Month: May 2014

Coats of Arms, Visitations & Pedigrees – a Guest Post from Alex at Root to Tip

Here’s the second of the promised guest posts – this time from Alex at the wonderful Root to Tip! You may (or may not) wish to read this article on gateway ancestors first, but in this article Alex discusses heraldry …

If you wish to submit something as a guest post – either here or over at A Wiltshire Garden – then please get in touch! I’d love to hear from you!


Sometimes it helps to have had rich ancestors. I’m not just talking in terms of wealth and property being handed down through the generations but in terms of the potential wealth to be found with the records relating to them.

If, like me, most of your ancestors are pretty salt of the earth, hard-working labouring types, often without much more than a couple of pennies to rub together, then you might struggle to get your line back further than when parish registers began. You might find the odd mention of the family surname in records such as manorial records, tax lists and the like, but sometimes the years spanning these types of records can span generations and make it more like guesswork and theory to link the names together to prove a line going back beyond the 1600s.

In England and Wales it became a requirement to keep records of baptisms, marriages and burials through parish registers from 1538 but few survive back to this period. Many local areas were growing in populations so some parishes were not formed until after this date, and it is always worth taking a look at information on websites such as GENUKI about the area you are interested in, it’s parish churches and dates for the commencement of their records and where you can find transcriptions or digitised copies of the registers in question.

Wealthier ancestors are much more likely to have left a paper trail behind them, they probably owned land, property and made wills. Going further back in time they might have been recorded as being part of the Civil War, fighting for the Royalist Cavalier side or the Parliamentarian Roundhead side for example.

Wealthy families were likely to have been armigers – that is – bearing arms – specifically a coat of arms. I think most of us have all seen coats of arms depicted on various articles such as stained glass windows, shields, buildings and even plastered all over names websites – trying to get you to buy a scroll with your surname and a coat of arms.

Royal Coat of arms of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland - adopted in 1837

Royal Coat of arms of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – adopted in 1837

Coats of arms belong to a tradition going back to the 12th century, coming from a time when knights in battle were covered in armour from head to foot and the only way to identify themselves was to adopt a range of easily recognisable symbols and designs on their shields and on the surcoats they wore over their armour. It is from this word surcoat that the coat part from coat of arms comes from.

The designs picked ranged from pretty simplistic to very complex. They could be something like a red diagonal stripe on a silver background, or combine different patterns in a complex array of stripes, crosses, chevrons, circles, animals, plants and anything else that appealed! The arrangement of the items on the shield gave rise to the central element known as an escutcheon. As families merged with wealthy heiresses marrying into families with arms they would often split the arms from both families to incorporate them both into one new one or show the husbands arms ‘impaled’ with the wife’s.


Knights also used their helmets and crests as a way to distinguish themselves, especially when jousting when they would often lay their helmets out in a line so everyone could see who was present and whom to challenge. Often these helmets and crests would be shown at the top of a coat of arms. Tournament officials – known as heralds – had to be able to recognise knights by their arms. They would proclaim the start of the proceedings, including the identities of the combatants and then the victors. In this process they were able to check that knights were not using arms that they knew were already in use by someone of status.

By the 14th century, heralds were the experts in coats of arms and it became known as heraldry. In order to assist their work, heralds drew up lists – rolls of arms – of all the arms they saw at tournaments and other such gatherings, they were assembled into collections called armorials.

Heraldic Banners of the Knights of the Garter mid-16th Century. From The Oxford Guide to Heraldry

Heraldic Banners of the Knights of the Garter mid-16th Century. From The Oxford Guide to Heraldry

In 1415 Henry V tried to formalise the controlling of the use of arms but it wasn’t until the reign of Richard III that the College of Arms was established and overseen by a King of Arms. In 1530 Henry VIII sent his heralds out all over England and Wales to register all rightful coats of arms and eradicate the rest. These were known as visitations. During these visitations everyone claiming to be a gentleman and using a coat of arms had to appear before the heralds and justify his claim. Some of them could show an official grant of arms from an earlier King of Arms, while others had to prepare a pedigree of their family showing how the arms had been passed down over the centuries. Those who had adopted arms to seem important were ordered to renounce them. These visitations happened every 20 to 30 years until 1686 and provide a fabulous record of wealthy families, often going back three to five or more generations. The records also retained the details provided by the people who were using arms without the right to bear them so you could find some not so wealthy people detailed.

Original Heralds Wiltshire Visitation notes - 1623. Image from the website of Bryant G Bayliffe

Original Heralds Wiltshire Visitation notes – 1623. Image from the website of Bryant G Bayliffe

It is worth remembering though that some of these pedigrees were not entirely accurate. They were often compiled using memory rather than detailed source material. There have been many instances where a pedigree misses a whole generation out because the compiler may have been confused with ancestors with the same names (like a father and son by the same name) or got confused with names of uncles and cousins who shared the same names. I’ve seen details where they have stated that a sibling died sine prole(without issue) when in actual fact they might have had quite a large family. Sometimes it might seem like a couple only had one child, when in reality they might have had several but only listed the eldest son.

Section of Pedigree of the Philpot family, drawn in 1620. Source

Section of Pedigree of the Philpot family, drawn in 1620. Source

I often use pedigrees as a guide, not as the gospel truth. Where possible I try to confirm details from the pedigree with information from other sources such as parish registers, wills, tax lists, manorial records and anything else I can get my hands on – like militia lists.

If you are lucky enough you may find you are descended from a royal or aristocratic line which is much more fully documented and been thoroughly researched by historians, however often with some royal pedigrees as they start to go back much further in time the details do become rather more fantastical and sketchy and of course go back to Adam and Eve and therefore God – to prove the King had holy descent.

I never hold much sway in the coats of arms touted on websites trying to get you to buy the one for your surname as of course there is no guarantee that your family name truly relates to that coat of arms, and different families had different takes on their arms – while you may have had one set of arms relating to the main family originally, as eldest sons and second sons and third sons etc. branched out they would have changed their arms slightly to denote where they came in the family and of course changed if they inherited arms from a wealthy spouse.

Although this isn’t exactly an exhaustive expert guide into coats of arms, visitations and pedigrees, there are some great websites that can be of help when looking into heraldry, records of coats of arms and medieval ancestors.

College of Arms

Medieval English Genealogy

Harleian Society

The Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies

UK Genealogy Archives

Medieval Sources: Guide from The National Archives


John Norris

I was having a wander through my family tree, trying to find an ancestor or family to share with you. I was reminded, on my father’s mother’s side of the Norris family of Collingbourne Kingston, Wiltshire, and after reacquainting myself with the line found a rather surprising association.

Emily Alice Palmer has been mentioned before – and her less than ‘traditional’ life that she lived. Her maternal grandmother was named Priscilla Brine. Her great-grandmother was Mary Norris. Her great-great-grandfather was John Norris. (Are you still with me, generation fans? We’re back to my 10 x great-grandfather now!) He had been made vicar of Collingbourne Kingston in 1647 and in August 1660 moved to Aldbourne in Wiltshire. It was here that he died on 18 March 1682, and was survived by his wife, Elizabeth.

Searching the Clergy of the Church of England Database (CCEd), John obtained his BA from Pembroke College, Cambridge on 17 June 1636 and his MA on 2 May 1639. What little evidence there is seems to show that he was a Calvinist (that is, a form of Protestantism based on the Reformation-era teachings of John Calvin). He and his wife Elizabeth had 5 children, 3 of whom survived into adulthood.

I am descended from his son Henry, who seems to have remained in Collingbourne Ducis, marrying Catherine Hellyard on 16 October 1674 and having at least five children.

Henry’s brother John – born on 2 January 1657 in Collingbourne Kingston – seems to have taken a quite different turn with his life. Educated first at Winchester College, he entered Exeter College, Oxford in 1676. He read classical literature widely, but was drawn to the writings of Plato, Xenophon and Aristotle and was drawn to various metaphysical and mystical teachings. He obtained his BA in 1680 and became an elected fellow of All Souls. He also discovered the works of the rationalist philosopher Nicolas Malebranche and his work Search after Truth (aka ‘Concerning the Search after Truth. In which is treated the nature of the human mind and the use that must be made of it to avoid error in the sciences’ – which I think we can agree is a most snappy title …). In 1684 he took his MA and was ordained.

St Andrew's Old Church, Bemerton in 1994. © Copyright Nick Macneill and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

St Andrew’s Old Church, Bemerton in 1994. © Copyright Nick Macneill and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

In 1689 he left Oxford and married his wife, Elizabeth. They moved to Newton St Loe near Bath in Somerset where he was the vicar. It was here that he wrote a critique to John Locke’s An Essay on Human Understanding. In 1692 the Norris family moved to Bemerton, Wiltshire (just outside Salisbury) – a position that Locke had recommended him for. The two Johns (as it were) had a mutual friend in Lady Damaris Cudworth Masham, a philosopher and feminist in her own right. She argued that mothers were essential to the well-being of political society and also advocated women’s participation in disciplines long dominated by men: sciences and philosophy.

Although the friendship between John Norris and John Locke and Lady Masham didn’t last (and Locke dismissed him from serious consideration, describing him as “an obscure, enthusiastic man”), he was a close friend and supporter of other learned ladies, such as Elizabeth Thomas and Lady Mary Chudleigh. His closest friendship here was, however, with Mary Astell.

Title page from the third edition of A Serious Proposal

Title page from the third edition of A Serious Proposal

Mary had received an informal education from her uncle, who had left the clergy due to bouts of alcoholism, but introduced her to the works of Plato and Aristotle. Following the death of her father, mother and aunt, she moved to London and came under the patronage of various women, including Lady Elizabeth Hastings, the daughter of the 7th Earl of Huntingdon (Elizabeth and Mary would both die after having a mastectomy following breast cancer). It was under their aegis that she was able to develop and publish her works on the importance of marriage equality and education for women – so much so that she presented an idea of women having the same religious and secular education as men, ideally in a protected environment. Jonathan Swift (he of Gulliver’s Travels fame) mocked her, and Daniel Defoe (yes, Robinson Crusoe) called them “impracticable” – but this didn’t stop him from using almost the exact same idea in a later essay of his.

The more I read about Mary Astell, what she overcame and how she managed to debate freely with some of the most learned men and women of her age, the more I wonder why more isn’t known about her, and other like her. (The answer is, I feel, somewhat obvious.)

One of her key quotes is the following, from her book Some Reflections Upon Marriage:

If all Men are born Free, why are all Women born Slaves?

She had a great many good things to say about John Norris, including the following:

…though some morose Gentleman wou’d perhaps remit me to the Distaff or the Kitchin … yet expecting better things from the more Equitable and ingenious Mr. Norris, who is not so narrow-Soul’d as to confine Learning to his own Sex, or to envy it in ours, I presume to beg his Attention a little to the Impertinencies of a Woman’s Pen.

She wrote in 1694: “Women are from their very Infancy debar’d those Advantages, with the want of which they are afterwards reproached …They are] nursed up in those Vices which will hereafter be upbraided to them. So partial are Men as to expect Brick where they afford no Straw. … How can you be content to be in the World like Tulips in a Garden, to make a fine shew and be good for nothing?”

She urged women to be scholars and poets and to strive for excellence, arguing that the life of the mind was “a Matter infinitely more worthy your Debates, than what Colours are most agreeable, or what’s the Dress becomes you best”. She encouraged women to aspire to higher things than “to attract the Eyes of Men. We value them too much, and ourselves too little, if we place any part of our desert in their Opinion; and don’t think our selves capable of Nobler Things than the pitiful Conquest of some worthless heart.”

#YesAllWomen indeed.

For my own part, and as non-religious as I am, I have to say that I am proud of John and his cultivation of not only his own education but also the support of the notion that women are – shock, horror – just as capable of rational thought as men. In their correspondence, he and Mary agree that as bodies have motion, so minds have love.

I’m not sure I can add anything to that.

 “How fading are the joys we dote upon!

Like apparitions seen and gone.

But those which soonest take their flight

Are the most exquisite and strong—

Like angels’ visits, short and bright;

Mortality’s too weak to bear them long.”

John Norris, The Parting (1678)

For more on John Norris:

Encyclopaedia Londinensis entry

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry


For more on Mary Astell:

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry


Rugrats and Toadstools

Its Monday. According to my blogging schedule I should be artfully sculpting a writing-based post. But its also a national holiday so I’m going to make that as some kind of free pass.

Plus its my blog and not yours so I can do what the cripe I like.


Possibly not that though.

In the late 90s a very funny British comedian called Victoria Wood wrote a very funny British sitcom called dinnerladies. I can’t go into details right now because otherwise I’ll never stop quoting bits and pieces and generally coming over all fanboy. Which I am, but there you go. Anyway, there was a scene where one of the characters is reading a magazine and another character is asking her what’s on TV that afternoon. She looks and says “Regrets.” Which cues a discussion about a TV movie called Regrets which is either about a woman who had a baby as a teenager, had it adopted and now regrets it, or about a woman who’s left it too long to have a family. (Possibly not as fun to watch as the film about this woman whose husband died and then a few years later found his sperm in the freezer hiding behind the arctic roll.)

It doesn’t matter either way as she’s not put her glasses on and its actually Rugrats.

Now, in my almost 34 years of life I’ve done a fair amount of things that other people have regretted. Such as kissing their boyfriends. Or kissing somebody who wasn’t my boyfriend. Or drinking too much (usually before the kissing). Or buying the wrong thing. Or saying the wrong thing. Or, upon occasion, simply being the wrong thing. But, at the risk of sounding like some kind of sociopath, or just an arrogant tosser, there’s nothing really that I regret.

I say “nothing really” because I could, if I had to, list a handful of things that, upon reflection, I probably shouldn’t have done, or maybe opportunities presented that I should’ve taken – but nothing on that list would really fill me up with despondency or make me want to live my life over. However …

There’s always a but …ProgPal_2014_600px

… This morning I was rumbling around my WordPress Reader under the “dinosaur” tag, getting very stressed out by the religious whack-jobs, when I found out about the Progressive Palaeontology Conference (via the very amusing The Dino Sirs). Turns out that Prog Pal is an annual get-together run by/with The Palaeontological Association for the benefit of early-career palaeontologists to enable them to network and show off their work and whatnot (grossly simplifying there). It also turns out that this year it was being held at the University of Southampton (i.e. not too crazy far from where I live).

[Incidentally, I also found Palaeocast – which, in its own words, is “an open broadcast of palaeontological information, a place where the beauty, diversity and complexity of the field can be conveyed and discussed in a digital format.” And is frigging excellent.]

And it got me to thinking and … yes … regretting. Not that I had a marvellous opportunity to become a palaeontologist and turned it down in order to become a cubicle farmer, but one of my dreams/goals I had as a teenage was to dig up dinosaurs, or at least in some way work in that field/quarry – arf arf. What happened to that dream? I’m not sure. Somewhere along the line I think it got shifted to “unachievable pipe-dream” rather than “acceptable life choice”.  I can’t give an answer that truly satisfies even me over what happened there. (Clearly, not going to university and then working for a large multi-national financial services company instead was a great and worthy undertaking.)

The purpose of sharing this is not to wallow in my own self-pity – quite frankly I find that sickening – or make anybody who reads this (is anybody there?) feel sorry for me and offer up pats on the head. Its just a story within my life. It is what it is. I’m now undertaking a university degree via correspondence course that has nothing to do with palaeontology. But …

… I can’t help but sometimes sit and think and feel slightly nauseous about that other life I might’ve lived.

When I was around 7 or 8 my parents decided that we’d move to the south of France (when I say “we” I mean my parents, one of my elder brothers and myself – my two eldest brothers would be staying in England). They found a house on the edge of a village called Capestang, sold their house in England and were all set to make the move. (Yes, I remember being dimly aware, in a far-off sense, that we’d have gone to school in France.) However, my father woke up on the morning of having to sign the last lot of paperwork and had a bit of a tit-fit and couldn’t go through with it.

But my other half and I have often talked about what my life would’ve been like had the move happened (and by “often” I mean once or twice). In a slightly sarcastic way I decided that I’d’ve gone to l’Université de la Méditerranée in either Marseille or Aix-en-Provence and become a slightly debauched writer-cum-journalist with a passion for vintage sports cars and young oceanography students, eventually careering my old roadster off the cliffs somewhere along the Côte d’Azur before my 30th birthday.

Grace Kelly & Cary Grant in "To Catch A Thief." Cast me as whichever one you like.

Grace Kelly & Cary Grant in “To Catch A Thief.” Cast me as whichever one you like.

Which, in a roundabout way, is kind of the point with regrets.

You can imagine your life all kinds of other ways, but you might’ve walked out of that meeting you missed, or away from that boy you never kissed, or out of that class you wanted to take and got hit by a bus. Or he might’ve turned into an abusive drunk. Or … or … or …

You  never know.

No matter how toadstools* you might feel your life has become, and no matter how many regrets might come wiggling out of their holes like lizards in a tropical evening, there are ways and means of making the change.

One day, perhaps, I’ll get my dream of digging up dinosaurs. Its important to not give up altogether.



*Another dinnerladies reference, I’m afraid … Victoria Wood’s character is searching for a word and says “… what is it? Not toadstools … Disenchanted…” It has now entered the personal lexicon of mine and a few friends.

Getting Back On Track

Currently my blogging schedule is somewhere between …



… and …



… so all I’m saying is that I’ll be back on track.


The Time Is Now: Finally Deinocheirus!

Luis Rey is one of my favourite paleoartists, and I love his take on Deinocheirus ….

Luis V. Rey Updates Blog

deinocheirus_claws_webRemember this? Halszka Osmólska, the discoverer of Deinocheirus (the Terrible Claw) in awe of her own discovery…How many times have we stood and stared in awe of this fossil, imagining what the rest of the animal would look? Comparative anatomy deductions  and guesswork are all too good but can never compare to the real thing… as the events in the last weeks news have demonstrated.

Five decades after casts of  those enigmatic gigantic arms started making their way to museums all over the world, the rest of the body is being finally released…  even if it is so in (bureaucratic) stages. It is not until recently that the skull has been re-integrated to the rest of the body (that itself was a stellar presentation at SVP last year)! The full story promises to be yet another paleontological odyssey .
We all saw it in the internet: the fossils are finally being rightfully returned  to Mongolia

View original post 330 more words

Following The Path

I am a little bit excited about this week’s genealogy post as it also marks my first ever guest post! The eponymous travelling lady behind the fabulous The Travel Lady In Her Shoes kindly agreed to do a bit of a write-up regarding her journey of discovering her family history …

It seems to me that no one studies their genealogy until you are the last one left. Or maybe one just gets older and the END/BEGINNING is nearer and one wonders “where in the world did we come from?” This was the case for me anyway. Both my parents had passed and I realized I knew very little about my families and I wanted to leave SOME imprint to my children and grandchildren. So I started to search. The first thing I did was go to my father’s older sister, a woman I hadn’t seen since I was a child. If anyone knows a good way on how to land on your relative’s doorstep after 50+ years to ask for family information, please let me know! I just called and showed up. I think it helped that my father was well liked. My aunt had photocopies and booklets made of family reunions from way back, way before my time. I was thrilled to see these since I didn’t know these papers existed and even more thrilled that my aunt let me take the entire caboodle to copy and then mail back to her! I had pictures! I had stories! I had names!

I was hooked!


The big challenge that many Americans face is the mobility of our society. I do not live where I was born, not even in the same state. Neither did my father or mother, neither did my grandparents. So it’s not like we were seeing our relatives frequently. So growing up I got pieces of this and that, only from my father, mostly when he was drinking. Not a word was ever said about my mother’s family. I was in high school before it was revealed that my mother’s parents and siblings were alive. More on that story later.

My first shock was the fact that most of the knowledge of the family from my father was true. Not entirely accurate, but close enough. These were stories passed down from one generation to another. These stories were documented in my aunt’s papers. I never thought too much about the fact that unless you are a Native American, your family came to this country from somewhere else. It was interesting to learn that my father’s family came here in 1843. At the time, I thought that was a long time ago! The other interesting fact is that most families had their surnames changed on immigration, due to the fact that the processors could not understand the many languages, so they wrote down the immigrants names as it sounded to them. Also, because the new arrivals wanted to fit in, as quickly as possible, they also changed their first names to English names. So I learned our surname had been changed and my great-grandparents spoke German, which was true. My father had always said this. He also said that his grandparents came from Alsace Lorraine, on the border of France and Germany.

I found my great-grandfather’s entry into the U.S. from Hamburg, Germany, on the ship “John,” with his mother, father, uncle, brother and sister. Within a year his father had died, his uncle returned to Germany, and my grandfather was separated from his mother, brother and sister when he was sent to work on a farm as a laborer. He never saw them again. He was 14 years old. He met my great-grandmother many years later. She was a German speaking immigrant also and on her family’s immigration papers it states her family came from Weiler, Germany, or on some documents Savern, Germany, in 1856. I looked and looked for Weiler and Savern, Germany! Thanks to a member on a gentleman told me to look in France for Weiler. There it was, Neuwiller-lès-Saverne, France! In the Alsace region – sometimes France sometimes Germany! The French Ancestry member also told me there was a genealogy center in Saverne, France and I should contact them for information. So I wrote them a letter, stating the name of my great-grandmother, where she was born and what year she immigrated. That was all the information I had.

Elizabeth Zimmermann Denhart, who immigrated from France in 1856, that I wrote about in my piece, with four of her sons and one of her daughters.

Elizabeth Zimmermann Denhart, who immigrated from France in 1856, with four of her sons and one of her daughters.

Then I went to France on vacation and made plans to go to the genealogy center and to Neuwiller-lès-Saverne. Imagine my shock when I got to the center, not far from Neuwiller-lès-Saverne, to find the genealogist had traced my great-grandmother’s family and their siblings back to 1600! Also, there was a couple from Neuwiller-lès-Saverne, genealogists who helped families trace their trees in France, there to talk to me! They were elderly and spoke German, French and a little English. They were thrilled that I had traced a family back to their village! So I went with them to Neuwiller-lès-Saverne, and they showed me family graves in the Protestant graveyard. The Zimmermann family had lived there for centuries!

Saint-Adelphe Protestant Church, Neuwiller-lès-Saverne

Saint-Adelphe Protestant Church, Neuwiller-lès-Saverne

They took me to the church. The village was really small with a few farming families still living there. I asked them if they knew why my family had emigrated. A cloud came over the old man’s face. “They were Calvinists,” he replied. “Not allowed to live in the village proper.” The church had helped them to emigrate. I got to thinking what it would take for me to up and leave my country, my family, my friends, taking only the clothes on my back and go to a new home in a far away country, not speaking the language and at the mercy of people I did not know. It would take a lot. These people wanted something better and were willing to give up everything. Tracing the family after the arrival to the United States I found the children marrying Irish immigrants, Scottish immigrants, and other Germans, mostly working at farming, but after the 1920’s moving to the cities to work in factories. I still correspond with the French genealogists from Neuwiller-lès-Saverne, the French man who pointed me in the right direction of Neuwiller-lès-Saverne, even meeting with his family and touring Colmar with them. And I renewed a family tie with my aunt that lasted until her death in 2010. You never know where your finds will take you!

My mother’s story was such a tragedy. WWII had such a toll on so many people. It was heartbreaking and I learned the entire story long after my mother and father’s death, meeting with my mother’s older sister and going to the courthouse to get all the facts. My aunt was hesitant to tell the story; I believe she felt a betrayal of sorts since her younger sister had kept the secret for such a long time, who was she to repeat it? But get the facts I did and it made me want to know about my grandparents, their upbringings and family history.

My grandmother was a Lee and my grandfather a Jones. Can you be any more English?! Their families, especially the Lees, were relatively easy to trace because that family had been here a long, long time. Basically, they had lived in only four states from the time they arrived in the U.S and never strayed very far from other relatives. My surprise was the English families only married into other English families and most of them were well established in the U.S. too. I discovered the families were large, usually twelve or more children, to work the farm and they all named their children the same names! There might be a family with 12 children, Mary, John, Catherine, Polly, Charles, etc. who all have 12 children naming them Mary, John, Catherine, Polly, Charles, etc. So you end up with a bazillion children very close in age to their cousins of the same name and age! What a nightmare to discern!


However, I got lucky in one family who always passed down the name of Greenberry. Green Lee, Mary Berry Lee, Sarah Greenberry Lee, Greenberry Phillip Lee, you get the picture. I finally traced the family of Greenberry’s back to the original Mr. Green and Miss Berry! It’s amazing how families can focus on a name! I was surprised to learn that my name Cady was a continuously passed down name. My Lee family was traced back to the Robert E. Lee descendants and that family has been so well documented it was easier to trace my English roots. So I set off to find Kinlet in Shropshire and the Blount family home.

Humphrey Lee (great-grandfather to Richard Henry Lee who came to the U.S.) married Katherine Blount in 1531 in Coton Hall, Nordley Regis, Shropshire. I did not know enough about getting records or such in England so I set out to find their home origins as a first step. As with most Americans the hardest time I had in England was threefold:

1. Driving on the opposite side of the road and car than I am used to.

2. Arriving in bustling London, when I come from a town of 11,000, where we don’t even get mail delivery.

3. Confused, because we speak the same language, but I had trouble understanding what people were saying. When I got to the smaller villages, things went much more smoothly! Since the Lees had left England a long time ago, I was not sure just what I would find. I wrote about it in my post Meet the Family.


Present-day Coton Hall, built c.1800

There is much more to discover in England, so I am looking forward to another visit to Shropshire and to stay in one place long enough to meet the locals and glean more local information. I look forward to finding (I drove around, but was unable to find) the birthplace of Richard Henry Lee, born 1613, at Coton Hall, Nordley Regis, in Shropshire. I am also wanting more information on Ann Owens Constable, his wife. I know Coton Hall still exists, it was listed for sale a few years back! Slightly out of my price range! If you have any information that might be helpful to me, please let me know!

Dumb It Down & Sex It Up

I haven’t written about dinosaurs here for a long, long time – and I’m reintroducing this topic whilst combining it with one of my favourite things: a rant. Fair warning.

Recently there have been a couple of palaeontological stories hitting the headlines and the way that they were reported has … well, really got my goat. The subject of the rant isn’t contained to science stories – it seems that any topic in the media needs to be either dumbed down or sexed up. If it can be both then even better, especially if there can either be a portmanteau created or a snazzy nickname.

I will freely admit – right up front – that palaeontology isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and not everyone understands the implications of finds or the context in which they were found or even how to pronounce some of the names. For example, Qianzhousaurus sinensis doesn’t exactly trip of the tongue, even if Anzu wyliei is less of a tongue twister.

Qianzhousaurus on the right. Picture from National Geographic, image by Chuang Zhao.

Qianzhousaurus on the right. Picture from National Geographic, image by Chuang Zhao.

Qianzhousaurus is in the news at the moment and is a long-snouted tyrannosaur (phylogenetic analysis is still out on if its located in the Tyrannosaurinae or Albertosaurinae subfamily- and yes that matters) that lived at the same time and the same place as other, larger, tyrannosaurs (such as Tarbosaurus bataar and Zuchengtyrannus magnus). That is, in what is now Asia.

Apparently, due to the fact that it has a long, thin snout (longer and thinner than other members of the tyrannosaur family, at least) and because it is vaguely related to everybody’s favourite sexy killing machine, Tyrannosaurus rex (which lived in what is now North America), what does it get dubbed?

Pinocchio rex. (Well, if you’re lucky – it also appears as Pinocchio Rex and that capital R also makes my blood boil.)

Because its … with the nose … and the … tyrannosaur … do you see … snout … uh-huh.

Anzu wyliei. Picture from National Geographic. Image by Emily M Eng

Anzu wyliei. Picture from National Geographic. Image by Emily M Eng

Travelling a few months back in time to March of this year, we find the glorious oviraptorosaur Anzu wyliei, as unearthed from the Hell Creek formation in the Dakotas. Anzu is currently the largest and most complete of its kind known from North America (Gigantoraptor from Mongolia was far larger).

As a feathered theropod, its already a bit sexy. Oviraptorosaurs have very birdlike skeletons. Some researchers (such as Gregory S. Paul, Michael Benton and Teresa Maryańska) think that they lie within the class Aves (i.e. are flightless birds). Others (such as Alan H. Turner, Julia A. Clarke and Mark Norell) disagree, saying they are non-avialan maniraptorans. Basically, the line between what makes a bird a bird and not a dinosaur is one that isn’t so much blurred as possibly non-existent. 

But I digress.

Due to the location and the fact that this fellow had a cracking great crest, a beak and some formidable claws, it has been dubbed “the chicken from hell”. Sadly, this was not a nickname thrown up by the press themselves but had been included in the official press release that was associated with the discovery. It turns out that the research team , whilst working on the find, began to refer to it this way. The description then was off and whizzed around the internet. Who could resist such an utterly bedazzling phrase?

National Geographic described it as “a devilish version of the modern cassowary”. The Washington Post called it “a freakish bird-like type of dinosaur”. Smithsonian Science said “one scary chicken … no BBQ is large enough for this discovery”. The Guardian went for “[it] resembled a beefed-up emu”. The Boston Globe offered a rather less sensationalist article – although loses marks for comparing the bony crest with “a rooster’s comb” – decidedly not bony.

As previously mentioned, this is a symptom of the way in which media proffer up stories. You might say that these are ‘niche’ stories – only of interest to a specific few. If that is the case then we don’t need anything sexing up to digest it. You might say that it encourages people who might not otherwise be interested in a subject to investigate something new. Granted – but how far in to the article do they read before they think “This isn’t about sexy chickens at all!” and click away to whatever does float their boat?

Can we not, please, have a bit of intelligence in science reporting?

I leave you with this piece of utter journalistic trash from The Washington Post (which, admittedly, up until this point had produced a well-written article):

Did it . . . cluck?

“We have no evidence that it clucked or crowed,” Lamanna said.

What would it have tasted like?

“I can’t answer that question with any degree of certainty,” he said, but he suggested that it might have tasted a bit like alligator or ostrich.

Alligator famously tastes a little bit like chicken. But ostrich — an animal that is scientifically a dinosaur and is our closest analogue to the Chicken From Hell — tastes like beef.


Charles Victor Hurcombe

I thought I’d follow up last week’s ‘Ancestor Of The Week’ with another that was inspired by his hair (although I have to say that although he isn’t an ancestor – he’s my 2 x great-uncle – the photo beautifully illustrates the power of genetics).

I have inherited many things from my parents – a widow’s peak and passive-aggressive arguing from my father, trick knees and bad ears from my mother – but looking at the wider family on my mother’s side and one thing becomes apparent. Hair. It tends to be thick, wavy, dark and lustrous. (Two of my brothers are blond, but have the thick waves when it is allowed to get long.) Mine, too, has a propensity for the … if I’m being kind then we’ll go for Mr. Darcy curls … if I’m being less kind then we’ll go for Don King.

I used to call this ‘Holborow Hair’ after my maternal grandmother and her father’s family. However, upon finding the below photograph it has now been altered to ‘Hurcombe Hair’.

Charlie Hurcombe

Charlie Hurcombe

Now that’s some hair.

Charlie was born in the small Gloucestershire village of Tresham, located between the National Arboretum at Westonbirt and the village of Wotton-under-Edge, on o3 February 1909. He was the eldest son and second child of my 2 x great-grandparents – Alfred William Hurcombe and his wife Harriet Robins.

Alfred was a shepherd, as can be seen on the family’s 1911 Census return.

1911 England Census

1911 England Census

Other than his sister, Edith (my great-grandmother), and his parents, Charles also shared his home at that time with a William James Meacham. There is no (known) connection between the Meacham and Hurcombe or Robins families, and I believe that little William is the brother of a Wilfred Harold Meacham who was also born in Tresham in 1910. In 1911 Wilfred is living with his (presumed) father, Frank Meacham, less than 20 miles away from Tresham in Coates, Gloucestershire. Frank was a cowman so perhaps he knew Alfred from the farming community, or his wife (Elizabeth Jane nee Clarke) knew Harriet. As to where Elizabeth is in the 1911 census, there is an Elizabeth Meacham listed as a patient in the Bristol Royal Infirmary. Given a lack of other options, I strongly suspect that this is William and Wilfred’s mother. (To set your minds at rest, there’s no death registered for an Elizabeth Meacham in that area for quite some time!)

Alfred worked for Richard Holborow at Burden Court Farm in Tresham for many years. In 1922 the family moved to Heddington (near Devizes) and he became a shepherd at Nether Street, a nearby hamlet/collection of farms. Given the proximity to Devizes, it is likely that Charlie met his wife, Violet Muriel Brewer, there. They married in 1931 and went on to have 3 sons.

Charlie & Vi

Charlie & Vi

Charlie passed away in 1994, with his wife following 2 years later. He’d worked for the ambulance service in Devizes for many years, and in his spare time started a small garden near the ambulance station. After his retirement he still visited the station and tended the garden. Following his death the other guys decided to honour him and his green fingers by creating the Charles Hurcombe Memorial Garden.

Charlie Hurcombe Cup

Adoption Story

This article was inspired by two things. Firstly, an article I read on the BBC website this week: Longest-separated twins find each other. Secondly, this post by Alex at Root To Tip.

Adoption is often a very emotive issue, and there are arguments both for and against those wishing to seek out their birth parents or children given up for adoption. Whilst I have no direct experience with adoption – you have to go back a few generations on my father’s side before you get to any – I do have some with researching the adoptions of others.

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TAC: Plots and Timelines

The last assignment for the challenge came from my own head (following discussion) and consisted of three parts. (You can read the full assignment details here – and Jamie’s take on this one on his blog.)

  1. Finish plot outlines.
  2. Create combined timelines.
  3. Continue story with 5 pages.

During – or perhaps it was right at the beginning – of this assignment Jamie and I agreed that our stories, already existing in the same universe and featuring a character from the other story, would become part of one whole. Not too much of a stretch. But then … oh, then … that idea combined with the ‘Scene Unseen‘ assignment and something more was born …

My original story was that of the relationship between the two men – but told from the POV of just one of them. The other – the ‘straight’ colleague who finds himself in a relationship with another guy – was only going to be seen in the form of his reactions. You’ll have noticed the past tense in that sentence: was.

Aaaaand that’s all the hint I’m giving you.

Which is quite a big hint, to be fair.

Luckily, I did complete the second part, and the third part made it to four pages. The first part? Not so much. I think I know where the two of them are heading. I have something I want to throw into the mix … which I’m not even talking about … but I need to sit down and scribble it all out.

On paper.

With a pencil.

Whilst I’m not quite at the slash your wrists and bleed onto the page part quite yet, but this is turning out to be something bigger than either of us imagined …

At least there isn’t a map involved.