Friday, November 23, 2007

A Day in the Life of a Genealogist

Today was full of the mixed bag of things that can come up in the life of an old hand at genealogy.

It began with my answering email.

A few days before, I had renewed use of my membership at I sent out about 40 emails to people researching the surname ERNLE (also EARNLEY, EARNLY, and other variants) on which I am engaged in a One-Name Study. Now I was reaping the responses, and replying to them. It turned out that most people knew less than I did about the family. I have ended up as a bit of a world expert on this rare, possibly extinct (in the male line), English surname.

In fact, I have even written an article on it for Wikipedia under my nom-de-plume, Vancouveriensis, which is Latin for "of Vancouver".

I am trying to correct the pedigree of the family that has been published in "Burke's Landed Gentry", and by various genealogists over the years. It seems that noone has got the lineage right. One historian even had a man born in the 1540s as the paternal grandfather of another man born in the same decade!

I have been gathering wills and Chancery records as well as the more usual parish register entries to try to sort out the family's history.

My current theory is that all the families with names pronounced the same way, despite the wide range of spelling variants, are all descended from the same stock, which can be traced in documents, though not yet in a joined up pedigree, back to one Luke of EARNLEY a.k.a. Lucas de ERNLE who was granted land in the manor of Earnley, a parish on the Sussex coast of England, by his de Lancing relatives in 1166.

Of course, I didn't answer all forty or so messages all at once. Some of them involve quite a lot of work on my part to inform correspondents of what I know. It turns out that I generally know how I am related to them even if they don't know the connexion because they haven't looked into the family very extensively. It's a lot of work to survey a family tree over some 800+ years.;)

For a bit of exercise and to fight the middle-aged spread, I went for a walk along Vancouver's beautiful seawall for about an hour. One has to catch the clear weather while it's around at this time of year.

I returned to the computer for a while and then broke to watch the latest instalment of "Who do you think you are?", the new genealogy programme adapted from the British hit series, shown on CBC channel 3. This episode featured Newfoundland actress and comedienne, Mary WALSH, tracing her Irish roots from the Rock back to County Wexford in the late 18th century. I was in the Emerald Isle this spring for 12 days, so it was good to see the lush greenery of that fair place again. What a contrast to the bleakness of King's Cove, Nfld in winter. I was fortunate to be visiting Ireland during the warmest, driest spring they have had in half a century.

Mary's quest reminded me of my own serendipity in finding the last home (St Helen's, 27, Holland Park, Knock, County Down, originally built for managers of Harland and Wolfe, the shipbuilders who constructed the "Titanic") of my mother's paternal grandmother, Diana FERGUSON (née SMITH)(d. 1923), within 20 minutes of my arrival in Belfast on the eve of my 44th birthday, which just happened to coincide with the beginning of a new, and, one hopes, happier, chapter in the history of Ulster as the next day, VE Day 2007 (my birthday) saw the beginning of a power-sharing government of Unionists and Nationalists at Stormont, the Northern Irish parliament.

After this very short half-hour of t.v. genealogy, I had just started in to watch Professor SCHAMA's "History of Britain" on the B.C.'s Knowledge network when the phone rang to interrupt his story of "The Wrong Empire".

It turned out to be a genealogical friend, Shirley GIBBARD, calling me about my father's great uncle, Christian ZUROWSKI (1863-1893), who arrived in Canada from Austria-Hungary's Bukovina in 1892. He did not survive very long in the new land, but his widow, Adelheid GAERTEL, survived him and married Shirley's great-uncle, Gervasi GEIGER, a native of the Hungarian Banat, and went on to have 12 children by him before taking her own life in 1923.

I had first been in touch with Shirley back in 1995. Now it seems Shirley had done more research and found the Hamburg ship's manifest for Christian and Adelheid, and, hey presto, two little girls, Elisabeth and Karoline, about whom we neither of us knew anything.

When I tuned back in to my programme, Dr SCHAMA had reached the early story of British India, and the notorious Robert CLIVE, general and victor of Plassy. He made a fortune in India and became a peer as Baron CLIVE of Plassy. He married a MASKELYNE, member of the family of the Astronomer Royal (and unfairly cast as the nemesis of HARRISON, the clockmaker, in the film "Longitude"), the Reverend Dr Nevil MASKELYNE, D.D., who is a distant kinsman of mine, and lies buried in Purton churchyard in Wiltshire where, close by, hidden by the sod, are the graves of two of my maternal grandmother's LARGE forebears: William LARGE (1679-1747) and Cis PHILLIPS alias MAJOR (1672/3-1757), whose mother Cisalia 'Sis' EARNLEE, gentlewoman, started me off on my ERNLE hunt about four years ago shortly after I discovered, via a membership, that Cis's maiden name was PHILLIPS (alias MAJOR) instead of HOLLIDAY (the name she bore from her deceased first husband at her marriage to my ancestor in 1703, a fact that the marriage register of Lydiard Tregoz, Wiltshire, had not revealed).

Later, I was back at my database to look at my father's side of the family before the 10 o'clock news to see if I could turn up any clues for Shirley.

News time rolled around and with it one of my favourite segments of "The National" featuring Chantal HEBERT (like HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, a descendant of Louis Hébert, New France's first habitant, one wonders?), and Andrew COYNE. The talk was of Stéphane DION's rocky first year as Liberal leader. When Peter MANSBRIDGE asked if anyone knew who the only Liberal leader since Confederation was who hadn't become prime minister, like Mr COYNE, I knew the answer: Edward BLAKE. Why you ask? Well, it's true I am a trained historian, but the real reason is genealogy. Edward BLAKE was born in Adelaide township, Middlesex county, Canada West, as was my maternal great-grandmother, Blanche Louisa BRAY (1845-1934), Mrs James LARGE. In fact, the two families likely knew each other fairly well, as they both attended St Ann's United Church of England and Ireland, the clapboard church of what was a small settlement of Anglo-Irish gentry (BLAKE's family included) and British half-pay army and ex-naval officers (Blanche's father, William BRAY, J.P., R.N., whose 1882 Adelaide "Advertiser" obituary credits him with blowing up the enemy's munitions store at the Battle of the Windmill which was the last engagement of the Upper Canada Rebellion).

So whereever I turned today, it was genealogy. Even on my walk along the seawall, I was engaged in a form of research; reading the names on the benches donated in memory of loved ones. So many of the names were Scottish, and included a plaque to a young man who had died in his late 20s, who bore the Scottish half of my own surname.

Genealogy: it can make the world seem very small indeed.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Welcome and Join Me: Vade Mecum

A Genealogist's Vade Mecum...An itinerary of my days and nights of research

As with Mrs BEETON's books on 'Household Hints', you are invited to enquire within this blog of me upon anything and everything genealogical.

This is a first out of the gate effort for me as a blogging genealogist.

I started my interested in genealogy and family history at age 10, some 34 years ago. I used to be a stamp collector. Now I am a collector of genealogical minutiæ. I no longer bother with most other puzzles, crosswords, and such, for I have the greatest puzzle of 'em all to work away at to my heart's content: the human family tree.

My own corner of that great maze is occupation enough, though I do get curious about the genealogy of others. In fact, I have been known to investigate the genealogies of various historical figures and prominent people. It pays to be curious in genealogy. After all, we are all cousins at some remove, or so 'tis said.

Actually, I am my own cousin many times over, but that's another story for another day.

The fascination and preoccupation of genealogy never ends.

I hope you will come along for the journey, or a least for part of it...

Come along, come along, let us foot it out together!
Come along, come along, be it fair or stormy weather!
For it's heel and toe and forward, over bracken over stile,
And it's soon we will be tramping out the last long mile!

At least for today.

To adapt my maternal grandmother's saying: "Sufficient to the day is the challenge thereof."


From your webhost, and resident blogging genealogist/bloggealogiser