Month: March 2014

Understanding Phylogenies: Terminology

Genius! Delicious genius!

I’m fairly used – now – to cladograms and phylogenic classification because of my long obsession with dinosaurs and animals as a whole, but I have to say that this takes it to a whole new level of awesome. And I am now tempted to do a UK version!


I was inspired several months ago by this tweet from Drew Lab in which they made a phylogeny of candy bars. Besides thinking, “what a delicious lab project,” I also thought it was an intuitive way to understand the basic evolutionary concept of how species (or candy bars as it may be) are related to each other. Candy bars are accessible in a way species are not; kids and adults, scientists and non-scientists alike understand candy and can debate how the candy bars are related to each other based on their tasty traits. Bringing us to an important point about phylogenies: they are debatable! Phylogenies represent hypotheses about how species are related to each other. Some phylogenies are well supported and even have multiple lines of evidence to support the tree topology such as molecular sequence data, morphological data, and fossil records. However, some phylogenies are not well supported and…

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Research Updates

Just a little update on a couple of ongoing pieces of research.

The first from Missouri, as first mentioned here. After my 3 or 4 week wait I received a response from the good people at the Missouri State Archives. Unfortunately it wasn’t great news:

We have searched Lawrence County Probate Record Reels C3794, C3781, C3791, C3788, C3790 for records on an adoption of an Adams and Jacob and George.  Nothing was found for an Adams during this time frame.

However, they did find a couple of references to other Adams’ and suggested I contact the Lawrence County Probate Court directly. Which I have done (after a bit of jiggery-pokery – what is it with American offices and incorrectly listed email addresses??), and received a response from the Circuit Clerk who is going to look into the references provided. More on that if / when I get a response.

Lawrence County Courthouse (from Missouri Marble, by Norman S. Hinchey)

Lawrence County Courthouse (from Missouri Marble, by Norman S. Hinchey)

Secondly, the Frenchies. You know, the postcard people.

My study of the online records continues – and I’ll admit to being somewhat obsessed by it. I think, possibly, its because its something new to me. I am no stranger to the fluidity of surname spelling, but it does fascinate me seeing how the French spellings change. For example, one branch of the family is Clergeau, but going back only a few generations it becomes Clairjault. Virtually the same pronunciation, yet quite different (and before you ask – yes, the same family!). It happens with others. Baranger becomes Barangé, Doublié becomes Doublet, Massé becomes Massais. Families also seem to move around between parishes more frequently than I am used to seeing in my own English researches. The vast majority are – what we’d call in the UK – Agricultural Labourers. Perhaps the reason for this difference is the way the French system is structured – communes, cantons, prefectures.

I was talking to my ‘cousin’ the other night online (he lives in Connecticut) and he asked if I was going to try and find any descendants of these people still living and make contact. It got me to thinking. Initially I said that I wouldn’t because there’s a bit of a gap between the years available online and the present day. Admittedly, Amelie only died in 1972 – but Louise would’ve been 102 this gone January.  The fact that all of these photographs and postcards were being sold at a marché aux puces suggests that there is no longer anybody around who cares for these people.

Whilst it would be nice to connect with this family, somehow I don’t think its going to happen. In the mean time, this is how the ancestral tree for Louise is looking.

Vertical Pedigree Chart for Louise Baranger

Not too shabby. Still a lot of deaths to fill in (like some kind of assassins day-planner), but I’m getting there!

The tree is also on Ancestry. I wanted to publish and publicize it a bit on the off-chance that somebody at some point decides to search for their family and gets in touch!

 L'antique Pont-Neuf,  Argenton-Château

L’antique Pont-Neuf, Argenton-Château

The confession of a writer

You remember a while ago (just over a month) I asked you to share some love with a friend of mine who had just started blogging? Well now I’m asking you again. An author friend (yes, he’s been published … ask him about it) has finally succumbed to my bullying and created a new blog: Confessions Of A Writer. COW (ha!) will be detailing his relationship with words, and undoubtedly some more besides.

So go show him some love, drop him a note, and tell him I sent you.

Confessions of a writer

The joy of writing, the curse of the creative mind – the bane of inventive.

No really, it’s a love hate thing.

I love to write, it’s a joy to put words together, it’s a… A need I guess, because all these ideas just seem to pop up in my mind, and the situations, ideas, worlds… Maybe it’s not a need, maybe it’s more of a compulsion, all those characters and different voices shouting to be heard – for their story to be told… Demanding… Begging…  Complaining (at times).

Ok, so maybe at times it’s like trying to get blood out of a stone. At times it’s the hardest thing in the world to do, but you have to do it – because… Because the damn story is bugging you, the characters won’t go away – and the idea – the idea is burning in your mind. It’s all you…

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My Journey As A Writer

Hmm. Second attempt at a Daily Post Writing Challenge in less than a week … What gives? This time, however, its a reflection on our journey with words – both writing and reading.

I can’t remember a time that words have not been present in my life. Its like asking someone the first time they became aware of breathing or seeing a parent. They have always been there – all present and correct. I was lucky – extremely lucky – to have been born into a family that loved reading. My dad used to write poetry (for fun, not profit – although had be gone into the greetings card industry I’m sure Hallmark would’ve loved him) and my mum always read. She didn’t write anything – to my knowledge – but her creative outlet was her garden (earlier in her life it had been art – something that she had less and less time for as her family increased). She encouraged that love of reading into all of her children, first through reading to us and then having us read to her. There was always ‘quiet time’ to read in a day, usually before bed.

As a writer, I believe whole-heartedly in the power of reading. If you cannot understand the power of the written language by reading it, how can you hope to harness that power when you write it? Its by experiencing other worlds, other cultures, other viewpoints that we come to understand our own and begin to develop how we want to express that viewpoint to other people. I also believe its essential to know how the rules of language works – how words are built into sentences, and how these are turned into paragraphs and scenes and chapters and novels – before you can twist those rules, subvert those words, misplace those sentences, and create something powerful. Or something gentle. Something that reaches somebody else on whatever level.


Continue reading

Names, Names, Names

As a genealogist and an author a writer, names fascinate me. Consequently, when I saw this week’s Weekly Writing Challenge published by The Daily Post it ticked all kinds of boxes. I often look at the Daily Prompt and the Weekly Writing Challenges, but rarely do I take part (for the Daily Prompts its usually because I’m a day or so late). In a nutshell, the challenge is to consider the power of names and to look at my own history with my name.

As a child, growing up in the 1980s I never met anybody else with my name. Whilst perhaps not considered ‘exotic’ by many, I longed for a normal name. Toby would’ve been my first choice. I would’ve been happy with Steve. Ian would’ve been fine. (To put this into perspective I also thought that I was an android and/or adopted for a large part of my pre-adolescent life.) All of my brothers have ‘regular’ names. I had no idea why I had been singled out, so I asked my mother why she/they had chosen the names they did for the four of us.

She told me that she wanted to choose names that paired well with our Scottish-sounding surname (there was an assumption, based on the surname alone, that my father’s family were from Scotland, but research by me seems to suggest otherwise – in fact you can’t get much further away from Scotland than Dorset and still be on the same landmass). There wasn’t much thought given to the meaning of those names, but definitely to the way that the three names (we all have first an middle names) sounded together.

In turn, my brothers’ names mean ‘House-guard Unknown-Etruscan-word’, ‘Healer Stone’ and ‘Defending-men Of-Brix [a town in France]’. Technically my name means ‘Of-the-Lord Rich-guard’. I wasn’t born on a Sunday and my parents aren’t particularly religious. Clearly my first name was chosen purely for the sound and not the meaning. My middle name, however, was the name of my father’s stepfather who was gravely ill in hospital at the time of my birth (indeed, he passed away shortly after ‘meeting’ me), something I’m proud of (the naming for a family member part, not my face causing the death of an old man part).

As I’ve grown older I’ve pretty much made peace with my name. Its still fairly uncommon. I’ve only met or heard of a handful of people with the same name, and slept with some of them (as a side point – sleeping with someone who has the same name as you is a little weird, but not as weird as sleeping with someone who has the same name as a sibling or a parent). The Wikipedia list of notable people with my name is fairly short but is widespread across the worlds of media, politics, military, sports, the arts and the sciences.

As I say, I’m okay with it now. Its different enough to cause me to stand out and although I have suffered ridicule because of it (teenage boys – go figure), I am not ashamed of it. Which is good enough for me.

When I write and need to create a new character the choosing of a name is something I take very seriously. All of us carry particular prejudices and opinions about names. (Recently, I read an article regarding a number of people in the Middle East who were named Saddam Hussein after the Iraqi leader and who have subsequently found it a very difficult burden to shoulder.) But apart from that, I do like to investigate the meanings of the names I’m using. Luckily, in this age of the internet, I don’t have to have a name dictionary (although I do have one regarding surnames). My favourite site for this is Behind The Name.

During my years as a genealogist the reusing of certain names has become very apparent . The pool of names used for children varies dependant on national and local fashions of the time, religious beliefs, the level of education and also other familial names. The mother’s maiden name often becomes the middle name of one or more of the children. The name of a wealthy uncle could be passed on, in the hope of money following the same path.

There is an almost standard pattern for the naming of children:

  • The first son was named after the father’s father
  • The second son after the mother’s father
  • The third son after the father
  • The fourth son after the father’s eldest brother
  • The first daughter after the mother’s mother
  • The second daughter after the father’s mother
  • The third daughter after the mother
  • The fourth daughter after the mother’s eldest sister

Obviously not all families followed this, and some children could be named out of the pattern due to the death of a family member or perhaps a famous event, or the death of an older child leading to the same name being ‘recycled’ for a younger sibling.

Whatever the reason, the name a child carries generally says more about the parents than the child. At the end of the day. as W. C. Fields said: “It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.”

Geraniums, Torture & Mystery Flower (Now Solved)

I was tortured yesterday.

After doing our normal weekly grocery shop, I decided that I needed a small bag of multi-purpose compost, and as we were so close that we’d go to Whitehall Garden Centre, near Lacock. (Yes, that Lacock.) Firstly, going to any garden centre on a Sunday is bad news. Secondly, going to a garden centre on a warm and sunny Sunday is bad news squared. To make it the holy triumvirate of bad news (bad news cubed, as it were) my husband reminded me that due to monetary constraints there was a moratorium on plant purchases for the time being.

Cue the anxiety-induced heavy-breathing. Bad enough to have to wade through throngs of oafs (much like Granny Weatherwax, I have specially pointed elbows for just such an activity), but to not have any unexpected gains at the end?! The horror …

Consequently, and perhaps with a certain narrative inevitability, not only were there pots of multiple snake’s head fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris)* but also a whole host of dark-leaved geraniums. It was at this point that I gave up on window-shopping, got my compost and left.

(*Described by one early 20th century poet and gardener as “a sinister little flower, in the mournful colour of decay”.)

Last year I purchased a wonderful dark-leaved, blue-flowered geranium known as ‘Midnight Reiter’. Oddly, I seem to not have taken any pictures of it other than in its original pot before I planted it. Anyway, I rather liked it and was slightly perturbed to see that last year it died back to nothing in the winter. Not a mound, leaf or stem to be seen. Consequently, seeing the selection at the garden centre gave me an option to replace it if necessary, only to be crushed by the trade embargo. In a fortuitous turn of events, I noticed what I hope is the plant happily shooting.

Next, in my occasional photo series entitled “Is that even a thing?”, some photos of plants that have just started shooting, or barely even budded, including the Jasminum officinale ‘Fiona Sunrise’, the Astilbe ‘Venus’ (which I thought had actually died) and the Fuschia riccartonii.

I also have a mystery flower growing somewhere I don’t remember planting anything of the sort. Its not an iris, and its not an anemone or chionodoxa. Answers on the back of a blank postcard or stuck-down envelope please …

Mystery solved. I’m an idiot. Totally Chionodoxa luciliae ‘Glory of the Snow’.

2014-03-17 10.30.24


What A Difference Some Sun Makes …

… especially in the life of a hyacinth.

Its been … well, I won’t get all red-top and say its been unseasonably or freakishly warm here over the past week or so, but it has been very pleasant and I think everyone has been grateful that the worst of winter seems to be over and the endless rain has, uh, ended.

At least for the time being.

In particular, the hyacinths in my borders are liking the sunshine and warmth, as these two photos taken 3 days apart show:


Rescued Lives Part 2 – French Genealogy

Way back, months and months ago, before the wind and the rain and the Christmas, I blogged about some postcards and photos that I purchased in France …

Every so often I declare to myself that I’m going to research the families involved – more so the branch that came from the Deux-Sèvres départment, mostly because it is within this area that my parents live.

A view of Niort from the Sevre Niortaise river, Deux-Sevres, Poitou-Charentes region, France, May 2008 (via dynamosquito on Flickr)

A view of Niort from the Sevre Niortaise river, Deux-Sevres, Poitou-Charentes region, France, May 2008 (via dynamosquito on Flickr)

A few years ago I was in a supermarket looking at the magazines (I don’t mean Paris Match or Maison et Jardin) to get a view of the genealogical representation. I found a couple (I think the most I’ve found is 4 in one particularly large hypermarché) and upon leading through I found an article about the digitisation of French records in their local archives. (As an aside, one thing I’ve noticed about the French is that they may not be first out of the block with an idea, but when the grasp the nettle its with both hands and its done with gusto.) I noticed, with pleasure, that the archives for my parents’ départment was one of the top-rated for online digital access.


The Archives départementales des Deux-Sèvres, located in the wonderful old town of Niort, has over 15,500 documents  in its collection, with its online catalogue broken into 4 areas:

  • Parish & Civil Registers (up to 1932 in places)
  • Napoleonic Cadastre (maps made of every commune between 1808 and 1846)
  • Census Returns (from 1836 until 1901 – although there are some earlier and a few communes up to 1911)
  • Military Matriculation Registers (from 1867 to 1921)
Napoleonic cadastral map 1833. Archives départementales des Deux-Sèvres

Napoleonic cadastral map 1833. Archives départementales des Deux-Sèvres

I have yet to attend the archives in person myself (I’m going to France for a fortnight in June, so who knows?), but I have to say that the online interfaces are pretty simple to use once you know what you’re looking for. There is also a lack of transcribed records so you’re often scrolling through page after page of civil records or census information before you get a hit on what you want.

Before you say it – yes, I’m very much aware of how lucky genealogists nowadays are with the sheer wealth of digitised data that comes complete with indices and search-by-name facilities – but occasionally you rub up against something that isn’t quite what you expect, or what you’ve become used to. Its a bit like stubbing your toe. And makes you appreciate what you do have all the more.

Luckily, from Louise’s identity card I knew her date and place of birth: 28 January 1912, St-Martin-de-Sanzay, Deux-Sèvres. Using the online records, I was able to find a copy of her birth entry.

Birth of Louise Baranger. Archives départementales des Deux-Sèvres

Birth of Louise Baranger. Archives départementales des Deux-Sèvres

The details given are fantastic. Not only the usual information such as name, date and place of birth, and the name of the parents, but also the time of her birth (6pm), the age of her parents (25 and 17 respectively) and even an update with details of her marriage: 14 April 1936 in Chateaubriant to (what looks like) ‘Revie Jules Cyrile’ Gendron.

Given the somewhat tender age of the mother (Louise Amelie Ernestine Doublié), she and Louis couldn’t have been married much before this date. Indeed, it didn’t take long when searching backward, to find it on 17 October 1911, in St. Martin.


Some great extra details here: occupations, ages, birth dates and places of both parties, with names – including maiden names of the mother! – of all the parents.

Given the fact that Amelie was around 6 months pregnant at the time of the marriage (and 7 years younger than the groom), it would be easy to assume that it was a marriage that was forced upon her after the nasty man had his wicked way with her. However, reading the correspondence between them, both from before the marriage and afterwards, it is clear that the pair were very much in love.

At the bottom of the page is a list of the witnesses, and a collection of signatures:


Victor Baranger is mentioned in the postcards regularly, so its good to get it confirmed that he was Louis’ brother! It also seems that there is a connection between the Doublié and Doublet families – so much so that initially Amelie signs her name as Doublet and then crosses it out.

The birth entry for Amelie confirms everything, including a stamped addition of her marriage. There is also a handwritten note of the date and location of her death, in 1972.

Amelie and her parents are in Moutiers-sous-Argenton, the village of her birth, in the 1896 census:

Recensements de population MOUTIERS-SOUS-ARGENTON 1896

Recensements de population

The family are still there in 1901, and Amelie has been joined by a younger brother, Joseph, born in 1897. The 1906 shows a 3rd child, Josephine, born in 1903. Unfortunately the censuses available online end there, but by 1911 the family are living in St. Martin.

After several hours scrolling through birth, marriage and death records along with umpteen different census returns, I have managed to compile a rough tree for Louise Gendron, nee Baranger. I’ll fill it in over the next few days with the people mentioned in the postcard collection, but in the mean time here it is:

Vertical Pedigree Chart for Louise Baranger

List of Garden Plants

So I’ve finally done it.

For no reason other than my own …er … enjoyment, here it is:

List of all the plants in my garden

I also wanted to include a list of all the ‘weeds’ that grow in the garden, including the lawn. Whilst I do remove certain ‘weeds’ from the centre of my beds and borders, there are areas where I let them happily do their things – mostly for the wildlife reasons. Also, I don’t buy into ‘lawn culture’ – partly because we’re on heavy clay so waterlogging in the lawn is a major issue, and scarifying the crap out of it to remove the moss is only going to give me bare patches, not perfect greenery. Plus, who enjoys monoculture? Not me. And certainly not the countless insects that love the extra flowers.

So, yes. The list is about … 95% complete as at this moment. There are some plants where I know nothing more than the genus, and some where I know the species but not the specific cultivar name.

My thanks to my mum, the internet (or at least Google and Wikipedia), and The Royal Horticultural Society Gardeners’ Encyclopedia of Plants & Flowers (the ultra-modern 1989 edition…)

Lamium purpureum, Red deadnettle

Lamium purpureum, Red deadnettle

A Minor Milestone & Garden Catch-up

First slug damage of 2014! Whooo! Luckily they ignored the tender shoots of the lupin, delphinium and anemones, and instead concentrated the attack on one of the hyacinth flower spires.



The weather people seem to be predicting nice-ness (i.e. not rain) for the next 10 days or so (although if you believe a certain newspaper media outlet then we’ll reach the baking heights of 18C at some point over the weekend) so I suppose it’ll be time to crack open the slug pellets and dust the garden with them. Between those and the ground pepper I put down to stop the cats, my dirt is going to look amazing …

But I am pleased that my Clematis ‘Mayleen’ (yes, I have confirmed with my mother that this was the one I bought) has plentiful flowerbuds on it.

2014-03-04 16.14.38

In other garden news … I received a care package from my mum (courtesy of my dad who is back in the UK for a fleeting visit) which included a clump of snowdrops ‘in the green’ that I have to plant for next year’s flowering. The bulbs are all doing well, although some of the ones I planted may be slightly too shaded as they don’t seem to be coming along too well (either that or I’m just bloody impatient), and the younger of the geums has several flowers on it again (the older one hasn’t yet – and is looking a bit wind-burnt). There are also some lovely little red flowers (?) on the willow catkins.

I’m also thinking about putting together a list of all the plants in my garden – including all the ‘weeds’ and plants in the lawn.

In non-garden news I submitted my first assignment in my first module of my first undergraduate degree. Which took me a while to get in to, but two 500 word essays isn’t all that hard. Even my final module assessment is only based off a 2000 word essay – so not something to get overly worried about quite yet. Undoubtedly my 3rd year French will be something quite different …