Monday, April 20, 2015

52 Ancestors: Live Long

"Week 16 (April 16-22) – Live Long. Time to feature a long-lived ancestor. Any centenarians in the family?" (No Story Too Small)

A quick look at the family tree shows a couple of ancestors that were reported to have become centenarians: Jacques Caudebec of Bolbec, Pays de Caux, Normandy, France and Owen Aston of Ettingshall, Sedgely, Staffordshire, England. As I have already written about Jacques Caudebec, it's definitely Owen Aston's turn.

I'm descended from Owen and his wife Isabell (Fullwood) Aston twice, through his grandsons Joseph and Robert, the son of Robert, son of Owen. Grandson Robert had a son John, who had a son Joseph, who married Mary Aston, the daughter of Edward, the daughter of Owen's grandson Joseph. In other words, my ancestors Joseph and Mary (Aston) Aston had a common set of great-grandparents, Robert and Ann Aston.

Back to Owen...

We don't know a whole lot about his life. But so it often is with genealogy. However, We do know a few things that do give a couple of clues about who he was as an individual.

He does appear in legal records. My mother, on her Aston ancestors page, writes, "Owen is mentioned in the Sedgley Manor Rolls twice: On 8 October 1633, "Richard Whitehouse vs. Owen Aston in a plea of trespass upon the case", and 5 June 1634, "Richard Whitehouse vs. Owen Aston in a plea of trespass upon the case". This is a phrase from English Common Law - it is a tort which alleges a civil injury without force or violence, such as libel or slander, fraud or breach of duty." 

A view of Sedgley Beacon (with the tower on the horizon)
taken from the eastern side
by Ron Baker (

I'm not sure what was passing between Owen and this Richard Whitehouse or if the two mentions were related to two separate cases or one ongoing case. But apparently, Richard and Owen were at odds with each other for over six months.

We also know that he was a nailor. Yes, a person plying this trade did just what you might think--make nails.

On my mother's page on Mary Aston's line, she gives more information about nailors: "An article on the nail trade in the Black Country says: "The beginning of the nail trade in the Black Country and other parts of the surrounding areas are lost in antiquity. Reference to nails being made go back as far as the 12th century. The trade was always domestic in character, the nails being made in small workshops either attached to, or close to, the nailer's house. In the early times, that is up to about the 17th century, the nail trade would have been mainly a part-time occupation along with agriculture, with nails being made in times of bad weather and in winter. The improvement of slitting the iron into bars early in the 17th century helped stimulate the nail trade. Improvements in the blast furnaces and the change from charcoal to coal made the nail trade competitive. Richard Reynolds wrote in a letter about 1760 and said that, 'The nail trade would have been lost to this country had it not been found practical to make nails of iron made with pit-coal'...(The Black Country Nail Trade by Arthur Willets, online at  Often the entire family would be involved in making nails, including children seven years old and up."

Finally, we know about his death and his reported lifespan. My mother reports, "Owen died and was buried 24 April 1679 in Sedgley: 'Buried Old Owen Aston, Ettingsole, aged above 100 years'." 

Beacon Tower, Ettingshall
"This has been the site of a beacon for over 400
years and a tower was placed there before 1700.
The present tower was erected in 1846."

What is remarkable is that Owen would not have been a wealthy man with access to the best care, best diet, and best et cetera and so forth. He would have performed a great deal of physical labor in lifetime, potentially wearing himself out working with iron and pit-coal. He lived in the 1500s and 1600s, at a time when there much disease and other less than favorable conditions but less medical knowledge than today. And yet, he made it long enough to be called "Old Owen Aston." He may truly have lived as long as reported but even if the report was a bit exaggerated, he still must have attained an admirable age to have earned the entry he had in the burial records.

Next week's challenge from No Story Too Small: "Week 17 (April 23-29) – Prosper. Which ancestor has a rags-to-riches story? Which ancestor prospered despite the odds?" Next week, I'll be going even further back in the 1400s and the green sheep-covered hills of Fairford, Gloucestershire.

Monday, April 13, 2015

52 Ancestors: How Do You Spell That?

"Week 15 (April 9-16) – How Do You Spell That? What ancestor do you imagine was frequently asked that? Which ancestor did you have a hard time finding because of an unusual name?" (No Story Too Small)

IJken Jans Kuijstensdr. is perhaps my hardest-to-pronounce ancestor based on the spelling provided in the source record. To be clear, though, she lived at a time (early 1600s) when spelling mattered much less than it does now. She was probably not asked how to spell her name for that reason and two other reasons. Another reason was that less people were literate at the time (though IJken's family was affluent and a somewhat more likely to have some ability to read). Second, she was Dutch with Dutch names living in the Netherlands. Even if everyone read back then and cared about spelling, they would not be as likely to need someone to spell out a name.

Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window by Vermeer

How Do You Say That?

That said, you take a literate, spelling-conscious, non-Dutch-speaking 21st-century dweller like I was when I first saw IJken's name, give me a name like IJken Jans Kuijstensdr., and ask me to pronounce's going to be a struggle!

In fact, I ended up posting in a forum for help (to which I got a reply). The closest I can come with my current limited knowledge of Dutch (a deal greater than back then but still pretty small) is:

IJken = Ikun (hear it on Forvo)
Jans = Yans (hear it on Forvo)
Kuijsten = perhaps Kowsten (this is not recorded on Forvo but Kuijk and Kuijpers are and can help give an idea how Kuijsten is pronounced)
Dr. (short for dochter) = doctor (hear it on Forvo)

So, probably something along the lines of Ikun Yans Kowstensdoctor to an English-speaking ear.

And then there's IJken's brother-in-law, Leendert Dircxsz.:

Leendert = Lendert (Forvo or Heardutchhere)
Dirckxsz. = Dirkszoon
- Dirck = Deerck (Forvo or Heardutchhere)
- Zoon = Zone (Forvo)

So, something like Lendert Deerckszone.

And there are plenty more of those kinds of names on that side of the family. Whew!

14th-century tower in Andel
("Romboutstoren" by I, Remcovn.
Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via
Wikimedia Commons)

What's the Deal with Those Names?

One thing I learned quickly when researching my Dutch ancestry is the structure of the names and the naming traditions. This is important.

IJken has three names. IJken is her given name. The others were a patronym and a surname.

The Dutch at that time used patronyms (father's name used as a last name). Therefore, IJken's name tells us that she was IJken, daughter of Jan Kuisten (in fact, he shows up in records as Jan Anthonisz Kuijst - yes, that means that Jan was the son of Anthonis, or Theunis).

Kuijsten (or Kuijst) was the family's surname. The use of surnames was unusual at this time in the Netherlands. Notice, for example, that Leendert Dirckxsz. has only a first name and patronym. Most Dutch families didn't adopt a surname until the early 1800s. Those who settled in New Netherland (like mine did) often didn't come with a last name but adopted one within the first several generations. IJken's family, however, as well as her husband's family (Roosa), had surnames before that time though. However, they were well-to-do and in the case of her husband's family may have had connections to the aristocratic Rosendael family, so they may have found it neccessary to use a surname to distinguish themselves.

Another thing to note and one that reinforces the idea that IJken was the matriarch of the Roosa family is the naming tradition. One of the patterns seen among early modern Dutch families (including colonial Dutch) is that of naming the first sons after their grandfathers and the first daughters after their grandmothers.

Former windmill in Herwijnen, a town
associated with the Roosa family
("Herwijnen De Jager 8983" by Willemjans -
Own work. Licensed under CC
BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Who Was Not the Matriarch of the Roosas?

At one point, it was claimed that the mother of Albert Heymans Roosa, the immigrant to New Netherland, was named Metje Gysbertsor Roos. This name throws up red flags. First, Gysbertsor seems to be a mistranscription of Gysbertsdr. Second, Roos looks like a variation of Roosa, instead of a unique last name. Third, Metje is not a name that is passed down to her granddaughters, as it would according to the Dutch naming tradition. (However, Albert and his two known brothers named daughters Eijke or Eyke, variations on IJken.) One of these items, taken alone, could be overlooked. All three warning signs, taken together, made me question the idea of Metje being the correct mother of Albert.

Then, How Do We Know IJken is the Matriarch?

Apparently, I wasn't the only one questioning the legendary Metje. Researcher Jos De Kloe found a Heijman Guijsberts, husband of IJken Jan Kuisten, mentioned as an heir in the will of Marieken Aert Willemsdr., the mother of IJken. The reasons he believes this Heijman Guijsberts to be the Roosa ancestor is: 

  • “In Andel there is only one man, in this time period, that bore the name Heijman Ghijsberts; up to 1750 no one else in the village carried this combination of first name and patronymic name.” 
  • “The name Heijman is a rare name anyway in this village (later typical to the Rosa clan).” 
  • “Years later appear a Jan Heijmans Roza and a Govert Heijmans Rosa, both having daughters named Eijke. Jan first uses the name Rosa in 1654, Govert first in 1653.” In addition, Albert Heymans Roosa also had a daughter Eyke. 

For more information on IJken and her family and to see details about her mother's will, see my page on Heijman and IJken on (I have not transferred my notes on the Roosas to my Olive and Eliza website but it's on my family's site Boydhouse. I plan on adding the Roosa pages to Olive and Eliza as I'm able.)

Rembrandt's Saskia in a Red Hat,
painted a little over a decade after Marieken's will

Next week's challenge from No Story Too Small: "Week 16 (April 16-22) – Live Long. Time to feature a long-lived ancestor. Any centenarians in the family?" Next week, I'll be going further back in time to an ancestor who was said to have been "aged above 100 years."

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

52 Ancestors: Favorite Photo

"Week 14 (April 2-8) – Favorite Photo: Who is in a favorite photo of yours? Or tell the story of the photo itself — where was it taken, what was the event?" (No Story Too Small)

There is something amazing about coming across the photo of an ancestor, especially one you've never seen a picture of before. I've had this happen a number of times. Here are some examples:

Eliza (Fowlke) and Elias Aston
See below for details.

Alonzo Havington Ennis
A wonderful relative found my father's website
and realized that she had more information on
the Ennises that we did. She sent a package with
an Ennis genealogy by Alonzo's grandson, a page
from a county history, and this and the next photo.

Olive (Bird) Ennis, Alonzo's wife

Harriet Ann (Aston) and Charles Edward Green
and baby Curtis
I had seen a photo of Harriet as an older woman
but not of her in her younger year or of Charles.

Hester (Middleton) Salisbury
I was attending a graduate program at BYU
when I stumbled onto this sketch of Hester's
grave effigy. The bookstore was having a
book clearance sale out in the quad one day.
I found a book on British historical costume
and opened it up to find a drawing of one
of my ancestors inside.

George Southam
Isn't my great-great-great-grandpa adorable?

As I noted above, I'll share the story of Elias and Eliza (Fowlke) Aston, both about the finding of their photo and about them.

When I was an undergrad at BYU, I took a family history course. For my term paper, I had to research and report on an ancestral family and their children and at least some of them needed to be born post-1850. Well, choosing a family with post-1850 children that hadn't already been researched was not so easy. After conferring with my Mom, I chose the Aston as she had only some bare facts on them. 

I didn't expect to find anything new...but I did. There was contact info for a submitter on Familysearch and they had the photo of Elias and Eliza above, a copy of which they graciously sent.

They also sent a copy of remembrances of family members, including their granddaughter, Irene Aston Shumway: "Elias had quite a hard time raising all those children. I have heard Grandmother (Eliza Fowlke Aston) tell about pinning some of the little ones to her apron when she sat down to sew. I remember Elias as a little man with a long beard, walking with his hands clasped behind his back. Grandfather (Elias Aston) studied the Bible and could recite the scriptures by heart. He was very religious.” 

We learned a great deal about the family. I wrote up my paper and Mom eventually wrote a webpage with the information we learned, including this: "Above the family home was a large ditch, and in the summer all the boys would go to the ditch for their morning washing. The family worked and played hard together. They all enjoyed square dances. The family also had tragedies. Orson was killed at age 20, as they sat on a hillside eating their lunch. A large rock rolled down, striking him in the back, killing him instantly.Mary Maria was sickly all her life and never married. All the boys and Harriet suffered from asthma, and eventually died from its effects."

In addition, Mom returned to some records she had gathered previously so she could send them to me. As she did, she noticed that she had misread a place on a record--it read "Wollaton," not "Nottingham." That discovery allowed her to locate Elias' ancestors.

To learn more about the Astons, go to Mom's website on Harriet, Elias, Eliza, and their ancestors:

The Aston project was one of my first family history projects. The next was the Ennises with more photos and more biographical details and more door opened to find even earlier ancestors. For this reason, these pictures are among my favorites. Who knows what wonderful pictures are out there still? Perhaps there are more pictures of the ancestors I've seen before. Or perhaps of those I've never seen. 

I mentioned last week that of my great-great-grandparents, I'm only missing photos for Maurice Hickey and Squire Richardson. There are some unidentified Carey photos, including one of an older gentleman, maybe even Maurice. As for Squire, perhaps there's a mugshot.

And On Another Note...

While we're speaking of Squire, last week I wrote about him and his son William Henry. Then, on Saturday, the brilliant Studio C released a video that really, really reminds me of researching the Boyd-Richardsons:


Next week's challenge from No Story Too Small: "Week 15 (April 9-16) – How Do You Spell That? What ancestor do you imagine was frequently asked that? Which ancestor did you have a hard time finding because of an unusual name?" Well, the ancestor I'm thinking of probably didn't get asked how to spell her name, just judging from the time and place. But I did have to ask for help knowing how a name spelled like that is pronounced.