I have just rediscovered a piece I wrote in 2012 and completely forgotten about. I hope it will bring a smile, much-needed in our troubled times perhaps.  Imagine a small, community evening class of family history beginners, and a well-intentioned tutor…

Right class, so where do we always start in genealogy?
Not with a G, Kenneth – oh, Ken, sorry – and no, not with a J either.  Anyone else?

No, Lisa, ha ha, we don’t start with William the Conqueror!!
What’s that?  Your 4th cousin twice removed in America has got your surname going back all the way to the Conk?  Oh, to Charlemagne, indeed, well, we’ll see…

Maisie?  I know, they’re being a bit loud aren’t they?  You’ll have to speak up!
Class!  Would everyone take a breath please, you’ll all have a chance to tell your stories.

OK Maisie?
Well, dear, gooseberry bushes have gone a bit out of fashion, wouldn’t you say?  Oh, your mum always said it’s where you came from………….

George!  Where do you think we should start?
In bed? Ha ha, that’s one way of looking at it.
Or in your case on the wrong side of the blanket?
Now now, everyone, this is a serious point actually… these days we’re a bit more polite, we say “out-of-wedlock” instead… no, not illegit…. not bast…!
Not spawn of Satan either…

Rosemary, I can see you’re waving a piece of paper there, is it something you want to share?  It says your Scottish grandmother was born in fornication… yes, well, that’s the Scots for you…
Hang on, don’t start shouting, I CAN say that, I’m half-Scottish!

Which brings me back to my first question – how do I KNOW I’m half Scottish?
Thank you Henry, not because one leg is shorter than the other and I run round hills.
No Sophie, I don’t start fights in pubs and eat chips every night
[Only every other night, hehe…]

I’ll give you a clue.

When you’re starting out in family history, you always begin with [pointing] ……


You start by writing down everything you know about yourself.
And then your parents….

Sorry, Maggie, say that again?  Ah, you were an orphan.  And Bob?  Adopted.  Well those are two very good reasons for wanting to find out…..  yes, I understand, I do, here’s a tissue, don’t upset yourself dear, we’ll see what we can do…

Tom – what’s that?  Your dad was a sailor… OK?  A wife in every port, I see

Deirdre… Your mum loved cooking?  That’s good… ah, gas oven… her head, well let’s not go too far down…

Class!  Time’s up for today.  I think we can safely say there are two things to remember when we start genealogy … don’t believe anything you hear (not unless you have three lots of documentation to back it up) – and always expect the unexpected!



In my last article, I described my new hunt for the family roots of Edward Starbuck, first of the name in America. A few weeks ago, I took a trip to the Starbucky area of Derbys-Notts-Leics where he probably lived before departing these shores about 1635. I walked around Draycott then drove one of the little lanes alongside the Derwent, imagining Edward fishing or ferrying there. Suddenly, without warning this church appeared in front of me…DSCF8394

In the middle of nowhere, the ancient church of St Chad in Church Wilne. A Saxon church was here first. The present one has parts built in the 13th century! I explored all round in the sunshine, sad but not surprised that I couldn’t go inside. If you fancy knowing more about it, try this link.

St Chad’s parish registers start in 1540 and in that year Agnes Starbuck was baptised. So there were probably Starbucks already there in Medieval times and they continued to appear in the register until the 1590s. Just one or two families who I could easily imagine walking the paths across the river plain from Draycott and Breaston a mile or so away, sometimes with a small baby for baptism, sometimes a happy procession for marriage, or a sad one bearing a coffin.

Luckily there was a car park opposite the church and I read signs telling me that just beyond some trees was a nature reserve, a former gravel pit, called St Chad’s Water, with walking paths all round. I took my lunch with me to a seat in the sun looking out at this prospect.DSCF8411

Perhaps if you zoom the picture, you can see a small white dot in the far distance (right up against the trees)? That is a swan and it clearly thought the whole of St Chad’s water was its job to police, even against a solitary human half a mile distant from its brood of smaller white dots which I saw darting about. That swan set off in a straight line towards me as I munched. I munched faster as it got closer. It never veered from its line, directly towards me. It was ten yards out when I got truly spooked. I’d heard of what swans could do. Grabbing my things, I ran up the path. Turning round briefly, I saw it, standing tall with its wings spread in the classic aggressive pose, right next to the bench where I’d been sitting.

Of course, it might just have wanted a share of my sandwich but I was taking no chances. Fearing it might follow me up the path I ran to my car and sat inside with a racing heart, before I began to laugh.

Now, encouraged by my Starbuck-descendant friend Keri-Lynn, I thought I ought to warn unsuspecting genealogists… there are more unlikely dangers out there in heaven and earth than we dream of.Image result for swan with wings spread

It would be a glorious understatement to say that the surname Starbuck is well-known. But the exact opposite was true when Edward Starbuck left our shores for New England in about 1635.

In his day Starbuck was one of the rarest names in England. The few there were clustered mainly in the wet and marshy area where the counties of Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire meet. They were in Wilne, Draycot, Attenborough and Toton, by the rivers Derwent, Trent and Erewash. There were offshoots in London and Kent, where the men were Thames watermen, but the soggy East Midlands was the Starbuck homeland in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The story of the surname is a kind of rags to riches one and from the start was associated with water. It comes from the village of Starbeck near Harrogate in Yorkshire, and that name was Norse for ‘Great River’.

Edward Starbuck, reputedly born about 1603/4 in Derby, settled for a while in the area that’s now New Hampshire, where he was appointed one of Dover settlement’s rivermen and fishers, responsible for providing a regular supply of fish to the colony. But, after a dispute with the Puritan authorities on the issue of infant baptism, he sailed with some companions the dangerous 18 miles to Nantucket island. Then he went back for his wife and children.

And so it was they became one of the first white families on the island. Edward’s daughter Mary Starbuck Coffin introduced Quakerism there and between them they created most of Nantucket’s Quaker whaling dynasties of the 18th century.

In 2015, Natucketers starred in a blockbuster film ‘In the Heart of the Sea’, based on Nathaniel Philbrick’s book which investigated the sinking by a whale of the Nantucket whaler ‘Essex’ in 1820. Herman Melville famously based his 1851 book ‘Moby Dick’ on that event and he included a character named Starbuck as first mate of Captain Ahab’s ‘Pequod’ in the story.

Skip forward to 1971, Seattle, USA and the founders of a new coffee business are looking for an appealing brand name. They settle on Starbuck, remembering the name from Moby Dick, and the rest, as they say is ….. So the omnipresent Starbuck’s coffee shops have no relationship at all to Puritan Edward Starbuck and his Nantucket descendants, but the company has surely carried the endearing surname into world history.

The job I have volunteered for now in 2016 is to find good evidence that Nantucket Edward’s roots really were in Derby in 1603/4 and to find his ancestry. It seems likely he was the son of another Edward Starbuck and Anne Barnes who married in Nottingham in 1603. He may also have had a brother William (bap Derby 1607) and sister Elizabeth (bap Nottingham 1608). But that’s as far as the likelihoods go so far.

Judging by their surname’s history, the two Edwards probably travelled about the rivers and seas of Britain leaving few footprints for us to find four hundred years later on the banks and shores.



Irish roots

When I was a teenager, I used to dream that I was Irish. We weren’t taught Irish history at school but I was reading books about it from the library. Tales of the 1916 Easter Uprising were especially affecting. But nothing my parents said about their families suggested any Irishness in our genes. My dad was Scottish, from Clydebank and Glasgow, and I didn’t realise then that this could mean Irish too. Over the years, my romantic ideas about Ireland faded – but they shone again a few years ago, when I discovered via Scotlands People and the GRO in Edinburgh, that I really did have Irish ancestors.

I calculate now that I am at least 1/16th Irish, from my great-great-grandmother Susan Kelly who said she was born in Monaghan. Her Scottish death certificate names her parents as James Kelly and Sarah Ferguson, both born in Ireland. Susan would have been born about 1825.

However, I like to claim an eighth Irishness really, because Susan’s husband, James Inch, only just managed to be born in Scotland in 1816. His parents Ronald Inch and Mary McLaughlin were both Irish and must have migrated to Thornliebank, Renfrewshire (now a suburb of Glasgow) only a couple of years before James arrived.

All my research so far into my Irish families has focussed on their lives in Scotland from about 1810 onwards. It seems possible they were brought over by the industrialist Crums of Thornliebank who, in the early 19th century, established a model printworks and village there, and hired many Irish workers as well as local Scots. Inevitably it led to anti-Irish sentiment and sectarian issues, sometimes violent, despite the fact that many of the Irish were Protestant – either Presbyterian or Episcopal – including my own folk.

I haven’t yet ventured into Irish genealogy, though much more information is now available online. I do hope to visit the Republic and Ulster before too long.  Monaghan will be in my sights for Kellys (my heart sinks at that prospect) and the area round Derry for the much less numerous Inches, as that appears to be their homeland. And of course I hope to re-visit the Post Office in Dublin, which I managed to see on a flying visit some years ago. Even though I understand the complexities of Irish history far better now, I can’t deny a little of that old romantic feeling from years ago.

It would be great to hear from anyone else researching these names in Ulster and its neighbouring counties:

GGGG-grandparents, all born about 1750-65, probably lived & died in Ireland

Rendall INCH & Margaret Ross
Samuel KELLY & Susan WILSON

GGG-Grandparents, all born in Ireland about 1780, migrated to Thornliebank, Renfrewshire in 1810s and 1820s, and died there



James INCH (bn Scotland c1816) & Susan KELLY (bn Monaghan c1825)





An American colleague and I were agreeing the other day that some of the most exciting finds in our years of ancestor-chasing were discovered when we wandered off the straight and narrow road of research. Instead of just looking at the most logical locations and sources for ancestors, it was often fun to mosey down side roads and muddy paths – in defiance of logic, and the rules we’d been taught. Just because… because it felt like fun, a vague hunch took us there, an unusual occupation turned up, or no apparent reason at all. With the internet, of course, this ‘stream of consciousness’ kind of research has become far easier to do than when it was all paper and pencil in actual archives.

I’m convinced that a willingness to follow a hunch and wander about for no definite reason only develops with experience. When we’re newbies, most often we think in straight lines, chasing single surnames, and the next ancestor up the tree. In those days, the discovery moments, when we find out who each of our great-greats were, these are moments of glory, air-punching excitement, and we don’t feel a need to stop and look round corners. Once we’ve filled a lot of our tree however, those triumphs are sadly rare – unless we look further afield.

Our ancestors were human after all. Just like us now, they often acted unpredictably. We can’t expect their lives to have been lived entirely on the straight and narrow, even if the superficial neat-and-tidiness of birth, marriage and death registrations, parish registers and census records give us that impression. We can rediscover that old, breath-taking excitement of discovery, when we look for and find them in unlikely places.

Recently, after discovering that a couple of my Danforth cousins had emigrated in the 19th century, I decided to do a search for any other British Danforths in foreign records. As far as I knew, no-one in my dad’s immediate family, other than my lost aunt Christina, had jumped any ponds. So here was a muddy path I decided to mosey along, just on a whim.

To my absolute astonishment, I found a passenger list of 1929, for the ship Doric, sailing from Greenock to Montreal that included my Scottish uncle Ernest Clavering Danforth (born Clydebank in 1908), my dad’s carrot-haired brother, my uncle Ernie. Who had lived all his life in Scotland – hadn’t he?

The details in the passenger list suggested he was aiming to settle in Canada, farming in Winnipeg, where his aunt Susan had already made a home some years previously. This was information that had never been mentioned in my family before, so I now have more side roads to look down in Canada.

Ernest & Nan (Wren) Danforth on bench1a

Ernie & Nan Danforth

Ernie didn’t stay there though, he was home by 1942 when he married aunt Nan, back in Scotland, where they both died. But this trip to Canada may explain where he was in otherwise lost years between 1929 and 1942.

So my advice to newbies and oldies in family research: get the boots on and start walking down the muddy paths, check unlikely sources and places, take time to ‘smell the roses’ too. By that I mean, stopping to look again at what you’ve already found: what IS this record I’m viewing? what else does it tell me, other than names and dates? who’s living next door? what was going on, locally and nationally, at that time? why was that person a witness? any question you can think of.

It’s amazing how much more we can find out about our relatives when we get off the main roads, look for more than names and dates, chase the unexpected – and it’s much more fun than sticking to the ‘rules and regs’ of family research.

My father’s Danforth family came from Yorkshire, via Clydebank and Glasgow.

It was always rumoured that despite possessing the thickest of Glasgow accents, dad’s father, Ernest Danforth, was born in Yorkshire, and that proved to be true. Ernest was born to William Danforth and Isabella (nee Clavering) on 16 August 1878 in Sheffield, at 23 Sussex Street. Sadly, by the time I held the certificate in my hands, there was no-one to share the news. All my Danforth family had passed on, my grandparents, my dad, his two brothers and adopted sister, all by then interred in Scottish cemeteries. My two uncles, Robert and Ernest, had no children and my aunt Margaret, who was a Kemp by birth, bestowed her husband’s French name on her children. So, in the Scottish tradition whereby wives retain their maiden name as well as married name, for years I believed I was the only Danforth left from my grandad Ernest’s line.

But I’m far from being the only blood-descendant of Ernest’s father William Danforth.

Bill arrived on 25 May 1838 in Hoyland Nether near Barnsley, the third of ten rumbunctious children born to John Danforth and Hannah (nee May). Eight were girls – two died young and three thought little of producing baby Danforths without benefit of marriage. The eldest, Mary, had three, in the space of 13 years, and never married. But none of these out-of-wedlocks produced male descendants. From William’s generation, only his brother, my great-great-uncle Daniel, was fated to keep the Danforth flag flying in the Hoyland area.

Bigamous Bill

Bill meanwhile, ventured far away from Hoyland, to the steelworks and tenements of east Glasgow, before retiring back home again. He married a Hoyland girl first (Elizabeth Ellen Greenwood) and produced two sons with her – John William and Walter. But before the 1881 census, Ellen had disappeared, resurfacing in Cumbria in 1891 with a ‘husband’ named Richard Price. Both sons ended up there too, in Workington and Maryport, and the sizeable dynasties of Danforths they produced have scattered around the world, though some returned to Hoyland before spreading into other parts of Yorkshire.

I strongly suspect that first wife Ellen did a runner, for reasons we can only guess, leaving her grown sons with Bill. She must have left before 1878 because on 5 January that year, at Sheffield Register Office, Bill remarried to my great-grandmother Isabella. Bill lied that he was a widower and Isabella must have been just pregnant, since grandfather Ernest was born in early August. Strictly speaking therefore, grandad was ‘illegitimate’.

Bill, Isabella and Ernest were in Rotherham in 1881 but by 1885 they had settled in the east end of Glasgow where Bill no doubt puddled steel in the vast works at Parkhead Forge. Perhaps he was escaping the law. Bigamy, it turns out, was very common in the Victorian era when most people were unable to obtain divorces. Desertion, never to be seen again by the family left behind, was considered the ‘poor man’s divorce’ – but those caught were still severely punished by the law. Second wife Isabella died in Glasgow in 1906. Bill stayed on for a few years, and saw son Ernest respectably employed as a Postman and married to my grandmother Cecilia, but then came the strangest development. By the 1911 census, Bill had returned to Hoyland Nether, to live with son John William in Elizabeth Street – and just a few doors away in the same street was none other than first wife Ellen, still calling herself Price.

They must have continued in this close proximity until their deaths, Bill in 1914 and Ellen in 1920. Both died in son John William’s house. The big surprise is that they weren’t buried together. They had separate graves in Hoyland church’s burial ground – but John William buried his mum as a Danforth, not Price. I have never heard of any other story of desertion or bigamy where the parties ended up back in the same place together.

So now, my great-grandfather William Danforth is always ‘Bigamous Bill’ to me, and stories of his life and my great-grandmother Isabella’s could surely spawn a thick family saga or two.

Inspired by them, I have now reignited my Danforth research, treating the Yorkshire Danforths as a one-name-study, so look out for plenty more articles to come.





Like Bilbo and Frodo, I was drawn into addiction by the One Ring.Ring 2

A family heirloom that passed down the women of my mother’s family is a Victorian mourning ring. Engraved inside it are these words: “George Nelson, died 1836 aged 67 years”. My mother often said she’d like to know who he was, as there were no living Nelsons in our family. One day I took up the quest, little guessing the addiction that would swiftly set in, 14 years ago now and still holding fast.

In those days before the internet groaned under the weight of genealogical information, it took a while to pin George down. The necessary visits to archives in Northampton, London and Milton Keynes were infrequent treats. Eventually though I established he was a self-made man, an early country banker in Buckingham. Via his sister-in-law Sophia Millagan, banker George had fascinating links to the literati and beau monde of Regency London. I enjoyed researching them for a long time, marvelling at the tightly interlocked group of families the Nelsons were part of – details of which you can find by clicking the ‘One Ring’ tab above. The Duke of Wellington comes into that story too!

Tracking banker George’s line further back, I found that his grandfather of the same name married a Sarah Cooper of Sulgrave, Northamptonshire in 1727 and their four children were born in Sulgrave. That place name is of course well-known to many Americans, as the ancestral family seat of the Washingtons. George and Sarah’s third child, yet another George, was baptised in Sulgrave on 1 December 1734.

Now for the interesting bit. There are many references online to a George Nelson of Philadelphia, Pennyslvania, a businessman who kept diaries during the Revolutionary War. I have copies of documents from Sulgrave Manor archives conveying property in Sulgrave from George Nelson yeoman of Philadelphia to his brother Thomas Nelson in Northampton.

My 5xgreat-grandfather Thomas Nelson (brother of the George baptised in 1734) was an innkeeper in Northampton at the date the conveyance was made, so the signs are strong that Philly George is 1734 George of Sulgrave, my 5xgreat-uncle. Here is some information I gleaned from “Knowledge is Power – the diffusion of information in early America, 1700-1865” by Richard D Brown, Oxford University Press, 1991:

“Nelson, who was born in 1736 in the English midlands, came to Philadelphia in 1755.  An Anglican… he married into an established family, a connection one suspects was motivated largely by prudential considerations since when he married in 1760 his wife, Sarah Tomlinson, age 50, was 24 years his senior… In business he operated a partnership, Nelson and Fox, and later became a subordinate associate of Jacob Hiltzheimer, a Philadelphia merchant who dealt extensively in provisions and livestock.  During the Revolution, Nelson worked with and for Hiltzheimer and the Congress supplying American troops.  Later he became a wholesale salt and sugar dealer.  Though he never approached the front ranks of Philadelphia society, Nelson served as a vestryman for St. Paul’s church and as president of a mutual benefit society, and during the years for which his diary and letters survive, 1780-81 and 1790-92, he was a respected, long established resident.”

Sadly, if this was my distant uncle George, he doesn’t appear to have left any children. Except… I believe he left England for the colonies to escape responsibility for an out-of-wedlock child, a George Nelson Moss, son of Sarah Moss, baptised 16 April 1754 in Culworth, Northamptonshire, just a stone’s throw from Sulgrave. That fits rather neatly with an arrival in America in 1755!

George Nelson Moss became plain George Nelson later in life, and he left a considerable Nelson dynasty in Tingewick, Buckingham and London that I have tracked so far into the 20th century. So there could be hope of finding I’m related to yet another George Nelson via DNA testing.