name throughout his entire life. Worse still, his second given name was an ancestral surname, Mepham. So, my father's full name—King Mepham Skyvington—sounded as if he were the monarch of an ancient Anglo-Saxon province.

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.

Friday, October 11, 2013

My Irish story is finally finished

I've finally completed a full version of my maternal family-history story, entitled A Little Bit of Irish. It's 242 pages long, and can be downloaded from the following address:


I've borrowed my title from an embarrassingly sentimental old song (containing the expression "God made Ireland") that was used as a theme by the Irish tenor Patrick O'Hagan (father of Australian-born Johnny Logan, of Eurovision fame). Please don't feel obliged to listen to this recent version right through to the end:


My document presents 4 or 5 generations of ancestors who were all—to a greater or lesser extent—rural pioneers in New South Wales, first in Braidwood then up on the Clarence River (where I was born in 1940).


An interesting outcome of my family-history research (in chapter 3) is my "discovery" and identification of a hitherto little-known Braidwood bushranger: Billy Hickey [1818-1901], the big brother of my great-great-grandmother Ann Hickey [1822-1898]. Billy had been a mate and short-term accomplice of the notorious Clarke brothers.


John Clarke (with gunshot wounds in his right shoulder) and Tommy Clarke were the last Australian bushrangers to be hanged, on 25 June 1867. Fortunately, Billy Hickey gave up crime before the age of 30, for reasons that remain a mystery. Then he married, settled down as a farmer and raised a family of 7 kids. Billy's farm was located in the Irish Corner settlement on the outskirts of Braidwood, in the vicinity of the Farmers' Home tavern run by my great-great-grandfather Charles Walker [1807-1860].

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.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Genealogy fiction

GeneaNet is a genealogy service that was created in France.

Click here to access the GeneaNet website.

A major characteristic of this free service is that you can communicate with other researchers who are examining surnames that interest you. This feature can sometimes put you in contact with a researcher who has already carried out work that concerns you. In most cases, though, you come upon research results that simply don't ring a bell in any useful way.

As a registered user of GeneaNet, I made a request to be informed of all ongoing research concerning individuals named Skeffington. As soon as I receive an email from GeneaNet stating that one of their members has just uploaded Skeffington data into his family tree, I try to understand the circumstances in which this operation has been carried out. That's to say: Who are these researchers who appear to be interested in the Skeffington family? What is the exact nature of their uploaded data? Etc. Let me simply say that, in spite of countless emails indicating that dozens of GeneaNet member have inserted Skeffington data into their family trees, I have never yet found an iota of pertinent Skeffington information through this service. On the other hand, GeneaNet has helped me considerably concerning the history of former owners of my house at Gamone. So, I continue half-heartedly with the service.

The community of GeneaNet users appears to include researchers who are happy to get involved in what I would refer to as genealogy fiction. That's to say, their research starts out with serious facts, of the kind that we expect in a genealogical context, but they soon link their family tree to massive blocks of existing data whose authenticity is often nebulous, to say the least. Within these blocks of data, many of the individuals appear to be members of the nobility, but their credentials are open to doubt. Meanwhile, other individuals whose names appear in these blocks of remote "cousins" are personages from history and even from legends. A few days ago, for example, I was told that a French researcher had inserted the names of several 17th-century Skeffington individuals into his family tree. When I examined his tree, I was amazed to discover that it contained a gigantic horde of people stretching over more than a hundred generations. One of his alleged cousins was Attila the Hun.


King Arthur was also present.


Jesus and his mother were also distant cousins of this well-connected Frenchman.



Concerning the mother of Jesus, it's frankly weird to find her designated as "the Virgin Mary of Arimathea". The inspired GeneaNet member who contributed this description was surely an adept of an obscure medieval English legend suggesting that Joseph of Arimathea was the paternal uncle of the Virgin Mary, and that he once visited the town of Glastonbury (Somerset) with his young nephew Jesus.

A little earlier on, our well-connected Frenchman had also announced that he was related to Cleopatra and the pharaoh Ramses.



To my mind, this sort of nonsense has no place in serious genealogical research. In fact, I suspect that certain members of the GeneaNet community derive pleasure from uploading tons of fake data of this kind, and the service then encourages other members to establish alleged links to such personages.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Unexpected links

A few days ago, a friendly reader of my blog sent me a link to a list of online genealogical resources [here]. I replied that an all-important resource was glossed over in the list. Genealogical research is often dominated by black swan happenings, in the sense suggested by Nassim Nicholas Taieb: that's to say, totally unexpected events that upset the nice and tidy little applecart upon which the researcher had been basing his beliefs.


The biggest black swan that has alighted upon my genealogical research over recent months concerned my Pickering relatives (through the family of my paternal grandmother). On 3 March 2012, my bucolic blog post entitled Vicar's garden [display] evoked the rural existence of our forebear Henry Latton [1737-1798],  the vicar of Woodhorn in Northumberland. I ended that blog post by saying that the vicar would have surely disapproved of my science-based atheism.


Be that as it may, my dear great-great-great-great-grandfather did not deserve to be murdered by bandits while returning from an afternoon of betting on the horses at Newbiggin-by-the-Sea.

Six months after having evoked this Latton ancestor, I got an unexpected e-mail from an unknown Englishman named Latton who told me an amazing tale. He alleged that his own grandfather, known to him as John Edward Latton, was in fact the same individual designated in my document They Sought the Last of Lands [display] as John Edward Latton Pickering [1851-1926]. In other words, my correspondent was saying that we had a skeleton in one of our family-history closets: a respected Londoner (archivist at the Inner Temple law library) who had invented a new name for himself (borrowed from our Latton ancestors) and forged a marriage certificate enabling him to become a full-fledged bigamist and raise a second family in parallel to his first one. Needless to say, I've got over the surprise by now, and I'm looking forward to meeting up with my new English cousin when he drops in at Gamone with his wife this summer.

That wasn't the only recent black swan. In April 2012, I became really excited about a possible research avenue aimed at elucidating the mystery of the Norman origins of the Skeffington family. In blog posts entitled Patriarch [display] and Skeffington/Verdun links [display], I evoked the identity of a celebrated Norman family with close attachments to the Leicestershire village of Skeffington at the time of the Conquest. I concluded my first blog post, on 27 April 2012, as follows:
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.

When I asked that "fascinating question", I had not yet started to look around in France with the aim of contacting living de Verdun descendants. From this point on in the present blog post, I'm obliged to be deliberately vague, because I wish to avoid mentioning names that would be picked up by search engines. Let me explain in roundabout terms that, in April 2011, French police had come upon a nasty crime scene in the city whose mayor was our present prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault. They unearthed the bodies of a mother and her four teenage kids. As for the father, he has totally disappeared. Most people consider that the father—whom I shall refer to as X—is indeed the culprit. On the other hand, X's sister is convinced that her brother never murdered his wife and children. In the ongoing crusade aimed at protecting the honor of her brother, this determined lady is assisted by her husband... who happens to bear exactly the same ancient Norman name as the Conqueror's companion associated with the Leicestershire village of Skeffington, evoked in the "fascinating question" that I have just quoted. For all I know, X's brother-in-law could well be a direct descendant of the 11th-century personage who interests me. Naturally, in the context of my Skeffington research, I would be interested in the possibility of examining a description of the Y chromosomes of this present-day Frenchman. For the moment, though, such a request for DNA data would be out of place, and unwise.

POST SCRIPTUM: In the wake of my initial enthusiasm about the possibility that Bertram de Verdun might have been the "elusive patriarch" whom I've been seeking for so long, I now believe that this was a false track. Click here to download the latest version of chapter 1 of my slowly-emerging Skeffington One-Name Study.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Identity keys in the genealogical domain

A new kind of personal identity key has come into existence over the last few years. I refer to it as your Y-key, pronounced to rhyme with "crikey". It's a unique identifier that is used in DNA testing in the genealogical domain. A Y-key points to an individual's set of Y-chromosome marker values stored in a global database.

For the moment, since few individuals have bothered to obtain their Y-chromosome marker values, the keys are quite short. For example, my own Y-key is a short string of five alphanumeric characters: RJ6XS. Click here to access the Ysearch.org database, created by the Family Tree DNA company. For the moment, it's the only Y-chromosome database of which I'm aware. Anybody who knows that my Y-key is RJ6XS can rapidly access my set of 67 marker values.

Once Y-keys became a commonplace phenomenon, messages of the following kind could be used in genealogical contexts:

My Y-key is RJ6XS.

Can anybody tell me if a Y-key exists for Winston Churchill?

Please send me your mother's Y-key.

The latter example raises an obvious question: What is the sense of a Y-key in the case of a female individual? Well, it's simply the Y-key of her father or her brothers.

In years to come, I would imagine that Y-keys will become as commonplace as social security numbers. But they will only ever concern a small minority of people: namely, those who are interested in genealogy.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Opening chapter of Skeffington study

I've more-or-less terminated the opening chapter of my Skeffington One-Name Study, entitled Elusive patriarch [download], dealing with the half-century that followed the Norman Conquest in Leicestershire, in the vicinity of the village of Skeffington.


As the title of this opening chapter suggests, I haven't been able to track down and identify the patriarch of the Skeffington family in England. So, you might say that the hero of my document is totally absent. On the other hand, as I've often suggested, the widespread adoption of genealogical genetics (Y-chromosome profiles) could well add totally new dimensions to this quest. For the moment, I seem to have no potential relatives whatsoever in the Y-chromosome database, so the current score of my Skeffington matching is a huge zero. In fact, the match hasn't even got under way yet, since I'm still the sole player on the field. My chapter 1 might become interesting in the future, for certain small groups of readers, when the techniques of genealogical genetics have become commonplace.

Monday, June 25, 2012

When the Mormons go down

For ages, we family-history researchers have all believed that the Mormons are our friends, and that we can take advantage indefinitely of their fabulous databases in Utah, present on the Internet through the time-honored FamilySearch website.

Personally, I've always been a little dubious of this idyllic scenario. While giving thanks constantly to the Mormons for their free services, I couldn't help wondering: What would happen in the genealogical domain if these crazy idolaters of the god Mormon suddenly decided to turn the tap off? Well, I fear greatly that this is what happened a week or so ago...

For some time, they've been touting the merits of their so-called new interface to the database as a friendly godsend, devoid of errors. What they really mean is that the new interface is designed to render user contacts antiseptic, as it were, with nothing more than the display of pure Mormon-authorized data... as distinct from all the stuff that heathen contributors (such as me, for example) might have dared to submit to Utah.

The outcome, for the moment, is catastrophic. It's as if the Mormon database—the summit of irony—has lost its soul.

Personally, I have complained bitterly on their blog. The latter, incidentally, can only be accessed if you're sufficiently well-informed to think of Googling "IGI": the Mormons' International Genealogical Index. Then you have to click around to find out what might be evolving in this domain.

Meanwhile, the new interface greets family-history researchers in pleasant green tones, with the charming silhouette of a young couple and a pair of kids in the mountains, alongside a lonely but auspicious family tree, as if nothing had ever changed in the universe of the prophet Mormon:


The only problem is that... everything has changed in the interface! You simply can't use it any longer as before, to look around for data of all kinds (true and maybe false) about your ancestors.

I posted a complaint on their blog at
https://familysearch.org/blog/familysearchupdates-igi
William Skyvington says:
June 21, 2012 at 12:11 am

The impossibility of accessing the old interface is, for me, catastrophic. I’m right in the middle of a one-name study on the Skeffingtons, Skevingtons, etc… and nearly all the essential basic data has suddenly become unavailable.
Then I tried to be constructive:
William Skyvington says:
June 23, 2012 at 5:07 am

The IGI database came into existence because of the religious beliefs of its Mormon creators. And countless genealogical researchers bless them for this immense creation, without which modern family-history investigations would not have become a daily reality. It is time, though, to start evoking the perennial dimensions of this affair. Today, we are all alarmed because the LDS church seems to have suddenly decided (for reasons that are not totally clear) to block access to the celebrated old interface. Would it not be imaginable to ask the Mormons if they might be willing to to donate a copy of their database to a world-heritage fund under the auspices of UNESCO ?
 Finally, I succumbed to despair:
William Skyvington says:
June 25, 2012 at 6:48 am


We lamenters of the demise of the good old Mormon website are all crying in the genealogical wildnerness in the sense that most people, finding that the behavior of FamilySearch has become strangely unfriendly, won’t even know how to find help, seek explanations or complain. The privileged few who are submitting comments to the present blog are sufficiently well-informed to know that they should Google “IGI”. Unless you do that, you’ll never be guided gently by the Mormons to the present blog and its litany of complaints. In other words, the old database is dying, it would appear, not with a bang but a whimper.
Happily, at a purely personal level, all is not quite as bleak as I might have suggested (in my enthusiasm for saving the old Mormon website). A year or so ago, I started to sense the fragility and the awkward presentation of data in the Mormon database. So I decided to start saving everything that was offered. Already, my preoccupation was a comprehensive one-name study of Skeffington (Skevington, Skivington, etc). It was clear to me that the major weakness of the Mormon database was that a researcher could not simply make a common-sense request such as: Please give me a listing, in chronological order, of all your Skeffington records.

Well, to cut a long story short, as soon as I sensed that the Mormons were unlikely to react positively to a request such as mine, I decided to adopt a do-it-yourself approach aimed at the production of such chronological list of records for three groups of folks: the Skeffingtons, the Skevingtons and the Skivingtons. This goal necessitated countless hours of manual processing. Today, those three precious Mormon files exist in my personal archives... and it goes without saying that I am prepared to send them freely to researchers who might be interested in such data.

Amazingly (Does God protect genealogists such as me?), I had just terminated my in-depth analysis of Bedfordshire Skevington data at the same moment, last week, when the old Mormon database went down. So, I'm no longer really concerned about whether or not the Mormons might bring their old interface back into existence, since I know exactly what it contained.

The gist of my conclusions is that normally, if my reasoning is right, and if all our respective female ancestors were righteous Christian women who only slept with their lawful husbands (that's a big "if", I agree), then individuals such as Judd Skevington (in Western Australia) and I should share exactly the same Y-chromosomes as the Tudor lord Sir William Skeffington. In that perspective, we Australians (along wth certain Skevingtons in England) might be thought of as the unique "blood descendants" (to use an old-fashioned expression that I detest, because genetic inheritance has nothing to do with blood) of the Leicestershire Skeffingtons. So, exit the Mormons, and enter DNA.

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