Linda Clyde | May 21, 2018

Findmypast Part 2: Recovering the Stories of Your Ancestors

There are exciting British and Irish family stories to be found on Findmypast. In his presentation at RootsTech 2018, Myko Clelland, also known as the Dapper Historian, talked about his Scottish and Sicilian roots and their influence on his life. He highlighted the power of story saying, “These two storytelling cultures bred an obsession with these stories—this idea that every romance, every loss, every story in our own lives and those who came before us really make us who we are today.”

The Village of Gurro

He began his presentation with the story of a beautiful, unassuming village north of Milan, Italy, called Gurro. The Battle of Pavia took place near this remote village in 1525 between the kingdom of France and the Holy Roman Empire. The French lost the battle and their army scattered, though the King of France’s elite group of Scottish bodyguards remained in the village, since it was late in the season and they found themselves snowed in for the winter. When spring finally came, these Scottish soldiers had become attached to the small Italian village and decided to stay. It is believed that they settled down, had families, and still have descendants there today.

Clelland explained that “when we look at Gurro, not only did the locals wear traditional clothes that looked suspiciously like kilts, there were a few more clues that might give this story a little bit of truth. The University of Zurich carried out a linguistic study in this area, and they found 800 words in their dialect unique to the area that had Gaelic origin, The way they say yes in Italian, you may know, is ‘si.’ … Here, they say ‘ai,’ which sounds a little more Scottish than you might imagine.” This, Clelland explained, “sums up why our ancestors are important. Every connection to our past affects us today. … And we still have a little [of] themselves in us. And the more [of] their story that we can tell, the better we know ourselves.”

The bits of information that can be found from the records on Findmypast can help those with British and Irish ancestry piece together stories of their ancestors.

Signs of Love

Clelland eagerly shared an exciting portion of a 500-year-old story recently discovered on the site that read as follows: “1576, February, the fifth day. Thomas Tilsey and Ursula Russell were married. And because Sir Thomas was and is naturally deaf and also dumb, so that the order of the form of marriage used usually amongst others [who] can hear and speak could not, for his part, be observed, that said Thomas, for the expressing of his mind, instead of words, of his own accord, used these signs: First, he embraced her with his arms. He took her by the hand; he put a ring upon his finger, and he laid his hand upon his heart and then upon her heart. And he held up his hands towards heaven, and to show his continuance to dwell with her until his life’s end, he did it by closing his eyes with his hands, and digging out the earth with his foot, and pulling as though it would ring a bell with diverse of the signs approved.” Clelland commented on this moving story saying, “I can’t think of anything more perfect to find—a hidden gem—that sums this up. And these records are not unique. There are many of them.”

Groom of the Stool

The stories that can be found in Findmypast records can do more than touch our hearts. What we find can also make us laugh. Clelland shared an image of an imposing man with what he called a “special job.” He explained, “So there’s a position called the groom of the stool, which helps the monarch go to the toilet. It’s considered a very, very special position, because when the monarch is at [his] most vulnerable, he’s often very liable to be given advice. And it means you have the king’s ear, and you can be a very powerful man indeed. So people would compete to be the groom of the stool. And those people would be very influential.” Clelland humorously offered his personal position on the matter, “I don’t know if I would apply, but I think it’s very worth looking.”

Sad but True

The range of experiences and emotions that can be drawn out from record details is wide. Clelland shared a sad story of a young 24-year-old woman diagnosed with “melancholia,” or depression. She believed herself to be pregnant and became suicidal. She was found by a bridge thinking about doing the terrible deed, was institutionalized, and received treatments, which by today’s standards would be viewed as barbaric. 

He also offered up a crime story drawn from a penal record, saying, “We have a lady. We have details of her conviction. We have details of her crime—stealing apparel. We have the details—she was convicted [and] was committed to prison. We have her trade—she was a servant. We have a religion. We have details of her next of kin. We see she’s single. She was sentenced to five years in prison and two years under supervision. Inside this same record, we have a newspaper article that details her exact crime. It tells you where she stole from, what she stole, and that then gives us a lot of information. But even better, on the final page, we have a photograph of her as well. So then, again, we can find these details, and we can tell this story.”

If you’re beginning to research your British or Irish family history, take time to dig into the exciting records available on the Findmypast website. You never know what kind of stories you might discover!

Linda Clyde

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