In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
In 1492, my 12th great grandfather Thomas Bull (on my paternal grandmother’s side) was a lad of about 12. At least we think that the burial record for ‘Thomas Bull’ at Ellastone in Staffordshire is the father of John, William and Thomas Bull in the same parish. If so, he’s my earliest known ancestor, going back 14 generations, when I would have had 16,384 direct ancestors. Half of these are ‘English’ and the other half ‘Irish’ from my mother’s side of the family.
The population of England around 1480 was probably less than 3 million (having gone through the demographic squeeze of the Black Death a century earlier). Just do the maths. We’re all related to each other more than we imagine. We can’t all have ‘independent’ ancestors; there must be a few drops of royal blue blood in all of us. Now my father’s side of the family resided in what once had been the Kingdom of Mercia, specifically in what we know now as north Staffordshire and southwest Derbyshire.
In 1483, Edward IV died and the crown was usurped by his youngest brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who became the notorious (if we are to believe Tudor propaganda) Richard III. Richard was defeated and killed at the Battle of Bosworth in August 1485 – a site just 40 miles or so southeast from Ellastone. Henry VII became king and the Tudor dynasty was founded. I wonder what the Bull family were up to, and how did the final battle of the Wars of the Roses affect them – if at all?
But we are on firmer ground with Thomas Bull’s ‘son’, John Bull (my 11th great grandfather), born in 1525 in Ellastone, the youngest of three brothers. By the time his son, another Thomas was born in 1552, Henry VIII had come and gone, and his son, the short-lived Edward VI was king, and England was in the grip of a Protestant regime.
When my 8th great grandfather Robert was born in 1613, James I of England and VI of Scotland had been king for 10 years. In 1613, James’s daughter Elizabeth married Frederick V, Elector Palatine through whom the monarchs of the House of Hanover descended, including our present Queen. But when his son Robert was born in 1653, Charles I had already lost his head four years earlier, the three Civil Wars between 1642 and 1651 were over, and Oliver Cromwell was Lord Protector.
Sixth great grandfather William Bull, born in 1712 and 6th great grandfather John Jackson (born 1711) were my first ancestors to be citizens of Great Britain following the Act of Union in 1707 uniting the Kingdoms of England and Scotland (which just might be rendered asunder in 2014 if the Scottish Nationalist Party has its way in the independence referendum). Dr John Arbuthnot created the character of John Bull in 1712 as the national personification of Great Britain, especially England. Abraham Darby had already developed his blast furnace in Coalbrookdale, and Thomas Newcommen was about to launch his atmospheric steam engine (about which I recently wrote).
Both my 3rd great grandfathers John Bull and John Jackson were born in 1793. After the excesses of the French Revolution, Great Britain was at war – again – with France; George Washington began his second term as POTUS.
My great grandfather John Bull was born in 1855, when the siege of Sevastopol ended, and the Crimean War ending a few months later. My Jackson great grandfather William was born sixteen years earlier in 1839, the same year that Louis Daguerre received a patent for his camera.
Thomas had two children by his first wife Maria Bishop, and four with Alice – including my father, Frederick (born 1908, died 1980).
My father married Lilian Healy in 1936, and I’m the youngest of three brothers and one sister.
During the documented 500 years of this family history there were remarkable changes in society, by the way we were governed (from absolute monarchy to a constitutional one under a parliamentary system), by the change from a predominantly agricultural economy to an industrial one. From a small nation on the fringes of Europe to a world-wide empire (and back again). From the records seen, my ancestors were farmers, laborers and the like. Nothing grand. But they’re my ancestors, and because I can name them going back so many generations, it really does make a tangible link with the events through which they lived.
In another post I talked about my Irish ancestry – that’s a story that will take a long, long time and concerted effort to unravel.
So how did I track down all these dates? I didn’t. It’s all the work of my eldest brother Martin who, in 1980 following the death of my father, began to research our family history which is documented on the fabulous ClanJackson website. The site contains information about the paternal genealogy of the Jackson, Bull, Tipper and Holloway families (and some from my maternal grandparents’ sides of the family).