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

Monday, June 15, 2015

My ancestor King John

Elias Ashmole's suggestion that my Latton ancestors descended from the illustrious Estouteville family was published in 1719, with superficial documentary evidence. In They Sought the Last of Lands, I explored the possible origins of this alleged Estouteville/Latton link, and concluded that it probably came about during the 12th century, in the context of Latton Priory in Essex, through the marriage of Robert de Stuteville with Sibyl de Valognes.

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Today, 15 June 2015, is the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta by our ancestor King John.

Our descent from this monarch passes through one of his illegitimate sons, Richard Chilham.

Yesterday, I discovered, quite by chance, that Richard’s maternal family, whose French surname was de Warenne, provides us with a link to the original French line of the Estoutevilles. It’s a trivial link between two sisters and their respective husbands, but this information nevertheless adds weight to the Estouteville/Latton hypothesis presented in my book. The starting point of this newly-discovered link is a famous personage, Geoffrey Plantagenêt, Count of Anjou [1113-1151], who reposes peacefully (except for the last 24 hours) in the capital of the ancient French province of Maine, Le Mans.

Geoffrey got his “Plantagenêt” nickname through his habit of decorating his hat with a sprig of the yellow broom shrub [genêt in French].

Geoffrey went down in history as the father of Henry II of England, founder of the Plantagenet dynasty. Not surprisingly, Geoffrey had several illegitimate children. His son Hamelin (nothing to do with the German town of the Pied Piper), of an unidentified mother, was invited by his half-brother King Henry to marry an extremely wealthy English widow, Isabel de Warenne, 4th Countess of Surrey. Young Hamelin was delighted to accept this invitation, even to the extent of adopting the lady’s Warenne name. Consequently, in a flash, the French bastard child became Hamelin de Warenne, Earl of Surrey. 

The couple had several daughters, one of whom was the above-mentioned Suzanne de Warenne, who jumped into the royal bed of her cousin King John and gave birth to my ancestor Richard Chilham. And I have just discovered that, in 1190, her sister Maud (Matilda) de Warenne [1166-1212] married Henri d’Estouteville [1170-1232], lord of Valmont.

This Estouteville/Warenne marriage plays no direct role in my Latton ancestry. That’s to say, the English marriage between Robert de Stuteville and Sibyl de Valognes remains the only explanation I can find for an alleged Estouteville/Latton link. But the Estouteville/Warenne marriage indicates that the French Estouteville family had personal links with ancestors of the Wadham, Stourton and Berkeley families, described in my book. Incidentally, in the context of Hamelin de Warenne, we come upon references to the feudal town of Ambrières in the Mayenne department (mentioned in my book), which played a role in early French Estouteville history.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Registration of a birth in England

Having examined countless BMD records [births, marriages and deaths] in the context of my personal genealogical research, I was delighted to come upon this copy of a quite ordinary birth record, bearing today’s date.

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The informant was the child’s father, who signed the registration simply by means of his given name: William. He and the baby’s mother, Catherine Middleton, have unusual occupations. The father apparently earns his living as a prince of the United Kingdom. And the mother works in the same kind of job, as a princess of the United Kingdom. As the saying goes, it takes all sorts to make a world. As for the offspring, a girl, she was born 3 days ago in a Westminster hospital. I always feel a little sorry for babies born in the middle of big cities. But I realize they're capable of growing up just as happily as us country kids.

They sound like a nice little family. The only thing that upsets me a little is the terribly complicated name they’ve given to the baby, composed of no less than 9 terms: Her Royal Highness Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana of Cambridge. What I mean to say is that I know a couple who simply named their little female baby Zoé. I reckon they would have been happy with the single letter Z... except that the registry office wouldn't have agreed. But everybody, of course, has different attitudes towards inventing names for babies.

There’s another minor detail, of a puzzling nature. I’m incapable of fathoming out the family’s simple surname. Concerning the mother, there’s no problem: she was a Middleton. On the other hand, the father’s surname is hard to define. But that’s neither here nor there. I may have already said that it takes all kinds to make a world.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Yvonne Skyvington [1919-2015]

My paternal aunt Yvonne Elizabeth Skyvington was born at the Hillcrest Hospital in Rockhampton (Queensland, Australia) on May 1, 1919. She died at Taree (NSW) on Sunday evening, April 12, 2015.

After an in-depth career in nursing, Yvonne married Reginald Tarrant, and they had three children: Lynne (married name Greenlees), Roger (deceased) and Glenn (married name McMurrich).

The death of my dear aunt (with whom I was in constant contact during the writing of They Sought the Last of Lands, Gamone Press, 2014) means that I am henceforth the senior member of the 19th-century branch of the Skivington family, from the Dorset village of Shroton (also known as Iwerne Courtney), who spelt their name as “Skyvington”.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Pathetic end of a pioneering era

I don’t know whether many of my compatriots have ever heard of a NSW rural township named Breeza. Here’s a wonderful photo of the Breeza landscape from Ian Stehbens:

Breeza is surely one of the loveliest names you could possibly imagine for a hot flat place out on the Liverpool Plains. One imagines sea breezes floating in magically from the distant Pacific! I heard this name constantly during my childhood, because my grandmother Kathleen Pickering [1889-1964] was born in nearby Quirindi and brought up in Breeza, on a sheep station named Currabubula. What fabulous place names! If you’ve got a map—or, better still, Google—you’ll find that the municipalities named Breeza and Currabubula lie in the middle of a triangle whose corners are Gunnedah, Tamworth and Quirindi.

I’ve just published (through Gamone Press) a family-history book, They Sought the Last of Lands, presenting pioneering stories of my Australian ancestors.

If you’re interested, I invite you to click here to download the chapter in which I speak of my grandmother from Breeza.

Now, some of the few remaining flimsy threads that tie me to my native land are about to be destroyed forever. A Chinese company named Shenhua has apparently received approval from the NSW state government to build a gigantic coal mine on the agricultural lands of the Liverpool Plains near my ancestral township of Breeza. Astounded and shocked by such a scenario, I hardly know what to say.
Australia is selling off to China
 the lands and spirits of her pioneers.
The souls of my ancestors.
Click here and here for press stuff on this unfolding tragedy.

Meanwhile, as usual Down Under, where life is casual, nobody seems to give a coal-mine fuck. Is our Australian people really as apathetic and indeed pathetic as that? Yes, no doubt. I would love to be contradicted...

Friday, December 26, 2014

Escaping from DNA detection

Over the last month or so, in the context of my work on a future book about Gamone, I’ve been investigating haphazardly and half-heartedly the genealogy of various local families, just to obtain (if possible) a slightly less fuzzy idea of who’s who. At one point, I happened to say to one of our female municipal representatives that it would be an interesting idea if some of the people here were to carry out DNA-testing, in order to gain a better understanding of the evolution of certain time-honored families. It was if I had suggested that they should grab a shotgun and fire at their feet.

In my enthusiasm for science and technology in general, and for genetics in particular, it’s true that I often tend to forget that many of my fellow citizens look upon DNA analysis as some kind of necessarily evil. For them, it belongs to the morbid category of crime detection, forensic tests, unsolved murders, Big Brother… At a less dramatic level, DNA analysis is likely to land you in trouble when it reveals that you’re not really the individual you thought you were, and that your alleged biological ancestors weren’t exactly the individuals they claimed to be. Eons of prehistoric experiences have taught us that there’s no point in waking up sleeping dogs. There are things that are better left unknown. And how might a genealogist such as myself disagree? Click here for a summary of a sleeping dog that was rudely awakened in our Skyvington household, recently, by DNA analysis.

Maybe, therefore, we should look into ways of protecting ourselves from the inevitably nasty consequences of DNA testing. Click here to see an imaginative video on this theme.

Why doesn’t a bright scientist simply invent a gadget (maybe a smartphone app) that would simply neutralize our personal DNA, turning it off (a little like unsubscribing from a Facebook account), so that nobody—not even Islamic jihadists or North Koreans—would be capable of attacking us?

Happy Winter Solstice greetings to all of my friends
in the Northern Hemisphere,
and complementary Summer Solstice greetings
to those in the Antipodes.

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:

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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…

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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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).

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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.

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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.