shepherds and their lambing huts

IMG_7725 (640x480).jpgWhilst researching strands on my family tree, I found a woman called Dennes/DenisSkull (also Scull) – so distinctive and unusual a name I had to check out the derivation.  According to Skull is a medieval name based on someone’s cadaverous appearance. My Dictionary of Surnames didn’t register the name at all.

I wonder how her family pronounced her first name; she was baptised in 1832. Denise perhaps? One of her descendants has amended her name on Ancestry.

However, it wasn’t just her name which was fascinating but her occupation.  In 1871, having married William Gibbs, a shepherd, she was now widowed and a shepherd in her own right in Great Cheverell, Wiltshire.  It was common for a shopkeeper’s widow to take on her husband’s business. I’ve even seen a female blacksmith – presumably she took on her late husband’s business  and employed journeymen to do the heavy work.

But shepherd?   This was my first.

During lambing, shepherds lived in the fields with their flocks; Matthias Shoenaerts is doing exactly that at the beginning of the 2015 film Far from the Madding Crowd.   The photo above is of a hut  I’ve seen in Staffordshire and, as they are now getting quite rare,  I took its photo.    Did Dennis live in one like this?

DNA for the Emm family

Well, I’ve finally done it.  Spat into a little tube and sent it off to be analysed.

totally irrelevant photo to this blog but I love it. A dog in Beitou, Taiwan

Totally irrelevant but fun.  Beitou, Taiwan

There are two main branches of Emm, one living in London from at least the early 19th century and the other in Wiltshire – and we have been unable to find a link between the two. My father and a direct descendant from the London branch had their DNA analysed some years ago.  The result? A common ancestor about 10 generations away (ie circa 1750). No surprise there.  We all look exactly the same; we just required corroboration.

The most exciting result of the DNA test was the haplogroup element. Scandinavian I1. We are Vikings!  How can this be? My direct family comes from Wiltshire, an inland county with no seaside.   Danelaw (the part of east England assigned to the Danes to keep peace) wasn’t anywhere near either.

And then I watched a Michael Wood programme about King Alfred of ‘he who burned the cakes’ fame.   Led by Guthrum, Oscytel and Anund, a Danish army invaded England in AD 875 determined to conquer Wessex (the ancient kingdom of the West Saxons covering Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire and Hampshire).   Alfred led the Wessex army.  After a year of fighting it was left at stalemate so the Vikings basically stayed in the area until the huge battle at Ethandun/Edington.  Alfred won. Modern historians believe this battle was at Bratton, Wiltshire, where a large contingent of Emm(s) originate.

So now I know.  But do I have the Scandinavian haplogroup gene?  It would explain why I look like Swedes, Norwegians (I’m shorter than the modern day Scandinavian) and Geordies (Vikings kept invading the Northumbrian coast). Also, am I descended from a primeval princess like an Emm cousin of mine who had her DNA tested some years ago?  Watch this space for the result.