Interesting person/cousin in my files (from my Ralph Allen Book)
Richard Stockton was born in Princeton on November 8, 1791.
He worked as an Attorney General.
He studied law and practiced in New Jersey before moving to Mississippi, where he was made one of the judges of the State Supreme Court.
Became Attorney General.
Richard was killed in a duel with John P. Parson in New Orleans, Jefferson, Louisiana, on February 5,
1827, at the age of 35.
He did not fire.
A letter in his pocket stated his purpose not to fire.
Read more by Jimmy Robertson in his article: Judicial Review Comes to Mississippi, and Stays
This is my Ralfe Allen & Esther Swift research book:
Free to read on Adobe (don’t have to have Adobe to open)
Some time ago I had created a Wikipedia article on the Gilberts of Compton, based on the research and sources cited in this blog. Recently, a Wikipedia editor took it upon himself to delete whole paragraphs from that article saying they were ‘irrelevant’. Comically (and amateurishly) , in the process of ‘fixing’ the article, he conflated several facts that were correct in the earlier article – even switching the birth order of people without seeming to notice. Specifically, the editor deleted the entire three paragraph section called “Origins” that discussed the strengths and weaknesses of various sources because (sigh) some of the sources were unreliable. That was sort of the point of the discussion. Also, he deleted the entire section “Myths and Legends” because, you guessed it, they were myths and legends. Rather than have a back-and-forth of editing and re-editing Wikipedia (aside from fixing the birth order mistake he made), I’ll just publish the original here since it summarizes the research completely to-date:
The Gilberts of Compton
The Gilberts of Compton were a noted Anglo-Norman family of knightly class,[i] having seats at both Compton Castle and Greenway Estate, Devon, England, who were prominent in the British colonization of the Americas during the Elizabethan era.[ii]
There are conflicting origin stories of the Gilberts of Compton among antiquarians. A popular story is that the Gilberts descended from Gilbert, Count of Brionne, through his sons Richard Fitz-Gilbert and Baldwin Fitz-Gilbert.[iii][iv] While the Fitz-Gilbert brothers were active in Devon, there is no evidence to suggest that their progeny became the Gilbert family. This claim is especially dubious considering the name Fitz-Gilbert was not, at that time, a hereditary surname under the Norman naming system.
A second claim is that the Gilberts “possessed lands in Manaton, (in or near Dartmoor,) in Edward the Confessors’ days”, placing the Gilbert family in Devon before 1066.[v][vi][vii] Though surnames at that time were rare in Europe, it is possible that the name Gilbert existed as a contemporary surname as evidenced by Guillaume I Gilbert, Bishop of Poitiers.[viii][ix][x][xi] However, the quote was likely a misreading of a passage from an earlier work: “This riveret parts Manaton, alias Magneton, and Lustlegh. Many have possessed lands here: in the Confessor’s time Gilbert; after Sauls, Horton, Le Moyn, and others”, itself based on entries in the Domesday Book.[xii] This passage simply states someone named Gilbert, a popular first name at the time, lived in Devon.
What is more demonstrable is that the male line leading to the Gilberts of Compton likely rose from obscurity with the marriage of a William Gilbert of Devon to Elizabeth Champernowne of Clist, a descendent of William the Conqueror, sometime in the first few decades of the 13th century. Their great grandson, Sir Geoffrey (Galfried) Gilbert (Member of Parliament for Totnes in 1326) married Lady Joan Compton, heiress of Compton Castle, thereby becoming “of Compton”.[xiii][xiv]
Little is known of the family’s activities during the Middle Ages aside from Sir Otho Gilbert of Compton serving as High Sheriff of Devon from 1475 to 1476. It was descendants of this Otho Gilbert who would set out during the Elizabethan period on the family’s “hereditary scheme of peopling America with Englishmen”.[xv] Most famous among these were the half brothers Sir Humphrey Gilbert and Sir Walter Raleigh, both famous explorers of the New World and perhaps infamous military figures in Ireland. Their lesser-known brother, Sir Adrian Gilbert of Compton, was nonetheless of the same cloth, having an especially savage military reputation in Ireland while also seeking a Northwest Passage to China under a patent from Queen Elizabeth I.[xvi] Another brother, Sir John Gilbert, was Sheriff of Devon, knighted by Elizabeth I in 1571, and was Vice Admiral of Devon – responsible for defense against the Spanish Armada.[xvii]
In the following generation, Bartholomew Gilbert named Cape Cod during his 1602 expedition to establish a colony in New England. He was killed by a group of Algonquians during a voyage the following year in search of the missing Roanoke Colony. In 1607, Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s son, Raleigh Gilbert, established a fortified storehouse he called Fort Saint George on the coast of Maine. In the face of “nothing but extreme extremities”, this colony ultimately voted to return to England. It is said that they were so resolute in this goal that they built a ship to facilitate the return voyage, which would probably have been the first oceangoing vessel built in America.[xviii]
Later, brothers Jonathan and John Gilbert would have a hand in establishing Hartford, Connecticut, acting as emissaries between the Governor in Hartford and the local indigenous tribes. Jonathan was a skilled linguist of local tribal languages and served as a militia leader.[xix] John’s young son, another John Gilbert, was famously captured by Narragansett, Wampanoag and Nashaway/Nipmuc tribes led by Monoco after their attack on Lancaster, Massachusetts.[xx] In another unfortunate incident John’s sister-in-law, Lydia Gilbert, was sentenced to death for witchcraft in Windsor, Connecticut, in 1654.[xxi] However Jonathan’s younger son, Captain Thomas Gilbert, was said to have been “a brave and successful officer, and a leading man in the primitive navy of the colony”. Thomas commanded the twelve-gun ship, Swan, during King William’s War, capturing the French ship Saint Jacob. He was captured in 1695, spending the rest of the war as a prisoner in France.[xxii]
Compton Castle is still today in the hands of the Gilbert family. Geoffrey Gilbert, a modern descendant, resides at Compton and administers the estate for the National Trust. His wife, Angela Gilbert, was appointed High Sheriff of Devon in 2016.[xxiii]
Myths and Legends
According to one of the many purported versions of the Battle Abby Roll, a T. Gilbard (Gilbert) fought alongside William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. This claim comes from a 1655 work called The church-history of Britain from the birth of Jesus Christ until the year M.DC.XLVIII, written by Thomas Fuller. Fuller relied on source material provided by an antiquarian named Thomas Scriven, who was operating under the alias Mr. Fox. There is no evidence so far to corroborate this claim.[xxiv]
Another, more modern legend, is based in Adrian Gilbert’s noted intelligence and love for mathematics and alchemy, having served as laboratory assistant to Mary, Countess of Pembroke. This new claim from the 2000 book Following the Ark of the Covenant, by Kerry and Lisa Boren, claims that the famous mathematician John Dee entrusted to Adrian the Arc of the Covenant to carry to the New World on one of his voyages.[xxv]
[i] A view of Devonshire in MDCXXX, with a pedigree of most of its gentry, Thomas Westcote, Exeter, 1845
[ii] Genealogical Memoir of the Gilbert Family in both Old and New England, J. Wingate Thornton, Boston, 1850
[iii] An historical survey of the County of Cornwall : to which is added, a complete heraldry of the same / by C. S. Gilbert., v.2 pt.1, Plymouth-Dock :J. Congdon,1817-1820
[iv] Genealogical Memoir of the Gilbert Family in both Old and New England, J. Wingate Thornton, Boston, 1850
[v] Burkes Landed Gentry
[vi] Magna Britannia
[vii] An historical survey of the County of Cornwall : to which is added, a complete heraldry of the same / by C. S. Gilbert., v.2 pt.1, Plymouth-Dock :J. Congdon,1817-1820
[viii] Dictionnaire universel, dogmatique, canonique, historique, géographique et chronologique, des sciences ecclésiastiques, Volume 6, 1765
[ix] Bibliothèque sacrée, ou Dictionnaire universel, historique, dogmatique, canonique, géographique et chronologique des sciences ecclésiastiques, 1827
[x] Archives historiques du Poitou, Volume 25, 1895, Societe des Archives Historiques du Poitou
[xi] Acte n° 3637 dans Chartes originales antérieures à 1121 conservées en France , Cédric GIRAUD, Jean-Baptiste RENAULT et Benoît-Michel TOCK, éds., Nancy : Centre de Médiévistique Jean Schneider ; éds électronique : Orléans : Institut de Recherche et d’Histoire des Textes, 2010. (Telma). En abrégé, citer : « Charte Artem/CMJS n°3637
[xii] A view of Devonshire in MDCXXX, with a pedigree of most of its gentry, Thomas Westcote, Exeter, 1845
[xiii] Devonshire wills: a collection of annotated testamentary abstracts, together with the family history and genealogy of many of the most ancient gentle houses of the west of England, Charles Worthy, Bemrose (.V Sons, LTD, 23, Old Bailey and Derby, 1896
[xiv] The visitations of the county of Devon : Comprising the herald’s visitations of 1531, 1564, & 1620 /
With additions by Lieutenant-Colonel J. L. Vivian. Vivian, J. L. 1830-1896. Exeter, 1895.
[xvi] Genealogical Memoir of the Gilbert Family in both Old and New England, J. Wingate Thornton, Boston, 1850
[xvii] https://www.rammuseum.org.uk/elizabethan-silver-spoon-saved-for-devon/, Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, Exeter City Council, Elizabethan Silver Spoon Saved for Devon, 19 September 2013
[xviii] Genealogical Memoir of the Gilbert Family in both Old and New England, J. Wingate Thornton, Boston, 1850
[xix] Genealogical Memoir of the Gilbert Family in both Old and New England, J. Wingate Thornton, Boston, 1850
[xx] Tragedies of the Wilderness, by Samuel Gardner Drake, 1844
[xxi] Taylor, John M.; The Witchcraft Delusion in Colonial Connecticut, 1647-1697; Grafton Press, New York, 1908.
[xxii] Genealogical Memoir of the Gilbert Family in both Old and New England, J. Wingate Thornton, Boston, 1850
[xxiii] http://www.englishrivieramagazine.co.uk/riviera-people-angela-gilbert-lady-castle/, English Riviera Magazine, Riviera People – Angela Gilbert, Lady of the Castle, Julian Rees, Aug. 9, 2016
[xxiv] The church-history of Britain from the birth of Jesus Christ until the year M.DC.XLVIII, written by Thomas Fuller
[xxv] Following the Ark of the Covenant, Kerry Boren, Lisa Boren, Cedar Fort, 2000
👋 HI Everyone! Has been a while, I know~
I have had a lot going on these past few months.
One of the neat things we did, was we bought a house!
I have been setting up my new office and going through all of my files/documents/records as I do it. The goal is to get better organized!
I was making reference books on my direct lines and Ancestors and decided to share them. Still have tons of work to do, but believe I have about 85% of it done and needed a visual of the whole of the work and to use as reference of where I need to focus more work on.
These research books are the Ancestors of my Grandparents.
Just click book cover to open the file to view (Google Documents)
New Britain herald. [volume],
October 08, 1927, FINAL EDITION, Page 3, Image 3
The Indian Races of North and South America…
By: Charles De Wolf Brownel
Pequot remnants, 1655……..
The tyranny and exactions of Uncas over the Pequots who had become subject to him, aroused their indignation; while his treachery towards his own people, and alliance with the whites, secured him the hostility of every neigh boring tribe. He was engaged in perpetual quarrels with Ninigret, a celebrated Nehantic sachem; with Sequassen, whose authority at an earlier date extended over the Tunxis tribe, at the westward of the Connecticut; and with the grieved and revengeful Narragansetts.
Whenever these interminable disputes were brought be fore the court of the New England commissioners, the decisions of that body appear to have favored the Mohegan. Assisted by the counsel of a crafty and subtle Indian, named Foxun or Poxen, who served him in the capacity of chief advocate and adviser, and whose wisdom and sagacity were widely noted, he generally managed to explain away his iniquities; at least so far as to satisfy an audience already prejudiced in his favor. When his crimes were not to be concealed, a reprimand and caution were generally the extent of his punishment.
On the other hand, when suspicions arose against the Narragansetts, the most prompt and violent proceedings were re sorted to: the payment of an immense amount of wampum was exacted; the delivery of hostages from among the principal people of the tribe was demanded; and threats of war and extermination were used to humble and humiliate them.
In September, 1655, a few of the scattered Pequots who had not joined the forces of Uncas, were allowed a resting-place by the commissioners, upon a portion of the south eastern sea-coast of Connecticut, and their existence as a separate tribe was formally acknowledged.
This little remnant of the crushed and overthrown nation had been, for some time, under the guidance of two self-constituted sachems, one commonly called Robin Cassinament, a Pequot, and the other Cushawashet, a nephew of Ninigret, known among the English as Hermon Garret.
They had formed small settlements upon the tract now allotted to them, which they were allowed to retain upon payment of tribute, in wampum, to the colonies, and the adoption of a prescribed code of laws. Their governors were to be chosen by the English; and Cushawashet and Cassinament received the first appointment.
It will readily be perceived to what an extent the power and control of the colonists over the affairs of the Indians in their vicinity, had increased, even at this early period. The natives were now glad to settle down under the protection of their masters; to pay yearly tribute as amends for former hostilities; and to hire the lands of which they had been so short a time previous the undisturbed possessors.
It is pitiful to read of the coarse coats, the shovels, the hoes, the knives, and jews-harps, in exchange for which they had parted with their broad lands. Utterly improvident, and incapable of foreseeing, or hopeless of averting the ascendancy of the whites, they yielded to their exactions, and submitted to their dictation.
Sauntering indolently about the settlements, and wasting their energies by excess in the use of the novel means of excitement offered by “strong waters,” they lost much of that native pride, dignity, and self-respect which distinguished them when intercourse with foreigners first commenced. Their numbers, which appear to have been grossly exaggerated, even in their most flourishing days, were rapidly diminishing; their game was becoming scarce and the refinements and comforts of civilization, rude indeed as compared to what now exists, presented to their eyes at the white settlements, only aggravated the consciousness of their own poverty and distress.
The Tunxis and Podunk Indians, who inhabited either side of the Connecticut, in the vicinity of the English settlements; the Quinnipiacs on the sound, where New Haven now stands; the Nehantics, to the eastward of the river; and the feeble Pequot settlement, were subject to, or in effect, under the control of the colonists: Uncas was their “friend and fast ally;” and the Narragansetts, though under suspicion of various treacherous plans, were nominally at peace with the whites, and quelled by the terror of their arms.
This condition of affairs continued, with the exception of the great and final struggle between the colonists and the natives, known as Philip’s war to be detailed in a succeeding article until the death of Uncas, about the year 1682. He left the title to his extensive domains involved in inextricable confusion. In consequence of deeds and grants from himself and his sons Owenoco and Attawanhood, to various individuals among the white settlers, and for various purposes, the effect of which conveyances were probably unknown to the grantors, numerous contradictory claims arose. The same tracts were made over to different persons; one grant would extend over a large portion of another; and, to crown all, Uncas, in the year 1659, had aliened his whole possessions by deed, regularly witnessed, to John Mason, of Norwich. This conveyance was evidently intended by the sachem merely to confer a general power as overseer or trustee upon a man whom he considered as friendly to his interests, and whose knowledge would prove a protection against the overreaching of pro posed purchasers. According to the Indian understanding of the transaction was the claim of Mason and his heirs, who arrogated to themselves no further interest or authority than that above specified. The Connecticut colony, by virtue of a general deed of “surrender of jurisdiction,” obtained from Mason, insisted on an unqualified property in the whole domain.
Owenoco succeeded his father as sachem of the Mohegans, and pursued a similar course to secure his lands, conveying them to the sons of Mason as trustees. His Indian improvidence and intemperance led him to disregard this arrangement, and to give deeds of various tracts included in the trust conveyance, without the knowledge or assent of the overseer. In July, of the year 1704, in order to settle the conflicting claims of the whites and Indians, and to restore to the tribe the portions illegally obtained from them, a royal commission was obtained from England, by some friends of the Mohegans, to examine and settle the disputed questions.
The colony protested against the proceeding, denying the authority of the crown to determine upon the matter, and refused to appear before the commissioners. The conduct of the case being exparte, a decision was given in favor of the Mohegans, restoring them to a vast extent of territory alleged to have been obtained from their sachems when intoxicated, or by other under-hand and illegal courses. From this decree the Connecticut colony appealed, and a new commission was granted, but with no decisive result, and the case remained unsettled for more than half a century from the time of its commencement.
Owenoco lived to an advanced age, becoming, before his death, a helpless mendicant, and subsisting, in company with his squaw, upon the hospitality of the neighboring settlers. His son Caesar was his successor as sachem.
Ben, the youngest son of Uncas, of illegitimate birth, succeeded Caesar, to the exclusion of the rightful heir, young Mamohet, a grandson of Owenoco.
Mason now renewed his claims, and, accompanied by his two sons, carried Mamohet to England, that he might present a new petition to the reigning monarch. A new commission was awarded, but both the applicants died before it was made out. “When the trial finally came on in 1738, distinguished counsel were employed on both sides, in anticipation of an arduous and protracted contest; but by a singular course of collusion and artifice, which it were too tedious to detail, the decision of 1705, on the first commission, was repealed, and the Connecticut claims supported. This was appealed from by the Masons, and good cause appearing, a new trial was decreed.
Five commissioners, men of note from New York and New Jersey, met at Norwich in the summer of 1743, and the great case brought in auditors and parties in interest from far and near. The claims, and the facts offered in support of them, were strangely intricate and complex: counsel appeared in behalf of four sets of parties, viz.: the Connecticut colony; the two claimants of the title of Sachem of the Mohegans, Ben and John, a descendant of the elder branch; and those in possession of the lands in question.
The decree was in favor of the colony, which was sustained on the concluding examination of the case in England. Two of the commissioners dissented. The Mohegans still retained a reservation of about four thou sand acres.
Their number reduced to a few hundred; distracted by the uncertain tenure of their property, and the claims of the rival sachems; mingled with the whites in contentions, the merits of which they were little capable of comprehending; with drunkenness and vice prevalent among them; the tribe was fast dwindling into insignificance. Restrictive laws, forbidding the sale of ardent spirits to the Indians, were then, as now, but of little effect.
Of the celebrated and warlike tribes of the Mohegans and Pequots, only a few miserable families now remain upon their ancient territory. These are mostly of mixed blood, and little of the former character of their race is to be seen in them except its peculiar vices. They are scantily supported by the rents of the lands still reserved and appropriated to their use. A number of the Mohegans removed to the Oneida district, in New York, some years since, but a few still remain near the former head quarters of their tribe, and individuals among them retain the names of sachems and warriors noted in the early ages of the colonies.
Much interest attaches to the efforts which have been made for the instruction and improvement of this remnant of the Mohegan nation; especially as connected with the biography of Samuel Occum, their native preacher; one of the few Indians who have been brought under the influence of civilization, and have acquired a liberal education.
In reviewing the character and history of these, as of most of the native tribes, and reflecting upon their steady and hopeless decline before the European immigrants, we cannot but feel influenced by contradictory sympathies. Their cruelties strike us with horror; their treachery and vices disgust us; but, with all this, we still may trace the tokens of a great and noble spirit. It is painful to reflect that this has more and more declined as their communion with the whites has become the more intimate. They have lost their nationality, and with it their pride and self-respect; the squalid and poverty-stricken figures hanging about the miserable huts they inhabit, convey but a faint idea of the picture that the nation presented when in a purely savage state; when the vices of foreigners had not, as yet, contaminated them, nor their superior power and knowledge disheartened them by the contrast.
Collected by: Coni Dubois
I have been collecting research books and links to free downloads – these are all from Google Books which are easy to download and add to your library.
- Westerly (Rhode Island) and its witnesses: for two hundred and fifty years, 1626-1876 : including Charlestown, Hopkinton, and Richmond until their separate organization, with the principal points of their subsequent history (Google eBook): http://books.google.com/ebooks/reader?id=oNAaMBIFWtcC&num=10&printsec=frontcover&output=reader
- A history of New England: containing historical and descriptive sketches of the counties,cities and principal towns of the six New England states, including, in its list of contributors, more than sixty literary men and women, representing every county in New England (Google eBook): http://books.google.com/ebooks/reader?id=8sRWAAAAMAAJ&num=10&printsec=frontcover&output=reader
- Indian dictionary, English, German, Iroquois – the Onondaga and Algonquin – the Delaware (Google eBook): http://books.google.com/ebooks/reader?id=UBkOAAAAIAAJ&num=10&printsec=frontcover&output=reader
- Algonquin Indian Tales (Google eBook): http://books.google.com/ebooks/reader?id=9Fsn3Bt1fysC&num=10&printsec=frontcover&output=reader
- Memoir of Eliot: apostle to the North American Indians (Google eBook): http://books.google.com/ebooks/reader?id=kWNAAAAAYAAJ&num=10&printsec=frontcover&output=reader
- Life of John Eliot, the apostle to the Indians (Google eBook): http://books.google.com/ebooks/reader?id=PNU5AAAAcAAJ&num=10&printsec=frontcover&output=reader
- Oyster Bay town records, Volume 1 (Google eBook): http://books.google.com/ebooks/reader?id=afETAAAAYAAJ&num=10&printsec=frontcover&output=reader
- Oyster Bay town records 1653-1878: http://books.google.com/ebooks/reader?id=Pj6YNz-MdvEC&printsec=frontcover&output=reader&source=webstore_bookcard
- Early Long Island: a colonial study (Google eBook): http://books.google.com/ebooks/reader?id=8YV8kAhwjQYC&num=10&printsec=frontcover&output=reader
- Proceedings of the New York State Historical Association – Volume 6 (Google eBook): http://books.google.com/ebooks/reader?id=i9sTAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&output=reader&source=webstore_bookcard
- Memoirs of a captivity among the Indians of North America: from childhood to the age of nineteen: with anecdotes descriptive of their manners and customs (Google eBook): http://books.google.com/ebooks/reader?id=Y1tXVZ5epgwC&num=10&printsec=frontcover&output=reader
- A history of the Pequot War: or, A relation of the war between the powerful nation of Pequot Indians, once inhabiting the coast of New-England, westerly from near Narragansett Bay and the English inhabitants, in the year 1638 (Google eBook): http://books.google.com/ebooks/reader?id=KttlnkyxvTEC&num=10&printsec=frontcover&output=reader
- The New England Company of 1649 and John Eliot: The ledger for the years 1650-1660 and the record book of meetings between 1656 and 1686 of the Corporation for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England (Google eBook): http://books.google.com/ebooks/reader?id=XMMGAAAAMAAJ&num=10&printsec=frontcover&output=reader
- Indian paths in the great Metropolis (Google eBook): http://books.google.com/ebooks/reader?id=2O-FAAAAIAAJ&num=10&printsec=frontcover&output=reader
- The Christian Commonwealth or The Civil Policy Of The Rising Kingdom of Jesus Christ. Written before the Interruption of the Government,by Mr. John Eliot, Teacher of the Churchof Christ at Roxbury in New-England. AndNow Published (after his consent given) by a Serverof the Season – http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1021&context=libraryscience
New Britain herald.
October 25, 1917, Image 1
No idea what this is all about?
The miracle of the Internet, combined with the hard work already done by genealogists for their own projects, has enabled me to take a deep dive into my family tree – one that wouldn’t have been possible only scant years before. The things that I’ve learned have been amazing: that I’m descendant of William the Conqueror; that I have Bohemian heritage; that my surname may be as old as 1000 years; and much more. Most of this overlies nicely with the 23&Me results I have in hand, as well as with the various historical documents my family possesses. Most surprisingly however, the main lessons I’ve taken from these last few years of research have had little to do with my particular genetics, my surname, or any claims of famous ancestry. There are three of these lessons:
Lesson One: Your surname has next to nothing to do with your heritage. I know that’s surprising, and possibly sacrilegious among genealogists, but it’s true. Unless your family has spent its entire history having marriages only between people of the same surname, your actual heritage spreads out exponentially with every preceding generation. Take my own case, for example. Surely Gilbert is a Norman surname, but my mother’s surname is likely of Pictish origin. So, fifty-percent Norman you might say? Well, one move up the rung to my four grandparents reveals surnames of Norman (my father’s father, of course), German, Pictish (mom’s dad), and another German. So now the preponderance of my heritage is, if not now German, at least non-Norman. How about great-grandparents? Norman, Bohemian, German, Anglo-Saxon, Pictish, German, German, Scottish (probably Orkney). So, just going back a mere three generations I went from “being” Norman to “being” three-eighths German, one-quarter Scottish-ish, and with a bare smattering of other origins to include now only one-eighth Norman.
I say ‘being’ in quotes there because that is the central question: What does it mean to ‘be’ something? For example, Americans have the habit (annoying to some Europeans who don’t understand the context) of saying something like “I’m Irish” if they have an Irish surname. Of course, this is American shorthand for saying “My family immigrated from…” but even that has less and less meaning the farther one moves away from the first generation of immigrants bearing the surname. My Gilbert ancestors arrived in North America as early as the 1640s but the male line has been married into by something like a dozen other families – each varying between “just off the boat” recently immigrated to being in America since colonial times. Those marrying-in families have had just as many generations of marriage with other families as the Gilbert line has had, and so on. Therefore, in 12 generations of Americans, an individual has 4,096 direct ancestors. Of my 4,000 or so American ancestors, I know 12 were Gilberts. Therefore, to say “I am Norman” is a bit of a stretch. That leads us to the next lesson:
Lesson Two: Your ancestors’ homelands don’t really say much about your or their genetic makeup. Going back to the “I’m Irish” example, a lot of people (sometimes jokingly, other times more seriously) say things like “I found out I’m German, that’s why I’m so organized,” or like sauerkraut, or whatever stereotype fits. Looking at my own Norman heritage, I used to think Gilbert was an English surname – which it is, but what makes up ‘English’? Normans, Angles, Saxons, Romans, various Celtic tribes, Norse, and many other ethnicities. Go back a bit earlier and you have a land inhabited by peoples such as the Dumnonii, Durotriges, Belgae, Atrebates, Dobunni, Catuvellauni, and a score of others. Focusing just on the Anglo-Norman origin of Gilbert, one has to further ask “Well, what is Norman?” These people were from Normandy, but the nobility at least was descended from Vikings – but also experiencing the same in-marrying effect from the year 911 to the time of the Norman conquest of England in 1066. This made Norman heritage Danish, Icelandic, Norwegian, Anglo-Saxon, Italo-Roman, Gaulic, Celtic, Frankish, Visigoth – and a ton more you’ve likely never heard of like the Suebi and Occitans. The point is that early Europeans were far more highly mobile, intermarrying easily and absorbing migratory cultures over and over again, than one might think.
The impact all this has on genetic makeup is dazzling. I remember my time in the Balkans, a place of highly charged emotions regarding heritage, identity, race, and religion. There, a person of one particular nationality described to me another of the Baltic peoples as being less-than-human, another race, and inferior in all ways due to their ethnicity. Of course, his culture (like everyone’s of any culture I spoke to there) possessed “the original” culture, and therefore superior institutions – and most importantly the right to rule over their inferior neighbors. My response was “You all look white to me.” That’s the point, there is no ‘race gene’, only a collection of phenotypes that have been tossed into a millennia-old blender that sometimes produces vaguely recognizable physical characteristics in certain geographical regions. Simply put, at some point about 800 to 1000 years ago, one of my 30,000 to 100,000 direct ancestors who happened to be speaking French and living around the English Channel said “my surname is Gilbert” – bringing with him a million years of tribal history back to the dawn of our species.
Lesson Three: The good news – your family can be as large as you want. Language, culture, geography, and genetics do not map to each other perfectly, or at all in some cases. Look at my Bohemian ancestry: Bohemia is named after a tribe known as the Boii, but they were pushed out and supplanted by a series of tribes. The last of these tribes were a group a Slavs. Who knows how many of each tribe remained and became absorbed into the new ones? Also, what does ‘Slav’ mean? Well, it turns out that nobody really knows. No doubt there is a Slavic language group, but scholars point out this might even have arisen from ancient Thracian, a people mentioned in ancient Greek texts. Certainly, linguists agree, that going back even farther one finds that the Slavs and indeed all Europeans spoke a single, ancient, lost Indo-European language akin to Sanskrit. So, you may “be Irish”, but you can also celebrate your Indian ancestry.
While all of this may be disconcerting and bewildering to someone trying to find their roots, take heart! The math makes it clear. At the start of the American Colonial Period, about 400 years ago, each of us statistically have about 65,000 direct ancestors living at that time. Going back to the time most Europeans started taking surnames, say 1000 years ago, each of us should have about 1.2 TRILLION unique, individual, direct ancestors at that time! Of course, that is impossible as the total population of the Earth at that time was only about 275 million. This clearly shows us that every single one of us is closely, very closely, related. One can very nearly just pick a culture from history they want to celebrate as theirs and it is likely he or she has at least SOME connection. In fact, mitochondrial DNA studies show that every single person alive today shares a single many-great grandmother between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago. Maybe we should start considering trading in “I’m Irish” for “I’m human”.