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31 August 2015

Tuesday Genealogy Travels

Planning a Trip to Ancestral English Towns
Logistics – What Worked and What Didn’t

by Mary Mettler
Wells Cathedral, Somerset

Interior of Wells Cathedral, Somerset

A trip to your Puritan English towns is an incredible experience, and I heartily recommend it! My niece Bonnie and I could not find anyone who had done such a trip, so we were flying blind. Amazingly, we did many things right, but we also made some mistakes. Hopefully, we can save you some time in planning your trip.

This trip is definitely a two-person endeavor! I picked out the ancestors for which we had proven lines and their towns, with the emphasis on towns that still had the original churches. To make logistics manageable, we limited ourselves to southern England where we had the largest number of ancestors. Bonnie grouped the towns into four three-night stops and researched the B&B’s. She also printed out information on the towns and the churches, to go along with my family group sheets and descendant reports.

In spite of extensive bus and train systems, a car is an absolute must. Be aware that the normal cutoff for renting a car to a foreigner in England is age 69. I finally had AAA find a franchisee who would rent to a 77-year old. One of you should be comfortable driving in somewhat challenging conditions, and the other needs to be a superb navigator. I had driven in England and Scotland, and Bonnie was not keen on driving. Driving on the left is relatively easy, and I adjusted to roundabouts after thirty-five of them on our second day of driving! In fact, roundabouts are a very efficient way of moving cars. A good navigator is very helpful at identifying the number of the exit on the roundabout.

Motorways (“M” routes) and most “A” routes are no problem, but many of our small towns were on “B” routes with very narrow lanes.  I booked a compact; but I’d get a subcompact the next time. I always had a death grip on the steering wheel on those narrow roads, as the Brits passed inches by me at 60 MPH or more! And then there were unlettered roads, many with room for only one car with pull-over spots every half mile or so.  Oh, yes, and there were detours on farm roads or on a road so narrow that the brush scraped both sides of the car! I did say “somewhat challenging conditions,” didn’t I?

Bring a GPS. Our paper maps didn’t have enough detail, so a GPS is a requirement. Instead of entering a street address, the GPS requires postal codes, another of Bonnie’s advance research tasks. They aren’t always perfect, but they get you close. We had a few problems with our GPS, too. Once in the middle of Colchester, the GPS tried to send us down a bus-only street, probably a recent traffic change. Occasionally, the GPS created some routes with very challenging narrow roads. These, however, are minor transgressions compared to the benefits! We would not have found a number of places, including the Hertz rental car return, without the GPS. The navigator, however, has to figure out what to do for detours and unexpected events. Thankfully, Bonnie was exceptionally good at saving us, as I would never have been able to do it with my horrible sense of direction!

You should bring a significant amount of patience. Almost every day, we ran into at least one road closure, resulting in a huge traffic mess or a difficult detour for Bonnie to invent. Many of the main roads have only one lane on each side, so the road is closed if there is a serious accident. The English drivers exhibited extraordinary patience and more courtesy than the typical American driver.

We were well-prepared for the ancestral towns, but we planned to do too much. We did have a nice tourist day in Colchester and one in Wells-Glastonbury, but I would have liked a day or two at the beach in Brighton. Driving every day was stressful.

Miscellaneous thoughts – Check with your automobile insurance coverage abroad. Mine, CSAA, provided no coverage; but my Citibank Gold card covered the major requirements, so I had them run a “Proof of Coverage.” I splurged for the option for Hertz to give me a full tank of gas at the end, a wise decision because we never saw a gas station anywhere near the drop-off! Also, make sure you have debit and credit cards with chips in them, as England can’t handle swiping cards. Most credit cards add on 3% fees for charges, so I mostly used my debit card, which had no fees.

We were very pleased with all our B&B’s, and the food was much better than in the “old” days! I won’t list all the great restaurants/pubs and B&B’s, as you can find them on TripAdvisor. I do want to mention our favorite B&B, Coxley House, right outside of Wells and very close to Glastonbury in Somerset. Julia and Mark Riley made us feel like real guests of theirs and went above and beyond the already high bar – lovely gardens, beautiful rooms, tea in the downstairs parlor, a glass of wine if we were around before dinner, a ride to our restaurants a couple of nights, use of a great map, and the best breakfasts we had in England! Here is the link forCoxley House:
Below are some pictures of the house and gardens. 
Coxley House, Upper Coxley, Somerset

Another Angle, Coxley House, Upper Coxley, Somerset

I hope I have encouraged you to plan a trip to your  own English ancestral towns and that this blog provides you with some helpful hints. Please feel free to contact me and have a great trip!

Copyright © 2015 by California Genealogical Society and Library

30 August 2015

An Introduction to U.S. Military Records

Exploring Record Sets Series
An Introduction to U.S. Military Records

More than 35 million people have fought in the military conflicts in America's history. The records created during and after their service are invaluable sources for family historians. Discover the many record types available, where to find them, and study problems that can be solved only through these fascinating documents. Join Susan Goss Johnston on Saturday September 13 as she presents "An Introduction to U.S. Military Records" from 1:00-3:00 at the California Genealogical Society and Library. 

Susan Goss Johnston was a member of the first undergraduate class of women at Yale University, earning a B.A. in physics. She is a frequent speaker in the Bay Area and has been involved in teaching and researching for more than thirty years. Sue is a ProGen Study Group alumna, completing the program in 2011, and she attended the National Institute on Genealogical Research and completed the "Advanced Methodology and Evidence Analysis" course at the Samford University's Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research. Her personal research focuses on families in New England and the Mid-Atlantic region, and she specializes in military records and federal land records.

Please register on our eventbrite page

Class size is limited to 30 attendees. Pre-registration is required.
CGS members are admitted for free.
Non-members fee is $30.00 and can be applied towards a new one year CGS membership the day of the seminar.
Register early to confirm your seat. Walk-ins will not be admitted.

Copyright © 2015 by California Genealogical Society and Library

26 August 2015

Wordless Wednesday

     Northwest Genealogy Conference 

 Jill Morelli, Cari Taplin, Sara Scribner, Elissa Scalise Powell, Judy G. Russell

With CGS Member and Speaker Janice Sellers

NWGC Program Director Eric Stroschein and Speaker Angela Packer McGhie

Cari Taplin

Jean Wilcox Hibben
California Genealogical Society Attendees Katie Welka, Ron Madson and Linda Harms Okazaki

25 August 2015

Tuesday Genealogy Travels

Somerset – Over Stowey, Combe St. Nicholas

 by Mary Mettler

All of the counties we have visited have been in Southeastern England; so, for a change of pace, we headed to Somerset, a lovely county in Southwestern England. Somerset is well-known for its spiritual and mythological placesWells Cathedral and the Tor and Abbey in Glastonburyall of which we visited, along with Stone Henge and Avebury in Wiltshire.  But, as always, our emphasis remains on our ancestral towns.

Our first stop was Over Stowey, home to Humphrey Blake (1494-1558), the progenitor of our Blake line and my 12th great grandfather. Before the Norman Conquest, Over Stowey was part of the hunting estate of a succession of Anglo-Saxon kings. Although the first record of a church was in 1144, St. Peter & St. Paul Church was built at a later date. The oldest surviving part, the tower, was built in the Perpendicular period [the third phase of English Gothic during the 14th-15th centuries.] We were pleased to find William Blake, my 11th great granduncle, and his wife Ann buried in the Church with a distinctive plaque in the floor. He was a clothier of some substance in this wool-producing area. In fact, many of the Blakes were clothiers and some had fulling mills. A clothier worked wool into cloth, most of which was done in fulling mills. 

St. Peter and St. Paul Church
Plaque of Humphrey Blake
The English managed to close at least one road each day of our trip! We thought we had survived our one daily detour through a pig farm to get to Over Stowey. That side trip was a bit frightening, as we were close to dragging the bottom of the car on the farm road. But no, today was our “lucky” day, as we had two other closures! The second closure was on our way to Combe St. Nicholas and sent us on a detour on a road so narrow that both sides of the car were brushing the bushes! We have no idea what we would have done had we met a car coming the other direction, as there were no places to pull over.

Combe St. Nicholas was home for six generations of the Torrey family, before my 8th great grandfather James J. Torrey (ca. 1612 – 1665) emigrated to Massachusetts around 1640, along with his brothers, William, Philip, and Joseph. “Combe,” which the town was called until 1239, means valley in Celtic languages. The first church is thought to have been built in 970 AD with only the font surviving. When the Church of St. Nicholas was built in 1239, the town changed its name to Combe St. Nicholas. Yes, this St. Nicholas is our “Santa Claus!” 

Church of St. Nicholas in Combe

We finished off our Combe St. Nicholas visit with a fun lunch at the Green Dragon Pub. The old style pubs are dying out in England, but the Green Dragon remains, as I remember my favorite pubs from the past – good beer, good food, locals with their dogs, and a patron playing the piano while enjoying his beer with friends. We had a great time with these folks! 

Sadly, we return the car to Heathrow tomorrow and make our way home the next day. I will write one more blog next week, which will talk about what we did right and wrong in planning and executing our trip. We might be able to save you from making some of our mistakes.  Also, please 
contact me about any of the surnames, towns, and churches mentioned in these blogs, as I have much more information.

Green Dragon Pub in Combe St. Nicholas

Copyright © 2015 by California Genealogical Society and Library