My DNA Playground Expands

My great grandfather Ned Dillon - Genetically and probably culturally 100% Irish despite being a third generation Australian

My great grandfather Ned Dillon – Genetically and probably culturally 100% Irish despite being a third generation Australian

I have had a very good November.  Not only did I receive a tax refund, but both my parents and my parents in law have agreed to test their DNA, and ftDNA at the same time began their sale!  It’s almost as if it were meant to be.

Yes, I’ve spent a fortune and I’m too scared to add up the totals.  I keep a word document with kit names and passwords, and it has become a bigger document than I ever dreamed I’d see.  My kit, my son’s, a kit purchased for our friend who has decided not to test (read – spare kit), my daughter’s kit, my father, my mother, my father in law and my mother in law.

I have also upgraded my son’s kit and purchased the Y67 test for him.

However – I don’t regret any of it.  I felt a momentary twinge when the electricity bill came in, but there are other ways to handle that bill.  I’m quite ecstatic that my family are fine with the DNA testing – even after the discovery of the unexpected very close relative.

What’s more – they are interested!  They are logging in to their profiles, updating their details, uploading a photo, speculating on their Origins and pondering on where their matches might come from when they eventually have them. Here I was thinking I was imposing my personal hobby on them and feeling a little bad about it, but it has all turned out well.

Of course, we are a long way from the truly fun stuff.  FtDNA will send the kits to us – overseas – in the midst of Christmas mail, and if we receive them before December is over, the kits will be sent back in the thick of the same, only to be batched with the extra FtDNA test load after the sales.  I’m anticipating March before we have all results.  Maybe April.

Still – exciting times ahead. I’ll be able to see if my theorising was correct over which side a match was on.  If I was right a majority of the time, I’ll be able to proceed with greater confidence.  If I was only correct for 50% of the time or less, I’ll be forced to recognise how much I still have to learn.

I’ve noticed some interesting things through the initial setting up of their profiles. Firstly, I learned a new name – my father-in -law’s earliest known female ancestor, who was Susan Welman of Merriott in Somerset born in 1740.  New records have come online in my subscription sites and I haven’t visited that branch of research for quite a while.

I have also realised that on the Dillane/Dillon side, although they left Ireland in 1856 they only married other Irish born persons and my great grandfather Ned Dillon, born 1878 in Tasmania and died 1958 in Tasmania, might be said to be 100% Irish despite never having left Australian soil.  In fact, even despite his mother having been born and died in Tasmania, her parents were Irish born and she married an Irish born person – her first cousin.  Ned Dillon married a woman descended from English stock – my great grandmother – and introduced the first non-Irish blood in his line.

My grandfather, their son, then proceeded to marry a woman of principally Irish descent so my father is about 70% Irish if not more, despite being a fifth generation Australian.  I really hadn’t noticed this before.   My mother is about 50% English, 25% Irish and 25% Scottish.  Assuming the paper trail is correct and of course depending on whose DNA they have inherited most of.  The results of the DNA test will tell us more.

I also noticed that my daughter’s X-line includes one of my favourite ancestor couples on her father’s side – Robert Appleyard Fitzgerald and his wife Isabella Stevenson.  One day I’ll blog about them.

In the meantime – I’m taking the role of teacher and helping my family navigate their profiles. Luckily, they are quite happy to keep me in the loop and leave me as the principal contact.  This has all worked nicely.

Emigrating Ancestors – the Different Stages

Dark Green - Times of Stability, Light Green - Improvemen in Lives. Orange - Difficult Times

Dark Green – Times of Stability, Light Green – Improvemen in Lives. Orange – Difficult Times

Due to a regional telecommunications problem, I have spend the week with very little internet connection.  This gave me time to dig out some paper records which I’ve had sitting in my cupboard just waiting for a time like this.  I’m an avid collector of records and an avid creator of notes.  Wherever I go, I take a notebook and a camera.  If ever I learn the history of a house, or a field, or the old car sitting in someone’s paddock, I take a photo and jot the story.  I also sketch the floor plans of old buildings. You never know when it will slot into the family tree.  It’s also a wonderful piece of family history to give, if I find the person who does belong to that story.  Networking is a big part of family history research.  We are just one giant team.

After going through some of my paper records and another folder of previously-untouched digital records (eg photographs of objects and documents that I have snapped but not processed) my family database grew by some 285 names.

I have mentioned before that my objective was first to identify point of entry to Australia for each ancestor, and reason for it, and secondly the actual homeland of each emigrating ancestor.  I have a kind of colour-coded image in my mind.

At a very basic level, every family line that I have tells the same story.  They lived somewhere for centuries – forged a satisfactory existence, managed to raise children to adulthood in times of hardship, plague, mini ice-age, intolerance of minorities and women. It doesn’t matter which continent you look at, all had periods like this.  Only the strong, well-supported and well-nourished could survive.  Only those with a modicum of intelligence and adaptability could survive.  Mortality rates amongst children and child-bearing women were extremely high.  If someone crumbled under the strain, became physically ill or went mad, unless they had a family around them with the resources to help, their dependents went down with them.

All of our ancestors survived this time, obviously since we are here.  Therefore, all of our ancestors were basically in stable environments and had the resources available to them to survive the hazards.  Generally they stayed where they were for centuries.  I can only know for sure about the time after parish records began, but from that time – around 1550 – to the late 1700s, my ancestral lines stayed put.  One lot in Dorset, one in Somerset, one in Sussex, one in Essex etc etc. Their lives revolved around small clusters of villages with one or two market towns.  There may have been soldiers or noblemen who travelled, but even they tended to leave their family at the family home.

Scene from Kent from Home Circle 1854

Scene from Kent from Home Circle 1854

Then, sometime late in the 1700s, the industrial revolution and better infrastructure changed all this.  Once the roads improved people started travelling – for work, for adventure, to escape their reputation, to escape a bad situation.  Anyone researching English ancestry will know all about this – as the industrial revolution took hold, country folk went to the cities for work and city folk fled to the country for their health.  The population boomed, employment dropped, life became unsustainable for many and they roamed further and further from home in search of food and shelter.  These ancestors are a barrier to the researcher.  Even if you find them in a UK census, ten years earlier they were in a whole different county and in 1841 for the first census they were still not in their ancestral homeland.  I consider these the ‘Unsettled Homelanders’ because they are at least in their native country.  Displaced and separated but still there.  Those who did not experience this remained as they were and did not need to emigrate.

This era of research is a trap for the unwary and inexperienced genealogist, at least for those descended from emigrating families.  A lot of early books on the subject told us that the English, Irish and Scottish left their home towns and emigrated to the colonies for a better life.  Many researchers have located emigration records which list eg Liverpool or Lancaster as that ancestor’s birthplace and have assumed this meant they have ancestral roots there.

Once we have researched for a while we know better.  Places such as Liverpool, Lancaster, Plymouth, Portsea/Gosport, Dublin, Limerick, Tower Hamlets ….  You find those locations popping up, you know there’s a challenge ahead of you.  These were gateway ports for emigrants and military.  Not many families spent much time there. It’s hard to get behind with any degree of certainty.  They were there for one generation, trying to make a go of it – watching the emigrants leave perhaps weekly or even daily.  They arrived as a young couple and had their children there, hence the birth location.  That doesn’t mean the parents were born anywhere close.


Cooking by campfire – a reality for early colonial families until they had built their home. It must have taken constant observation to ensure young children did not come too close.

Once the ancestor has emigrated comes another unsettled time.  Most took to their new land grant/purchase with zest, very eager to establish themselves and put the struggle behind them, but once the initial excitement faded, they took a second look at what they had.  The colonies of the Americas, Canada and Australia had a wide range of climates and conditions and it usually took time for a new family to locate somewhere that worked for them.  Van Diemen’s Land was beautiful if you could handle the cold and did not suffer from asthma.  South Australia was excellent for anyone with fishing skills or drought-resistant farming methods.  Queensland with its monsoon season required a different set of skills altogether.

As a result, it was often the second or third location that a family settled in.  I had one early brickwall, a long term settler family in Tasmania.  I failed to locate an emigration record simply because I assumed they must have come direct to Tasmania.  As it turned out, they arrived in Adelaide, then after five years trekked to Victoria, and finally made the move south to Tasmania.  I’ve learned that lesson well.

Only after this period of early-arrival mobility did families settle on a property and in a district, where the old system basically re-established itself until the newly completed century.  It’s good that this happened, for we who delve.  We can get back many generations in the same parish register or by visiting the one cemetery.

The many movements of the present generation will be an interesting challenge for genealogists of the future.

My Ancestors in Scotland

A Highland crofter from The Sunday at Home 1888. Artist F.S.W.

A Highland crofter from The Sunday at Home 1888. Artist F.S.W.

The research of my Scottish ancestry continues slowly.

Every region in the world had its own recording needs and thus the records from different places will contain different data.  In Van Diemen’s Land, for instance, a marriage record was likely to record whether a person was a convict under sentence, a former convict free by servitude, or free (never convicted).  The record also often gave us the ship they arrived on.

In Victoria, they didn’t care about this.  They recorded the birthplace of each party instead.

So when approaching research in Scotland, my first task was to determine which record gave me which information.  Since my single known Scottish ancestor (Annie McLeod) emigrated in 1853, the civil registrations beginning in 1855 are not all that relevant.  The earlier records are somewhat scanty.  For a marriage, they give the name of each party and where they were married.  A baptism is nice – it gives the mother’s maiden name.  I have not located many baptisms in my area of interest.

I’ve learned a bit about the region now. Annie came from Balelone, a … what was it?  A village? A locality on the western coast of North Uist? An area where more than two buildings could be seen at once?  I have not really figured it out.  A search of the 1841 census in Findmypast on location Balelone brings up 25 entries. Amongst them are several surnamed McLeod.

My Annie was living in Kilpheder in 1841. A search of location Kilpheder in the 1841 census via Findmypast also brings up 25 entries.

So where is Kilpheder?  The Google Maps site shows a township in South Uist some forty miles south of Balelone.  I looked at it and was not quite convinced.  The census clearly places them in Kilpheder, North Uist. But it took me a long time to find anything.  The only clue I was finding via google search was on the website of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland which placed Kilpheder not too far from Balelone.  It took a bit more searching but finally I found it on the Scottish Places website.  Kilpheder – Annie McLeod’s Kilpheder – was a quarter of a mile north of Balelone. Just up the coast.  Over the hill maybe.

It was a coastal community, more of a family estate than a proper village.  The residents were fishermen and labourers, doing it very tough as so many Scottish families did in those years.  They lived on a windswept coastline, a land of grey rocks and flattened grass.

North Uist in Scotland  Gordon Hatton [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

North Uist in Scotland Gordon Hatton [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Discovering this locality helped everything fit into place.  Kilpheder contained just the one family of McLeods in 1841 – Annie’s family.  There was a pair surnamed Arbuckle.  A family of McCaskills and a couple of McDonalds.  That’s about it. The rest were grandchildren obviously staying with their mother’s parents, or single men presumably following the work.

Balelone was pretty similar.  There were the Alexander McLeods with three teenagers at home, Archibald McLeod who lived with them and might be Alex’s older brother.  Flora Arbuckle who was an elderly lady living with Murdoch and Harriet Arbuckle, most likely her son and daughter in law or even grandson and granddaughter in law.  They also had some grandchildren of different surnames. A family of McLeans, a couple of McDonalds and some McGillevrays make up the bulk.

Ocean and birds from The Quiver 1864

Ocean and birds from The Quiver 1864

Balelone was a small community and the family groupings were somewhat telling.  Very few children and what children there were seemed to be with grandparents rather than parents.  More than a few elderly persons and some couples old enough to have a whole big family, but very few with any children present at all.  They give an impression of struggle.  In the community of 25 individuals in Balelone there were only two children under 10 – Murdoch McLeod and Murdoch McKenzie, and each of them was aged 8.  I count seven women of an age to be parents, most of them married.

Kilpheder, equal in size, had more children so maybe was a more comfortable place to live.  Out of the wind perhaps? Donald and Marion Arbuckle had a newborn baby.  My Annie’s family had a healthy four children aged under ten.  John and Catherine Monk had two young ones aged 9 and 4.

That’s nine children under ten years out of a total population of 50.  Not a statistic indicative of a growing community.

Of course, it wasn’t a growing community and the problems of the Scottish people were what resulted in so much emigration.  I guess we all knew that.  Still, the census gives that further glimpse into their lives.  My Annie did not see many other children.  She lived in a world of probably hardworking but still struggling adults.  When she married she signed her name, so somewhere she learned to read and write.  She put a great deal into keeping her family together in later years, she had developed a family ethic so I would guess her family unit was tight in Scotland too.  More than this, it is hard to deduce.

This seems like a good beginning.

The Childhood World of Fanny Eliza Wookey

From the illustrative heading for 'Voices from the Highways and Hedges' in The Leisure Hour 1888.

Children in a small village from the illustrative heading for ‘Voices from the Highways and Hedges’ in The Leisure Hour 1888.

Like so much of England, the county of Somerset has a long and much studied history.  Humans have been there since the stone age.  I have never been there, being on the other side of the world, but it sounds wonderful.  It is sometimes called a maritime county but the sea does not figure in any of my Somerset ancestor’s lives.  They lived inland, in the hills.

The wilds of Somerset may not have been wild as a colonist knows the word, but they were clearly isolated and sparsely populated for many centuries.  Agriculture seems to have occurred here since the stone age or at least bronze age, so it must have pretty fertile soil.  The Romans were there and left their mark.  King Alfred the Great features strongly in the county history.  The place took the name ‘Somersetshire’ in 845 AD.  William the Conqueror bequeathed Somerset land to some of his followers and various towns can be found in the Domesday Book.

It has caves which have attracted sightseers for centuries.  There are several groups of hills, such as the Mendip Hills, the Quantock Hills and the Blackdown Hills.  The caves seem to be all over and ancient remains have been discovered in them through the centuries.  One famous cave, Gough’s Cave in the Mendip Hills, contained a stalactite in which was discovered a complete skeleton.  The theory in the late 18th century was that persons in the deep past had sheltered there to escape a military incursion, perhaps in Roman times.  Antiquarians and sightseers commonly secured a fragment of bone as a memento to take with them.  Another cave known as Wookey Hole, on the other side of the Mendip Hills, also contained human bones.

The bones have now been dated to 12,000 BC with others dated to nearly as old.

Village Scene from inset in The Sunday Hour 1864 p 516

Village Scene from inset in The Sunday Hour 1864 p 516

The Mendip Hills were home to one branch of my ancestors, but chances are they had no particular interest in the caves. They were farmers.  Descendants of a well to do family which had lived there for a couple of centuries at least, but by the close of the 18th century they were beginning to feel the pinch of poverty.  Not poor yet, but budgeting  more and more tightly, selling their unneeded assets and thinking twice before obtaining more.

Through the eighteenth century, not much had changed in the Mendip Hills.  The little townships of East and West Harptree had a basic economic partnership, sometimes including the further towns of Compton Martin, Hinton Blewett and Chewton Mendip.  The main city of Somerset was Bath, but from the Hills it was easiest to go to Bristol for services.  Changes in the greater world passed them by.  There were some lead mines in the Mendip Hills, begun long ago but mostly abandoned by the year 1800.  Life went on as usual, with eggs and milk, wood fires in winter and vegetables in spring, births and marriages and deaths.  They mended their gates and ploughed their fields and it all hummed along unaltered.

There were few shops in the Mendip Hills but there seems to have been little need.  The farms were self sufficient, the people were nearly all related and the community was tight.  They had a lot of trouble getting incumbents for their churches.  I have not seen a reason for this.  Perhaps it was due to a shortage of ministers, or perhaps the Mendip communities were not accepting of strangers.  Perhaps the community was not wealthy enough to support a reverend and his inevitably large family.   Even when they had a minister, chances were the minister would perform the necessary services but did not maintain the register.  It makes the area difficult to research.  Luckily, the local families did not travel far.

Children picture by Mary Louisa Gow from The Quiver 1885

Children picture by Mary Louisa Gow from The Quiver 1885

On 9th July 1825, in the church of St Laurence at East Harptree, two well established local families came together in the union of matrimony – again.   This was by no means the first marriage to be found between these surnames.  There weren’t so many local families nearby.

Thomas Wookey was born in Congresbury in 1789, the illegitimate son of Ann Wookey.  His first marriage ended tragically with the loss of both his young wife and baby daughter.  The story of Fanny Eliza begins with Thomas’s meeting and marrying a second wife.

Hannah Wollen was many years younger and born in East Harptree, the other village.  She was a catch – young, educated and the recipient of a decent amount of capital and property after her father’s early death.  She was the daughter of William Wollen and Sarah Wookey.  I have not discovered whether Thomas’s father George was closely related to Hannah’s mother Sarah.  It’s probable but the same surnames are everywhere here.

The Wollen family traces back at least 100 years in the same spot, and the Wookey family goes back nearly as far.  There could have been many cousins at the marriage.  Hannah needed and received her parents’ consent to the marriage, being just seventeen.   They settled in West Harptree.

Fanny Eliza was the first child, born about ten months after the marriage in 1826. I like to think she was much loved.  Two years later came her brother, Alfred Wollen Wookey.  In this year, Thomas Wookey’s father George passed away.   Also in this year, Hannah’s sister Mary was married to the Reverend John Sperring.  John Sperring’s family presumably felt that he had made a very good match – the announcement was placed in many papers, something the Wollens did not do.

Following the usual pattern of our family, Hannah should have fallen pregnant with child number three in late 1829 or early 1830.  Probably she did.  Pregnancy was a situation full of risk for any woman in those days.  It is very likely that Hannah’s sudden death at the age of 21 years was due to her third pregnancy.  A cause of death has not been located but this is quite probable.  She was buried in August 1830 in West Harptree.

Fanny was now aged three and approaching her fourth birthday.  She was old enough to know the loss, but not old enough to understand it.  The family would have stepped in.  Wookeys and Wollens were everywhere.  Fanny and Alfred may have changed home but were probably still in a caring environment. I can only guess at this.  Hannah Wollen’s father had died before Hannah’s marriage, but her mother Sarah was still alive. Sarah had remarried and with her second husband, Richard Kennard, was still settled in East Harptree along with a bunch of Eliza and Alfred’s new aunts and uncles.

Unfortunately Sarah Kennard only outlived her daughter Hannah by six months.  If the children were in this household they may have been faced with yet another move.

Fanny and Alfred were close.  This snippet of information has come down through the family oral history.  Undoubtedly they became close in these years following their mother’s death.  These were possibly unsettling years of change. Thomas and Hannah’s marriage was young enough that he may have felt a lot of grief at her passing.  He was certainly not able to care for his young children – such a thing was never expected of a man. He did, however, inherit enough money through his wife that he could write ‘Independent’ as an occupation on the 1841 census.

Hannah’s sister Mrs Mary Sperring died in the fifth year of her marriage in 1834, aged 29 years.  It would seem she died in childbirth. According to the death notice, her husband was no longer a reverend.

Thomas’ mother Martha Wookey passed away in 1836.  There were a lot of funerals in these years for Fanny.  This was the year she turned ten, and if Martha had assumed care of Hannah’s two children, this might have been as heartbreaking as losing their mother.  These details have not come down through the family.

The UK Census of 1841 was undertaken on 7th June.  On this night, searching for Thomas Wookey and his children Fanny and Alfred, I found them all living in different households.

Thomas Wookey was in East Harptree in the house of his late wife’s stepfather, Richard Kennard.  Also in this household is one Mary Kennard born 1826.

Who is she? If Mary Sperring was Sarah’s daughter, surely she would not have had a second child called Mary?   Was this Mary a niece?  Still seeking records to solve this conundrum.

Alfred was in Farmborough in the district of Clutton, in a private school run by a Mr John Sperring.  Not enough is known about the Reverend Sperring to confirm that this man is the same, but it seems likely.  The students consisted of four boys aged around ten years – John Murless, Philip Murless, Alfred Wookey and Henry Gibbon.

Also boarding with John Sperring and his students was Alfred’s aunt Matilda Kennard, a daughter of Richard Kennard and Sarah Wookey.

Fanny Eliza was also in a school.  She was in a property called Hallatrow House in the village of High Littleton, also in Clutton.  The school’s headmistress was Mary Walker and there were five teachers.  Only three students are listed but there were possibly day students also.  Fanny Wookey aged 15, Elizabeth Tennant aged 14 and Ellen Thorn aged 7 were the students.

Attending school like this may have been an enlightening experience for Fanny and Alfred.  Already from a respectable background, they were raised in a more modern environment with more urban influences.

East Harptree Church taken by Liz Moon CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

East Harptree Church where Fanny Wookey was married in 1844.  Picture taken by Liz Moon CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

When Fanny met her future husband is uncertain, but his family and hers had lived at an easy distance for a whole century. However, theirs was the first marriage between the two families and I think Fanny’s education may be to thank for this.  The Burletons were solidly respectable pillars of the community and possibly determined to maintain that status as their position in the community crumbled in the present economic depression. They mingled with lower aristocracy and employed many workers. Francis Burleton was a corn dealer, the son of a miller/grocer/merchant and the grandson of a very wealthy local farmer. It seems likely that he met Fanny while she was still a school student, or when she had newly left school. They married in East Harptree in 1844. Fanny was eighteen years old at the time of her marriage and her husband was ten years older.

Francis was a man of good education and big dreams but little practicality to go along with it.  It was an unfortunately common mix for the times.  Fifty years earlier a good education was all that was needed to ensure a man’s future.  Now in the big education boom, times were changing.  There were men who could read, write and add up everywhere. Fanny found herself a good husband, but marrying him was not a passport to an easy life.  No doubt Francis had visited the caves in the Mendip Hills, and pondered over the origins of the bones.  He was that kind of man. But he wasn’t so good at predicting and preparing for uncertain economic times.

Fanny and Alfred continued to be close friends, despite their different futures. The two maintained a correspondence their whole lives according to oral history, although I have no idea if the letters still exist. The brother and sister ended up in different ends of the world.  Having traced so many ancestors who clearly lost sight of their siblings through the challenges in their lives, it’s lovely to learn of some who maintained contact.