John I Chapter III (Serendipity)

This blog began with the notion that accident permeates life and this leads to the somewhat haphazard progress in exploring family history. Well, just the other day, I made a surprise discovery.

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St James, Ogley Hay

I had reason to visit the cenotaph, which stands outside the parish church of St James, Ogley Hay. On a whim I took a detour through the churchyard and found the gate to the old graveyard was open. Previously, when I had visited to try to find memorials to my ancestors it was secured by a hefty padlock. Continue reading “John I Chapter III (Serendipity)”


Sugar Survives!

S Sugar 100 pub dom
Picture to mark “100th” operation.

Further to yesterday’s post Sugar and Sparks, it seems I got a bit confused by the complex history of Lancaster number R5868. Continue reading “Sugar Survives!”

Examining my NADs.

Yours truly.  Picture by uncle Frank Dennis.

In her blog A Family Tapestry Jacqui Stevens asks the question: “Who are all these people?” about the names thrown up by Ancestry’s combined DNA and tree matching facility. These are known as New Ancestor Discoveries (NADs). Jacqui explained that she was trying to make the links work, but, like me, was more often than not thwarted by absence of connecting individuals in contributors public family trees.

My DNA matches identified by Ancestry include 45 4th cousins or closer. The first two have, respectively, no tree and so small a tree that finding connections is impossible. The third has over 5,000 names and 6 common surnames, but none of these connects to my tree, even though there are 7 generations.

So what are the probabilities? Well, I am neither rocket scientist, nor mathematician, but it seems to me that the people who have pursued their family history to the 6th or 8th generation, and correctly, and who have published them on Ancestry (does anyone know how many?) as a proportion of the general population is infinitessimal. For example, the overwhelming majority of people in my family tree, Andrew’s Kindred, are from five counties in the English Midlands; combined population about 8,600,000 in 2011. In my tree there are 3,176; not even one tenth of one percent, and that is without those who have died in the last 450 years! The probability, therefore, of my finding someone with common ancestors is vanishingly small.

Under the New Ancestor Discoveries beta system I have so far been alerted to just one NAD. This is Nancy Ann Coatney 1833-1868 and, confidence is 71%. Firstly, there is no Coatney in my Andrew’s Kindred. Second, the “Journey” map is confined mainly to the American mid-west, with events between 1833 and 1900. Third, the only common surname is Toon, and it looks like a wild goose chase.

However, a search of Ancestry public trees eventually throws up Henry Toon, born 1620 at Osgathorpe, Leicestershire, and all the way back to 1500, but the sources are all Ancestry Family Trees, which means veracity cannot be checked. It appears there must be a link to my 4th great grandmother, Mary Toon (1754-) and her father John, born about 1729 at Whitwick, Leicestershire. The relevant records are not available online, except via FamilySearch Genealogies, but the various bits of tree are not convincing. A wild goose-chase, indeed!

It is quite remarkable, then, that Ancestry has thrown up two concrete DNA matches, each demonstrated by lineal ancestry showing the routes to the common ancestor, one to my 4th great grandparents Thomas Hogg and Catherine Goacher, the other to 5th great grandmother Sarah Whitehead. In each case the DNA analysis confidence level is “moderate”, about 35% and 25%, respectively.

There is a third DNA match to Surfpaddler where I managed to fill the gap, by a zigzag route, to my 5th great grandfather Henry Dennis (1718-1793).

What have I learned from this? Actually, very little. Yes, if I purchase parish records for some villages in Leicestershire I might prove the link to Toon at Osgathorpe, which would add more ancestry from the edge of the Danelaw, but the names have no clear link to Danish, and it appears there were no Dennis baptisms in Osgathorpe.

Before I had DNA information, I discovered in an email exchange, that another descendant of my third great grandfather (William Dennis, 1754-) also had RBF, as did his children. This helped me to towards the view that “we are all Vikings”, as, I am told, Dad’s uncle Jack used to say.

That said, for my father to have had such genes, his parents must both have carried them, and it seems that at least one line of my ancestors must also have shared RBF genes. According to the information about genetic backgounds on Ancestry and other sources, such as Scotland’s DNA, it appears that this line goes all the way back to the genetic mutations for blue eyes about 6,000 – 10,000 years ago and for red hair about 30,000 or 70,000 years ago, depending on which of two ancient women I inherit from. In that regard, it appears that I have some relationships to Queen Boudica, who hit back at the Romans, Richard Lionheart, and Tudor monarchs Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, but they are lost in the mists of time.

Moral: wait for Ancestry to come up with concrete connections.

A tale of two Singers

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On 6 May 1892 the Lichfield Mercury carried a report of a court case involving Thomas Dennis (of the Railway Tavern) in the misappropriation of a sewing machine, the property of the Singer Sewing Machine Company Ltd., the world-famous Glasgow manufacturer.

Miss B Brown (pictured) Continue reading “A tale of two Singers”

Mystery number one: Nan (part 3)

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Nan in later years with yours truly

Continuing the search for Nan and her father, from parts 1 and 2.

In service

As more censuses became available, I was able to trace Nan’s 1891 residence with her mother and and recently widowed grandmother at Tettenhall, Wolverhampton. I also found her in the 1911 census where she was a live-in domestic servant at Alderley Lodge, Penn Road, Wolverhampton. Remarkably, the house still stands (220 Penn Road) and has recently been sold, so images are available online.   The particulars include:

Continue reading “Mystery number one: Nan (part 3)”

Income and Expenditure

In Childhood Misdemeanours a man named Joseph Chadburn, employed as a miner at Moira’s Bath Pit, was fined three shillings (3s.) for scrumping.

I have now discovered that the Children’s Employment Commission (Mines) of 1842 investigated the pay scales at that very pit, so we can see how the fine related to his pay and household expenses. (Moira Furnace Education Pack.)

An adult miner was paid two shillings and eight pence (2s. 8d.) per day, for twelve hours, six days per week. Therefore, weekly income would be sixteen shillings (16s.).

There is also a breakdown of spending for a family with three young children. Some items include:

  • Flour 3s. 6d. This would be mainly for bread-making; they bought no bread. They purchased 1.5 stone at 2s. 4d., which equates to 21 pounds (lb) or 9.5 kilograms (kg). According to well-known cookery writer Delia Smith a standard white 1 lb loaf requires about 550 grams (g) of flour, so this amount of flour could make 17 loaves. That amount of flour would cost about 17.50 GBP at the supermarket I use. The average salary in the district of Walsall, West Midlands, is approximately 360 GBP per week after tax, so the flour would be 6% of income (22% in 1842). On average 17 loaves would cost about 14.52 GBP, less than the cost of flour!
  • Meat and bacon 2s. 8 1/2d.
  • Other foodstuffs 6s. (including potatoes, butter, oatmeal and 3 gallons of small beer at 3d. = 1/8th penny per pint.  This would be low alcohol for drinking instead of the unsafe water supply.  I believe the beer at the pub would be more like modern beers, somewhere in the region of 3.5-5.5% ABV.
  • Rent: 1s. 6d. About 9% of income. Apparently, today’s average is about 30%.
  • Coal: 7 1/2d. About 10% of income. Today a household that spends more than 10% on energy bills is considered to be in fuel poverty. Of couse, in 1842 there was no domestic electricity or gas supply.

Total weekly spend was estimated at 13s. 11 1/2d., leaving 2s 1/2d. (about 13% of income) for other things like clothes, shoes and beer at the pub.

It is perhaps worth noting that there was no income tax, council tax, pension, or health insurance.


So, going back to Mr Chadburn, a three shilling fine would have been a big deal. Unless, he and his wife were quite determined savers it would hit them quite hard, depending on how quickly he had to pay. The fine was the equivalent of two and a quarter weeks’ pay; the equivalent today in Walsall of about 800 GBP.

Coin of the Realm

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One penny 1862 reverse
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One penny 1862 obverse
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Clockwise from top left:  1899 florin, two shillings; 1864 threepenny bit (16 mm diameter); 1882 half crown, two shillings and sixpence; 1817 shilling.  These images on my monitor are about twice life-size.

In the 1960s and ’70s my late father worked for a well-known battery manufacturer and managed the factory payroll.  He asked his staff to put to one side old coins so that he could replace them from his own pocket. All of the coins pictured here are from his collection.

The closest date to 1842 was the penny from 1862. The George III shilling from 1817 was in circulation and might have featured in Mr Chadburn’s pay packet. Although the other coins are from later in the Victorian era, they are similar to those in circulation in 1842. Apart from the penny they were all solid silver.  Pennies were minted in copper until 1860, but then from bronze. I believe all of the coins pictured were legal tender until 1971 when UK currency was decimalised as a precursor to joining the European Common Market, as it was back then.  These are the sort of coins I used as a child, though I don’t remember having many shillings!


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OS 1883.  Newfield Pit, Moira.  Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

Brother John (1810-1869)

One of Henry’s older brothers was named John (not to be confused with another John Dennis of the same dates, who was transported to Tasmania). This John was another whose life was claimed by the black stuff.

Derby Mercury 28 April 1869

INQUEST. — An inquest was was held on Thursday, the 15th inst., at the Bird-in-Hand Inn, Measham, before Joseph Sale Esq., coroner, on the body of John Dennis, aged 60, collier, who died on Wednesday, from the effects of being seriously injured by a fall of coal while working at the New Field Colliery, at Moira, on the 13th of April. Mr. Edward Hogg, the bailiff at the colliery, William Bradford, and Benjamin Wright, colliers, who worked with the deceased were called as witnesses. — A verdict of “Accidental Death” was returned.

It appears that the death was on 14 April.

Benjamin Wright was married to Hannah Dennis, a distant cousin of John and Henry.

This is perhaps the most poignant of all reports. Not because of its content, but because of its brevity. The title. The facts, but not all. No reason. No family. Just one more life ended suddenly. One more family in distress. An “accident”? – Bullshit! This type of incident happened far too frequently to be truly accidental.

– Findmypast – newspaper records
– Andrew’s Kindred