Flying across the Atlantic in 1952 (and Spurs beat Chelsea in 1950)

My cousin Wick Hoffmann has done a lovely write-up of the life of his grandfather, my great-great-uncle Morris Shallcross Wickersham (1872-1962). A lot of it is just family detail of interest only to us relatives, but there was one point that jumped out at me from Morris’s diary for 1952, when at the age of 80 he flew across the Atlantic for the second time, to visit his sister Lily in London and his niece, my grandmother Dorothy Whyte, in Northern Ireland. (The image is of Wick’s transcript of his grandfather’s notes.)

The first thing that jumped out at me was the price of an air ticket from New York to London – $395 single, $711 return. Today’s dollar prices are generally a bit more, but it’s only a couple of years ago since those numbers were comfortably within the lower end of the cost of a transatlantic flight. But for 1952, those prices are massive; the inflation calculator tells me that the $395 single is $4,650 in 2024 prices, and the $711 return is $8,300. Luckily Morris’s sister Lily was very rich and could cover the cost.

The fare for a flight from Morris’s local airport in Erie, Pennsylvania, to New York was initially quoted to him as $17.42, which equates to $204 in 2024. It would be impossible to do that flight now. At present, Erie is serviced only by American Airlines, and the only flights out of the airport go to Charlotte, North Carolina, so if you want to fly from Erie to New York you have to detour 900 km to the south. Prices start at $220.

In fact he ended up going to New York by train, paying $32.83, which is $384 today. The trip took nine and a half hours (and presumably he had a sleeper or equivalent). Today you’d pay $65, but the trip takes 11 hours and there is no overnight option.

The transatlantic flight experience sounds pretty gruelling. His first flight was cancelled after he had arrived in New York, so he went home again. On his second flight, the first leg took him from New York to “Labrador” (which must mean Gander, Newfoundland), leaving at 5pm and arriving at 10pm, a three and a half hour journey allowing for time differences. That would be even worse today – there are no direct flights from New York these days, and you have to change in Montreal.

Then the passengers were stuck in a military barracks in Newfoundland, sleeping in dormitories, for two days when their plane had to turn back after it developed engine trouble. Morris is surprisingly positive about this experience – I guess that the Canadian ground staff made a special effort for the stranded octogenarian.

Finally the flight took off at 9.15pm Labrador time, two days late, and landed in London at 6.15pm the next evening. That’s fourteen and a half hours, though that surely includes time taken for refuelling at Shannon Airport. The Pan Am ticket he had originally booked would have been quicker, leaving New York at 3pm and landing in London at 11.05am the next day, just over fifteen hours in total. I guess it skipped either Gander or Shannon.

You’ll note that amidst the travel detail, Morris notes on 21 May that he had given up smoking. This was neither the first nor the last time that he made such a note in his diary!

One other point of wider interest: during Morris’s previous trip to England and Ireland, in 1950, he notes the following for October 14th:

John Whyte and I went to Stamford bridge stadium to a football game between Chelsea (the home team) and Tottenham Hotspurs, Tottenham won 2 to 0. about 70,000 people attended. We got home at 5 P.M. This stadium seats 65,000 people we with thousands of others had to stand.

I was fascinated by this because I have never thought of my father (Morris’s great-nephew, then aged 22 and an Oxford postgraduate student) as much of a football fan. In fact it was a rather significant match. The win at Stamford Bridge on 14 October was Spurs’ third win in a row, and their first away win in London of the season, an important proof of concept of manager Arthur Rowe’s “push-and-run” strategy. Spurs had only just been promoted from the Second Division, after winning it in 1949-50. They went on to win the First Division for the first time in 1950-51, also the first time that any club had won the two divisions in successive years, and in retrospect the Chelsea match was the turning point in their fortunes after a shaky start to the season.

The total attendance is recorded as 65,992, so I suspect that if the capacity of the stadium was really 65,000, there were hundreds rather than thousands standing. (But they included 78-year-old Morris!)

Ancestors in Eastern Connecticut: exploring the graveyards

As mentioned, I spent last weekend in Providence, Rhode Island, and used the Monday morning to explore four cemeteries in eastern Connecticut where ancestors of mine are buried.

These are all forebears of my great-great-grandfather William Charlton Hibbard, who himself is buried in West Roxbury near Boston. He was born in New Hampshire, as were his parents; his Hibbard grandparents, David Hibbard and Eunice née Talcott, had moved north from Connecticut in the 1770s (perhaps to avoid the war?), but their parents’ graves are all recorded, three of the four in the cemetery at Coventry CT and the fourth at nearby Windham. Earlier Hibbards vanish into the mists, but all four of Eunice’s grandparents seemed also findable; her maternal grandparents also in Coventry, her father’s father in nearby Bolton and her father’s mother (possibly) a bit further away in Windsor.

(Click to embiggen)

Along with my third cousins P and L, who had joined me to find our great-grandparents’ graves last year, and with the estimable Esther as official photographer (so most of the photos below are hers not mine), I set off to track down the last resting places of our forebears.

I rented an electric Kia in Providence on a one-way trip to Logan Airport, and we enjoyed the lovely autumnal drive through southern New England to Windham, where my 5x great grandmother Eliza Hibbard née Leavens is buried.

From the official Hibbard family history

It would have been truly fantastic maybe three or four weeks earlier when the leaves were at full autumnal glory, but as it was, we really weren’t complaining; it was a crisp December day with cheerful sunshine.

Windham cemetery is quite extensive, but the older graves are concentrated near the road. It took me a couple of minutes’ frustrated roaming to remember that there is a photograph of Eliza’s grave on the excellent Findagrave website. She has a very distinctive pentagonal headstone.

The inscription is now obscured by lichen, but it said:
February 13 1762 departed
this life Elizabeth, wife of David
Hebbard, at 38
years of her age

Poor Elizabeth! She was married at 19, and had six children that we know of, three of whom died young; she herself died at 38, and you have to wonder if that was related to yet another pregnancy. Her fourth but oldest surviving child, David, named for his father, was our ancestor. I know nothing about her except the dates of her birth, marriage and death, and the same for her parents, husband and children; nobody who knew her in life has drawn breath since the middle of the nineteenth century; and yet I felt an electric shock of connection as I found her last resting place.

We continued our journey to find the five graves at Coventry, where we converged with P and L, coming in opposite directions from Boston and New Haven respectively. A navigation error (mine) meant that we were the last to arrive, but still in good time for the morning’s plans. The South Street Cemetery, aka the Old South Burying Ground, is much the smallest of the four we visited, and has very few recent graves.

It did not take us long to find Eliza’s husband, our 5x great-grandfather David Hibbard, and his second wife Dorcas née Throop. He lived to 1800, lucky chap, outliving poor Eliza by almost forty years. Dorcas was the same age as Eliza, and David married her less than a year after Eliza’s death; they had three more children who all survived to adulthood and have living descendants, the last born when Dorcas was 43.

Mr David Hibbard died
Auguſt 13th 1800
aged 84 years

In melancholy ſilence here I lay
When Chriſt has call’d my ſoul away
In Gods own arms I left my breath
And O my friends prepare for death

L and P are half-second cousins to each other, sharing a great-grandfather, Thomas Hibbard. He was the older brother of my great-grandfather, Henry Deming Hibbard, so L and P are both third cousins of mine. All three of us are signed up to both and 23andMe; the two sites disagree about whether I share more DNA with L or with P, but in any case it’s somewhere between 0.6% and 1%. You can judge for yourself if it is visible.

David and Eliza’s son, David junior, married Eunice Talcott, also from Coventry, and they moved up north to the borders of New Hampshire and Vermont, and are buried there. Like David junior, Eunice was named for one of her parents (our 5x great-grandparents); they were Joseph Talcott and Eunice née Lyman, and we found them not far away, next to each other.

Eunice’s headstone (between me and L) reads:

In memory of Mrs. Eunice
Talcott, relict of Capt. Jo-
seph Talcott, who died
August 11th 1813 in the
80th year of her age.

And it is appointed unto
men once to die, but after
this the judgment.

Blessed are the dead,
which die in the Lord

Joseph Talcott fought in the Connecticut militia during the war of independence, and is listed second of the men of Coventry who participated in the first battle of the war, at Lexington in April 1775.

His grave has been adorned with a flag, presumably by local patriots.

This Monument is erected
in memory of Cap. Joſeph
Talcott, who was caſually
Drowned in the Proud Wa-
ters of Scungamug River:
on the 10th Day of June 1789
in ye 62nd Year of his Age.

For man alſo knoweth not his
time, as the fiſhes that are taken in
an evil net, and as the bird that
are caught in the ſnare: ſo are
the ſons of men ſnared in an
evil time, when it falleth sudden-
ly upon them.

The memory of ye juſt is Bleſsed.

We mused about the record of his death, “casually drowned in the proud waters of Scungamug River”. The river is easy; the Skungamaug River, as it is now spelt, runs north to south through Tolland County, in which Coventry is situated. But what does “casually drowned” mean? Are we meant to infer that his death was accidental, or suicide, or something else? A bit of googling suggests that accidental death is intended, but the fact is that this very inscription seems to be the best-recorded use of the phrase. And “proud waters”?

His in-laws, Eunice Talcott née Lyman’s parents, our 6x great-grandparents, are also not too far away in the same cemetery.

In Memory of Mr
Samuel Lyman
who died Febr ye
4th 1754 in ye 54th
Year of his Age

As You are now
So once were we
As we are now
So You muſt be.

In Memory of Mrs
Eliſabeth Lyman
ye wife of Mr Samu
Lyman who Died
Febr ye 28th 1751 in
ye 48th year of her

Elizabeth’s maiden name was Smith, which unfortunately makes it very difficult to trace her ancestry further back as there are just too many Smiths around. Her married name, Lyman, became a recurrent first name for boys in the Hibbard family, including my grandmother’s brother, six generations later. (Lyman was also the first name of L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz; he never used it, and I have not been able to establish if he was yet another relative, but as it happens my grandmother’s name was Dorothy.)

Benjamin Talcott, Joseph Talcott’s father and therefore another 6x great-grandparent, rests in nearby Quarryville Cemetery in Bolton CT. The cemetery itself is on a rise surrounded by a drive; we parked at the first available opportunity and resigned ourselves to a long search.

But to our surprise we had parked right beside him. His headstone is by far the most dramatic of all of those we saw – it also had the easiest to read inscription, which helped. As usual, it is topped by a rather grotesque winged figure, and has a suitably chilling message.

(Unlike the other pictures here which are either mine or Esther’s, this was taken by L.)

This Monument is
Erected in Memory of
Benjamin Tallcott Esq.
who Departed this Life
on the 9th Day of March
AD 1785 in ye 83d Year
of his Age.

So man Lieth down, and
riſeth not till ye Heavens be no more.

Hark! Death’s Motto from the Silent Tomb
With awful voice Proclaims aloud
Mortals, prepare for you must come
And mingle with the Ghastly Crowd

Interpreting this was a lot of fun. The biblical quote is from Job, but the doggerel appears to be original, or at least the source is not known to Google.

A smaller memorial stone behind the larger one commemorates Benjamin’s service in Captain Rudd’s Company during the French and Indian War (which lasted from 1752 to 1763, so he would have been an elderly Sergeant given that he was born around 1702).

I was charmed by the church steeple a few hundred metres away, and the gables of the nearer farm buildings.

Finally, and a good bit further on, we reached the Palisado cemetery in Windsor, which according to is the resting place of Benjamin Talcott’s wife Esther, née Lyman, another 6x great-grandparent. (Her daughter-in-law Eunice was also her second cousin twice removed.) This is a huge cemetery, still in use, with an active railway line skirting its boundaries. P took this photo of me and L trying to work out where to find the ancestral Esther, with today’s Esther offering encouragement.

And in fact it was Esther who found Esther.

Unfortunately I’m not convinced that this is the right Esther Talcott. The stone is clearly more recent than 1751, when my 6x great-grandmother died; this Esther rests beside a John H. Talcott, also undated, and a Guy Talcott whose date of death is given as February 28, 1857, aged 78, which is much too late.

Guy Talcott was the son of Daniel Talcott (1744-1824) and Eunice née Moore (1751-1838), distant cousins of our Talcott ancestors, and he had a sister, Esther, and a brother, John (middle initial not otherwise recorded). So I think these are the three Talcotts in Windsor, rather than our direct relatives. Still, it was good that we found the grave we were looking for.

We went for a very decent pub lunch at the Union Street Tavern, and then set off in our separate directions, P dropping Esther back to Providence as I needed to get straight to Logan Airport for my flight. This turned out to be a bit more hair-raising than expected as it took me ages to find out how to charge the electric car, which didn’t quite have enough oomph for the full journey; I eventually sorted it out, and arrived at the departure gate just five minutes before boarding started for my transatlantic flight. Don’t do that, folks, find out how to charge your electric car before driving it. Otherwise it was a good driving experience.

And a good day over all – many thanks to L, P and Esther for being comrades in research. We must do it again some time – I think there are some more graves to be found in a cluster near Worcester, and more again farther north around Littleton NH. In fact I have a photograph from a similar expedition in 1941, when my great-grandfather (right, with beard) and his nephew, P’s grandfather (left) found the graves of David and Eunice Hibbard’s son Lyman and his wife Rebecca there.

Photograph taken by my grandmother’s brother Lyman.

If it’s been done once, it can be done again.

My grandmother in Paris: Shakespeare and Company

I was recently contacted by Joshua Kotin, Associate Professor of English at Princeton University, who runs a fascinating resource: the Shakespeare and Company Project. Any of you who know Paris today probably know the current bookshop of that name, just across the river from Notre Dame. But today’s bookshop is its second incarnation; the first Shakespeare and Company, run by Sylvia Beach from 1919 to 1941, was a hub for expatriate Americans (and to a lesser extent Brits and Irish) between the wars, and most famously published Joyce’s Ulysses in 1922 when nobody else would do so.

Shakespeare and Company was also a lending library, and Joshua Kotin and his team have been putting together as much as they can about the community who borrowed the books. There are some big names there: Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Aimé Césaire, Simone de Beauvoir; there are some less well known names too, and one of them is Dorothy Hibbard, my grandmother, who lived in Paris from late 1918 until she married my grandfather in 1927 in Malaya (now Malaysia). She joined Shakespeare and Company for a month in August 1923, and renewed for a year in September 1923, September 1924, and October 1925. The address given in 1925 is 278 Boulevard Raspail, where she lived in a studio apartment from June 1924.

Frustratingly we don’t have the record of what she actually borrowed. Her own memoirs don’t name any books that she was reading, though she certainly read a lot (and her step-brother was the writer and critic Van Wyck Brooks). There is one tantalising note from late 1923, a couple of months after she joined the library, when her boyfriend of the time came to visit with his younger sister; she notes “We had some difficulty in finding a book in my library which was suitable reading for a well-brought-up French girl of sixteen!” I wonder what exactly she had borrowed from Sylvia Beach?!

The boyfriend, Loïc Petit de La Villéon, was a French naval officer whose first wife had died earlier that year, and I think his romance with my grandmother must have been a bit of a rebound for him, and as far as I can tell was her first semi-serious relationship (she was 24). He later married again and had several daughters. There is a marine scientist of the same name alive today, but it must be a great-nephew as he had no sons by either marriage.

The studio apartment at 278 Boulevard Raspail has a rather glorious history of its own. Ten years before my grandmother lived there, it was the base for Guillaume Apollinaire’s literary journal Les Soirées de Paris from 1912 to 1914, and hosted a concert by the musician and surrealist painter Alberto Savinio in May 1914. And ten years after my grandmother’s departure, it was the home of Dutch artist Piet Mondriaan from 1936 to 1938. It still exists as a mix of offices and apartments. It’s close to the Catacombs which are among my favourite Paris attractions.

The multiplication of descendants of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert

One of the things that lurks at the back of my genealogical / DNA research is the question of how rapidly lines of descent can be expected to increase.

My Murray grandfather had nine children by two marriages, seven of whom are still living; I am the oldest of his twenty-two grandchildren; between us we have I think twenty-eight great-grandchildren; and the first two of the next generation arrived in the last couple of years.

Me and the first of my grandfather’s great-great-grandchildren.

My Hibbard great-great-grandparents had five children, of whom one died young and another never married; ten grandchildren, five of whom have living descendants; sixteen great-grandchildren, ten of whom have descendants (and two are still living); and twenty-three great-great-grandchildren, including me and Sally Seaver.

It can go the other way of course. While my Hibbard great-great-grandfather has many living descendants, more than half of them are from his oldest surviving child (who also married early and thus got ahead of the game); his younger son’s living descendants are me, my two siblings and our five children, a total of eight after four generations.

These things are of course very dependent on time, place and social class, but I am hoping for a metric which would at least allow a rough comparison of rates of increase. One of the best chronicled lines of descent over the past 180 years, albeit of very rich white Europeans, is that of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Allan Raymond has a fantastic website investigating this, which appears to be complete up to early 2019. Vic and Al had nine children, all but one of whom had kids themselves; 42 grandchildren, 87 great-grandchildren and 142 great-great-grandchildren.

I’ve plotted the increase in both total and living descendants on a log scale in the graph above. Their first child, and therefore first descendant, was “Vicky“, the Princess Royal and later briefly Empress of Germany, born on 21 November 1840, nine and a half months after her parents’ wedding on 10 February. She had eight children, born between 1859 and 1872, and died on 5 August 1901, aged 61 (outliving her mother by less than a year).

Victoria and Albert’s tenth descendant was the first grandchild born after their nine children together, none other than Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany, the son of Princess Victoria and the short-lived Emperor Frederick III. He was born on 27 January 1859, a year after his parents’ wedding. He had seven children between 1882 and 1892, ruled Germany from 1888 to 1918 and died on 4 June 1941 aged 82.

Victoria and Albert’s hundredth descendant was born on 2 July 1903 as Prince Alexander of Denmark, though that is not how he is known to history. He was the only child of Princess Maud, the fifth of the six children of King Edward VII, and Prince Carl of Denmark. In 1905, Norway became independent and elected Prince Carl as the country’s new king; he ruled as King Haakon VIII until his death in 1957 at the age of 85. His son then ruled as King Olav V of Norway until his death in 1991 at the age of 87. (King Olav’s son, Harald V, inherited the throne and is still living; he turns 86 later this month.)

But in 1903, a number of Vic and Al’s descendants had already died, so the moment when Victoria and Albert’s living descendants exceeded a hundred was when Princess Ileana of Romania was born on 5 January 1909 (23 December 1908 by the old calendar). Her mother, Queen Marie of Romania, was the daughter of Prince Alfred, the second son of Victoria and Albert. Ileana was the fifth of Queen Marie’s six children. She had six children with Archduke Anton of Austria, born between 1932 and 1942. Ileana was exiled from Romania with the rest of the royal family after the Second World War, and died aged 82 in January 1991 in Youngstown, Ohio.

Victoria and Albert’s thousandth descendant is King Olav V’s great-grandson, Prince Sverre Magnus of Norway, born on 3 December 2005. Under Norwegian law his older sister Ingrid Alexndra is ahead of him in line to the throne, as is his father. By my calculation, extrapolating from Allan Raymond’s lists, the number of living descendants of Vic and Al will surpass a thousand later this year (2023) or early next year (2024).

Total descendantsLiving descendants
Time interval 1st to 10th18.2 years18.2 years
Time interval 10th to 100th 44.5 years50.0 years
Time interval 100th to 1000th102.4 years~115 years

I conclude two things from this. The first is that the rate of increase slows down dramatically after the first couple of generations. The second is that factors of ten are probably too blunt an scale to get a really good feel for the numbers.

Here’s the same graph, redrawn to powers of 2, with the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 8th, 16th, 32nd, 64th, 128th, 256th, 52th and 1024th descendants indicated, both living and total.

There are a few familiar names there. (And some unfamiliar ones: you may not have heard of Prince Alfred of Edinburgh and Saxe-Coburg Gotha, Vic and Al’s fourth child and second son, or his own unfortunate son, another Prince Alfred.) There’s also a small accounting issue – the birth of Tatiana Mountbatten in 1917 brought the number of living descendants of Victoria and Albert over 128, but it was almost immediately sharply reduced when the Russian imperial family were killed in the aftermath of the revolution, so it was not until the birth of Prince Philip of Greece, Tatiana’s first cousin, in 1921 that the number went permanently over 128.

Endogamy is not really an issue here. There have been only 22 marriages where both partners were descended from Victoria and Albert, and only three in the last 50 years (compared to seven such marriages in the 1930s when the pool of descendants was a lot smaller). I previously calculated that about a quarter of Vic and Al’s living descendants have more than one line of ancestry going back to them, but this proportion has been fairly stable for decades. So I don’t think it has a big impact on the growth rate.


If we do the same table as before, tracking the moments when the number of descendants doubled, we can see that it has slowed in recent decades.

Total descendantsLiving descendants
1stPrincess Vicky, Empress of Germany, 1840-1901Princess Vicky, Empress of Germany, 1840-1901
1.0 years1.0 years
2ndEdward VII (1841-1910)Edward VII (1841-1910)
2.7 years2.7 years
4thPrince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (1844-1900)Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (1844-1900)
8.7 years8.7 years
8thPrince Leopold, Duke of Albany (1853-1884)Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany (1853-1884)
11.3 years11.3 years
16thPrincess Elizabeth of Hesse (1864-1918)Princess Elizabeth of Hesse (1864-1918)
7.7 years10.0 years
32ndPrincess Margaret of Prussia (1872-1954)Alfred, Hereditary Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1874-1899)
19.1 years21.2 years
64thAlexandra Duff / Princess Alexandra, 2nd Duchess of Fife (1891-1959)George VI (1895-1952)
19.9 years(22.0 years)
25.6 years
128thPrince Alfred of Hohenlohe-Langenburg (1911-1911)(Tatiana Mountbatten, 1917-1988)
Prince Philip, 1921-2021
30.5 years38.7 years
256thInfante Alfonso of Spain (1941-1956)Prince Christopher of Yugoslavia (1960-1994)
28.3 years26.4 years
512thPrincess Veronika Biron von Curland (b. 1970)Prince Philipp of Prussia (b. 1986)
37.0 yearsprobably 39 or 40 years
1024thPrince Gustav of Hohenlohe-Langenburg (b. 2007)not born yet, likely in 2025 or 2026

Just to grimly reflect that three of the above died by violence: Elizabeth of Hesse killed by Bolsheviks, the younger Prince Alfred probably as the result of a self-inflicted gunshot, and Alfonso of Spain accidentally shot by his brother (who later became King Juan Carlos).

To finish up with one more graph, this tracks the average annual increase in the number of descendants since 1900, both living and total. It is interesting that there is a visible cycle of higher and lower rates of increase; and the most recent years appear to show a continuing deceleration, with the lowest growth for a century. But I think it is unlikely that the number of living descendants will ever decrease, and of course it is impossible that the total number of descendants can ever do so.

The Chosen and the Beautiful, by Nghi Vo; The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald; and an unexpected family connection

Second paragraph of third chapter of The Chosen and the Beautiful, by Nghi Vo:

When I mentioned Gatsby in Daisy’s own house, in front of her own husband, there was nothing in my mind that connected him with Lieutenant Jay Gatsby. That man was fresh out of Camp Taylor with a commission purchased with the very last of his money from Dan Cody and only one pair of decent shoes. The eager young lieutenant had a wondering hungry eye, and the beautiful man in the lavender suit pin-striped in gray had obviously never been hungry a day in his life.

I’m more than a little dubious about the Hugo Award for Best Editor, Long Form. It seems to me that most Hugo voters, as readers, are not well placed to judge the extent and value of an editor’s contribution; if a nominee happens to have edited a lot of good books last year, is that luck or judgement? Be that as it may, last year’s Hugo packet included this as part of the credentials for Ruoxi Chen, who went on to (relatively narrowly) win the award; I didn’t read it then but I have read it now.

Folks, it is a real treat. I had no idea. It’s a re-telling of The Great Gatsby from the point of view of Jordan Parker, the #2 female character in the original, just as the original story is told from the point of view of Nick Carraway, who is definitely the #2 male character in the story. But it’s not quite Gatsby as we know it. Jordan and Daisy are still from Lousiville, Kentucky, but Jordan is an adoptee from Vietnam. Everyone (well, every main character) is queer and polyamorous. And magic works; not everyone can do it, but Jordan can, critically altering some of the key moments in the book.

I don’t know Gatsby well, but I found myself compelled to have it to hand to read in parallel with The Chosen and the Beautiful to enjoy even more what Vo has done with such a classic text. The overall arc is the same – it’s almost surprising how little the emotional dynamics are affected once you know for sure that everyone is shagging, rather than merely suspecting it – but it’s very pleasing, very moving and very nicely done. If you didn’t save it from the Hugo packet last year, you can get it here.

I went back and reread The Great Gatsby, properly as well. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

Every Friday five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New York—every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves. There was a machine in the kitchen which could extract the juice of two hundred oranges in half an hour if a little button was pressed two hundred times by a butler’s thumb.

When I first read it in 2004, I wrote

[A] very good short novel, with the setting of 1920s New York and Long Island vividly described, including barely surreptitious widespread use of alcohol and a surprising amount of promiscuity, but overlying this a much more interesting story of personal aspiration. Strongly recommended.

ObBalkans: Gatsby had a war medal awarded to him by the King of Montenegro

I enjoyed it again. It is very digestible, and the emotional arcs of young(-ish) people hurtling into a new age are tremendously convincing. You can get it here.

Since reading it first time around, I’ve been getting acquainted with my American grandmother’s early life; she was three years younger than Fitzgerald, and so almost exactly the same age as the fictional Daisy Buchanan and Jordan Parker. In fact Fitzgerald knew and corresponded with my grandmother’s step-brother, Van Wyck Brooks, though they were on somewhat different literary wavelengths, and Edmund Wilson even wrote an imaginary conversation between them for The New Republic in 1924, the year before Gatsby was published..

Browsing Fitzgerald’s biography, I was struck by a familiar chord in a mention of his colonial-era ancestors in Maryland. (He himself was born in St Paul, Minnesota and was always conscious of his Mid-Western origins.) A little digging, and I worked out that we were in fact fifth cousins three times removed, both of us descended from Philip Key (1696-1764), who emigrated from London around 1720, and his first wife Susanna Gardiner (1705-1742) whose ancestors had been in Maryland since the 1630s. F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s full name was Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald; he was named after the composer of “The Star-Spangled Banner”, who was his second cousin three times removed and my second cousin six times removed – we are all descended from different sons of Philip and Susanna.

I doubt that either my grandmother or her step-brother, let alone Fitzgerald, were aware of the genealogical connection. According to his daughter, Fitzgerald was not very interested in his Maryland ancestry. On our side, the link was through my great-grandmother, who had died when my grandmother was six, before my great-grandfather married Van Wyck Brooks’ mother (who had also been widowed). My grandmother was brought up to a certain extent by her dead mother’s sisters, who would certainly not have approved of Gatsby (either the character or the book) and anyway she lived in Europe and Asia for most of her adult life.

But sometimes it’s a small world, isn’t it?

The Chosen and the Beautiful was my top unread book by a writer of colour. Next on that list is The All-Consuming World, by Cassandra Khaw.

Seaver family notes

I’ve had a good afternoon transcribing the notes of my first cousin twice removed, Henry Morse Seaver, about his family. This is also a bit of an experiment as I have published them as pages on this WordPress site, so we’ll see how that works long term.

Here are Henry’s notes on his father and the rest of the family. He had three siblings, and wrote separate notes on each: a fair bit on his older brother Walter, who moved to California, and short and sad notes on his younger siblings, sister Alice and brother Philip.

All very interesting slice-of-life stuff for me. Henry has one living grandson, and Walter has many living descendants – his second oldest grandchild was the actress Sally Seaver.

Charles and Sue Seaver
I’m pretty sure this is the four Seaver kids, maybe taken around 1887 with the two older boys sitting down; so left to right that would be Philip (born 1881), Henry (born 1873), Alice (born 1878) and Walter (born 1870).

My 3xgreat-grandfather Richard Grafton Belt; and The Bordley and Belt Families, Based on Letters Written by Family Members, assembled and annotated by Edward Wickersham Hoffman

This is another of the volumes put together by my cousin Edward “Wick” Hoffman, drawing on the family letters left by his mother in a vodka box. This time he looks at his great-grandmother, my great-great-grandmother, Frances Wyatt Belt (1837-1912), and her ancestors – previous volumes looked at her relationship with her husband, Samuel Morris Wickersham, before and after their marriage. This includes Frances’ great-aunt, Elizabeth Bordley Gibson (1777-1863), who was friends with George Washington’s foster-daughter Nellie Custis and featured in contemporary art, but lived long enough to mentor her great-niece, whose grave I recently visited.

The early letters are really social chitchat from the first part of the nineteenth century. But we soon get onto the intriguing figure of my 3xgreat-grandfather, Frances’ father Richard Grafton Belt (1784-1865). For reasons that I will come to, I have been delving into his early life recently. His father, a farmer in the neighbourhood of Baltimore, died when he was 12, leaving him the oldest of five or six surviving siblings. In the Federal Gazette and Baltimore Daily Advertiser for 18 December 1807, we find this notice:

I haven’t been able to track this location down directly, but thirteen miles out of Baltimore on the York Road, now Route 45, gets you to the area now known as Cockeysville.

Leaping forward a couple of decades, this page on medicine in Maryland lists Richard Grafton Belt as an “M.D., apothecary and druggist” in 1827, a “doctor and druggist” in 1829, and an “apothecary” in 1833, all at 13 Market St (not Baltimore St) in Baltimore, a really central location. In 1843 he is at 125 Fayette St, not quite as central, listed as a “doctor” and, intriguingly, “Spanish consul”. I have no idea where he got his medical qualifications.

In 1831 he had married Sally Rebecca Heath Sims Bordley, who was at least twenty years younger than him, born around 1805 as far as I can tell. They had half a dozen children, my great-great-grandmother Frances (“Fanny”) somewhere in the middle. Wick’s collection of letters to and from him and his daughters dates from the 1850s. By this stage Richard Grafton Belt had rejected conventional medicine and taken up homeopathy. He completely failed to make it pay (not surprising, since homeopathy is bullshit), and basically had no money at all.

His daughter Fanny started working in a textile factory in Rhode Island at the age of 15 to keep the family going. Her father’s letters are full of the “it’s-really-going-to-work-this-time” narrative to the point that you can feel his teenage daughter shrugging her shoulders; what, again?

As well as being a rabid homeopathist, Richard Grafton Belt was also mawkishly religious and urged his children to get confirmed and attend church regularly in his absence. His grandson, Francis Sims McGrath, reflects on him thus in his book Pillars of Maryland:

So. DNA analysis reveals that there may have been more going on. There is a particular group of people on AncestryDNA who have a common link with me and each other. Most of this group appear to be African-American, or at least to have a large part of their heritage from that source. A lot of them also seem to have ancestry that can be traced back to Annapolis and/or Baltimore in Maryland. The link is sufficiently close that an early nineteenth-century common ancestor is plausible.

I am inclined to think that Richard Grafton Belt had a relationship with an African-American woman in Baltimore, and that the children of that relationship have many living descendants who are cousins of mine. I conjecture that Richard Grafton Belt’s relationship with the mother of his black child or children ended badly, causing him to seek redemption in religion and homeopathy, and leaving DNA that endures in my own body and in the bodies of dozens of Marylanders. (And a few in Alabama, for reasons we can only speculate about.)

There are of course other possibilities. But Richard Grafton Belt had only two sons; one died aged 16, and the other spent most of his adult life in Philadelphia (and is not known to have married or had children), so neither seems likely to have left DNA traces in Baltimore’s African-American community. He had several brothers, and one of them, Thomas Hanson Belt, could be a possibility as he too lived most of his life in Baltimore; his wife, Elizabeth Key Heath, was the aunt of Richard Grafton Belt’s wife Sally Rebecca Heath Sims Bordley. (The other brothers all seem to have moved away as soon as they were adults.) Still, the strength of the DNA connections points to Richard Grafton Belt rather than his brother as the most likely common ancestor.

Anyway, if you want to try your own psychoanalysis, you can get Wick’s book of family letters here.

The First World War Diary of Noël Drury, 6th Royal Dublin Fusiliers: Gallipoli, Salonika, The Middle East and the Western Front, ed. Richard Grayson

As mentioned yesterday, I have been reading a couple of war memoirs by officers serving with Irish regiments of the British army, written a hundred years apart. Yesterday I wrote up Charles Crowe’s memories of serving in the Peninsular War with my 3xgreat-uncle, Thomas Whyte; today it’s the memoirs of Noel Drury about his service with Thomas Whyte’s great-nephew, my grandfather, William Henry “Bill” Whyte.

Second paragraph of third chapter (Grayson’s introduction):

On 9 August, the 6th Royal Dublin Fusiliers finally got orders to take part in an advance from Hill 50 towards All Bey Chesme. This was Drury’s first real action and he recalled, ‘The firing was worse than I imagined it would be and I felt very scared’, with snipers hidden in trees a particular problem. The attack failed and Drury attributed that to ‘the failure by the staff to work out any proper scheme at the beginning while there was a chance of our getting there without much opposition’ and also ‘the extraordinarily bad behaviour of the 11th (Northern) Division troops and some of the 53rd’.6 Casualties for the 6th Royal Dublin Fusiliers were heavy: 11 officers and 259 other ranks, with 6 of the officers turning out to be dead, which necessitated some reorganisation of the battalion.7 The battalion spent the next few days digging in, struggling to find water but on 12 August were reattached to their own 30th Brigade and sent to a ‘rest camp’.8 Drury felt there was a ‘subtle wit’ at work in naming this a rest camp, noting ‘Anything less like a Rest Camp you couldn’t imagine. It was a bare slope, cleared in the scrub and having tracks of a “hay” crop of hard wiry burnt grass. The sun was beating down with a heat such I have never felt before. There was no shade.”9
6 Diary entry, 9 Aug 1915.
7 Diary entries, 9 and 11 Aug 1915.
8 Diary entry, 12 Aug 1915.
9 Diary entry, 13 Aug 1915.

Second paragraph of third chapter (Drury’s diary):

So we started off for the great adventure. I felt very nervous, as I am sure the others did, about how I would get on when real fighting started, and I think the responsibility of leading the men well, weighed on us.

I was put onto this by browsing around after reading a disappointing book on the 10th (Irish) Division in the First World War. Noel Drury was born in 1883; his family owned the busiest (and at one stage the only) paper mill in Ireland. He had two brothers, one of whom stayed at home to run the mill during the war (and then died in the influenza pandemic) and the other a doctor who joined the RAMC. He left four volumes of war diaries to the National War Museum; Richard Grayson, who I have known for thirty years, has now edited them down by about half and presents them for us here.

My main interest is that Drury served with the 6th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, and one of his closest colleagues, who gets more mentions than anyone except the battallion’s original commander Colonel P.G.A. “Paddy” Cox, was my grandfather, William Henry “Bill” Whyte, who fought alongside him and succeeded Cox as the battalion’s commanding officer. I never knew my grandfather, who died in 1949, long before I was born, so for me this is a unique insight into the man who contributed a quarter of my DNA.

Bill Whyte was born in 1880, the seventh son (of nine) and eleventh child (of fourteen) of my great-grandfather John Joseph Whyte (1826-1916). He had been a soldier since 1901 when he signed up for the Boer War. He appears on the very first page of Drury’s diary, welcoming Drury to the battalion in December 1914. Months of training then follow before they are sent to the eastern Mediterranean, arriving at Alexandria in July 1915, where Bill Whyte already knows the city, having been there on a previous military mission, and shows Drury around.

Their first (and as it turns out worst) day of actual combat is 9 August 1915, two days after their landing in Suvla Bay as part of the Gallipoli campaign, with no maps and no orders. They are ordered forward to capture a couple of hills, but in the confusion of war nothing seems to go right. Bill Whyte shuttles back and forth from the front line to Colonel Cox to try and sort things out. They manage to hold a ridge for a week, but are finally forced to withdraw to a prepared defensive position by the Turkish army, and Bill Whyte is injured in the neck/shoulder as they retreat. By the end of the Gallipoli campaign, half of the battalion’s men have been killed or wounded, or fallen ill, including 22 of the 26 officers.

The 6th Battalion spends the next month dug in on the Gallipoli front. Bill Whyte comes back from hospital on 21 September, five weeks after he was shot, and the soldiers move out at the end of the month to Thessalonica in Greece, where they spend October. They spend the whole of November preparing to defend the Allied positions just across the Serbian (now Macedonian) border. Eventually, without too much actual combat, it becomes clear that the position cannot be held against the incoming Bulgarian army, and Bill Whyte organises the retreat from the Battle of Kosturino on 8 December.

I knew some of this part of the story, having read up on the Macedonia campaign and actually explored the battlefield a few years ago. But I had not realised that the Allied troops had spent more than a month dug into the freezing Macedonian hills before being forced to withdraw. My grandfather was awarded the Order of the White Eagle by Serbia as a reward for his part in the campaign, unsuccessful as it was.

I was startled, when I visited the Imperial War Museum (North) in Manchester a year ago, to find a vivid depiction of the battlefield, “Land Heals, Memories Remain”, a 2018 painting by Jen Gash, at the entrance to the main exhibition hall.

The Battalion falls back to Thessalonica, and settles down to defending the lines and preparing for the next offensive. Meanwhile Drury goes down with malaria in July 1916 and is invalided home, returning only in July 1917 after a year away, to find that the front line in Macedonia has barely moved in the meantime.

In September 1917 there are two significant developments. First, the battalion is sent to Egypt as part of the Palestine campaign. Second, there is a new commanding officer. Colonel Cox is ordered home on 1 September, and Drury notes, “I wonder who will get Command – I’m afraid Bill Whyte won’t, as his deafness was a bar in the past.” (I was well aware of my grandfather’s deafness, supposedly due to overdosing on quinine during a bout with malaria.) But on 17 September he writes:

Great news. Major WH Whyte was in Orders today as Lieutenant Colonel and to command the Battalion. I am so glad as he is a damn fine fellow and a white man [sic]. He breathes the spirit of the Regiment and loves it better than anything. He knows the whole history of it and is always instilling it into the men. One malefactor when brought up at Orderly Room found himself sentenced to learn all the Battle Honours and their dates by heart.

And the next day:

Bill Whyte turned up at Orderly Room today with his crown and star on, amid hearty congratulations from everyone. It’s a huge relief that we haven’t had a dago sent to command.

(Presumably “dago” here means an officer from another regiment; or possibly just a non-Irishman.)

The battalion is held in reserve for the Third Battle of Gaza and the capture of Jerusalem, and has a brief skirmish with a failed Turkish counteroffensive at the very end of the year. In January, Bill Whyte wrote a letter to the former chaplain of the Battalion; when I first came across this I had no idea who the people in question were, but thanks to Drury’s diaries I now can identify all of them. This is from our family papers, not part of Drury’s book.

13 January 1918

Dear Padré [Father Murphy, the former Catholic chaplain],

This is to wish you all of the best for 1918 and also to ask why the divil we never hear from you? The boys do be going strong and as you probably have read we have had three successful stunts so we are all wagging our tails hard.
Has been hard work on little food and less drink; absolutely no whiskey! Stuffer [R.C. Byrne, the battalion quartermaster] is perforce a teetotaler and aging rapidly.
John Luke [another of the senior officers], sitting beside me much wishes he was where he last saw you. I gather you fed him nobly with drink in proportion!

Well, here we are in the Holy Land and as [probably mythical] Pat Murphy said “It’s no wonder Abraham was always wandering; sure he would be looking for a better spot.”
I got as far as Jerusalem just for a look at it. As a city most disappointing, incredibly dirty and smelly with a loathsome population. The interest of course is in the association with Biblical and Christian incidents. I saw the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Via Dolorosa, Garden of Gethsemane Mount of Olives etc etc. Had only time for a glimpse at each, and also one or two of the Moslem places. The Mosque of Omar built on the site of Solomon’s temple is far and away the finest thing in Jerusalem or out of it. The whole of this country is full of interest also. We bivouaced under the hill where Christ is supposed to have appeared to the three disciples after his resurrection [meaning the appearance on the road to Emmaus, which was to two disciples, not three]. There is a Latin Monastery there ran by Franciscans. – French and Italian [the monastery at Al-Qubaibeh, which had been founded only in 1902].
Got some bread and oranges out of them when they learnt we were all R.Cs. The Turk had left them pretty bare. The O.C. Monks breakfasted with me next day and was very interesting. They are evidently very industrious people, have transformed the top of a bare and bleak mountain into quite a charming spot. Trees planted, gardens flourishing with vines, oranges, pepper trees, etc. to say nothing of flowers and vegetables. Chapel is very fine and the Monastery and Hospice are very large; all buildings cut stone. We were using Hospice as a hospital. By the way it was here our padre first failed us. Being a holy man I sent him out foraging to the Monastery, as we were short of food, and expected him to return with all sorts of luxuries. However all he got out of the Monks was permission to pray in their Chapel! Not much use to hungry men! I think you or the Canon would not have come away empty handed.
The padre is one of your recruits Fr O’Carroll by name a good lad, but a bit young for the “brutal soldiery”. Next day I took in the job of foraging myself.
Another day we had a small scrap in the same place where Joshua hunted the 4 kings (I think) [actually five kings; the valley of Ajalon, a skirmish also described by Drury as taking place on 1 December 1917]. As far as I remember a terrific hail storm put the wind up them. We were assisted by a fog and sneaked up to the Turk and put the wind up him.
As regards fighting generally we have had a walk over as compared with the Gallipoli days. My company on 9th August lost more in 3 hours than the battalion has lost in all this campaign. Thank God for it. Our last stunt, when we counter attacked during Turks attempt to recapture Jerusalem, was I think our best effort. Anyhow the old Division was let loose as a whole and we fairly wiped everybody else’s eye. Our share of the pick up was more killed, wounded, prisoners, guns, M.Gs. etc. was more than three times as large as all the other divisions put together. [27-29 December, around Deir Ibzia]
It was hard work though. Xmas day was the divil raining like hell and New Years Day if possible worse. All the time we were on bully & biscuit and not enough of either. Indeed to look back now over the country we put the Turk out of it is astonishing an army was ever able to cross it. We went up 4 mountains all nearly 3000 feet high to say nothing of dozens of lower eminences. Men of course were marvelous, so happy and cheery under most adverse conditions and mad keen to get at the Turk. The other day a patrol came back grousing, saying the officer in charge was no good as he couldn’t find them any Turks to kill! With me still or rejoined lately are John Luke and Shadforth (both have done awfully well) also old Dovey Loveband and of course the Stuffer. Wodehouse also here sticking it out well in spite of rheumatism. [John Luke already mentioned; Captain H.A. “Tony” Shadforth; ]Guy Yerburgh Loveband; Stuffer Byrne already mentioned; Arthur Hugh Wodehouse, who had only recently joined the 6th Battalion from the 5th.]
Lots of the “old hands” here also “getting their own back”.
Col Cox [the previous commanding officer] writes he met you in Ireland so he will have given you all recent news. –

We have had no mail for weeks. In this country and under present weather conditions it takes a lot of doing to keep us fed and supplied with lead as a gift to the Turk. –

What is going on in Ireland? Is the convention [the Irish Convention, chaired by Horace Plunkett, in a well-meaning but doomed (and now largely forgotten) attempt to get a constitutional settlement in Ireland before Sinn Fein’s rise became unstoppable] going to put things right or are the Germans going to fool the Irishman into another rebellion? Meantime we are sighing for fresh blood to help us carry on. Only yesterday I had 2 men hit for the 4th time and another hit for the sixth! They will still carry on whilst thousands of able bodied men at home waste time doing nothing but talk rot.
Nothing else matters, except to beat the Hun. When that is done there will be no particular harm in people returning to their petty parish politics. –

Well! Well! God save Ireland anyway!
Have you done any racing lately? And if so I hope you gave Miss May Grehan VAD. better tips than you ever gave me! Give her my kindest regards. [May Grehan’s sister Magda was married to Bill Whyte’s brother George; they were second cousins once removed; May and Magda Grehan had two other sisters, who both married first cousins of the Whytes on the Ryan side; May eventually married an unrelated Englishman in 1922] Also to The Canon [the former Protestant chaplain of the battalion, R.A. MacClean, rector of Rathkeale in Limerick] when next you see him, and the two of you can drink to the health of yours v sincerely

W. H. Whyte

In March the Battalion take part in the Battle of Tell ‘Asur, but the Turkish troops withdraw pretty quickly (as usual at that stage of the war). The battle of Tell ‘Asur brings a particular difficulty as John Luke, one of the most senior officers who was very close to both Drury and Whyte, disobeying a direct order (possibly due to drunkenness) and consequently being court-martialled. (He was ultimately acquitted. Before the war he had resigned from the Royal Dublin Fusiliers after an incident of drunkenness, before rejoining in the war and he was fined for public drunkenness in 1922.)

After that things are fairly quiet, though Bill Whyte has the usual problems of leadership to address, and the soldiers go back and forth to Cairo fairly freely. On one of these train journeys, Drury has an interesting encounter:

When we got to Zagazig, I noticed a peculiarly shabby-looking fellow mouching along in an officer’s tunic but without badges or regimental buttons, unshaved and with long hair. He looked such a disgrace that I was on the point of speaking to him when one of the 10th Divison staff with whom I was sitting said to me ‘Don’t you think you might think first before blazing at him, and don’t you know who it is?’ I said I didn’t and he replied ‘That’s Colonel Lawrence.’ He was probably just back from one of his wonderful stunts with the Arabs and had picked up any old gear to take him to Cairo.

I had wondered if my grandfather ever encountered Lawrence of Arabia. I still don’t know the exact answer but I am satisfied with what I have.

The battalion is sent to France, and then in early September 1918 Bill Whyte is unexpectedly sent for “a rest for a while at home” (I have no idea what was really going on there; was it connected with John Luke’s court-martial?) and replaced with a new CO, Colonel Little, who Drury immediately dislikes. After four years, the war in France is finally going well, and the battalion starts to make major progress against the Germans (the first time that they had actually fought the Germans – previously it was the Turks and the Bulgarians). Then on 11 November everything changes.

About 09.00, Colonel Little came along and after saying ‘Good morning’, casually remarked ‘Well, we stop today’, so I replied ‘Thank the Lord, we could do with a spell of a few days’. So he smiled and said ‘Oh, but we stop altogether, the old war’s finished’. I thought he was pulling my leg so I asked him was I to tell that to the men? He said ‘Yes, certainly, an Armistice has been signed and all fighting will cease at 11.00 exactly’. He then handed me the official order, — ‘OC B Coy 6th Royal Dublin Fusiliers. Hostilities will cease at 11.00 hours today, Nov. 11th. Troops will stand fast on the line reached at that hour which will be reported by wire to Advanced Army Headquarters. Defensive precautions will be maintained. There will be no intercourse of any description with the enemy until receipt of instructions from Army headquarters. Further instructions follow’ — 16th Corps HQ, 07.00, 11th November 1918.
I can hardly believe it. I don’t know what I feel, but somehow it’s like when one heard the death of a friend — a sort of forlorn feeling.
I went along and read out the order to the men, but they just stared at me and showed no enthusiasm at all. One or two just muttered ‘We were just getting a bit of our own back.’ They all had the look of hounds whipped off just as they were about to kill.

It’s extraordinary and yet somehow understandable that despite the horrors of years of war, Drury and some of his colleagues would have preferred to press on than to stop fighting; a sort of Stockholm syndrome.

My grandfather lived to 1949, dropping dead in church at the age of 68 with my father, then 20, standing beside him. Noel Drury died in 1975 shortly before his 92nd birthday, leaving most of his estate to a cousin who had been living with him; he never married. He had sold the family paper mill to the Irish state many decades earlier.

So, a few things jumped out at me, partly also as a result of having read Charles Crowe’s diary of the Peninsular War and his association with my grandfather’s great-uncle Thomas Whyte alongside Drury’s memoir. The First World War was a lot more static than the Peninsular War. The soldiers spent a lot of time stuck in one place, sometimes in trenches, sometimes in pleasant Mediterranean cities. Fighting seems to have taken up less than 10% of the time of the campaign – two weeks at Gallipoli, another couple of weeks in France at the end (which my grandfather missed), a few days in Macedonia and Palestine. The Peninsular War was a lot more fluid, though I think the proportion of the time spent fighting was a little higher.

The other striking difference is that women are much less visible. Drury stays in touch with his brother’s girlfriend, who is a nurse and often overlaps with him. He organises a concert for about 50 nurses and other British women in Thessalonica, and helps out a couple of lost Englishwomen in Normandy, but otherwise the first world war army is much more male than the army of the Napoleonic era.

Drury’s descriptions of people and places are vivid, if bigoted. It’s all very clearly presented. Richard Grayson has done a great job of breaking the story up into chapters and clarifying what was going on. And I’ve learned something more about my grandfather. As with Glover’s edition of Crowe’s diary, I wish there had been some maps, but apart from that I recommend it as a nice example of presenting primary source material. You can get it here.

An Eloquent Soldier: The Peninsular War Journals of Lieutenant Charles Crowe of the Inniskillings, 1812-14, ed. Gareth Glover

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Officers and men were so fully occupied making good their new billet, that few of them were aware of our arrival, and we waited some little time before the Adjutant came to us, who, to my surprise and delight, proved to be my very particular friend Lieutenant Close* who left us eighteen months before at Danbury Barracks, near Chelmsford. He gave me a most cordial welcome, delivered my animals and baggage to his own batman, and when I enquired for my billet, told me to wait until he had apportioned off the men of our detachment to the different companies. This duty performed, Close gave me another hearty shake of the hand, and taking my arm, said, ‘Come my old boy, I will show you your billet, you are my prisoner. I told the quarter master’s sergeant I should take you into my billet, for, being now Adjutant I am entitled to a good house by myself but we two can be, I think, very snug and comfortable, and talk about our long walks near Danbury. This town is so small that chief of the officers are doubled up, and the juniors are three and four in one house. I am sure you will be glad to get away from that rattle Hambly.’
* Lieutenant Edward Charles Close 48th Foot.

This is the first of two posts I’m doing this year for Remembrance Day. Both are published diaries of officers in Irish regiments of the British Army, from a century apart. My interest in both cases is not so much in the conflict itself but that both diarists served in close company with relatives of mine.

I feel somewhat ambiguous towards the military in general and the British army in particular. Back in 2010 I read through all ten volumes of the Bloody Sunday report, which I recommend to anyone who has an interest in state violence and subsequent cover-ups. At the same time, for many of my male Irish ancestors, joining up was a means of assuring income in a precarious economic situation. There’s a significant Irish component to the heritage of the British army, in both directions.

The earlier of the two diaries I’m looking at today and tomorrow concerns my great-great-great-uncle Thomas Whyte, who for very many years was nothing more to me than a sad little line in the family records, one of my great-great-grandfather Nicholas Charles Whyte’s seven brothers, most of whom died during the Napoleonic wars. A few more details came to light with more research. Thomas was born in 1778, and was a captain in the 3rd Battalion of the 27th Regiment of Foot, known as the Inniskillings because they were originally raised in Enniskillen. But I don’t have much more; in particular, I have no idea what he was doing before 1812..

You may have forgotten about the Peninsular War. In the quarter century of European fighting that culminated in 1815, for most British and Irish people the battles that stick in the memory are Waterloo and Trafalgar. But this was an intercontinental conflict, with action in India, Egypt, the Caribbean and North America. Within Europe, Spain was particularly badly hit, with different governments and their sponsors battling it out over seven long years; proportionate to population, it was twice as bloody as the Spanish Civil War 130 years later. Here’s an animation of the day-by-day progress of the sides in the war to illustrate how complex it was.

Charles Crowe, the diarist whose memories I’m looking at, was born in 1785 in Suffolk, and joined the local militia in 1810, transferring to the regular army in 1811 and setting sail for the war in Spain in 1812, which is when the diary starts. In January 1813 he got transferred to the 3rd Battalion of the Inniskillings; Crowe as a Lieutenant was immediately put in command of one the companies of the battalion.

I was really reading his diary for the mentions of my great-great-great-uncle, and there are about a dozen. When Crowe joins the 3rd Battalion, Whyte is the second in command and welcomes him to the team. It becomes apparent that since the commanding officer, Colonel John Maclean, is a Scot, Whyte has an important informal role as the most senior Irishman in a largely Irish battalion, and Crowe records him as intervening twice to defuse disciplinary issues before they escalate.

In July 1813 the French appear to have been beaten, and are clinging to Pamplona in the northeast of Spain. The British army masses for a showdown with the French forces led by Soult marching in from the North. As the 3rd Battalion prepares for battle, Crowe has dinner with Colonel Maclean and “our worthy little Captain Whyte”, which is literally the only indication we have of Thomas Whyte’s physical appearance.

On 19 July the Inniskillings are near the French border, and Whyte rides up to the pass to take “a peep at France”. A few days later the French come pouring in and Wellington orders his troops to fall back to the valley of Sorauren, north of Pamplona, to make a stand. As the battle starts on 28 July 1813, the Inniskillings find themselves in an exposed defensive position taking very heavy losses and with little support.

I left my men to watch the path and hastened up to report the circumstance to Captain Whyte and stated that I could no longer defend the left of his position, for my company was annihilated. He thanked, and requested me to go and inform the colonel that he must have support instantly. I scrambled up the steep as quickly as possible and found the colonel anxiously watching all our proceedings. I briefly told my tale, he quietly replied, ‘Thank you, my good fellow. Thank you! I have seen what you have been doing. Go and tell Captain Whyte to do the best he can, for I cannot send him any assistance. Lord Wellington has ordered me not to part with another man, but that should the enemy appear on our ground, I am to give them a volley and charge with my three remaining companies.’

‘Oh! Ho!’ thought I, ‘This is very cheering intelligence truly! But we must fight it out!’ … Poor Whyte was not pleased with the result of my embassy, we were talking with Captain Butler about it and what we could do when an aide de camp galloped up with order for us to retire. Each of us most willingly went to muster as many of our men as we could. I could find only eight of the fifty three I had brought into the field!

…Poor Captain Whyte, proud of being second in command of the regiment had advanced on horseback, perchance, but for this circumstance the worthy fellow might have escaped. He was shot through the head as we retired!

I guess the point that Grove is making is that on horseback, Thomas Whyte was more vulnerable (and clearly an officer and therefore a more obvious target for French snipers); if he had swallowed his pride and walked, he might have lived. Grove mourns

the loss of Captain Whyte, the good officer, the brave soldier, the perfect gentleman, the warmhearted friend! No one was ever more beloved by all classes.

The battle continued for another two days and the British eventually won, so they would have recaptured the spot where Whyte was killed while retreating. There is no record of his place of burial – in fact I don’t know of any physical memorial to him anywhere – but it was probably on the battlefield.

Location of the battlefield of Saurauren, north of Pamplona

As it turned out this was the last French offensive of the Peninsular War, and for the rest of the diary Grove plays his part in the invasion of France while increasingly suffering from poor health, which he attributes to aggravated sunstroke, though Glover thinks it was brucellosis contracted from infected milk. After Napoleon’s first surrender, the 3rd Battalion of the Inniskillings was merged with the 1st and sent to America, where they lost the Battle of Plattsburgh, but Grove was transferred to the 2nd Battalion, which had suffered very heavy losses at the Battle of Ordal in Catalonia in September 1813 and went to Ireland to help with recruitment to replenish their ranks. This meant that he missed the Battle of Waterloo, where the 1st Battalion (which now included the survivors of the 3rd Battalion), just back from America, lost two-thirds of their remaining men in the fighting around the farm of La Sainte Haye. If Thomas Whyte had not been killed two years earlier, he would probably have been killed at Waterloo.

After the war, Grove went home to Suffolk and seems to have lived a quiet life, marrying without children and eventually dying at 70 in 1855. Gareth Glover has done a great job of editing and explaining the two volumes of his memoirs, one held by the family and the other originally by the regimental museum in Enniskillen. He was also good enough to clear up a query by email, more than a decade after the book was published.

Fortunately for Glover (and us), Grove was a good writer and gives us some lovely descriptions of the landscape and vivid portrayals of the Portuguese, Spanish and French people who he encounters. He shows (and depicts his fellow soldiers as showing) a fannish devotion to Lord Wellington – not yet the Duke, a title he got in 1814. Every word he exchanges with the big boss is carefully noted and recorded.

I was also struck by how many women were involved with the army. Quite recently I read the memoir of Mother Ross, a genderqueer soldier from a century earlier who served under Marlborough as both a woman and a man; it’s clear from Grove that Wellington’s forces (and presumably the other side as well) depended on women as well as men, and some of the rank and file (especially what we would now call NCOs) travelled with their wives. One night in March 1814, seven of the soldiers’ wives were billeted together in the same house; and that evening, two of them gave birth.

Readers who are more interested in the Napoleonic Wars than me will get more out of this than I did, but I got what I wanted. You can get it here.

My grandfather and Irish decimalisation

Three men, Ken Whitaker, Sean Murray and George Colley, pose with the new Irish decimal currency in February 1971

It’s a photograph that I have long been familiar with; legendary Irish economist and public servant T.K. Whitaker on the left, Minister for Finance George Colley on the right, and in the middle my grandfather, Sean F. Murray, previously Whitaker’s deputy at the Department of Finance, inspecting the new decimal Irish currency, switching from the old system of 20 shillings and 240 pennies to the pound, to the new 100 pence which endured until the arrival of the euro. My grandfather chaired the internal government committee that brought in the new system.

The new Irish decimal coins exactly matched the British, as the old coins had done since they were introduced in 1928; there was later some divergence, as the Irish 50p coin did not downsize when the British did, and the Irish 20p coin was larger and rounder than the British one, but for most of the period from 1971 to 2002, most British and Irish coins were physically interchangeable, and certainly in Northern Ireland you would normally find some Irish coinage mixed in with your sterling change. This could occasionally lead to problems after the Irish pound aligned with the European Monetary System in 1979; I remember well Black Wednesday in 1992, when the exchange rate shifted from £1.05 Irish to £1 sterling, to vice versa in the course of a few days.

In hindsight, the decision to continue the alignment of the Irish and British currencies after decimalisation in 1971 looks like a no-brainer, and I must say I had vaguely wondered what my grandfather’s committee actually did other than accept the inevitable. I was completely wrong. A 2020 Ph D thesis by Andrew John Cook at the University of Huddersfield looks in depth at the decimalisation process, not only in the United Kingdom, but also in the Commonwealth (much of which had inherited the pounds, shillings and pence of the colonisers) and Ireland. The story is much more complicated than I had realised, and in fact all three of the men in the photograph – Whitaker, Murray and Colley – had initially opposed the decision that they ended up implementing.

From the early days of independence, occasional voices had floated ideas that Ireland should decimalise its currency – but by adopting the ten-shilling unit and shillings as the core of the new system, abolishing the pound and changing from 12 pennies to 10 cents in each shilling. This was not a fringe idea. The first such proposal was from T.A. Smiddy, Michael Collins’ economic advisor and later the Irish Free State’s first ambassador (to the United States). The surviving memo from him to Collins is dated April 1923 in the archives – which must be incorrect, because Smiddy was already in Washington by then and Collins had been dead for eight months. If he received it during his lifetime, Collins would have had other things on his mind anyway.

A cabinet committee in 1959, and another in 1965, endorsed the ten-shilling scheme, though a sizeable minority in both cases preferred to move in tandem with the UK. Another proposal floated at the time was to move to florins, worth two old shillings, as the base unit; each florin would have 100 cents (so 10 florins and 1000 cents to the old pound). The argument was that for a country much poorer than the UK, the fundamental unit need not be as valuable as the British pound.

But with the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement in 1965, and the 1966 British announcement that they would move to a pound with 100 pence in 1971, the situation became urgent. Cook quotes from several government memos written by my grandfather, from which it becomes clear that he ended up as the key mover, along with Finance Minister and then Taoiseach Jack Lynch and also Charles Haughey, Lynch’s successor in Finance, to ensure that Irish decimalisation would match the British process.

My grandfather was in charge from an early stage. In January 1967, three months before I was born, he wrote a memo to the Cabinet on behalf of the Department of Finance recommending the florin-cent system. This was also supported by his boss, T.K. Whitaker, and by the Ministers for Foreign Affairs, Frank Aiken, and for Industry and Commerce, George Colley. However, the 85-year-old President De Valera supported the ten-shilling scheme (advocated 45 years earlier by Smiddy) in an October 1967 letter to the Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, in which he also foresaw the ultimate role of a single European currency:

I would adopt half the pound sterling, that is the ten-shilling note as the Irish fundamental note. It would have to be given a name. For want of a better one I use Réalt here. One tenth of a Réalt would be a scilling and one tenth of a scilling a pingin.

If I were asked, why not keep exactly to the British unit, I would say that the ten shilling one is a better one on its merits. Moreover, it is desirable that Dublin is not considered a mere suburb of London, or Ireland as a piece of West Britain. There are, possibly, amongst us some who desire this but we should not aid them. There is no better way of making visitors feel they have come to a different nation than by having a different currency …

We will never get a chance like this again for a quiet assertion of our nationality. The decision to be made here is, in my opinion not a mere economic one. It is, also, a national one, and were the decision to be mine I would not hesitate a moment. The British might, sometime in the future change the basis again, we would surely look ridiculous if we were always accommodating ourselves to them. The position would be different of course if the nations of Europe were all to go over to a common unit and Britain were to join them. We could then, without any loss of dignity, accept the common unit.

But the Minister of Finance, Jack Lynch, had been in favour of simply following the British lead since at least 1966, and when he became Taoiseach in October of that year, the new Minister of Finance, Charles Haughey, ruthlessly implemented Lynch’s policy. (Which is rather ironic, given later events.) Haughey commissioned a public consultation, and put my grandfather in charge of managing it and ensuring that it came up with the right answer (thus neutralising one of the internal voices in favour of the florin system).

The banks were particularly strong supporters of the Haughey/Lynch plan, and that carried a lot of weight. On 23 April 1968, Haughey, backed by his deputy, Jim Gibbons, and by Lynch as Taoiseach, announced the shift to pounds and new pence with the same value as sterling, to take place on 15 February 1971, the same day as the UK, based on the results of the public consultation and the conclusions of the committee that my grandfather had been running.

By February 1971, Haughey had been dramatically fired by Lynch, and tried and acquitted of shipping arms to the IRA, with Gibbons (who had meanwhile become Minister of Defence) the chief witness against him. His replacement as Minister of Finance was George Colley, meaning that he and my grandfather, who had both been early supporters of the florin scheme, were now in charge of implementing a completely different proposal.

The RTÉ coverage of Decimalisation Day starts with Colley in a Dublin bank, my grandfather beside him looking at the camera to see if it is rolling, and ends with my grandfather in a brief interview saying that it all seems to have gone well. (And it had.) It must have been one of the biggest days of his career, and one can sense his glee. (I wasn’t able to embed the video directly, so this is it captured via my iPad; there are some silent parts, including at the beginning.)

Today is in fact the 113rd anniversary of my grandfather’s birth, on 16 October 1909. (His sister-in-law, now aged 106, is still with us.) He died in 1976 when I was nine, and the last thing I remember talking to him about was Gulliver’s Travels. I am the oldest of his 22 grandchildren; here I am with the first of his great-great-grandchildren, my half-first-cousin-twice-removed, born last year.

Meanwhile Andrew Cook’s thesis looks like a rollicking good read of what might at first sound like a very dry corner of administrative history, and for the time being at least, you can get it here.

A royal burial (though not the one you’re thinking of) and how a monk helped me find my grandmother’s grave

So. My original plan when I booked today’s visit to London, two weeks ago, was to work from our London office today and tomorrow before getting the last Eurostar on Tuesday. But it turned out that for some reason the office would be closed today. Fine, I said to myself, I’ll work from my hotel room for the day, and fulfill a long-standing Monday evening social commitment.

Then, to my dismay, I found on arrival that the hotel’s rooms are completely unsuitable for work – no desk, no comfortable chair, and worst of all, no coffee. Entirely my own fault for not reading the small print when booking, but my plans of today being a normal remote working day disintegrated. I tossed and turned in bed last night, wondering what to do. My mood shifted from frustration to sorrow with the news that we have lost Maureen Kincaid Speller, just one day after she was given a lifetime achievement award by the British Fantasy Society.

And then it all came together. The first funeral I remember attending was my grandmother’s, in 1979, when I was twelve; she was born in Philadelphia in 1899, died after a period of ill health in a nursing home near Hook in Hampshire, and is buried in Brookwood Cemetery, the largest graveyard in Europe, southwest of London. I have not been there since. Given what else has been happening today, and also given that I tracked down her grandparents last month, it felt appropriate to try and find her.

In parenthesis – some people have been asking me for my take on the transition in the British monarchy, as some are euphemistically putting it. I decided not to renew my British passport in 2017, and in general I think it is better to elect your head of state, preferably by qualified majority in Parliament or a electoral college, though I’ll take a popular vote if that’s what’s on offer. Liz Truss was right in 1994 (I was in the room when this happened).

But of course it is a massive crunch to lose a physical link with the past. Very few people can remember a time before the late Queen’s reign. Without really knowing much about her, everyone felt connected to her. Monarchy is bad for the royals, but she managed to persuade her subjects that it is good for the country, without ever having to say so directly.

I watched the ceremony this morning and then walked from Trafalgar Square over the Golden Jubilee Bridge to Waterloo station. Lots of people were standing silently, staring in the direction of Westminster. You can see the massed crowds in the distance in the photo I took of Parliament with its flag at half mast.

It takes 45 minutes to get to Brookwood from Waterloo by train. Today being (of course) a public holiday, the cemetery offices were closed, but I had done a bit of research. My grandmother rests with two of her aunts, her uncle by marriage, and her maternal grandmother. (Her uncle and aunt had no children of their own, but informally adopted my grandmother after her own mother’s early death.) Her uncle, Sir Robert Hadfield, was rich and famous, so I guessed that he might be in one of the posher parts of the cemetery according to a map I found in an academic paper on the social stratification of burials at Brookwood.

But before I get there, I have to say that I was really impressed by the way that Brookwood was designed as, and has remained, a resting place for those of many faiths from the start – Muslims, Zoroastrians, Ismailis, all have space reserved. (I guess that Jews and Hindus have their own arrangements?) It was a bit of a contrast with the very Christian ceremony that I had watched before catching the train, and seemed to me more reflective of England as it really is.

I wandered around the three poshest sections of the southern (Anglican) part of the cemetery, but found no Hadfields. The weather was pleasant this afternoon, fortunately, and I detoured over to the Orthodox shrine of St Edward the Martyr, King of England, who was murdered in 978, a thousand and one years before my grandmother died. After a series of improbable events, he now rests in Brookwood, the longest dead of anyone known to be there, the earliest ruler of England with an identified resting place.

Father Niphon is camera shy, but gave me a tour of the shrine and then a cup of tea. The monks have a sense of humour.

Father Niphon then unearthed a book by John Clark listing famous graves in Brookwood. (On the wall he has a photograph of John Clark presenting him with the book.) To my delight, Sir Robert Hadfield, my great-great-uncle, is among those listed. So I headed straight off to Plot 34, the D-shaped plot east of the small circular plot that is the focus of the southern part of the cemetery, to look for him, his wife, his mother-in-law, his sister-in-law and his niece. I felt a bit like Tuco at the end of The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, and I confess that I was whistling “The Ecstasy of Gold”, startling a young deer which was the only other large living animal around.

Plot 34 is quite big, and I was (unwisely, as it transpired) guided by a four-decades-ago memory of a gravesite near the path, with arch-shaped headstones. I toured Plot 34 twice looking for such graves with Wickersham / Hadfield / Whyte inscriptions, and was on the point of giving up when I returned to John Clark’s book, and realised that he had left an important clue in the description.

There are really not a lot of conifer-hedged allotments in Brookwood at all, never mind in Plot 34. 

And at the entrance to the enclosure I found her, with the others close by.

My memory was completely wrong; it is about as far from the path as you can get in Plot 34, and there are no headstones at all – the memorials are all at ground level. It’s in pretty good shape, though several hours later I am still brushing conifer twiglets out of my hair and clothes.

I remember my grandmother best when she was already frail, but it has been good to renew my acquaintance with her from her memoirs. Here she tells of how her grandmother died when they were on holiday in Italy together at Lake Como. My grandmother had just turned thirteen, a little older than I was when she in turn died.

Triumphantly I returned to the metropolis. As I crossed back north of the river towards Charing Cross, a busker was playing a tuba which belched flames in tune with an Abba recording. Which Abba song? Which do you think!

England, never change.

Family research and family reunion in Massachusetts

I had a very good morning of research in the Massachusetts Historical Society at the end of last month. My grandmother’s cousin Henry Seaver (a noted architect, probably named after my great-grandfather Henry Hibbard, and the father of writer Elizabeth Helfman) had carried out a lot of research of his own, including interviewing several of his surviving relatives; his daughter then lodged his papers with the MHS in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

I’m going to salute the approachability of the Massachusetts Historical Society. They were very helpful in how best to deal with archival material (I have handled twelfth-century manuscripts in the past, but they could not have known that), and crucially they allow photography of everything, provided that you do not use a flash. This basically meant that rather than spend hours copying someone else’s unreadable handwriting into my own unreadable handwriting, as I have done in my previous archival work decades ago, I was able to instantly capture everything for later analysis.

The most glorious find was in fact an 1889 letter from Henry Seaver’s uncle, my great-great-uncle Thomas Hibbard, to Henry’s mother, my great-great-aunt Susan Seaver, saying that he had been doing research in the Massachusetts Historical Society and the New England Genealogical Society on the origins of the Hibbard family. I failed to leave a message at the MHS for my own great-great-nephew or -niece to find in the year 2145.

Last Tuesday I visited the rooms of the Mass[achusetts] Historical Society, and the N[ew] E[ngland] Genealogical Society to try to find out something about this Rob[er]t Hibbard of Salem. I only found that he was a salt maker in S[alem] 1639 and afterwards removed to Windham Conn[ecticut]. Could not find his name in the emigration list to tell what vessel he came in or when. Perhaps the genealogy will tell and I am anxious to see it completed.

There was plenty more. I have written before about the mysterious origins of my great-great-grandmother. She was Henry Seaver’s grandmother, and he wrote a memo in his notebooks which totally contradicts my speculations about her maternal ancestry:

On Mar 2 1908 my mother [Susan Seaver, my g-g-aunt, who died the following year] wrote me as follows about her mother’s family: “On my mother’s side, her father died when she was 11 yrs. old. He was a sailor and was impressed about 1812, imprisoned at Dartmoor, and there contracted the consumption from which he finally died. His name was John Smith and hailed from Portsmouth, N.H. I think, or Dover, N.H. as my mother was born there. My mother knew very little about her ancestors as no one cared much about such things in her day. I tried once to hunt up Judith Locke my mother’s grandmother. She was born at Barnstead N.H.. I found out by her burial certificate that her father’s name was James and mother’s was Sarah but no last name was given. She died in 1852 at the age of 91 (I think, haven’t time now to look it up in the Bible). She wa a little girl at the time of the Revolution and held me in her arms when I as an infant. She died out here in the old house, then a new one.” (West Roxbury)

Other notes on Smith family written by my mother told her by her mother: “Dr Smith was a Scotch physician who came to this country with his son John Smith, but not liking the country he returned. That is all she knew of her family on her father’s side.:

John Smith b. Scotland Nov 14 1784
died Dec 6 1827 married Jan 23 1812
Sally Lock they had
3rd child Sarah Ann Smith
my [Henry Seaver’s] grandmother [my great-great-grandmother]

The dearth of information about the Smiths is a bit frustrating, but made less so by the very clear DNA evidence that Sarah Ann Smith’s biological father, and my 3xgreat-grandfather, was not her mother’s husband John Smith but Benjamin Cleveland of Otsego, New York, whose family is very well documented.

I am tremendously grateful to Patrick Nielsen Hayden for leading me to the genealogical trail which connects me through the original Cleveland settler, Moses Cleveland, to my sixth cousin three times removed President Grover Cleveland, to my ninth cousin, sf writer Fritz Leiber, to Leiber’s third cousin, also my ninth cousin, Shirley Temple, and to my Worldcon colleague and seventh cousin twice removed Jesi Lipp.

Having sorted out Sarah’s paternity to my own satisfaction, her mother’s lineage is the biggest trailing thread of my American ancestry. Henry Seaver wrote another note summarising what he knew, which was not much.

Judith Lock born Barnstead N.H. Jan 1 1762 d. West Roxbury Mass Nov 30 1852
married (not known) Lock
her maiden name not known, her father was James, mother Sarah ?
Sally Lock b. July 27 1793 d. Jan 28 1870
Ann Burbank Lock b. May 18 1796 d. Nov 29 1845 m. Jos. Akarman

Sally Lock married John Smith Jan 23 1810
John Smith, Dover family
Sarah Ann Smith b Ap 3 1815 d Nov 18 1891
Susan Watkins Smith Heath whose oil portrait we have [what happened to it?]
(4 other children)
Sarah Ann Smith married William C Hibbard Apr 3 1849 and the descendants are the Seaver ancestors in this book.
[later note] and Mary J. who married John Deming of St Louis a Union pilot on the Mississippi River in the War.

This completely kills my previous theory that Sally Lock was the daughter of Joseph Locke and Tirzah Arms of the Connecticut Valley in western Massachusetts; what we have points only to New Hampshire, and my genetic links to Joseph and Tirzah must be from another route. The 75 years since Henry Seaver died in 1947 don’t seem to have added very much to this, but I will keep digging.

I took the opportunity to meet up with the descendants of Sarah Ann Smith and her husband William Charlton Hibbard. The day before I met in Plymouth with W, one of my third cousins through my great-grandfather’s older brother Thomas (who wrote the letter quoted at the top of this post); we had met in February but failed to take photos.

The following day I met for the first time with a bunch of third cousins, and the younger of the two surviving members of the generation above us, and we paid our respects at the graves of our great-great-grandparents in West Roxbury.

Left to right:
L1, the younger of the two surviving great-grandchildren of Sarah and William Hibbard
J, L’s nephew, my third cousin
L2, L1’s niece and J’s brother, also my third cousin
P, daughter of the baby in the park, also my third cousin, second cousin of J and L2, first cousin of W

This came after a great fish lunch in Dedham – can you call it a family reunion when many of those present had never met before? My brother WW came to the lunch, but was not able to come to the graveyard; the other W, who I had seen two days before, was not able to come at all, but sent his wife and mother-in-law to represent his part of the family.

Left to right:
R, W’s mother-in-law
WW, my brother
N, W’s wife

This was not the first such family excursion. In 1934, my great-grandfather Henry Hibbard together with his brother Thomas Hibbard, great-grandfather of J, L2, P and W, and grandfather of L1 in the photos above, led a family gathering to New Hampshire to the home of their great-grandfather. There were 23 of them on that occasion, 88 years ago. We only had eight attendees; maybe we’ll have more next time.

The Life of Col. Samuel M. Wickersham, based on his writings 1863-1894, ed. Edward Wickersham Hoffman

After a few days off (and very relaxing holiday) I’m back to bookblogging again. I have built up quite a backlog thanks to general downtime an also some shorter books, though this one is not very short.

Second paragraph of third letter (from Yorktown, VA, 7 December 1862):

My regiment is pronounced by the officers as the best that has ever landed at their shores and their arrival is a valuable addition to the strength of this important post. After reporting, leaving one company in barracks in the Fort I marched the other companies to the boat. Deposited guns and knapsacks and they distributed the rations and gave them privilege to go ashore and cook their vitals [sic] and a happy merry time they had. All are now on board, gone to roost, guards are stationed, and I am writing to my dear little wife. Tomorrow morning I go to Gloucester, across the York River, to select the ground for my camp and lay it out for winter quarters where I hope to succeed in training my men rightly. All are in good spirits and anxious to acquire knowledge in their art.

More of the correspondence of my great-great-grandfather, a Pittsburgh iron merchant who married his third wife, my great-great-grandmother, in 1860 as the Civil War loomed. She seems to have been very diligent about keeping his correspondence; none of hers to him or to anyone else survives, but we also have a few letters from the daughters of his earlier marriages, addressed to “Mother” (ie their stepmother).

The first volume in this series dealt with the courtship between Samuel Wickersham and Fanny Belt; they lived most of their subsequent lives together, so the only other substantial amount of correspondence comes from his six months of service in the Civil War (briefly in charge of the Pennsylvania 22nd regiment and then second-in-command of the Pennsylvania 169th), and then settling back into the swing of things immediately after when she was spending a lot of time in Philadelphia – partly due to her father’s illness, but also their relationship seems to have had the occasional rocky patch.

Wickersham did not have a terribly dangerous civil war. The Pennsylvania 169th lost a total of eleven men in the few months of its existence, all through disease and none in combat. The closest they got to serious action was pursuing the defeated Lee southwards after Gettysburg, but at that point the Confederates were too busy running away to shoot back. Most of Wickersham’s letters to his wife complain that he has not been paid yet, that she hasn’t written recently and/or that he has got diarrhoea again. There is also some rather sweet commentary on the children, including my great-grandmother getting her first teeth.

Content warning: racism

The most interesting thing for me is that although he was fighting in a war to end slavery, he was still pretty racist. From the 7 December 1862 letter:

4,000 contraband [freed slaves] are quartered about the town in tents or shanties. General Nagle says the best houses in these parts are occupied by them, and woe betide the officer who would displace them to accommodate the soldiers. I told him that if the needs of comfort of my men come into collision with those of the negroes, I fear I shall be recusant to any such orders.

From 13 February 1863:

I hope to do my whole duty to my country under all circumstances, but the negro I never did and never will acknowledge but as an inferior race. I am not and never was an abolitionist, but now to end this war, I would take from our enemies all that strengthen their arms to strike us and if we could afterwards deport the entire negro race to some other clime a source of the most wicked crimes and demoralising influences on our own race would be removed.

From 21 July 1863, after the post-Gettysburg pursuit:

The backbone of this heinous rebellion is broken and the end of it appears. Let us thank God for this. The reign of the n****r in the South ends with it and white man will take his proper place there and Virginia will yet be what nature has so fitted her to be the great state of the union.

It is quite an extraordinary leap to describe the antebellum South as being under the “reign of the n****r”. And I am left not quite understanding why he was so enthusiastic about the war, if he was so prejudiced against African-Americans and actually opposed to Abolition. I guess that there is context here that I have not seen.

One more point of historical mystery: on 25 October 1866, he writes to Fanny,

I have just been tendered the appointment of Asst. Secretary of War & asked for my acceptance. What say you? Mr. Stanton retires & Gen. Sherman takes the position of Secretary of War & ’tis under the new Secty that the offer is made to me.

President Johnson was in perpetual conflict with Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War, and indeed his attempt to fire him in 1868 would eventually lead to his impeachment. In October 1866, Johnson must have been hoping that the November elections would give him more room to manoeuvre. Wickersham was friends with Andrew Curtin, the Governor of Pennsylvania, who presumably would have recommended him in Washington.

In fact, the radical Republicans, who felt (entirely correctly) that Johnson was being too soft on the former rebels, won a crushing victory in the 1866 elections and we hear no more of Wickersham’s ambitions in the Executive Branch. (Forty-odd years later, his son was appointed Attorney-General by President Taft.)

There are some interesting personal glimpses as well. There is a mysterious incident where Wickersham fauxpologises, twice, to Fanny for destroying a photograph of her that he did not like, and then tries to guilt her into coming home from her parents, a pattern that is all too familiar to students of human nature. Wickersham’s oldest daughter, Katie, writes several letters to her stepmother about her courtship with a boy we know only as Will G. She never married and died of tuberculosis in her forties. A number of Wickersham’s sketches have survived, as has a single faded flower plucked from the fields of Virginia in the spring of 1863.

There is no point in sugar-coating the past; our ancestors were people of their time, and it is better to acknowledge the facts of racism and injustice than to pretend that they did not exist. This book is probably of limited interest except to the specialist, or to Wickersham’s (many) descendants, but you can get it here.

A duel in 1723

I mentioned a few months back that I had discovered that one of my 5x great-grandfathers, John Ryan Glas (1692-1723), was killed in a duel by another of my 5x great-grandfathers, John White (married as a teenager in 1704, so born around 1685; died in 1741). White’s descendants changed the spelling of their surname to Whyte.

A correspondent who is really into the Ryan family’s history has sent me an account of what actually happened. This is from a diary belonging to Andrew Ryan (or O’Ryan) of Gortkelly Castle; unfortunately all we have is a transcription of a transcription and the last sentence doesn’t make sense. But the core narrative is there.

Oct 26th [1840]. Went as far as Drombane to Father Carey’s funeral. Met Mr. Dwyer of Annogrove and family and Miss Ryan of Clonmel and Father Butler of Templemore, met on my walk old Bill Feehan.

Had a conversation about John Ryan Glas of Inch, who he said was sent by Baron Purcell of Loughmore to value his estates.

He did so, one of the Baron’s daughters, Mrs. White (or her mother) whose husband and sisters, as she had two and no brother, wished to get the estates in lieu or part payment of her fortune, asked him hastily thinking he over valued them, would he give as much himself as them, he replied in the affirmative, on which the Baron took him at his word and told them to have them.

Ryan is reported by others to have said that he had not too much ready money but could give £300 in hand and pay the remainder £500 in a little time, the offer was accepted.

White, in some time after perceiving him in or outside a barber shop in Dublin, handed him his glove as a challenge. Both drew their rapiers and commenced to fight.

The barber’s wife, seeing the battle obstinate and victory incline to neither side, fearing lest Ryan, her customer, might receive any injury, raised the latch of the door against which Ryan, one of the most expert swordsmen of his time, had placed his heel.

Finding something give way behind his foot and turning his eye in that direction, he exposed himself to his adversary’s thrust and received the point of White’s sword in the neck. He died of the wound and was interred in Dublin.

He was married to a daughter of Theobald Mathew of Annfield , for his fighting and dual instead of Thomas Mathew (her brother) and beating antagonist.

[that last bit is confused and must be a transcription error.]

So, some of this is clear. I was aware that the fatal dispute was around the legacy of some of the land belonging to Nicholas Purcell of Loughmoe, also Baron Loughmore. The sequence seems to have been:

  1. the elderly Purcell asks Ryan to value the estates, or part of them at least.
  2. Purcell’s daughter, Mary White (or possibly Purcell’s wife, Rose nee Trevor), expecting to inherit the property in the near future, challenged Ryan’s valuation as being too high (presumably worried about tax implications) and asked if he would be willing to pay that price for the lands himself. Ryan said that he would.
  3. Purcell decided he would like the ready cash and asked Ryan to buy the lands from him, for the price he had stipulated. Ryan did not have £800 to hand, but came to terms with Purcell to pay some immediately and the rest in installments. (It is tricky to make comparisons, but £800 now is maybe £200,000 today.)
  4. Not stated, but implied: the Whites were furious, perhaps because Mary would now not be getting the lands which had been sold (Purcell may well have simply spent the cash in the meantime), or perhaps because they thought that Ryan had taken advantage of the elderly Purcell, or maybe they just did not like Ryan.
  5. Some time later (after Purcell’s death on 4 March 1722), White encountered Ryan outside the latter’s favourite barber’s shop in Dublin and challenged him, starting with the ritual slap of the glove.
  6. The two duellists were both in their 30s, and Ryan was considered an expert swordsman. But he may have been pressed by White, as he needed to brace himself against the barber’s door.
  7. The barber’s wife, thinking that she was helping Ryan, opened the door a crack, distracting him enough for White to land a fatal blow, and Ryan died soon after.

This account dates from 120 years after the event, it’s obviously not first hand (“old Bill Feehan” would surely have been born at least forty years after the duel happened) and, as I said, we have only a second-hand transcription. But most of it is consistent with what I already knew, and the one new detail – the role of the barber’s wife – is sufficiently remarkable that one can accept the story making its way from Dublin to Tipperary, and a folk memory surviving the event by four or five generations.

Also it is interesting that this is recorded in 1840. In 1839, the previous year, Ryan’s great-grandson George Ryan had married White’s great-great-granddaughter Catharine Whyte. (In 1862, their daughter Caroline married another of White’s great-great-grandchildren, John Joseph Whyte, and they were my great-grandparents.) So that will have stirred up memories of the duel among those who enjoy talking about family lore; not exactly a minority pursuit in Ireland, in 1840 or indeed now.

Many thanks to Derek Ryan for sending me the details.

The Cleveland conundrum, and more on Sarah Locke

The glory of DNA research is that there is always a new discovery around the corner, and sometimes these discoveries raise new questions as well as answering old ones.

Among my DNA connections, there are a fair number who are descended from a Benjamin Cleveland (1783-1853) and his wife Lydia Cooper (1787-1872). According to the written records, I am distantly related to Benjamin Cleveland; he is my 5th cousin 5 times removed (5C5R in the jargon), meaning that he and my 3x great-grandmother shared a set of 4x great-grandparents. At that distance, we should not really share any DNA; but a number of his descendants pop up on my connection lists.

(I had hoped to find a connection between him and President Grover Cleveland, but they appear to be from different families. The closest I personally can get to the top of the Executive Branch is from a different branch of ancestors, Sophia Chew Nicklin, who was married to George Mifflin Dallas, Vice-President under James Polk from 1845 to 1849.)

Going back to Benjamin and Lydia, their biographies are a bit mysterious. Benjamin was born in Massachusetts, but some sources say this was in Suffolk County, which includes Boston, and others put his birthplace further west, in Hardwick in the centre of the state. It is unclear if Lydia was from Richmond NY, Rhode Island or New Jersey, which is really rather vague. The official family biography has them marrying in December 1804 in upstate New York, but is ambiguous about whether this was in Richmond or 130 km away in Oswego. Benjamin was 21; Lydia was 17, and gave birth to their first child nine months later. They moved from New York to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and finally Middleton, Wisconsin, where he died in 1853 or 1854; she died almost two decades later, in 1872, in Iowa. They had eleven children, most of whom survived to adulthood, and at least four of whom have living descendants.

When I started to look into the Cleveland connections in more detail, the numbers seemed very strange. Between the various websites –, and – I found no less than 25 people who shared some of my DNA and are descended from Benjamin and Lydia: two great-great-grandchildren, ten 3x great-grandchildren, another ten 4x great-grandchildren, two 5x great-grandchildren and a 6x great-grandson. Here’s a chart showing their lines of descent and giving the DNA overlap in each case in centimorgans (cM), the standard unit of comparison. (Your whole genome has a bit under 7,000 cM.)

(Click to embiggen.) I’ve given first name and birth surname initials for DNA connections, and also the overlap between them and me in centimorgans. I give two numbers for LS because she has tested on two different sites which found slightly different DNA overlaps with me. DNA connections with the same initials are labelled MW1 and MW2 etc. The ancestors of the DNA connections who are descended from Benjamin and Lydia are identified by first name initial; siblings with the same initial are labelled M1 and M2, etc.

If the records are right, and Benjamin was my fifth cousin five times removes, then my DNA overlap with all of these people should be so small as to be invisible. In fact, one of Benjamin and Lydia’s 3x great-grandchildren (the row from RC to LC on the chart) had an overlap of 47 cM with me, which would be typical of a half third cousin or third cousin once removed, and most of the others are in the fourth cousin / half fourth cousin / fourth cousin once removed territory. This suggests that the connection is a lot closer than the records suggest.

(Just to refresh you: a third cousin is someone you share two great-great-grandparents with. A half third cousin is someone you share one great-great-grandparent with. A third cousin once removed is someone who shares two great-great-grandparents with one of your parents, or vice versa. For fourth cousins, apply the above but with 3x great-grandparents.)

So, in summary, we know for a fact that I am related to those 25 descendants of Benjamin Cleveland and Lydia Cooper, which suggests that either Benjamin or Lydia is a relative of mine. One other point that came up in my research is that several of the 25 also have DNA connections to relatives who are definitely descended from my great-great-grandparents William Charlton Hibbard (1814-1880) and Sarah Ann Smith (1815-1891).

So, purely hypothetically, I crunched the numbers on the basis that one of Benjamin Cleveland or Lydia Cooper was in fact secretly the parent of one of William Charlton Hibbard and Sarah Ann Smith. This would mean that I share a single 3x great-grandparent with Benjamin and Lydia’s 3x great-grandchildren, and they are my half fourth cousins. According to the DNAPainter site, this would give me on average an overlap of 27 cM with their generation, 37 cM with their parents, 23 cM with their children, 20 cM with their grandchildren and 18 cM with their great-grandchildren. We can plot this hypothetical DNA relationship against the actual numbers, and we get the following result:

So, this hypothesis is worth investigating further. We can eliminate one possibility quickly. Quite apart from the fact that it is much more difficult to conceal maternity than paternity, Lydia Cleveland née Cooper gave birth in Unadilla in upstate New York in May 1814 and had another child in January 1816, probably also in Unadilla. She is therefore unlikely to have been the mother of either William Charlton Hibbard, born in Littleton in northern New Hampshire in September 1814, or Sarah Ann Smith, born in Dover at the other end of New Hampshire in April 1815.

That leaves that possibility that one of them was the child of Benjamin Cleveland. To eliminate another possibility quickly, it seems unlikely that William Charlton Hibbard was his son. I have vague but ultimately convincing DNA links between myself and more distant members of the Hibbard family, reinforcing the official account of William Charlton Hibbard’s ancestry. Also Littleton, NH, is well over 400 km from Unadilla, NY, a heck of a long way to go.

Sarah Ann Smith is a different matter. I wrote earlier this month about the difficulty of pinning down her mother’s biography. Her father, supposedly a John Smith, has almost completely vanished from the historical record. I have not identified any DNA connection between me and anyone else related to John Smith, though I have been able to do so for all of my other 3x great-grandfathers on the American side.

Dover, where Sarah Ann Smith was born, is 40 km from the border with Massachusetts, Benjamin Cleveland’s native state. On top of that, there is evidence linking her mother, Sarah Locke, to western Massachusetts, where Benjamin may have been born – and if he wasn’t born there, he was born in Boston, which is much closer to Dover. It’s not conclusive, but for me it’s convincing.

Other explanations are possible, of course. But it’s quite difficult to find another that fits the genetic evidence anything like as well. If Benjamin Cleveland was not Sarah Ann Smith’s biological father, but I am connected to him by some other route, we will have to insert at least another two generations into the hypothetical model, which makes the DNA numbers much more of a stretch.

So I’m going to change my family tree now and identify Benjamin Cleveland as Sarah Smith’s biological father, and my 3x great-grandfather. It’s the first time I’ve had this in my direct line of descent, though I’ve had several cases in collateral branches, some of which I have written about here and here. At this distance in time, we can have no idea of the circumstances that brought two youngish folks together in New England in the summer of 1814, with Sarah Ann Smith arriving nine months later.

A few other notes that came up in the research:

  1. For some reason, thinks that I have slightly more DNA in common with BL2 and KL than with their father, BL1; which seems unlikely. It’s possible that I am also distantly related to their mother, and that both parents passed DNA that they share with me to both daughters. But it’s more likely that my link with BL1 has somehow been understated (or that my link with the girls is overstated).
  2. I generally don’t identify the living in these posts, but the two strongest links that I identified here are both with people who have died since uploading their DNA to The strongest, 47 cM, is with Byron Regnier, who died in April 2018, and the second strongest, 44 cM, with Alvin Stowers, who died in August 2021. My sympathies to their families, if they ever read this; I’m grateful that Byron and Alvin helped me to solve this historical mystery.
  3. On a lighter note, the weakest and most distant of the connections that I identified belongs to KJ, whose full name is quite unusual. When I checked on Facebook for evidence that he is who I thought he is, I discovered that we have a mutual friend – another distant DNA relative who I’ve been corresponding with about how to connect our family trees. I asked her how she knew KJ, and she said that they were classmates in the same high school, in a town in rural Iowa whose total population is 4,000. They are not related to each other, but they are both distantly related to me. It’s a strange world.

Edited to add: Having set Benjamin Cleveland as my 3x great-grandfather on Ancestry, the system immediately found another dozen users connected to him by genealogy and to me by DNA. I now have AncestryDNA connections with more of his descendants than with all my other 3x great-grandparents, combined. It’s pretty convincing!

The mystery of Sarah Locke

Sarah Locke, from 1810 Sarah Smith, was my great-great-great-grandmother. There’s no doubt about that. First, there’s a clear paper trail through her daughter, her grandson, and her great-granddaughter who was my grandmother; and second, there’s also clear DNA evidence that I am related to other descendants of her daughter, another Sarah, which generally means that I should be descended from Sarah Locke as well. (Even though she was Sarah Smith for most of her life, I’m going to call her Sarah Locke here to avoid confusion.) The marriage certificate, a 1905 transcript of the original, is the most solid document we have about her life. (The date, 5 March 1810, is not on this document but is noted elsewhere in the records of Dover, New Hampshire.)

Marriage certificate between John Smith, born 14 November 1784, and Sarah Locke, botn 27 July 1783, transcribed by Fred E. Quimby, 28 September 1905.

The date of birth given in the marriage certificate is 24 July 1783, which makes her 26 on her wedding day, and 16 months older than her husband; and there is a birth certificate, also transcribed by Fred Quimby, the town clerk of Dover NH in 1905, which gives the same date.

Birth certificate of Sarah Locke, born 27 July 1783, transcribed by Fred E. Quimby, 14 September 1905

But the 1850 census gives her age as 57 – she is living in Boston with my great-great-grandparents, her oldest daughter Sarah, and Sarah’s husband William Charlton Hibbard, and their baby daughter (who died in 1852, before her third birthday). And the 1860 census gives her age as 67 – now she is living in St Louis with her youngest daughter Mary, Mary’s husband John Deming, his parents and a teenaged Irish servant. (John Deming is rather a romantic figure; as a riverboat pilot he trained with Sam Clemens, later Mark Twain, and ran the Confederate blockades on the Mississippi during the Civil War.)

1850 census return for Sarah Smith, aged 57, Sarah A. Hibbard, aged 35, Mary Hibbard, aged six months and William C. Hibbard, aged 36.
1860 census return for John Deming, aged 44, Mary Deming, aged 34, Sarah Smith, aged 6, Ralph Deming, aged 70, Lucretia Deming, aged 70 and Anna Powers, aged 16.

So it looks like Fred E. Quimby, the town clerk of Dover, New Hampshire, made the same mistake twice when transcribing the birth and marriage certificates in 1905, and Sarah was actually born on 27 July 1793 not 1783, making her 16 years old when she married John Smith on 5 March 1810. (Their first child was born on 21 September, so she was probably ten or eleven weeks pregnant on the day of the wedding.) This is also mildly supported by the age of the youngest daughter, Mary, born in January 1826; 42-year-old mothers are not unknown, even in the early nineteenth century, but 32-year-old mothers are a lot more common.

Sarah’s husband John Smith melts away into the early nineteenth-century mists of people with the same name. My grandmother suggests in her memoirs that he was an alcoholic (though he would have died long before she was born in 1899). I’ve had correspondence from another researcher who thinks that he was in a bigamous marriage with a woman from Massachusetts and raised another family with her in upstate New York. In any case, he drops out of the picture at some point after Mary was born in 1826. I do not know when or where Sarah died, though obviously it was after 1860.

Edited to add: I now have good DNA evidence that Sarah Smith’s biological father was not the John Smith who Sarah Locke married, but a Benjamin Cleveland who was born in Massachusetts, and was living in upstate New York in 1814-15.

There is a further mystery associated with Sarah Locke’s birth: who were her parents?

When first adding her to my family tree on, I found that another user had tagged her, though with no supporting evidence, as the child of Joseph Locke (1759-1837) and Tirzah Arms (1768-1838), both of whom were born and died in the Connecticut River valley in western Massachusetts. This is not exactly next door to Dover, NH, where Sarah was born and married, but it is not impossibly far either. If the 1793 birth date for Sarah is correct, she was born two days after Tirzah’s 25th birthday, and Joseph would have been 34. It seemed plausible enough, and I moved on to other details.

As the months passed, flagged up a couple of genetic connections on each side – people for whom there is a paper trail to show that they are descended from siblings of Joseph and of Tirzah, and who also share some DNA with me. Obviously there is always the possibility of other lines of genealogical connection which I missed in the records, or indeed which are not recorded, but this strongly supported the idea that Sarah was Joseph and Tirzah’s daughter.

Then I got a note from another researcher, asking why on earth I had made this connection, and referring me to The Book of the Lockes: A Genealogical and Historical Record of the Descendants of William Locke, of Woburn, published in 1853. The entry on Joseph Locke is potentially devastating for my theory of Sarah’s parentage.

Joseph [Locke], b. May 1758; m. Tirzah Armes, of Greenfield, 1809. He removed from Wendell to Hadley about 1787; was a farmer and also master of a freight boat running from Hadley to Hartford, Ct; was a soldier in the war of the Revolution; Capt. of the Militia, and was “a worthy and much respected man.” He had no chil. but adopted Stephen Lawrence, a relative of his wife, who inherited his property and d. at Hadley 1850, leaving a wf. and one child. Capt. Locke d. Dec. 16, 1837, a. 79 yrs. and 7 mos. and his wid. d. Oct. 12, 1838, a. 70 yrs. and 2 mos.

There are a couple of trivial errors here. Joseph’s birth is clearly recorded in the Shutesbury town records as 1759, not 1758, and his marriage with Tirzah in January 1806, not 1809. (And their adopted son seems to have died in 1851, not 1850.) But even taking all of that into account, it is a bad look for the notion that Sarah was their child; the family records – written only fifteen years after they died – say that Joseph and Tirzah had no biological children, and the official records (if I interpret them correctly) show that their marriage took place twelve and a half years after Sarah was born, 200 km away in another state.

Map of Massachusetts showing Greenfield, Wendell, Shutesbury, Hadley and Boston, also Dover NH and Hartford CT.

And yet. On their wedding day in 1806, Joseph was 46 and Tirzah 37. That’s on the older side for a first marriage even now, and more so then, especially for her. There also remains the fact that I appear to have independent DNA connections to both of them. And there seem to be no other potential parents for Sarah out there. What if…

Maybe Joseph and Tirzah had been a couple since around 1790; maybe she fell pregnant with Sarah, and went to stay with friends or relatives in New Hampshire to give birth in 1793, and Sarah was brought up there, acknowledged as Joseph’s child with his surname by the folks in New Hampshire; maybe by 1806, circumstances had changed and Joseph and Tirzah decided to formalise their relationship at last, but too late to acknowledge their twelve-year-old daughter among their western Massachusetts friends and relatives, for the sake of his reputation as “a worthy and much respected man”?

And it is a nice coincidence that Joseph Locke was the master of a freight boat on the Connecticut River, and his theoretical granddaughter Mary Smith married a Mississippi river pilot, a decade after he died.

There are other possibilities. Joseph had four brothers and five sisters. Tirzah had two brothers and three sisters who survived to adulthood. As I said before, there may well be other lines of genealogical connection which I missed in the records, or indeed which are not recorded at all. But the above theory is the best I can offer right now. Occam’s razor can sometimes shave in strange patterns.

PS: Tirzah is an unusual name these days. It’s biblical of course; she was one of the five daughters of Zelophehad who asked Moses for justice (Numbers 26-27). William Blake’s poem ”To Tirzah” is one of the Songs of Innocence and Experience published in 1789, when Tirzah Arms was 21. In 1880, Lew Wallace gave the name Tirzah to the sister of Ben-Hur, played by Cathy O’Donnell in the 1959 film. It is also the name of a present-day British musician.

A fictional Tirzah Locke is the subject of a grim fable published in Boston in 1840, about a young girl who transgresses God’s law by reading after bedtime and is blinded as a result. (Reprinted in shorter form in 1853.) It must surely be a coincidence that her name is the same as the married name of my possible 4xgreat-grandmother, who had died in 1838.

A Norman Legacy, by Sally Harpur O’Dowd

Second paragraph of third chapter:

There is a record of King John of England staying with Balthazar [Whyte] at Ballymorran Castle, one of the homes of the Whyte family, in July 1210 on his second expedition to Ireland.

Sally is my fourth cousin once removed; her mother was from the de Burgh Whyte branch of the family (like Lady de la Beche, Amy Dillwyn and Gladys Sandes) and her first cousin once removed works in Brussels (C, sister of K and mother of F2). This is a slim book (160pages) which pulls together the basics of the Whyte family history, which theoretically goes back to the Norman invasion of Ireland, and goes through our common ancestors to the present day.

It’s a labour of love, and while I disagree with some of the statements (there is, in fact, a Kingsmeadow House in Waterford; also, rather than dating from 1752, the “de Burgh Whyte” surname doesn’t seem to have been used before the 1840s), I found some new material too. There’s not a lot to say about the more obscure ancestors, but Sally bulks it out well with information about the genealogies of the women they married, which in most cases is as firm (or as nebulous) as what we have on the Whytes.

The most interesting suggestion is that my 8xgreat-grandfather Andrew Whyte/White, son of the Elizabethan Sir Nicholas White and father of the seventeenth century Sir Nicholas White, died in the service of the Crown in 1599, despite having previously fallen under suspicion for papistry. I need to dig into this more, but there seems to me to be an indication that he was spying on Irish exiles in, wait for it, Leuven. His father had died a prisoner in the Tower of London just a few years earlier.

Probably the most famous person directly mentioned here is Keith Kyle, a fairly prominent lefty British journalist of the later twentieth century, who married Sally’s older sister; here he is reporting from Brussels sixty years ago this month on the UK’s first bid to join the EEC.

As I said, a labour of love. You can get it here.

The brief cinematic career of Sally Seaver (1928-1963)

In my genealogical researches, the only relative on my father’s side to have made even a minimal impact in the entertainment industry who I’ve found is Sally Seaver, my third cousin, the second oldest of the great-great-grandchildren of William Charlton Hibbard and Sarah Anne Smith (she had an older sister, Janet). Born in 1928, two weeks before my father (her father Talcott Seaver was his second cousin), she had a brief career in Hollywood; she was announced as the female lead in the 1950 Kim, starring Errol Flynn and a very young Dean Stockwell, but that didn’t work out and the part went instead to Laurette Luez.

Sally then had four very small parts in films in 1952-1953:

In Aladdin and his Lamp (1952), she is credited as a dancing girl, but does not actually dance;
In Skirts Ahoy! (1952), she is one of a large number of extras in the women’s naval training station scenes;
In The Merry Widow (1952), she is one of many girls at Maxim’s under the spell of Fernando Lamas as Count Danilo;
And finally in Off Limits aka Military Policemen (1953), she is one of many women fighting for the affections of Bob Hope, as “Maddy”, her only speaking part.

Here they are.

I do see a bit of a resemblance with my aunt Ursula, who was herself at one time a professional singer.

Sally died in 1963, aged only 35. She was married four times, and I am in touch with her son Michael from her first marriage, her only child, who helped me identify her in these scenes. I actually made contact with him through – the only person who I’ve got to know through that site. Michael is the oldest of the 3xgreat-grandchildren of William and Sarah Hibbard; my niece S, born more than sixty years after him, is the youngest and likely to stay that way.

(click to embiggen)

Irish surname maps

I have developed a minor fascination with Barry Griffin’s surname maps website, which allows you to track the geographical distribution of surnames across Ireland in the censuses of 1901 and 1911.

Obviously I start with my own relatives. There are not a lot of Whytes with a Y in Ireland on that date, and there’s no strong concentration. I know that my own Whyte great-grandparents were in Dublin rather than County Down on census day in 1911, but they blend into the bigger picture there. (My Whyte grandfather was not in Ireland.)

My Whyte great-grandmother’s maiden name was Ryan, and that is a surname with a very distinct distribution; she came from Inch, Co Tipperary, which is pretty much at the core of the Ryan map.

My father’s mother was American, and neither her maiden name nor her mother’s maiden name scores significantly on the Irish map.

My mother’s father was born in 1909, but he and his parents do not seem to have been in Ireland on census day in 1911; I have found his parents in Bandon, Co Cork, in the 1901 census. His name was Murray, which is more of a Midlands name but has a Munster concentration as well; his mother’s maiden name was Dineen, which is much more clearly concentrated in northwest Cork (where my great-grandparents were living with her parents in 1901).

Finally, my maternal grandmother, though born in Dublin, was of northern Protestant stock; although her father was born in Cootehill, Co Cavan, his family were from Antrim; her mother’s family were from the other side of the Lower Bann, the valley meadowlands just south of Coleraine.

I am very tempted to go through the maps and find which surname has the strongest association with each county. We’ve seen the Ryan link with Tipperary above; here are a few more, going south to north and starting with the McCarthy clan in Cork:

Then the Sullivans in Kerry (spilling over to Cork a bit):

Reilly in Cavan and Meath, spilling into neighbouring counties:

And out west, Gallagher in Donegal and Mayo, spreading along the coast in between:

Anyway, I’ve found it a fascinating site for casual browsing of Ireland’s genealogical history and geography in broad sweeps. Do have a look.