Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Geography of Genealogy

Geography shines understanding upon the migrations of our ancestors. Place names may either confirm or obscure the origination of families. To study my ancestors has been to learn how vital the natural features of the world was to their travels, commerce, and migrations.

Before the golden age of canals in England, there were rivers which carried much of their commerce, which made their travel easier, which powered mills for grinding their grains, and which provided fish for their tables.

Place names change through the centuries, or are misspelled in books and documents, and so confusion is cast upon which home village to look for a family name.

Latest case in point:

The Quaker John Pancoast (also spelled Pankurst) came to Burlington, New Jersey, with his eight children on the ship Paradise in 1680. He brought with him a written recommendation from his church in England. In the various books and documents citing this letter, he is said to have lived in Northamptonshire, an English county. His church is said to have been in "Ugbrooke". He is also said to have lived in or near Ashton.

Ugbrooke is a famous country estate in Devon which originally belonged the earls of Clifford.  It is nowhere near the place where John Pancoast lived and went to church. 

Bugbrooke is a small town on the River Nene, which also happens to flow through Ashton on its way to Northampton in Northamptonshire. 

And so the simple dropping of a letter at the beginning of a word can raise confusion like dust, obscuring the real home village of an immigrant ancestor.

The life of a genealogist is one of details, chasing out the little devils that hide the facts. Looking up Ugbrooke, finding it in Devonshire instead of Northamptonshire, discovering the river that connects Ashton and Bugbrooke -- the simple joys of a researcher on the family tree.

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