Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Researching my family tree

Like many people I've always been keen to research my family tree, but have never really found the time. Fortunately my cousin Anne, on my father's side of the family, has done some work herself and kindly shared with me some of the fruits of her research.

It's not of course that my family history is any more interesting than anybody else's. Most of my ancestors on my father's side would appear to have been domestic servants of one kind or another. One piece of calligrapher's scrawl seemed to indicate that a particular ancestor had been a writer, but upon closer inspection he would appear instead to have been a waiter.

I was already aware that my paternal grandmother had descended from Welsh stock. For a few generations she and her forebears had been inhabitants of Haverfordwest, in Pembrokeshire. But the name "Burns" is not conspicuously Welsh and indeed the furthest ancestor I can find back in that line was indeed not Welsh but Irish (it isn't an Irish name either so possibly there is a link back across the water to Scotland, but that is for another day).

My paternal grandfather meanwhile had always claimed Scottish roots, but was by all accounts known for the more than occasional conveyance of inexactitudes and so nobody was completely convinced. But it appears he was correct - his own grandfather was actually Scottish and there is a line of Falconers, Grahams and McGlauchans stretching back quite a few generations. There is also the curious name Shesh which I can only find on Google as having its origins in India, although I would doubt there were many Indian people living in eighteenth century Aberdeen so a less exotic explanation is likely.

The other significant discovery was that of a strong Yorkshire connection stretching back for eight generations. The names Davison, Blyth, Hunter, Tiplady, Sidgewick, Harpley and Nicholson are all those of my Yorkshire forebears, although I don't seem to be able to place whereabouts in that huge county they originate from. The Davisons moved to Middlesborough in the early nineteenth century and it was there that one of my Yorkshire ancestors married into the Scottish line, who had moved south at around the same time. This Scottish/Yorkshire match-up produced my great-grandmother Jessie, who in turn moved down to Hounslow where she was to marry into the Andrews side, whose roots we have traced back to a village called Finchingfield in Essex.

What fascinates me more than anything is just how mobile many families and individuals were even before the advent of cars and aeroplanes. It must have been quite a wrench to up sticks from within a settled community in Aberdeen, Yorkshire, Haverfordwest or Essex, presumably in most cases to find work.

When I get the time I intend to look into my mother's side. This may prove more difficult as I'm aware much of her line is from Ireland, but research of this kind is an addictive and compelling pursuit and I doubt now whether I'm going to be able to stop until I find everything that is out there.

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