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Post My Ancestors--and a Word on Genealogy
Created by John Eipper on 04/08/17 4:20 AM

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My Ancestors--and a Word on Genealogy (Cameron Sawyer, Russia, 04/08/17 4:20 am)

John E commented on April 7th: "Tim Ashby may be able to trace his lineage farther back than anyone in WAISworld."

I'll bet that a few WAISers can trace their lineage into the 17th century and beyond. Surely more than a few of us have an elderly aunt who spends most of her time on this.

I am directly descended from Oliver Cromwell, through his son Richard Cromwell, the second Lord Protector, and thus through that one's daughter Edith, who had to flee to the colonies after the Restoration.

I am also a direct descendant of the First Earl of Winchester, who was the main author of the Magna Carta.

And also of the brother of the chap who did in Saint Thomas Becket in a grisly manner, thus infamously ridding Hank II of that turbulent priest. That was one Fitz Urs, whose family had to change their name to Barham due to the great shame, and my grandmother was a Barham (actually Magee, but it was a single kinship group with the Barhams).

George Washington and Robert E. Lee were my second and third cousins, respectively (through our common Towneley and Randolph ancestors), and FDR was a fifth cousin through our common Delano ancestors, obviously a jillion times removed.

However, all of this is quite meaningless, as the dilution of blood is an exponential thing through the generations. Perhaps slightly meaningful as far back as Cromwell, because of the small numbers of English immigrants to the US at that time. But much further back than that, and we are all descended from everyone. It's said, for example, that every living European of European ethnicity, is directly descended from Charlemagne. I just happen to know how and through whom--that's really the only difference.

JE comments:  I was trying to wrap my mind around the Charlemagne claim, and found this piece by Adam Rutherford in The Guardian:


Briefly put, if we do the math back to the 8th century, every European would have more than a billion direct ancestors, which is more people than existed in Charlemagne's day.  So there was a great deal of overlapping and inbreeding.  Add to this Chuck the Great's impressive issue of 18 children, and voilà.

Now the story of Noah's three sons (and their unnamed wives) seems less preposterous.  However, I'm still star-struck by Cameron Sawyer's illustrious ancestry.

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  • My Ancestry; on Surnames (Martin Storey, Australia 04/09/17 5:10 AM)
    I don't normally play one-upmanship games, but the following may amuse.

    My grandfather had an interest in genealogy and a long ancestry of people having served in the army, hence being listed on records. He had his family researched and in 1911 a book was published with the findings. It is an A3-sized book of more than 400 pages.

    One of the early sentences in the book (which can be consulted online) is: "Of Jordanis le Stori, living in 1274, little is known."

    740 years ago is 24 generations ago if a generation is 30 years on average, so to paraphrase Richard Dawkins, I would have had nearly 17 million ancestors living at the time, mainly in Western Europe

    In lieu of an apology for not going back further in time or not knowing more about Jordanis le Stori, the author mentions points of the history of family naming (the rest of this message is from the book):

    It was uncommon for purposes of preserving racial alliances, heraldic and military, symbolisms, and above all for personal security, to find liege-lords members of the same family, having distinct names. "The Annual Reports--Public Records," "Campbell's Materials, Rolls, &c.," prove the correctness of this statement. A father might have one name and his son another, both being careless of the confusion such a method was likely to create in future ages since there was more fighting than writing, and consequently few family records. The thought was more for present-tense welfare and security than for posterity, in this respect at any rate, though the hereditary desire to found families was by no means lost sight of. Again, a name was preserved, but the orthography changed in accordance with the custom appertaining to the locality, and frequently it was based upon the orthoepy incident to the part of the country where the chief dwelt.

    The Greeks often used nicknames; the Romans were more ingenious, they had the prænomen or forename, the nomen and the cognomen. The forename belonged to the individual personally, and corresponded to our Christian name; of this class there were never more than about thirty. The middle name denoted the gens (kin), or clan to which a man belonged, and was socially of great importance. Every Roman belonged to some clan whose members all bore the same name. The Julian clan, for instance, all had Julius for their second name. Mark Antony Lower's "Patronymica Britannica," Bardsley's "History of Surnames," and kindred works, throw much light on the origin of surnames. It is impossible to assign any definite date to the introduction of surnames. In the reign of Henry I (1100-1135), it had already become indispensable in persons of rank to have two names; for when that monarch wished to marry his natural son, Robert, to Mabel, one of the heiresses of Fitz-Hamon, the lady demurred. Said she:

    "It were to me a great shame,

    To have a lord withouten his twa name."

    The Scottish approximate most to the Romans in their clan system. Suffice it to say that not until the end of the thirteenth century did surnames become general all over the land, and many of these were derived from locality, prowess calling, caste and colour, and from nicknames such as Mawleverer and Campbeul.

    JE comments:  Poor Jordanis, lost to history!  Here's the link to "Storeys of Old."  Congratulations to Martin and Storeys everywhere!  Who did the website, Martin?  It looks like a treasure trove of great Storeys...


    The fluidity of surnames makes genealogical research that much more difficult.  Moreover, surnames themselves were a new invention for some cultures.  Ashkenazi Jews, for example, didn't have surnames in some cases until the 19th century.

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    • Storeys of Old (Martin Storey, Australia 04/10/17 2:00 PM)
      In response to John's comments on Storey genealogy (9 April), I don't know about great Storeys, but there sure are many in that book!

      The answer to John's question is--I'm not sure, but I should find out who "Brad Storey" is who does the website, and try to help him, as I have an original copy of the book. As my family motto says: Deficiam aut efficiam ("I shall perish or accomplish"). I presume that the good mottos were already taken.

      JE comments: Sounds like publish or perish to me! Anyone else in WAISworld have a family motto? A Latin one is especially impressive.  

      I don't know if it sums up our entire family's philosophy, but Mom was always keen on us not ruining our dinner:  Non vestram profligare prandium.

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      • A Regimental Motto (Robert Gibbs, USA 04/11/17 1:45 PM)
        My Regiment's motto is Primus aut nullus.

        My personal motto has been ...I need more coffee and a good cigar.

        JE comments: I Googled Primus aut nullus (First or not at all) and found this insignia for the US First Field Artillery Regiment, of which Bob Gibbs is a retired Lt Colonel.  Now all we need is an insignia for Coffee and a Good Cigar.

        Send more mottos!  I've always been intrigued by Stanford's German motto (Die Luft der Freiheit weht).  Here's a question nobody will know without Googling.  What other US university has a German motto?  I would have guessed Johns Hopkins, which was founded on the German educational model, but I would have been wrong.  The JH motto is mundanely Latinate:  Veritas vos liberabit.

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        • More Mottos (John Heelan, -UK 04/13/17 4:04 AM)
          RAF: "Per Ardua ad Astra" (sometime changed by RAF conscripts versed in Classics (like me) to "Ad culus per asbestos" (or "Fireproof your ass!").

          Royal Artillery (formal): "Ubique Quo Fas Et Gloria Ducunt."

          RA (informal) according to my father--a long term professional RA soldier: "llegitimi non carborundum" (Don't let the bastards grind you down!").

          Isle of Wight motto ""All this beauty is of God."

          JE comments:  Ad culus per asbestos should be the motto of modern workplaces everywhere:  CYA.  I always assumed that "asbestos" was an Arabic word, but its origins are Greek:  unquenchable.

          John, if I may ask:  did your father sacrifice his hearing to the Royal Artillery?  This was the fate of most artillerymen.

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          • Deafness: Fate of the Artilleryman (John Heelan, -UK 04/14/17 6:52 AM)
            John E asked me, "Did your father sacrifice his hearing to the Royal Artillery? This was the fate of most artillerymen."

            No--his hearing was probably saved by his being seconded to Infantry units at various stages in WWII to act as "spotters" for artillery bombardments. However, one of my university friends was an ex-Lt Commander (Guns) Royal Navy, whose inevitable deafness forced him to sit in the front row for all lectures.

            He put me in my place once when we were travelling by coach somewhere and the coach door kept springing open. I ribbed him, saying that he should fix it as I thought all sailors automatically carried a knife and a piece of string in their pockets at all times. Upon which, he produced a piece of string and a penknife and secured the coach door. As Punch punchlines at the end of its jokes often commented, "Collapse of stout party!" It was true in this case!

            JE comments: Col. Robert Gibbs of the US First Field Artillery wrote that he has a hearing aid to prove it. The artilleryman's disease, Bob quips, is known as "gunnereia."

            I would think a Navy gunner would be at an even greater risk of hearing loss, with the enclosed spaces and all that metal for the sound to bounce around.

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