Henry III, King of England, Fox in the Henhouse, 52 Ancestors #49

I had been so looking forward to the results of the DNA processing of King Richard the III.  Richard was killed in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 and was reportedly buried in the “choir of the church” at the Greyfriars friary in Leicester. The friary was dissolved in 1538, following the orders of King Henry VIII who ordered all monasteries destroyed.  The building was later destroyed, and over the years, the exact location of the cemetery was lost.  In 2012, the friary location was found again, quite by accident and remains believed to be King Richard III were discovered buried under the car park, or what is known as a parking lot in the US.

Richard had a very distinctive trait – scoliosis to the point where his right shoulder was higher than his left.  He was also described, at age 32, as a fine-boned hunchback with a withered arm and a limp.  This, in addition to his slim build and his battle injuries led investigators to believe, and later confirm through mitochondrial DNA matching, that it was indeed Richard.  At least they are 99% sure that it is Richard using archaeological, osteological and radiocarbon dating, in addition to DNA and good old genealogy.

Mitochondrial DNA testing was initially used to identify Richard the III by comparing his mitochondrial to that of current individuals matrilineally descended from his sister, Anne of York.  That DNA was rare, and matched exactly in one case, and with only one difference in a second descendant, so either the skeleton is Richard or another individual who is matrilineally related.  Fortunately, Richard’s mtDNA was quite unusual, with no other individuals matching in more than 26,000 other European sequences.  The scientists estimated that the chances of a random match were about 1 in 10,000.  The scientific team has utilized other evidence as well and feel certain that they have identified King Richard III himself.

King Richard III did not have any surviving descendants, so why was I so excited?

As it turns out, his Y DNA is representative of the Plantagenet family line which includes King Richard III’s great-great-great-great-grandfather, King Edward I, who is also my 19th great-grandfather, which would make King Richard III my 5th cousin, 16 times removed, I think.  Maybe.

According to a paper released this week by Turi King, et al, “Identification of the remains of King Richard III”, it seems that there is a bit of a fly in the ointment.  It’s no wonder this paper was in peer review forever.  The authors knew that when it was released, it would be the shot heard round the world.  For one thing, a tiny trivial matter, one of the possible outcomes could call into question the legitimacy of the current English monarchy.  Only a detail for an American, but I’m thinking this is probably important to many people in England, especially those who think they should be the ruling monarch, and in particular, to the ruling monarch herself.

I wonder if Dr. Turi King rang up the Queen in advance with the news.  I mean, what would you say to her???  How, exactly, would one begin that conversation?  “Um, Your Highness, um, I think there has been a fox in the henhouse…”

In order to confirm the Y DNA line of King Richard III, his Y DNA was compared to that of another descendant of King Edward III, the great-grandson of my ancestor, Edward I.  Edward III had two sons, Edmund, Duke of York from whom King Richard III descended and John of Gaunt, from whom the other Y DNA testers descend.  Five male descendants of Henry Somerset were tested for comparison.  Of those five, four matched each other, and one did not, indicating an NPE (nonparental event) or undocumented adoption in that line.  The pedigree chart provided in the paper, below, shows the line of descent for both the Y and mitochondrial DNA participants.

Richard III tree

Now, what we have is an uncertain situation.  We know that Richard’s mitochondrial DNA matches that of his sister’s descendants, Michael Ibsen and Wendy Duldig, shown at right, above.

We know that the Y DNA of Richard does not match with the Y DNA of the Somerset line.  We know that in the Somerset line, there were two illegitimate births, according to the paper, in the 13 generations between John of Gaunt and Henry Somerset, which were later legitimized.   The first illegitimate birth is John Beaufort, the oldest illegitimate child of John of Gaunt and his mistress, Katherine Swynford, who later became John’s third wife.  Katherine was previously married to a knight in the service of John of Gaunt, who is believed to have died, and was governess to John of Gaunt’s daughters.

The second illegitimate birth is Charles Somerset (1460-1526) who was the illegitimate son of Henry Beaufort and Joan Hill, about whom little is known.

The Somerset line proves to be downstream of haplogroup R1b-U152 (x L2, Z36, Z56, M160, M126 and Z192) with STR markers confirming their relationship to each other.  King Richard III’s haplogroup is G-P287.

Richard III haplotree

In this case, we don’t even need to scrutinize the STR markers, because the haplogroups don’t match, as you can see, above, in a haplotree provided in the paper.

The paper goes on to say that given a conservative false paternity rate of between 1 and 2% per generation, that there is a 16% probability of a false paternity in the number of generations separating King Richard III and the Somerset men.

What does this really mean?

According to the paper:

“One can speculate that a false-paternity event (or events) at some point(s) in this genealogy could be of key historical significance, particularly if it occurred in the five generations between John of Gaunt (1340–1399) and Richard III). A false-paternity between Edward III (1312–1377) and John would mean that John’s son, Henry IV (1367–1413), and Henry’s direct descendants (Henry V and Henry VI) would have had no legitimate claim to the crown. This would also hold true, indirectly, for the entire Tudor dynasty (Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I) since their claim to the crown also rested, in part, on their descent from John of Gaunt. The claim of the Tudor dynasty would also be brought into question if the false paternity occurred between John of Gaunt and his son, John Beaufort, Earl of Somerset. If the false paternity occurred in either of the three generations between Edward III and Richard, Duke of York, the father of Edward IV and Richard III, then neither of their claims to the crown would have been legitimate.”

While the known illegitimate births in the Somerset line lead us to look at those generations with scrutiny, the break in the Y chromosome inheritance could have happened in any generation, on either side of the tree.

According to the BBC article announcing the DNA results:

“Henry’s ancestor John of Gaunt was plagued by rumors of illegitimacy throughout his life, apparently prompted by the absence of Edward III at his birth. He was reportedly enraged by gossip suggesting he was the son of a Flemish butcher.

“Hypothetically speaking, if John of Gaunt wasn’t Edward III’s son, it would have meant that (his son) Henry IV had no legitimate claim to the throne, nor Henry V, nor Henry VI,” said Prof Schurer.”

So where does this leave us? I wonder if anyone has the name of that Flemish butcher????

Will the real Plantagenet, please stand up…or maybe be dug up.

What we need is a tie-breaker.  Although the paper did not state this explicitly, I’m sure that the scientists also knew that they needed a tie-breaker – a male that descends through all males from someone upstream of Edward III.  It appears that the Plantagenet line may well be a dead end, other than the Somerset line.  I’m sure, with all of the resources brought to bear by the authors of this paper, that if there was another Plantagenet Y DNA male to be found, they would have done so.

So, the bottom line is that we don’t know what the real Plantagenet Y DNA line looks like, short of exhuming one of the Plantagenet Kings.  They are mostly buried in Westminster Abbey in crypts. The Plantagenet line could be a subgroup of haplogroup R1b-U152. It could be haplogroup G.  And, it could be yet something else.  How?  There could have been a NPE in both lines.  I have seen it happen before.

Purely looking at the number of generations, meaning the number of opportunities for the genetic break to occur, there were 3 opportunities between King Richard the III and his great-great-grandfather, King Edward III, and there were 14 opportunities between Henry Somerset and King Edward III, so it’s more likely to have occurred in the Somerset line.

Richard III Y descent

But that is small comfort, because all it took was one event, and there clearly was one.  We don’t know which one, where.  In this case, probabilities don’t matter – only actualities matter.

Back to my ancestor, King Henry III, father of King Edward I….

Dear Grandpa King Henry III,

I was just writing to catch you up on the news.  This is your 20 times great-granddaughter….you do remember me…right?

I am sorry to report that there seems to have been a fox in the henhouse.  Yes, that would be the Plantagenet henhouse.  No, I don’t know when, or where.  We just have fox DNA.  Yes, we probably also have hen DNA, which would be your DNA, but you see, we can’t tell the difference between fox DNA and hen DNA.

By the way, would you mind trying that Houdini message thing and sending me a message about which DNA is fox and which is hen?

Thanks a million….

Your 20 times great-granddaughter

Even though we will probably never know what the Plantagenet DNA line looks like, we do know a lot about King Henry III, the father of King Edward I.  We also have some idea what King Henry himself looked like.  The effigy on his coffin in Westminster Abbey is shown below.

Henry IIi effigy

King Henry III was born on October 1, 1207 in Winchester Castle, shown below, the son of King John and Isabella of Angouleme, and died on November 16, 1272.  He was known as Henry of Winchester and was King of England, Lord of Ireland and Duke of Aquitaine from 1216 until his death.

Winchester Castle

He ascended the throne at age 9, on October 28th, 1216, at Gloucester Cathedral, and ruled under a guardian, council of 13 executors and the tutelage of his mother until he became of age.  He assumed formal control of the government in January 1227, although he didn’t turn 21 until the following year.  He ruled for a total of 56 years.  A 13th century depiction of his coronation is shown below.

Henry III coronation

Henry took the cross, declaring himself a crusader, which entitled him to special protections from Rome.  While Henry never did actually go on Crusade, he might well have joined the Seventh Crusade in 1248 had he not been engaged in such a negative rivalry with the King of France.  After Louis’s defeat at the Battle of Al Mansurah in 1250, Henry announced that he would be undertaking his own crusade to the Levant, but that Crusade never happened.  Henry was aging by that time, at 43. It would he Henry’s son, Edward, who would represent the family in the Crusades, leaving in 1270 for the Eighth Crusade.

Henry was also crowned a second time, after the first Baron’s War, on May 17, 1220, at Westminster Abbey, in an effort to affirm the authority of the King, and with the Pope’s blessing.  The medieval manuscript by Matthew Paris depicts the second coronation.

Henry III second coronation

While the first coronation was hurried after his father’s death and with, in essence, a borrowed crown from Queen Isabella, since the royal crown had been either lost or sold during the war, the second coronation used a new set of royal regalia.

Henry III great seal

Engravings of Henry’s great seal.

Eleanor of Provence

Henry married Eleanor of Provence, daughter of Raymond-Berengar, the Count of Provene and Beatrice of Savoy, whose sisters all married Kings as well.  Eleanor had never seen Henry before their marriage at Canterbury cathedral on January 14, 1236.  At the time of their marriage, she was age 12 and he was 28.  It was feared she was barren at first, but they went on to have 5 children, including Henry’s successor to the crown, Edward I.  Her first child was born when she was age 15.

Royal 14. B. VI, membrane 7

This medieval manuscript chronology from the early 1300s shows Henry III at the top, with his children left to right, the future King Edward I, Margaret, Beatrice, Edmund and Katherine.

In 1239 when Eleanor gave birth to their first child, Edward, named after Henry’s patron saint and ancestor, Edward the Confessor, Henry was overjoyed and held huge celebrations, giving lavishly to the Church and to the poor to encourage God to protect his young son.  Their first daughter, Margaret, named after Eleanor’s sister, followed in 1240, her birth also accompanied by celebrations and donations to the poor.

Eleanor accompanied Henry to Poitrou on a military campaign, and their third child, Beatrice, named after Eleanor’s mother, and born in Poitou, France in1242.

Henry III return from Poitou

This manuscript by Matthew Paris depicts Henry and Eleanor returning to England from Poitou in 1243.

Their fourth child, Edmund, arrived in 1245 and was named after the 9th-century saint.  Concerned about Eleanor’s health, Henry donated large amounts of money to the Church throughout the pregnancy. A third daughter, Katherine, was born in 1253 but soon fell ill, possibly the result of a degenerative disorder such as Rett syndrome, and was unable to speak. She died in 1257 and Henry was distraught.

Henry’s children spent most of their childhood at Windsor Castle and he appears to have been extremely close to his family, rarely spending extended periods apart from them.  King Henry III and Eleanor had the following children:

  1. Edward, eventually King Edward I, was born on June 17, 1239 and died on July 7, 1307. He married Eleanor of Castile in 1254 and Margaret of France in 1299.
  2. Margaret was born on September 29, 1240 and died on February 26, 1275, at age 35. She was the Queen of Scots and married King Alexander III, the King of Scotland at age 11. She had three children; Margaret born in 1261 who married King Eric II of Norway, Alexander born in 1264 who died at age 20 and David born in 1272 who died at age 9.
  3. Beatrice was born on June 25, 1242 and died on March 24, 1275 at the age of 33. She married John II, Duke of Brittany, a love match, and had 6 children. Two of her descendant females would marry kings.
  4. Edmund, known as Edmund Crouchback, was born on January 16, 1245 and died on June 5, 1296, at the age of 51. Crouchback reportedly refers to “crossed-back” and refers to his participation in the Ninth Crusade, although with King Richard III’s scoliosis, I have to wonder. He married Lady Aveline de Forz in 1269 at age 11. She died 4 years later, at age 15, possibly related to childbirth. He then married Blanche de Artois in 1276, in Paris, widow of Henri I, King of Navarre, with whom he had three sons, two of whom revolted against King Edward II.
  5. The story of Katherine is sad indeed. She was born either deaf or a deaf-mute at Westminster Palace on November 25, 1253 and died on Mary 3. 1257, before her 4th birthday. It was obvious at her birth, that in spite of her beauty, something was wrong. As she aged a bit, it also became evident that she was mentally challenged. Matthew Paris, chronicler of King Henry III, described her as “the most beautiful girl, but dumb and useless.” She was therefore not a political asset and was never betrothed. Her parents, however, loved her devotedly.

A few days after her christening, on the day of Saint Edward the Confessor’s death, January 5,1254, the King held a massive banquet, to which he invited all the nobility. The provisions for this banquet included “fourteen wild boars, twenty-four swans, one hundred and thirty-five rabbits, two hundred and fifty partridges, fifty hares, two hundred and fifty wild ducks, sixteen hundred and fifty fowls, thirty-six female geese and sixty-one thousand eggs”.

After Katherine’s death, both Henry and Eleanor were heartbroken.

Although the marriage of Henry III and Eleanor was clearly political in nature, Henry was kind and generous and they apparently came to love each other.  Henry, unusual as compared to other English Kings, had no illegitimate children.

Henry was reported to have a drooping eyelid and an occasional fierce temper, but was generally known to be “amiable, easy-going and sympathetic,” as reported by historian David Carpenter.

Henry III sketch

The sketch above is from Cassell’s History of England published in 1902 but it does not reflect a drooping eyelid.  The painting, below, from an unknown artist in 1620 is titled simply “Edward,” but it does depict the drooping eyelid.  King Edward I was the son of Henry III.  Now, if Richard III had only been reported with a droopy eyelid, we’d have another clue.  Interestingly enough, the National Portrait Gallery has a discussion about the “crooked eye group” of kings, the latest of which is Edward II.

Edward droopy eyelid

Henry III was known for his piety, celebrating mass at least once a day, holding lavish religious ceremonies and giving generously to charities.  He fed 500 paupers each day, fasted before the feast days of Edward the Confessor and may have washed the feet of lepers.  He was often moved to tears during religious ceremonies.  The King was particularly devoted to the figure of Edward the Confessor, whom he adopted as his patron saint.  Edward the Confessor was an early English King who lived a very pious life and who was also Henry III’s 6 times great-grandfather.

Henry reformed the system of silver coins in England in 1247, replacing the older Short Cross silver pennies with a new Long Cross design, shown below. Between 1243 and 1258, the King assembled two great hoards, or stockpiles, of gold. In 1257, Henry needed to spend the second of these hoards urgently and, rather than selling the gold quickly and depressing its value, Henry decided to introduce gold pennies into England, following the popular trend in Italy. The gold pennies resembled the gold coins issued by Edward the Confessor, but the overvalued currency attracted complaints from the City of London and was ultimately abandoned.

long cross pennies

In 1247, Henry was sent the “Relic of the Holy Blood” by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, said to contain some of the blood of Christ.  He carried the Relic through the streets of London from its storage location at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in a procession to Westminster Abbey, shown below, by Matthew Paris.  He then promoted the relic as a focus for pilgrimages, but it never became popular.

henry III carrying relic

Henry III’s reign in England was marked by multiple insurrections and allegations of ineffective government at best and improprieties at worst.

Henry started out at a disadvantage due to his age and of course, inexperience as a child.  The first problem happened before Henry was of age.

Taking advantage of the child-king, Louis VIII of France allied himself with Hugh de Lusignan and invaded first Poitou and then Gascony, lands held by the English monarchy. Henry III’s army in Poitou was under-resourced and lacked support from the French barons, many of whom had felt abandoned during the years of Henry’s minority and as a result, the province quickly fell. It became clear that Gascony would also fall unless reinforcements were sent from England.

In early 1225 a great council approved a tax of £40,000 to dispatch an army, which quickly retook Gascony. In exchange for agreeing to support Henry III, the English barons demanded that the King reissue the Magna Carta, originally issued by King John in 1215. Henry complied, declared that the charter was issued of his own “spontaneous and free will” and confirmed the new with the royal seal.  This gave the new Great Charter and the Charter of the Forest of 1225, shown below from the UK National Archives, much more authority than any previous versions. The barons anticipated that the King would act in accordance with these definitive charters, subject to the law and moderated by the advice of the nobility.

1225 great charter

Henry invaded France in 1230, in an attempt to reclaim family lands lost since the reign of King John, but his attempts were both unsuccessful and very expensive.  As you can see, most of the Plantagenet family holdings in France had been lost, except for Gascony.

Plantagenet land in France

The drawing below depicts Henry travelling to Brittany in 1230, by Matthew Paris.

Henry III to Brittany

The English people paid for military actions as well as Henry’s expensive lifestyle, carrying out major remodeling of royal properties, through increased taxes, which caused Henry, over time, to become very unpopular.

In 1258, a group of Barons seized power in a coup, reforming English government through a process called the Provisions of Oxford, which is regarded at England’s first constitution.  This document was the first to be published in English since the Norman Conquest 200 years previously. As a result, Henry ruled in conjunction with a council of 24 members, 12 selected by the crown and 12 by the barons.  Those 24 then selected 2 men to oversee decisions.  This certainly wasn’t what Henry wanted, but he had little choice at the time.

However, in 1261, Henry overthrew the Provisions of Oxford and the superceeding Provisions of Westminster, with assistance from the Pope in the form of a papal bull which started the second Baron’s War.  In 1264, Henry was defeated and taken prisoner at the battle of Lewes, but his oldest son, the eventual King Edward I, escaped from captivity and freed his father the following year.

This time, Henry won and was restored to power, initially reacted harshly, confiscating all of the land and titles of the revolting Barons.  In an effort to bring eventual peace, the Dictum of Kenilworth was issued to reconcile the rebels of the Baron’s War with the King.

Death of Simon de Montfort

Their rebel leader, Simon de Montfort, Henry’s brother-in-law who had married his sister, Eleanor, was now dead at the Battle of Evesham in 1265, shown above. The Dictum pardoned the revolting Barons and restored their previously confiscated lands to them, contingent on payment of penalties equal to their level of involvement in the rebellion, typically 5 times the value of the annual yield of the land.

The spirit of peace and reconciliation established by the Dictum of Kenilworth lasted for the remainder of Henry III’s reign and into the 1290s, although reconstruction was slow.  Henry died in 1272, succeeded by his son, Edward, who became King Edward I, who was on crusade in the Holy Lands at the time of his father’s death.

Although unpopular due to his spending habits, Henry invested significantly in many properties still enjoyed by people today, improving their defenses and adding facilities, including rebuilding Westminster Abbey and his favorite palatial complex by the same name in London.

Westminster complex

The Tower of London was extended to form a concentric fortress with extensive living quarters, although Henry primarily used the castle as a secure retreat in the event of war or civil strife.

Tower of London map

Tower of London as it appears today from the Thames.

Tower of London

Henry also kept a menagerie at the Tower, a tradition begun by his father, and his exotic specimens included an elephant, a leopard and a camel.

Henry III elephant

Henry was given an elephant, above, as a gift by King Louis IX of France.

Henry III visiting Louis IX France

King Henry III visiting Louis IX of France.

Winchester Castle great hall

Among other projects, Henry built the Great Hall of Winchester Castle, shown above.

Perhaps Henry’s legacy contribution is the creation of what would become the English Parliament.  The term “parliament” first appeared in the 1230s and 1240s to describe large gatherings of the royal court, and parliamentary gatherings were held periodically throughout Henry’s reign. They were used to agree to the raising of taxes which, in the 13th century, were single, one-off levies, typically on movable property, intended to supplement the King’s normal revenues for particular projects. During Henry’s reign, the counties began to send regular delegations to these parliaments, and came to represent a broader cross-section of the community than simply the major barons.

In Henry’s last years, he was increasingly ill. He continued to invest in Westminster Abbey, which became a replacement for the Angevin mausoleum at Fontevraud Abbey in Anjou, France,  In 1269 Henry oversaw a grand ceremony to rebury Edward the Confessor in a lavish new shrine, personally helping to carry the body to its new resting place in the rebuilt Westminster Abbey.  Edward the Confessor has built the original Westminster Abbey in 1065 which was demolished by Henry III to construct the new Westminster Abbey in its place.

In 1270, Henry’s son, Edward left on the Eighth Crusade and at one time, Henry voiced his intention to join Edward.  That never happened, and Henry III died at Westminster Palace on the evening of November 16, 1272.  Eleanor was probably at his side.

At his request, Henry was buried in Westminster Abbey in front of the church’s high altar, in the former resting place of Edward the Confessor. A few years later, work began on a grander tomb for King Henry III and in 1290, Edward moved his father’s body to its current location in Westminster Abbey.

Henry III crypt

See, it wouldn’t be difficult at all to access the remains of King Henry III…no digging involved!!!  For that matter, we could just skip to the beginning and start with the remains of Edward the Confessor.

St. Nicholas’ Church at Shoulden and St. Leonard’s at Deal

pier sunrise day 3

Day three in Deal turned out to be a great day.  It began with another beautiful sunrise over the pier.  I could get used to this and the sound of the ocean.  Unfortunately, it makes me sleepy – not the sun, the ocean rhythmically lapping on the shore.  I think this means I’ve finally relaxed.

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Each morning, we had breakfast in the pub.  The Clarendon is sort of a B&B above a pub.  Most of the hotels here are just that.  There are no chain hotels, so it’s all local, waterfront and quaint.  Most people eat dinner in the pub – but not us – breakfast.  We’ve learned a lot – like egg sandwiches do not come on toast, but cold buttered bread.  But everything can be made right with a latte.

We didn’t need to be anyplace until noon when St. Nicholas’ church in Shoulden opens. Jim and I decided to walk back to town a slightly different way and explore a bit.  These beautiful old streets are very inviting.  We noticed that at the end of the street there was a visitor information location that had a walking tour map of the historical signs, so we set out to find that map.

deal map

I wish we had found this map two days ago.  It’s available at the Dover Visitor Information Center, and there is a branch in Deal too, in case you ever need one!  Our hotel was on Beach Street, just to the right of the pier.

On the way, Jim found the solution to the driving challenge.

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Actually, Jim and I designed a dual navigation plan.  I give Jim numbers for the left side, like “a foot” or “6 inches” and Jim is going to go very slow and stop if he feels uncomfortable. While that’s not a good plan at home, it is here because people actually park into the street making 2 lanes impossible and impassible, so people stop in the road all of the time here.  It’s very disconcerting actually.  The dual navigation plan actually worked very well and we had no incidents today.  Thankfully.

We did, however, find some local color.

hairy dog mother

You just never know what you’re going to see.

pink english car

England is not boring.

orange pants deal

By any stretch of the imagination.

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Is this a mutant gene?

I keep requesting purple from my hair stylist and she keeps refusing…mutters something about acting my age….

This next photo was actually in London on our way back home the following day.

posh girls on tour

Can you see the back of her outfit?  It says “POSH GIRLS ON TOUR.”

posh girl

We were told earlier in the trip that posh, as it’s used today to mean swanky or rich was derived from the following:

The much-repeated tale is that ‘Posh’ derives from the ‘port out, starboard home’ legend supposedly printed on tickets of passengers on P&O (Peninsula and Orient) passenger vessels that travelled between UK and India in the days of the Raj. Another version has it that PO and SH were scrawled on the steamer trunks used on the voyages, by seamen when allocating cabins.

Anyone who enjoys people watching will love the British Isles.

We found a Subway sandwich shop and bought lunch so we could have a picnic later.  We found out the hard way the other day that many locations have no resources whatsoever, not even a convenience store or a gas station (which means no bath rooms.)  Many of the churches have no heat or toilets, for example.  However, those places that do have public restrooms avoid that confusing Scotland issue where the men’s restrooms have figures with kilts and the women’s have figures with skirts and you can’t tell the difference.

pink door  blue door

Seems so simple – what a good idea.

We still had quite a bit of time after Subway, before we had to be at the churches, so we took a walk along High Street in Deal which was by now becoming quite familiar.

As luck would have it, I found a bookstore.  I’m drawn to these in local places like a moth to a flame, so I had to go in and take a look.  I needed a map anyway, just in case we decided to try to go to Nonington, about 10 miles away.  After looking at the map, we decided not to because the roads aren’t marked and the only way to get there included a lot of back roads.  Our track record wasn’t so good and we decided to stay and enjoy Deal and not play automobile roulette anymore than was absolutely necessary.

In any event, while in the bookstore, I discovered, quite by accident while perusing a history book, the reason why we could not find Richard Estes’s tomb in St. Peters at Westcliffe.  We were in the wrong church, AGAIN, but the name was right.  However, the church being referred to in Richard’s 1506 will was St. Peter’s in Dover which no longer exists.  The original St. Peter’s in Dover church was mentioned in the 1200s, but they know nothing more of it until in 1827 when the church needed to be either remodeled or expanded.  Someone needs to show them the 1596 Symonson map where Dover very clearly has a church, shows the location and a drawing of the church itself, albeit small.

dover 1596 map

In 1895, St. Peter’s was destroyed and a new, larger church built either beside or on top of the old one.  It’s unknown whether any part of the old church was utilized in the new one.  The church was rededicated to St. Peter and St. Paul, so the name changed.  That church was again destroyed during WW2, so it has been rebuilt yet a third time.  So if indeed Richard Eustace was buried in the floor, that floor no longer exists.  While we’ll never have a photo of that tombstone, we now know why we won’t, and why there is no St. Peter’s church today in Dover.  At least that mystery is now solved!

At noon, we drove to St. Leonards, parked, and picnicked in the car, then walked to Shoulden about a quarter mile away, shown below.  That explains why our ancestor, Robert Eastye, might have been married there – it’s so close to his home church and Anne Woodward would have been a local gal.  St. Nicholas Shoulden was probably her church.

St Nicholas Sholden

I’d love to peruse those Shoulden records for the Woodward family line.  Take a look at this beautiful church in the article about Anne Woodward.

shoulden

The bride would have come in from the rear of the church, through these doors, and walked down this aisle.

shoulden door

 

This door, dating from 1795, is not in use today except for special occasions.  The original, pre-1795, door was on the other side of the church, today, the back, because the original road was routed on the other side of the church, where the cemetery is today.  The original doorway has now been enclosed and is the vicar’s vestry, shows as the little add-on with a chimney in the photo below.

shoulden back

Regardless of how one entered the church, the inside, especially the nave, probably looks much the same now as it did then, except for carpet, of course.  This church dates from the 1200s with one portion in the north wall believed to be from the 1100s.

St Nicholas Sholden interior

The church is beautiful, inside and out.

shoulden cemetery

It’s very likely that the ashes of Anne Woodward’s ancestors lie in this churchyard.

In Europe, I often think about the discussions in the US about exhumation and DNA testing of forensic remains for genealogy.  While I only know of one instance where this was actually done for genealogical purposes, and it was couched as an archaeology/history project because it involved a famous historical figure, Jesse James, it could never be done in Europe with graves that have been shared, not once or twice, but for centuries, and with unknown persons.  The only way exhumation would be viable is if a crypt was involved, protecting the remains from contamination from those who had come, or gone, before.  Either that, or exhumation would have to occur within a timeframe that would involve the decomposition of tissue, but not the decomposition of bone.  Still, there would be enough doubt that it would call into question the validity of non-confirming results.

shoulden cemetery2

Robert Estes married Anne Woodward here at Shoulden on December 2, 1591.  Their first child, Matthew, born in June of 1692 would be baptized in this church, but subsequent children born 1596-1616 were baptized in Ringwould.

Did they look out these same windows, daydreaming, or perhaps thinking about things that needed to be done after church?

shoulden window

This ancient oak in the churchyard, struck by lightning and half burned speaks to the age of this church. It’s possible that this oak was here when the original church, probably celtic and pagan, first met outside under an oak on a hilltop.

shoulden oak

We told the ladies at St. Nicholas Shoulden goodbye and walked back to St. Leonard’s along the ancient Sandwich Road, the same pathway, then road, our ancestors undoubtedly trod for generations.

St. Leonard’s Church in Deal

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We are so fortunate that Ruth Doughty, the archivist, historian and verger of St. Leonard’s was not only available but spent the afternoon with us at the church.  What a font of knowledge.  I’m guessing that Ruth is in her mid-80s as she was christened in 1930 in St. Leonard’s.  She is a fixture, loves the church and absolutely belongs there.  She made this an incredibly amazing day!  I hope you’ll come along, because even if this isn’t your family church, an awful lot of the history pertains to churches throughout England.  Besides, you never know when you’ll discover an Estes in your tree or in your DNA matches!!

St. Leonard’s, shown below, is extremely difficult to photograph from a distance due to its location on a busy round-about.

st leonard roundabout

I have always felt like St. Leonard’s was the home church of the Estes family.  I know that my ancestors migrated down the road to St. Nicholas at Ringwould and Robert was married at Shoulden, but the first Estes records are here, and the heart of the Estes family seems to be in Deal.  Some family straggled a few miles away but many returned and there is Estes history at St. Leonard’s for generations.

From the Friends of St. Leonard’s website, here are a couple of drawings of St. Leonard’s in earlier times.

st leonard's 1

This is probably close to the church the Estes ancestors knew.  We know it’s before the 1819 addition.

st leonard's 2

This last drawing, with the color, looks more modern and is similar to a black and white print dated about 1820.  We can also see the 1819 addition.

st leonard's 3

St. Leonard’s is on a high mound, possibly originally a pagan moot hill, or meeting place.  The sides of the hill are walled, so you enter by either ascending stairs or walking around the wall to the front or side door.  You can easily see the wall in the 1800s print above.

Ruth Doughty, before her retirement, was a printer.  She graced us with copies of her prints of St. Leonard’s.  Below, thanks to Ruth, the oldest known image of St. Leonard’s, clearly before the north addition in 1819.

st leonard oldest sketch

The church is surrounded on the 2 street sides with a wall.

st leonard wall

Inside the wall, a walkway is paved about half way around the church, the other half being cemetery. However, gravestones are interspersed everyplace and one can rest assured that there are graves in every possible location, given that this church has been in existence since at least 1180.  Some historians believe that some form of worship has occurred here since Saxon times.

st leonard front

The front door of the church is shown below, original to the rebuilding of the church tower in 1686.

st leonard front door crop

We were meeting Ruth at the church at an appointed time, and we were a few minutes early.   I spent the time perusing the cemetery.  In a few days, we’ll meet Nicholas Ewstas, the first documented Estes ancestor in Deal, and we’ll take a tour of cemetery in his article.

Because the church is so old, it has been constructed, and reconstructed, many times over the centuries.  This shows in its eclectic layout, which I think gives it an extremely unique character and very interesting historical perspective.

It’s easiest to see the original outline of the church and the additions from the back outside.  The entrance is under the cupola in the tower at the west end of the church.  The nave is to the east with the cross above the triple windows.  The south addition from the 1200s and the original north addition, also from the 1200s, can be seen easily as they are not finished with flint.  The second north addition, at right, with more modern white lattice windows can also easily be discerned.

st leonard rear

You can also see the layout on this Google Map satellite view.

st leonard aerial

Directly across the street from the north entrance is the beginning, or end, depending on your perspective, of Church Path, a mile long path from Lower Deal directly to the north church door at St. Leonard’s.

st leonard aerial church path

The nave and chancel is original to the 1100s.  A hundred years later, the chancel was remodeled, enlarging the north and south aisles and adding doors, which are now gone but can be seen on the outside walls.

st leonard south door

The current tower was completed in 1686 after the original tower fell in 1658, after years of neglect prior to the Reformation, causing immeasurable damage including the destruction of the pilot’s gallery.  The cupola on the tower, which held a lantern, was and continues to be an important landmark to ships on the Goodwin Sands.

Originally, the tower apparently also had a steeple.  The Philip Symonson 1596 map of Kent shows both Sholdon and Deale churches, along with all three castles.  Ringwould, as Kyngewold is visible at the bottom.

symonson 1596 map kent crop

Normally, the main alter of a church is in the east.  In this case, you enter St. Leonard’s church via the west door and the nave is directly opposite in the east end of the church, but to your left, north, a significant extension was added in the 1200s and again in the 1819.  There is a small aisle, or wing, to the south, your right, original to the 1200s, but the largest “wing” is the one to the North which means that the majority of the congregation cannot see what is going on in the Nave.  Because of this, a new alter was installed forward of its normal position in a church, where the chancel, north and south aisles intersect, between the arches, in front of the nave.  Note that these original arch pillars are beautifully carved by a master mason.

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This photo is looking east, into the original nave.  The South extension (to the right) can be partially seen and the portion visible in the photo is the Lady’s Chapel.

The photo below is taken near the door of the North extension, looking completely across the center aisle into the South extension.  Notice all of the plaques and commemorations on the walls, along with the three hatchments at the top.  Also, note the floor burials.  Gregory Holyoake in his book, Deal, Sad Smuggling Town, states that before 1668 anyone who could afford to do so was buried in the church itself.  However, based on the fact that the north extension wasn’t added until 1819, that practice obviously did not cease.

st leonard north wing looking south

Below, the long northern wing is shown with Ruth and I chatting.

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Here’s a direct shot down the North aisle.  That arched door exits to find Moses Estes headstone directly on the right outside.  You can also see one of three galleries above the seating to extend the church’s seating capacity. There are two other galleries as well, one being the Pilot’s Gallery and the other beside the pilot’s gallery, over the entrance to the vestry, above the rood screen’s home.

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In essence, the church started out as a rectangle with the long part east to west.  Small chapels or aisleways were added in the 1200s on the left and right which made it into a cross.  Later the North arm of the cross was extended to be longer than the original triangle, so it’s somewhat misshapen today.  In fact, one of the Bishops said, “This is the most cockeyed church in Christendom.”

Standing inside the church in the area where the original church and the extensions cross, I looked back and took this photograph of the entrance area, which includes the “modern” organ and mariner’s gallery that was rebuilt in 1705 after the 1686 rebuild of the tower, the original tower having fallen in 1658.  The organ was later moved to this location.

st leonard entryway

The next photo is of the entryway, standing in the doorway from the entryway to the chancel.  You can see the doorway arch in the upper left hand corner.

st leonard bellringer stairs

Jim took these lovely panoramic photos inside the church while Ruth and I were talking.

st leonard pano1

You can see that the nave with the three arched stained glass windows is the centerpoint of these pictures where they would be “glued” together.

st leonard pano2

Ruth told us that there are no church records prior to Queen Elizabeth the First’s reign because Elizabeth was the one who gave the directive for the churches to keep track of the births, deaths and marriages.  Queen Elizabeth was born in 1533, ascended the throne in 1558 and died in 1603.  I believe church records began in 1559.

Our earliest proven Estes ancestor who lived in Deal was reportedly born in 1495.  Actually, the present town of Deal itself, on the waterfront, or Lower Deal, wasn’t there then.  It built up after the construction of Deal Castle in the late 1630s, so they probably lived in the little village by St. Leonard’s, if not in Ringwould where they would be found for the next several generations, or maybe someplace between the two locations which are only a couple miles distant from each other.

St. Leonard’s Church, a mile distant from Lower Deal on the waterfront, existed originally to serve the tiny hamlet of Addelam.  Addelam Road is directly behind the church.  The Domesday Book, compiled in 1086, renders the phrase “at Deal” as “ad Delam” which is possibly a latinized version of the Saxon word “aet del ham” meaning “at the valley settlement.”

Even though St. Leonard’s is known as a maritime church today, original inhabitants were concerned with farming, not fishing.  The first written records from 1327 reveal that the rector, a nonresident, offended his parishioners by causing corn to be winnowed in the churchyard and a local farmer, Robert Byng, allowed his sheep to graze in the grounds and was “flogged thrice.”[i]

We do know for sure that in the 1600s the Estes family attended St. Leonard’s.  The early St. Leonard parish registers are reported to be complete from 1559.

One of our best pieces of evidence of our family’s association with this church, is the seating chart from 1618 and the Moses Estes burial from 1708.  There is a 1621 church record that shows the burial of Hugh Estie of Harwitch who was bound from Germinie (Netherlands) in a ship called the Sion of London, according to Neil Gunson in the 1992 Spring issue of Estes Trails.  Additionally, we find earlier mentions of Eastes (1581) Este (1601), Estis (1618) and Eastis (1726).  In 1590, a Henry Eastice, fisherman at Deal, made his will and his widow, Mary was buried at St Leonard’s in 1601, although the burial location is unknown.  Their children were baptized at St. Leonard’s between 1581 and 1589.

Moses’s stone, the oldest Estes gravestone known, is shown below.  It’s not easily readable today, but from earlier transcriptions, he died in March of 1707/1708.  His wife, Ellen, the sister of Abraham the immigrant, was buried in here in 1729, but there is no known headstone for her unless she is buried here, along with Moses.

st leonard moses estes

“Here lyeth interred ye body of Moses Estes who departed this life 19 of March 1708 age 65 years.  Also ye body of Constance Estes his daughter who departed this life November 1708 aged 36 years.”

This Moses is not my ancestor, Moses, son of Abraham the immigrant, but either my Moses was named after this Moses, or they were both named after the same ancestor.  I’d surely love to know who that was.  This Moses Estes married the sister, Ellen, of our Abraham Estes, the immigrant. Ellen and Moses would have been second cousins, both great-grandchildren of Sylvester, “fisherman of Deal” (in 1549) who died in Ringwould in 1579.

In this side view of the church where the Moses stone is found, the sidewalk has been changed.  Today, it crosses Moses’s grave, but initially, before the church wing expansion in 1819, the door was to the right further and smaller, so the grave would not have been in the sidewalk at that time.  Moses stone is directly behind the left hand railing at the top.  At the time of the addition, walking on graves was very common as there are many burials inside the church with the stone flat on top in the aisle.  It was considered an honor to be buried inside the church and only the wealthy or perhaps ministers in the church were buried inside.  This is the side, north, door, not the main entryway.

st leonard north door crop

Visiting the Church

Let’s go inside, just like our ancestors would have done, through the main doorway under the tower.

The doors on the tower entrance are original to the rebuilding of the tower in 1686, including the ironwork and fittings.

st leonard north door close

The outside of the entrance doors and the inside look a bit different.  The door is original with hand wrought hinges, bolts, studs and a lock consisting of a latch and bolt.

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The Estes ancestors would have known the doors just prior to these.  Born in 1647, Abraham Estes immigrated to Virginia in 1673, after the tower fell in 1658, but before the 1686 reconstruction.  When he knew this church, it was in a terrible state of disrepair.  He would probably have been surprised, had he heard that it still existed after his immigration.  I can imagine that everyone went to see the church after the tower fell, and it obviously fell through the roof if it destroyed the pilot’s gallery.  Abraham would have been an orphan of 11, and a fallen church tower, probably after a storm, was assuredly the talk of the town.

In 1715, several years after Abraham immigrated, a clock was added to the side of the tower.  That was probably the primary method that the residents had to know what time it was, except for sundials.

st leonard clockface

The outer doors lead into a very small entryway at the base of the tower where an inner door opens into the church chancel itself.

st leonard inner door

This paneled entry door dates from the second half of the 1500s or the first quarter of the 1600s, so my ancestors very likely touched this very door, pushing its creaking hinges open to enter.

Inside the small entryway of the church, between the 2 sets of doors, is a room the size of the tower base.  It holds the stairs that lead to the bells in the top of the tower.

st leonard bell ringer stairs

Just inside the outer door, are found the bell ringer’s stairs – metal stairs forming a spiral – or a helix – depending on your perspective.  These are about a foot side-to-side, each – and according to Ruth who used to ring the bells from the time she was a child, into her 60s, this climb isn’t even the frightening part.  At the next level, at the clock face, is a ladder followed by walking across lattice type wood, probably joists, above that.

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By 1638, the church had bells because there is a record entry for the purchase of a rope, and three bells are mentioned.  The bells would have also fallen in 1658 when the tower fell.  It’s no wonder the tower went through the roof.  Five bells were cast for the tower in 1686 and in 1866, a sixth was added.

Interestingly enough, there is a sign right by the steps that they are recruiting bell-ringers.  As a kid, I’d think this would have been great fun.  Maybe not so much now.  I wonder, did my ancestors ring the original St. Leonard’s bells?

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Entering the church body or chancel through the next set of doors was quite moving.  I knew I was literally walking where my ancestors trod so many times, in joy and in sorrow, with newborn babies to baptize and the bodies of loved ones to bury – and sometimes the baby baptized today was the loved one buried tomorrow.  This was the church of hopes and dreams, of tears, both happy and sad.  As I opened the door, I was greeted by the stunning stained glass windows, the Ascension, at the other end of the church in the nave.

st leonard nave view2

For me, in my heart, it was like stepping back in time and actually being with my ancestors in a place that I know was dear to their hearts.  The church was cool, slightly moist, and silent.  It was timeless.

st leonard nave windows

These stained glass windows in the nave were not there when my Estes ancestors lived, but they are stunningly beautiful and bathe the area in a serene blue light.  I wonder what the windows were like when my ancestors attended this church.  Did they bathe the nave in color or were they clear?

Knowing that my ancestors worshipped here is just so overwhelming.  I wanted to internalize it and breathe it all into my soul.  I cannot come any closer to touching my ancestors, unless it’s through their DNA that I carry in my own body.

While Ruth and I talked, Jim went upstairs to where the organ is located today, but which was the mariner’s (pilot’s) balcony before the organ was installed.  That balcony had a rear exit so when those men heard the horn from the sea which meant an emergency, they could leave without disrupting the service.  I bet they ran that mile down Church Path to Lower Deal in record time.  The original pilot’s gallery was destroyed when the original tower and steeple fell in 1658, but it was eventually rebuilt in 1705 among much political controversy.

st leonard organ

The pilot’s gallery might explain why Richard Estes’s wife has a seat below, but he does not.  He could well have been in the balcony or having been born in 1578, age 40, he could have been deceased, but it does not say “widow Estes” like the second Estes seating assignment says.

The seating chart from 1618 shows two Estes family members who had assigned seats.  One, “Widow Estes,” we believe is our direct ancestor, Anne Woodward Estes who would, having married in 1591, been about age 50.  We know she died in 1630, because she had a will.  She was the bride who was married at St. Nicholas Shoulden, just up the street, in 1591.  It’s believed that Robert, her husband, died about 1616, so this would make sense.  If she is not the widow mentioned in the seating chart, then it’s her nephews’ wives, but there are no other records to rely on and no hint that those nephews who were orphaned young (by Robert’s brother Henry in 1590), other than Richard, even survived to adulthood.  This is most likely Anne’s seat, so we can see the church through her eyes.

Judging from the arrangement of the “pews” and the history of the timeframe, these were likely what was known as horsepen or box pews.  St. Leonard’s were removed long ago, in 1860, but we saw several examples in other churches in England.  In essence you bought your “pew” for the family and built an enclosure, example shown below.  Of course, the extravagance of your pew said a lot about your social status.  We also know that at St. Leonard’s, poor people sat along the west wall on “formes,” or stood.  In 1718, there were about 20 poor households.

example box pew

St Leonard’s seating roster from 1618 is shown below.

st leonard 1618 seating

I look at these names and wonder how many of them I’m related to, if I only knew.  Donald Bowler provided this seating chart oiginally to Estes Trails, along with some of the genealogical history of the folks involved.  People below marked with a red X are Estes or related to the Estes family.  In the front, Henry Baker’s wife is shown.  Jone Estes, daughter of Sylvester and Jone Estes, married a Henry Baker in 1763.

st leonard 1618 seating1

st leonard 1618 seating2

The two individuals on the second half of the chart marked with a red X are “Richard Estes wife” on the left and “Estes Widdow” on the right.

This seating information was extracted from Roy Eastes’s book, “The Estes/Eastes Family” and he in turn extracted the seating diagram from the Estes Trails periodical, the March 2001 issue.  Ruth graciously provided a seating chart when we visited St. Leonard’s as well.

The pews are arranged differently today, and the location where widow Estes, probably Anne Woodward Estes, sat, is an aisle way today, as the original pews have been replaced.  But here is the view of the front of the church that she would have seen from that location.  The pews may have changed, but the pillars did not, so it was easy to locate her “seat.”  We are truly looking through her eyes.

st leonard anne's seat

Jim took a panoramic shot of what she would have seen as she looked around.  Of course, the second north wing extension had not yet been built at that time, so the north wing would have ended about halfway down its length.  That’s OK, she couldn’t see much of that wing past the pillar anyway!  She had a perfect view of the Lady’s Chapel though.  Originally, it would have likely been Mary Magdalene’s chapel.  In the Catholic church, Mary Magdalene was always THE Lady.

st leonard anne's pano

Richard’s wife sat on the other side of the church.  Here’s the view, below, from her seat.  Richard, born in 1578, would have been the nephew of Robert through Robert’s brother Henry, a fisherman, who died and left a will in 1590, naming his children.

st leonard estes widow seat

This church has so many amazing details, but there was one disappointment.  The baptismal font currently in use was dedicated in 1851, and it’s beautiful, but the whereabouts of the older one are unknown.  The old font, the one with so much history, would have been the one to baptize our ancestors.

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Ok, so it may not be “my” baptismal font, but this photo is still quite spiritual and inspirational to me.

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However, maybe all is not lost.  I also took pictures of the pictures and paintings in the church, and you’ll note in the painting below, the baptismal font does not appear to be the one shown above, but an earlier one.  So, while we can’t see the original font today, we at least know what it looked like.

st leonard painting bapistry

You can also see the rood screen that would have been in front of the nave, between the chancel and the nave.  This tells us that this painting was certainly before 1851, when the new baptistery was dedicated.  The pulpit was moved forward in 1979 and the screens removed from the nave/chancel and reinstalled near the vestry in the rear of the church beneath the pilot’s gallery.

st leonard screen and gallery

Another painting shows the church before the modern roads, the roundabout and the walls. Just a lovely village scene showing the beauty of the church.

st leonard neighborhood painting

This painting would likely have been from before the end of the 1700s when the walled burial ground, once called Stone Lane, was purchased.  I see no stone wall in front of the church in this painting.

The church has several stained glass windows and they don’t know much about them.  There are two rather contemporary windows, the Crucifixion in the Lady’s Chapel and the Ascension in the chancel.

st leonard ascension2

The Crucifixion.

st leonard ascension window

The Ascension

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The Good Samaritan window is in the middle of the south wall, in the part that was expanded in the 1200s.

st leonard north window

These windows are in the north wall.

st leonard nave window crop

This window is in the nave.

st leonard piscina window

These two windows are in the nave immediately above the Norman piscina.

st leonard sheep window

This sheep is above the Ascension window and looks possibly to be the oldest window in the church.  This could well have been there when our ancestors sat in these pews and listened to the Catholic priests, before the Reformation.

st leonard sheep window2

Every church loves their stained glass.

St. Leonard’s also has several hatchments.  I had no idea what a hatchment was, but the history is fascinating.  Hatchments came into use in the early 17th century and originated in the Low countries. They started as a replacement for the medieval achievement (the carrying of the shield, helm and other accoutrements) at funerals of knights and other nobles. It was customary in this country for the hatchment to be carried in front of the funeral procession, hung outside the home during mourning and then to be placed in the church.

St. Leonard’s has 16 hatchments, dating from 1673, in various stages of restoration.

Here’s an example of one.

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The nave, is, of course, original to the church.  One of the items in the nave is the Norman piscina.  It is at least as old as the church, and the archway looks to have been carved to hold this piscina.  It’s possible that the piscina is actually older than the church.

st leonard norman piscina

A piscina was used to dispose of holy items, such as holy water and sacramental wines.  They were returned directly to the earth through a hole in the basin that drained into the wall of the church which led, of course, directly into the earth.  This was to assure that black magic could not be performed utilizing the power of the sacred and blessed liquids.

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Most of the piscinas were destroyed during the Reformation and its extremely unusual for this one to remain, and for it to be so ornate.  Often piscinas were simply bowl shapes carved into stone with a hole in the bottom in a tiny nook in the wall of the church.

Prior to the Reformation, there were several side alters in which candles to various saints were kept burning.  People often left bequests for the candles of their saint to be lit.  Today, sometimes, we see the remnants of these areas in churches that were originally Catholic.

st leonard sedilia

At the far right of the right arched sedilia, or carved stone seats, dating from the 1100s, a carved head is found at the base.  This is easy to miss, but it may be one of the most historically important items in the church.

st leonard richard

st leonard richard2

This crowned figure is believed to be King Richard, Richard the Lionheart, possibly in chain-mail, or maybe simply bearded, who is said to have spent the night on his way back from the Crusades in 1194.  This is certainly possible, given Deal’s location and Richard’s piety.

richard effigy

You can see the resemblance with King Richard’s effigy, at Frontevraud Abbey, in Anjou, France, above.

Across the nave from the piscina and sedilia are two inset areas.  One, the square, only partly visible above Ruth, would likely have held a statue of St. Leonard to whom the church is dedicated.  St. Leonard is the patron saint of political prisoners, imprisoned people, captives, prisoners of war, women in labor and horses.  He died in 559 and his feast day is November 6 .

This icon, below, of St. Leonard is from St. Leonard’s Church in Streatham and shows St. Leonard, St. Laura and a prisoner.

st leonard icon

The arched inset where Ruth is sitting would have been where sacred vessels were kept.

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The floor in the original portion of the church, is, of course, Deal tile.

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There are several floor burials and memorial plaques throughout the church.

st leonard floor burials

One of the most noted is that of Thomas Baker, sometimes called Barbor.  He was the first known deputy appointed by the Mayor of Sandwich to act for him in Deal.  When he died in 1508, he left money for the maintenance of the church steeple which was apparently already in disrepair, although it didn’t fall for another 150 years.

In 1598, a petition was submitted to Parliament to grant Deal the status of a “borough and market town.” In 1599, the petition, signed by Parliament, was triumphantly posted on St. Leonard’s church porch by Joshua Coppin, who then became Deal’s first mayor.  The new mayor and corporation attended St. Leonard’s with great pomp and dignity every Sunday until St. George’s in Lower Deal was built sometime between 1706 and 1716.

Another notable historical item is the painting commemorating the Great Storm of 1703, hanging on the front of the Pilot’s Gallery, in which 13 ships of Her Majesty’s Navy were wrecked on the Goodwin Sands and 1200 lives were lost.  The ship looks curved, so you can see both the bow and the stern.

st leonard 1703 painting

This model of the Man ‘O War ship is also patterned after this painting.  The model was made in 1949 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the granting of the Deal charter.  Our ancestors would have been very familiar with these ships, as would all people living along this shoreline.

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Every old church has it’s mystery and this one is no different.  This rock, obviously with a Christian, perhaps Celtic, cross of some sort, looking very medieval, was found here, but nothing is known about its provenance.

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One very special area of the church is the Lady’s Chapel.

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It harkens back to the days of Catholicism when this would have been Mary’s Chapel.  This was part of the southern aisle extension in the 1200s.

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The Crucifixion window was added just over 100 years ago, in the early 1900s, and that, of course, makes this area simply stunning.

This Chapel also has its own piscina, to the right of Ruth, above, although nothing like the Norman piscina in the nave.

st leonard lady chapel piscina

I found one particular photo, taken in the Lady’s Chapel, incredibly compelling.  Ruth paused for a moment of reflection and the picture simply speaks for itself.

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At the day’s end, the light was disappearing in the church and it was getting quite chilly.  We said goodbye to Ruth, after she gifted me with several prints of the church and area.  She is a retired printer and rode a bike to work every day.  She doesn’t now, and never has driven a car.  Smart lady!  She is certainly an amazing woman.  St. Leonard’s is very fortunate to have such a caring steward among their flock and we felt incredibly blessed that she spent the afternoon with us.  It made all of the difference in the world.

As a final goodbye, St. Leonard’s gave me a gift too.  I don’t quite know how this happened, but it did.  I decided to take a photograph of this beautiful piece of needlework.  I was worried about the glare on the glass, but little did I realize, until I got home, that the “glare” is really the Lady’s Chapel and the Ascension windows.  Indeed, the only way this could be more perfect would be to discover that it was my ancestor who stitched this lovely Madonna and Child.

st leonard needlework

[i] Deal, A Sad Smuggling Town by Gregory Holyoake, page 24

William Sterling Estes – The Missing Years – 52 Ancestors #5

William Sterling Estes was my father.  He was commonly called Bill, and sometimes Sterl, by family members.  He was probably born in either 1902 or 1903, or maybe 1901, records vary, and he died, positively, in 1963.  That’s one of the few positive things we know about him.  His life was anything but ordinary, and he was missing for many years.  And that’s just the beginning…

My father was a study in polar opposites.  He was extremely intelligent, helping his step-son with physics in graduate school, yet did incredibly stupid things that landed him in a heap o’ trouble – and I’m not talking just about that Ilo incident where he married under a fictitious name and then went AWOL.  There were more.  Many more….

Moonshine and Rough Beginnings

My father’s issues began when he was young.  This isn’t meant as overtly critical, but my father’s early years were anything but stable.  He was born near the turn of the century in Claiborne County, Tennessee.  That area, deep in Appalachia was both stunningly beautiful and equally as poverty stricken.

cumberland gap panoramic

Land there, what was farmable, was already taken and the “next generation” had to find something else to do.  But there was nothing else there, so many moved on west.  In the case of my grandparents, they tried several avenues, one of which was moonshining.

Moonshining wasn’t anything unusual in the hills, nor among the original settlers. In fact making your own liquor had been a staple on every farm for hundreds of years in the US, until the law made it illegal over taxation.  It was never a moral issue until Prohibition.  Moonshining or bootlegging has been illegal for awhile, actually a long while, in one form or another, but in Appalachia, mostly everyone ignored that.  Moonshining increased during Prohibition and has been a staple of that region ever since.  My family shares stories of painting milk jugs white and having the kids deliver moonshine in milk jugs in the coal camps from their red wagon.  The family survived and ate together, or didn’t.  Everyone was expected to contribute.  There wasn’t any other choice.

The Estes family in Halifax County, Virginia, some 4 generations earlier had been known for their fine brandies distilled from their orchards.  The difference was, I’m guessing, is that they paid taxes, or they greased the right palm.

In any case, my grandfather, William George Estes was a moonshiner, a photographer and a farmer, among other things.  A veritable Appalachian Renaissance man.  He married my grandmother, Ollie Bolton, in September of 1892.  In July of 1893, their first child, was born, and a year later, in August of 1893, that son, Samuel would pass away and was buried in the family cemetery in Estes Holler behind his grandfather, Lazarus Estes’, house.

Estes cem

Three months later, a second child was born, Estel, who lived.  Two years later, another child whose name we don’t even know for sure, and in another 2 years, Robert, who would burn to death.

Life was rough.  The 1900 census gives us a glimpse. William George Estes states that he was out of work for 9 months the previous year.

Sometime between 1900 and 1910, the family moved to Springdale. Arkansas where Ollie took care of the children and ran a boarding house and William George fished off the bridge down the street from the boarding house, and drank.  By this time, they had several children, and it seemed there were always more on the way.  In the 1910 census, Ollie has borne 8 children and only 5 were living.

Ollie 1907

This picture of Ollie and the children was taken in 1907.  The child, Robert, the blond boy on the chair, would perish when their cabin burned, sometime before the 1910 census.  Cousin George Estes, in the 1980s, showed me where that cabin stood and told me he planted a willow tree there in honor of the child.  Estel, the oldest child, standing in the rear in this photo, age 13 in 1907, had been left in charge and tried to save Robert, who hid under the bed, to no avail.  Estle did manage to get my father, standing in front, and Margaret, held by Ollie, out safely.  That memory alone could scar a person for life.  Robert too is probably buried in the family cemetery just a few feet away, but there is no marker.

By 1913, the family had moved to Fowler, Indiana and become tenant farmers.  Ollie and William George’s marriage was coming unraveled too.  It seems that Ollie’s young female cousin was visiting from Tennessee, and Ollie came home and caught William George and her cousin “in the act.”  She grabbed either a bull whip or a horse whip and proceeded to use it on them, specifically on him, with the full intention of killing him.  The family stories are that it took 5 adult men to restrain her long enough for him to escape.  The family story, from the Crazy Aunts, of course, also says she was pregnant with twins which she subsequently had prematurely and died. If so, the Benton County, Indiana death records contain no record of this birth/death.  They could have been too small, or not born alive.

Divorce followed, but according to Aunt Margaret’s letters which she wrote to my step-mother after my father’s death, Ollie went to Chicago, taking the two girls with her, and William George headed back for Tennessee, but no one wanted the two middle boys, my father and Joseph.  Estel by this time, about 20, was old enough to make his own way. My father was about 12 and Joseph, about 10.

Joseph and my father hopped a train in Indiana and found their way back to Tennessee, and when they arrived at their grandparents house in Estes Holler, extremely hungry, dirty and threadbare, having walked a great distance, and with stories to tell…there was hell to pay.  When William George Estes, their father, arrived sometime later, he was literally run out of Estes Holler by his father, Lazarus Estes, under threat of death, for what he had done both to Ollie and to those boys.  William George crossed over the mountains and settled in Harlan County, Kentucky, known as bloody Harlan, where he very successfully moonshined for decades up in the roughest section of Black Mountain, the roughest area in Kentucky, near the coal camps. My Mom visited once with my father and refused to ever return.

Unfortunately, all of William George’s boys learned to drink, and none of them learned to drink in moderation.  I was told that when there was no food to eat, the children were given liquor to drink, to make them feel better, or maybe, to make them go to sleep.  I found that hard to believe…until I found the death certificate of a child from William George’s third marriage, William James, who died at the age of 2 years and 6 months, in 1935, and the coroner indicated that the child had died from “improper feeding.”  I was sick the day I read that, physically ill, because I knew all the things I had heard about my father’s young life and were too horrible to believe, were probably true.

The reason I mention this at all is because while my father certainly had a huge number of issues, perhaps not all of them were entirely his fault.  He was probably an alcoholic while yet still a child.  Alcohol both ruled and ruined his life, and certainly affected the lives of all the people around him, including, and maybe especially those who loved him.  Alcohol certainly affected the lives of his brothers the same way, and his sisters, well, they became the Crazy Aunts.

William Sterling Estes Joins the Military

My father joined the military in 1917 during WWI, “adjusting” his birthdate to be 1898 instead of 1901, 1902 or 1903. So did his even younger brother Joseph, nicknamed “Dode,” after his grandfather, Joseph “Dode” Bolton.  The military was most likely a better option for my father than any of the alternatives.

Bill and Virgie

Sometime about this time, my father met a young gal in Dunkirk, Indiana, named Virgie.  My father was extremely handsome, and he certainly understood how to win a young girl’s heart.  Look at this picture.  He brought Virgie a kitten (see his shoulder) and two baby ducks.

Bill ducks

These photos were sent to me after her death in 1989 by her daughter, along with the flag from my father’s coffin.

Bill kitten

Now the kitten is on her lap.  I wonder who took the photos.

Bill gone

This photo is just heart-wrenching to me.  I suspect this is when he married Ilo or maybe my sister’s mother, or at least during that timeframe.

Why did Virgie still have these photos, some 70 year later?  Because, she did eventually marry my father, in 1961, some 44 years after these pictures were taken.  She was his last wife.  They both claimed they were soulmates, and indeed, perhaps they were.  She was the only woman I ever met that had something good to say about my father.  In fact, she never said one bad thing about him.  She was a truly lovely lady.

As a child, I had no concept of my father’s constant woman problems, the betrayal of trust, his problem drinking, or the fact that he had “another family.”  I didn’t know I had a brother, Dave, who was only 5 months older than I was.  My mother, who was terribly embarrassed about the situation, managed to hide that from me, as did the “other woman,” from her child too.

My Father’s Daughter

I never knew my father as an adult.  I knew him as a child and I loved him, wholly and completely, in my childish way.  My father would come and visit and I would absolutely adore him, much to my mother’s chagrin.  It must have been tough from her perspective.  She did all the work and he got all the glory for simply showing up.  I remember once when he bought me a rocking chair, which I still have to this day, at Krogers.  I was maybe 4 or 5 and it was for my birthday or maybe Christmas.  Mother was so angry with him, because that is what she was going to get me and he “scooped” her.

I remember another time too when she was furious with him.  I understood that she was angry, very angry, and that it wasn’t directed at me, but I didn’t know why.  The phone rang, very late at night.  She got me up and we went for a drive. I was excited as this was a great adventure in my pajamas.  When we got “there,” my Dad was there, which made me very happy.  I got to sit on his lap for a few minutes, but then we had to leave, taking his little dog, Timmy, with us, who I thought was my dog.  Turns out, Dave thought Timmy was his dog too, and we both had photos of us with Timmy.  Here I am in that coveted rocking chair holding Timmy.

Me and Timmy

Years later, I asked Mom about this very foggy recollection.  Turns out, “there” was the jail in the next county. Why?  Because he has been arrested for drunk driving.  That’s what we called it then, no politically correct terms like “impaired operation of a motor vehicle.”  I asked Mom why she went at all and she said, in a semi-growl, “for the dog.”  Yep, she would have done that and she would have been furious with him both for having to go and retrieve the dog that wasn’t even hers, and for doing what he did….again.

His Death

My father’s death in 1963 in an automobile accident, like every other event in his life, was filled with contradictions.  My step-mother told me he was on the way to the preacher’s house to pick him up to go fishing, stone cold sober.  Her daughter told me that my father had been seen at the park earlier in the day, intoxicated.  Regardless, he reportedly had an angina attack while driving, missed the brake, stomping instead on the gas, and hit a telephone pole head on.

As an adult, after talking to my mother and his part-time employer at the time, which happened to be the funeral home, I wonder if he committed suicide.  On Friday, he backed the hearse into the garage, which in that small town doubled as an ambulance (isn’t that creepy – imaging waking up in the hearse and not knowing if you are dead or alive), and telling the funeral director that he would need it over the weekend.  And indeed, he did.  My father rode in it as an ambulance to the hospital on Sunday and a few days later rode in it as a hearse to the cemetery.

As I got older, everything I knew about my father seemed to be contradicted by something or someone else.  I wanted to love the man, but in some ways, he didn’t seem to be very nice – rather unlovable.  I finally came to the conclusion that while my adult woman self would not like him very much at all,  it was just fine for my young child self to continue to love him.  My mother once said to me in a fit of unbridled honesty that the best thing my father probably ever did for me was to die when I was young before I painfully discovered his betrayals personally. She managed to shield me from most of his drinking.

If I couldn’t know him personally, I wanted to know of him, to understand him.  I was insatiably curious about him.  He seemed so mysterious.  After all, I carried part of him in me.  What was that part and what made my Dad tick, aside from alcohol?  Sadly, I came to discover that alcohol and the actions he took under its influence truly did rule his life.

The Timeline

I started creating a timeline trying to make sense of my father’s life.  There were so many disjoint pieces. I wrote for his military records, but most of them were destroyed in a fire in the St. Louis records center in 1973.  The military helped reassemble as much as possible from other sources.

1917 – In a letter from the VA it says that he served in the Army from Aug. 24, 1917 until honorably discharged on May 19, 1919.  His last rank was private.  He was born Oct. 1, 1898 and died on Aug. 27 1963.  He enlisted May 14, 1917 at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, 18 years 24 days of age, born in Tazewell, Tennessee. Subsequent service – enlisted May 20, 1919.

I have a copy of this discharge, Sergeant first class, honorably discharged on May 19, 1919 at Camp Custer, Michigan.  His second discharge was honorable as well, even given his time spent in the Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, which really surprised me.

1919, May 20 – My father reenlisted in the Army at Camp Custer.

November 1919 – AWOL from the Army.

December 1919 – Married Ilo Bailey in Battle Creek, Michigan, under the name of Don Carlos.  Aunt Margaret remembered her name as Laila LaFountaine and said that “she hooked him to the plow and drove him like a horse.”

February 1920 – Son Lee born, eventually to be called Lee Devine, in Battle Creek to Ilo.

April 1920 – Arrested for being AWOL – sent to Fort Leavenworth Disciplinary Barracks in Kansas.

May 1920 – My sister, Edna born, also in Battle Creek, Michigan, to Martha Dodderer.

November 28, 1921 – Honorably discharged from the military at Fort Leavenworth.

December 12, 1921 – Married Edna’s mother in Battle Creek, Michigan.

1924 – Martha Estes (Edna’s mother) was paying an attorney for her divorce.  His name was Joseph Hooper and he lived in Battle Creek.  The divorce appears to have been final Feb. 26, 1924. Edna stated in a 1960 letter than before 1950, no one had heard from him in 29 years.  We don’t know where William Sterling Estes was in 1924.

1927 – William Sterling Estes enlisted in the military January 8, 1927 at Fort Sheridan in Chicago.  He was AWOL on May 23, 1927.

1924-1930 – William Sterling Estesmarried” again during this time, probably in southwestern Michigan, possibly Benton Harbor, having a daughter named Violet, about whom very little is known.  Violet married a Golliday or Galliday.  Violet later married a Blevins and joined a religious commune in the Ozark Mountains in or near Licking, Missouri.  Given this and some additional information provided by my sister Edna, who knew Violet, I decided not to pursue this relationship.  Violet was still living in the 1980s, to the best of my knowledge.

The Crazy Aunts told me that Violet’s mother may have been underage, because there was a statutory rape allegation, charge or conviction in western Michigan, possibly in the Benton Harbor area, having to do with the age of the pregnant female.  Michigan prison records held in the State Archives don’t reveal any William Estes having been a prisoner during this timeframe.

Apparently, the Crazy Aunts weren’t the only ones who were suspicious, because Ellen, the “other woman” to whom my father was married in the 1950s wrote a letter to the warden at Jackson State Prison in Michigan inquiring about whether or not my father could have been a prisoner there under an alias.

A letter from the warden of Jackson State Prison to Ellen on Feb. 21, 1957 states that inmate number #24884, Paul LeMarr, alias William Estes, sentenced March 2, 1929 to 10-15 years for statutory rape, was discharged on March 20, 1942.  He was sentenced in Benton Harbor, Michigan and he was age 29 in 1929.  The warden believed that from photos submitted by Ellen that Paul LaMarr could have been William Sterling Estes.

1937 – William Sterling Estes filed for his social security card in Chicago, Illinois.  He is working at Printers Finishing Company and gives his birth date as Oct. 1, 1902, which I believe to be correct.  The signature is my father’s.

Estes, William SS 1937

This proves that my father is not Paul LeMarr, because Paul LeMarr was not released from prison until 1942.  Was Paul LeMarr using William Estes as an alias?  Finally, something in Dad’s favor!  But where did that statutory rape rumor come from?  Was it Violet’s mother and did the charge “go away” because he married her?

So if he wasn’t in prison in Michigan, where was he from 1927 to 1937?

The Crazy Aunts said he was in prison or jail in Michigan at one time, and that one of them visited him there.  But then again, they are the Crazy Aunts and he could have been in “jail” for a few days for who knows what.

There is a rumor about him being in prison in Illinois (Joliet) based on a statement he made to my mother about where he had made someone’s acquaintance.  On the way to Florida in the early 1950s, he stopped at the Georgia prison and visited with the prison guards, the very men who had been his guards.  He made friends with everyone everyplace he went and the man did not know a stranger.  I suspect he could have sold ice cubes to Eskimos.

It’s hard to believe that after being married 3 or 4 times in less than 10 years that he became a monk for the next decade.  Maybe he wasn’t as good at getting divorced as he was at getting married.   He had to be someplace doing something.  And I’m betting that there may be children out there someplace lurking that were conceived between the 1920s when Edna, Lee and Violet were born, and the 1950s when Dave and I were born.  I doubt that he discovered how to prevent pregnancy in the late 1920s and suddenly forgot in the 1950s.

The next hint we have about William Sterling Estes is about 1938.

In March 2006, I visited with the daughter of Estel Estes.  My cousin said that my father came to stay with their family in Fleming, Kentucky in 1938 or 1939.  She was a little girl at the time.  They went for walks together and they found a baby duck without a mother, which they rescued and raised.  She said that the duck was old when it finally died.  My father stayed with their family for a month or 6 weeks.  She said that there was talk that he had gotten out of prison.  There was diphtheria wherever he had been.

1938, Oct. 31 – Discharged from Service – “Other than honorable.”  This is maddeningly brief.  Is this the discharge that matches up with the enlistment from 1927?  This makes no sense.  This also doesn’t tell us where he is, just that this action occurred.

The Unbelievable Story – 2 for 1

Now, let me tell you an unbelievable story.  This is one of two, actually, that kind of fit together like two insane puzzle pieces, and you’ll see why I was convinced that my Crazy Aunts were indeed, crazy.  As time went on, it wasn’t just the Crazy Aunts though that told this story, but my step-mother and others who lived in Claiborne County at the time this was happening.

The Doctor

I remember, when I was a child, there was an old doctor who had his Norman Rockwellish office in the front part of his home down the street from where we lived in Indiana.  I went there one time when I was older, maybe a teen, for something, when the old gentleman said that he remembered my father and that my father was a doctor too. I told him that I was sure he had the wrong man, and he repeated his name and told me, no, that he was not mistaken, that he remembered me, and that my father was indeed a doctor.  He dug around in a drawer, pulled out my father’s file, and showed me where it said he was a doctor.

Being raised in a time when one did not contradict your elders, at least not ones that weren’t your mother, I didn’t say anything, but I was sure this man was wrong.  However, I never forgot the story.  It always nagged at me, the feeling that something wasn’t quite right or that there was something that I didn’t know.

I went to visit my step-mother from the time I was a child.  I first went to visit my Dad and Virgie, my step-Mom, when I was young, before Dad passed away.  I loved to visit.  Virgie’s elderly mother lived there too, Grandma, whom I dearly loved.  Grandma would tell me how smart my Dad was.  I found this kind of odd.  He worked on furnaces and had his own furnace shop at that time in Dunkirk, Indiana.  She said not to let that fool me, that he had once been a great man.  Oh, the rantings of an old woman.  I loved her just the same.  We contented ourselves looking at ViewMaster reels and its predecessor, the stereoscope.  My favorite was Niagara Falls.  Grandma would tell me all about the images while I looked and they came to life.  I loved spending time with Grandma.

Niagara stereograph

After my father and Grandma were both gone, I visited Virgie from time to time until her death.  They were always such pleasant visits.  She told me wonderful stories about the loving man she knew as her husband.  Yes, I mean my father.

Before his death, he hid love letters and notes around the house for her to find later.  I’m sure he knew his time was limited.  My mother told me that based on his health, she thought he might have had cancer.  I’m more suspicious of cirrhosis of the liver, but regardless, he was not a healthy man.  One time, Virgie shared with me a note she had just found stuck behind a picture frame.  It was so sweet and personal and it was nice to know him in this lovely way.  She also kept all of his letters he wrote to her when he was in the service.  Her daughter sent those to me after Virgie’s death.  Even though I felt like I was intruding into a personal vignette, I did read them.  They were both sorrowful and beautiful, especially from my perspective, looking backwards in time and knowing what happened.

Virgie told me that my father understood physics and helped her son when he was studying for his PhD.  I questioned this, and she said that she didn’t know how he had come upon that knowledge, but that he had worked at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and that at some time, in some way, he was a doctor.  Truthfully, I found all of this quite unbelievable.  I knew that Virgie was not one of the Crazy Aunts, and that she would never tell me something she didn’t believe. She told me that he had done those things before he “went into the hospital.”  What she didn’t add was that the hospital stay was the VA hospital to “dry out.”

Apparently, he “dried out” several times, but never was able to stay dry, although he desperately wanted to.  It’s too bad that Alcoholics Anonymous did not exist then. He might have stood a fighting chance.  I discounted all of this, figuring that most of it was fanciful stories he had made up – but that didn’t explain how he could ever help a college student studying for an advanced degree that included physics.

When I started my genealogy search, I contacted people in Claiborne County, Tennessee.  All I started with was the name of a town, from my mother, Tazewell.  I called the telephone operator and told her to connect me to any Estes family there – and she did.  I eventually made my way from person to person to the family historian and my relatives.  They told me stories about my father and grandparents.  They knew them.  Of course, all of those old people are gone now.

I went to visit and met many of these lovely people who opened their hearts, shared their photos albums and family stories with me.  They told me that my father was a doctor and he treated people locally, for years.  In fact, people would find out when he was coming home and line up to see him.  He was a favorite.  And he performed surgery.  Surgery?  More than one person told me this.  They also told me that he practiced at the VA hospital in Knoxville, Tennessee until a patient bit him and he hit the patient.

They told me that at one time, he worked at Oak Ridge, and that he worked on ‘the bomb,” and that he was never “right” after that.  His drinking increased.  At that time, he was living in Claiborne County and these people knew him.  He was their neighbor.  These were family members who had known him their entire life.  They were not all making this up – but where was the kernel of truth in these seemingly conflicting, albeit very interesting, stories?

How could he have been a doctor, as in medical doctor, and also a physicist?  Furthermore, he had no more than a high school education to the best of my knowledge, if that, except that we really don’t know what he did or where he was for that 10 year period.  Was he in the military that entire time doing something “special’ that we don’t know about?  Those records for that time are entirely missing.

He could have learned about medicine while serving in a hospital someplace, but I don’t think you can learn physics that way.  Physics is extremely difficult under the very best of circumstances.

The requirement for a doctor to practice, legitimately, in Tennessee at that time are foggy, but in general, by 1930, nearly all medical schools required a liberal arts degree for admission and provided a 3- to 4-year graded curriculum in medicine and surgery. Many states also required candidates who wanted to get their medical license to complete a 1-year internship in a hospital setting in addition to holding a degree from a recognized medical school.  That presumes that one is doing things legally and by the book.  Of course, in Appalachia, healers had been treating their families and those of their neighbors for decades, and local neighborhood healers were probably trusted much more closely that “outsiders.”  Joseph, my father’s brother, was also a practitioner, a family herbal healer.  Death certificates during that time in Claiborne County are rife with comments like “refused to go to the hospital because did not want to split up the family” and many included reports of people refusing to see a doctor.

My brother, Dave, told me that he thought William Sterling was arrested for performing illegal abortions in or near Chicago in the 1950s or 1960s.

There is obviously some truth in here someplace, because there were too many witnesses….but where…and what was that truth?  Back to the timeline.

Many Wives – Too Many

1944 – I reached out to the Tennessee State Archives who provided me with information that William Sterling Estes began working for the Eastern State Mental Hospital on Dec. 29, 1944 and that he was dismissed March 12, 1945.  He was an attendant.  His legal voting residence was Claiborne Co., Tn. but he lived in Harlan Ky., while he worked at the State Hospital.  He was married, no wife’s name given, but he had relatives in state service – Dortha Estes also at Eastern State.

They could provide me no information about Oak Ridge or the VA Hospital.

1940s – Per Aunt Margaret’s (his sister) letter to Virgie, William Sterling was married to a woman in Oak Ridge, Tn., although she knew of no children by her.  Margaret also states that he got in trouble in the 1940s by “taking a girl over the state line,” perhaps to Kentucky, and spent some time in jail, but Ethel was apparently faithfully waiting for him.  Who was Ethel?

Late 1940s – The next we know of William Sterling was in the (possibly) late1940s when he was married to a woman named Ethel and living with his aunt, Cornie Epperson in Claiborne County, working at Oak Ridge Tennessee, possibly in a hospital there.  We know of no children from this marriage.  Cornie’s daughter says he was a doctor in the VA hospital.  Aunt Dorothy says he operated on her foot.  While this was reported as late 1940s, it sounds to me like it may have occurred before 1945.

1945 – March 15 – William Sterling Estes, now about age 42 or 43, married a 17 year old young female in Walker County, Georgia.  Note that this is only 3 days after his dismissal from Eastern State Mental Hospital in Knoxville, Tennessee, assuming that he was actually present in Knoxville at the time he was dismissed.  He could have been dismissed for not showing up at work. Regardless, the Georgia courtship seems very abbreviated.

I am not including the name of the gal he married in Walker County, because I believe she is still living.  He gives his age as 34, born Oct. 1, 1911 and residence as Chicago.  Shortly after this marriage, her father filed papers against him for bigamy, giving his other wife’s name as Dorothy Kilpatrick.  I surely wonder how her father made that discovery.  Did Dorothy show up?  Maybe right after the wedding, shouting, “I object!”

1945 – 1948 – In the Superior Court of Walker Co. Georgia on June 15, 1945, three months to the day after his marriage, William Sterling Estes was convicted of bigamy and sentenced to 5 years in prison.  According to prison records, he was discharged Dec. 13, 1948.  His wife on arrival at the prison was listed as Dorothy Estes, also listed as Dorothy Kilpatrick in court papers, Trailer Camp, NW 5th St., Richmond, Indiana.  He was in the Georgia State Prison at Reidsville, Georgia.  The specific court records no longer exist, nor do the prison records.

A few years ago, I spoke to the Georgia wife.  She did not have any children by William Sterling and said the marriage was annulled.  She did marry and have one child, about 5 years later.  I verified this child’s age and he was not born at a time when he could have been my father’s child.

So what happened to Dorothy?  And Ethel? And the young gal he “took over the state line.”  Or was that story really the bigamous marriage in Georgia?

Back to Chicago

1949 – Apparently, after William Sterling was released from prison in Georgia, he returned to Chicago where his mother lived.  He lost no time marrying again, this time to an Ellen in Cook. Co., Illinois on Feb. 19, 1949.  This must be some kind of record.  An entire courtship and marriage in less than 2 months.  Quick courtships seemed to be his style.  Apparently Dorothy divorced him while he was in prison?  But then again….um….maybe not.

1950 – William Sterling Estes finds my sister, Edna, in Michigan after a hiatus of almost 30 years.  Edna’s mother has passed away and Edna was none too pleased with her prodigal father.

1952 – His delayed birth certificate issued in Tennessee gives his address as 2210 Broadway, Fort Wayne, Indiana.

The “Other Woman’

1955 – Both my brother David and I were born within 5 months of each other, to different wives.  No, my father was not Mormon.

Mother told me years later that he filed for divorce from Ellen in 1955, in Florida, but somehow the waiting period got “messed up,” as in one day short.  Therefore the divorce didn’t happen, but apparently he thought it had.  My reaction to this?  “Likely story.”

I checked the Florida divorce index and there is nothing for a William, William Sterling or any Estes male involving a woman named Ellen.  That’s assuming that he used his correct name to get divorced.  I did verify the name on his marriage license to Ellen to be sure it was correct.

1956, April 3 – Mom wrote my sister, Edna a letter that includes information about my father.  She says “Bill is working very hard right now and when spring comes his business starts to be pretty heavy.  He wasn’t too well this winter but we hope he will be better when the weather gets nice.  He was out working through in spite of the way he felt.”

The photo below, I believe, is the only photo of me with my father, taken in 1956.  I have no idea who the other child in the photo, beside my father, is.  Makes me wonder…

Me and Dad

1956 – November 3.  My father is a passenger in a head on car accident that nearly kills him.  He flies through the windshield.  This is before the days of seatbelts or safety tempered glass.  I still vividly remember the scar on his forehead and the skin graft they did from his leg to his face and head.  This car accident was his undoing in more than one way though.  You see, it’s how he got caught with 2 wives, in the worst possible soap opera scenario.

Busted

Mom actually heard the sirens that day.  She remembers saying something like “I hope that’s not Bill.”  But it was.  Sometime later, the police came and took us to the hospital.  My father was not expected to live.  He had lost a great deal of blood and was badly injured.

At the hospital, employees had dug through his billfold and other personal information to figure out who to contact.  He was not conscious.

Mother and I were sitting by his bedside.  I remember none of this of course.

A few hours later, another woman, also with a baby walks into the room, looking for her husband.  Mother motioned to the next bed, but the woman came back and said no, that the man in this bed, my father, was her husband.

Both women stared at each other, and their babies, incredulously, as the awful truth slowly sunk in, and then they began to talk, as he lay comatose.  He’s a very lucky man indeed, that they simply did not finish him off.  I think they wanted him to regain consciousness so they could beat him senseless.  Needless to say, they were both furious.

Yes, they were both his wives.  Ellen lived in Chicago (or Fort Wayne) at that time.  My father traveled selling and arranging installations of industrial furnaces and he literally had a wife at both ends of the track, so to speak.   Can you imagine the stories the doctors and nurses had to tell when they went home that day.  “You are not going to believe this…..”  My mother couldn’t believe it either, and neither could Ellen.

There is another family story that has something to do with my father,  my (Brethren) grandfather and a baseball bat…but I never did get that entire story.  I got the general drift though and I’m guessing it might have happened about this time.

Dad Holland car

Above, my father outside one of the Holland Furnace company offices, from my mother’s photos.  Below, my father outside the Holland Furnace company facility from Ellen’s photos.

Dad Holland window cropped

My mother wasn’t as forgiving as Ellen who stayed married to him…at least for awhile.

1960, Oct. 3 – A letter from the Cook Co., Illinois Adult Probation Dept. to my sister saying that William Estes is under the supervision of that office and his whereabouts are no longer known to them.  Unless they are able to locate him, a warrant will be issued for his arrest for probation violation.  William D. Meyering is the person who wrote the letter and he is the chief probation officer.

Edna wrote a letter to the Cook Co. Adult Probation Department, replying to their letter of inquiry.  She said she had not had contact with him for 4 years and had not seen him in 6.  She says in 1956 he was with my mother and working for Holland Furnace Co.  She said she did not believe he would come to her house because she did not know him well, had only seen him about 10 times in her life, and all in the past 10 years.  Before then it had been 29 years since anyone had heard from him.  Doing the math, this means that she corresponded with him from 1950-1956 to some degree, and before that it had been 1921, the year she was born.  She asked why he was on probation, but did not receive a reply.

Mother said that about this time, Bill was working in Wisconsin, near Chicago.  He showed up in Indiana with a small station wagon that was brand new, an electric skillet, a toaster, clothes and toys.  The police arrested him for something to do with fraud.  The title for the car he traded was not clear, or something to that effect.  She said he served several months in the Chicago jail, which ironically would be the same Cook Co. jail where I installed inmate tracking software some 20 years later.

David thought he might have been sent to jail for performing illegal abortions in Wisconsin.

1960 – There is a dated photo of Bill sitting in the living room at Ellen’s house in Fort Wayne.  David remembers him living with them in Fort Wayne.  The city directory confirms that as well.

1960-1962 – This is the timeframe when Mom and I went to pick Timmy up from the jail.  My mother did not bail him out, much to his dismay, but took Timmy and left.  Mom said that when he got out of jail, the time we went to get Timmy, that he came by the house, and then went to Virgie’s in Dunkirk, and was unhappy that no one had come to see him.

Mom said that he spent time in jail in Terre Haute, Indiana, at some time, for repeated drunk driving offences.  I am unclear about when that might have been, but I got the idea it was when she knew him and perhaps after she was no longer romantically involved with him.

Married for the Last Time

1961, April 24 – William Sterling Estes married Virgie, his childhood sweetheart, in Rome, Georgia under the name William S. Este’ (no final s).  I would think that given what happened to him previously in Georgia when he was married to two women, he would have avoided Georgia entirely and would have been as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rockers just being in the state.  Can you believe he did this again, and in Georgia no less?  He was not divorced from Ellen.

According to mother, she is the one who told Virgie that he was not legally divorced from Ellen so Virgie and my father had to go to Florida and “take care of it.”

Virgie’s daughter says he worked in a heating place in Fort Wayne for about a year before they married.  He was likely living with Ellen during this time, unbeknownst to Virgie.  This man could never pull this off today in the age of cell phones, texting, e-mail and FaceBook.

Despite his “misrepresentation” of things, Virgie loved him dearly.  Apparently, among other things, he told Virgie that my mother was his sister.  My Mom was hopping mad about that one.  Virgie wrote to me after his death “that no matter what people say, there is a lot that goes into human behavior and your father is not ALL bad.”

1961 – There is an envelope from Jopling, Darby and Duncan, Attorneys at Law, People’s Hardware Building, Lake City, (Columbia County) Florida dated October 17, 1961 addressed to William S. Estes at 501 Hickory St., Dunkirk, Indiana.  This may have to do with the divorce from Ellen that somehow went awry.  Someone said that the lawyers filed it a day late.

Dad and Virgie

This is the last known picture of William Sterling Estes, with Virgie, obviously at Christmas time, in the early 1960s.  I would guess this is Christmas 1961 or 1962.

1963, Aug. 27 – William Sterling Estes died.   From funeral home information, it says in WWI he was hit ?? in a??.  Looks like he was hit in the arm with something.  It also says that he had a ruptured right col??.  Right side of page is cut off.

His obituary says he is a member of the Ralph Burgess post 227 of the American Legion “here”, the Williamson-Smiley Post 401 of Redkey, and the DAV post in Portland.

After my step-mother died, her daughter sent me items related to my father.  In fact, one day, I went to the mailbox to discover the flag from my father’s coffin stuffed in the back of the mailbox in one of those heavy Tyvek mailing envelopes.  Thankfully, the envelope held.

Among other things she sent me, unfortunately, attempting to reuse the same envelope some 30 years later, was a condolence card from the White House, to Virgie, “signed” by President Kennedy and postmarked Sept. 10, 1963, just a few weeks before Kennedy’s own untimely death.

White House Envelope

Estes condolence from Kennedy

My Favorite Memories

Although I don’t have a lot of memories of my father, I do have some and a few that stand out.

There are a couple things that have struck me over the years.  Most all of the photos I have ever seen of him show him in either a suit or a dress shirt.  There is maybe one or two in a t-shirt and jacket.  He did not talk, act or look like a “jailbird,” in any way.  He always looked and acted professional and sophisticated, from my perspective and that of many others as well.  He either was as he appeared, or he was a supreme con artist – or maybe both.

Dad against wall

Dad in suit 2

He loved to fish.  Dave and I both share memories of fishing with him.  Here he is with his can of worms and his ever-present coffee cup.  Wherever he was in his lifetime, he found a place to fish. He was drawn to it like a moth to a flame.

Dad fishing

And speaking of coffee, Dad started me drinking coffee.  Actually, today they would be called lattes because they consisted mostly of milk and sugar with a little coffee added in.  I loved them then and still do.

My Dad also rescued critters, animals in need.  Dogs, cats, ducks and even a raccoon.  The mother raccoon got killed.  He scooped the baby up and rescued it off of the road.  It traveled with him for a long time, but I don’t know what ever happened to said raccoon.  I believe Timmy was a rescue of some kind too.

You’re going to laugh when I tell you this, but he loved kids.  I’m not sure he loved the responsibility that went along with them, but he did love them, and I don’t just mean creating them.  Dave and I both have very good memories with him.

I remember going to the VFW post with Virgie and my Dad and he used to let me pull the arm of the slot machine.  I thought watching the spinning dials was great fun, and if I ever won anything, I got to keep it.  I was a very rich 5 or 6 year old with a jarfull of pennies!  My mother was appalled, both about the slots and the coffee drinking!

I remember one Easter when I was maybe 2 or 3 that Mom and Dad hid a little red wagon behind the couch.  I was ecstatic, and I found a purple easter egg too.  I’ve always loved purple and that egg was so richly colored.

And I remember when Dad brought me a small handmade stuffed doll we named Sleepy because her eyes were simply stitches and she appeared to be asleep all of the time.  She was maybe 6 inches long, and we made a bed for her out of a tomato crate that held 3 tomatoes and we made her a blanket for her bed that fit her perfectly.  I had Sleepy until I was an adult when she disintegrated.

I remember when Dad took me to my first Indian Powwow.  I was about 5.  Powwows were illegal then, and mother was utterly furious that he had taken me to something illegal.  I, on the other hand, loved it.  They had braided my hair.  I had danced.  For the first time, I felt like I belonged someplace.  They gave me a beautiful beaded belt and braid ties.  He bought me a fringed leather jacket.  But he did more than that, far more than he knew or anyone could have guessed. He introduced me to my people, to my heritage, to a people and heritage I take great pride in.  He introduced me to my future, that day, at the illegal powwow, and planted a seed that blossoms today.  Thank you Dad.

And then, there is my final memory, and it’s not directly of Dad.  Virgie told me that as he lay dieing in the hospital, that gave her a message for me.  First, he asked her to be sure I graduated…although I’m not sure from what, although I expect he meant college.  Then he told her to tell me that I’m smart and I can do absolutely anything I want to do.  His words would be echoed, almost word for word, a decade later from my step-father, almost like an arrow shot through time.

Neither of those men, I’m sure, had any idea of the power or the inspiration of those words, or the comfort they would bring me.  My faith in difficult times, in the face of a fearful future was rooted, in part, in the knowledge that I knew they both had total confidence in me, even if I didn’t, that they loved me to the depth of their souls, and neither of them would ever steer me wrong.

Just because our family members can’t overcome their personal demons doesn’t mean they don’t love us.

The DNA

You might suspect that with all of this chronic uncertainly swirling around in my father’s life that I had some doubt that any or all of his children were actually his, including me.  I desperately, and I do mean desperately, wanted his DNA.  Initially, I was seeking his Yline, but then I realized he had Ollie’s mtDNA and now of course, I’d love to have his autosomal.

I discovered hairs under his hatband and I attempted to have DNA extracted from them, as well as from an envelope mailed in the 1960s from my grandfather to my father.  No luck with any of those, and we tried three times.  You can read all about that in the article, “Digging Up Dad, Exhumation and Forensic Testing Alternatives.”  And for the record, no, I didn’t.  I do, however, still have a couple of hairs and someday when the technology has improved, I’d still love to have his DNA.  Maybe by then, I can do a full genome sequence.

Fortunately, I was able to go back upstream a couple of generations and find one male Estes descended from Lazarus Estes, my father’s grandfather, left to test.  This gave me the Yline, and it did match the known Estes line, which of course, disproved my brother Dave’s descent from my father.  The grown up me thinks that it’s somehow fitting that the ultimate scammer, in terms of women and drama, got scammed himself.

I upgraded that same cousin’s DNA to autosomal when that test became available, and thankfully, I match him.  I heaved a huge sigh of relief that day, let me tell you.

Fortunately, several cousins were willing to test, along with my sister’s granddaughter, so we’ve proven the rest of the relationships, at least those available to us.  And because my mother tested before she passed over, I in essence have half of my father’s autosomal DNA by subtracting my mother’s half from mine.  Not the same, granted, but certainly not bad for a guy who has been dead now for more than half a century.

What’s Next?

I think it’s possible that people are still living who were involved with or knew William Sterling Estes.  For example, there may be someone out there who knows something about Ethel, last name unknown, but probably Estes at one time, or Dorothy Kilpatrick Estes – the two women he was involved with in the 1940s and probably married to in Tennessee…or maybe Indiana.

I suspect that there may be more wives in the 1930s.  I suspect even more strongly that there may be more children.  It find it hard to believe that he [supposedly] fathered 3 children in the 1920s, 2 in the 1950s and none inbetween.  For all I know, he may have had several more families.  He’d certainly get married in the blink of an eye.  His haunt seemed to be from Michigan to Florida, but my mother met him on a train from Philadelphia to Chicago.

I nearly had a coronary writing this article when I found on Ancestry that someone had attached a wife and several children to him in Harlan County, KY in the 1920s and 1930s.  I don’t think it’s him, mostly because if it was, the Crazy Aunts and the rest of the family would have known about a wife, Addie, and a half dozen kids in that vicinity.  And truthfully, I can’t imagine him being with one woman for more than a decade.  It didn’t seem to be his style.  Plus I know he was in Chicago in 1937, but still…he was a slippery guy.  I’ve sent the woman who owns the tree a note asking how she knows that Addie was married to William Sterling Estes….just in case.  She hasn’t answered, and I don’t expect she will.  I figure she just attached Addie to the closest William Estes and my grandfather, William George Estes, was living nearby and had a son, William Sterling, of about the right age.

If you can fill in any blanks, please let me know.  I hope we can complete the missing chapters to his story, one way or another, or at least add some puzzle pieces.  I’ve love to figure out where he was for a decade.

And yes, I’m still waiting for that DNA match that one day, I just know is going to happen!

Dad stone

Digging Up Dad, Exhumation and Forensic Testing Alternatives

Dad in suit

I didn’t do it.  I really didn’t.  Ok, I wanted to, but I didn’t.

Yes, I seriously considered exhuming my father.  Ok, now that you’ve stopped gasping, let me tell you about the story, and what I did instead, and how successful it was, and wasn’t.

My father, William Sterling Estes, died in a car accident in 1963.  That means he’s been dead now for 50 years, half a century.  Depending on the source, he had between 2 and several children.  His obituary names me as his daughter, then inadvertently mixed up my mother, his x-wife’s name with that of his sister.  So my mother is listed as my father’s sister in his obit and his sister isn’t listed at all.  Neither is his other daughter, my half-sister.  For any of you who follow my family story, you already know it’s bizarre, so this unfortunate error should come as no surprise and would only provide Jeff Foxworthy with fodder for his “you might be….if” series.

But, as you’ll see, that obituary is part of the problem and so is the fact that he has been dead 50 years now.  That’s 50 years for his DNA to degrade.

My father was, well, ahem, somewhat of a playboy.  I keep finding children, and rumors of children, scattered about as I kept researching.  I keep waiting for a solid half-sibling match to some poor unsuspecting person on one of these autosomal tests too.  It hasn’t happened yet, but I’m just sure that one day it will.

And I haven’t published my blog article on Ilo yet, but suffice it to say that if you know of an Ilo (or maybe Flo?) who had a male child about 1920 in or near Battle Creek, Michigan and was briefly “married” to William Sterling Estes who was serving at Camp Custer at the time….I need to talk to you.

Now you’d think with all of these alleged children, there would be a male child to test, but the only male child I knew of back when DNA testing began was the male child of Ilo who I have never been able to identify, let alone locate.  I hadn’t found my “brother” Dave yet at that time, but as it turned out, Dave’s DNA did not match the Estes line anyway, so that would have been a red herring.

My Estes line out of Claiborne County Tennessee, for all of the males in earlier generations, dwindled to only a few, then to none in my generation.  The best I could do was a descendant of a male 3 or 4 generations upstream in my tree, and where there are paternity questions in more recent generations, a descendant from up the tree isn’t helpful, or wasn’t before autosomal testing.

Ah yes, that paternity question.  You see, it wasn’t definite.  A descendant tested the Y chromosome, and he was off just enough markers to be considered a problematic match.  But, it was enough to introduce doubt.  And doubt is a horrible nag for a companion – especially for the family genealogist who has spent the past three and a half decades working on this “doubtful” family.  In other words, OMG!!!  This was the genealogical equivalent of a panic attack.  And what could I do?  There was no one else to test.

On the chart below, the green line is the Estes ancestral line, as we know it today, proven by both genetics and genealogy.  The purple is the anonymous participant that tested and had the questionable match to the green ancestral Estes line.  The yellow group was then “suspect” because of the questionable match.  When I found David, supposedly my father’s son, and he tested, matching neither the purple participant nor the Estes ancestral line, it nearly put me over the edge.  My cousin, Buster agreed to test, which confirmed the ancestral Estes line back to Lazarus, which left the yellow still in the questionable realm.  There were no living males to test in the yellow line.

Digging up dad 1

So, I considered exhuming Dad.  That possible paternity issue had shaken me, pretty much to the bone, and I desperately wanted to know.  Was I barking up the wrong tree?  Was my Dad not my Dad, but David’s Dad?  David and I clearly were not genetic half-siblings, suggested at that time by CODIS testing, but proven eventually by 23andMe testing.  Was my Dad not the child of his father, William George?  Was his father maybe not the child of his father, Lazarus?  Why did my grandfather not look like the other Estes men?  We knew that John R. Estes matched the ancestral Estes line, but we had no one else to test below John R. on the tree.

Below, my great-great-grandfather, John Y. Estes, at left, my great-grandfather, Lazarus, center and my grandfather, William George, at right.

Digging up dad 2

Why did my son look so much like my father?  Was I just seeing things that weren’t there?  Below, my father as a teen in his military uniform and my son about the same age.

digging up dad 3

Without a male to test the Estes Y-line DNA, how would I ever know?

One day, a package arrived in the mail.  My step-mother had died some years ago, and her daughter had found a group of letters in her mother’s belongings that she felt I should have.  Among those letters were letters from my grandfather to my father.

Letters?  Envelopes?  Stamps?  Saliva?  DNA?  JACKPOT!!!  WOOHOOOO!!!!!!!

At the time my grandfather mailed those letters to my father, in the 1960s, my grandfather was living alone, so he should have licked the envelope and the stamp himself.

I called Bennett Greenspan at Family Tree DNA.  He referred me to a private lab that “does things like this,” called Trace Genetics.  Before you start googling, the company was subsequently sold and has now been defunct for years.  However, at that time they were doing custom processing of private forensic samples.

Yes, anything like that is considered forensic.  Anything you have to extract DNA from before you can have it processed in a regular lab is forensic work.

So, I got an estimate, took out a loan, and told them to go ahead.  You think I’m kidding, but I’m not.  The cost was in the $2000 range FOR EACH ATTEMPT.  So, we tried the envelope first.  No DNA.  Then we tried the stamp.  We got DNA, but it was female, so we knew it was contaminant DNA.  Think of how many people handle an envelope in the processing and delivery of mail, not to mention all the people who had handled it since.  Then we tried a second envelope.  No dice.

I was beyond frustrated and so were the two wonderfully patient scientists I was working with at Trace Genetics.  We all desperately wanted DNA.  In all fairness, they told me very clearly up front that there was a less than 50% chance of obtaining  ANY DNA, let alone usable DNA, let alone Y-line DNA.  Yes, the odds were very much stacked against me, and I knew it.

Y-line DNA is the least obtainable.  Most forensic work is done using mitochondrial DNA.  That’s because in each cell there is a total of 1 Y chromosome and there are thousands of mitochondria.  So the chances of recovering mitochondria are much greater than a Y chromosome.

Still, I had to try.  If you’re thinking of the word obsessed, I certainly wouldn’t argue with you.

Then I remembered, I had my father’s VFW hat.  I had it stored away in an old train case with other memorabilia from my childhood.  That was the one and only thing of my father’s I ever had – that hat.  I still remember him wearing it and I remember going to the VFW hall with him.  They had a slot machine and sometimes he used to let me pull the arm on the machine.  That was great fun.

I asked my friendly scientist at Trace Genetics what to do with the hat.  He suggested that I look for hairs in the interior of the hat, under the hatband, and then he told me how to extract the hair without touching it myself using sterile gloves.  I did so, put the hair in a Kleenex, put the Kleenex in an envelope and overnighted it to Trace Genetics.  This hair had the all-important follicle attached, the only part of the hair that will provide DNA.

I was positive, just positive, that this time was the jackpot.  But it wasn’t, and neither was the next hair.

Are you adding up the numbers in your mind?  Well, I assure you, I was adding them up.  And it wasn’t the money that bothered me, but the lack of results.  I was devastated.

Dad tombstone

So, I considered exhumation.  I looked into it, and I discovered a couple of things that were very important and were likely show-stoppers.

  1. In order to exhume someone, you have to petition the court and give a reason.  Then, you have to obtain the written, notarized, permission from every single descendant.  Yes, I said EVERY SINGLE DESCENDANT.  If even one disagrees, or refuses, it’s done, a deal-killer, dead.
  2. The cost of said exhumation is about $20,000 including all expenses, like attorney fees, backhoe, medical examiner, etc..

Choke, sputter, cough….clutching chest….

I happened to know someone who actually did exhume their ancestor, not for DNA testing, but because the cemetery was going to wind up at the bottom of a lake.  And yes, the entire process did cost in the neighborhood of 20K, a price-tag they did not anticipate in advance nor expect.

I had my doubts that any court would approve an exhumation for obtaining DNA for genealogy, but they might approve it to move the grave to Tennessee where my father’s family was buried.  Dad was (and is) buried alone in Indiana.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But to move him, the cost of the exhumation would increase exponentially.  Moving a body which is considered medical waste is not inexpensive.  By way of comparison, to bring my sister home from Arizona to Michigan for burial was in the neighborhood of 10K.  And that would have been in addition to the 20K for exhumation.

For a minute, I thought about my brother, Dave, the long haul truck driver and I wondered if he had any room in that truck between pallets of yogurt.  But I got a grip on myself before asking him. I had visions of Dave putting Dad back in the sleeper cab…but I digress.

Ok, now we were talking the price of a car or a small house…a vacation home maybe or a trip around the world.  And it wasn’t 2K at a time, but an all or nothing proposition.

Not only did I not have the 20K or 30K, I couldn’t justify borrowing it, so I decided to leave sleeping Dad’s lie, so to speak.

I also decided that really, while I desperately did want to know about the paternity issue and its resolution, that I’m an Estes no matter what.  It’s my maiden name, it’s my name now that I’m married (I married a Kvochick, need I say more) and it will be my name on my tombstone.  So, I’m an Estes no matter whether I descended from them genetically or not.

I intentionally have not addressed any moral or ethical issues about exhumation.  Some feel the dead should be left alone, undisturbed.  However, there is precedent… the Catholic church regularly exhumes their saints to see if the body is well preserved.  I didn’t know what to think, truthfully, along those lines, and before I could have and would have actually made that decision, I would have had to think long and hard about it.  Would I have been there for the exhumation?  Could I have stayed away?  Would I have wanted to see my father like that?  All questions I would have had to answer, but did not have to, because the other issues precluded exhumation.

The first issue I would have encountered was who, exactly, were his descendants, and how, exactly, legally, was that determined?  I mean, does the court go by the obituary?  If so, my mother was his sister.  But I had a real half-sister.  Was she included?  No place did it say that she was his descendant.  He didn’t have a will.  And what about the children we knew about but couldn’t find?  Would that preclude the exhumation?  Or should we just stay quiet about them?  No, too many ethical issues and thorny problems, and that is BEFORE you get to the money issue.

I’m glad I didn’t slog through that mess, because before long, autosomal testing came about – not CODIS testing – which was inconclusive at best – but wide spectrum testing using hundreds of thousands of DNA positions, today’s 23andMe and Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder tests.

I have several Estes cousins who aren’t direct male lines but who who are fairly close genetically and I’m not related to any of them through any other genealogical lines.  If I matched them, it would be proof positive that I indeed was a blood descendant of the Estes line.  I wasn’t happy testing just one or two, so I tested 5 or 6 of my cousins from different children of my great and great-great-grandfather – and yes, I did indeed match all of them.

What a relief!  I didn’t have to dig up Dad or spend the equivalent of a couple years of college education.

But for those who are indeed as desperate as I was, let me tell you the following.

  1. There are very few labs that will do this kind of processing.  It is very unpopular as you basically have to shut the entire lab, sanitize it, and run no other tests until you are done.  You can see a forensic lab clean room in Ripan Malhi’s lab at the University of Illinois.
  2. Best case, with a relatively recent sample, meaning one from someone who died recently, you have about a 50% chance of useable DNA retrieval.  That’s BEST CASE.
  3. Skin is good.  The best is an electric razor contents.  Do NOT touch them.  Put the entire razor with contents into a plastic bag and DO NOT seal it.  Keep it in a temperature stable environment.  No attic or basement.   Sometimes hairbrushes have skin flakes in with the hair.
  4. Hearing aids are good.  Again, do not touch, etc.  Blood is good.  Spit is good.  A Kleenex is wonderful, providing you are sure it is their Kleenex.  If your mother was like my mother, check her bathrobe pockets.
  5. Older things like hair, sweat, envelopes etc. are not so good.  The older the sample, the less likely you’ll be able to retrieve DNA.  It degrades with time and these aren’t particularly good to begin with.
  6. Digging up a grave without doing all of the paperwork is illegal, and the legalities vary by locality – so consult an attorney and get the check book ready.  I just thought I should mention that little illegal detail, just in case.  I know genealogists are innovative and sometimes desperate people.

Having said all of that, don’t go throwing anything away.  There is new technology on the horizon that will only need one cell of DNA – so I’m told.  Seeing how far we’ve come in the past decade, I don’t doubt that someday this will be true, and someday may be closer than you think.  And no, I do not know how far away that horizon is.

So, store your DNA item safely.  Label it.  Do not seal it in plastic.  Do not store it in the attic (heat) or basement (cold, humidity) but someplace fairly temperature regulated.

One time when working with an archaeological specimen, we were told to freeze the sample.  Well, we did, in a plastic cool-whip container with water.  However, the electricity went out while the person whose freezer the specimen was stored in was out of town.  Their friend went to their house and did them the very big favor of disposing of everything in the fridge and freezer before they came home.   Needless to say, we were just sick.  So, don’t freeze it either.  Besides that, freezing in a frost-free refrigerator (that by definition defrosts itself regularly) is not the same as freezing a specimen in a laboratory temperature controlled stable environment.

So, what’s the upshot of this?

  • Forensic genetics is expensive
  • Exhumations are extremely expensive and fraught with all kinds of legal and technical landmines
  • There are very few labs, if any, that will process private forensic samples
  • When DNA is retrieved from a forensic specimen, it may be contaminant, not the DNA of the person you think it belongs to
  • When DNA is retrieved from a forensic specimen, you still have to pay for the DNA testing, in addition – and it may not work
  • When DNA is retrieved from a forensic specimen, if it does amplify, it will most likely be mitochondrial DNA
  • Using today’s combined genetic genealogy tests, there is almost always a way around the lack of a particular DNA donor, making exhumation and or forensic testing unnecessary

And if you’re considering grabbing a shovel, an urge which I well understand, I’ll leave you with the advice of an ethicist that Family Tree DNA invited to speak at their annual conference a few years ago, “Don’t do anything in the dark of night that you wouldn’t do in the middle of the day.”  Put another way, don’t do anything you wouldn’t be comfortable seeing in the headlines, because if you get caught, that’s where you’ll be:)

But then again, those headlines would certainly be something interesting for future generations of genealogists to dig up about you!