Bring Out Your Dead

Genealogy is a Knight’s errand

Bring Out Your Dead

I'm aware that consumer genealogy tests like Ancestry and 23AndMe have been used by the police in the US and Europe to solve cold cases by identifying the murderer through the DNA of relatives who used the test. Never having committed a heinous crime, (and not planning to), I’m not worried that the police might use my DNA to track me down. Besides, my wife did the test last year and confirmed the “family lore” that she is Métis. So I decided to throw my lot in with and see what turned up, genealogically speaking. 

I already knew that two out of my four grandparents were from the Manchester area, and one was a Cockney from London: all of them leaving England just after the First World War and inevitably settling in Victoria. So far, I haven’t been able to go back any further than the 1880s for those three. But I’m pretty certain that I’ve hit the genealogical holy grail on my maternal grandfather’s side and can trace that family tree back a thousand years.

My maternal Great Grandfather, Harry Parsons, was from Harbour Grace Newfoundland and moved with his wife to BC in the 1880s to pilot ships that transported gold miners north. At the end of his life, he was a sealer and marine pilot in Victoria. What’s interesting about Harry’s lineage was that his forebears in Newfoundland and their forebears in Devon kept copious records of births and deaths. Harry’s mother was born Tryphana Whiteway in 1831, and because that’s a very unique name, I can trace the seafaring and cod fishing Whiteways back seven generations to around 1594 in Devon.

There’s a smattering of other names going back in time in the family forest before my Whiteways moved from Devon to Newfoundland in the 1700s. There’s the Tuckers, the Gellards, the Daws, the Stevensons, a Bowden, a Babbige Bibidy, a Wallis line, a Wythycombe, and a Degon, but I can’t seem to go back before 1600 with any of them. And because at seven generations, everyone has 512 Great Grandparents, and at 17 generations everyone has 131,000 Great Grandparents, I can be selective as to which branch to follow, so I followed the gentry.

The forbears of the Devon Whiteways were a hodgepodge of Hexts, Kingstons, Fortescues, Gylls, and Dinhams, and by around 1450 there was a cacophony of Knights, Barons, Ladies, Shrubbers, and other characters from Monty Python and the Holy Grail who all married each other. Sir John Hext’s line goes back to around 1388 when the Hext loins merged with the Fortescues. My 15th Great Grandfather was apparently Sir John of Wympston Fortecue; born in 1412. La di-da.

But wait — there’s more! The Hexts were descended from the Dinhams, and when you travel back in time through the generations of various Ladies, Knights, and Lords who used the Dinham name, it seems the Dinhams used to be “De Dinhams” before 1388 because they moved with William the Conqueror to England. I can only go back as far as 995 with this branch (only 995?), with the birth of my 29th great grandfather, Geoffrey de Dinham Vicomte de Dinan in Côtes-D’armor, France. Then the trail ends. Or begins, depending on your perspective.

Admittedly, there could be a few chokepoints in my research. If I picked the wrong Whiteway line or there was a hex on my Hexts, there could be a Knight who says “No” to my lineage. There’s also the possibility of error because there were no “medieval baby name” books then, and different people had the same first and last names over many generations. To complicate matters, because they all lived in the same small villages in Devon for centuries, there were fewer choices for mates in the days before Tinder, so first, second, and third cousins with the same names may well have married each other in closer degrees of consanguinity than the law currently allows.

Although this last historical tidbit doesn’t help my genealogical quest, I think it may help to explain Brexit and football hooliganism.

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