Nigel and Trevor Brent: My Forgotten Brothers

Genealogy really is the art of uncovering secrets, in most cases, the secrets of people who are long dead.  Most of these secrets are far enough detached from your real life to be truly upsetting, but when you start delving into the past, you must be prepared for the possibility of finding something quite upsetting. Read more...

What I Learned From My DNA

When I started researching my family mysteries, DNA was just for Little Mix and Jeremy Kyle.  The first time I really encountered DNA testing for genealogy was when I contacted my believed 3rd cousin twice removed, David Allen, for his thoughts on my great grandfather's paternity.  David Allen had done a test which showed that he had a rare paternal haplogroup (the Y chromosome, which is passed intact from father to son) and as he was (hypothetically) related to my uncle, David Downing, via an all male line, if my uncle shared the same haplogroup, then it was almost certain that my hypothesis was correct.  I got lucky here - if there had a female in the line, if I hadn't had a willing male relative, or if David Allen had belonged to a common haplogroup, we wouldn't have been able to do this.  I could have done a standard DNA test and compared it with David Allen but as our relationship is quite distant, the chances of our relationship being detectable were about 50/50.  The tests did match, and the Allens now have pride of place in my tree. Read more...

Joseph and Hannah Downing: The Oldest Couple in Essex

My grandfather, Aubrey Downing, passed away last year at the grand old age of ninety-six, and I had the privilege of giving the eulogy at his funeral.  Of course, I just had to sneak a bit of family history into it by telling the congregation that it was no surprise to me that my grandfather had lived so long - he came from a long line of long-lived Downings.   The average life expectancy for a man born in the 1700s was about 35.  Our three Downing ancestors born in that century far exceeded that.   John Downing  (my 5th gg) lived to 88, Joseph Downing (my 6th gg)  lived to 77, and Samuel Downing (my 7th gg) lived to 73.  However, Joseph Downing junior (my 4th gg) took it a step further and made headlines with his old age. Read more...

Catherine Downing: The life of a lunatic

Catherine was the older sister of my ancestor Henry Downing. Like many young women of her time, she went into service at a very young age. At the age of fourteen, she spent five months in Surrey Lunatic Asylum. On her discharge, she found another position as housemaid with a family near Chelmsford. Her next employer, however, was a step up. Horace Lloyd was a wealthy barrister and counsel, living in Sussex Gardens, Paddington. Horace Lloyd was so posh that he even has a Wikipedia entry. This environment must have been very unnerving for a poor girl from rural Essex and could have tipped her fragile mental health over the edge. Read more...

James Dorr: Transported to Australia

When I first read the 1819 will of the Southminster Downing patriarch Joseph, one thing stood out.  Joseph had stipulated that upon his wife's death, his capital should be divided equally amongst his children, "except my daughter, Sarah Daw [Dorr], the wife of James Daw [Dorr], who has before been provided for". Read more...

Angelina Appleton: A Victorian Bigamist

Angelina Appleton, born 1848 Bigamist of Southend-on-Sea, Essex, and my 4th great aunt  Angelina Appleton was baptised on 30th April 1848, the fourth child of William Appleton, gardener of Leigh-on-Sea, and his wife Elizabeth.  Her older sister, Harriet, was my great great great grandmother, and the wife of Henry Downing, the subject of my last … Continue reading Angelina Appleton: A Victorian Bigamist