As darkness falls across the land…… all the kids come out and bang on your door.
So it’s the end of October and Halloween comes around again. All the shops sell their wares and parties abound. There are loads of costumes in the shops to wear for the day, although some of the Goth dresses I’d wear every day and yes I do wear my dress with bats, pumpkins, ghosts and full moons on it in the summer. You can get foods from jelly eye balls to slime pie.
Halloween as a kid for me was scary. People would bang on the door demanding treats and if you didn’t answer or given them anything eggs would be thrown. Then there was the fact that all the ghosts and goolies, witches and vampires were roaming about ready to attack. To top it all of I was terrified of the glow in the dark skeleton my brother had. I was even scared of Professor Coldheart from my beloved Care Bears and don’t get me started on Skelator from He-Man, although I find him funny dancing in the current advert. How ironic now is it that I mainly read books with vampires and werewolves in them.
Halloween as we know it today mainly came from good marketing and the shops realised it was a great way to make you spend money, but where did the tradition of Halloween come from? Well it appears to be the merger of both pagan and Christian practices.
Let’s consider the pagan practices first. It was a celebration of the end of the harvest and the coming of the winter and in the Celtic countries was known as Samhain, the festival of the dead, but it also had other aspects to it. Many believe that at this time of year that the barrier between the living and the dead was at its thinnest and thus the dead could pass through. This meant the living had to protect themselves. They would do things such as lay out meals by a fire for the dead to welcome them so they would be peaceful and carve out turnips, as we do pumpkins today, to ward of the evil spirits as these were the ones they had to worry about. They also believed they had to protect themselves for the living evil spirits. Many homes would attempt to protect themselves by engraving witches marks into the fabric of the house. This was usually in the walls or the fireplace and was in the form of a pentagram. They can still be found today in old buildings. Another pagan practice which begun was the dressing up and playing tricks on people. This along with the carving of turnips is thought to have come from Ireland as many of the practices we still use today seem to have come from the Gaelic speaking regions of Europe.
The Christian practices mainly revolved around the honouring of the dead. In the Christian calendar All Hallowes Eve is the day before All Hallows Day which is the celebration of saints, or the dead in general. It is believed this day was set as the 1st November by Pope Gregory III in the 8th century when this honoured the relics of the saints, martyrs and confessors of the church. From the 12th century the ringing of church bells became common to honour the saints and departed souls. There was also the tradition from the mediaeval period of England of baking a soul cake. These were similar in appearance to the modern day hot cross buns. They were given out to children, the poor and the homeless who went from door to door saying prayers for the souls of the household. It’s believed this could also be the origin of trick or treat.
So if you combine both the pagan and Christian practices you get a good indication of where the modern day Halloween comes from. Maybe think upon your dead ancestors and celebrate them as you enjoy your pagan practices.
It’s a question I’ve heard in the past people ask each other as if it’s a competition as to who has the most (I currently have over 4500 in my tree and have gone back to the late 1500’s and my 10 times great grandfather). Everyone has different numbers of ancestors and it also depends on who you include in your tree.
So let’s break down the number of ancestors you have by generation.
Generation 1: 2 parents
Generation 2: 4 grandparents
Generation 3: 8 great grandparents
Generation 4: 16 great great grandparents
Generation 5: 32 great great great grandparents
Generation 6: 64 great great great great grandparents
Generation 7: 128 great great great great great grandparents
Generation 8: 256 great great great great great great grandparents
Generation 9: 512 great great great great great great great grandparents
Generation 10: 1024 great great great great great great great great grandparents
So if you consider a generation is usually 30 years 10 generations back will take you back 300 years and give you 2046 ancestors. If you take it back to 20 generations or 600 years you’d have 2,097,150 ancestors. Back 30 generations or 900 years (i.e. back to the year 1117) and you have 10,73,741,824. That’s just mind blowing. How can anyone have that many that many ancestors but of course we all have. Sort of. You have to consider that you could have duplicate ancestors due to lines of consanguinity (we’ll consider this later). So it’s not unrealistic that some of your ancestors were related when they married. Even if it is distantly, they could share however many times great grandparents. If you think about it unlike now people didn’t move much away from where they were born. So there was always a chance that the person they married shared ancestors with them. I’m not saying they married a close family member, but maybe a distant cousin, although you are still able to marry your cousin to this day.
OK so what is consanguinity? Well in basic terms it’s the relationship between family members. So the consanguinity between you and your parents is one degree, for a 3 times great grandparent it is 5 degrees.
This has caused problems in the past and has also solved many a problem for an unhappy couple (or one half of a couple).
Let’s consider the problems to close consanguinity. Well it’s mainly helps genetic disorders spread. If you consider the marriage of King Philip II of Spain this highlights the problem. Philip was the great grandson of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilliam I. In 1570 he married his niece Anna of Austria, the great great granddaughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian I. The couple had several children who did not survive childhood. Their only surviving child became King Philip III of Spain. Now Emperor Maximillian is thought to be the start of what is known as the Hapsburg (the family name) Jaw. This was a deformity that caused a wide long jaw and is known to cause pain. As Philip and Anna were so closely related the genetic deformity was in both of their DNA and passed to their son Philip III of Spain. He in turn married his 1st cousin once removed Margaret of Austria and their son, Phillip IV of Spain, married his niece (the daughter of his father’s sister Maria Anna of Spain and her husband Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III). This means that the genetic deformity kept spreading and so by the time Philip IV son Charles II was born his deformity was so bad he had trouble eating and he had mental problems and this was just in 6 generations.
So to solving the problems, King Henry VIII of England used it to his benefit.
Henry used consanguinity as a reason for his divorce and annulment from his first 2 wives. In 1509 Henry married Catherine of Aragon the widow of his brother Arthur. By 1533 Henry was determined to marry his long-time mistress Anne Boleyn. He used the fact that Catherine was his former sister in law to claim consanguinity as thus void the marriage. He then used consanguinity again in 1536 to get out of his marriage to Anne Boleyn on the ground her sister Mary was his mistress for many years before Anne to that role. Neither ended well for his wives. Catherine died in poverty isolated from her family and friends and Anne died at the end of a war sword.
So when you start thinking you haven’t got enough people in your tree, it doesn’t matter. You may have less direct ancestors and remember if one of your ancestors is illegitimate this removes possibly hundred from your tree. But it doesn’t matter. Their your ancestors and important to you.
I’ve mentioned before the importance of your family photos and how you need to go through them and write on the names of those you know. But they are helpful in other ways and taking your own is great fun.
Let’s consider the photo’s you have. We all have boxes of them and usually have no idea who they are. I went through a box the other month and found this photo.
No one had any idea who it was. I scanned it and some others into my laptop. I then turned to the internet and found some free face recognition software. I downloaded it and let it wander through my photos. It started finding links between faces in the photos who it thought was the same person. It was not always successful as it though my great grandfather’s second wife was someone in one of my grandpa’s RAF squadron photos. It linked the lady’s face in the above photo to one of my great grandma’s sisters. That got me thinking, is the lady my great grandma Eva. We didn’t think we had any photos of her as she died in 1918 when my grandma was only 6, and to the best of our knowledge grandma didn’t have a picture of her mum. The mystery continued with the little girl. The software linked the face to my niece and me when I was little (everyone always said my grandma didn’t stay gone long as I looked so like her when I was little and grandma died 2 years before I was born). This made me come to the conclusion this was my grandma and her mum. I continued to search the photo box and found another of the above lady in front of the same window with my great grandfather. Bingo, I truly believe this is great grandma and my grandma.
Taking your own photos is also a great part of genealogy. I’m not just talking about the family photos we take now, but photographing the places they lived. A great way to connect to your past is to visit where your ancestors live and worked. When you visit where they lived you can form a connection with them. You see what they saw and even visit the places they went. It also makes your own memories to add to your family history. The lady I now believe is my great grandma was born in a pub in Wisbech. Several years ago I was passing through Wisbech and was able to take a photo of the pub. It’s not the greatest photo I’ve ever taken but it means so much to me as it’s a tangible link to her and her family. I’ve also been able to photograph the graves of family member, churches they used, house they lived in and places they worked. The other advantage is that it gets you out and about to see this great country.
When photographing gravestones there are things you need to consider. Not all monuments are in the best condition, so you need to be careful around them. You may also need to do some gardening. Sometimes the ground level has risen and so some of the grave may be obscured. You may need to brush it away so you can read it all. The most important thing I feel you need to do is take lots of photos. Take them from all angles and try using flash to help make the words standout. You can use the flash to add definition to the engraving. You should also take close ups in several sections so that you can read the writing better. This gives you the best of both worlds. You have a photo of the entire grave, but also the close up of the inscription.
We all make mistakes, it’s only natural so making them during genealogy research is bound to happen, but some of the ones I’ve made have been quiet funny.
My best mistake to date involved my great great grandma. I found her on the 1881 census alongside some of her children. My shock came when I looked at where she stated she was born. It read Holbeck Whouse. I immediately though, oh my goodness, she was born in Holbeck workhouse. This led me to frantically searching the internet trying to find anything out I could about this workhouse, where was it, can I find the records, how did she end up there, how did she get out. I spent days looking for clues and answers. I traced her forwards and backwards for evidence and then the penny dropped when I was looking at the map. I found a Holbeck Woodhouse! So not only had I been trying to find something that didn’t exist I’d spent days doing it. I chose to look at the funny side and laughed and thought I’m glad she didn’t have to go through this as she had a bad enough time as it was. He husband who was the organist at Worksop Priory died 8 years after they were married and left her with 4 young children.
Another probably common mistake I made was chasing the wrong person. I’m sure we’ve all done it. I was tracing my great great grandfather George Dow. Now this is not a particularly common name so I grabbed on to the George that seemed the be the one. I traced him all over the east coast of Scotland. I traced his parents and siblings. Then one day, I don’t know why, I searched for him again and found a new candidate. All of a sudden I realised I had been tracing the wrong family. This wasn’t my George. I eventually found him on the census in Sunderland and found he said he was from Govan. So only the wrong side of Scotland from where I thought he was from. If I’d only though about it before I started tracing the first George, I’d have realised how wrong I was. I knew I was descended from the Buchanan Clan. They were mostly based in the east of Scotland. Now I know that doesn’t necessarily mean anything but it should have been a clue. The irony being that if I’d purchased my Great Grandma’s birth certificate first I would have realised George had a distinctive middle name and would have been able to find him much easier. When I did trace the right George I found his family did come from the area the Buchanan’s came from.
Another mistake I’ve made is getting too attached to ancestors. Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t, but you’ve got to remember that these people live possibly hundreds of years ago. The first person I became attached to was the daughter of my 5 times great grandfather. When I found out she died aged 7 I got so upset. Susanna died in 1789. Why was I getting so upset? I suppose it was tragic that death in childhood was common, but there was nothing I could do about it. It was different times and all I could do was be thankful it rarely happens now. I told myself to not get so attached again. It didn’t happen, but I do try not to.
They always say making mistakes is human, and I guess it’s true, and in the grand scheme of things making mistakes while tracing your family history doesn’t really matter (unless it costs you money). The thing is to find you mistakes funny and try not to make them in the future, but if you do just laugh again and make it into an amusing story.
Hello and thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings on genealogy and history in general. I hope you find it informative and hopefully funny!