McDowell – King’s Moss, Northern Ireland

When Jim and I were planning our trip in September of 2013, including the cruise around the British Isles, we carefully selected our side trips to correspond with anything genealogical I could find in that region. Given my colonial Virginia and Appalachian heritage, I have lots of family history in the British Isles, so I felt connected just about everyplace.

One of the stops I was most excited about was the port of Belfast in Northern Ireland. Jim and I planned to visit the Giants Causeway on the far northern shore, but on the way is what I really wanted to see – Kingsmoss Road in Newtownabbey.  On the map below, B is Kingsmoss Road located between Belfast (A) and the Giant’s Causeway (C).

Ireland Giant's Causeway Map

Why was I so anxious to see King’s Moss Road? Well, that’s the story of what genetic genealogy can do for you, even in a less than optimal set of circumstances.

Let’s back up several years.

The McDowell project is one of those that doesn’t have a project website at Family Tree DNA, nor a public website of any kind. I’d love to provide a link here, but I can’t.  My cousin tested some years back and the project administrator provided me with a spreadsheet showing results and his matches.

The project situation is certainly less than optimal – but still – what I needed was that “one good match” and I indeed, did receive that.

Mary McDowell was born about 1785 and she married William Harrell in 1809 in Wilkes County, NC.

Mary’s father was Michael McDowell, a Revolutionary War veteran, born about 1747. He served from Bedford County, VA and after the war, settled in Wilkes County, NC with his wife, Isabel, last name unknown. Around 1810, Michael, along with a number of other families who were intermarried and lived adjacent moved to what was then Claiborne County, Tennessee, on the border with Lee County, Virginia, in what would in the 1840s would become Hancock County, Tennessee. Mary McDowell and William Harrell were among this group.

Michael’s father is believed to also be Michael McDowell found on a 1755 Bedford County tax list. In 1752, Michael was in Halifax County, Virginia and he was selling his father’s land, in Baltimore, Maryland.

His father’s name was Murto or Murdo McDowell, probably actually Murtough McDowell. We know nothing about him except that he was dead in 1752. Much research remains to be done on this line.

However, DNA testing has allowed us to jump the pond, without knowing who Murtough’s ancestors were or where they were from.

The descendant of Michael McDowell whose test I paid for had three matches, according to the administrator. She sent me a paragraph or so provided by those three matches. One match is from another son of Michael McDowell, one is from Pennsylvania and the common ancestor with that individual is likely overseas in the old country, but the third match was the gold mine.

This gentleman’s father was born in Ireland, outside of Belfast, and he knows exactly where.

“There is a Kings Moss Road and I have been on it. There is also a place called Kings Moss. I have relatives there and my father was born there. It shows Kings Moss on his birth cert.”

This extremely valuable piece of information tells me several things. First, it tells me that this is likely where Murtough was from as well. During this time, the Scotch-Irish were immigrating in record numbers, and while McDowell is originally a Scottish name, it is found in the area of Ireland, now Northern Ireland, where the Scotch-Irish were forced to live – the Ulster Plantations. And, the McDowells are Protestant, very important in Ireland, according to the McDowell match, suggesting strongly that they indeed were not Irish, who are staunchly Catholic. They were strongly Protestant in Wilkes County too, the denomination typically known as Primitive or Hard-shell Baptists.

Kings Moss Road is a very rural area. It’s not a large city, not a “go to” type of location, even though it’s only 15 miles or so out of Belfast.

So I was incredibly excited that I was going to be riding within sneezing distance from where the McDowell family lived, driving on the same roads that my ancestor probably walked on, maybe driving livestock, maybe tending fields or searching for food. You can see, below, it’s just a little divit, a dog-leg, off the main Mossley road, maybe half a mile long, in total. Kingmoss road actually ends at the intersection of B56 and Springwell road. The B balloon is about half way on Kingmoss road. I would be able to see it! I could take a picture or maybe even a movie.

Kingmoss Road

In this satellite view, I can see the fields and farms and the McDowell family surely farmed one of them.

Kingmoss satellite

But, unfortunately, Lady Luck was not with me and Lady Fate took over instead. The British Isles was experiencing severe storms including 25-30 foot seas. The port of Belfast was closed, and we could not put into that port. Sometimes they change itineraries, reversing ports, but on this trip, Belfast was cancelled entirely. I was crushed. We had come so far to be turned back. But there was nothing to be done.

So, I did what any technologist would do, I checked to see if this area of Northern Ireland had street views in Google Earth. I was amazed to discover that it did. So I took a virtual, turn by turn, tour. Come along!

Kingmoss turn by turn

Kingmass turn by turn 2 cropped

Kingmoss turn by turn 3

Kingmoss turn by turn 4

It certainly wasn’t quite the same as being there, but it’s decidedly better than nothing at all. I wonder what other places might be available to visit virtually that I had never considered previously.

And of course, being a genealogist, I’m now wondering where the closest church is to this location, and if the records still exist for that church. Murtough was likely born sometime around 1700, if not earlier. Could I possibly be that lucky???? Is Lady Luck with me? Has she returned?

Occasionally, synchronicity steps in. Do you ever look for a sign? Something hopeful….maybe from the ancestors themselves???  Like my friend who was hunting for her ancestor’s gravestone, with absolutely no luck.  Not watching where she was walking, she stepped into a hole and turned her ankle, causing her to fall.  As she lay there on the ground taking stock of the situation, she realized that to get up, she was going to have to roll sideways until she could reach a stone to help her stand up.  She looked at the stone directly beside her and it was indeed, her ancestor that tripped her up.

Sometimes, you just notice something incredible. Now I know there is probably, most probably, no correlation or relation at all. But still, I want to share with you something I discovered.

Kingmoss satellite 2

I’m going to zoom in on the upper left hand corner of this satellite view of Kingsmoss Road.

Kingmoss satellite 3

And zoom again. Note the field with the spiral.

Kingmoss satellite 4

Below is an aerial view of my property.

Labyrth bird's eye view (1)

To give you an idea of perspective, that’s my daughter and I standing by the labyrinth. It’s just over 90 feet across.

Is there a gene for this???



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The White Cliffs of Dover

Jim and I discovered when we were booking the DNA journey that the airfare was a pretty big chunk of the cost of the trip. We also like to cruise, and in particular, we love the Mediterranean. However, there were no cruises leaving the right place at the right time for the Mediterranean, but there was one leaving, as luck would have it, the day after we returned to London from the Cotswolds and the Ribble Valley, out of Dover, just down the road. Well, in England, everything is just down the road, as compared with the US. It’s an island, after all.

Woo hoo. Off we go on another adventure.

This cruise lasted 12 days on the Carnival Legend and circled the British Isles as well as stopping in two European ports. My ancestral families were from all over this part of the world, so I can’t go anyplace over here without some kind of ancestral connection. It’s a wonderful problem to have!!!

Our friend, Said, came to get us in his magic carpet Mercedes and we had a wonderful opportunity to chat on the way to Dover.  He also took me to a couple of quilt shops on the way to the boat, although there weren’t many. I did manage to find a couple of things, including a couple of tea towels. Sometimes, you just have to make do.

I had been wanting to see the White Cliffs of Dover for years, and had been looking forward to this for weeks. You see, my Estes family is from Kent, just 8 miles up the road. They were fishermen, mariners, and yes, they would have been intimately familiar with these white cliffs. They would have been a landmark for the sailors and fisherman then just as they are today. The castle is still there guarding those cliffs too, probably looking much the same today as 400-500 years ago, especially if you add a little mist or fog to hide the automobiles and modern roads.

The first photo is of the fort and castle of Dover and the second is a panoramic view of the white cliffs.  In WW2 our pilots used the white cliffs as a sign they were near safety.

White cliffs of Dover

I wonder what my ancestors would think if they knew that some 500+ years after they were fishing here that their 10 times great-granddaughter would come back and would stand right here.

Dover and Me

Of course, my Estes family wasn’t the only ancestral family that lived here. We’ll talk about the Estes line when we return. Yes, Jim and I will be visiting the family lands, churches and villages for a few days when we come back into port. I couldn’t be this close and not visit.

However, I was unsuccessful in determining anything about the families of the women from this area who married Estes men. I’m hopeful that perhaps someone will see this list and recognize a name from this region. I did check the associated DNA projects without any luck.

Robert Eastye married Anne Woodward in Shoulden, Kent, just up the road from Deal, on December 2, 1591.

Their son Sylvester Eastye married Ellen Martin just down the road in Ringwould, Kent in 1625. Ellen was reportedly from Great Hadres or Hardres, spelled both ways, nearby.

Records for these families are found in or referring to Great Hardres (A), Deal (C), Shoulden (C), adjacent Deal, Ringwould (D), Waldershare (between D and Dover), Nonington (E) and last, Sandwich (B), where our immigrant ancestor was apprenticed. Records for the Martin or Woodward family from these locations would be immensely helpful. It appears from the church records that families actually were surprisingly mobile within this area.

Kent map

After boarding the ship, during the welcome reception, we met our old friend, John Heald. He was the cruise director on our first cruise too. Just suffice it to say that, ahem, he remembered Jim. It was great to see John again. He brightens every day and is quintessentially English.

This, by the way, is the lobby area. These ships are “brightly decorated,” to say the least.


Over the years I’ve discovered a couple of things about cruising. First, shawls are very lightweight and can dress even a t-shirt up enough for dinner. Black works with any color. Second, you’ll want to carry a small purse, but it doesn’t need to be any bigger than to hold a lip gloss and your room key. You don’t need anything else on board the ship. This one I’m carrying, my Mom crocheted for me at least 20 years ago, “in case you have someplace fancy to go.” Well, Mom, I do, and you’re along for the ride.

I know this next photo looks like I’m in jail, but I swear, I’m not. This sunset shot was taken from our dinner table out the window. I know, you’re not buying a word of this are you?


Oh yes, another cruise tip…your American Express card will get you out of jail around the world, not that I know personally of course. I do know from the couple that got themselves stranded (twice) and missed the ship’s departure in Istanbul on a previous cruise that your American Express card will purchase plane tickets, limo service, and save your sorry butt when you go into Asia where they tell you not to go! And yes, they did it, not once, but twice, on the same cruise. Let’s just say that the first time everyone felt a little sorry for them, but the second time, they WERE the entertainment until the end of the cruise. A honeymoon they won’t soon forget, or live down.

Now Jim and I have a tradition, and you’re just going to have to suffer through it along with us on this cruise, since you’ve joined us on our journey. Every night, while you’re at dinner, your cabin steward creates a “towel animal” and leaves it on your bed. So every night when we return to our cabin, our towel animal gets posed with something from our day. Yes, I know it’s kind of corny, but it’s a lot of fun and we’ve done it for years now, since our very first cruise. So it’s our tradition!

Oh, and by the way, my first cruise was a genealogy cruise to the Caribbean with my Claxton cousin and his wife who I had met through genealogy and are now my Claxton/Clarkson DNA Project co-admins! Yes, I shamelessly recruited them.

When my cousin’s wife asked if I wanted to go on the cruise, I walked into Jim’s office and announced, “I’m going on a genealogy cruise.” He pronounced, “Well, I’m going with you.” I said, “But you don’t even like genealogy.” He said, “So what.” Well, he has a point. You can’t be bored on a cruise or if you are, it’s entirely your own fault.

Towel seal

Today our towel animal, who might be a seal, is proudly displaying fabric from the quilt shops, along with the business card from the shop and a Carnival pin.

Bon voyage!!!



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Chester and the Cotswolds, UK

We are finishing the British portion of our DNA trip by visiting Chester and the Cotswolds. Did you know, in England, that you can’t be considered a city if you don’t have a cathedral? No cathedral, no city. And no, of course there is no intermixing of church and state here – whatever made you think such a thing?

The city of Chester is an old city with a rich history with a lot of ethnic admixture.

Chester was founded as a “castrum” or Roman fort with the name Deva Victrix in the year 79 by the Roman Legion II Adiutrix during the reign of the Emperor Vespasian. Chester’s four main roads, Eastgate, Northgate, Watergate and Bridge, follow routes laid out at this time – almost 2,000 years ago.

Eastgate 1880s

This painting shows Eastgate in the 1880s.

One of the three main Roman army camps, Deva later became a major settlement in the Roman province of Britannia.

Chester Roman fort

A diorama of the Roman Legionary fortress Deva Victrix, courtesy of the Grosvenor Museum, Chester.

The Roman Empire fell three hundred years later, and the Romano-British established a number of petty kingdoms in its place. Chester is thought to have been part of Powys at this time. King Arthur is said to have fought his ninth battle at the city of the legions and later St Augustine came to the city to try and unite the church and hold his synod with the Welsh Bishops. In 616, Æthelfrith of Northumbria defeated a Welsh army at the Battle of Chester and probably established the Anglo-Saxon position in the area from then on.

In the late 7th century, (AD 689) King Æthelred of Mercia founded the Minster Church of West Mercia on what is considered to be an early Christian Site and known as The Minster of St John the Baptist, Chester (now St John’s Church) which later became the first cathedral.

The Saxons extended and strengthened the walls of Chester to protect the city against the Danes, who occupied it for a short time until Alfred seized all the cattle and laid waste the surrounding land to drive them out. The Anglo-Saxons called Chester Ceaster or Legeceaster.

In 973, the Anglo Saxon Chronicle records that, two years after his coronation at Bath, King Edgar of England, came to Chester where he held his court in a palace in a place now known as Edgar’s field near the old Dee bridge in Handbridge. Taking the helm of a barge, he was rowed the short distance up the River Dee from Edgar’s field to the great Minster Church of St John the Baptist by six (the monk Henry Bradshaw records he was rowed by eight kings) tributary kings called ‘reguli’.

Chester was one of the last towns in England to fall to the Normans in the Norman conquest of England. William the Conqueror ordered the construction of a castle, to dominate the town and the nearby Welsh border.

The cathedral in Chester is very interesting, as is the history of the city.  We only had an hour there with the guide.  The city is a walled city – Roman walls – still intact and you can walk them – but we didn’t have time.  Such an ancient location.  The Roman soldiers who built Hadrian’s Wall were stationed here, and came back afterwards.  There were settled Danes and settled Anglo-Saxons and groups of people living in ethnically distinct neighborhoods within the city walls trading with the Romans.  Is it any wonder we find such a mixture of DNA from this part of England?

Chester guide

In the photo above, our guide is showing us a map of the old city. The orange is the fort and the pink is the city wall. No wonder we see so much intermixed DNA here.

Chester map

Here’s a 16th century map of Chester, above, and a modern day view, below. You can see the location of the old city walls on the contemporary map, but the city is obviously much larger today.

Chester satellite

As with all military forts, villages sprang up around the fort for purposes of trade and providing support services to the soldiers.

Chester ruins

You still find the Roman ruins scattered from place to place in the city.

A few years ago, a very interesting paper was written by Steven Bird about the areas surrounding the Roman forts along Hadrian’s Wall. In his paper, titled, Haplogroup E3b1a2 as a Possible Indicator of Settlement in Roman Britain by Soldiers of Balkan Origin, Steven says that:

“The invasion of Britain by the Roman military in CE 43, and the subsequent occupation of Britain for nearly four centuries, brought thousands of soldiers from the Balkan peninsula to Britain as part of auxiliary units and as regular legionnaires. The presence of Haplogroup E3b1a-M78 among the male populations of present-day Wales, England and Scotland, and its nearly complete absence among the modern male population of Ireland, provide a potential genetic indicator of settlement during the 1st through 4th Centuries CE by Roman soldiers from the Balkan peninsula and their male Romano-British descendants.”

The location of Chester is shown on the map below.

Chester map 2

Byrd further says that, “The frequency of E3b in Britain was observed to be most prevalent in two regions; a geographic cluster of haplotypes extending from Wales eastward to the vicinity of Nottingham, encompassing the region surrounding Chester, and a second (NNE to SSW) cluster extending from Fakenham, Norfolk to Midhurst, Sussex.”

Byrd provided the following map to illustrate his findings.

Byrd map

The surprising part to me isn’t that Chester is such a “hotspot,” all things considered, but that Wales is as well. I don’t think of Wales in terms of the Roman occupation, but apparently I should have.

Wales is literally just next door as well, meaning you can see it, and it seems the people living in Chester had a hissy-sister-fit type of relationship with the Welsh for as long as anyone can remember.

Yep, that’s Wales, looking down this street to the end. The Welsh hills are in the distance. The people of Chester don’t put clocks on that side of buildings because they don’t “want to give the Welsh the time of day.”

Chester city hall

I’m not kidding about that “time of day” thing. Above, their beautiful City Hall with clocks on 3 sides of the tower. I’ll just let you guess which side is clockless.

Wales in the distance

The abbey is now gone of course, but this is the gate to where it once stood.  Underneath this gate they found a medieval wall, so this is not the first structure to grace this location.

Abbey gate

While the abbey is long gone, the Cathedral still exists and is splendid.

Chester cathedral

The cathedral door is original, and stunning.

Chester cathedral door

When inside the cathedral, the organist was practicing and it was an imposing sound.  I got some photos of the organist and the organ and pipes and it is really quite amazing.

Chester cathedral organ

This gives you the scope of the cathedral and the organ.  I think if you were afraid of heights, you couldn’t play this organ!

Chester cathedral organ 2

As with all of these early churches, the stained glass is phenomenal.

Chester cathedral window 2

The nave was begun in 1323, was halted due to the black plague and finally completed in the late 1400s.

Chester rood screen

The Rood Screen carvings are simply awe inspiring.

In this cathedral you find the remains of three earlier churches and the abbey was next door of course.  The abbey was destroyed during the forced change from Catholicism to Protestantism.  The cloisters remain, at least the ones attached to the cathedral.

Chester cloisters

This abbey was very wealthy because they told their patrons that if the family did not give all their money to the church, they were being selfish, because for money, the monks could pray their souls out of Purgatory to Heavens quicker.

Chester grave slab

This 13th century grave slab now resides in the cloisters, but was originally elsewhere on the grounds. There is no identification of who was buried beneath the slab.

Chester stone coffin

There is also a stone coffin found in the cloisters. The coffin was over six feet, six inches. This is unusually large for people of that time. Note the drain hole.

These old churches all have people buried in the floor inside.  This one is full of carved tombs and statues, but this one in the floor, small by comparison, and in a side nave, so obviously couldn’t afford a “good” spot, just spoke so loudly of heartbreak.

Chester floor burial

But God, or the King, served justice upon the wealthy abbey who had been extorting “prayer money” from the family of deceased patrons, because they were so rich that the King took notice and removed all of their riches and destroyed the abbey.

Chester quilt

This tapestry, which is really a quilt, hangs in the church as well.  It was created by a woman from the US who came to see the reenacted Bible stories.  These reenactments were discontinued after the reformation, because they were determined to “not be Christian” but have been historically reenacted for the past several years.

I just loved this quaint little street.

Chester street

Leaving the cathedral, we saw “The Rows” which begin in Godstall Lane across from the church in a small street, too small for modern cars.

Chester Godstall lane

Walking down Godstall Lane, where you exit on the other end, after it narrows even more, about a block or so from the beginning, is on the second row of buildings, or the second floor.

Chester the Rows

Can you see in the windows of the store below? When doing excavation work, old roman arches were found. You can visit today and have tea too.

Chester Rows arch

Here’s a larger photo of the area.

Chester Rows street

A couple of buildings on down the road is Bridge Street, one of only two bridges to connect to Wales originally – and anyone could go in, but you had to pay a toll to get out.  They seriously did not want the Welsh in England.


From there we drove through the northern part of Wales which looks a lot like England, although the Welsh would probably string you up if they heard you say that.  They still speak Welsh there and it’s multi-lingual, except in the north where many won’t speak English.  In south Wales, many don’t speak Welsh.  Hard to believe such a difference for such a small country.  It may be called the United Kingdom, but it’s anything but and there are significant regional differences within and between countries.  These are the mountains that divide Wales and England.

Wales mountains

Even stopping at gas stations here provides entertainment.

Button candy

We went on to have a late lunch in the Cotswolds.  I didn’t know what the Cotswolds were until today, but think of thatched roof cottages with flower gardens and English figurines and that’s the Cotswolds.


Cotswalds 2

Jim and I found a bakery and had a picnic in the town square sitting on the base of the war monument.  It wasn’t Arles in southern France or Stonehenge, but it was still a nice picnic and we didn’t spend our entire hour and a quarter there waiting to be served.  Instead, we spent money like tourists are supposed to do!

Cotswalds square

However, there was a chocolate shop, Cotswold Chocolates, and I had to visit and try the wares. The owner was a lovely lady and she had some TO DIE FOR dark chocolate dipped apricots. I have already checked to see if they ship overseas.

Cotswalds chocolates

We love to visit the local stores and see what local treats we can find to try. But….I drew the line…

Freeze dried insects

Stow is really a quite beautiful little village.  Lots of tourists think so too, but also lots of locals walking around, many with their dogs.  There is a dog water bowl in the doorway of many shops and signs saying dogs are welcome.  There was a farmers market in the square, of course with local veggies.

Queens Head Inn

I particularly like this reflective photo of the images in the old hand blown glass windows of the inn, above.

Cotswald windows

From the Cotswolds, we headed for London. The rest of the group was departing for home, but Jim and I were starting the second part of our trip – a cruise around the British Isles. This is particularly exciting for me, because I have family connections in several locations. In one location, we’ll be driving right past my family’s land and in another I’ll be visiting the clan castle.

I’ve been immersing myself in the history of the places where we have and will visit. One of my favorite books is Peter Akroyd’s, London, A Biography. He shares 2000 years of London’s history in very human form. He discusses the history, the culture, the people, the rich, the poor, the plague, the great fire…you name it, he talks about it. While contemporary London is certainly an outgrowth of the original London, it’s had changed dramatically. I can’t help but look at this map from the 15th century and wonder if this was the London my ancestor, Henry Bolton knew. We don’t really know where he was from, but oral history says London, and that he and his brother, Conrad were kidnapped and sold into indentured servitude after arriving in the states. We know he was in the US before the Revolutionary War and was born about 1759 or 1760 someplace, probably in England. Were these old London streets familiar to Henry and Conrad, his brother?

Old London map

The original map was in a book, known by the Latin name Civitates orbis terrarum, and was published in the German city of Cologne between 1572 and 1617 – just before many cities were destroyed by the Thirty Years War.

The book was intended to accompany an atlas of the world published in 1570 by renowned cartographer Abraham Ortelius.

More than 100 artists and cartographers worked on the originals, which as well as showing the cities’ main features, also included figures in local dress, ships, carts and topographical details.

It was thought that these details helped to show the political importance of the places that they accompany. This book included all of the major cities in Europe, but some elsewhere.

For map junkies, you can purchase this book of old maps, Cities of the World, £44.99, republished and available at

Take a look at the difference between the map above and a current day view of the same area.

Current London map

This has been a very hectic week and even at the end, still seems surreal, much as the sunrise at the Stirk House did yesterday. This evening among the hustle and bustle of London, Ribble Valley, Charnock Richard and Downham seems a very distant dream.



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The Bowling Family of Charnock Richard, Lancashire

A week into our DNA journey across England, I awoke for the last time in the Ribble Valley. This photo is an extremely misty sunrise in the Ribble Valley, through our window in the Stirk House Lodge. Pendle Hill is out there, always out there, but you can’t see it. Just like it’s still in my mind and heart everyday.

Stirk House misty window

This morning, we prepare to leave the Ribble Valley which we have come to love and to view in an odd sort of way as “home.” It only took a very few days for us to adopt this homeland in our hearts as “ours.” We own it in our soul now. It is interwoven into part of who we are, and who we were.  We know we are related to many of these families in this valley, centuries back…those whose names and surnames we will never know. Our families were here before surnames were needed. This ancient land holds our history and our family.  This is from whence we sprung in the times and days before records.  Social history of the region is all that we have now of our early families.  The history of the Ribble Valley is the history of our ancestors – the invasions, the wars, the victories – all theirs and all ours as well.

I look at Pendle Hill and I know that before the Quakers received their divine message there, before Catholics and Protestants, before Christianity, before the Romans invaded in the first generation after Christ lived, that Pendle Hill was used for worship. Around the world, the highest sites in the landscape were used for temples to worship deities, and some deities were female, Goddeses. Pendle Hill had to have been one of these places. Our ancestors were surely among these people.

It was hard to say goodbye to Pendle Hill, the Ribble Valley and the Stirk House, because we know it’s forever.

Ribble Valley goodbye

Today, we switch sides of the family. Thomas Speak born about 1634 married Elizabeth Bowling, presumably shortly after immigrating to Maryland before November 1663 when she was subpoenaed to court to testify.  The Bowling family was also Catholic, and from an area about 30 miles distant from the Ribble Valley, named Charnock Richard, near Chorley and Standish.

Charnock Richard old map

We boarded the bus for Chorley and the St. Laurence Church, where many of the early Bowling burials were recorded.  This is our family’s church, as well as St. Wilfred’s at Standish.  As it turns out, Charnock Richard lies not terribly far down the main road and is between Chorley and Standish – and of course the ever-present traffic circle, known as a round-about, welcomed us.

Chorley welcome

Chorley St Laurence

Our Bowling family was from Charnock Richard, which tells us they were probably vassals of the Charnock family, one of the landed families who owned a manor and was one of the families with a crest who is remembered in both churches. Unfortunately, the Charnock Manor Hall no longer exists.

The church, St. Laurence, in Chorley is a small church created for a small congregation. Chorley was a market town, and this church was not the main church of the region, but a chapel church for outliers.  The photo below is of the original church before the additions.  This is the church our ancestors knew and attended as Catholics, then as Anglicans when forced to.

St Laurence old photo

Today’s church is the third church on this location, built the third time in the 1500s, but an earlier church was almost certainly present on the site in the Anglo-Saxon era as the daughter church of Croston. The first documentary record is dated 1362 and refers to a priest for the church. A letter dated 1442 refers to a reliquary owned by the church which is said to contain bones of Saint Laurence for which the church was named.

St Laurence windows

The stained glass windows in this church are stunning. Of course, each window has its story.

St Laurence window 2

And like all of the other churches in this timeframe, many “floor burials.”

St Laurence floor burials

I can’t help but wonder about this ancient secreted passageway.

St Laurence secret gate

The gargoyle, the silent sentry, always standing guard. He would have been here when our ancestors laid eyes on him too. Maybe one of our ancestors carved him, or set him where he has been for hundreds of years. How many generations has he seen come and go?

St Laurence gargoyle

The photo below is the original baptistery.  It was relegated to the back corner where I discovered it with a bunch of stuff stacked against it.  I asked about it, and the guide told me that the current rector is modernizing and replaced it and it has been retired.  I think this is sacrilege after how many centuries.  I dug it out and photographed it.  And I didn’t put the stuff back up against it either.  This is the ancient font from which our Bowling ancestors would have been baptized.

St Laurence baptisty

Look at these ancient carvings on this baptistery.

St Laurence bapistry bowl

St Laurence bapistry carvings

This was also the church of the Standish family, as in Myles Standish, the pilgrim on the Mayflower. Are we related? Not that we know of, but who knows back before records are available. The families certainly lived in the same area and knew each other well, at least through the church, if not socially. The Standish family was “well off” and had their own box seat in the church, shown below.

St Laurence Standish box

St. Laurence was originally a Catholic church, of course, but became Anglican along with the rest of England following King Henry VIII’s break with the Catholic church in 1534. From St. Laurence, we visited St. Mary’s Catholic church, maybe a quarter or half a mile away.

We walked through the old market town area.

Chorley market

St. Mary’s is a Catholic church and includes the martyr’s windows, specifically one for our John Finch, brutally killed in 1584.

Elizabeth Bowling is believed to be the daughter of Hugh Bowling (born 1591) and Ellen Finch (born 1598). Ellen Finch is the daughter of Roger Finch (born 1573) who was the son of John Finch (born 1548) who we believe is the John Finch who was martyred.

The history of St. Mary’s church tells us that Catholicism had been the faith of most of the English from the time of St. Augustine in 597AD until the 16th century. Despite this, from 1535 until about 1789, those who remained faithful to this “old religion” suffered fines, arrests, confiscation of property or mob violence, and some 500 were executed. No less than 10 Catholic martyrs either originated from or served in the current Chorley Borough area.

The Mass and Sacraments were celebrated secretly and illegally through the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries in the various halls and farmhouses around Chorley still in Catholic hands. Lancashire had a higher proportion of Catholic recusants than any other English county, estimated at over 20% even in the 1700s. Catholic worship remained illegal until 1791. The Catholic church here was founded in 1847, but this building was built in 1927.

Chorley St Mary

St. Mary’s includes 5 stained glass windows commemorating five local martyrs.

  • Venerable Roger Ashton from Crostin, executed at Tyburn in 1592.
  • Bd Roger Wrenno, weaver, from Alfred’s Court off Anderton St. Chorley. Executed for shelttering Father John Thules and hanged with him on March 18, 1616 at Lancaster. The rope broke at the first attempt. behind him is a weaving frame.
  • Bd Lawrence Richardson, a priest who served at Park Hall, shown behind him, home of the Catholic Charnock family. Executed in 1582 at Tyburn.
  • Venerable John Finch, a yeoman farmer of Eccleston, executed at Lancaster in 1584.
  • Saint John Rigby from Harrock Hall by Mawdesley, executed at Southwar in 1598.

One end of the church commemorates the martyrs in a beautiful enclave.

St Mary Martyr Windows

Here is John Finch’s window.

St Mary John Finch Window cropped

I must say, I am not Catholic, but when I approached those windows, every single hair on my body stood up.  I had a very physical reaction, something I haven’t had in any other location on this trip and was very unexpected.

The church provided this information about John Finch.

church Finch info

Me with the windows and the baptistery and John’s window.

Me at Finch window

We learned a lot about the Catholic’s in this region.  Charnock Richard was called a “nursery of recussants” meaning they had more “refusers” of the Catholic faith than anyplace else.

Bowling Green

Just the other side of Charnock Richard, actually, across from it, is the Bowling Green Inn, land where the Bowlings used to live.  This inn has been here for hundreds of years in one form or another.

Bowling Green google 1

Bowling Green google 2

In the painting and photograph below, purchased from the Lancashire County Council, we can see the Bowling Green Inn in historic times.  You can still see this older building in the current complex, if you look closely.

Bowling Green old photo

Bowling Green old photo 2

This quaint road sign, directly across the street from the Bowling Green Inn today, points the way from Charnock Richard to Wigan, 7 miles, and Preston, 10 miles.

Charnock Richard sign

Charnock Richard google

On the map above, the Bowling Green Inn is the red balloon. The green balloon is where Google misplaced the inn. The red arrow points the location, in the photo below, of the other end of Delph Lane, which begins directly across from the Bowling Green Inn.  The road is not contiguous today, but it was originally. The areas between Delph Lane and The Bowling Green Inn is the area believed to be where the Bowling family lived, or the area of Bowling Green.  It’s amazing that we can find this location today.

Delph lane

Delph Lane directly across from the Bowling Green Inn is shown below.

Delph Lane across from Bowling Green

Unfortunately, we can’t take a virtual street view drive down Delph Lane on Google, but on Church Road, where, ironically, another church was later built, we can see some of the fields.

Church road

Delph Lane Church road

The road leading to the Bowling land at Charnock Richard turns to the left here at the bridge on Delph Lane.  It’s a dead end today and we didn’t try it in the bus. It’s just fields, sheep and English countryside, much like it was then.  Our ancestors lived here, probably for many generations.  They worked and walked these lands.

Bowling Green fields

Our next destination was Standish, and we drove through quaint villages with wonderful pubs, reaching back centuries in time. The pub and the church are the two establishments in every village that was timeless and survived through the centuries.

village road

Hinds Head

Dog and partridge

Black bull

When we arrived at Standish, at St. Wilfred’s Church, they had been waiting for us at the Peace Gate…perhaps for centuries.

St Wilfrid gate

This church was named for St. Wilfrid (634-709) who was the son of a Northumbrian Thane, educated at the Lindisfarne Monastery, studied in Rome and Lyon, and became a monk of the Benedictine order. He returned from Europe to Ripon as Abbot in 657 and introduced Benedictine rule to an area under the Celtic form of Christianity.

The earliest reference to this church is in the year 1205 when it is recorded that a dispute arose between the Standish and Langtree families regarding the advowson or right to appoint a Rector. No doubt the church had been in existence before that date. The first recorded Rector was Alexander de Standish in 1206.

In 1543 it was confirmed by the Bishop of Chester that the church was in great ruin and that the whole parish should decide on its repair and rebuilding. That apparently didn’t happen, because Record Moody’s tomb refers to this “twice-ruinated temple.” In 1582, the church was rebuild with Robert Charnock as their representative and a go-between with the master mason Lawrence Shipway. Work was completed in 1589. If the Charnock family was involved, you can rest assured that the Speak family, who probably worked for them, was involved too.

Standish Parish was quite large and served 11 townships until in the 1900s. Charnock Richard was among those. The Bowling family obviously attended two churches, perhaps different branches of the family, or at different times – both at Chorley and at Standish.

St Wilfrid old

Here’s an early photo of St. Wilfrid church, which was obviously taken after the Peace Gate was built in 1926.

St Wilfrid churchyard

The porch entryway to the church, below, is from the 1500s. Inside the inner church door is found an Acanthus flower and it’s leaves. This is a Mediterranean plant used in classical design, probably brought back to England returning from the Crusades.

St Wilfrid entrance

St. Wilfrid’s Church in Standish records many Bowling burials, although no stones remain intact today.  Like many other churches, they have rearranged some of the remaining stones to make maintenance easier.

St Wilfrid cemetery

The churchyard walls incorporate earlier remnant carvings, probably Anglo-Saxon in origin.

St Wilfrid walls

In many of these churches, expansions were built right over graves and in that time, place and culture, that was no problem.  In fact, it might have just made you holier.  This church is particularly interesting because it has a secret staircase hidden in one of the pillars – actually carved in.  It led to a chantery where people who died paid for priests or monks to chant for them to get them into Heaven.  Of course, when it became Anglican, the chantery was no longer needed – as the concept of Purgatory is a Catholic concept – as is praying your soul out of Purgatory in return for money.

St Wilfrid stone stair

I thought this recess was the font for holy water, just inside the entrance so that the early Catholics could cross themselves upon entering.

St Wilfrid recess

However, the church history says that it might have been for a pen and ink or an old lamp or statue. This is in the porch, and the church porch was utilized for a significant number of things, aside from sheltering the door. The first part of the baptismal and wedding services took place here and in the days when women were denied admission to the church after childbirth, the “churching ceremony” was held in the porch.

The churching ceremony was where women were blessed after childbirth and thanks was given for their survival, even if the child had died or was stillborn, and even if the child died unbaptised. It symbolized ritual purification of the Virgin Mary as discussed in the New Testament. The churching ceremony generally took place about 40 days after the woman’s “confinement,” or when the birth took place. In some places it was regarded as unwise for a woman to leave her house to go out at all after confinement until she went to be churched. In the UK and Ireland, new mothers who had yet to be churched were regarded as attractive to the fairies, and so in danger of being kidnapped by them. Customs varied by church and region, although this version seems typical.

On the fortieth day after childbirth, the mother is brought to the temple to be churched; that is to say, to receive a blessing as she begins attending church and receiving the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments) once again. The child (if it has survived) is brought by the mother, who has already been cleansed and washed, accompanied by the intended sponsors (Godparents) who will stand at the child’s Baptism. They all stand together in the narthex (the entranceway) before the doors of the nave of the temple, facing east. The priest blesses them and says prayers for the woman and the child, giving thanks for their wellbeing and asking God’s grace and blessings upon them.

At her churching, a woman was expected to make some offering to the church, such as the chrisom or alb placed on the child at its christening.

Augustine Schulte in the Catholic Encyclopidia described the churching ceremony:

The mother, kneels in the vestibule, or within the church, carrying a lighted candle. The priest, vested in surplice and white stole, sprinkles her with holy water in the form of a cross. Having recited Psalm 23, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof”, he offers her the left extremity of the stole and leads her into the church, saying: “Enter thou into the temple of God, adore the Son of the Blessed Virgin Mary who has given thee fruitfulness of offspring.” She advances to one of the altars and kneels before it, whilst the priest, turned towards her, recites the appropriate blessing, and then, having sprinkled her again with holy water in the form of the cross, dismisses her, saying: “The peace and blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, descend upon thee, and remain forever. Amen.”

The Parish Clerk undertook much of his business on the church porch too. Contracts were signed, debts paid and executors of wills distributed legacies to beneficiaries on the church porch.

This baptistery (below) has a very old Anglo-Saxon base, pre-dating the current church significantly, and the current church is hundreds of years old. The baptismal font represents three dates. The stem is the oldest and dates from the earlier church. The bowl is 16th century and probably dates from the rebuilding and the base is an 18th century replacement.

St Wilfrid bapistry

St Wilfrid bapistry close

This church is stunningly beautiful. I can feel the presence of so many ancestors and I look around, drinking in my surroundings, absorbing as fast as possible, to see what they saw.  This is their life I’m visiting in a place most sacred to them.

St Wilfrid nave

The armorial shields were gifted to the church in 1917 and represent the chief families in the 11 townships of the ancient parish. Charnock Richard’s is shown below.

St Wilfrid Charnock Richard

This beautifully carved oak pulpit was donated by Ralph Standish in 1616, so it would have been here, and relatively new, when our Bowling ancestors stood to hear the sermon, or perhaps sat in the pews.


Aside from the typical floor burials, the oldest of which is from the 14th century, there are two actual tombs in the church. One, that of Richard Moody, from about the same time, bears the cheerful message of, “As you are I was and as I am you shall be.”

St Wilfrid crypt

This is an ancient church and a sarcophagus was found under the church suggesting this was a very early religious site as well – probably back to pagan days.  It’s now a flower holder outside of the church, along with what they consider to be “a huge boulder” also found on the grounds.

St Wilfrid sarcophagus

I love the sundial, and the gargoyles in various places positioned on the roof or eaves.

St Wilfrid sundial

The inscription below the sundial reads, “Let no passing cloud of bitterness thine accustomed serenity o’ershadow.”

The grounds are ancient and hallowed. The graves may not be marked, but we know the bodies of all of the families that lived in this area are interred here, probably stacked and intermingled after generations of reburial, much as the DNA of their descendants is today.

St Wilfrid tree

The oldest marked grave here dates from 1621. Stones surround the church.

St Wilfrid cemetery 2

The church graciously arranged for the group to have lunch in an old restored building, I believe the old restored rectory which is now a Parish Hall. Group meals, while organizationally challenging were also some of the most rewarding times, as we visited with each other. Notice the old wooden beams. Everything in England is either very old or very new.


After leaving Standish, we stopped outside Liverpool and visited Speke Hall which, ironically, has nothing to do with our family. Speke Hall obtained its name from Speke Township which was first found in the Doomsday survey of 1086 where Spec (Speke) appears as one of several local properties held by the Saxon Thane Uctred, and is described as comprising “two carucates of land worth sixty-four pence”. A carucate was a measure of land that could support a family and measured between 60 and 120 acres according to the fertility of the soil. However, the similarity between Speke and Speak served to confuse and tantalize genealogists for years.

Speke Hall

Despite the fact that it’s not from our family, Speke Hall did have a “priest hole,” shown below, designed to hide and protect Catholic priests who were, of course, persecuted on pain of death after the reformation. Priest holes were often found in Manor homes where clandestine services were held.  It is very difficult to see, but here is the well-disguised entrance. The exit is to the Mersey River where the priests could easily exit to the coast and quickly escape back to Ireland.

Priest hole

After walking back to the visitor center in the drenching cold rain, Jim and I had our own version of “high tea” with creamed tea, scones with locally made jam and “fresh cream” which is not whipped cream. The perfect end to the perfect day!

high tea

Bowling DNA

While the Bowling family may seem like any other Catholic Lancashire family, they weren’t. In fact, their DNA is quite rare, something that by the time our ancestors were getting ready to leave for America was probably long forgotten in their family.

In fact, by the time that the Doomsday book was written in 1086, the Bowling family origins in the UK were already roughly 43 generations in the past, and had probably been forgotten for about 40 of those generations.

How do we know this? It’s written in the Bowling Y DNA, and when combined with the historical knowledge of what was happening in the world during that time, it’s relatively easy to construct a “most likely” scenario.

In fact, this part of the story is so interesting, it’s deserving of its own telling, so please join me for the future article, “Bowling DNA, Rare as Hen’s Teeth.”

What, you want a hint?

Ok, but just one….

sand dunes



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Downham and Whalley, Lancashire – Next Stop on the DNA Journey

We began the day in quaint and beautiful Downham, the next stop on our DNA journey.  In case you hadn’t yet figured it out, the church is always the center of villages, and historically, of village life as well.

Downham road

This is where we think it’s quite likely our Thomas Speake was baptized in 1634 in St. Leonard’s church.

St Leonards Downham

We know that some Thomas was baptized and married here, we just don’t know for sure if it’s our Thomas, but Thomas was not a common name in the Speak family, and there are no other recorded candidates.  Lord Clitheroe showed us the transcribed church record of Thomas’s baptism, along with the “T” that indicated Twiston, and his father’s name, Joannis Speak.  Joannis would show up on the hearth tax for this area in 1766 as John.  Thomas and Johannis were from Twiston, a mile or so down the road, probably the name of a farm of that time.  Twiston Mill still exists today.

St Leonards Baptism

Regardless of whether this particular Thomas is ours, DNA testing has proven that these Speaks family are all descended from a common ancestor, so all related.  Downham is only about 4 miles distant from Gisburn, to provide perspective, and it is literally simply a crossroads.

Lord Clitheroe

After we arrived, the vicar was present to greet us.  Also in attendance to greet us were Lord and Lady Clitheroe.  While he is Lord Clitheroe, his last name was Ashton and he is part of the Ashton family who owned all of the land in Dunham and nearby including Twiston.  Therefore, the Speaks who lived in Twiston had to have worked for the Ashton family.  Lord Clitheroe is at right in the photo above, the vicar at left.

He also told us that he thinks the church was rededicated at some time since all of the Ashton churches are named St. Leonard’s, so it might have been named something else prior.  He brought with him a drawing of the church from 1790, before it was “remodeled.”  The church, below, is what Thomas would have known.

St Leonards 1790

Lord Clitheroe said he believes that the original church was built in about 1138 when the town of Downham was founded by the Lacy family who were the overlords at that time.  The Battle of Clitheroe occurred in 1138 when the “Scots and Picts came down” and slaughtered many English.  Downham was an important crossroads at that time and the Lacy family would have established churches after that battle to keep God on their side and build villages and such to improve life for those who remained.  The result was civilization similar to what we know today.

Lord Clitheroe is a historian and he says he felt that if Thomas’s family was Catholic, he could probably have hidden away easier in Twiston than Downham.  Both are very small areas.  He also said that Twiston had Quakers as well who had a vision on Pendle Hill in 1652.  The Quakers were also a group of dissenters, and I recall that we have a record from that time where a John Speak viewed a Quaker meeting, and testified as to such, so the Speak family had to be from that area.

Lord Clitheroe believes that the Lacy family also built Sawley Abbey, now in ruins, at the same time for the same reasons.  More Holy was always better.

St Leonards door

One of the best views of Pendle Hill from anyplace is from this churchyard.  It’s said that in the 1930s or so the Queen visited the Ashton family and when in the church, said it was the finest view from any church in England.  It was a very gracious thing to say, because most churches, or at least those with any money at all, have stained glass in all of their windows and you can’t see out.

Pendle Hill from St Leonards

Just stunning vistas with gardens of some sort every place you look.  I just couldn’t soak up enough beauty.  I wonder if gardens and flowers were as plentiful when our Thomas Speak left for America, and I wonder if he missed England.

Gardens and Pendle Hill

This church visit was most enjoyable, well, except for the bird poop incident which we’re not discussing.  I will also say that these local women were the nicest, most welcoming group we’ve met anyplace to date, including attempting to help with the bird poop incident in a church with no bathroom facilities.  They just made us feel incredibly welcome and not like we were a bother.

Crissie, the daughter of the retired gardener of Lord Clitheroe, also a Speak descendant, came to visit and took us across the street to see her parents gardens, below.  She showed us Rose Cottage where she was born and was most gracious and lovely.

Crissie in Downham

Here is a fine example of “cottages.”  Nearly every cottage has some kind of beautiful garden in front.

Cottages Downham

I just love these houses, their stonework, the ivy growing up the rock walls and of course, the flowers.

Flowers Downham

Pendle Hill, again.  If I had something red growing up the front of my house, I’d be a little concerned.

Pendle Hill Downham

One of the wonderful things about this village is that tourists never come here, so it’s authentic in every way – up to and including the fact that the door on that house is standing wide open.

We had lunch in Ashton Arms, the local pub, owned of course by Lord Clitheroe, as is most everything else in the village.  Every November, the farmers meet him in the pub to pay the year’s rent on their farms.  He then buys lunch and several pints of course and a fine time is had by all for the day.

Ashton Arms

After lunch, we went on to Whalley (which is pronounced like Wally with a slight wh sound), the location of the oldest church and the oldest Speaks records as well.  Of course, they may have the oldest Speaks records because they have the oldest records of any of the local churches, complete from 1538.  It think it’s evident that the early and later Speaks family lived throughout the Ribble Valley.

I just love the walls here, and their mysterious doors.  I’m not sure what this door leads to, and the sheep wasn’t telling.

Downham sheep

This door is in the wall at St. Leonard’s Church.

St Leonards church wall

This heart had been placed on a grave, but the type of craftmanship is distinctive to this region.  I saw several things “woven” in this manor, but only in this area, so it much be something that is relatively local.

St Leonards woven heart

Downham is literally a block long in each direction and is at the intersection of two roads.

On one side you find the church.  Across the street are the cottages pictured above.  On the other corner, also across from the church is the Ashton Arms Pub, and on the fourth corner, you find the remains of the stocks, directly across from the church.  So whatever business you needed to have done, you could do it all right there in the center of town.

Downham stocks

Crissie, our lovely Speaks cousin who joined us from Downham, was born in the Rose Cottage.

Crissie at Rose Cottage

Chrissie explained about life in Downham.  She told us that she got dressed there in the cottage, the day she was married, and everyone walked across the road to the church, including her in her gown.  There is no place to park at the church and there are no bathroom facilities, so you’re not going to be there long.  Afterwards, everyone went to the Ashton Arms, across the street, of course, where else?

After saying goodbye to Chrissie, we departed Downham and ventured on to Whalley.

St Mary at Whalley

St. Mary and All Saints Church at Whalley, shown above, was first Saxon, then Norman, then rebuilt for the third time about 1200.  The church sits on what was a Roman encampment and evidence of a fragment of an altar with a carving of Mars has been incorporated into the existing church.  The church is referred to in the Domesday Book in1086 as “The church of Saint Mary at Wallei.”

The Church of England required parishes to keep records from 1538 forward.  Local records were to be kept, and copies periodically sent to the Bishop.  Those two sets of records don’t always match, where they both still exist, but it does give us two opportunities to find a record for our ancestors.

The oldest Speak church record found in this area was in 1540 for the baptism of Agneta, at St. Mary’s in Whalley, daughter of Henrici Speake.  The next year, his wife, Johana, was buried.

Speaks genealogists have reconstructed the Whalley families, to the best of their ability.  We find that Henry Speak in 1538 was a tenant of lands in Billington and it was his wife and daughter that were born and died.  It appears that he remarried, because there is also a John and Henry of the correct age to be his children.  These families come forward in time and of particular interest to the Speaks family is the marriage of Johannis Speake who married an Elizabethae Bieseley in 1622.   It has been proposed that this is the same couple who then had son Thomas baptized in Downham in 1634, who is a candidate to be the Thomas Speak who immigrated to America.  Furthermore, it would connect the Whalley and Downham families.  Those connections have not been made today, and may never be, even if they are accurate.  So few records exist.

In this church too, we were met by a volunteer who did an exceptional job giving us a lovely tour.  Somehow it was appropriate to take a group photo in a church and this one is both beautiful and connected to our family.  Plus, we thought of it here:)

It’s amazing when you think of it.  All of these people, from several US states, 3 countries and 3 continents descended from a family who attended this church more than 400 years ago, and probably 800 years ago.  It was our DNA that brought us all together, allowed us to find each other and connect back here.  It was our DNA that was our umbilical bond, guiding us home.

Speak Family at St Mary Whalley

This church held something we haven’t seen before.  The wealthier families could purchase enclosed pews and have a special “box” built.  An early version of box seats. The man giving the tour told us that initially, most people stood for the service.

St Mary Whalley boxes

The earlier church looked a bit different in the painting below.  Perhaps this is more the church that Thomas Speak and his ancestors would have known.

St Mary Whalley older cropped

The choir screens on both sides of the church are indeed, stunning.  They were hand carved about 1430 and rescued from Whalley Abbey when it was destroyed in the 1600s.  Part of the choir screens, behind the rows of bench seats, on the left and right above, are the misericords, which are hand carved pull down seats.  Three have inscriptions, one in French, one in Latin and one in English.  It’s sometimes difficult to remember that French was the official language of England before English, meaning after the Norman invasion of 1066 and until about 1400 when it became the language of the cultured elite.  It seems odd to think of our English ancestors speaking French, but they did.

In the early churches, people with money were buried in the actual floors of the churches.  The more money, the closer to the alter.  So yes, people did walk on your grave, every Sunday, in fact.

St Mary Whalley floor burials

Three ancient sandstone Saxon crosses remain in the churchyard, dating from the 10th and 11th centuries.  Such crosses were often set up as preaching places where no church existed and they may predate the first church in this location.

St Mary Whalley Saxon cross

While the Catholics tried their best to eradicate Pagan practices, often by building their churches on the very grounds where Pagan worship had occurred, not everything Pagan was destroyed.  In fact, from time to time, something slipped into the Catholic church. In this case, one of the misericords, the beautiful hand carved fold down wooden seats for the monks to perch on during long services had a Green Man carved into the front.

St Mary Whalley green man

The Whalley Abbey, destroyed by the King during the Reformation, lies in ruins behind the church.

Whalley Abbey

This drawing was made of the Abbey after it was already in ruins, in the 1700s, but not as ruined as today.

Today the ruined Abbey is located beside a Catholic retreat center and it is stunningly beautiful even in ruins.

Whalley Abbey ruins

Drinking and sewer water from the Abbey came from the River Mersey upstream and was funneled downstream.

Here’s the original spring, now fenced, dating back perhaps to Pagan times when springs were worshipped and believed to be gifts from the Goddess.  Holy wells were often sacred springs in Pagan worship, later Christianized.

Whalley Abbey spring

I love this very ancient road sign.

ancient road sign

After visiting the abbey or what is left of it, we drove by or through Sabden which ironically also had a ‘witches tower’ on the top of the highest hill.  Ok, maybe it wasn’t a witches tower, just a tower built by a man in the 1890s that wanted a good view of the Ribble Valley, so local lore says, but it sure looks like one and it’s in the right place.  The Pendle Witches were from Sabden and this is also where George Fox, founder of the Quaker faith had his vision.  There is a lot of paganism woven into the early Catholic churches and ancient landscape here.  Today, we saw ‘green men’ in carvings in the church at Whalley.  So a tower at the top of the hill doesn’t surprise me one bit.  Oh, and yes, there are Speak people buried in Sabden too.

tower on hill

To reach this area, we had to cross the mountain, Pendle Hill, once again, so we were treated to unbelievable vistas and sheep on the road, crossing very slowly.

Crossing Pendle Hill

We then drove through an area called Blackho which was the area where the last Speaks to be buried in Gisburn lived.  He had no children and his line died out with him.

We knew we were close to “home” when we saw Pendle Hill from a distance, always welcoming.

Pendle Hill near Blackho

Back at Stirk House, I took the nature walk around the grounds while some of the cousins went to visit Twiston itself in a cab.  We couldn’t get there earlier down the small windey roads with the bus.

Twiston, below, looks much like the rest of the area.  Pendle Hill is always ever present.


Twiston 2

Twiston 3

Today, Twiston itself doesn’t really exist.  It was obviously the name of a farm that has gone by the wayside.  However Twiston Mill is still on the map and according to local history, has been in existence as a water-powered corn mill since the 14th century when it was owned by the Cistercian monks from Whalley Abbey.  After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1534, it became a King’s Mill and then later was owned by the Listers of Gisburn and then the Assetons of Downham in the 1900s.

Twiston Mill

Today, this is all that’s left of the mill area.  From 1792-1880, a bustling cotton mill thrived here, although it burned in 1882 and you’d never know that from visiting the area today.

You can view a lovely video of the Downham area including St. Leonard’s Church here.

How I managed to forget about the side trip to Twiston is beyond me, but I did.  So while my cousins called a cab, visited Twiston and took these pictures to share, I was walking nonchalantly through the woods, becoming personally acquainted with the land of my ancestors.

Stirk house hike

I didn’t see many wild creatures, except for a rabbit, but I did find one of my cousins, a black sheep.  There are few of them, most sheep are white, and it’s kind of hard to see them because they don’t stand out like the white ones against the green grass.  He’s hiding in the photo below in front of a bush, but you’ll never see him.

Ribble sheep

Speaking of cousins, remember, in the Gisburn article, I asked you if you thought that our three Speak cousins from this area were paternally related, or not.  49 of you voted.  61%, or 30 people through they would all match, and 39%, or 19 people thought 2 of 3 would match.  No one thought none of the would match.

Would you like to know?

All 3 men do match on the Y chromosome, exactly, at 12 markers.  You may be surprised that we have only utilized 12 markers, but in this case, we are dealing with haplogroup I1.  In total, these Speak men only have 66 matches, and of those, 13 are to other Speak(e)(s) males.  So for us, 12 markers is an inexpensive “yes” or “no” answer to the question of whether someone matches the Speak line or not.  Of course, now I’m looking at upgrading the results in order to see who our line matches most closely.

So far, all the Speak men who have tested from this area do indeed share a common male ancestor.  Now, of course, the question that remains, is who.

We may never have the answer to that question, but earlier records that show this surname in this area do exist.  In 1305, Robert Speke was named as a landowner in Billington, which is inside the Whalley parish.  This is the earliest known Speak or similar surname record.

In the Act Book of the Ecclesiastical Court of Whalley a Father John Speyke was chaplain of the chapel of Pendle in 1529 and Johannis Speyke was chaplain of Goodshaw Booth in 1530.  In 1531, John Speyke was one of four clergy in attendance for the Bishop’s visitation.  It’s obvious that this family was very active in this region in the Catholic church, and these early dates are before the forced English Protestant Reformation in the 1540s.  Given their level of personal investment in the Catholic church, it’s not surprising that they refused the Protestant faith and became instead, recusants.

We’re off tomorrow for Chorley and Charnock Richard where the Bowling family lived.  Elizabeth Bowling, also Catholic, married our Thomas Speake and they were the early immigrants to Maryland about 1660 or so.

I will be sad to say goodbye to the Stirk House, once owned by Harry Speak.  We’ve gotten pretty attached.

Stirk house farewell



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The Loo

Bathrooms are a bit of a conundrum in England, as I discovered much to my dismay during the trip in the fall of 2013.

To start with, they aren’t called bathrooms, or toilets.  They are called “the loo” and no, I have absolutely no idea why.  But the differences don’t stop there, that is just the beginning.

First, they don’t have washcloths.  And no, I have no idea what they use instead. Nothing, I suspect.  Washcloths must be an American invention.

Thankfully, we were forewarned (thank you Katherine Borges and ISOGG) and brought some washcloths with us, leaving them sprinkled around hotels in England.  I expected most hotels would have them but they don’t.  I’m sure that’s the final “knife twist” for that pesky little insurrection we called the Revolutionary War.  And what’s worse, when you call the front desk to ask for a washcloth, they pretend like they have absolutely NO IDEA what you are talking about.  And I know, positively, every American who stays there calls the front desk and asks the same question.  I know they are all secretly laughing at us.

They could make a lot of money putting wash clothes in vending machines or offering them as room service.

Most bathrooms are painfully small, which is why they were initially referred to as “water closets.”  They, literally, were.  You can see one here or here in these rather, ahem, irreverent (but very funny) videos.  The first watercloset we experienced, in the Henry the 8th Hotel was literally about 3 feet by 5 feet and the shower was half of that.  We heard of another one where you sit on the toilet to shower.  Seriously!

By the time we got to the Stirk House, we had been in England for several days, and time after time, I was baffled by how some bathroom apparatus worked.  And once I got that one figured out, the next one was different.  There was no standardization.  Now I know how utterly ridiculous this sounds, being confused by a bathroom, so I’ll just share my morning with you.

Keep in mind, this was the morning after the DNA presentation that went to midnight, which was the day we visited Coventry, which was the morning after the fire alarm had gone off in the middle of the night in Cambridge, probably as a result of the drunken wedding party that kept us awake much of that night.  So, um, to say I was a bit tired and grouchy was probably an understatement.

In fact, this was me on the bus the day before.  Well, it was raining and the bus was rocking and we didn’t even get invited to the wedding party that kept us all awake.

 Me sleeping

At the Stirk House, we were in a new wing, so bathrooms were not an afterthought. You know, when many/most houses don’t have central heat, complaining about the size of a bathroom seems kind of, well, trifling.

I was glad to see a normal sized bathroom, but nothing else is normal at all, at least not for us Americans.  First, there is a towel warmer.  Now that’s a good idea!  We used to put towels over the radiator when I was a kid, along with our clothes.  I had never seen one in the US, or when I was in Europe in 1970.  This is the second one I had encountered in England.  I think it has to do with that no central heat thing.  It’s doggone cold when you’re buck nekked…

towel warmer

However, trying to figure out how the towel warmer worked was a challenge.  It seems that every electrical outlet in England also has a switch installed beside it – or sometimes not beside it…hidden elsewhere.  The red “on” light is always burned out, so you can’t tell whether it is off or on, and no, there is no standard position.  That is a ridiculous idea.  And the switches are always hidden behind a door by the baseboard in the lowest position possible, sometimes no place close to the item they control.  And sometimes, there are 2 or 3 switches together that control what?????

Whether the towel warmer works or not is really irrelevant, but other bathroom activities are simply not avoidable.  You have to figure out how those items work.  Thankfully, the toilet flush was always obvious, well, except for once.

The best kept secret, however, is how to make the shower work.  In fact, it seems to be a game.  I’m positive they have secret cameras installed to record what happens and we’re all going to see ourselves on YouTube one day.

Early on, I figured out that there were two knobs, one for temperature and one for water flow.  Ok, got that.  Some places have a button too.  Got that too.  So far, so good.  That’s three things to potentially go wrong.  What is wrong with one knob?

My husband, Jim, is a morning person and he loves breakfast.  Is there a gene for that?  I have absolutely no idea how the two of us managed to connect, because the beginning of my night is just prior to the beginning of his day.  So Jim hops right up at the crack of dawn, an ungodly hour.  I have no idea what he does at that hour, but whatever it is, he does it daily.  He could have an entire second family for all I know, and at 5:30 AM, I would not care.  Before noon, however, both the caffeine and the warrior gene, with a pinch of Scotch-Irish clan temper thrown in would have kicked in, and I’d be livid, so don’t get any bright ideas Jim.  Besides that, you can’t afford jewelry for two wives.

So Jim got out of bed, took a shower, then left for breakfast without waking me up.  While that may sound like he did me a favor, and it would be most days, it wasn’t THAT day.  He was SUPPOSED to wake me up, because we had to be on the bus by 8 AM.  I woke up, mortified to see what time it was, and hurried into the shower, only to discover I could not make it work, no matter what I did.  I turned dials, looked for hidden buttons, all to no avail.  How tough can this be, after all???


I waited for Jim, who I knew would be back shortly since he didn’t wake me up.  I thought maybe he had done something really nice, like went to get me breakfast….but no….he had forgotten entirely about me and was having a leisurely full English breakfast in the restaurant with the family.  My family.

Finally, as the minutes ticked by, I couldn’t wait any longer, so I put on dirty clothes and hurried to the restaurant to find him, complete with bedhead, and asked him how to make the shower work.

Jim, irritated at being interrupted, at first claimed he didn’t know but I KNEW he knew since he HAD showered.

So I asked him again to no avail.  Then I told him in my best “irritated wife” voice that he did SO know – because he HAD showered.  Suddenly, the room went silent.

He finally turned around and actually looked at me, surveyed the situation, looked me up and down, seeing my bedhead cowlick….and then the man first chuckled a bit and then began to outright laugh.  Yes he did!

Had he lost his mind?  Does he not recall that in addition to it being the middle of my personal night and me without coffee, that I have the “Warrior Gene?”  Albeit the female version, which is supposed to be the Happiness Gene, but when a woman’s not happy, it reverts immediately to warrior status.  You know that old saying…if Mama ain’t happy…ain’t nobody happy.  We invented the Warrior Gene.

And Jim supposedly carries the “avoidance of errors” gene….you know….the one that keeps you from making the same mistake twice.  I have proof.  See below – that’s his result on his Family Tree DNA page.  “More likely to avoid errors.”  So much for genetics.

Jim Avoidance of errors cropped

You’d think after leaving his wife in a lurch just 2 days before that he’d been none too eager to do that again.  But then again, genetics is not determinism….and obviously there is some other genetic factor or conditioning or SOMETHING else at play here, because Jim did NOT avoid the error of his ways.  My quilt sisters would call this testosterone poisoning which I guess is genetic because it is connected to the Y chromosome…but I digress.

By now, my cousins eating breakfast with Jim are no longer able to stifle their laughter.  It seemed to be contagious.  Finally someone asked if I pulled the chain.

I asked, “What chain?”  I figured they were pulling MY chain.  I could barely speak civilly at this point.

Some toilets in Europe flush by a chain, but what doesn’t have anything to do with the shower.

“The chain over the toilet.”


“The one with the red light over the toilet….”

“Isn’t that for handicap assistance or an emergency?”

“No, pull the chain over the toilet, then turn the water knobs.”

“Bloody Hell.”

“You’re not a morning person are you.”

What popped into my mind at just that moment did not come out of my mouth, blessedly.

Oh, and by the way, this gem of information did NOT come from Jim, who obviously HAD figured this out to take a shower, but from a cousin who took sympathy on me.  Or maybe he took sympathy on Jim, but thankfully, he took pity on one of us.

I figured this was actually a plot to make me set the fire alarm off or some such thing.  I knew they were all sitting over there just waiting…and stone cold sober in the morning too.  That kind of practical joke would be much funnier half in the bag around midnight.

However, out of sheer and utter desperation, I cringed and pulled the chain in the ceiling, waiting for the inevitable alarm.  Instead, the shower finally worked…. well, after I switched the water box to “on” too, and twisted the knob.


So, yes, I did get my shower.  I did make it to the bus in time.  I did not get any breakfast, nor did Jim bring me any.  I reminded Jim of that all morning.  My cousins snickered and guffawed all morning.  Indeed, it was the beginning of a wonderful day….someone had to provide entertainment and it was obviously my turn.

So, in England, when in doubt, pull the cord over the toilet to take a shower.  Yep, makes perfect sense to me.

Now I know why we revolted!!!  Bloody Hell!



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Following the Ribble River to Gisburn, Lancashire

The trip from the US to the British Isles was to follow the path, backwards of course, that my ancestor Thomas Speake took when he immigrated from England to the US about 1660.  He was born sometime around 1633 or 1634 someplace in the Gisburn area of Lancashire, and died in St. Mary’s County, Maryland on August 6th, 1681.  He married Elizabeth Bowling, who was also a first generation immigrant to the colonies.  Both Thomas and Elizabeth were Catholics, settling in the Catholic-friendly colony of Maryland.

Family researchers had long suspected Lancashire as one of the probable locations for Thomas’s origins based on the fact that this area was known for Catholic recussants and because there were Speaks found in this area.  But nothing had been found in Maryland or English records to firmly tie these two families together…that is…until DNA testing.

Another Speak(e) family would leave Lancashire 200 years after Thomas Speake left for America.  This Speake family would instead sail in the other direction, to New Zealand.  It would be the descendant of this man, in New Zealand, whose DNA would match the descendants of Thomas Speake who went to America, confirming that indeed, this Lancashire family is the Speak family from which the American branch descends.  If this seems like the long way around, literally, it was, but it got the job done!

That information then allowed us to dig further into the records.  Some of the first detailed records we found were for a church in Gisburne, very near the location where our New Zealand cousins family is found, including records where all of his ancestor’s children were baptized.  We were hooked.  We had found our family line, our family church, our family area….and our family.  We wanted to go back, to walk where they had walked, to sit in the church pews that they sat in, to visit the graves of our ancestors and other family members, and to immerse ourselves in the culture and history of where we came from.

Our family journey began in London and took us through Cambridge, Coventry and finally entering the Ribble Valley on our way to our destination, the Stirk House, once owned by a Speak family.

The first morning I woke up at the Stirk House, it seemed surreal as I realized where I was.  It looked surreal too, and reminded me a bit of Middle Earth, land of the Hobbits in Lord of the Rings.  I expected to see Gandalf any minute.

Pendle Hill mist

I sat up and looked out the wide picture window, which overlooks Pendle Hill in the distance and the fields that probably look exactly like they did when my 7 times great-grandfather, Thomas Speak was being raised within sight of Pendle Hill between 1634 or so when he was born and about 1660 when he immigrated.

Pendle Hill sheep

These sheep in the field, meaning the white dots, are probably related to his family’s sheep too.  Everyone here has sheep.  Cattle are quite rare.  That’s probably because the locals use a lot of wool because it’s cold and damp here, almost all of the time.  It’s like a rainforest here and rains nearly daily, or at least some part of every day.  It’s so moist that the stone walls grow both moss and ferns.  His stone walls probably looked just the same and he likely would have been sent to repair them as a young man.

Rock wall moss

The farms are stunningly beautiful and for the most part, extremely well maintained, including the rock walls that line the fields as well as the roads.

Rock wall

Maintenance of these walls is taught to every farm child.

Rock wall fern

These ancient walls were probably here when our ancestors were living here.  They may have touched these very stones.  Their ancientness reaches from the past to touch your soul, a silver misty umbilical tether to those who came before…

Rock Wall closeup

This is a typical road, lined on both sides with rock walls and stone buildings, including barns, although their barns are not large like ours, for the most part, and never wood or pole barns.  This wall above is part of the wall to the left below.

Rock walled road

Notice also the hairpin turns.  There was more than once our bus was unable to visit a location because it couldn’t navigate these roads, bridges and very tight turns to get there.

stone barn

Here’s a beautiful old barn, larger than most, with Pendle Hill in the background.

Rock wall gate

Sometimes there are gates in the walls, seemingly in the middle of noplace.

Ribble forest

Surprisingly, some portions of this region are very heavily forested.

Given that we are traveling in the Ribble Valley, it shouldn’t surprise you to discover that indeed, there is a Ribble River that runs the length of Ribble Valley.

The book, “The Common Steam” by Rowland Parker describes in exquisite detail the part that the literal common streams plays in the development, sustenance and nourishment of an area.  I would heartily recommend this book to any history buff or anyone attempting to understand their English history and ancestors.

The Ribble River, indeed, is the common stream in this valley.  All creeks flow into it, and it in turn, sustains the entire valley.  Water is essential for humans and the animals on which they depend, and settlements sprung up along water sources.   Our ancestors were here.

Inn at Whitewell

Lunch, on our first day in the Ribble Valley would be at a lovely local pub, the Inn at Whitewell, owned by the Queen, that sits on the Ribble River.

Ribble River

One of the best parts of this Inn is that we got to overlook the Ribble River.  It ran, here, when our ancestors lived here.  They looked at it as we do today.  They probably drank out of it, washed in it and waded across it.  Pubs here have a very long history as well, and our ancestors may have visited this very pub and looked at this very scene.

Ribble River Pendle Hill

This is both the Pendle Hill and the Ribble River from where I was sitting at lunch.  Pinch me.  I still can’t believe I’m here, seeing what my ancestors saw.

Jim and I fully believe in “adventure eating.”  When traveling, this means trying all of the local dishes, especially anything the local area is known for.  In Lancashire, that would be fish pie and shepherd’s pie.

Now I’m not a big fish fan, but The Inn at Whitewell is famous for its fish pie, so I figured if I liked it anyplace, it would be here.  Let’s just say that if you really like a fishy taste, this is for you.  It included shrimp too, but their shrimp are miniscule.  What we call shrimp in the US are called prawns in England.  The baked cheese and potatoes were wonderful on the top of the fish pie.


I liked the shepherd’s pie better, but how can you go wrong with beef stew and pie crust. This isn’t only English, it’s all American too.  I’m glad I tried both.


I have tried not to make these articles too personal, but I have to share a couple of photos that are really quite special.


My cousin, Dolores and I are chatting outside the Inn at Whitewell.  I “met” Dolores many years ago, back in the 1980s, by letter.  I still have her original letters and copies of documents she so kindly copied and mailed to me.  I was just beginning my genealogy journey and she seemed so very wise and knowledgeable, not to mention kind.  Little did I ever know just how far we, together, would travel, literally.  Dolores brought her grandson along as well, a college student, standing to our right.  He is a lovely young man, very helpful and Jim and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time chatting with him about computers and geeky techy stuff.  I can’t imagine a young man his age who would actively choose to spend his time with his grandmother, but this young man is truly exceptional.  I wish I had a daughter the right age:)  This is the next generation of genealogists we’re raising!

Another family group on our trip included Susan Sills, the President of the Speak(e)(s) Family Association who coordinated most of the trip.  She brought her son and his 2 daughters along.  In fact, we had just celebrated the oldest granddaughter’s birthday during our lunch at the Inn before we took this family photo.  How does a birthday get better than that???

It was wonderful to see the love of history being passed from generation to generation.  Susan’s granddaughters are also lovely young women.  I hope they realize what a gift their grandmother has bestowed upon them, if not today, then someday…even though I do think she bribed them to come along with that trip to Paris afterwards:)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

You can hardly take a picture without Pendle Hill being in the background.

After lunch, we tried to visit the ruined castle at Clitheroe and through a series of quite humorous events, including the bus being too tall for a bridge, twice, we gave up and went on to St. Mary’s Church in Gisburn, which was our ultimate goal anyway for the day.  Below, you can see one of those hairpin turn types of places we couldn’t navigate.  Our bus driver was incredible and I was utterly amazed at his patience.  I was sitting in the “jump seat” beside him where the tour guide normally sits, due to motion sickness, and I know I heard him swear under his breath.  The poor man had about 10 women trying to “help him,” all at the same time.  But he was a married man so he knew exactly how to handle that.  He ignored everyone…and muttered.

Ribble twisty road

I must say that the Clitheroe folly bore us a gift and that was the gift of going over the mountain, meaning Pendle Hill, because the bus had to find a different way into town.  We got to drive around the countryside and it was picturesque.  Look at this beautiful arched bridge.  I have to wonder if it was originally a Roman Bridge from the Roman occupation beginning in the year 43.  This area did play host to a Roman fort.

Ribble roman bridge

Many places look like they were straight out of Thomas Kincaid pictures.  There are rock and hedge walls along the roads.  It’s raining here, with Pendle Hill in the background.

Pendle rock walls

The villages are comprised of “cottages” as they are called, and in some places, on Pendle Hill, for example, the sheep free range and graze on the moor lands.

Pendle moors sheep

And the flowers.  Oh, the flowers.  Lovely quaint flower gardens are found tucked into the most unlikely places.  With all the rain, the gardens were lush and lovely.  Oh yes, and did I mention that the houses are built perilously close to the road, because the road used to be a cart path hundreds of years ago.  And yes, these houses ARE that old.  What we consider old is rather new to them.

Pendle garden

England is an ancient land and ruins pop up from time to time in the most unlikely places.

Sawley Abbey

We didn’t have time to stop, but these ruins are of Sawley Abbey.  Sawley Abbey was an abbey of Cistercian monks in the current day village of Sawley, Lancashire, but historically in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Created as a daughter-house of Newminster Abbey, it existed from 1147 until its dissolution in 1536, during the reign of King Henry VIII of all England, Ireland, and France.  If you’ll recall, it was King Henry’s reign that created the religious persecution of Catholics, following his break with the Catholic faith and his installation of himself as the head of the Anglican Church.  He disbanded, dissolved and destroyed the monasteries and abbeys between 1535 and 1541.  Our ancestors would have witnessed this, and probably felt strongly about what was happening.  This abbey suffered that fate, although some pieces of stone and wooden items such as the rood-screen were installed in other regional churches as an attempt to salvage the sacred.

St Mary Gisburn rood screen

This rood-screen, above, being the wooden divider between the chancel and nave, from St. Mary of Gisburn, is not one thought to be from Sawley Abbey, but is from the 16th century.

So, if you think about it, all of these church buildings that you see that existed during or prior to that time were at one time Catholic Churches that became Protestant, likely under duress.  To defy the king was a bad idea, a very bad idea, a lose-your-head bad idea, so many became Protestant and the Catholic recussants went underground, practicing Catholicism in hiding and under threat of death.   Many martyrs were created during this period.

I learned that you can tell which churches were originally Catholic by looking for one particular telltale sign.  In the Catholic faith, sacramental wine must be poured into the earth, directly, so that unsavory people don’t somehow come into possession of it and use it for witchcraft or other “unholy” purposes.  Built into Catholic churches, at least Medieval ones that existed prior to Henry VIII’s “conversion” to Protestantism, is an orifice similar to a bowl built into the wall for exactly this purpose called a piscina.  If you look closely, you can see the drain hole, which leads down the wall directly into the earth.  This is typically located someplace towards the front of the church where the Priest would dispose of the leftover Sacramental wine.

St Mary Gisburn piscina

This piscina is from St. Mary’s of Gisburn.

Another hint that a church was once Catholic is the Holy Water Stoup, which may look something like a piscina except without the drain.  The stoup is used by the congregation to cross themselves with water as they enter the church, so is therefore generally found in the front near the door, or what was the door at that time.

Gisburn street scene

As we arrived in the crossroads village of Gisburn, the excitement was mounting.  Gisburn was one of the villages where our Speak family was known to have lived, on the surrounding farms.

Gisburn was mentioned in the Domesday book, created in 1086 as England’s first census, in essence, for taxation purposes.  The manor of “Ghisebum” was part of the Percy fee.  It was passed to the Abbot of Salley (Sawley) in 1224 and disposed of by the King during the monasterial dissolution.  In 1613, Gisburn passed to the Lister family.  In 1797, upon threat of invasion by Napoleon, Thomas Lister raised a troop of cavalry and for his patriotism, he was named Baron Ribblesdale of Gisburne Park.

St. Mary the Virgin church, called St. Mary’s of Gisburn, did not exist yet when the Domesday book was created, but was dedicated in 1135.  It has been expanded and revamped over the years.  Most of these small medieval churches still don’t have either running water or restroom facilities today.

St. Mary’s serviced all of the nearby farms.  The village itself isn’t nearly as old as the church, dating from the 17th century.  Located on the main road connecting Lancashire and Yorkshire, trade, and a stage coach stop, was what fueled the village of Gisburn.

St Mary Gisburn arrival

Our first glimpse of St. Mary’s Church, where many Speaks were baptized, married and buried, beginning in the earliest records in the 1600s, was from the rear, across the gravestones of her departed members.

St Mary Gisburn churchyard

At St. Mary’s Church in Gisburn, sadly, no one was available to meet us, but they did leave the church unlocked.  We spent time in the church and the churchyard, but found only 3 stones from the Speaks family.

Their burial records begin in the early 1600s, and it’s obvious from translating those records that they served a number of other locations, villages and farms, in the area.  We find the earliest Speak burials beginning with Anna, daughter of William, in 1602.  Not all burials give the location of the deceased, but those who do are all Gisburne through 1653 when a series of other locations is given.  Of course, these locations may not be new, they may simply have been among those without a location given earlier.

Locations include:  Gisburne, Howgill, Rimington, Paythorn, Twiston, Miley, Horton, Varleyfield, Pasture House, Waitley, Todber, Watthouse, Yarside Bracewell, Martintop and Newby.  This list takes us through 1828, when the Speak burials cease until in the mid 1900s.  The records may not be complete.

On the map below, you can see that all of these locations that have corresponding locations today are within 2 or 3 miles of Gisburn(e).  Those locations that do not exist on the map today may well have been farm or manor names that disappeared instead of becoming hamlets.  The location just below Gisburn with no name is Todber.  A caravan park is located there today, but otherwise, it has disappeared.

Gisburn area map cropped

The cemetery is very old, as old as the church, and there are many unmarked graves as you can see on the map, below.

St Mary Gisburn cemetery cropped

Notice the fence or boundary wall in this diagram.  We’ll talk about it in a minute.  It’s not what you think.

Fifty-one Speak burials exist in the records, and most of them are quite early.  Many family units are evident, although there is a pronounced repetition of names.  In particular we find the following:

  • Alice – 4
  • Ann/Anna – 5
  • Chrus – 1
  • Elizabeth – 2
  • Ellen – 1
  • George – 1
  • Harry – 2
  • Jacobus – 1
  • James – 5
  • Johes – 1
  • John – 2
  • Judith – 1
  • Margaret – 2
  • Maria/Mary – 3
  • Richard/Ricus/Richus – 4
  • Robtus – 1
  • Stepheus – 2
  • Thomas – 4
  • Wilmus – 2
  • Women designated as “wife of” with no first name given – 4

A bit of English history may be somewhat enlightening.  This group of Speaks does not appear to be landowning.  In other words, they were not royalty, were not wealthy, did not have coats of arms, etc.  In medieval England, if you were not a land owner, then you were a tenant farmer, either free or bond.  Bond did not mean slavery, but it did mean you had little freedom to leave.  However, the freedmen had little opportunity to leave either, required the manor owner’s permission, and there was no place within the British Isles to go anyway that wasn’t already populated.

St Mary Gisburn porch

We were excited to enter this hallowed church of our ancestors.  I love the door. The porch is a 15th century addition with a beautiful cross that protects a 13th century door build on a 10th century foundation.

Notice the defensive arrow slits build into the tower so that our ancestor could barricade themselves into the church and defend their position if need be.

St Mary Gisburn baptismal

All of the children of the ancestor of our New Zealand cousin were baptized here, not in this exact baptismal font from 1875, but probably one similar and in this location in the church, so we know the family didn’t live far.

St Mary Gisburn tombstone wall

Cemeteries and burials are handled very differently in Europe than they are in the US.  At first, this was rather appalling to me, but I came to understand that it is simply a cultural difference, although there is a part of me still very uncomfortable with the situation.  They reuse graves.  They may move stones as well.  Some churches simply remove old stones, and in doing so, they make maintenance easier, or reuse the burial plot, but they also lose all track of who was buried in that location.  In the photo above, the old stones have been relocated to the wall along the road to make mowing easier.  If you look carefully, you can also see that reflected on the cemetery map.

St Mary Gisburn stained glass

The relative wealth of a church and its parishioners can be judged by the number and quality of stained glass windows in the church.  Each window has a story, both in terms of what the window is displaying and in terms of the history of the window itself.  Keep in mind that until recent generations, most people could not read so the stories told in the church windows served to remind the parishioners of Bible stories and morals.

St Mary Gisburn arches

It’s believed that some of the stone in this church, particularly the supportive gables, archway and columns were rescued from Sawley Abbey, just 4 miles away, when it was destroyed.  The church was expanded about this time.

St Mary Gisburn carved arch

This beautiful carved arch is believed to have been rescued from Sawley Abbey.

St Mary Gisburn ceiling

The original roof structure still remains.  It looks similar in many Norman era churches.

St Mary Gisburn removed stones

After the others left, I remained in the churchyard and discovered why it is that none of the oldest stones are in evidence that might correspond to the earliest burials.  There are two stacks of stones behind the church that appear to be unreadable.  These grave locations have probably been reused for a new burials.  Burial space is very scant after hundreds of years, not just here, but all over Europe.  The “normal” time for a grave to exist before it is reused in Europe is about 20 years now, except in some of these small villages and towns where many of the older graves do still exist.  We know from the church history that the lawn, behind where I’m standing, below, and the church, is where the stones that now line the wall were originally located.

St Mary Gisburn front

St. Mary’s of Gisburn is a truly beautiful old church and so full of our family history.  We know that our relatives, and probably our ancestors, rest in this dirt and worshiped in this church, first as Catholics and then, at least some, as Protestants.

St Mary Gisburn street

We have no record that our Thomas was baptized here.  But he had to have known of this church, passed it, and was probably in this church from time to time.  He was assuredly baptized in one of these local churches unless he wasn’t baptized in the Anglican church at all, which is certainly possible, considering the family’s Catholic beliefs.

Our Thomas is had a rather unique profession, that of a tailor, as he stated in his first few years in Maryland.  John David Speak checked the 776 Speak family records he has collected from the parishes surrounding this area and he found only three records that indicated Speaks men were tailors, and all three were from Gisburn where in 1613, Ann the daughter of William, a tailor was baptized, in 1647, Sicilia the daughter of Richard, tailor, was baptized, and in 1662, Thomas, a tailor, was buried.

The only other Thomas record found is at Downham, just 4 miles distant, where, indeed, a Thomas Speak was baptized in 1634.  Fortunately, Thomas is a very unusual name in the Speak family.  Unfortunately, there is also a marriage record for a Thomas in 1656, and his wife is buried in 1667, several years after our Thomas is known to have been in Maryland and having children.

Other church records from this area were lost in the English Civil War and record keeping was officially suspended altogether for an 11 year period between 1649-1660 when Cromwell was on the throne, although some records do still exist.  They are however, not consistent.

One record from this area that does exist and functioned as a type of census was the Hearth Tax Return, taxing people on the number of fireplaces they had in their home.  It’s also significant because tenants rather than landlords paid the tax on their property, so in essence, we obtain the name of every householder.

The Gisburn tax list is dated 1672 and the Blackburn Hundred for Downham and Whalley is noted as 1666-1671.  Both of these dates are after our Thomas was in Maryland, but still, it will tell us where Speak families were located in this region.  Thomas of Downham, who married in 1656 and whose wife and daughter were buried in 1667 should be accounted for, but he is not listed.  Nor is his household under his wife’s name.  So where was Thomas Speake and his family?

There were three Speak households in Twiston, which is where Thomas who was baptized in Downham lived, according to the Downham church records, two households in Gisburn (Rimmington), one in Stansfield near Halifax and two in the Newchurch area near Pendle. Of the 6 entries in Gisburn, Twiston and Stansfield, 5 are named John, as was the son of our Thomas Speak.  It’s probably safe to say that either Thomas’s father or grandfather was named John.

Some of the group went back to the Stirk House to rest a bit, but Jim and I stayed in the village and walked around.  We found a corner deli and small convenience store and sampled local fare.

Gisburn cobblestones

Everything is not paved, meaning pretty much everything except the actual road was still cobblestones, probably the same cobblestones that were there when our ancestors trod these same paths.

Gisburn deli

The little deli had black current sorbet and local cheeses and such.  Of course, we had to purchase some, and a currant scone as well.  What fun we had.


Tea, in England, is served in real china teacups.  Period.  Here are their teacups to choose from, stacked like souvenir coffee mugs in my cabinet at home.  If you tell them you want your tea “take away,” they look at you like you have lost your mind.  Tea, is to be savored and enjoyed while relaxing, not taken away!  What’s wrong with you Americans anyway???

Gisburn driveway under house

Real estate is at a premium in the British Isles.  We saw several instances of this type of architecture.  If don’t have enough space to go around your house, just go through it.

Gisburn driveway under house 2

It appear from historical records that Gisburn may not always have been as tranquil as it is today.  Thomas Lister, buried in the churchyard is the son of Martin Lister, supposedly killed by one of the Pendle Witches.

In the 1400s, pigs roamed free through town and created so much manure that manure heaps had to be removed prior to the annual market.

In 1401, a Vicar of Skipton, traveling the 4 miles between Sawley and Gisburn was murdered.

In 1425, the church rector was sent orders to “reconcile the churchyard after the shedding of blood.”

In 1648, Oliver Cromwell stayed in the village with his troops who stabled their horses in the church.  The villagers complained that they broke the stained glass.  Probably the soldiers, not the horses.

We walked back to the restaurant where the group was meeting and sat and talked with our cousins.  Jim and one cousin decided to start a beer drinking/photography club and think they should write a book called, Eat, Pray, Beer.  They are convinced it will be a bestseller.  They may be right.  I started them off by taking their first pictures.

Eat Pray Beer

Jim and I had tried to have a drink in the local pub, the White Bull, but it was closed until 5PM.

Gisburn White Bull

So instead we all had dinner in an Italian restaurant in the English village of Gisburn with the slowest service possible.

One of the great things about visiting locally is that we met other Speak family members, including three male Speak men, Gary, Stan and David, who are certain that they are not related to each other.  David, based on his genealogy, we know is a cousin of our New Zealand cousin, Doug, who matches the American line.  In fact, it’s HIS fault that we are all here – because our New Zealand cousin knew who his oldest ancestor was – John Speak – the man whose children were baptized in St. Mary’s of Gisburn.

Gary indicated that he was told that his line is not related to ours.  By this time, in the 1900s, the different Speaks families were on the other side of Pendle Hill, not terribly close to each other and in different communities.  The known ancestral villages of the three different Speaks lines are shown on the map below.  Pendle Hill is the high area in the middle.  The two most distant points, Gisburn and Bolton are about 25 miles as the crow flies, or about 30 miles driving, and Bolton is a more recent location.

Lancashire men map cropped

So indeed, we are all quite interested in the outcome of the Y DNA testing.  All three men swabbed, so before long, we will all know.

So what do you think?  Will three Speak men who believe they are unrelated, but with the same unusual surname, whose ancestors have lived in a remote country region of Lancashire “from time out of mind” share a common paternal ancestor based on Y DNA testing?

I hope you’ve enjoyed your visit to the village of Gisburn.  We surely did!

Tomorrow, we go to Downham where we think our Thomas Speake may have been baptized.  Every day in England gets better!!!



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Coventry and the Ribble Valley

Are you ready for the next leg of our British DNA journey?  Come along.  We’re leaving Cambridge, visiting historic Coventry and arriving in the Ribble Valley, home of our Speak family ancestors, and the Pendle witches, today!

Did I mention that we had some excitement in the hotel in Cambridge the night before we left?  Aside from a very loud and roudy wedding party, the fire alarm went off about 1:30 in the morning.  Jim leaped out of bed, shouting “what is that?”, grabbed his iPad, tore open the cover and frantically started pushing buttons to make the noise stop, thinking it was his alarm, of course.  I started yelling at Jim that it was the fire alarm and to get dressed quickly.  You can’t make someone with a hearing impairment hear over a fire alarm.  So looking something like the keystone cops, we frantically threw clothes on and just as we were about finished and ready to evacuate, the alarm silenced, thankfully.  Indeed, not before we were wide awake though.  I wondered if the alarm had something to do with the wild wedding party.  But justice was served.  Because as we very sleepily boarded the bus the next morning at 8 AM, the alarm went off again, waking up all of those revelers:)  I swear, I was ON the bus and had nothing to do with that.  I have witnesses!  Although I must admit, I did smile a very big smile.  Ahhh, karmic justice!

This trip was arranged in part by a travel agent, and in part by Susan Sills, the president of the Speaks Family Association, with probably too much help and input from members.  The parts that Susan arranged were wonderful.  The parts that the travel agent arranged were, at best, OK.  I think they decided that we had 2 hours and were going past a landmark and we surely needed to stop at that location.  I’m including some of these stops because they really did turn out to be historically interesting, but have omitted others.

Were any of your ancestors skilled tradesmen?  Tilers, bricklayers, stainers, painters, carpenters or merchants perhaps?  If so, they were members of a guild, and guilds had guild halls.  The men spent a lot of time in those halls.  Have you ever wondered about that?  What were they doing?  What did the halls look like?  Well, come with us today, we’re going to visit a pretty amazing one.  Keep your ancestor in mind as we do, because their hall was probably similar to this one!

After leaving Cambridge, we arrived in Coventry, a city very heavily bombed during WW2. It was Churchill’s home town and had lots of manufacturing, so was a very attractive target to the Germans.                       

Coventry guild hall

After arriving in Coventry, we met up with our walking guide and our first stop was the medieval St. Mary’s Guild Hall in quaint Bayley Lane. The Guild Hall is the tall building on the right with the archway entrances.  Built in the 1300s or so, it’s one of the city’s oldest buildings.  It was the wealthy merchants guild, and also the town council chambers for a very long time.  No undue influence there.

Coventry guild hall 1810

This 1810 painting is looking from the street through the archway into the courtyard of the Guild Hall.  It doesn’t look much different today.  One difference is that the staircase on the left is enclosed today.  See the railing end in the photos below.

Coventry guild hall piazza

It’s a beautiful buildings, nothing even or straight in the entire place.  It was obviously not the carpenters guild.

Coventry guild hall door

I love the old doors and archways.

Coventry guild hall stair

Upon entering the doors from the courtyard today you turn right and climb the stairs, which were open in the original Guild Hall.  Here’s the original carved railing.

Coventry guild hall door 2

The relative worth of doors, and those who lived behind then, and their ability to stand up to battering from invading “evil forces” was determined by the number of metal studs embedded in the door.  Who knew?

Coventry guild hall princes chamber

Never let it be said that I have not visited the Prince’s Chamber:)  This is how family legends get started, by the way.  “I saw a picture of grandma in the Princes Chamber in England.”  In 3 or 4 or 7 or 8 generations, this will be a MUCH better story!!!

Coventry guild hall tapestry

Behind the glass, under that beautiful stained glass window, hangs a stunning woven tapestry.

Coventry guild hall tapestry close

The ‘Coventry Tapestry’ is the highlight of the historic collections at St. Mary’s Guild Hall.

Manufactured about 1495 to 1500, its significance lies not just in its age and remarkable state of preservation, but also in the fact that, incredibly, it remains hanging on the very wall for which it was created more than five hundred years ago.

At more than nine metres wide and three metres high, this magnificent artwork dominates the north wall of the Great Hall, and is testament to both the skill of its Flemish weavers, and the wealth of the city of Coventry at the end of the fifteenth century.

The scene portrayed includes 75 individual characters, principally members of a Royal court, angels, saints and apostles, with an image of the Virgin Mary at its center, and incorporates numerous examples of symbolism and hidden meaning, some of which remain unexplained. It has even been observed that light from the west windows specifically illuminates the head of the Virgin Mary at certain times of the year, either a strange co-incidence or an inspired feature of the original design.

Here’s a better photo.


In this photo, you can actually get an idea of the size of the hall itself.  It certainly doesn’t look this large from the street.  This is the area directly to the rear as you were entering the piazza.

Coventry guild hall gables

And the Guild Hall ceiling.  I just can’t help myself, I love the medieval architecture.


And the beautiful mosaic file floors.

Coventry guild hall spiral stairs

One really interesting piece of history is that there is a small room upstairs, very crooked and sloping, and only accessible via a very small, very steep circular stairway. I’m amazed they let people go up there in terms of safety and liability.  Mary Queen of Scots was hidden here at one time.

Coventry guild hall windows

Looking outside into the courtyard and on into the street under the archway though the windows in Mary Queen of Scot’s hidden room.


They do have some beautiful furnishings, like the original council chamber, shown here, and a rich history.  They also have some medieval armor that you can “try on.”

Jim viking

Now you know me by now well enough to know I could not bypass this opportunity.  This Viking style helmet was Jim’s favorite.

Jim helmet

Oh yea, I like this French Troubador one best!!!  I think he should use it as his Facebook profile photo, don’t you???

Jim troubador

I think Jim was saying, “No, you are NOT going to put this on the blog, are you?”

What do you mean, where are the pictures of me in the hats???  There are no pictures of me in the hats:)  None.  Nada.  Not anymore.


These slot windows were defensive – they were created to shoot arrows through when under siege.

Coventry, like all towns that were once Medieval, has a market space and an open area, usually right in the center of town.

Coventry market square

Lady Godiva rode here.  I wasn’t terribly interested in Lady Godiva, or the statue, but I was extremely interested in the Starbucks on the other side of the square.  So you’ll excuse the fact that I had to go to Wiki to find a Lady Godiva statue photo:)  You know where I was!

Lady Godiva

While I was in Starbucks, I also purchased a salad, because we were running late and I knew that on a Sunday morning trying to find a lunch to eat in half an hour would be impossible.  So Jim and I were about to have another impromptu picnic.  Starbucks coffee and salad in the sunshine under beautiful blue skies on a Sunday morning in a church, or what is left of one.  Truly, what could be better?  How can you improve on that?

Coventry cathedral

Our next stop was the earliest church in Coventry, now in ruins, because the Germans bombed the city so relentlessly.  The bombs burned the church, but the walls still stand. It’s a beautiful skeleton.

Coventry cathedral 2

Our guided tour ended here, and our other family members dispersed to try to find a quick lunch.  Jim and I were left to ourselves, or nearly so, in the beautiful sentry standing mute testimony.  Once again, we began our picnic.  But the church just up the street was letting out and the church bells began to peel.  They were beautiful, and the church bells still function, giving voice to this church we thought was silent.

Coventry cathedral 3

We left Coventry and visited Shugborough Historic Estate.  We did a quick tour, because we were running late, again.

Fake library door

One of the most interesting things I found was all of the secret doors found in all of the old manor houses.  Here’s one example where they took library book ends and made the door look like part of the bookshelves.

Shugborough gardens

I found this house to look more “old” than historic.  Probably because they had restored it to between the 1920s and the 1970s when it was last lived in.  However, from the rear, the formal Victorian gardens were remarkable.  The bush shapes remind me of jelly candies:)  I’m sure that’s not what they had in mind.


From there, we still had about 2 and a half hours to Stirk House, where we are staying in the Ribble Valley.  The Ribble Valley is the land of rolling hills and what I would call moors and low mountains; the land of legends as well.  It’s believed that the Hobbit books, in particular, Middle Earth, was written after the Ribble Valley.  The author spent a great amount of time writing here while his son was in school in the area.  It’s a very distinctive area.  Outside of London it’s very much like Michigan or the US – but when you enter the Ribble Valley, it’s immediately different, remote, otherworldly.  It’s also the land of Robin Hood.  In fact, in the Robin Hood stories, there is a “Guy of Gisburne.” Gisburn is where our Speak ancestors are from.

If you remember, this entire trip to the British Isles all began with DNA testing.  Our Speak(e)(s) family finally connected with the source location of our American family in the British Isles, thanks to our cousin, Doug, from New Zealand.  New Zealand was settled much later than the US and Doug’s family knew where they were from in the UK, exactly, and still had contact with family members there.  The Speak(e)(s) family in the US arrived about 1660 and descendants didn’t know where they were from, in England.  We had been searching for that information for years.  We had suspicions and theories, but no proof.

The Speak(e)(s) Family Association meets yearly, and in 2011, I presented the results of the Y DNA testing to our group, ending my surprise presentation with pictures of Gisburn and the throw-away comment of, “I don’t know about you, but I want to go there.  I want to stand in that churchyard.”  Apparently, I wasn’t the only one, because planning began for the 2013 homecoming in Lancashire, England.


The excitement on the bus grew as we traveled. It was palpable.  You could feel it. After all, we had all traveled thousands of miles from around the globe to step back in time, not only figuratively, but literally as well in the Ribble Valley.  On the way, we were graced with a beautiful rainbow,  Getting a picture of the rainbow was a challenge through the bus windows.  We interpreted this incredible rainbow as a welcome from our ancestors.

Turning off the main roads, we began to see signs for places we had researched.  The names began to look familiar, Whalley, Gisburn, Clitheroe.  We knew we were close.

Pendle hill fog

This photo is of Pendle Hill, a local landmark that you can see from anyplace in the Ribble Valley.  To the right is the east end of Longridge Fell. Mist lies in the Ribble valley between them.

Pendle hill panoramic

This panoramic view of Pendle Hill is not from the Ribble Valley, but from Newchurch on the other side of the hill.

Ribble Valley first view

Here is our first view of the Ribble Valley.  These hills are high enough that they are moors on the hill.  Pendle Hill towers over the entire Ribble Valley, along with a ridge and cliffs.  Below was our first view of Pendle Hill.

Pendle Hill first view

The Pendle Hills are full of legends, and sheep.  One of the legends is of the Pendle Witches.  England did not escape the witchcraft craze and several women were executed here in the Pendle area for witchcraft in 1612.  One test of being a witch was to be held underwater for 30 minutes.  If you were dead, you were innocent.  If you were alive, you were then tortured and killed for being a witch.  Talk about being dead right.

One of the issues we had with the travel agent was where to stay in the Ribble Valley.  There aren’t any Holiday Inns.  In fact, the agent wanted the bus driver to take us back each evening to Manchester, 40 miles distant to a sterile Best Western.  We wanted to stay in the Ribble Valley, to be where our ancestors had been.  Susan found a conference/meeting facility, literally, in the middle of the valley, that was a restored manor house.  We wanted to stay there, but the travel agent didn’t have a “working relationship” with the Stirk House.  The day came when we simply told them to figure it out or we would, without them, because we were staying at the Stirk House.

Our cousin, Steve Speak, could not join us in the Ribble Valley, but he did meet us in Cambridge for dinner.  Steve is from the Gisburn area and told us that the Stirk House was purchased in the 1930s or 40s by a Peter Speak and he took the next 20 years to restore the manor house which had deteriorated into a terrible state.  On the way, in the bus, Susan took a look at the Gisburn Church records, and sure enough, a Speak woman died in the 1940s, is buried in Gisburn at the church and her residence was listed as “Stirkhouse, Gisburne.”  Now how uncanny is that.  So regardless of exactly where in this beautiful valley our original Speak ancestor lived, we are indeed staying on historic Speak land at the Stirk House.

The Tudor manor house known as the Stirk House was built in 1635, using stones from
the former Sawley Abbey which had been dismantled a century earlier under the
orders of Henry VIII.

The Stirk House was everything we could have imagined and more.  Beautiful facility, wonderful gardens and nature area, good food and a spa if you’re interested.

Stirk House

Welcome home!

Stirk House gardens

I love the moss and ferns growing on the rock walls.

Fern on walls

We had planned this event with the intention of meeting any Speak family members who might remain in the area, whether they carried the Speak surname or not.  We ran ads in regional genealogy/historical publications as well as in the local newspaper.  We also had an English contact which we thought might have made local people more comfortable.

Several Speak family members joined us for dinner.  The Stirk House had a private dining room for us, beside a meeting room.

Stirk House dinner

We had dinner together in the dining room here, an English country dinner, and then moved on to the evening’s agenda.

Some of our Speaks relatives joined us for the evening. It was nice to meet some of our cousins, no matter how distant.  Three different male Speaks brought their families, David, Stan and Gary.  David brought photos of his family and shared information about his family history and the area.  And yes, all three did a DNA test.  They felt certain that they were not related to each other.

Speak cousin

We are probably at least 15 generations removed, but still, we are indeed cousins.  It’s interesting that even after all of these generations two of our English cousins do share segments of DNA with some of us.  Not all of the results are back.

Now that I think of it, we’re probably related to all of the Pendle witches too.  That makes sense, because they were convicted of talking to cats and dogs and one was convicted because her children testified that she was a witch.  Heavens, that could have been me:)  I need a Pendle Witches t-shirt!

We moved to the meeting room and two local people gave historic presentations about the area, which were really quite interesting.   We ended the evening, finally, at 11:45 PM following a DNA presentation and update as to how our DNA brought us to the Ribble Valley.

Stirk house DNA

I must say, this all seemed very surreal to me, especially after a long day following a short night interrupted both by that loud wedding party and the fire alarm.  If I have one piece of advice, it’s don’t pack too much into a day, and don’t do a DNA presentation late in the evening.  Ok, that was 2 pieces of advice.  Pick on me about it and I’ll put a spell on you:)

Pendle witch



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Cavendish Lab at Cambridge University

The old Cavendish Lab at Cambridge University, where Watson and Crick discovered DNA, is kind of like Mecca for people who love genetics.  So is the Eagle Pub where they ate lunch daily and announced their discovery.  I’m not convinced which is the more important.

Our family tour in September, 2013 was scheduled to visit Cambridge, England, after leaving London.  I’ve been truly blessed this trip with the most wonderful coincidences.  In London, our hotel was located just across Hyde Park from the Science Museum where Watson and Crick’s original DNA model is housed.  In Cambridge, we are staying right around the corner from the Cavendish Lab where Watson and Crick discovered DNA.  Talk about literally walking in the footsteps of the masters.

I was pleased when I discovered Cambridge on the itinerary, and I googled to find the Eagle Pub. I was excited to find that it was indeed within walking distance of the Cambridge City Hotel where we were staying.  Although I don’t drink, I would visit the pub and raise a non-alcoholic brew for Watson and Crick’s momentous discovery.  Problem is, I discovered, that they didn’t have any non-alcoholic brew.  In fact, most of England views non-alcoholic brew as “why bother.”  While I agree in concept, sometimes it’s not by choice.

Wondering why the Cavendish Lab is important?

Cavendish 1

The Cavendish Lab at Cambridge University was the birthplace of the discovery of DNA.  James Watson and Francis Crick discovered DNA in this lab in 1953.  This year of course is the 60th anniversary of that discovery and James Watson was interviewed in celebration.  Crick passed away in 2004.

Before visiting Cambridge, I tried to find the Cavendish Lab on a map and it looked to be entirely across the campus, which is not small.  That made no sense to me, since the Eagle Pub was close to the hotel, but I accepted that I might not be able to see the lab.  I’d have to be satisfied with the Eagle Pub.

Why is the Eagle Pub important?  It’s where Watson and Crick lunched and probably did a lot of brainstorming.  Pubs are like that in England.

Cavendish 2

On our day of arrival, a walking tour of the city with a guide, a retired professor, was scheduled for that afternoon.  After we began the tour, around the first corner, on a street that was only wide enough for one car, and then no cars, I remembered to ask the guide about the original Cavendish Lab.  Given that he was a retired professor, I figured if anyone knew, he would.

He smiled broadly, and said “I’m so glad you asked…it’s right up ahead.”  To say I was thrilled is an understatement.  In fact, this is one of the few locations I’m actually IN the photos, um, actually, in most all the photos.  My cousins were so excited because I was excited that they took pictures of me.  This was definitely “my day” on the trip.  This photo of me, taken in front of the Eagle Pub pretty much sets the mood.cavendish me laughing

The Cavendish Lab, it turns out, was on the right hand side, just about where the road narrowed too much for any vehicle.  There was a sign mounted on the wall of the building that this was indeed the old Cavendish Lab.  There is a new Cavendish Lab across campus, the one I had seen on the map.  So far, my luck on the DNA trail had been remarkably good.

I, of course, was thrilled to be where Watson and Crick began what would be a blooming industry 60 years later with a world of promise.  In another 50 years, DNA will be responsible for the cure of many diseases we feel are hopeless or nearly so today.  Like at the Science Museum in London, I was very disappointed to see it relegated to not even the footnotes.  I tried to find a DNA souvenir, t-shirt, hat, something to purchase and there was not one DNA thing in any store.  For shame!  Come on – Double Helix Ale anyone???


Cambridge is an ancient medieval city and it’s evident everyplace.  The Cavendish Lab is arguably on the oldest “street,” or cartpath, in Cambridge.  I say this because the oldest church is right across that cartpath and dates from about the year 1000.  At that time, churches were always at the center of the village.  Today, that cart-path is not wide enough for a car, and there is no room to expand.

Today, the ancient church is of course physically tied into several other buildings and abuts others, as all buildings here generally are, especially old buildings.  This photo shows the oldest church constructed of chocolate brown stones, another very old church as well, and the spires of King’s College Chapel begun by Henry the 6th and finished by Henry the 8th in the distance to the far right.  Note that this is a one lane street at this point that shortly narrows to exclude vehicles.  To put this in perspective, the Eagle Pub is just about where the trees are on the far right, beside the King’s College Chapel spire.

Cavendish 4

In most of England, and assuredly in Cambridge, what we consider is the US to be old buildings, a hundred or two years old are considered to be rather new.  Their old buildings were constructed before Columbus “discovered” the Americas.

I can only imagine the nurturing quality of studying and working among such history.  I suppose one would get used to it, but I hope it would never be taken for granted.

There are two entrances to the lab.  One is through this door.


Watson and Crick exited through this door, walked down this cartway every day for lunch and ate at the Eagle Pub, just a short walk away and around the corner in front of the church.  It’s here that they fined tuned their DNA research as do both students and professors yet today.

The second entrance to the lab is through this archway which actually forms a tunnel under the building.  Half way through the tunnel is an entrance to the buildings on both sides.

Cavendish 6

Walking a short distance down the cobblestone street, just past the chocolate colored church, you intersect a road and slightly to the left is the Eagle Pub, where Watson and Crick ate lunch most days and discussed their projects.  Rest assured that DNA was indeed a hot topic of conversation here. In fact, it’s reported that they were so excited about their discovery that they told everyone in the pub that they had discovered the secret of life, only to have everyone ignore them and just go back to their pint of ale.  It had to be an extremely anti-climactic day for them – but if any patron remembers the crazy men in the pub that day that announced the discovery of the recipe of life itself – they indeed were a witness to a momentous discovery.

Cavendish 7

Inside the pub, in a stairway to the loo (bathroom) we found this sign.


The Pub actually holds more information about the discovery of DNA than the university location does.  I find this really unfortunate, as well as ironic, but maybe not as many people as I imagine might be interested in the history of DNA.

I would think they would at least mark the DNA “Double Helix Trail.”  It could end, or begin, in London at the Science Museum where the helix model resides today.

The pub itself is in a very historic area, literally in the middle of the “old town”.  Here’s a photo of the street itself, the pub, on the right.


Cambridge is a place of thinkers, and obviously, of doers as well.  It turns out that DNA was not the only discovery in the Cavendish labs.


I wonder what other discoveries were made in these hallowed halls.  Did you know that Mitochondrial DNA was first mapped at Cambridge in 1981, hence, the CRS or Cambridge Reference Sequence?  What is it with DNA here?  Rosalind Franklin, pioneer molecular biologist and a key contributor to the discovery of DNA studied at Newnham College at Cambridge, but when she made her x-ray diffraction images of DNA, utilized by Watson and Crick, she was at King’s College in London.

Cambridge is steeped in history never more than a few feet away.  In the photo of the pub, above, if you turn right when the street ends, you’ll be greeted with this scene, the King’s College Chapel with its rich history of starting and stopping construction through the reigns of 3 kings and the English Civil War.  This is the steeple you saw in the distance in the photo of the street where the Cavendish lab is located.


The architecture of this building is utterly stunning.

Cavendish 12

The first part was built by Henry the 6th for the 70 professors at Cambridge at the time.  The second part to the rear was finished many years later by Henry the 8th, after the War of the Roses and was very opulent with carvings on all the walls, heraldry, etc.  The first part was very simple by comparison.  The picture below is of the second part.

Cavendish 13

One of the most impressive aspects of this chapel, aside from the stunning windows, is the ceiling made of carved stone flying buttresses itself.  Because of the ceiling construction and the amount of glass in the windows, it’s actually very light inside and I could take these photos without flash photography which was prohibited.

Cavendish 14

The church forms part of a 4 building complex that is connected in a square and inside is a courtyard.

Cavendish 15

I can’t even imagine going to school is this wonderfully nurturing environment.  No wonder DNA was discovered here. No one wanted to leave.  My university was constructed of concrete blocks, for the most part, and everyone left as soon as possible.

Bachelor degrees at Cambridge are 3 year degrees, not 4, and if you live in Europe, it’s about 9,000 pounds which would be about 14,000 US dollars without lodging and food which is about another 8,000 pounds.  If you’re from elsewhere, it’s 18,000 pounds plus lodging.  Nurturing and inspiring, yes, but not inexpensive.

Cambridge is a beautiful and inspirational medieval city sprouting seeds for the future. There is a beautiful, ethereal umbilical connection between its past, my present and mankind’s future. It is truly awe-inspiring.  As I pondered and reflected upon all of this, I was struck with the weight of responsibility that all of us who work with DNA carry.

DNA is a gift, indeed, a map, of the past, of the present and a cartographic key to the future.  We have the responsibility and obligation to work with this Divine gift, ethically, morally and with only the best and most honorable of intentions.  We now have the key to the genome, the Holy Grail of humanity.  What will we do with it?  What does the future in another 60 years, 2073, hold?  Everyday in this new field, as we work individually to create a better whole, we are weaving our genetic legacy.




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 Stonehenge - the stones

You know, there are just some things in this world that defy words.  Some things are stunning in photos, but in person, they are absolutely unspeakable – there are no words adequate to describe them.  Overwhelming, majestic, none of those words are “enough.”

Stonehenge is one of those places.  Maybe that’s why people have been attracted here for thousands of years.  It’s a magnet calling to our human spirit.

This was my second day in London.  Jim and I had just spent a rather sleepless night in the Kenner’s Easy Bake Oven, a very small hotel room with no air conditioning, in a heat wave.  However, nothing was going to keep us from visiting Stonehenge, so off we went to find the tour company, something much easier said than done, it turns out.

We wanted to sign up for a bus tour, but the company said we had to come down to their office to physically make those arrangements, in person.  So, we took a subway tour by accident to get to the bus tour.  Thank Heavens we left lots of time.  To get to Stonehenge from London, you ride about 2 hours each way on the bus through what I would term nondescript farmland for the hour and a half visit at Stonehenge, but it was worth every minute of that ride and even being lost on the subway too.

But Jim and I had a special treat.  Our breakfast was included in our hotel room.  It was a real breakfast too, not just cereal and milk.  I think it’s because they felt guilty about that Kenner’s Easy Bake Oven thing.  In any case, the breakfast was really wonderful.  It included several kinds of fresh baked breads, cheeses including brie and freshly made raspberry jelly sitting in little jelly cups in icewater so they would set up quickly.

They also had normal breakfast things like eggs and “bacon” which was really good and not bacon as we know it in the US, and baked beans, which is a breakfast staple in England.  This rather unique combination, complete with tomatoes and mushrooms, is known as the English Full Breakfast and you can see some pictures here.  And yes, it does include “blood pudding” also known as black pudding which isn’t pudding at all.  There is a picture of me trying that…but I won’t publish it.  I will try almost anything once, and I did, and guaranteed, there will not be a second time.

I decided that the freshly baked bread was calling to me and so was the cheese.  Not only is that my farm upbringing, but it’s also the result of living in Switzerland as a student.  It’s all coming back now and I have this indescribable urge to have some wine with my bread and cheese:)

I noticed that the tour description said nothing about food, nor about stopping anyplace, so I presumed we needed to be prepared.  Let me translate – go to the bathroom just before leaving and take food or water or anything you’re going to need.

Stonehenge picnic me

So, I made us a picnic lunch.  It was the best lunch ever, with petit pain and brie and jelly (in packets, not the homemade raspberry – no way to transport that) and a banana and a pear and a tomato slice.  Yepper, a killer picnic lunch and we had it sitting on the grass at Stonehenge.  It was really squishy, but it was really, really good.  And yes, we had to lick our fingers.  Welcome to our picnic at Stonehenge.  After we ate, we took pictures from our picnic site.  I mean, how many times in your life do you get to picnic at Stonehenge?

Stonehenge me

Jim, by the way, refuses to smile in photos.  Still, I think this one is very cool.  He’s thinking about smiling and trying hard not to!  BTW – this photo is now on the cover of Jim’s iphone – a nifty Christmas gift!

Stonehenge Jim

There are lots of theories and myths about Stonehenge, the why and how, including aliens and Merlin, but the truth is that no one really knows why it was created, or how, or by whom.  However, no culture would invest so much time and labor into something that wasn’t sacred to them in some way.

Below, the oldest known depiction of Stonehenge.

Stonehenge roman manuscript

From a manuscript of the Roman de Brut by Wace in the British Library (Egerton 3028), a giant helps Merlin build Stonehenge.

You can’t sit in the beauty and majesty of his incredible monument without pondering and thinking, about Stonehenge itself, and also about the people who created this megalithic structure.  And I wondered of course, if I was related to them.  Are they my ancestors?  I certainly have several British Isles ancestors.  Were some of them here then?  Did they participate in some way, either in building the monument  or whatever form of worship followed?  What do we know about Stonehenge?

Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England, about 2 miles (3.2 km) west of Amesbury and 8 miles (13 km) north of Salisbury. One of the most famous sites in the world, Stonehenge is the remains of a ring of standing stones set within earthworks. It is in the middle of the most dense complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in England, including several hundred burial mounds. It sits simply in the middle of a plain.  In fact, while driving through that area, there are little burial mounds everyplace.  This is through the bus window, so pardon the glare on the glass.  The mounds are to the right and also in the distance mid-photo.

English burial mounds

Archaeologists believe Stonehenge was built anywhere from 3000 BC to 2000 BC. Radiocarbon dating in 2008 suggested that the first stones were raised between 2400 and 2200 BC, whilst another theory suggests that the bluestones, from Wales, may have been raised at the site as early as 3000 BC

Stonehenge was built in three phases between 3000 B.C. and 1600 B.C. Archaeologists agree it was a temple — but to what god or gods, and exactly how it was used, remains unclear.

Archaeological evidence found by the Stonehenge Riverside Project in 2008 indicates that Stonehenge could have been a burial ground from its earliest beginnings for elite families. The dating of cremated remains found on the site indicate that deposits contain human bone from as early as 3000 BC, when the ditch and bank were first dug.  These burials locations are marked by bluestones.  The Stonehenge stones may be the largest headstones ever!  Such deposits continued at Stonehenge for at least another 500 years.

Stones for Stonehenge, much of which still stands, were brought from up to 175 miles (280 kilometers) away. Construction continued for centuries, and the site may have been a temple for Druid worship, a giant astronomical calendar, a place of healing, or maybe all of the above.

Evidence suggests large crowds gathered at Stonehenge for the summer and winter solstices, a tradition that continues today.

Senior curator Sara Lunt says there are still major discoveries to be made — more than half the site remains unexcavated. But the original purpose of Stonehenge may remain a mystery.

“We know there was a big idea” behind Stonehenge and other stone circles built across the British Isles in the Neolithic period, she said. But “what the spiritual dimension of this idea is — that is the key, and that is what we can’t get.”

The surrounding circular earth bank and ditch, which constitute the earliest phase of the monument, have been dated to about 3100 BC. The site and its surroundings were added to the UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1986 in a co-listing with Avebury Henge.  Stonehenge is owned by the Crown and managed by English Heritage, while the surrounding land is owned by the National Trust.

When we were visiting, they were in the process of completing a new visitor’s center.  We didn’t see the new center, as it is about a mile and a half away and completely out of view.  The then-current center is just out of sight of Stonehenge itself.  The idea of the new center is to remove all of the modern day trappings and distractions, including motor noise, so that visitors can enjoy the monument in a more pristine and natural environment. That seemed to be a very volatile subject and not everyone is happy about the changes.

Recently the new facility was opened.

Among the exhibits in the new facility is the reconstructed  face of one 5,000-year-old local resident from his skull.  Oscar Nilsson, a forensic sculptor, created the bust and says that he had good teeth and handsome features, in a shaggy, prehistoric kind of way.  Actually, I think he looks uncannily like my x-husband on a good day….which kind of gives me the creeps and makes me desperately want to know about his haplogroup.

Stonehenge bust

I was very disappointed to discover that they have not, to date, performed DNA testing.  My inquiry to English Heritage about DNA testing on these and other remains found in close proximity received the following reply:

Dear Ms Estes,

Many thanks for your email regarding the human remains on display at the new Stonehenge visitor and exhibition centre. I have been asked to respond on behalf of the Project team.

Dr Simon Mays, Senior Osteologist for English Heritage has provided the Interpretation and Curatorial team with some information regarding further testing following the recent sampling carried out on the Winterbourne Stoke 1 human remains that he guided.  He advises that analysis of DNA is destructive and we would only consider using such a technique on ancient material if the results would help to answer compelling questions about the human remains that could not be answered in any other way: only then would the destruction of a piece of human bone be ethically justifiable. In this case, DNA analysis was not relevant to the questions that we considered important, which included the man’s place of origin and early development, his mobility and his age at death.

Although a fairly common procedure nowadays for historic and recent material, attempts to extract DNA from ancient skeletons fails in the majority of cases because of, inter alia, poor preservation of the relevant molecule. When DNA does survive from ancient material, it is often in very poor condition, so the information it can supply is strictly limited.

Any destructive analysis that English Heritage might wish to carry out in the future on the human remains in the Visitor Centre would be subject to the agreement of the institutions which have loaned them to English Heritage.

I hope this goes some way to answer your query, but please let me know if you need further information.
Kind regards,

Rebecca Thomas

Stonehenge Programme & Finance Co-ordinator
29 Queen Square | Bristol | BS1 4ND
Tel: 0117 975 1301 (internal 2301)

Let’s hope they reconsider in the future.  If you have feedback for them about how DNA won’t answer questions about the history of this man…their contact information is listed above.  I encourage you to share your opinion with them and perhaps ask some pointed questions.  I have to wonder if any of the cremains might be a possibility.  They are already “destroyed,” so to speak, and the heat of the cremation fire might not have been hot enough to destroy all of the DNA.  I know that contemporary cremations are at much higher temperatures and do destroy the DNA.  It might be worth having Dr. King or another individual who has successfully extracted ancient DNA do an evaluation.  Furthermore, while they are accurate, the process is destructive – it is minimally so.  A small piece of bone needs to be drilled – significantly smaller than a tooth.  It seems a shame not to utilize the tools available to us.

I have to wonder just who this reconstructed man is, in terms of ancient ancestry and clans.  Were these people from Europe or Scandinavia, perhaps?  Were they haplogroup R, like about half of Europe is today, or would they carry a different haplotype?

Recent work by Dr. Michael Hammer and first presented at the Family Tree DNA Administrators Conference in November of 2013 indicated that there was no early haplogroup R yet found in early burials. Initially, haplogroup R1b had been thought to have overwintered the ice ace about 12,000 years ago in Anatolia and Iberia, repopulating Europe after the ice melted.  However, if that is true, then were are the R1b burials?  Instead, we are finding haplogroup G and I and some E, but not any R.  The first site to show any haplogroup R is R1b from a German Bell Beaker site dated to the third millennium BCE, or about 5,000 years ago.

ancient Y

The Neolithic timeframe covers the expansion of agriculture from the Middle East across Europe beginning about 10,000 BC and continuing across Europe to about 5,000 BC.  Haplogroup R, it appears, did not accompany this expansion, but arrived later, post-Neolithic, potentially with the Bell Beaker Culture between 2,000 and 3,000 BC.

This culture is named  after its distinctly shaped drinking vessels.

Beaker vessel

3,500 years old, 40 cm (16 in) high “Giant Beaker of Pavenstädt”, Gütersloh town museum, Germany.  Other Beaker culture items, below.

Beaker artifacts

It’s also believed that mitochondrial haplogroup H spread into Europe with the Bell Beaker culture as well.

Beakers arrived in Britain around 2500 BC, declined in use around 2200-2100 BC with the emergence of food vessels and cinerary urns and finally fell out of use around 1700 BC. The earliest British beakers were similar to those from the Rhine but later styles are most similar to those from Ireland In Britain, domestic assemblages from this period are very rare, making it hard to draw conclusions about many aspects of society. Most British beakers come from funerary contexts.

From Wiki, this map shows the generalized movement of the Bell Baker culture.

Bell Beaker culture

The most famous site in Britain from this period is…drum roll please…Stonehenge.  Many barrows surround it and an unusual number of ‘rich’ burials can be found nearby, such as the Amesbury Archer who lived contemporarily with the construction of portions of Stonehenge.

The Amesbury Archer is an early Bronze Age man whose grave was discovered during excavations at the site of a new housing development in Amesbury near Stonehenge. The grave was uncovered in May 2002, and the man is believed to date from about 2300 BC. He is nicknamed the “archer” because of the many arrowheads that were among the artifacts buried with him. Had he lived near the Stones, the calibrated radiocarbon dates for his grave and dating of Stonehenge suggest the sarsens and trilithons at Stonehenge may have been raised by the time he was born, although a new bluestone circle may have been raised at the same time as his birth.

In spite of what English Heritage said, DNA testing could help answer many of these questions about who these early people were, where they came from and who they were descended from and related to.

When we visited Stonehenge, the guide suggested that historically there may have been processions from Avesbury, across the Salisbury plain, following the Avon River and then up the hill to Stonehenge.   The Avon River, 2 miles distant, and with parallel ditches leading from Stonehenge to the River, is theorized to be how the stones were transported to the Salisbury Plain from their origins in Wales, hundreds of miles distant.

Evidence on the banks of the river of huge fires between two avenues connecting Stonehenge with another nearby Neolithic site, Durrington Walls, shown below, suggests that both sites were linked.

Durrington Walls

I discovered, with a little googling, that indeed, contemporary visitors have been retracing this exact trail and are attempting to establish a historical walk, of sorts, shown below.

Avon plain hike

I can’t help but think how wonderful this would be, to retrace the steps of the original people of Avesbury and the Salisbury plains, whoever they were.  Hugh Thomson, the author of the “Magic Circles” article hyperlinked above, probably sums it up the best with this commentary:

“I can’t help thinking how much better it is to arrive at Stonehenge on foot. The comparison that comes to mind, and which I know well, is the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. The experience of trekking to both sites is immeasurably richer, not just because you’ve “earned it”, but because both sets of ruins are only properly understood in the context of the sacred landscape that surrounds them.”

It’s probably much different that arriving on a tour bus after being lost on the subway.

If I ever return to England, I’ll have to come back to Stonehenge.  I would very much like to visit at sunrise and now, I’d like to retrace the walk of the original inhabitants, whoever they were.  And yes, I’d like to know if I might be distantly related to one of these people buried in these barrows, shown below, surrounding Stonehenge.  Think how you’d feel standing here if you knew your ancestors did as well.  It could only enhance the visitor experience and the science would, of course, help resolve the many unknowns in the history of Stonehenge.  I hope English Heritage gets their curiosity peaked and reconsiders DNA testing, as they seem a bit behind the curve.  After all, they have Dr. Turi King, with the University of Leicester, of King Richard fame, quite nearby.

Stonehenge with barrow

Truly, we had a wonderful day at Stonehenge.  The weather was perfect, no rain and sunny.  Beautiful photos.  Just a few people here, no large crowds, and our lovely picnic.

After our visit, on the bus on the way back to London, I thought, “guess I can check this off of my bucket list,” but then I realized, I really don’t have a bucket list.  My life has provided me with so many rich opportunities that I never dreamed that I would have.  I never imagined that I would ever have the opportunity to visit Stonehenge, so it actually wasn’t ON my bucket list.  However, now that I’ve been here, I’d love to come back.

You know, there’s something wrong with this picture.  I thought you visited places to check them off the list, not to add them to the list as a return visit!  But Stonehenge, well, it’s a magical place, and it will do that to you…consider this fair warning!




I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research