Written by Gwen Sinclair with John and Liz Kirby
“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” Marcus Garvey
It seems that more and more people are in agreement when we consider that genealogy, or the study of family lineage, has become a hugely popular subject these days. Perhaps the knowing of our background and where we came from can help us to develop a stronger sense of who we are, and perhaps too, it can help to establish our sense of place in the world.
The traditions of passing down family stories has become somewhat lessened in modern times, and yet, its fair to say that people still seem to want to know where they’ve come from. The rise of the world wide web had meant wider availability for family historical data – with 300,000 websites devoted to it! From these websites anyone can utilise historical records to obtain information about their families, and for those who decide to look into their past, a popular course of action is to travel to the place where their newly discovered ancestors came from in order to get a sense of who they were from where they had lived, or even to pay respects at their final resting place. But imagine if you found out that you had unsuspectingly moved to live in a place where one part of your family tree had hailed from?
We were intrigued to find out that our castle volunteers John and Liz Kirby, who recently relocated to the area, decided to use lockdown to spend some time researching their family tree, only to discovered a few surprises that link them unexpectedly to the area, and which we thought were so remarkable that we wanted to share their story!
It turns out that John has decendency from the Fitz Alans who established the dynasty of the High Stewards of Scotland, and where Dundonald was their caput or HQ, from around c1136!
Find out more about who the earlier High Stewards of Scotland were in our earlier blog posts.
I just had to have a chat with Liz to find out more!
GS: What was the most significant family member that you discovered?
LK: There are a number of answers to this:
From John’s Father’s family tree it’s possible to trace a link to the Fitz Alans through Euphemia Fitz Alan (c1215-1267) daughter of Walter Fitz Alan, the 3rd High Steward of Scotland (1204-1246). Euphemia was the great, great Aunt of Robert II (1371-1390);
Also – Euphemia Fitz Alan was married to Patrick 5th Earl of Dunbar (1185 – 1258) whose Mother Ada Fitz William, was the daughter of King William I the Lion (1142-1214). William’s Grandfather was King David I whose father, King Malcolm III Canmore (1058-1093), killed Macbeth in battle in 1057!
(We looked at this story in our recent blog about Shakespeare’s MacBeth and its connections to Dundonald Castle, and had no idea we had another connection so close to home!)
Patrick 5th Earl of Dunbar was also descended from King Malcolm II Mael Coluim meic Cináeda (1005-1018-1034) through his great, great, great, great, Grandfather who was the daughter of Bethóc Ingen Mail Coluim meic Cináeda – the daughter of Malcolm II.
From John’s Mother’s family tree there is a link through the Somerset family (the Dukes of Beaufort ) to John of Gaunt (1340-1399), who was the third of the five sons of King Edward III of England (1237-1377) who survived to adult hood and so through him to Edward I of England (1272-1307)—from the House of Plantagenet monarchs of England.
From another line in John’s Mother’s family tree there is a link back through the De Courtenay family (Earls of Devon) to Hugh De Courtenay (1303-1377) who married Margaret De Bohun (1311-1391), daughter of Elizabeth Plantagenet (1282-1316), and Humphry de Bohun (1276-1322). Elizabeth Plantagenet was the 8th and youngest daughter of Edward I and Eleanor of Castille (1241-1290) …. so, through his Mum’s tree, John is related to Edward I in two ways!!
This also makes him a very distant relation of Danny Dyer!!
Image of Elizabeth Plantagenet from the Genealogical roll of the kings of England
GS: How does it feel to know this?
LK: John says “it’s interesting!’ John always knew that there was a link through his Mother’s family to Clive of India (1725-1774) and the Dukes of Beaufort, but until I started to really look into his family tree, he had no idea of the other links!
What was most amazing was finding we had a link to Dundonald Castle which we had no idea about when we moved here 2 years ago. When we first saw this house and the village it felt like ‘home’ and even though we looked at other houses in the area – there was no contest … we knew we wanted to be here in this house and this village … it just felt ‘right’. To find out that John has ‘come home’ in a way, is really lovely… it makes us feel we really belong here: for John to have been volunteering at the castle before he knew of his links to it, really made the discovery special.
GS: I completely agree! How surprising, indeed! So, what was the process which you undertook to find family roots that took you to the Stewart lineage?
LK: I had been a member of Ancestry.com for many years, but had not really had the time to explore family trees before the first lock-down. When lockdown started I decided to trace my family tree which didn’t take long and because I was enjoying it so much I decided to make a start on John’s family.
I found using the family tree on Ancestry.com very easy, because you begin with your present family. – your family who are alive now – and add generations as you find out further information.
I already had a family tree written out by John’s Mum going back 4 generations, as well as one for his Dad’s family written out by a cousin which went back about 6 generations – so that was a great start.
As I began to put in more details of John’s family, I began to get ‘hints’ and links to other family trees that had information about the next generation of ancestors. Because John’s family tree has so may ‘well known’ names I was also able to check the information through ‘geneology online’ and through other posts of family history.
It got really exciting when we began to come across names we knew from history such as Walter de la Pole – executed in the Tower of London! The further back we went in John’s Father’s tree, the closer the links got to Scottish families and suddenly there was the link to the Fitz Alans!
It took a while to double check the information as far as possible through other websites, because we wanted to make sure we’d got it right.
GS: Did your findings offer any further surprises?
- There have been a succession of 5 Rectors all called Kirby in the parish of Mayfield Sussex (from 1700s to 1897) – their living being passed down from father to son – with three of them in succession called John Kirby!
- One of these Rector’s, the Revd John Kirby (1786 – 1844), was awarded compensation along with his brother Rev. Henry Kirby, of £4900 each following the Abolition of Slavery. The award was for the loss of slaves in the Vernon Estate in Antigua.
- There were quite a number of ancestors executed in the Tower of London, and other places, and many were also recorded as killed in battle.
- It was surprising just how many links there were down through the years between John’s Mother’s and Father’s families: probably because the families were among the same smallish pool of aristocratic families who all intermarried!
- John has an ancestor in Ireland who was an MP called ‘Bumper Jack’ because he always filled his wine glass to the brim and he drank a lot of wine! John ‘Bumper Jack’ McClintock of Drumcar (1743-1799) – was MP for Enniskillen and Belturbet in the Irish House of Commons. It’s not yet certain if he was known as ‘Bumper Jack’ because he was brimming with positivity, or because of the brimming wine glass theory! – The Oxford English Dictionary defines a ‘bumper’ as a cup or glass full to the brim!
GS: Do you have any suggestions to help others go about tracing their own family tree?
LK: First of all get as much information as you can about your family now – ask every relative for their memories and check names of past generations with them. Find out places where they lived and the work they did if possible. Dates of births and marriages are very useful and if there are any certificates that is a real help.
Using Ancestry.com is expensive but it does have a very good system for recording details and laying out family trees.
The starting point is to enter as much information about the family member into the search page as possible. Full names are good to have but if you can add dates of birth and marriage, and the names of spouses and/or parents, the chance of finding more information about that person and their ancestors increases.
The Ancestry website and genealogy on line then give hints about the next generation – however it’s important to check this information in other ways if possible because not all the hints given are correct. (This is because information from other family trees depends on how careful people have been in entering details – and sometimes names can be similar in different generations and dates have to be checked carefully to ensure which person it is.)
There are other websites such as geneologyonline which help in cross referencing.The more ancestors you can add to your tree with details of spouses and children and dates and places they lived in, then the more details you will have to check out any new information. It is time consuming, but a lot of fun! If you are sure of the information you have it’s good to get birth certificates and marriage certificates of the people in your tree because these give further details to add to your family story. But each certificate has a cost so make sure you are certain before you send for one!
Census returns also give a lot of information about where families lived and who was living in the house at the time – they also record what work people were doing and what relation people were to each other. I found many of my family took in lodgers to make ends meet back in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. This is where Ancestry.com is useful again because it gives access to census returns and access to military records as well.
I don’t want to sound like an advert for Ancestry.com but I have found them so useful! And would not have got as far as I have without using them. Geneologyonline website is also a good place to go for cross referencing, but really only works if your family has a reasonably well-known history. Individual families such as the Dukes of Beaufort etc. often also have websites with information which you can check with.
For my own family, which has strong Quaker links in Cheshire, I found that looking up Quaker history websites gave me additional information which helped. And other religious websites might do the same.
GS: How was the overall process?
LK: I have really enjoyed working on our family trees. It’s like a puzzle and a detective story and it’s such fun! Even if there are no really amazing revelations, all the information you can find out about your family helps to give you a greater sense of belonging, and a deeper sense of where you come from.
“It has also been really interesting to look back at our family trees and think what our families were doing when an important event in history took place, and wondering how they felt about that. It makes history about much more than just dates and national happenings and brings social history, and the stories of everyday people to life.” Liz Kirby
It seems that Liz and John are not alone in discovering that they have inadvertently stumbled into their past as their life has unfolded. A Washington DC resident, Calvin Osborne, who volunteers as a Civil War re-enactor in order to help to tell the stories of Black soldiers who fought for the abolition of slavery has just discovered that his great, great grandfather William Lacy, had escaped slavery at age 14, then fought in the Civil War! Perhaps there are more extraordinary stories out there like Liz and John’s where similar coincidences have been discovered?
We have been delighted that John and Liz Kirby have been geographically restored to part of their ancestral origins, and are so grateful for all that they do as part of our team who volunteer their time to tell the story of Dundonald Castle to our visitors. How remarkable it is that they hadn’t known, until recently, that they were telling the story their own family!
It is always exiting to meet the many visitors to Dundonald Castle who have come because they’ve discovered a family connection to the Stewarts or The Wallaces or The Cochranes or one of the other families who have become part of the woven fabric of the story of Castle Hill!
Find out more about tracing your Scottish family roots:
If you have Scottish ancestors, indexes to Scottish births, marriages and deaths, census records and parish registers are all now available online:
Some more useful hints:
Liz and John Kirby by Liz and John Kirkby
Liz taking a tour at Dundonald Castle by Kirsteen Croll
Fitz Alan family lineage chart by Gwen Sinclair for FoDC
John Bumper Jack image by PD-US, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29121191
John of Gaunt image attributed to Lucas Cornelisz de Kock (1495–1552) – http://alisonweir.org.uk/books/bookpages/more-katherine-swynford_20_441522163.jpg -Originally commissioned by Sir Edward Hoby for Queenborough Castle, Kent. Often erroneously ascribed to Luca Cornelli. In the possession of Duke of Beaufort at Badminton House, Gloucestershire., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1354396
The Tower of London and Tower Bridge by Gwen Sinclair
Shield of the Dukes of Beaufort By Sodacan – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27563462
Countryroad view of Dundonald Castle and village by John Kirby
Image of Elizabeth Plantagenet By Anonymous – Genealogical roll of the kings of England; family tree of Edward I, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28081540