About Me

My photo
I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Saturday, July 31, 2021


Looking Backwards: A Matter of Life and Death (2)

As I’ve mentioned recently it appears that the vast majority of my uncovered ancestors lived and died within sight of where they were born. I see where I get my ‘home body’ genes from. There are a few examples of those who moved though – some a great distance to VERY foreign lands. I’ve already mentioned some connections with the Caribbean island of Barbados (of which more later) and a few connections with America (before the Revolution). But, as always, there’s more…..

Just recently I’ve been looking at William Banks II (1796-1868), my 4th great-grandfather, and his wife Elizabeth – nee Taylor (1798-1868) who moved from Shropshire, England (where a great many of my ancestors originated) and ended up in Spanish Fork, Utah where they farmed and raised five children. One of those children, John Banks (1834-1896), my 3rd great-granduncle, fought with the Utah Territory Militia in the ‘Blackhawk War’, the name of the estimated 150 battles, skirmishes, raids, and military engagements taking place from 1865 to 1872, primarily between Mormon settlers in Sanpete County, Sevier County and other parts of central and southern Utah, and members of 16 Ute, Southern Paiute, Apache and Navajo tribes, led by a local Ute war chief, Antonga Black Hawk. [Thanks, Wiki] How WEIRD is THAT! One of HIS sons, Robert Taylor Banks (1871-1915) married a local Utah girl Ellen Gudrun Johnson (1871-1964) whose family was from ICELAND [another STRANGE connection] and whose mother had the brilliant, if difficult to pronounce name of Ingibjorg Ingimundsdr.

Then, there’s the brilliantly named Mary Elizabeth Gilson Pomfrett (1630-1653), my 10th great-grandmother, born in the East Riding of Yorkshire who gave birth to Thomas Key (1643-1695) at age 13! [interestingly Thomas was born in Cheshire and not Yorkshire where Mary, his mother, was from. I’m guessing she was sent to relatives to give birth and then either return home or leave for the New World] and who died 10 years later in Charles City, Virginia, New England in 1653. I do wonder if she went there voluntarily. I don’t know much more about her presently – including what age she was when she arrived – but it looks certain that she left her son behind in England.

Then, there’s another possible English Civil War refugee William Cotton (1611-1652) who was my 10th great-grandfather. He was born in Staffordshire and produced a daughter there in 1642 just at the start of the Civil War. Ten years later he died in Boston, Mass. I wonder if he left the chaos that was England at the time looking for a new, and more peaceful, existence in the Colonies. Interestingly, it looks like his daughter, Mary Cotton (1642-1726) stayed in England. She then married Thomas Key – mentioned above – in Staffordshire 1666.

Lastly for now what I originally thought might have been an elopement story but now I’m not so sure. Both James Nolan (1840-1910), my 3rd great-grandfather and Sarah Katherine Gallagher had a rather eventful 1865 with the birth of their 2nd child, leaving Ireland, arriving in the US, taking up residence in Batavia, Illinois and also getting married there……

I’ll see what else I can dig up about my ever expanding cast of endlessly fascinating ancestors……. [lol]

Thursday, July 29, 2021

I'd read it.... IF it was delivered to my door and then handed to me in my chair.... 

Just Finished Reading: The Revenge of History – The Battle for the 21st Century by Seumas Milne (FP: 2012) [277pp]

This is a bit of an odd one. I picked it up expecting (indeed hoping) that it was an analysis of how the late 20th and start of the 21 centuries got us into this mess. Although there were elements of that it turned out to be, at least for me, rather disappointing on that note. This isn’t to say that the book was bad or defective in some way – it wasn’t. It’s just that it wasn’t what I wanted it to be.

Running from 1999 to 2011 this was a look at the political, economic and military events of the period from 9/11 to the Arab Uprising. There was one aspect that took me a little while to get my head around from the very start. Rather than looking backwards from 2012 when it was published each section (and sub-section) is contemporary with the events described. Although I don’t think it actually says anywhere, either in the preamble or the blurb on the back, the book is (or seems to be) a collection of the author’s articles presumably printed at the time in The Guardian newspaper. Whilst that is a valid way of doing things – especially if you hadn’t read them before – it does I think significantly reduce the authors opportunities to analyse events with the benefit of hindsight that he obviously had prior to publication of the book rather than prior to publication of the articles themselves. What might have been more interesting would be if the author had commented on his own work with that hindsight from an almost god-like position of ‘knowing’ what was coming next. A little ‘post-modern’ I know but I think it would have worked and would have given some interesting and valuable insights into things.

For those who are unaware, The Guardian is/was the premier left-leaning newspaper in the UK and, before I stopped buying all newspapers some years ago, I read it for many years from my student days and through my first 20 years of employment from then. So naturally I found myself in agreement with almost every word in this book. Unfortunately that was one of the things that ‘disappointed’ me (*I know*!) and I must admit I did find myself a little bored from time to time. I also clearly remember much of what’s covered here because I’m fairly switched on politically (as you may have realised – lol) and I was paying attention at the time these events were unfolding around me. If this applies to you as much as me I can’t see you deriving much from reading this book. If, however, you were *not* paying attention (for any of a whole host of reasons) or want to see the first part of the 21st century through a pair of lefty eyes then you might get quite an education. Reasonable but I’m really looking for something a bit more analytical.  

Monday, July 26, 2021



Just Finished Reading: Ship of Force by Alan Evans (FP: 1979) [255pp]

Summer, 1917. After returning to England after his adventures off the Pacific coast of North America the Admiralty didn’t really know what to do with Commander David Cochrane Smith. Was he reckless, nothing more than a glory hound or was he something else – gifted, special, an asset in the ongoing conflict with Germany. Only time and opportunity would tell and Rear-Admiral Braddock was determined to give him that opportunity. Despite some opposition, Smith was to be given command of a destroyer flotilla in the English Channel tasked with the destruction of enemy U-Boats. He was to report to his commanding officer in Dunkirk at his earliest opportunity. But on arrival any thought that all had been ‘forgiven’ was quickly dismissed. His ‘flotilla’ was in fact an aged Torpedo Boat ‘Destroyer’ dating from the last years of the 19th century and a barely functioning Monitor coastal bombardment vessel. To make matters worse, as if they could be, both crews had a reputation of insubordination and causing regular trouble whilst on shore leave. If Smith was to make any headway or any impression at all he needed to do something quickly. Taking command of the ‘destroyer’ on his first day in post they run across a surfaced U-boat and engage it. Rescuing survivors after the battle the dying captain of the submarine rants about ‘Operation Swordbearer’ – a plan that is sure to turn the tide of war in Germany’s favour. But was exactly *is* Swordbearer? Dismissed as the ramblings of a dying man by Smith’s new commander it is up to Smith and his team to uncover the plot and defend against whatever the planned attack can throw at them. But with two of the worst ships in the Dunkirk squadron what can one man possibly do? Quite a lot – if that man is as resourceful and determined as Commander David Cochrane Smith!

After thoroughly enjoying his previous book in the series I was really looking forward to this and it very much did not disappoint. Smith is a great character especially in this book with both his anger management and self-doubt issues under more control. He still doesn’t quite understand why his men look up to and value him so much but it doesn’t take too much reasoning power to discern the reason why – although he does push his people to perform (probably more than they thought they could) he is a VERY good leader of men, although I do think that he’s a bit too reckless for my liking. One of his qualities though is that Smith leads from the front. He certainly puts his men in danger and does get some of them killed (word to the wise – in these books it’s best not to get too attached to secondary characters!) but he’s right in the thick of it with them, taking the same risks and just as often needing at least some medical attention once combat it over. As with the previous book the naval combat scenes are both very well down and damned exciting. The tension builds throughout the book with a simple fight between destroyed and sub to start with, moving through a fast ‘contact’ with multiple enemies caught unawares whilst loading troops and finally with a ‘boss fight’ between Smith’s small flotilla (plus a fast torpedo boat that he ‘borrowed’) against an enemy Battlecruiser and her escorts. There’s also a reasonable espionage sub-plot as well as, with Smith’s well-deserved reputation, a brief relationship element. Great characterisation throughout – I particularly liked the irascible female tugboat captain who assists Smiths plans from time to time. Overall this was GREAT fun from the first page. I think I have just one more of this author’s series to read and am actively trying to get his others. A total blast and highly recommended if you can find a copy.          

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Reading Plans for 2021 (and Beyond) – Half Year Update


Has it REALLY been 6 months already? Yup! How times flies during a slow motion Apocalypse…. I think it’s about time I surveyed how my 2021 Reading Plans were doing. Well, it’s one way I can keep myself on track – or at least TRY too! [lol]

Following The Labels

My Plan to follow the country/region labels is going reasonably well. I’ve read & reviewed the bunch of books for both France and Germany (with an additional China bonus triple), so (ancient) Greece is up next – presently sitting in the ‘to be scheduled soon’ pile – and I expect to complete both the India and Ireland batch this year.

Dipping in the Knowledge Streams

Dipping is, I think, the word here. I’ve been nibbling around the edges of ‘Britain Alone’, ‘World War to Cold War’ and ‘USA:WTF’ but will become more focused going into the 2nd half of the year. I’m actually about to start the official foundation of my ‘Britain Alone’ set of books with the 1938 Munich Crisis, so that’ll be showing up for review in about 5-6 weeks. The foundation for the ‘World War to Cold War’, which is a review of Occupied Europe prior to D-Day will follow later (but well before year’s end). As the topic of ‘USA:WTF’ is rather more amorphous it’ll be a little more hit and miss as I’m really not sure what would count as a foundation for that subject!   

Wild Cards

I think the ‘Wild Cards’ are working well and the increased number of them will be showing up from around now and going forward into next year. I’m expecting, with them being ‘wild’ and all, that they should produce some real surprises – and not only for my hard-core readers.

Finishing/Progressing Series

I’m approaching the end of the ‘Sharpe’ series of books – just in time for Cornwell to drop another one! – which should be complete early next year. I’ve also recently (and finally!) finished the ‘Divergent’ series of books. Coming up, by the end of the year anyway, will be the final book in the ‘Hunger Games’ trilogy that I still haven’t read. I’m yet to start either the ‘Foundation’ or ‘Dune’ series of books, in advance of the Foundation TV series or the Dune movie but hope to do so this year (although the reviews might drop in 2022). Naturally, being me, I have started several more long running series – notably ‘The Expanse’ – which will take some time to complete.

Bigger Books & Reducing the Review Pile

The review pile presently stands as 11 which is somewhat better than the 14 of six months ago. I am endeavouring to read longer books to push that down to around 8 (which seems reasonable) but its slow going. Presently my average read is 330pp (which is at least 20pp more than six months ago!) with the aim to get that above 350pp and keep it there. The largest book reviewed since records began (on Oct 22nd 2020) is 561pp but that record will fall in a few weeks.


My plan to read more Award Winning books is, I think, going well. MANY more to come including some interesting surprises.

 Continuing as Usual

On top of all of that I’m, naturally, progressing with all of my background reading plans. The last of the (extended) ‘Man Vs Machine’ reading pile has entered my (enlarged) ‘read next’ stack sitting on my sofa, so the next stack of WW1 based novels will start being scheduled soon(ish). The rest of the reading Cosmic Background you can probably already guess at. The only notable addition going forward will be a number of Ancestry related books both on the deeper genetic aspects of the Brits (and Irish of course) as well as some more focused reading on the Caribbean and the pre-revolution American colonies.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

 Can't you see that I'm READING!

Just Finished Reading: Stations of the Tide by Michael Swanwick (FP: 1991) [252pp]

Miranda was changing. The long anticipated return of the ocean waters was already visible. Coastal communities were packing up and moving to higher ground. The local lifeforms were already starting the process of changing from aerial or land based life into the purely aquatic. Everything was in flux. In the midst of the chaos on the surface an unnamed bureaucrat is sent to retrieve a stolen piece of technology that has been proscribed for use by any less advanced civilisation. A man only known as Gregorian has promised his followers that he will lead a revolt against the powers holding his world back. With his stolen tech he might just be able to do that – unless the bureaucrat can stop him in time. As the tide rises and the bureaucrat follows various clues as to Gregorian’s whereabouts his search is hampered by the very lack of technology he is searching for. Relying on his wits, his charm and his smart, and smart mouthed, briefcase he is in a race against time before the very ground under his feet disappears.

This took me a while to get into because the premise was so weird. The world of Miranda was truly alien – not just Earth with a few tweaks – but really, really strange. Likewise the colonists – the indigenous population had gone extinct fairly recently – having adapted to the strange rhythms of their new home were equally a bit odd. Added to this was the party atmosphere engendered by the coming floods including a fair smattering of recreational drug use which, naturally, messed with the main characters senses. The ‘MacGuffin’ of the stolen technology was mostly a plot device (OK, that’s somewhat of a spoiler but not a whole lot of one!) to motivate the main protagonist ahead through a changing world. Once I wrapped my head around what was going on it was an interesting ride full of unique experiences and fascinating characters. The ending was suitably dramatic and quite surprising – in a GOOD way – and definitely left me with a wondering smile on my face. All in all this was a very entertaining read and deserved its Award nominations. Definitely recommended. Much more SF to come!


Arthur C. Clarke Award Best Book (nominee)

Hugo Best Novel (nominee)

John W Campbell Memorial Award Best Novel (nominee)

Nebula Awards Best Novel (Winner)    

Monday, July 19, 2021


 Too warm to run around much.........

Just Finished Reading: The Last White Rose – The Secret Wars of the Tudors by Desmond Seward (FP: 2010) [349pp]

‘Uneasy rests the Crown’…. No more uneasy, it seemed, than that of Henry VII. After snatching victory from the very jaws of defeat on Bosworth Field in 1485, and that very victory ensured by an act of betrayal, it came as no surprise that the King saw enemies everywhere – because he did indeed have enemies everywhere. The Tudor faction may have prevailed on the battlefield but Henry soon realised that gaining power and holding power are two very different things. The key element that defined Henry’s rule was fear of a conspiracy to unseat him. There was certainly enough cause to fear. Scattered throughout England and in exile on the near continent and in Ireland were members of Richard’s family and of his affinity who actively plotted with other European powers to return the Plantagenet’s to their rightful place. All of this took a toll on Henry himself and the country as uprising after plot after rebellion rose up and had to be put down – sometimes with a great deal of blood. The longed for peace after the Wars of the Roses did not materialise. Growing up in this environment the young future Henry VIII could hardly have been unaffected by the paranoia that plagued his father’s very existence. Knowing that enemies, both foreign and domestic, both real and purely imaginary, had dedicated their very lives to end the Tudor dynasty must have both warped Henry’s responses to threats and informed him as to where those threats existed. Woe to those families with too strong a link to the Plantagenet line of succession. Even the very existence of a potential heir of that line could be enough to condemn otherwise largely innocent men and women to be imprisoned or executed. Professions of loyalty, bribes, hostages or simple innocence cut little ice with Henry VIII in his quest for safety.

Most histories of the Wars of the Roses end with Bosworth in 1485 when the contest between the Houses of Lancaster and York had been apparently settled in suitably brutal fashion. Here we see the aftermath of the war for the victor on that day and the following generation, both who had to deal with or at least felt that they had to deal with rivals for their legitimate position as English monarch. The ‘peace’ following Bosworth was nothing of the sort and was instead an age of smouldering enmity and resentment on the Yorkist side and fear and paranoia on the Tudor side. Thinking about how Henry VIII was exposed to this atmosphere from birth goes some way to explain his actions (or over reactions!) as monarch as he sought out and destroyed ‘enemies’ wherever he found them. One thing that also struck me – although not explicitly covered in this excellent volume – was the effectiveness of Elizabeth I’s intelligence network both domestically and within Europe. Such an organisation, even managed by someone as talented as Sir Francis Walsingham, could not have been created overnight. It would seem that such a network of spies and informants had been in the process of being built long before Elizabeth came to power during her father’s and indeed her grandfather’s reign.

This is an excellent insight into aspects of the Tudor dynasty that are far too often overlooked. Plantagenet pretenders (and actual legitimate heirs) offered a real and present threat to Tudor rule and had a significant impact on English history. Definitely a must read for anyone interested in the era.  

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Looking Backwards – DNA Results!

Several months ago I bought myself a DNA Ancestor kit and sent a seeming bucketful of spit to a lab in Ireland for analysis. The results were due next week but dropped early. Interestingly the results were mundane, surprising and a little disappointing.

Rather unsurprisingly my results came out as 59% Irish. On my father’s side of things I’ve only managed to go back around 100 years but I’m confident, once I break through the deadlock, that they go back as far as records allow – and no doubt much further – on the Irish East coast. So 59% is no great surprise. Knowing now that my mother’s side of the family are, by and large, English (or at least born & bred in England) the 59% seems reasonable. There’s a blip of Irish blood back in the 18th century – most likely from one of the periodic famines – that shows up in the Midlands (no doubt in the early-ish stages of the Industrial Revolution) which probably explains the additional 9%. So far, so mundane.

The surprise, at least to me, in the next big chunk of DNA in each of my cells – 36% Scottish. Now certainly on my Mother’s side (the only lineage I’ve managed to track back to any great depth) I’ve thought several times that there is a notable ABSENCE of Scots. As mentioned above most of my maternal ancestors are English with an Irish blip and a handful of Welsh back in the 16th century. The vast majority of my maternal ancestors are either from the Midlands or points SOUTH. I could understand a bleed-over effect from ancestors near the Scottish borders but it surprises me a great deal to see Scottish genes so heavily represented here. I’m obviously missing some information. The only things I can think of is either some SERIOUS mixing of Scottish DNA into my English ancestors prior to Tudor times (I know that several serious raids into the Midlands and the South happened over the last 1000 years but nothing that resulted in long term occupation) or, and probably more likely, the Scottish DNA comes from migrations from Scotland into Ireland from VERY early days. As always more research (AKA books!) is required.

Of course what this does mean is that I’m 95% Celtic – which is COOL in itself and something I had long believed myself to be. It seems that I do indeed have an INDENTITY that I can back up with science & stuff. I am, as you might expect, more than happy with that result. I’m a CELT – deal with it [lol]. This, of course, also requires much more reading! [grin]

So, what of the other 5%? Well, the DNA results said that I’m 3% English or North European. Again that’s interesting. It would suggest that the Irish side of the family didn’t have any noticeable influx of other DNA lines and that the ‘English’ side of things – presumably from Irish and (somehow) Scottish ancestors - didn’t mix much with the locals. I wonder if that was due to their Catholic faith. I’m guessing that the local English (with majority ‘English’ DNA) were Protestants so were outside the acceptable breeding range of the ‘Irish’/’Scottish’ DNA lines. That might explain any mate selection process that would, as a consequence, exclude ‘English’ DNA from the available gene pool. At least that’s a working theory!

The remaining 2% was, rather oddly, Swedish. This is both funny (in a way) and more than a little disappointing. The ‘funny’ part is that I expect that a LOT of European DNA, including the UK and Ireland, have around 2-5% Scandinavian in its code structure. Those guys got around a LOT over the years. The disappointing part is that it destroys a personal myth I kind of toyed with about having Viking ancestors. After all the area where my father’s family comes from was periodically settled by Vikings. I guess they didn’t mix very much…. So, my first impulse was to be rather underwhelmed by the whole thing but thinking about it more deeply my mind is starting to run down interesting rabbits as they bob and weave away from me. One of the interesting takeaways from the results is how incredibly LOCAL my DNA is. Despite the UK in general being a real mixing pot over the millennia my DNA line managed to stay fairly cohesive. That in itself is something to ponder on….. Oh, and one more thing that popped into my head. The DNA trail seems to suggest that NONE of my ancestors came over with the Normans in 1066 and after. Interesting!

Thursday, July 15, 2021


Just Finished Reading: Sophie Scholl and the White Rose by Annette Dumbach & Jud Newborn (FP: 1986) [185pp]

She knew she had her whole life ahead of her – she just had to get there. Coming of age in 1930’s Germany was never going to be easy. As the new regime became more and more embedded in ordinary life if became increasingly difficult to ignore things. It also became increasingly difficult to be ignored and left alone. Because of this the Scholl family slowly emerged onto the authority’s radar. Although the children took part in Hitler Youth activities they, generally, followed their father’s beliefs and held such groups in distain. Even Hans, who had initially thrown himself into the organisation and had risen accordingly, finally turned against their regimented philosophy. When war came the Scholl’s were appalled. Even with victory after victory, and final victory regularly assured on the radio, they knew that it could not last. When friends and family members were sent to Russia the tension was almost unbearable. Couldn’t people see what was happening? Couldn’t they see where things were going? Couldn’t they see that the war could only end in final defeat for Germany? If not, they needed to be told. Now at University, Sophie joined her brother and friends in a group they called ‘The White Rose’. Their object was a noble one – the educate the German people about the danger they all faced now that the country was fighting a war on two fronts and with the American’s as enemies. At first their leaflets were crude, long and far too ‘high-brow’ as befits the efforts of university students. But over the following months they got better as did their distribution network. They also began to gain notice, not only from the authorities but by other resistance groups. But being young, impatient and politically na├»ve they also took risks and that would, unfortunately be the end of them…..

I’d heard of The White Rose in other contexts so I was really looking forward to this classic narrative of their struggle and ultimate demise. I was not disappointed. Written almost like a thriller the tale follows Sophie, her brother (both pictured), her family and her friends as they struggled with the reality of living in a totalitarian Germany where almost everything challenged their beliefs and their sensibilities. Being the family that they were they simply couldn’t stand by and, unfortunately, paid the ultimate price for their defiance. Rather emotional at times (it’s difficult not to get attached to this idealistic bunch of kids) this is a great story of principled resistance in the face of impossible odds. It’s easy to see why this group have become heroes in post-war Germany (and further afield) and rightly so. A great example of how far from jaded youth can be and a great example for future generations. Definitely a recommended read for all political activists! 


Monday, July 12, 2021


 No WAY you could see THAT coming...............

Just Finished Reading: Think Like an Anthropologist by Matthew Engelke (FP: 2017) [319pp]

Despite regular contact with other cultures across the globe the study of Anthropology only became an academic venture in the late 19th century. Unsurprisingly it took on the belief prevalent at the time that cultures evolve and that, quite naturally, white European culture was at the top with various grades of cultures extending below it covering Africa, South American natives and points South-East. This was of course self-congratulatory to the West and ‘justified’ much of the world’s colonial endeavours throughout that age. The problem was that once reliable data started coming back from field studies in often remote places it became almost impossible to maintain a defensible place for such theories. Although ideas of ‘advanced’ and ‘primitive’ or ‘simple’ cultures persisted (in some cases until today in popular imagination) on closer examination this proved to be nothing of the kind. Even so called ‘primitive’ cultures exhibited complex and nuanced social structures, beliefs, and what in any other context would be called political or economic activity. These were not societies that could be analysed and understood in a matter of weeks or months. Investigations lasting years or decades only began to unearth how these ‘primitive’ societies functioned and, as a result, forced western anthropologists to re-evaluate just how their own cultural, and often invisible or ignored, baggage influenced how they saw and subsequently studied their ‘primitive’ subjects.

Honing in on topics like culture and civilisation (both rather difficult to adequately pin down), values and value, blood, identity (hot button topic of the age!), authority and Nature this intriguing little volume both introduces the reader into the theories, practice and rather spotted history of Anthropology and shows how anthropologists (and by extension the reader) think about what they see and experience when they study the subjects of interest. It also allows the reader to see both the strange and the familiar both in far flung cultures as well as our own and gets you wondering exactly why we, in our far from neutral culture, do what we do and think how we do. Why are things certain colours? Why are our social structures the way they are? Is Patriarchy a default state? Are hierarchies inevitable? Is gender fixed or fluid? Looking at how other cultures or societies answer these and a whole host of other questions makes you start to wonder about your own in ways that calls, at least potentially, everything you do or see into question. Thinking like an anthropologist on a daily basis when you’re going out your daily life is quite eye-opening (and occasionally eye-popping) as you learn to see how things actually work in the world you have long taken for granted.

I think I’ve dabbled in anthropology for as long as I can remember. Whenever presented with a new situation or new group I’m always looking for power relationships, network structures and how organisations function (rather than seem to function or pretend to function). Whenever I’m watching a movie or reading a novel I’m looking at political systems or economic structures and thinking “right, that wouldn’t work” or “no one would follow HIM into battle” or some such. Reading SF in my teens and onwards whenever I’d encounter an alien civilisation or was dropped deep into a future society I was always more interested in how those societies functioned, what people (or aliens) believed and how that informed their behaviour, how they related to each other, brought up their children and, more often than not, mused “that’s nonsense” or “that would really conflict with their economics”. Books like this, both very readable and packed with information, let you see the world with different eyes, even just for a few minutes at a time. Next time you’re on your daily activities just pause for a moment and see if you can work out pecking orders or why a street sign looks the way it does and why, sometimes, a new piece of infrastructure isn’t working as the designers intended. Maybe it’s because they didn’t understand the essential anthropology of the situation? Recommended.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Looking Backwards – A Matter of Life & Death (1)

Looking back over my ancestry records over the past month or so has thrown up some very interesting, and honestly mysterious, long lost relatives. It’s also highlighted that, generally, my family are quite long lived despite coming from common stock and, presumably, having correspondingly hard lives. It’s certainly not unusual going back into the 18th or even 17th century and fining members who lived well into their 60’s and beyond. This is an era when average life expectancy was around 40. But I guess that the average was rather skewed towards the lower end of things because of high infant mortality. Get past you first 5, and definitely your first 10, years and reaching 50 or beyond was a lot easier.

But I think the most interesting thing I’ve come across is not how long people lived but where they died. Unsurprisingly most of my ancestors died pretty much within a stone’s throw of where they were born and lived out their lives. At best they might have moved to another town in the same county or moved to an adjacent county at some point. Long distance migration seemed to have been very much the exception. So singular exceptions REALLY jumped out at me.   

First on that list was John Lee (1751-1784). He was my 5th great-grandfather and was born in Limerick, Ireland. Interestingly all of the ancestors listed here are from my maternal line (largely from around the West Midlands of England) rather than my father’s Southern Irish line. The odd thing was where he died – in Richmond, Georgia aged 33. I wonder if he was going for a new life in the Colonies due to famine conditions in Ireland.

Then, there’s Ann Woodroffe (1640-1696) my 12th great-grandmother. She was born in Basingstoke, Hampshire and married John Padmore II in her teens following him back to his sugar plantation in Barbados where she gave birth to a son when still 17. That same year her husband died but Ann stayed on in Barbados where she died aged 56.

Another interesting example is Elizabeth Woodley (1646-1720), my 11th great-grandmother who was born in Barbados but died, aged 74, in Isle of Wight County, Virginia in 1720. I wonder what her story was. I am, of course, naturally concerned with any connection to Barbados during this era because of its very strong connection with sugar and slaves. Was Elizabeth part of this trade with property in both locations? Good question!

Somewhat more mysterious, and possibly more disturbing, are the details surrounding Mary Reade (1610-1655), my 12th great-grandmother. She was born in Sheffield, Yorkshire which 100 years later was at the heart of the Industrial Revolution. In 1646 she was in Barbados (again!) giving birth to a daughter. The most intriguing part though is where she died, aged just 45. She died – in 1655 – in West Nimba, Liberia. I looked at the map and Nimba is significantly inland from any coastal settlement or trading post. What on earth was a woman doing there in the mid-17th century? With her husband trading maybe, either for pepper (a very valuable commodity at the time) or for slaves to take back to Barbados. Not a particularly nice thought process there. It seems clear that the Padmore family (mentioned above) must have kept slaves to harvest their sugar crop but was Mary Reade’s family TRADING in slaves?

I’ll leave it there for now. Fascinating stuff though and much food for both thought and future research. Watch out for books on much of this going forward. 

 Now I know why I love what I love about 80's Music!

Thursday, July 08, 2021

 Keeping it Cool........

Just Finished Reading: The Norman Conquest by Marc Morris (FP: 2012) [353pp]

1066 and the events that followed that most critical and calamitous year for Anglo-Saxon England are certainly a defining date in British history (and arguably the most important date/battle in the whole of that islands long history). It is even arguable that the Battle near Hastings in that year altered the course of European and thence world history. It is no surprise, therefore, that historians keep revisiting that most significant date again and again. It is also unsurprising, as the author quickly alludes to, that historians almost as soon as the last arrow flew have picked sides either lamenting Harold Godwinson’s hasty arrival on the south coast to give battle or trumpeting William’s genius on the battlefield and his clear right to rule. Whilst acknowledging the partisan feelings around the Norman Conquest the author is clearly of the opinion that it’s high time we moved on to look at the events as dispassionately as possible. Despite being an Anglo-Saxon fan from way back I think I’d have to grudgingly agree here. History and historians shouldn’t really be in the business of picking sides – even if one of them is, at least technically, French.

I’m certainly well aware of the broad sweep of the narrative presented here. It’s difficult not to be as Hastings featured prominently in my early education. The author follows the well-known plot of an Anglo-Saxon England where the Godwin family had risen to prominence in southern England through a mixture of military prowess and political manoeuvring. This was an age where, if no clear succession to the throne existed, that the great and the good would ‘elect’ a new leader. As the head of the most powerful family the election of Harold Godwinson didn’t come as much of a surprise – except apparently in Normandy where the young Duke William was expecting to be invited to England to take up the kingship there. It is still unclear exactly who had the right to sit on the English throne. Harold’s lineage was weak but by position and, apparently by deathbed decree, he had a reasonable case. William, meanwhile had a stronger lineage and had, again apparently, been promised the throne by the recently decreased King. There was really only one way to settle it – trial be combat and let God decide.

God, it seemed, was on the side of the Norman’s and gave the closely fought battle near Hastings to William – although not without a few tense moments on both sides. But even after the matter had been settled in heaven there was still a country to subdue. One battle may have settled the succession but there were enough survivors and enough others scattered about to question Norman hegemony. The battle might have been over but the fighting was far from done. Over the next 20 years William and his fellow Norman knights fought pitched battles, skirmishes and put down repeated rebellions. Introducing castles and other strongpoints the Norman’s enforced their rule and slowly squeezed any idea of organised resistance out of the English – or at the very least reduced it to background noise. Apparently the killing of Norman soldiers became so common throughout England that special ordinances had to be created to attempt to stamp it out long after the English should have been pacified. The rebellious northerner’s (bless them) became such a thorn in William’s side that he campaigned there to such a harsh degree that he even disgusted his own officers who asked to be able to return to their estates in Normandy rather than witness another harrowing. Yorkshire in particular took hundreds of years to recover from the devastation wrought by William. Some historians argue that the whole of the North never recovered to this day.

Despite reading a number of books on the invasion or of that era I still managed to glean a fair bit more, especially about the post battle occupation, than I was aware of previously. The author has produced here a tale every part as dramatic as anything seen on Game of Thrones with twists, assassinations, disputes and betrayals enough to keep anyone riveted. Of course what makes it all the more interesting is that this is history and not invented fantasy – although I admit that the arrival of a dragon or two over Hastings might have added even more drama. The circumstances around the pivotal battles (3 or 4 depending on which ones you count) of 1066 still have a significant draw for me. This particular volume is definitely among the best of the narratives I’ve read, so far, and I look forward to reading more from him. Highly recommended.