Pandemic (Part 1)


A recent blog post Bring Out Your Dead brought up a topic that comes up in a number of Family Trees that I have traced.  This looked at the effect of various Pandemics on modern history, and this has lead me to write up in this blog post covering the surprising effects of Pandemics on the people of Great Britain.

The latest research on Ancient DNA has thrown up amazing insights in to the effects of ancient Pandemics on the people of Great Britain.   There have been three Pandemics that substantially affected the demographics of the British Isles in Prehistory to Historical times.

Pre-Historic Plague

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Whilst lounging by the pool in Lindos on the Greek Island of Rhodes reading “Who we are and how we got here”  by David Reich, I came across some startling facts about the pre-historic population of Great Britain.  The book is a very good read, with the caveat that the author has been forced to put a whole chapter justifying his socialist tendencies to the “Thought Police” within the academic community who have hounded him for some of his findings that don’t fit with their perverse world view.  So, putting such snowflakery aside, his actual findings are utterly fascinating.   The book is well worth purchasing for anyone interested in Genetic Family History.  Also I’d recommend reading it by your private pool at the Lindos Blu Hotel just as I did.

 

The passage that caught my eye was the following:

“… the bacterium Yersinia pestis was the cause of the fourteenth-to-seventeenth-century CE Black Death, the sixth-to-eighth-century CE Justinianic plague of the Roman Empire, and an endemic plague that was responsible for at least about 7 percent of deaths in skeletons from burials across the Eurasian steppe after around five thousand years ago.”

This was startling.  Let’s start with the earliest, Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age Plague.  That Pandemic of plague was brought by the expansion of the Yamnaya Steppe culture in the Bronze Age, that saw a 90% replacement of Neolithic Genes by Bronze Age  Yamnaya Culture Genes showing a population replacement that separates the earlier periods of Stonehenge’s dominance to the later periods of Stonehenge’s adaption to a Bronze Age Culture.  This 9:1 distribution of genetic legacy is what is seen in modern indigenous British Citizens.

Genetic scientists working with Archaeologists have established that Yersinia Pestis the Black Death bacillus, has left its DNA in a large number of Yamnaya corpses, indicating that it was endemic amongst Steppe populations in the Bronze Age around 5,000 years ago.  However given that there was no population collapse associated with this infestation, it would seem that the Yamnaya Steppe derived population had built up a genetic resistance to the infection.

When these people moved West into Europe, they brought their steppe based disease with them, introducing it to Neolithic populations who had no natural resistance, causing population collapse within a couple of generations, and opening the way to their majority replacement by the Steppe Bronze Age Culture.  This first recorded Pandemic showed a pre-bubonic plague, i.e. the plague form spread by fleas, but still the pneumonic form that was spread but coughing, sneezing, and kissing.  This coincides historically with the rise of the “Corded Ware” culture that swept across central Europe around 4,900 years ago.

Bell Beakers and Language

About 200 years after this, around 4,700 years ago, the Bell Beaker Culture exploded across Western Europe, eventually making it to Britain.  Although the Bell Beaker Culture started in indigenous peoples in Iberia, it seems that by the time it moved North, it had been taken up by people with a steppe ancestry, not the previously indigenous Neolithic Peoples.  The Bell Beakers reached Britain, contrary to previous theories, not just by trade, but with a whole new population, this is apparent in the aDNA (Ancient DNA).   the people who brought the Bell Beakers had little if any Iberian or Neolithic Genes, their Genes were overwhelmingly from the Steppes.  Going by the genetic signatures, it looks as if this replacement population originated from the near continent, especially around the modern Netherlands.  Once again the dramatic, up to 90%, collapse of the pre-Bronze Age Neolithic population of Britain in the face of the Bell Beaker phenomenon, points to a disease driven reduction in population at the time, hosted by new immigrants.

Bellbeaker_map_europe

Bell Beaker Finds in Europe

This movement of people also explains the arrival of Pre-Celtic Indo-European Language families into the Eastern British Isles.  All thanks to the first wave of plague that we have discovered.

In the next instalment we will see how the next wave turned Britain into England.

If you would like your Family Tree researched, and your Family Biography published, then please feel free to contact Time Detectives at: Paulmcneil@timedetectives.co.uk

 

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Murder, Mayhem, and Mutiny Scotland


When researching a Family Story and Family Tree for clients we can sometimes find half forgotten, epic stories, that have borne their ancestors along on the tide of history.  This was one such case where we found a Durham Mining Family had roots in the North of Scotland in one of the last inter-clan invasions of Scottish territory.  In this case it also lets us pinpoint the actual moment when the surname was adopted, which is very rare in family history.

The family’s name of Larnach is extremely rare, even in Scotland. The accepted origin of the Larnach name places it in Argyll Scotland. Tradition has it that the Clan is descended from the 5th century King Loarne who gave his name to Lorne in Argyll. The generally accepted derivation of the name is from the Gaelic “Latharnach” meaning “a man from Lorne”.  Now you wouldn’t call a man from Lorne a man from Lorne if you were all living in Lorne.  So, despite what the accepted authorities say, the actual surname could never have originated in that area.  Rather, like most names with a geographical element to them, the surname must have originated when people from Lorne left Lorne and went somewhere else, so the families may have originated in Lorne, but the surname didn’t.  This is backed up by the records,  where we find that almost all the recorded instances of the surname Larnach before modern times are not in Argyll, they come from Caithness on the other side of Scotland.  In fact there are no Larnachs other than this family in Caithness and occasionally the Orkney Isles, in any records from the 18th and early 19th centuries. So Larnach was a name applied outside of Argyll to a man from Lorne in Argyll. If this is the case why did they travel so far? The intriguing answer may point to a family adventure taking in Clan battles and Jacobite uprisings.

To find out how the Larnachs travelled from Argyll to Caithness, we have to look at the turbulent 1600s, and a Highland Laird with a reputation as a rogue.

A follower of Slippery John

1680Slippery John

John Campbell was the son of Sir John Campbell of Glen Orchy in Argyll and a member of the Scottish Parliament. In1672 he was the chief creditor to George Sinclair 6th Earl of Caithness, and as surety for the debt, held claim to the Earl of Caithness’s Lands and Titles. When the Earl died without a direct male heir,and still owing the debt, John Campbell of Orchy claimed the Earldom of Caithness by default. In1678 he married the dead Earl’s widow to reinforce his claim and save himself having to pay her a £1,200 per anum annuity.

Needless to say the rest of the Sinclairs of Caithness were not happy with the family Earldom being bartered away over gambling debts, and so John Campbell’s claim to the title of Earl of Caithness was challenged by disgruntled members of the Sinclair Clan.  This move was led by George Sinclair of Keiss. Keiss waited till John Campbell travelled to Parliament in London, then seized former Sinclair properties around Weik (Wick) one of the main Caithness towns, and thereby denied John Campbell the rights to the Earldom by force majeure.

Now John Campbell was not a man to back down and also a man of action, so in 1680, he sought redress through the Government’s Privy Council, who confirmed his rights, and instructed the Chief General in the North of Scotland, Lord Dalzell, to support the Campbell claim with troops and money. Backed by Government in law, finance, and arms, and having raised a force of Highlanders from his Argyll Clan followers including an ancestor of our client.  John Campbell marched his force from Perth to Wick. Sources claim that he had between 800 and 1,400 followers. The discrepancy in numbers is interesting, and may show the difference in numbers between his Clan followers and the Government Troops who were ordered to join the expedition..

Once in Caithness, John Campbell followed the letter of the law, sending Government proclamations to be read at the larger towns, to warn of his approach and offer a bounty for any who actively turned against the Sinclairs. On the march to Thurso John Campbell managed to outflank the Sinclair forces, who moved camp to confront the Campbells. John Campbell made two attempts to parlay with the Sinclairs and give them the opportunity to disperse, but his first envoy was sent back under a torrent of abuse, and his second was captured and taken prisoner, against the accepted rules of warfare at the time. Undeterred The Campbells marched on Thurso, only to find the main approaches to the town protected by Sinclair cannons, that promptly subjected the Campbells to cannon fire. In a last-ditch attempt to gain peaceful access to Thurso, John Campbell sent a herald, but the man was forced to flee for his life from the hostile acts of the Sinclairs.

The Campbells decided to march south to Wick, the Sinclairs decided to follow. John Campbell was wily as well as brave, and decided to improve his odds of winning by a pair of ruses. He arranged for one of his agents to deliberately run a ship aground near the Sinclairs’ camp, this ship carried a cargo of Whiskey that John Campbell realised the Sinclairs would salvage and drink. He read the situation well, the Sinclairs did indeed spend the night drinking whiskey and carousing.

The following day the Sinclairs woke up nursing hangovers, and marched out of Wick to confront the Campbells who had marched towards the town. The Campbells halted their march and made much of performing a hasty retreat, and upon seeing this the Sinclairs  enthusiastically pursued them.  But John Campbell had planned this event, and the retreat was merely a ruse to draw the Campbells pell-mell to Altimarlach where a group of his troops had hidden in a gulley.

The Campbells drew up past the hidden gully to their forward flanks, and looked to makle a stand with their inferior numbers. of men.  To the Sinclairs the Campbells looked like so many bare arsed savages, bare footed and trouserless.  This was a clash of two separate ethnicities; the Campbells were descended from the savage Scots who had invaded Scotland from Ireland (mainly Ulster) in the 5th century and given Scotland their name.  The  Brythonic speakers they replaced called them “Gaels” which meant “Savages” a name still proudly bourn by Scots and Irish to this day.  By contrast the men of Caithness, were descended from the Norse who had invaded from Scandinavia as Vikings, mixed with the ancient Picts (non-Gaelic speakers)  who were indigenous to Northern Scotland before the Scots got there.  The men of Caithness with their Pictish/Norse ancestry wore trousers and shoes, preferred to live in larger coastal towns and generally saw their western Scots neighbours as savages, with good reason.

Despite their hangovers from the drinking the night before, the Norse-Pictish Sinclairs attacked the Scots Campbell line. The Campbell’s held, and cat-called the Sinclairs, for being soft for wearing breeks (trousers) and shoes, whilst the Campbells were barefoot and in plaid (a type of kilt). The Campbells fired off a volley and with John Campbell in the fore, drew their Claymore swords, hefted their shields, and charged barefoot at the Sinclairs, at which point the surprise attack from the men hidden in the gulley was launched. This combination attack broke the Sinclair line and forced them to flee. The Campbells pursued the Sinclairs slaughtering them in the pursuit, and chasing the remnants into the River Wick where they drowned. So many Sinclairs were killed that the Campbells were able to pursue across the river dry-shod over their bodies.

After the battle the Clan Campbell Piper Finlay ban McIver, would compose the tune “The Campbells are coming” with the line “…the carls wi’ the breeks are running before us…” referring to the Sinclairs in their breeches. It is as part of this army of “bare-arsed savages” that the Larnachs, coming to Caithness from Lorne with Slippery John Campbell originated, running with their swords across the River Wick over the dead bodies of the slaughtered Sinclairs.  It is very rare in a Family History, that a surname’s origin can be pinpointed so precisely to an historical event.

John Campbell, his victory complete, kept the title of Earl of Caithness for about 6 years, giving land and farms to his followers, and employing them as tax collectors and in other overseer roles. John Campbell was later dispossessed of his claim by the Scottish Parliament, who ruled that a Title to an Earldom is not one man’s possession to be sold for a debt.  None the less Slippery John Campbell reaped the reward of receiving other titles in exchange for his lost title, and became Earl of Breadalbane and Holland (a district in Scotland), Viscount of Tay and Paintland (ancient “Pictland”) and Lord Glenorchy, Benederloch, Ormelie and Wick, thereby keeping a hold on lands in Caithness, especially around Wick. He was described by a British Government Spy, John Mackay as:

“Grave as a Spaniard, wise as a serpent, cunning as a fox, and slippery as an eel.”

Given the Larnach name derived from “a man from Lorne” in Argyll, it verifies that the ancestors of my client were among the hundreds of men of Argyll who invaded Caithness with John Campbell. It would explain the family living in the area near Wick where John Campbell had his power base, and where his followers held lands and property. This would have made the Lanarchs unpopular in the area as their sponsor Slippery John Campbell, was viewed as a military dictator by the locals who he ruled with an iron hand, enforced by his local followers including the Larnachs.

First Records Late 1600s – Early 1700s

The written records throw up a few Larnach entries for Caithness at Watten (on the road from Wick to Thurso) during the very early part of the 1700s, given the rarity of the name these were undoubtedly relatives of this line, and I managed to piece together a rough tree of these early generations which was presented to the client.  Some of the entries were necessarily speculative due to the sparsity of records, but given that there appears to be only one recorded Larnach Family in Caithness Scotland by the 1700s, i.e. this client’s  Larnach line, the tree fitted the timings of various births and marriages etc.

Foul Mouthed Larnachs

One interesting entry in the court sessions for 1701 directs the town of Wick to:

“…put up ane cock-stool.”

Followed by

“Alexander Larnock and his wife are appointed to stand publicly, and to pay 20 shillings Scots for the crime of cursing.”

So one of the earliest generations of Larnachs in Caithness were a hard swearing couple in Wick, for whom a stool was erected for their public shaming. No doubt being followers of Slippery John Campbell didn’t endear them to the locals.

Jacobites

After the English Civil War, the restoration of Charles II, and the ousting of James II due to his Catholic loyalties, Slippery John took the oath of allegiance to William III (William of Orange, the new Dutch Protestant King of Great Britain) in 1689. John Campbell was seen as a useful agent in the highlands, and in 1691 was paid a large sum of money by the Government in London to payoff Jacobite Highlanders and gain a truce in hostilities. He did manage to arrange a truce, but did so whilst keeping the whole of the money for himself. When called before Parliament in London to account for what had happened to the money he famously said:

“The money is spent, the Highlands are quiet, and this is the only way of accounting between friends.”

William III’s reign was violent in the highlands, with Clans using the excuse of wearing a Red Coat and a King’s Commission to settle scores with rivals, as well as pitching Highlanders against Lowlanders. So bad was Slippery John Campbell’s reputation amongst many Scots that he was blamed for many acts of betrayal, many years later Sir Walter Scott even implicated him as the chief planner of the Glencoe Massacre of 1692, where the MacDonalds were slaughtered by the Campbells who were guests in their homes, but there was no evidence to support that claim. Although this massacre is sometimes blamed on the English, the men in Redcoats who did the killing were almost entirely Scots, and many Argyll Campbells.

In 1707 both the Scottish and English Parliaments voted to be united in a single political realm of “Great Britain”. Many people in Scotland were against the Union. Some Scottish Protestants were afraid that the rigorously democratic makeup of the Scottish Kirk would become Anglicised, to be given over to rule by Bishops, rather than the congregations. Most Scottish Catholics were against a Protestant Hanoverian King ruling Scotland, and wanted a return of the exiled Stuart line of Kings. Using a network of spies, including the author of Treasure Island Daniel Defoe, the English Government judged the mood of the Scottish people as heavily against Union, with DeFoe stating that there were

“99 Scots against Union for every 1 Scot for it.”

A significant, dangerous, and profitable part was played in these troubles, by the man who had brought the Larnachs to Caithness, their aristocratic sponsor “Slippery” John Campbell of Glen Orchy and Breadalbane. His actions would have direct consequences for the lives of the Larnachs as his sworn men.

Many Highland Scottish Lairds like Slippery John, were afraid that the rule of English Law in Scotland would replace their far reaching ancient rights and take away their power. So to counter this popular opposition, the English Government bought the votes of Scottish Parliamentarians with bribery, prompting Robbie Burns to compose a couplet on the matter:

“We’re bought and sold for English Gold,
Such a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation.”

Slippery John voted against the Union, gave some support to a proposed French intervention, but did not put his name to anything in writing. It is highly likely that the Larnachs would have opposed Union at this time as political opinion was set by the local Laird.

Discontent blew up in 1715 with a Stuart Jacobite uprising, Slippery John pleaded old age and infirmity to avoid travelling to Edinburgh to pledge allegiance to the crown, instead he travelled to the Jacobite camps, as one of the local Caithness Sinclairs put it:

“…to trick others, not to be tricked, and to obtain a share of the French subsidies.”

sherriffmuirHe received a large amount of French money in return for pledging 1,200 men for the Jacobite cause. In fact he only sent a small force of 300 men, and withdrew them after the first inconclusive battle with the forces of the crown at Sheriffmuir, where the Jacobites were stopped in their march on Perth, by another a relation of Slippery John, another John Campbell, the 2nd Duke of Argyll (pictured below), and incidentally “Lord Lorne”.  Slippery John died two years later in 1717, and so avoided being tried for supporting the uprising.

Slippery John’s half-hearted support for the rising and his early withdrawal of his men back to their homes, may have saved the Larnachs from either perishing in battle at Sherriffmuir, or from the crown’s legal retributions against known rebels in the years following.otherjohncampbell

Given that the leader of the Government forces at Sherriffmuir was the hereditary Lord of Lorne, the former Argyll home of the Larnachs, it is not surprising that they took no part in the uprising and I could find no Larnach names mentioned in documents accusing people in Caithness of rebellion, so they survived without any recriminations, unlike some of their neighbours.

Their descendants gave rise to my client’s family who ended up penniless in the Durham Coal Mines, right through to modern times, and ironically also one of the richest families in Australia and New Zealand.  Neither side of the family was aware of the other.

But that is another story.

 

If you would like your Famiy Tree researched and your Family Story researched and written up as a true personalised Historical Narrative, the size of a Novella, then contact Time Detectives on paulmcneil@timedetectives.co.uk

War Crime Victims : Time Detectives helps to find the Descendants of the Lisbon Maru


 

Lisbon-maruTime Detectives have recently become involved in tracing the relatives of British POWs who died in October 1942 aboard a Japanese Transport ship named the “Lisbon Maru”.

The ship was transporting 700 Japanese Troops plus 1,816 mainly British and Commonwealth POWs to camps in Japan, when on 2nd October 1942, she was intercepted by American Submarine USS Grouper.  The USS Grouper, correctly identifying the Lisbon Maru as an armoured Japanese transport ship, engaged her with torpedoes and sank the ship.

USS_Grouper;0821405

As the ship went down the POWs were locked in the holds by their Guards, some POWs managed to breakout and escape, but were shot on deck and in the water by Japanese Guards and Japanese escort ships.  Eventually Chinese fishing boats in the area managed to pick up survivors, and after some confusion, escaped POWs were also picked up by other Japanese vessels. Tragically 828 POWs died in the incident.

Chinese screen writer and producer Fang Li, who runs Laurel Films, has set out to make a documentary showing the human side of the story, and would like to trace living relatives of the Lisbon Maru POWs.  Major Brian Finch has been appointed as the UK Liaison for the venture, and Time Detectives has agreed to provide Genealogical detective work to help contact relatives.

If you, your family, or anyone you know had a relative who was on the Lisbon Maru, please feel free to drop us a line at Time Detectives:

paulmcneil@timedetectives.co.uk

Or direct to Major Brian Finch on the email in the attached appeal for information:

Lisbon Maru Documentary

 

The good news is, that we are finding relatives of the victims, ensuring that the men will never be forgotten.  Below is a wonderful display of medals and a photo of Kenneth Hodkinson, sent in by his niece  Jean Clements.

HodkinsonKenneth

Other relatives are being tracked by Time Detectives constructing their Family Trees from the Victims’ ancestors down to living relatives.  A fascinating and worthwhile Project.

We are looking for families of the victims of the sinking of the Lisbon Maru, and those of the crew of USS Grouper, if you can help please feel free to contact us here at Time Detectives.

paulmcneil@timedetectives.co.uk

 

 

100 years of the Royal Airforce


The Royal Air Force in World War Two undoubtedly saved Great Britain from Nazi invasion, and thereby ensured the triumph of Democracy over Totalitarianism for Europe and the rest of the civilised world.  This was happened when Great Britain stood alone with it’s Commonwealth against Nazism, the most powerful and evil regime the world had ever seen.  The USA was standoffish and equivocal, the Soviet Union busy carving up Eastern Europe in alliance with the Nazis under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.  The job of stopping the tide of Nazi conquest was left on the shoulders of a small country supported by it’s loyal Colonies of every creed and colour.

It is fitting therefore on this the 100th anniversary of that brave fighting arm, to mention a couple of members of the RAF that we turned up during our family History research for a couple of families.

The First World War

Canadian Air Acealfredatkey

Alfred Clayburn Atkey was born 16 Aug 1894 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and died 10 Feb 1971.  Although born in Toronto, Alfred’s family headed west to a town called Minebow, Saskatchewan in 1906. When he was old enough Alfred returned to Toronto to work at the Toronto Evening Telegram as a journalist. In 1916 he joined the Royal Flying Corps as a probationary Second Lieutenant.

By September 1917, he was a bomber pilot flying Airco DH.4 with 18 Squadron. May 1918, he was flying a Bristol F 2B fighter/reconnaissance aircraft with “A Flight”, 22 Squadron. Along with Lt CG Gass who was his gunner/observer, he claimed 29 aircraft all shot down within one month.

plane
In terms of number of claims, Atkey was the top Allied two-seater pilot of the war. His total number of aircraft claimed shot down was 38 (comprising 13 and 1 shared claimed destroyed, 23 and 1 shared ‘Out of Control’). Gass his rear gunner contributed some 13 of these claims (himself the most successful gunner in the RFC/RAF).

Alfred Atkey’s rank was Captain upon leaving the Royal Air Force at the end of the First World War.  he received the Military Cross with Bar. The following was written about him in the London Gazette:
“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. When engaged on reconnaissance and bombing work, he attacked four scouts, one of which he shot down in flames. Shortly afterwards he attacked four two-seater planes, one of which he brought down out of control. On two previous occasions his formation was attacked by superior numbers of the enemy, three of whom in all were shot down out of control. He has shown exceptional ability and initiative on all occasions.”

The following was written when he received the MC Bar:
“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. During recent operations he destroyed seven enemy machines. When engaged with enemy aircraft, often far superior in numbers, he proved himself a brilliant fighting pilot, and displayed dash and gallantry of a high order.”
Alfred married Irene Marshall in 1919 at Portsmouth in Hampshire, more or less within sight of the Isle of Wight where his ancestors had emigrated from 64 years before.
The couple then migrated to the USA, were in the New York area in 1920, and Alfred took the first steps to naturalisation in California in 1924.

naturalisation

For whatever reasons, the marriage didn’t last, and in 1942 Alfred remarried Dulcie May Boadway, they would have four children.

(For more about Alfred Clayburn Atkey’s Family History, see Time Detective’s blog entry here: A Canadian WW1 Knight of the Air, and his son an Arctic Circle Knight of the Road

World War Two

A Hero’s Grave in a small French Town

Tracing through the generations, sometimes a name stands out that catches the eye.  One such was a distant cousin of the Family I was tracing among generations of miners in the Durham Coalfields.  Conrad Larnach.

61-squadron-lancaster-iii-w5002-qr-l-crew-w800

Conrad joined the RAF in WW2, and on the night of 15th August 1943,  “The Pride of London” the Lancaster Bomber Conrad was serving in as Bomb Aimer was engaged above France by German fighter Pilot Leutnant Detlef Grossfuss.

The bomber was badly shot up by machine gun and cannon fire, caught alight, and turned upside down in mid-air. Some of the crew attempted to bail out from the burning upended plane, one Sgt Matthews, although badly burned, managed to get out of the plane, open his parachute and evade capture, finding refuge with local French householders who took him to the French Resistance.  the Resistance protected him for three months, until a daring night time pickup in November 1943, by an RAF Lysander aircraft allowed him to make his escape back to Britain.

Sgt Matthews reported that he was told by the local French citizens that the Bomb Aimer, Conrad Larnach, had also managed to get out and land by parachute a distance away from the crashed aircraft, but being badly injured was found by a German Patrol.  This German Patrol instead of capturing him and taking him back as a prisoner, executed him by shooting him as he lay n the ground injured and defenceless.  They then took his body back to the crashed plane to make it look like he had died in the crash. The other members of the crew all appear to have died in the crash having failed to leave the plane. The only body found more or less intact in the plane was Conrad’s reinforcing the story of his execution.

The Germans buried the remaining bodies in the local cemetery at Rugles, and forbade the local French citizens from attending. However at daybreak the following day the Germans were shocked to see that the locals had risked arrest and execution to come out in the night to cover the Airmens’ graves in flowers.

headstone

A local French teenager also reported that for a few days after the crash, he saw a German Luftwaffe Officer come to the sight of the crash every morning to stand in silence looking at the wreckage before standing to attention, saluting, and walking away. His identity is not known, but he may have been Leutnant Detlev Grossfuss the Pilot who had shot the Lancaster down.

The Grave is still tended in immaculate condition at Rugles in Haute-Normandie.

conradlarnachgrave

By a very strange coincidence I was holidaying in Normandy a few years ago, and stood in front of this grave at the time. To see the affection that the French citizens of the village had lavished on the plot in gratitude for the young men’s sacrifice, still to this day, was truly touching.
The photos included here were found at: http://www.aircrewremembered.com/matthews-victor.html
And
http://www.aerosteles.net/stelefr-rugles-lancasterstele

 

If you would like to have your Family Tree Professionally researched, and your Family Story written as an il;lustrated bound booklet to share with your friends and family, then please contact paulmcneil@timedetectives.co.uk for details of our unique service.

 

 

 

Terror from the Skys in the 20th Century


When tracing Family Stories for clients, very often we turn up examples of civilian suffering from the two world wars, and it is surprising how close so many families came to not existing many more due to enemy action.  Here are a few excerpts from the various stories we have uncovered for clients.

The Great War

The Great War as WW1 was known at the time, was the first war that posed the threat ofZeppelinsDocks attack from the air to London. Although aerial attack is generally thought of as happening to the Docklands in WW2, Britain had to suffer it in WW1.

The Kaiser had initially forbidden raids on London and on any Historic Buildings generally, but in 1915 gave clearance for bombing of the London Docks by Zeppelins. These raids were generally ineffective, few getting through mainly due to adverse weather conditions. One night raid on the 7th/8th of September did manage to drop over a hundred bombs in a line across the East End causing damage and widespread fear, although without major loss of life.

By 1917 tactics changed, and the Germans started to use fixed wing aircraft as Bombers rat1917gothabomberher than the less reliable Zeppelins. In June 1917 twenty Gotha Bombers took off from an airfield in Belgium, to mount a strategic raid on London. After an initial attack on Margate and Shoeburyness, the formation headed up the Thames. The noise of the bombers flying in formation drove the curious to watch them pass over, thinking they were British Aircraft. By the time they reached the East End, they saw bombs were raining down on Barking, and East Ham, the explosions tracing a line to Poplar.

1917uppernorthstreetschoolA set of bombs made a direct hit on Upper North Street Primary School in Poplar. One or two 110lb high explosive bombs passed straight through the roof of the school, smashed through the Girls’ classroom on the top floor killing two children by their impact, then continuing straight through the Boys’ classroom, throwing some of the boys through the floor and into the ground floor classroom where the Bombs exploded in the Infants classroom. Sixteen infants aged between four and six years old were killed in the explosion, more than thirty children were injured, some losing limbs

The German bombers carried on to bomb Liverpool Street Station and by 12 noon had crossed the City as far as Regents Park. By the time they headed back for the coast, over five hundred Londoners were killed or injured. Despite some anti-aircraft fire and the scrambling of home defence formations of the Royal Flying Corps, the bombers were not intercepted, and made it back to Belgium without any losses.

On his return the leader of the raid, Hauptman Ernst Brandenburg, was summoned to Berlin by the Kaiser where he was awarded the highest honour for bravery.

Back in Poplar on 20th June 1917 the whole Poplar neighbourhood turned out to pay their respects at the funeral procession of the Poplar children from Upper North Street Primary School. There is little doubt that the Harrigans were in this crowd. The children were buried in the East London Cemetery, and the service took place in the Harrigan’s local C of E Parish Church of All Saints. It was the biggest public funeral for common people ever to take place in the area.

1917funeralroute

The daylight bombers were to return to London on Saturday 7 July 1917, and other bombing raids would take place during WW1, but none as murderous as that on 13th June 1917.

Outside of London

The rest of Britain was not exempt from raids; on 25th September 1916 the Zeppelin L21zeppelindamage off course and looking for a target, saw the industrial fires and chimneys of the Mills and Factories at Bolton. It flew a double loop over the town dropping 25 bombs and killing 13 civilians in residential streets, only causing minor damage to industry and infrastructure. It then flew back to Germany.

There was no panic in Bolton, there was anger and surprise. Two months later L21 was back on a return raid to the Midlands, this time bombing Chesterfield.  This time the raider was intercepted by three RAF fighters flown by Egbert Cadbury, E.L.Pulling, and W.R.Gaynor, who engaged the Zeppelin emptying four drums of ammunition into her, including phosphorous incendiary rounds.  L21 exploded and fell from the sky into the sea ten miles off of Lowestoft, there were no survivors. A triumphant cheer went up in Bolton, no more civilians would be killed in the night by that particular murderous craft.

L21down

World War Two; The Blitz

London South of The River; Bermondsey

By the outbreak of the Second World War, many children had been evacuated from the most vulnerable parts of East and South East London, those parts near the docks, and around major road and rail links. But for the adults left at home, there was also a share of danger once the Germans started bombing London. One account from an eyewitness describes a raid on the actual streets in Bermondsey in 1940 where part of my own Family lived:

“Saturday from 4.30 was a day of terror, I was collecting in Neptune St when the sirens went, and as the planes were overhead in scores I picked up Mrs Rouse’s boy, and she and the baby and went to the Shelter in the Town Hall. We only just got in when Jerry released his bombs where we were standing and demolished Mrs Rouses house plus eight others. What a shock! Well most of the people in this dugout are now homeless as the bombing was unmerciful and hardly a place within a ¼ mile around escaped, except the Town Hall, he started a fire here which I expect you could see in Dormans [our evacuation venue 30 miles away] the all clear went at 6.45 and I was so shaken by the experience, and the screaming women and children, in the dugout that I packed up and made my way home, but most of the roads were roped off, and so I had to go half way round London to get to Canal Bridge, however I thought I would give a call in home before going to Brockley, and got a shock to see Credon Road no 51, 53, 55 got hit, and the next fell in Varco Rd, right opposite the end house; two people killed in this house. Mum and Dad [who lived at number 59] had a shaking up.

The worst part came at night. I had just left for home and got to Canal Bridge when the sirens started, I ran for a dugout in Peckham Park Rd and the experience all South London had to suffer was more than one could go through more than once. We had bombs dropping every five minutes, and I should say there are marks of the raid in nearly every road in SE London, at home they had another on drop at the entrance of the church in Verney Rd, Ilderton Rd every shop has been hit, all Rotherhithe New Road there are hundreds of people killed or injured, when the all clear sounded at five o’clock I had to walk home, and about every hundred yards along the Old Kent Road had been bombed, so you can imagine my feeling as what to expect in Brockley. The first signs came when reaching St Katherine’s [St Catherine’s church Hatcham in Pepys Road SE14] our church got two bombs and is a wreck, Vesta Rd two houses and a number of incendiary bombs, in Drakefell Road, St Asaph Road, Avignon Road etc., one dropped outside the Patton’s but was a dud, what luck!

Well my dear it has given us all a good shaking and are dreading tonight. I can now understand why the government wanted to keep the children away, and am pleased you and Francis have not had to face our terror.”

The map below shows just how close the bombs fell to my relations in Verney Road. The Germans were trying to destroy the network of Canals, Docks, Railway Lines, and Gasworks that clustered in Bermondsey, but to the ffamily it would have felt more personal than that.
bombingcrop

As the water table was so high in the Bermondsey area, there were very few deep shelters around, so the family would have had to have taken cover as best they could in any local shelters, crossed their fingers for luck, and hoped that the bombers didn’t get a direct hit on them.

The picture below of a German bomber over South East London, shows a Bomber’s view of the area, the area on the bomb map above is just little below the tail of the plane in the picture below, where you can see the railway crossing the canal (black vertical line crossing a white horizontal line) the Gasworks can be seen to the south, the complex railway junctions between Bermondsey, and The Bricklayers’ Arms Goods Depot, as well as the long straight line of the Surrey Canal and Surrey Docks separating the Gasworks from the streets to the north of it.  Poplar is the land in the loop of the river to the right.

germanbomber

London, North of The River; Poplar

The people of Poplar had suffered many miseries from the turn of the twentieth century through the Air raids of WW1, Strikes that meant starvation rations and occupation of the docks by the military in the 1920s, a devastating flood that forced people out of their homes, and the unemployment of the depression in the 1930s, but the 1940s and WW2 would prove to be more fearful times. The Docklands were bombed remorselessly by the Germans during 1940 and 1941.

1940docksburning

From 7th September 1940 London was systematically bombed by the German Luftwaffe for 56 out of the next 57 days, with the 15th September marking the height of the daylight raids. Because of the failure to break the will of the people of London whilst receiving heavy casualties amongst German Pilots from British fighter squadrons during this time of the Battle of Britain, the Germans switched to night-time for most of their raids after the summer of 1940. On the night of 29th December 1940 the Luftwaffe dropped 10,000 fire bombs on London at a rate of 300 per minute, or 5 per second. During the Blitz 28,556 Londoners were killed, and 25,578 were wounded. The bombs that killed the children in WW1 at Upper North Street Primary School weighed 110lbs, the Germans were now dropping bombs that weighed up to 5,500lbs on London in an attempt to level whole streets full of women and children.

The bombing never completely went away, and in 1944 a new terror weapon was unleashed, the V1 Rocket carrying over 2,000lbs of explosives, called a Doodle-Bug or Buzz-bomb by Londoners. People would speak of a “throbbing, droning sound” of the V1 engine, before something looking like a small aircraft with a flame coming out of the back of it, would appear in the sky. Londoners soon learned that as long as you could hear the engine there was no danger, but once the engine cut, the Doodle-bug would plummet to the ground and explode, the best thing was to walk away from the direction of flight of the Doodle-bug, and then hit the deck when the engine cut out. The V1 proved to be inaccurate, and many were either shot down, or “toppled” by fighters flying alongside and flipping them over with their wing tips to disable their internal gyroscopic guidance system forcing them to crash into the fields of Kent and Essex (see picture). 1944V1By August 1944 80% of all V1s launched were being downed by British defences before hitting their targets. By December 1944 allied advances had overrun the nearest continental launch sites of the V1s and attacks reduced dramatically.
Undeterred the Germans next attacked with their V2 Rocket between 1944 and 1945, 1944V12sending over a total of 1,358 to fall on London, like the V1 each one of these carried over 2,000lbs of explosives. Many people believed that these were worse than the V1 as they gave no warning being a rocket that flew at supersonic speeds and against which there was no effective defence, and the only effective way of countering them was to bomb their launch sites, and ultimately shut down production by winning the war.

 

Children were evacuated for at least some of the War, but the adults were forced to put up with the terror from the skies,  Londoners stood up to it, and pulled through, despite the horrors they had witnessed.  London’s morale was never broken.

The Moral of the Story

All good stories have a Moral.  Tracing Family Trees and writing up deep and complex Family Stories for our clients, brings out starkly the tenuous luck that has brought all of us into being on this Earth today.  One bomb falling a little to the left or right, one minute delay in getting to a shelter, and a whole Family’s story could have ceased to exist in a blast of high explosives, and many did.  We should each thank our lucky stars for all of us for getting here today.

If you would like your Family Tree researched, and your unique in depth Family Story Published, please contact paulmcneil@timedetectives.co.uk .

 

 

 

 

 

 

Windrush Generation


Having spent a huge number of hours researching peoples’ backgrounds, including those coming in and out of the UK as both immigrants and emigrants, I was surprised by the somewhat blunt approach towards the Windrush Generation.

The UK Government has disastrously destroyed the landing records of the immigrants concerned, an absolute Philistine  approach to historical records, and it seems that this has been put forward as all the proof there is for these people.

Fortunately there are other sources, for example Ships’ manifests of British Passengers, which I regularly use to trace peoples’ ancestors in and out of the records, and I’ll be happy to look at these records for any concerned individuals, to see if we can find some evidence of arrival.

So, if you or members of your family are concerned about proving your status under the banner of #thewindrushgeneration please drop me a message and I’ll see if I can help.

Published in: on April 18, 2018 at 11:10 am  Leave a Comment  
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Farmland, Mining, and pushing the Turks and Red Army out of Persia; One Northern Family


You never know what you will find when you start a Family Tree, and it’s always nice to find out something unexpected in the recent past, which is what I turned up with a Family Tree as a Christmas present, that I’d been commissioned to research.

Social Mobility brought to you by The Black Death

The Family probably took their name from a corruption of the name of a Village called Lidgate in Derbyshire, their name corrupted by various dialects to “Legat” over time.  They wouldn’t have acquired this name before the Middle Ages, as surnames weren’t commonly used before that time, other than for the Nobility, and to be named after a place meant that you acquired the name after you left that place and went somewhere else – there was no point calling you by your Village’s name if you were still there, it was the fact that your home village was somewhere else that made your name a differentiator to identify you.  This means that we can guess at the name arising at around the time of the Black death in the mid 14th Century, as before that time peasants were tied to the Land of their own Parish, and couldn’t just up and leave when they wanted.

The Black death changed all of that, as a third of the population died, creating a huge demand for mobile, and therefore, free Labour.  Because there were few people in authority to enforce the Law, and the surviving landowners were prepared to defend peasants who came to work their lands as the only way to protect their own profits.  Disease, a breakdown in law enforcement, and simple Capitalism, broke serfdom in England, and ensured that legalised slavery would never again be enforceable on the soil of England. This is the reason that Slavery was never legally abolished in England, i.e. it had ceased to exist thanks to the Black Death.

Warfare drives farming opportunities

There is a gap of 200-300 years after this until the family turnup at the end of the English Civil War in the Pleasely area, most likely via Chesterfield during the upheavals of the English Civil War.  Over the following 200 years the family split, following working opportunities on the land, some going south to Duffield, our branch moving north to Whitwell, where they turn up renting land off of the Duke of Rutland, and had a fairly good holding of land at that.  This association with the Duke of Rutland coincided with the Napoleonic Wars, when grain prices were high, and good farmers would prosper, and indeed that is what the family did.  As with many prosperous families of the time they had many children, and because they were successful farmers could afford to feed them and were well away from the major urban areas and the diseases of the poor, overcrowded, and transient populations, this meant that many of their children survived which presented a problem.  LidgatePleaslyWhitchurch

Blacksmiths

The family had only one Farm, this meant that only one child could inherit, the others would need to find other means of employment.

In this family’s case, when the last major farm holder died he left the equivalent of £300,000 to his children, and of course The Farm.  The son our family were descended from was a younger son, he took up as a master Blacksmith whilst one of his elder brothers got the farm (and his descendants gradually broke it up and sold part of it to the Duke of Portland), but our man used his inheritance to build a business as a Blacksmith and Farrier.  He prospered, and as a Master employed men to work for him, including his two sons

Both sons carried on with the Blacksmithing, but by now in the mid 1800s the Industrial Revolution was in full swing, and the boys moved with their families to Sheffield to take advantage of the working opportunities in the mines and steel works.  Here skilled Blacksmiths were in high demand.  Our man in this generation never became a Master Blacksmith like his father, he remained a Journeyman working in Industrial Sheffield.  Unlucky in love, he lost two wives early in their marriages, and was outlived by his last partner.  He fathered ten children, but not all of them stayed when successive wives moved in, and the family did start to go their separate ways early on.  He died in his 60s still working as a Blacksmith in industrial Sheffield, a viral infection that attacked his heart and lungs brought about his end.foundry3

Miners and Heroes

His sons went into the heavy manual labour of Mining and Steel works,  and his daughters, before marriage, worked as Domestic Servants.  The sons were of great interest as both surviving sons served in WW1 in the Yorkshire Regiment.  The brother that our family is descended from served admirably, received his medals and a war wound and was sent home because of his injuries before the end of the war.  His brother was even more interesting, during service in France he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, an award for bravery under fire, in his case he had run out into no-man’s land under shellfire to dig out comrades who had been buried in the mud and brought them back to allied lines, and he did this several times.

Despite his bravery his service didn’t end at the end of the war, in the 1920s he was shipped off to North West Persia (Iran) to push the Turks out of the country, and to repel incursions by Lenin’s Bolshevik Russian forces, successfully in both cases, his unit was part of “NoPerForce”, and he didn’t return to England until around 1924.

north-staffords-dunsterforce-marching-for-baku

Back in Sheffield, and straight back to working as a file cutter in a steel works.  Both brothers put their experiences behind them and went back to the factory and the mine.  His medals were eventually sold at auction in 2009 for £1,700.

legattmedals

The family carried on working in the Sheffield Coal Mines for further generations, their war time heroics and their past as well to do farmers buried – until of course Time Detectives dug them up and brought them back to life.

 

Interested in finding out your Family’s past and having it brought back to life?  Contact  me at Time Detectives on paulmcneil@timedetectives.co.uk.  A great and unique present for someone you love.

Paul McNeil

Time Detectives

 

 

Published in: on February 18, 2018 at 4:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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London Bridge on the Hamble


 

 

londonbridge

Low resolution reproduction of original sections of Barry’s artwork

 

Having been born and bred near “The River” in London (there is only “The River” as far as Cockneys are concerned), and having a Dad who worked on Tower Bridge in London for much of his later life,  I’ve always been attracted to the life and history of Rivers.

So you can imagine my surprise and delight when I saw that our local Maritime Artist in Hamble-le-Rice, Barry Lester, had brought London to Hamble in one unique beautiful drawing.

Just in case you can’t imagine it, I have included the picture below, where I am displaying both surprise and delight to save you from having to actually imagine it.  I’m on the left of the picture, Barry the artist is on the right.

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Barry loves to spend time drawing with his Grandchildren in London, and having drawn London Bridge “Falling Down” to reflect the children’s’ nursery rhyme, complete with London eye and a modern London Bridge, he was surprised by the amount of interest in the picture by other children and their parents.  Developing the theme Barry decided to draw London Bridge in one of its older incarnations in a more commercial way.

Put which period in history to choose?  The Roman wooden Bridge reinforced and defended by Danish Vikings that was pulled down by rival Norwegian Vikings fighting as mercenaries for the English?  Or perhaps the Mediaeval Bridge over which stormed Watt Tyler’s peasant army?  But no, there was one era of London Bridge’s life that showed it in all its architectural complexity, and one day when London changed from Mediaeval to modern.  That day was Saturday 1st September 1666, the day before the Great Fire of London.

Barry researched the artistic history of the Bridge and found that it had never been drawn in its entirety from that period.  The result is a unique and fascinating view of a London icon as it hasn’t been seen in nearly half a millennium.   That stretches for x feet and draws you in to the hustler and bustle of life in Renaissance London.

Most importantly prints of this fantastic artwork are available for purchase from Barry just in time for Christmas, if you are interested please drop a line to paulmcneil@timedetectives.co.uk.

…..and

If you would like to know a little more about the history of London Bridge read on…

When did London Bridge Fall down?

“London Bridge is falling down,
falling down,
falling down,
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair Lady!”

It fell down twice, both times it was pulled down by the hands of men.

The tune and words of the nursery rhyme above had been adapted and formalised in the 1600s, but the song and the “playing at arches” a children’s game where by the players held each others’ hands above their heads to form an arch, whilst their friends held hands and travelled underneath,  had roots going back into mediaeval times, and beyond to the Viking period.

Good Vikings and bad Vikings

In 1014 Ethelred The Un-Read (un-read = badly advised, rather than “Unready”) hired a mercenary Norwegian Viking force to sail up the Thames and attack London, held at that time by King Cnut’s father Sweyn and his Danish Vikings.  The Norwegians tied ropes around the stanchions of the fortified wooden London Bridge, hurled grappling hooks onto its fortifications, turned their longships around, hoisted sail to catch a westerly breeze, and rowed hard with the downstream tide to wreck the fortified bridge, allowing them to bring their own and Ethelred’s English ships and troops up the Thames and outflank the Danes, forcing the Danish garrison to give up control of London and Southwark back to Ethelred and the English.

This was celebrated in a Viking Saga in a poem that went;

“Yet you broke the Bridge of London,
Stout hearted warrior,
You conquered the land
Iron swords made headway
Strongly urged to fight;
ancient shields were broken,
Battle’s fury mounted”

vikinglondonbridge

The Rhyme obviously would have scanned better in Old Norse, but it tells the tale, and Grappling hooks and Viking axes and swords have been found in the Thames at the site to reinforce the romance of the story with archaeology.   The Viking who pulled London Bridge down,  Olaf Haraldsson, later became ruler of Norway, and on his death was hailed as a very popular Saint in England becoming St Olaf, with a Church in Southwark by the side of the rebuilt London Bridge, which you can visit today, now known as St Olave’s.  This was typical of robust British paganism lightly dressed as Christianity, a Norwegian Viking General hailed as a saint by the people of London, for helping to recapture their City, by slaughtering the Danes.

An Act of Royal Penance

The mediaeval bridge that Barry has drawn was built to by Henry II as part of his penance for causing the murder of his former friend Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket, the bridge facilitated pilgrimage from London to Canterbury where Becket’s Tomb was situated.  More importantly the Bridge served London from Southwark and the Kent Coast and surrounding countryside, and with commerce, travel, and trade.

The bridge would be affected by the Great Fire of London with many buildings damaged, but the structure survived.

Great_Fire_London

London Bridge saved Southwark from the Great Fire, as despite many of the buildings on its North side being destroyed in the fire, there was a natural firebreak in the Bridge’s structure towards the south side.  This had saved Southwark twice, once in a fire of 1632, but now more importantly from the Great Fire.

The bridge never fully recovered in architectural terms from the Great Fire and by 1762 the stone mediaeval bridge was 600 years old.  It once stood full of brick and stone buildings along its length, some several stories high, a spectacular site in mediaeval times, as portrayed by Barry, but these had been demolished in that year of 1762, to improve the flow of foot and horse traffic across the bridge.

London Bridge still presented a hazard to navigation, and even with a widened mid-span was unnavigable for large ships.  This blockage to large ships meant that the building of bigger ships could only be carried on down stream in and around the Poplar area.  So London Bridge inadvertently gave rise to the shipwrights of the Port of London in what is nowadays called “Docklands”.  As with many aspects of London, the River Thames and its history decided the trade and future of the lives of its working class inhabitants.

Claude_de_Jongh_-_View_of_London_Bridge_-_Google_Art_Project_bridge

Falling down again

Times were changing, in 1810 Locks were put in up River from London at Teddington, bringing the tidal reach of the Thames back 16 miles down river from its former reach at Staines, taming and controlling the River’s ebb and flow upstream.

A few years later London Bridge finally did fall down, this happened when the “new” London Bridge was built between 1825 and 1831, the old bridge was torn down once the new bridge was completed, and the new bridge had a major impact on the Thames transport.

th-2

Much wider spans meant  that progress for boats was much safer than it had been, people could be transported with much less risk, and this was taken advantage of by unlicensed watermen, swarming like unlicensed mini-cabs to transport travellers up and down the river.  Worse still from the traditional Waterman’s point of view, steamboats came onto the river scene in large numbers from the 1830s and by 1835 it was estimated that around 3.5 million passengers travelled each year between The City and Blackwall, virtually all by steamboat.

The age of the Old London Bridge, as drawn by Barry, was finally over, but you can still own a fantastic work of art depicting it by contacting:

Time Detectives on paulmcneil@timedetectives.co.uk

You can also ask for me to research and write a factual novel of your family History, usually up to 100 pages of your own unique Family Story drawn out of actual historical records.  You can have your Family Story and a full Surname Line Family Tree for £600.  Great for Christmas, Birthdays, and Weddings.

 

 

 

A Canadian WW1 Knight of the Air, and his son an Arctic Circle Knight of the Road


You never know in life where chance meetings are going to take you.  How meeting someone on a lonely road near the Arctic Circle would give the clues for Time Detectives to uncover a near forgotten hero’s story, from an incredible source.

In my other life, when I used to have a proper job, I was part of a small entrepreneurial team who put together a very successful software company and sold it to a big American corporation.  This meant that a number of us could do our own thing once the deal was done.  Amongst my other ventures I took the Time Detectives Genealogy Business to new heights, whilst my friend and ex-boss, Steve Jones (Jonesie), went off to travel the world in various adventurous ways by Land Rover and sailing boat.

During one of Steve’s sojourns, driving up from Denver Colorado to the Arctic Circle, he met a fellow traveller on the Alaskan/Canadian border of the Arctic.  Steve takes up the story from his blog at the time here:_mg_0142_edit_edit.6vye6d1ydcw0s4sggosggkckk.ae6egtt2xvk0sowk84g4ock8k.th

“Today I met a homeless chap who was cycling the 400 or so miles from Anchorage to the Canadian border and claimed to be the son of World War 1 pilot Alfred Atkey… He told me he makes this trip on a regular basis and although he is Canadian he never crosses because he doesn’t carry ID. Anyway he had stopped to make some coffee but ran out of water so having supplied him with some and chatting about the exploits of his famous father I took this snap. I’ll let you decide if you agree his story to be true – .”

You can see Steve’s blog here, it’s got some cracking photos on it:

http://www.taxidialogue.com/

and the parts relevant to this story here:

http://www.taxidialogue.com/?p=62&cpage=1#comment-6545

Once I spoke with Jonesie, I knew I’d have to take up the challenge of testing the story from the enigmatic traveller he had met, and so another Time Detectives investigation was kicked off.

 

The Atkey Family Origins

The Atkey name comes from a nickname for someone who dwelled “At the Quay” so was a waterside name for a dockworker or sailor. The name is very rare, and seems to have originated in the Hampshire/Sussex coastal area of southern England.

 

Our Atkeys started in the Isle of Wight, which I can actually see from the beach near my home, as the name implies, it’s a large Island off the middle of the South Coast of Hampshire in England, forming the Solent waterway between Southampton and Portsmouth, one of the busiest waterways in the world.

The earliest valid ancestors we found were from the early 1700s in Shalfleet, a rural area on the Isle of Wight. By the 1770s they had moved to Carisbrooke nearer to the main town of Newport, which had started to grow from its connections to the Royal Naval base at Portsmouth just across the Solent.  The Atkeys at this time were leather workers and shoemakers.

During the Napoleonic Wars, in 1805, James Atkey was born, he followed his family as a Leatherworker and Shoemaker, and married a local girl, the wonderfully named Jane Trafalgar Grapes.  She derived her middle name from the Sea Battle Admiral Lord Nelson had won against the French and their Spanish allies, that destroyed all hope of Napoleon being able to mount a seaborne invasion of England.  In the euphoria that followed, proud parents would name children born in that year “Trafalgar”, Britannia really did rule the waves at the time.

Canada

Euphoria or not,  in 1855 James Atkey’s, a Methodist lay preacher, followed his religious calling and travelled to Canada  to take up the position of  missionary and teacher for the Anishnaube and their children in the Colpoy’s Bay area with his family.  He and his family lived in a Log cabin and would farm the land to support James’s missionary work.  James would live until 1868.

The Atkeys would carry on as Methodist Farmers in Keppel Ontario and in the Toronto area.  They also served in the Canadian Militia, ever ready to repel incursions from their potential enemy to the south, the USA, and incursions from Fenian rebels stirring up trouble along the USA/Canadian border.  And after two generations of “Alfred” Atkeys we arrive at Alfred Clayton Atkey.

War Hero

ALFRED CLAYBURN ATKEY was born 16 Aug 1894 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and diedalfredatkey 10 Feb 1971. He married IRENE E MARSHALL 1919 in Portsmouth, Hampshire, England. She was born 1900 in London, England.

Alfred Clayburn Atkey MC & Bar (August 16, 1894 – February 10, 1971) was a Canadian First World War pilot.

Alfred was born in Toronto, Ontario. His family headed west to a town called Minebow, Saskatchewan in 1906. When he was old enough Alfred returned to Toronto to work at the Toronto Evening Telegram as a journalist. In 1916 he joined the Royal Flying Corps as a probationary Second Lieutenant. By September 1917, he was a bomber pilot flying Airco DH.4 with 18 Squadron. May 1918, he was flying a Bristol F 2B fighter/reconnaissance aircraft with “A flight”, 22 Squadron.   Along with Lt CG Gass who was his gunner/observer, he claimed 29 aircraft shot down within a month.

In terms of number of claims, Atkey was the top Allied two-seater pilot of the war. His total number of aircraft claimed shot down was 38 (comprising 13 and 1 shared claimed destroyed, 23 and 1 shared ‘Out of Control’). Gass is rear gunner contributed some 13 of these claims (himself the most successful gunner in the RFC/RAF).

plane

Atkey’s rank was Captain upon leaving the Royal Air Force at the end of the war.

Alfred Atkey received the Military Cross with Bar. The following was written in the London Gazette:

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. When engaged on reconnaissance and bombing work, he attacked four scouts, one of which he shot down in flames. Shortly afterwards he attacked four two-seater planes, one of which he brought down out of control. On two previous occasions his formation was attacked by superior numbers of the enemy, three of whom in all were shot down out of control. He has shown exceptional ability and initiative on all occasions.”

MC citation, Supplement to the London Gazette, 22 June 1918

The following was written when he received the MC Bar:

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. During recent operations he destroyed seven enemy machines. When engaged with enemy aircraft, often far superior in numbers, he proved himself a brilliant fighting pilot, and displayed dash and gallantry of a high order.”

MC Bar citation, Supplement to the London Gazette, 16 September 1918.

Alfred married Irene Marshall in 1919 at Portsmouth in Hampshire, more or less within sight of the Isle of Wight where his ancestors had emigrated from 64 years before.

The couple then migrated to the USA, were ion the New York area in 1920, and Alfred took the first steps to naturalisation in California in 1924.

naturalisation.

Whatever the reasons, the marriage didn’t last, and in 1942 Alfred remarried to Dulcie May Boadway, they would have four children, the oldest of whom was to be Alfred (Al)Atkey.

Al Atkey; Knight of the Road

…and so we come to Al Atkey who Jonesie took up with on the edge of the Artic Circle.  His stories were indeed true, and in his own way he had s lived a life full of adventure, just as his father did, albeit in peacetime rather than war

Although Jonesie isn’t adding to this particular page on his blog site at the moment, other people are, and Al Atkey keeps popping up in various meetings with other travellers out on the road, here are some edited samples of the updates:

David Hoekje July 14th, 2009 at 8:44 am
Well now a year later I met Alfred just a week ago, at this time he explained that he was an amateur musicologist traveling Canada (yes, he’s in the Yukon) collecting money for female composers of violin concerti. He feels it is a lost art.

Let it be said that he’s not only in fine condition,  but that his clothing is only more delightful than when you found him. He is wearing one rubber boot and one tennis show. He is also wearing every item of clothing that he owns such that he appears like a cartoon character with his little head popping out of a mound of clothes; I’m not sure how he can move.

I gave him $20 on general principles, and a cup of ice since it was a hot day. A bit up the road I stopped in at Jakes Corner in Yukon (Jakes crossing) and spoke with a couple waitresses at this must see gallery / restaurant / ?  After visiting with the eccentrics at the lunch table I asked on a whim if any of them knew Alfred. They burst into laughter and said he’d spent the afternoon at their place a few days before. Apparently he’s using the bicycle more as a luggage carrier than for himself. They agreed that he was a delight, remarkably clean and alert for a man living outdoors, and somehow seemed to avoid the numerous human predators such a man might fall victim to.

Susan Hoefner July 19th, 2009 at 8:30 am
Al Atkey was part of our lives from 1980 until he was deported.

Linda M November 23rd, 2009 at 4:44 pm
re: Alfred Atkey: I’m a school teacher in a small community in the Yukon whose husband works in Whitehorse and lives near Marsh Lake. Ron got to know Alfred last spring and he hired Alfred come to do odd jobs around the place. In early September, after having to cancel his plans to travel on his bike all the way to Edmonton he showed up at our place and my husband took him in for the winter. He is warm, cozy, well fed, and happy. So, all of you out there who might have been wondering about his safety and well-being for the winter, worry no more. Of course, I can’t say where he might be as soon as the highways are free of snow in the spring.

David Hoekje April 29th, 2010 at 8:18 am
I just heard from a man who saw Al last Sunday. I’ll post his message below without his email address or name.
“Hi Just a quick update on Alfred. As of Sunday April 25th he was in Fort St John. I saw him on the road side making little to no progress so I stopped and asked him if he was alright. What a delightful experience that turned out to be. He was fine, as it was evening and he had no place to stay I put him into a motel for the night. He said he was headed to Red Deer to stay with a brother. I told him if I could talk to his brother I would put him on the Grey Hound. Haven’t heard from him so I imagine he’s on the road south. What a character.”

Donna Atkey May 14th, 2010 at 2:55 pm
Hi All,
I just read about my brother, Alfie, known in the north as Alcan Al. I am his younger sister, he also has a younger brother George and a little sister, Susan, who just passed away.

Just wanted to set the record straight that my father’s first wife was not our mother.   She ran off on my father and when he didn’t hear from her for many years, he went back to the homestead near Lone Rock and worked on his music career.

He enlisted in the second war, was assigned to Downsview, Ontario as a link trainer for new pilots. It was in Toronto that he met our mother, Dulcie May Boadway. They married in August of 1942 and had five children. The second child, George Vaughn only lived two weeks. They lived in Toronto, Edmonton, Yellowknife, Whitehorse, Lloydminster, and finally Toronto again where my father passed away at the age of 76 in 1971. Mom followed at the age of 59 in 1975. They are greatly missed.

Ken Atkey December 15th, 2010 at 10:08 pm
Alfred Atkey also worked at a creamery in Didsbury Alberta where he met my wife’s uncle Bob Dunkley. I believe he was based near Calgary for a while during the war.
My father who was injured in a plane crash in July 1918 met Alfred and his first wife in Toronto. According to the stories I heard from my mother she became restless and went on tour as “Billie Atkey” with a rollerskating act. She invited my father to a performance in the mid or late twenties at the Orpheum or Strand theatre. He went and took his oldest son who was three or four years old with him.

Chuck-Mary Clarke November 14th, 2012 at 4:19 pm
We met Al Atkey biking thru Fruitvale in the snow last night. We brought him home for the night and dropped him off in Salmo this morning to continue his trip home to Ft St John. He is healthy and in good spirits, anxious to get home to his camper in FSJ. We enjoyed his company and tales of his travels and dreams. We’re praying he makes it there safely.

Paul November 23rd, 2012 at 12:58 am
Hi everyone, Met Al last night at the Petro-Canada on Hwy 1 west of Calgary. We talked for a while in the restaurant there. As I am truck driver now, and a bike courier from a long time ago, we shared a few stories of cycling and life on the road. He told me of his father, and I shared some of my west coast pilot stories.  He seemed very interested in the history of Blatchford Field(City Centre Airport -Edmonton)I worked there for a while at the Edmonton Flying Club. I told him he should write a book of his life and adventures, he seemed to smile at the idea.  Who knows…………..you might see Al some night on lonely highway…….safe travels Al.

Jon Levesque October 15th, 2015 at 8:57 am
Hello. Just shooting everyone an update that I’ve had the great opportunity to meet Al here in Fernie. He’s staying with us until he decides where the open road will take him.
He sends his greetings to everyone.

Pat Ferris February 20th, 2016 at 9:56 am
Alfred was living in Fort St. John, BC, up to a couple of months ago.(as of Jan 2016) He does go on journeys on his bike to Alaska or Edmonton but has been here for the past 3 years or so. He was in good spirit and health. Cheers.

Ramada Hotel November 6th, 2016 at 10:07 am
Hello everyone,
We have Mr. Atkey staying with us here at the Ramada Hotel in Penticton, BC. He is in good spirits and seems to be doing well in his travels.

Monica Mikolas November 24th, 2016 at 5:28 pm
I just met Alfred Atkey tonight walking in Stony Plain, Alberta. He is a plesent man to talk with and he is very proud of his father and has such a beautiful demenor … November 24, 2016!

Cam Todd February 7th, 2017 at 9:16 pm
Fri. Jan 27 , 2017 6:30am. Intrigued by the orange bicycle helmet my buddy Wordie and I stopped on the roadside in Crow’s Nest Pass to aid a fellow traveller . Fortunately for us the gent regaled with tale after tale for miles on end ! The last we saw of him he was in a Walmart Parking lot heading for a CIBC.  Some days later we discovered we had been in the company of a truely unique Canadian !

Geminy Hansen June 21st, 2017 at 1:59 pm
we recently encountered Mr Atkey in Grimshaw Alberta! Today we were having a staff lunch and he was in the cafe! Intuition told me to ask him his name. My co workers bought him lunch and gave him some cash.

Kory Kopf July 10th, 2017 at 3:58 pm
Just dropped Al off in Mayerthorpe Alberta. He was the highlight of my day!

..and lastly a message sent directly to me I received recently:

Just wanted to let you know that this morning I had the privilege of meeting Alfred Atkey as he passed the small town of Devon, Alberta, Canada on one of his many treks (this time on an old bike with numerous bags of stuff tied to the handelbars) on his way “south” for the winter (south means southern Alberta and B.C.).

I bought Alfred a coffee and breakfast at the local A&W, which is apparently his favourite haunt when he is on the road.

What an interesting guy! I spent several hours with him and gave him a few things that he needed for the road, namely a can opener, a pair of winter gloves and a few other items that he needed to replace. The best thing that I gave though was a copy of his family tree from your website (I found it online and printed it off when I went home to get the can opener and gloves).

He was so excited to see the names of all of his ancestors and to read a bit of their histories! Just thought you might get a kick out of this. Alfred is now 74 years old and shows no sign of slowing up as he continues to move from homeless shelter to homeless shelter and to rely on the kindness of strangers. Alfred told me that someone he met on his travellers had created a Facebook page for him, but I have not yet attempted to find it.

Alfred is very inspiring and very humble. He mentioned several times that he could never be as great a man as his war hero father. I disagree.
Humbled and Sincere,
Sheryl Watson

Bon Voyage Al!

 

 

 

 

Published in: on September 25, 2017 at 10:03 pm  Comments (3)  
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Was Roman Britain Ethnically Diverse?


romanbritainI have had the somewhat bewildering experience of seeing two very different people I follow on twitter get into a massive spat over a BBC cartoon aimed at educating children.  The cartoon seems to be showing a well groomed man of sub-Saharan African pedigree with a Mediterranean looking Mrs, and children with varied skin tones, this was labelled as a “Typical” family in Roman Britain.  Considering that 99% of the population of lowland (Roman) Britain were to a great extent a mix of fair or brown haired, pale eyed, and pale skinned, individuals, and probably spent most of their lives covered in dirt and sweat from working the rich British Farmlands for the profit of, their native British overlords who were wilfully collaborating with the Roman Military occupation.   I can only guess that either the caption was a mistake, or this was an effort to re-write history at the BBC.  It’s a bit like putting up the picture below and claiming that it represents a “typical” Indian family from the Raj:

tennis-party_2214153kIt seems that wilfully or just through ineptitude, someone in the BBC is confusing the Romans in Britain with the people of Roman Britain.

The argument got quite heated with Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the hard talking Lebanese ex-new York and London stockmarket trader, mathematician and autodidact (in some areas), vs Beard the well mannered, academic, English lady.  Taleb said that if the picture from the BBC was “Typical” why was there no trace of sub-Saharan genes in the British gene pool, and Beard arguing that there was ample documentary and archaeological evidence for Africans in Britain.  Both were correct.

It escalated when Mary Beard asked Nassim Taleb if he’d read any books on Roman Britain, and Taleb calling Beard a bullshitter.  It seemed to me that they were arguing at cross purposes and across a massive socio-cultural political divide.   Taleb seemed to be arguing against apparent Political propaganda from the BBC aimed at re-writing history to make it more acceptable to an urban liberal elite, whilst Beard was arguing against an alt-right perception of British racial purity.

Romans in Britain vs Roman Britain

There were undoubtedly black Africans in Roman Britain, but not many.  There is evidence for more “Mediterranean type” North Africans, and even more Europeans from various states.  But even the highest estimates of the numbers of people from other parts of the Roman Empire in Roman Britain don’t go beyond about 5%, and that number varies widely up to the 5% maximum over the 400 or so years that the Romans militarily occupied us.  The largest numbers of these would have been concentrated in the military at very specific points of the country.  It seems also that integration between the indigenous Brits and the Roman sponsored incomers was low level at best, as genetic fingerprints suggesting a Roman past for modern British citizens is largely absent.  Without a doubt there was some intermarriage, indeed there is evidence for this in documentary sources, and soldiers wouldn’t be soldiers, if there wasn’t a local whore house servicing and profiting from their carnal requirements.  But given the relative numbers of Roman incomers at any time compared to the large gene pool of indigenous Brits, any residual genetic legacy has been drowned out.

So was there much ethnic diversity in the indigenous population of Roman Britain? No there wasn’t.  Was there much ethnic diversity among the Romans in Britain, absolutely.

To say that Roman Britain was ethnically diverse would be like saying that the Hampshire Village I live in on the South Coast of England is ethnically diverse because we have a Curry House up the road, or because we are only a hour and a half from ethnically diverse areas of London.  To say that the Romans in Britain were ethnically diverse is like saying that people who live in central London are ethnically diverse, which is true beyond doubt.  But they are two different things, and by no means mutually exclusive.

Trolls and the Academic Virtue Signallers

Unfortunately any hope of rationalising the argument went out the window as soon as the respective sets of followers got involved and started shouting “Fight! Fight!” like kids in a school playground.  From what I saw, the Taleb fans were far more unpleasant on a personal level to Mary Beard, than the Beard fans were towards Taleb.  The Taleb followers went into full personal insult troll mode, probably without knowing who Mary Beard was, especially as many seemed to be from the USA and for some strange reason Italy (then again they were discussing the Romans), whereas the Beard supporters tended to be more academic putting up tweets of blogs that generally didn’t negate Taleb’s arguments but gave a vent to their virtue signalling.

The underlying issue seemed to be that you had a group of fairly Liberal Academics on Beard’s side arguing for a re-writing of history to fit a politically correct agenda, and on Taleb’s side a group of unsavoury Trolls trying to silence any liberal dissent without actually taking it on in a rational argument.  I don’t believe that Beard or Taleb were responsible for either approach.

Interestingly I tweeted both parties to suggest that the issue was one of the Romans in Britain vs Roman Britain, but despite the fact that they both retweeted and answered many unpleasant or ill thought through tweets from both sides, thereby prolonging the pointless shouting match, my, hopefully rational suggestion got ignored by both.  That’s a shame.

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence

Taleb made a very valid point, saying that there was no evidence for sub-Saharan genes in the native British gene pool before the modern era.  This was absolutely correct,  academics on Beard’s side countered that the genes could have been lost through genetic drift, especially when looking at Y chromosomes and Mitochondrial DNA, without realising that if anything that probably supported Taleb’s argument.  This is because the smaller the representation of a chromosome in a population, the more likely it is to disappear over time through lack chance pairings, e.g. if a man is the only representative of his Y chromosome within a population and all his offspring are daughters, then his Y chromosome will disappear from the records.  So the lower the numbers of individuals with such ancestry the more likely their footprint is to disappear from the genetic map.

If the population was in any meaningful way “Ethnically Diverse” their genes would turn up, even in small numbers in current generations, and ancient samples.  So Taleb’s arguments don’t show that there weren’t ANY sub-Saharan Africans in Roman Britain, just that they were not represented in any statistically significant numbers, therefore the attempt to show “Roman Britain” as opposed to “the Romans in Britain” as ethnically diverse is nonsense.

Archaeology and DNA

I was also amazed in the number of academics who rallied to the cry that Genetics is not a silver bullet of proof, and can’t be taken in isolation, and were prepared to ignore it all together because it didn’t fit their arguments, and even tried to bolster their argument by quoting approaches that are far less rigourous than genetics, and facts that actually undermined their own arguments.

For example, a number of people quoted the evidence that bodies from high status “Roman” graves in Britain, notably Lant Street from Bermondsey in South London showed evidence, mainly through isotope analysis, of individuals who may have come from North Africa (or at least somewhere hotter and drier than Italy).  If they had read the actual conclusions from the dig (as I did), they would have seen that one young woman in particular who was cited as being “probably” raised in North Africa, actually had blue eyes according to genetic evaluation of her remains.  Blue eyes only developed once in history, and that was in Europe.  In other words she was an example of possible genetic diversity in North Africa, rather than genetic diversity in Britain.  In any case she is just as likely to have come from Southern Europe as North Africa.

To be convincing, what would be needed to make the BBC cartoon and caption true rather than politically correct propaganda aimed at children would be a sub -saharan African genetic profile from a Roman era grave in a non-urban environment in Roman occupied Britain, that had an isotope analysis that showed the person had been raised in Britain.  Some evidence of this has been found in non-sub-Saharan ancestry remains in the urbanised areas of Roman Britain, but not in the rural areas where the overwhelming large numbers of indigenous Britons lived.

Looking at other periods, the Amesbury Archer, has been shown to have come from somewhere in Central Europe, and he left a genetic marker in later generations,  born and bred in Britain.  Clear evidence of ethnic mixing albeit on a much less obvious European level.

If we look at  the latest genomic and other research on individuals from the urban Roman parts of Roman Britain, we see interesting results.  Firstly in the North of England in York, extensive testing has been carried out on Roman era remains from the Roman City, all the results bar one individual show  haplogroups of sub-lineages of  (R1b-L52/L11) the most common Y chromosome lineage from natives of Western Europe, one man was found to be from J2-L228 Haplogroup, which is described as “Middle-Eastern” but is better described as East Mediterranean and Near Eastern.  The rest of the male skeletons were found to be similar genetically to the modern Welsh, rather than modern Yorkshiremen.  All of the mitochondrial DNA  passed on by female ancestors in the bodies tested were from the most common Western European lineages.

One oft touted individual from York is the so called Ivory Bangle Lady, who undoubtedly spent many years in either Southern Europe or North Africa, and had an Elephant Ivory Bangle in her grave goods.  She has been claimed to be “African” and depicted more or less as a “Black African”, apparently based on some bone measurements.  It made a good story for press releases, and was eagerly taken up by the BBC.  however, looking closer at claims for her sub-Saharan African ancestry, and other individuals amongst Roman remains who even have Chinese claims for ancestry, it will be found that these claims are so far based on measuring size and relative proportions of bones and teeth (Macromorphology) rather than on any DNA evidence.  This approach is thought of as unreliable amongst Bioarchaeologists.  No isotope analysis or DNA studies back up the claims.  So at best an unreliable approach is being taken to make claims of headline grabbing exotic African origins for remains, let alone Chinese.

The obvious upside of this is that it brings publicity for the Archaeologists involved.  I’d be prepared to bet that if more detailed DNA research is carried out on these remains, all of the more exotic claims will be disproved.

Sampling Bias

Which brings us back to the other elephant in the room; ALL the Roman era bodies that have been subjected to genetic analysis and that show any sign of non-indiginous genetic makeup are ones from small but heavily Romanised enclaves, such as London and York, and military areas dominated by the Roman Politico-Military machine.  They just aren’t representative of the overall population of Roman Britain.

It’s a bit like an unexpected Tsunami hitting the River Hamble during Cowes week, and Archaeologists in two thousand years time uncovering the skeletons of the drowned from the mud, declaring that there were such a high number of Russians and Arabs among the dead, that Hamble must have been an ethnically diverse Village in deepest Hampshire, and therefore the whole of the UK must have harboured a massive population of Russians and Arabs; outside of Knightsbridge that just wouldn’t be the case.  Similarly did my maternal granddad serving in the British Army in India before and after the First World War make India Ethnically Diverse?  I don’t think so.

Getting back to the evidence, all the genetic and isotope evidence so far shows a balance between Indigenous British, European, and some Mediterranean (including the Roman Provinces of North Africa and the Levant) genetics, backed up by similar findings for isotope analysis.  But again this is from heavily Romanised urban militarised areas, where most of the population didn’t live, but where most of the high status (and therefore interesting from a media point of view) burials are found, and quite frankly, where “all the foreigners” would have lived in Roman times (to quote an imaginary Ancient British taxi driver) .  It simply isn’t a representative sample of “Roman Britain” although undoubtedly is a representative sample of “the Romans in Britain”.  Hence the twitter storm.

Mediterranean vs Sub-Saharan

All the examples of Africans quoted, bar one, were of North Africans, who were largely “Mediterranean” in genotype and phenotype rather than “Sub-Saharan”.  But unfortunately these people didn’t seem to be African enough for some academics, so you will find examples of Septimus Severus, Roman Emperor, half Liby-Phoenician half Italian, being described simply as an African Emperor of Rome who died in Britain (the last fact is correct), on the “Black Roman” section of the British National Archives site.

Twitter brings out the worst in people (on average)

The sad thing about the whole debacle was not just the appalling mindless despicable name calling of the trolls towards Mary Beard, from people with less than a fraction of her ability, but the sadly inept and downright incorrect arguments of many of the academics when trying to counter argue Nassim Taleb,  and their attempts to defend the indefensible, i.e. the intentional or otherwise inaccurate BBC propaganda aimed at children.  If only the BBC had resisted the chance to politicise the cartoon, and instead entitled it “An interesting and unusual example of a Roman Family in Britain” maybe the debate could have been carried on at a calmer level?

For my part I’m happy for my ancestors to have come from any background and skin colour. But I don’t want academic arrogance and missinformation driving a political agenda falsely re-writing history, nor do I want a debate drowned out by trolls hurling insults.

History may be written by the winners, but genetics is the voice of the people.

…and if you are interested in seeing who you are descended from, contact Time Detectives on paulmcneil@timedetectives.co.uk.

 

 

 

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