Recently someone on one of the DNA lists asked about success stories outside of the US. In the Speak(e)(s) family, we hit the proverbial gold mine – and it took people on three continents and a bit of luck. The surname is spelled a variety of ways, so I’m going to use Speak for consistency.
Most of the Speak descendants in the US today descend from Thomas Speak, the original immigrant, who was in St. Mary’s County, Maryland by 1661 when he was summoned to court. We know that he was born in England, but beyond that, we have little other information. One important hint was that Maryland was at that time a Catholic enclave and England was very anti-Catholic. Thomas’s son, Bowling, was definitely Catholic, so we suspected we were looking for a Catholic family in Protestant England.
We have identified through DNA testing that most of the original Speak(e)(s) family lines came from Thomas Speak’s two sons, John, known as John the Innkeeper, and Bowling. Thomas Speak had married Elizabeth Bowling.
However, we still didn’t know where in England our Speak line was from. Our “cousin” John David Speake who lives in Cambridge, England had DNA tested and proven that his line was not our line. That was a disappointing day.
John has been an avid researcher for the Speak family, accessing records in England that we simply don’t have access to in the US. John made contact with a man with the Speak surname from Australia and encouraged him to DNA test. The Australian gentleman’s ancestor hailed from Gisburn(e), Lancashire, England – one John Speak who was born in Gisburn, Lancashire, about 1700. The Australian descendant of that John Speak matched our Speak family DNA, that of Thomas, the immigrant.
Bingo – with this DNA match, we now had identified the family location and could focus our research efforts. And yes, Gisburn was heavily Catholic.
We now know that our Speak family indeed is from the Gisburn area, a region long suspected by John David Speake. In fact, John long ago had found a Thomas Speak there, born in 1734, but unfortunately, he also later found his burial record.
The Gisburn Catholic Church, St. Mary’s, was established in the 1100s and has miraculously survived intact.
Their burial records begin in the early 1600s, and it’s obvious from translating those records (from Latin) that they served a number of other locations, villages and farms, in the area. We find the earliest Speak burials beginning with Anna, daughter of William, in 1602. Not all burial records give the location of the deceased, but those that do are all Gisburne through 1653 when a series of other locations are given. Of course, these locations may not be new, they may simply have been among those without a location given earlier.
Locations include: Gisburne, Howgill, Rimington, Paythorn, Twiston, Miley, Horton, Varleyfield, Pasture House, Waitley, Todber, Watthouse, Yarside, Bracewell, Martintop and Newby. This list takes us through 1828, when the Speak burials cease until in the mid 1900s. The records may not be complete.
On the map below, you can see that all of these locations that have corresponding locations today are within 2 or 3 miles of Gisburn(e). Those locations that do not exist on the map today may well have been farm or manor names that disappeared instead of becoming hamlets. The location just below Gisburn with no name is Todber. A caravan park is located there today, but otherwise, it has disappeared.
Many, many unmarked burials exist in this ancient churchyard that entirely surrounds the church.
The dashes on the cemetery map above are unmarked graves. Fifty-one Speak burials exist in the records, and most of them are quite early. I spent some time “reassembling” families and many family units are evident, although there is a pronounced repetition of names.
A bit of English history may be somewhat enlightening. John feels that this group of Speaks families was not landowning. In other words, they were not royalty, were not wealthy, did not have coats of arms, etc. In medieval England, if you were not a land owner, then you were a tenant farmer, either free or bond. Bond did not mean slavery, but it did mean you had little freedom to leave. However, the freedmen had little opportunity to leave either, required the manor owner’s permission, and there was no place within the British Isles to go anyway.
Given that we are now back to the end of written records, and that is within 300 years or so of when all families took surnames, and that is within 200 years of when the first families took surnames – we may be to a time period when we will not be able to find any specific records of our Thomas or his family. John now tells us that he has found a Speak family record in Downham, about 5 miles away, dating to 1305. The Speak family is indeed ancient in that region and it would be a wonderful experience to walk where they trod, where our DNA still exists today, and from whence we sprang.
Thanks to DNA testing, if we never find any more information at all, we know the area and the family line that our Speak family is from. That indeed, is a wonderful gift, and one that our ancestors gave us through their DNA.
So what comes next? A trip to Gisburn of course! Indeed, in 2013, several members of the Speak(e)(s) Family Association will hold our annual convention in Gisburn. Indeed, we are going to walk in the cemetery and stand inside the church that our ancestors assuredly visited. What would Thomas think? His descendants, nearly 400 years after his birth, come home to find his family and the land he left.
This would not have been possible without the combined research efforts of several people in the US documenting the life of Thomas Speak, without John David Speake in England and his blood-hound research, without the Speak family members in the US who have DNA tested, or without our Australian cousin. He was the lynchpin, the missing puzzle piece, the keystone. We hope that he can join us in England in 2013 for a homecoming in the beautiful village of Gisburn.