Ask A Wench: our noble ancestors!

Jean Hasbrouck house New Paltz

Jean Hasbrouck House

Pat here:

The wenches thank Jane Irish Nelson for this fabulous question: Have you traced your family history? If so, what interesting stories have you discovered? And have you ever incorporated those stories into your books? Jane, you’ve won a copy of one of my books!

Wenches, being the history nuts we are, have delved into the lives and stories of our ancestors where we can and have some fabulous tales to tell…

Except me. I may have mentioned previously that both my parents were orphaned, my mother at birth and my father when he was young. I never had biological grandparents and have no family stories to tell. But after doing the DNA search on one of the genealogy sites and consulting with a cousin, I’ve traced bits and pieces. My father’s ancestors were deeply rooted in the Hudson

Huguenot cemetary

Huguenot cemetery

Valley of New York, well back to the original settlers. (There was a good deal of intermarriage in these early families. The same names pop up frequently on the tree.)  One of them has even written a small book with all the research he has done, although I seem to have lost the link. I have pages of research notes from family members, and all I can say is that I’m pretty sure that side of the family came from a lot of vain storytellers with too much time on their hands. <G> If I follow their irregular notes, I am descended from half of European nobility.

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Regency Theatre Clubs and Secret Societies

RAOB_BadgeNicola here. There’s a new series of one of my favourite TV programmes on at the moment, the BBC genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are. From connections to royalty to Dame Judi Dench’s links to Hamlet, there’s always something fascinating in people’s family history. Last week part of the programme focussed on one of the largest fraternal organisations in the UK, The Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes. I must admit I don’t tend to think of the UK as being big into fraternal organisations other than the Masons and the “Buffs” as they are known, was new to me. However their origins and history turned out to be really interesting and got me thinking about the popularity of groups like these, why secret societies were so popular, and their decline in the modern day.

The Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes was founded in 1822 during the reign of George IV. It sprang out of the theatre trade and was set up in the Harp Tavern in Covent Garden which stood opposite Drury Lane Theatre. Covent Garden was and still is the heart of London theatre land and The Harp, which has been demolished since, was a favourite drinking place for theatre people. Edmund Kean, the actor, was a famous habitué in the Regency period and Sheridan, the actor and playwright, hung out there in the earlier part of the Georgian era.

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True Friends

Many people will walk in and out of your life but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart. Eleanor Roosevelt

Me and BFF

Me and my BFF

We all need friends and there has seldom been a time when we’ve needed them more than we do right now. The pandemic has really shown us the value of true friends – mine have definitely kept me sane throughout the lockdown and without them it would have been easy to sink into lethargy and depression. With the days blurring into one another (my husband has taken to calling every day “Blursday”!), having a weekly FaceTime chat or Zoom meeting to focus on has helped me to stay motivated. After all, when your friends ask you what you’ve been doing, you don’t want to just say ‘vegging out’! And emails from lovely friends lift the spirits no end, not least when you hear that they are safe and well and you can breathe a sigh of relief.

I’m thinking about this today especially because it happens to be the birthday of my very oldest friend – happy birthday G! – not in the sense of her age but the length of time we have known each other. And it’s made me reflect on the huge importance of the kind of friends you can really be yourself with and who probably know you better than you know yourself. Those are truly special.

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Battle Babies!

TreeNicola here, talking about names. Back in July, Christina posted about names and saints’ days, and recently a previous Wench guest, Elizabeth Hawksley, wrote a fascinating piece on her own blog here about why the name Thomas fell out of popularity in 1532. It seems to me that whether we’re talking about about choosing names for characters in books or how we feel about our own names, it’s a perennially fascinating topic.

This time around, my interest was sparked by the BBC genealogy programme Who Do You Think You Are, which returned to our screens in the UK last week with a new series. The first programme explored the family history of actress Jodie Whittaker. Among the family stories that emerged was one relating to her grandmother, who was called Greta Verdun Bedford. This was the moment I learned something completely new to me – that in the past, babies have been named after battles.

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Names and Saints’ Days

Saint Christina

Saint Christina by Carlo Dolci – Art UK, Wikimedia Commons

Christina here – This week I will be celebrating my name day – a Swedish tradition that baffles a lot of my English friends, although I know other countries, like Spain, share this custom (there it’s called día de santo). It’s probably not as common in Sweden nowadays, but in my family we keep it up, mainly because it’s a great excuse for cake (if you need an excuse! – see my previous post here) and also because several of us share the same name so it gives us a special bond.

Friday (24th July) is St Christina’s day and although Sweden is mainly a Protestant country, for some reason they have retained the various saints’ days in their calendar. To make it more modern and inclusive, as names vary a lot more now than in the past, they have recently added lots of new names (not belonging to any saint as far as I know). That means I officially have two name days, with a new one for my other name Pia, but I’ve always celebrated Christina and one is enough for me.

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