Interview on BBC Wales!

Just by a quirk of fate, the local Heritage Centre in the little town of Blaenavon in South Wales informed the BBC that an American was visiting with an interesting story to tell, and the result was this online article about my genealogy quest.

There are a few factual errors, but they got the gist of it and I think the article is well done.


Corrections to the article:

The article says I’ve been tracing my ancestors since 2015, but I’ve been doing it since the 1980’s.

The article says that the photo of James Furlong and Mary Payne was taken in Northumberland, but it was taken in Finleyville, Pennsylvania.  James Furlong was born in Finleyville, and Mary Payne was born in Northumberland.  And, by the way, that is my mother, Mary Payne Furlong, in the lower left of that photo.

The article refers to my ancestor Mary Waters incorrectly as Mary Walters.

The article says that two of the sons of Thomas Furlong and Mary Waters moved to America, but there was a third son named Thomas Furlong who also emigrated.

The photo in the online video was Mary Ball, not Mary Walters.


Beast from the East

After two months in Northumberland, I prepared to set off on the 300-mile trip to Blaenavon, in South Wales, where I was scheduled to spend the month of March researching my Waters, Furlong, and Ball families.

The route from Newcastle to Blaenavon

I’d originally planned to drive straight through to Wales on the first of March, but my rental car had to be exchanged at Newcastle Airport on the last day of February, so I decided to begin my drive south directly from there, and make it a two day trip instead of one.  That decision turned out to be serendipitous.

The day before the trip, it began to snow, accumulating several inches by the morning of my departure.  I don’t drive in the snow.  I especially don’t drive in the snow on the left side of the road in a brand new rental car in a foreign country.

I did have another option.  I could have traveled the three miles to my friend Kay’s house, and waited out the storm.  But I was eager to get on my way, and I had pre-paid my lodging both at the half-way point in Nottingham, and at my destination in Wales.  So I left Northumberland as planned, hoping that the A-1 dual carriageway, the main north-south artery in England, would be sufficiently plowed that the trip to the hotel would be safe.  After all, it was just a few inches of snow and it was supposed to stop in the afternoon.

Well, it turns out that the British aren’t very prepared for big snowfalls because it just doesn’t happen that often here.  It was a dicey drive to the airport on side roads, one of which was closed off completely, and then the drive south on the A-1 was extremely stressful.

The main issue I had was that the windshield washer fluid was frozen, making it almost impossible to see when there wasn’t enough moisture to use the wipers.  I had to pull over a few times to wash the windshield at the side of the road, and I also stopped to buy some washer fluid suitable for the low temperature.  I put it in a spray bottle which I used while driving, by sticking my arm out the driver’s side window when necessary.

In addition to the problem with the windshield, the roads were slippery and the traffic moved very slowly.   Sometimes, only one lane had been plowed.  It was a 150 mile, five-hour ordeal to get to Nottingham.

That night at the hotel, I received a text from the owner of my lodging in Wales, letting me know that they were expecting a major storm the next day, which they were calling the Beast from the East.  Since it wasn’t expected until the afternoon, I decided to press on in the morning.

Once I uncovered the car from the few inches of snow that had fallen overnight, and made my way out of the unplowed hotel parking lot, the drive that morning wasn’t too bad.  I stopped for groceries in Pontypool, and arrived at the cottage in Blaenavon around noon on March first, literally sliding with relief into a parking spot on the icy hill.

And then the Beast arrived.  The pipes froze the first night, so I began using melted snow for washing the dishes, and conserved the drinks I’d brought with me.  My landlady lived in a rural area twenty miles away, so there was nothing she could do.  I saw images on the television of hundreds of people stuck on major highways for 12+ hours, and felt grateful to be warm and dry, and protected from the fierce wind I could hear outside.

A car outside my window

After the first two days, I was able to get outside – the snow was up to my knees – and walk over to the main street of the little town.  There was one shop open, where I bought some bottled water, and then trudged back to the cottage.  On the third day, the temperature went up, and my landlady was able to take care of the pipes.

She warned me that conditions were still too dangerous for me to drive – she said they had encountered roads where only one lane was plowed, so if you met a car going the other way, there was nowhere to pull over.  People were still getting stuck everywhere.  It wasn’t until the sixth day that I felt it was safe enough for me to drive to the archives and the supermarket.

So that was my first week in Wales.   They told me that they hadn’t had a storm like this in many years.  I thought about my ancestors, and what the winters must have been like for them.  I took advantage of the down time to plan my research, and I did some walking around the town as conditions improved.  And, I was very ready to get in the car and go when the right time finally came!

February in Northumberland

My good friend Agnes came to visit for the first two weeks of February.  It was such a pleasure to have a travel buddy, and to take time to do some sightseeing.  Agnes found a great round trip air fare from Newark to Leeds, so I made the two hour trek south to meet her at the airport.  We then went straight to the North York Moors National Park where we spent a few nights.

View on one of our hikes
Exploring Whitby, a little town on the Yorkshire coast

After a quick one-day break in Bedlington, we took off for Scotland, traveling up the Northumberland coast for part of the trip, where we stopped for tea and scones at a delightful little pub in Seahouses, and visited Bamburgh Castle:

The Olde Ship Inn, Seahouses
Bamburgh Castle
View from inside Bamburgh Castle

In Scotland, we very bravely tried a traditional Scottish dish called Haggis, Neeps and Tatties (uh…sheep stomach stuffed with other unmentionable parts, with turnips and potatoes), and spent a day in Edinburgh, which we loved:

Haggis, neeps and tatties – very tasty!
Part of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh
Edinburgh Castle
Dinner at the White Hart Inn, the oldest pub in Edinburgh

On our return to Northumberland, my friends Kay and Peter generously continued acting as tour guides, taking us on a day trip to see Washington Old Hall, which was the residence of George Washington’s ancestors, and the ancient Durham Cathedral, among other places:

Washington Old Hall
Durham Cathedral

For the last couple of nights before Agnes flew home, we stayed near Leeds, where we enjoyed a “high tea” and visited the fascinating ruins of an old castle which we could wander through to our heart’s content:

Spofforth Castle ruins

During my last couple of weeks in Northumberland, I wrapped up my research at the archives, and spent some final precious time with Kay and Peter.  They took me on two more day trips, one south to visit Beamish, a living history outdoor museum, and the other one north to visit various parish churches and towns where my ancestors lived.

A view of Beamish
Low Newton, a place on the coast where my Patterson family lived

Whew, another busy month!  I left Northumberland in a blizzard, but with lots of warm feelings, great memories, and a deeper understanding of my ancestral home.

Northumberland Research

Many of my ancestors originally came from England and Wales; 71% of my DNA is from Great Britain, according to Ancestry.  But unlike the more distant ancestors who left England for America in the 1600’s, the ones from Northumberland, who emigrated in 1881, seem almost close enough to touch.

My mother knew her grandmother, Mary Payne, very well, and we even have a photograph of Mary’s father, John Payne (born in England in 1846), holding my mother as an infant in the early 1930’s. So it feels like my connection to these people and this place easily spans the distance of time.

The family of Mary Payne’s mother, Jane Weightman, was the focus of my Northumberland research.  Jane was the oldest of three children born to Andrew Weightman and Mary Tunney in coal company housing in Radcliffe Terrace, long since demolished.

The family of Andrew Weightman and Mary Tunney

All three of Andrew and Mary’s children were baptized in St. Lawrence Church in Warkworth.  See my previous post “January in Northumberland” for photos of the church.

Before going to Northumblerland, I already knew the names and dates for most of my direct ancestors back to the mid-1700’s.  My goal was to confirm the vital events for all of the children of my directs so I would be able to create accurate Family Group Sheets, and also to try to solve some stubborn mysteries.  I was very successful with the former, but not so much with the latter.  Sometimes we have to accept the fact that not all family mysteries are solvable!

Andrew Weightman and Mary Tunney married in 1847 in a civil ceremony at the Register Office in Alnwick, and not in a parish church, and I wonder whether that choice had anything to do with the fact that Mary had an illegitimate son, born the year before, father unknown.  Mary was 26 when they married, whereas Andrew was only 22, definitely making me wonder about the significance, if any, of the older, more experienced woman with the younger man.

In 1851, three years after marrying Andrew and having their first two children, Mary’s five-year-old illegitimate son, John William Tunney, was enumerated in the household of his maternal grandparents.  Was this just a visit coinciding with census night, or did young John live there rather than with his mother and stepfather?

A short seven years after their wedding, Andrew, age 29, was killed in an accident at the Radcliffe Colliery.  Here’s the newspaper account of the coroner’s inquest:1

Newcastle Courant, Andrew Weightman Coroner’s Inquest, 1 Dec 1854

We can only wonder whether the three young children, all under the age of seven, witnessed this scene in their small house, and remembered it for the rest of their lives.

And how did Mary survive as a widow with three young children? Colliery company housing was only provided to working miners.  Several of Andrew’s brothers were working at the same place, so perhaps she and the children moved in temporarily with one of them.

Seven years after Andrew’s death, Mary was still living at Radcliffe Colliery, this time appearing in the census with her 15 year old son, John William Tunney (a miner), her children by Andrew Weightman (Jane, Ralph and James) and a boarder.  And, a little surprise:  a two year old son named Thomas Weightman, who couldn’t possibly be the son of Andrew.2

1861 England Census showing Mary Tunney Weightman’s household

Mary disappeared from the records after the 1861 census. One of my research projects at the Northumberland Archives was to examine the payroll records of the Radcliffe Colliery to see if they might provide any clues about the movements of the family between census years.  These original records are in huge ledger books which go back to 1860.  They were fascinating to see, but didn’t shed much light on the family’s whereabouts.

Mary’s daughter Jane Weightman married John Payne in August of 1869 in Morpeth, about 15 miles south of Radcliffe.  Jane’s half brother John William Tunney was a witness, and less than a year later, he appeared in the 1870 U.S. census in Jefferson Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, along with his half brother Ralph Weightman.  They were living there with a first cousin, also named John Tunney, who had married an American woman named Susan Brown in December of 1869.3

In 1871, Jane and John Payne’s census household in Northumberland included their first child Mary Payne, twelve-year-old Thomas (Mary Tunney’s youngest son), and Jane’s seventeen-year-old brother James.  Here again is the earliest family photograph I have, which was taken in Blyth, Northumberland around the time of the 1871 census:

John Payne, Jane Weightman (seated), James Weightman, and Thomas Weightman, with baby Mary Payne on Jane’s lap, ca 1871

The big question at this point is what happened to Mary Tunney, and why isn’t she with her children in 1871?

In the mid-1870’s, both John William Tunney and Ralph Weightman returned to Northumberland, married, and then went back to Pennsylvania. Finally, in 1881, John and Jane Payne and their five children joined them, along with their brother James Weightman and his wife and infant daughter, and their half brother Thomas Weightman, age 22.

So, all five of Mary Tunney’s children went to Pennsylvania.  Did she?  Despite thorough searches, I have NOT found any death or marriage record relating to our Mary on either continent.

I was fascinated to learn that after all the traveling back and forth between Pennsylvania and Northumberland, brothers Ralph and James Weightman returned to England with their families in 1890, and that’s where they lived out the rest of their lives.  I found their original burial records, and visited their graves at St. Paul’s church in Choppington.  Here’s James Weightman’s stone:

Gravestone of James Weightman, St. Paul’s churchyard, Choppington

I was able to get copies of the baptisms of all of the children of these two brothers as well, most of which are not available anywhere online.  But I still haven’t solved the mystery of what happened to Mary Tunney.



  1.  Newcastle Courant, 1 Dec 1854, “Coroner’s Inquests”, Andrew Weightman, p. 5, col. 6; digital image, FindMyPast ( : accessed 2 Apr 2013); citing British Library.
  2. 1861 England census, County of Northumberland, Parish of Hauxley, Enumeration District 9e, Mary Weightman household; digital image, ( : accessed 6 Mar 2018); citing the National Archives of the UK, RG9, Piece 3877,  Folio 51, p. 14.
  3. 1870 U.S census, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, population schedule,  Jefferson Township, p. 232 (stamped) A, family 205; John Tunney household; digital image, ( accessed 5 Jun 2015); citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 1292.

Impressions of Great Britain

I spent the first two months of 2018 in a flat in Northumberland, England, and for the month of March I’m staying in a little town called Blaenavon in South Wales.  By now, I’ve become quite accustomed to life in the U.K., and I love it here!  Here are a few observations from a foreigner:


The Northumberland weather was a pleasant surprise.  With a latitude somewhere between Vancouver and Anchorage, and just an hour and a half drive south of the Scottish border, I expected it to be frigid.  Instead, being just a couple of miles from the North Sea on the east coast, the winter weather was more like Seattle:  damp, dark and cloudy, with temperatures generally in the 40’s.  In early January, the sun rose around 8:30 and set at 3:30, making for a short window of usually gray daylight.

What I really did not expect were the lovely green landscapes in the middle of the winter:

View of the landscape from a graveyard in Ford, Northumberland

As time has passed, I’ve noticed a very significant change in the number of hours of daylight every day – it’s staying light later and later, at a much faster pace that back home in Pennsylvania.  Obviously, that’s a function of the latitude here, but interesting to experience and have it be so noticeable.

They say it rarely snows here, which it didn’t much for the first two months, until the “Beast from the East” arrived at the end of February – more on that in another post!


Both places I’ve stayed so far have been perfect for me, and in great locations, within walking distance to shops and restaurants.   A few things about the units are different than what we’re accustomed to in the U.S.

The electrical outlets here have on and off switches.  After a few frustrations thinking that my phone was charging when it wasn’t, I learned to always check that switch.  And there are no electrical outlets in the bathroom – at first I thought it was a quirk of my flat, but I learned that it’s a law here.  There was no light above the mirror in the bathroom in my Northumberland flat, and the one here in Blaenavon is quite useless – I get the impression that that’s typical as well.  So I had to find someplace else to plug in my electric toothbrush, and to do my hair and makeup.  Not a big deal – just different!

Outlet example – on and off switches are in the center.

The heating/hot water systems here are very in-your-face.  In both of my flats, the boiler was visibly hanging on a wall in the kitchen, like this:

The boiler in my kitchen in Wales

My experience with heating systems is pretty much limited to adjusting the thermostat.  At the flat in Northumberland, the fix for an issue with the boiler involved help from a neighbor to make a little tweak because of a change in water pressure or something.  In my house in Blaenavon, I’ve re-set the boiler often, sometimes multiple times in a day, because it seems to randomly stop working.

There are radiators in every room in the house, which have these little knobs down near the floor which you use to control the temperature in each room.  They’re very useful for drying clothes!

Typical radiator, with control knob at the bottom right.

The refrigerator and freezer in both places were smaller than the ones in my RV, which was fine for me being just one person.  For a family, I imagine they must need to visit the grocery store more often than once per week.


I thought I wouldn’t care about the weather because my genealogy research is very much an indoor hobby.  But as it turned out, initially I wasn’t comfortable driving in either the rain or the dark, which was quite limiting until I adjusted.

Every single time I got into my rental car, I chanted out loud “left, left, left” so I would remember to stay on the left side of the road.  Old habits are hard to break, and I had this fear that if I lost my concentration and focus, I would surely end up on the incorrect side of the road and cause a major accident.

Not only do they drive on the other side of the road, but the British use roundabouts way more often than standard intersections, and they’re completely intimidating at first.  For one thing, everything is backwards.  And there are rules for right of way, which lane to use, turn signal etiquette, and when it’s OK to go right through.

The roads can be extremely narrow, with no shoulder, so it’s critical to be very comfortable with the dimensions of your car.  I don’t know if it’s true, but my theory is that many of the buildings and stone walls were constructed before the automobile was invented, so they can be very close to the road.  Adding to that, cars are often parked directly in the driving lane when in a town, which means you have to weave in and out of the parked cars if traffic is coming the other way.   That’s normal here.

When I first arrived, I bought a British GPS, which they call a sat nav.  I wouldn’t be able to function without it!  The typical way to enter your destination is to use the post code, which is like a zip code only more specific.  So, I had to learn to be prepared each outing with the post code for the sat nav.

Distances here are measured in miles, which is extremely helpful and familiar.  When it came to filling up the tank, though, I had no idea how much the gas cost because it’s expressed in pounds (the British currency) per litre.  After a little calculation, much to my shock and dismay, I learned it’s about $6.33 per gallon!  My little Vauxhall Corsa gets about 40 mpg’s, so at least there’s that.

Oh, and one of the multiple times I had to call roadside assistance was when my rental car, with less than 500 miles on it, seemed to lose acceleration at certain times, as though it had run out of gas.  When the tow truck arrived and the mechanic took the car for a drive, everything worked fine, which was of course extremely embarrassing.  After it happened again, I took it back to Hertz to exchange it for a different car, and they “mansplained” that I had  set the “speed limiter” to engage at 17 mph.  Speed limiter?  Never heard of it.  Turns out its controls are on the steering wheel, so I must have hit them accidentally.  It resets when you turn the car off and back on again, which explains why the roadside mechanic didn’t find a problem.  Lesson learned!

Speaking of limiting speed, it took awhile for me to realize that the camera signs on the side of the road weren’t indications of a scenic viewpoint ahead, but a warning about the presence of speed cameras.  Camera sightings triggered frantic beeps from my sat-nav as well, which were so annoying that I had to disable that feature.  The minimum fine for speeding here is about $140, so it’s no wonder they take it so seriously!

Speed camera sign, from wikimedia commons

I did eventually become comfortable with driving here, to the point where I’m sure it will be an adjustment when I get back home and have to learn to drive on the right, right, right again!

Grocery Shopping

Grocery shopping was initially very time consuming, because so many items were unfamiliar, and, like the gas, I couldn’t figure out how much things cost.  Weights are in kilograms, so price is expressed in terms of pounds (the currency) per kilogram.

For example, a simple purchase like finding half and half for my coffee stumped me.  There’s single cream, double cream, clotted cream, whipping cream – but nothing called half and half.  After some experimentation, I decided that single cream is what I like in my coffee.

The bakery items are fascinating, including scones, hot cross buns, meat pies, and crumpets.  Do you know what a crumpet is?  Because I didn’t, but when I saw it, I was so tickled to realize that it’s very similar to our “English muffin”!

This is a crumpet.

All over the UK, it’s BYOB when you’re shopping:  Bring Your Own Bag.  It was difficult to remember at first, and I showed up at the store plenty of times without one.  In California and Seattle, they also expect you to BYOB.  Now that I’ve gotten used to it, I like the policy and think we need to adopt it everywhere – it just makes good sense to reuse your shopping bags.

In the little town of Blaenavon here in Wales, I often see people walking to the local market carrying their empty shopping bags.  So now, I do the same!

The Language

Although English is spoken here (duh!), there are a wide variety of accents, and in combination with the use of different words for many things, it can be surprisingly challenging to understand sometimes.

In Northumberland, they call it a “Geordie” accent (pronounced with a hard “G”).  One time, I was chatting with an older man who was a retired miner, and frankly, could hardly understand anything he said.  All I could do was smile, nod, and feel foolish.

Another time, I asked someone where he lived, and he said something that sounded like “Geetz-ud”.  Sounded like a German name to me.  It’s a silly question anyway to ask when you’re not familiar with the area, but I had absolutely no clue what he was saying until I asked him to spell it.  It was Gateshead, which I knew was right near Newcastle.

I remember coming home from our year in England when I was 14, and speaking like a native Brit.  I was a total mimic, as we all are when we’re that age and just want to fit in.  I’m obviously not doing that this time, but I do find that I’m thinking with a British accent – so funny to realize!  I imagine that happening when you immerse yourself in a culture with a different language, but not necessarily when it’s English!

I truly love it here.  As a history junkie, I especially enjoy all of the centuries-old buildings – the castles, the cathedrals, the parish churches – which are everywhere.  My son, a real estate agent, posted this photo recently, of a lovely historic home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

Bucks County Historic Home, posted by Newtopias

We treasure these rare gems in the U.S.  Here, they’re completely typical and part of everyday life.  Here’s an example in the little town of Hauxley in Northumberland:

A common scene in the U.K.

I’m soaking it all in while I can!

January in Northumberland

I pretty much figured that the two months I spent in Northumberland would zoom by, and of course they did.  My time there was a satisfying balance of research, socializing, and sightseeing.  As I’ve mentioned before, some of my extended family lives there (Kay and Peter), and my fourth cousin (John) visited from the south, which made all the difference in my comfort level in an unfamiliar place.

I was eager to get to the Northumberland Archives, and they were only open four days per week, so during the first week of January, I spent several days there doing research along with my cousin John.  I’ll post separately about my genealogy finds.

Northumberland Archives at Woodhorn Museum, Ashington

On the first Sunday of January, I made the short walk down the street to St. Cuthbert’s Anglican Church, where my great grandmother, Mary Payne, was baptized in 1871.  I stayed for the service, and afterwards Vicar Ian was extremely welcoming, offering to take me on an historical tour of the area the following week.  Naturally, I accepted!

St. Cuthbert’s in Bedlington

A few days later, Vicar Ian took John and I to all the local places meaningful to my family, including the beach.  He told us that the coal companies provided the mining families with coal for heating their homes, and that benefit was withheld for striking miners, so during those times, they would have had to scavenge for coal.

The North Sea, showing pieces of coal on the beach
I’d never seen a coal fire before!

We saw St. Peter’s Church at Cambois (pronounced CAM-us), where several of the Payne and Weightman children were baptized.  Unfortunately, it’s now a private home, so we weren’t able to enter it.

St. Peter’s Church at Cambois

We took the Vicar out to lunch at Charlton’s Bar and Restaurant in Cambois, which apparently is owned by Jack Charlton, an English football legend.  He was actually there that day – but much to everyone’s surprise, I had never heard of him, so it didn’t mean much to me.  I was more interested in imagining the historic building as it was back in the days when my ancestors lived there!

Cousin John stayed with me for a week, and together we visited a couple of local libraries, went to the Mining Institute in Newcastle, and took a delightful road trip to Shilbottle and Warkworth which were significant parishes in the lives of our Weightman ancestors.

St. Lawrence church in Warkworth, where my ancestress Jane Weightman and her siblings were baptized in the mid-1800’s.
Altar at St. Lawrence Church in Warkworth

One night, we had plans to go out to dinner with a couple who are long-time friends of John’s, and who are both blind.  We drove a half hour to Newcastle to pick them up, loaded them in the car, and then John’s car wouldn’t start.  While John took care of the car, I was assigned the job of walking the blind couple to a restaurant which was through a dark park in an area where I had never been – all I can say is thank goodness for smart phones, because I totally relied on the map as well as the flashlight feature to guide me!  All worked out well, and we enjoyed a lovely dinner.

John went back to his home near London in mid-January, and by then, Kay and Peter were feeling much better, both of them having been sick for several weeks.  Kay and I enjoyed a couple of afternoons at her dining room table with our computers, comparing our family trees and working on problem solving together.

Kay frequently invited me to have dinner at her house, and one time I went to her sister’s for a meal.  They were all incredibly generous, going way above and beyond to make me feel very welcome.  They took me to visit Newcastle a couple of times, where the Northumberland and Durham Family History Society is located.

A street view in Newcastle

At the end of the month, Kay and Peter invited me to see their two granddaughters perform in a “Pantomime” at the local community center.  To me, a pantomime involves miming (silent acting), but I learned that a pantomime in Britain is a traditional musical comedy stage production.

Pantomime flyer, from

According to Wikipedia, it “includes songs, gags, slapstick comedy and dancing, employs gender-crossing actors, and combines topical humour with a story loosely based on a well-known fairy tale, fable, or folk tale.  It is a participatory form of theatre in which the audience is expected to sing along with certain parts of the music and shout out phrases to the performers.”

The whole thing was hysterical and the children were adorable – I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face! I truly loved it and I hope I can see another one someday.

Sounds like a pretty darn amazing January, right??  Certainly nothing like any I’ve experienced before.  And more to come!






Northumberland Ancestors

The most favorite person of my mother’s life was her grandmother, Mary Payne.  My Mom was named after her.  That makes Mary Payne a very special person to me as well.

Mary was born in Bedlington, Northumberland, England, in 1870 to parents John Payne and Jane Weightman.  In 1881, when she was eleven years old, she and her parents and siblings emigrated to America, and settled in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, just south of Pittsburgh.

Mary Payne, circa 1891

Her father, John Payne, was not a native of Northumberland.  He and his older brother, George, traveled there in the 1860’s from Bedfordshire, about 250 miles to the south, presumably to find work in the mines.  Although I’ll research John and George themselves, their ancestors lived elsewhere.  So, my Northumberland research will focus primarily on the family history of Mary’s mother, Jane Weightman.

More specifically, my goal is to generate complete and well documented family group sheets for Jane and the three generations before her, which is eight families involving sixty-four individuals, all of whom lived here in Northumberland.  A family group sheet lists a couple and all of their children, with all the basic facts about each person’s life.  Here’s an example:

Partial Family Group Sheet for John Payne and Jane Weightman

I already know the basics about my direct ancestors back through Jane’s great-grandparents, but there are still plenty of mysteries to solve within the families.  In addition, I want to find out as much as possible about their lives by examining records in the local archive which can’t be accessed elsewhere.

I’m very fortunate to have a photograph of the Payne family, right around the time they baptized their first child, Mary Payne, at St. Cuthbert’s Church in Bedlington, just a few steps away from my flat.  I’ve posted it before, but here it is again:

John Payne (left), Jane Weightman (seated) holding baby Mary Payne, James Weightman (back right), and Thomas Weightman, ca 1871.  Photo taken in Blyth, Northumberland, England by W.T. Hunter.

The 1871 England census tells us that John Payne was working in the coal mines, along with the two boys, Jane’s brothers, ages 17 and 12.  It’s hard to imagine today that a 12 year old boy was going “down the mine” every day with the men.  I’m hoping to find out more about the mines, and how the families lived.  And I wonder why they were all dressed up for a photo that day?  Perhaps I can find  a special event at the right time which could explain that.

It’s unrealistic to expect that all my research questions will be answered.  The most important thing to me while I’m here is simply to experience being in Northumberland, and to look upon the same landscape, the same coast, and frequently the same buildings, that they saw each day.

Arrival in England

I’ve been to England before; I’ve even lived here before.  My father was a Professor of Statistics at New York’s Downstate Medical Center, and took a one-year sabbatical at the University of Bristol in 1968.  So, I went to 8th grade there, and my family traveled around Europe in a VW camper van for the summers before and after the school year.  That experience was one of the highlights of my life, and explains why I love traveling and camping, and being in England.

My father, brother Jamie, and me, somewhere in Europe circa 1969
Our house in Bristol on right, circa 1968

The second time I was in England was in the summer of 1972, between my junior and senior years of high school. I went back to Bristol and stayed for two months with the family of my BFF from 8th grade, Joanna.

Joanna’s house was 3 Windsor Terrace
Summer love with an English bloke, 1972

Thirty-one years later, in 2003, I saw a last-minute fare special to London, and for $200 round trip, impulsively flew there for four days with a friend.  Which hardly counts – it was all a blur of jet lag!

Then in 2010, when I was deep into my genealogy research and knew that I had to see the places where my ancestors lived, I took my 20-year-old daughter for a ten-day whirlwind tour of England and Wales.

Me and my 8th grade English friend Joanna in Bristol in 2010

It was in the process of planning that 2010 trip that I met my fourth cousin John on, and he introduced me to Kay and Peter (aka “KnP”), who are both avid genealogists.  Kay and I are connected by marriage but don’t ask me to explain further!  Ancestry tells me that she is the grand-niece of wife of 1st cousin 3x removed – which is way too complicated to understand.  Kay has drawn a tree so we have a visual of the relationship, which helps!

Exhibiting extraordinary generosity to people she had never met, Kay offered to house my daughter and I for our three-night stay in Northumberland in 2010.  We’ve been in close touch ever since.  It was Kay and John (Peter was feeling poorly) who met me at the airport in Newcastle when I arrived on December 30th.

The blue pin shows Bedlington on the UK map.

I spent the first couple of days at KnP’s house, recovering from jet lag, getting my phone set up with a local provider, and doing some grocery shopping.  Their son and daughter-in-law had a New Year’s Eve party, so we walked over to their place and celebrated with a houseful of their friends of all ages.  It was the perfect way to bring in 2018!

KnP were the ones who found me a flat for two months in Bedlington, beginning January 1st.  The town of Bedlington has special significance in my family history, which I’ll explain in the next post, so the location of the flat couldn’t be better.  It’s also within easy walking distance of pubs and shops.  The one-bedroom flat has everything I need, including unlimited wifi, television, linens, a fully stocked kitchen, a private parking spot, and the rent includes utilities and a weekly cleaning service.

My flat is on the first floor of this building.
Kitchen of the flat

So here I am, all settled in, and ready to experience Northumberland as my ancestors did before they emigrated to America in 1881.  So exciting!!

End of the Road for 2017

When I retired in August of 2016, I promised myself that I’d make the next twenty years the best ones of my life.  Well, 2017 was so amazing that I can’t imagine topping it.

I traveled extensively, visiting New Zealand, China and Mexico, and ended the year with a flight to England.  I enjoyed the experience of a winter in Florida.  I lived in an RV for eight months and drove it 7,000 miles from Florida to Vermont to Wisconsin to Arizona and then to California.  Some photo memories:

Lake Matheson, New Zealand
My happy home in Georgia
I have the campground to myself in Ottsville, Pennsylvania.
My campsite at Waterhouses Campground, Lake Dunmore, Vermont
Ohio campsite
Wisconsin campsite
Mississippi River campsite near Fulton, Illinois
Campsite at Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona
Sunset view, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

I spent time with my children, staying in Seattle an extra week before the trip to China and also before Christmas week, gathering us together in Los Angeles for a fantastic Thanksgiving, and ending the year with a magical Christmas in a snowy cabin in the Cascade Mountains of Washington.

I spent time with extended family.  I stayed with my cousin Betsy for a week in Virginia, and saw my cousin Barb for a quick visit in Florida. I met a first cousin in Missouri – Dixie and her many descendants.  DNA found Dixie a half-sister and me a brand new first cousin, Deb, who we never knew existed.  I met a second cousin, Melody, in Pittsburgh.  I stayed in LA with my Uncle Jim and Aunt Vicki, who I hadn’t seen in many years. And I think the most exciting family visit was when I got to see my wonderful niece and nephew for four hours in LA at Thanksgiving!

I spent time with friends.  My very dear friend Agnes came back into my life.  I reconnected with old friends Jeff and Dawn in Vermont, Kris in Virginia, and Marty in California.  I visited my childhood friend Carol on Long Island, and she and Debbie came to see me in Vermont.  I traveled with Sandra, an old friend who also lived in an RV this year, in Georgia, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and New York.  And, I visited a genealogy friend, Marina, in Phoenix.  I saw my Bucks County friends briefly (too briefly) when I was there in May and August.

Agnes and Chris, circa 2009
Chris and Carol
Bob and Sandra at Point State Park, Pittsburgh
Enjoying an evening with Dawn and Jeff on Lake Champlain, Burlington, Vermont. Photo by Jeff Schneiderman
Chris and Kris

I spent time at genealogy events.  I attended three conferences and one week-long institute:  RootsTech in Salt Lake City in February, the National Genealogical Society’s annual conference in Raleigh in May, the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh in June, and the Federation of Genealogical Societies’ annual conference in Pittsburgh in September.

I spent time researching my family history.  It’s one of my favorite things to do, and I got to do a lot of it.  I went to archives, courthouses, libraries and cemeteries to my heart’s content.

In spite of all the visiting with friends and family, I spent a lot of time alone.  That’s the part that wasn’t so good, and it’s really the part which is driving me to go back to Bucks County in 2018 and settle down in my community.

So, my first full year of retirement was fabulous!  I feel like I really lived this year, doing so many exciting and fun things. Now it’s on to 2018 and even better years to come…

Happy New Year  – wishing you all the very best in 2018 and beyond!!

A Christmas DNA Surprise

I know I don’t have to tell you again how much I enjoy spending Christmas with my family:  my ex-husband and our two kids.  You already know, so I won’t go on about it for long.

What I really want to talk about is the new cousin we got for Christmas, thanks to Ancestry DNA.  You know those TV shows where adoptees meet their birth parent for the first time?  This was like that, except it was real life.   Our new first cousin was a wonderful, delightful surprise.

I spent a week in Seattle with my daughter before the family converged to spend the holiday week in a cabin in the foothills of the Cascades.   The four of us are on an app called “Life 360”, so we can track each other down if needed.  Before the holiday, we were all in different corners of the country – Washington, California, Pennsylvania, and Florida:

The four of us in four corners of the country!

It isn’t too often that we’re all together, so it’s precious time for us.  We went on a couple of incredible hikes, saw many bald eagles, and our daughter’s little dog Foxy stole the show. Here are a few pictures from our Christmas:

A scene on one of our hikes
Christmas Tree 2017
Chris and Foxy in Seattle

So, on Christmas Day, I received an email from an Ancestry user, saying that she was adopted and that we were a DNA match.  I’ve had emails like this before, and usually it’s a distant match and difficult if not impossible to determine the relationship. I don’t even know why I read the email that day, much less looked at the match.

But I did, and was completely stunned when I saw that we shared 935 centimorgans, which is a match at the first cousin level.  She also matched my two other first cousins, so I knew we were related on my mother’s side.  And when I saw a photograph of her, I knew she was ours.  Here’s the match page from Ancestry:

What would you think if you saw a match this close with a stranger? Yikes!!

Deb said she was born in LA in 1964, and learned only that her mother was from Montana, was staying with her uncle in LA, and was 21 years old.  She had a physical description of her father, and knew that he had managed some parking lots in the area.  The social worker also made a note at the time that the father had not been informed about the pregnancy.

My mother had two sisters and a brother.  Since Deb’s mother was from Montana, the only possible relationship was that she was my uncle’s daughter.  And my uncle lived in LA, matched the physical description Deb had, and managed some parking lots in 1964.

Both my uncle’s and my mother’s DNA are on FamilyTreeDNA.   I got Deb on the phone and walked her through downloading her raw data from Ancestry so we could upload it to FTDNA to confirm the suspected relationship.  But we had some technical problems, so Deb called FTDNA the next morning to try to resolve them.  As it turned out, the more recent Ancestry  files aren’t compatible with FTDNA, so it wasn’t possible to upload there.

We were saved by GedMatch, which is a free website accepting raw data from most of the big testing companies.  I had already uploaded both my uncle’s and my mother’s DNA there, and Deb was able to upload hers as well.  In a matter of minutes, we did a one-to-one match with my uncle’s DNA and found that Deb shares 3,500+ cms with him.  Bingo!! No doubt about it – Deb is my uncle’s daughter and my first cousin.

There’s always the concern, rightfully so, that the birth parents won’t want anything to do with the child they put up for adoption, and Deb was very sensitive to that.  I suggested that the next step was for me to call my uncle, and she asked me if I thought her father would want to meet her.  I know my uncle, and I was certain he would be very happy to hear that he had another daughter.

And he was.  In fact, he was downright excited!  He told me he remembered Deb’s mother quite clearly.  He didn’t know her for very long and had no idea she was pregnant.  Unfortunately, he can’t remember her name, so we’re still working on that part.

He called Deb right away, and within hours, they met in person.  I heard from both of them the next day – by all accounts they clicked immediately and it was an amazing reunion.  My uncle met a daughter he never even knew he had, and my cousin met a father about whom she had known virtually nothing.  A day to go down in family history!!

My extended family is just the best.  Everyone was very accepting and welcoming to Deb –  of course, it helps that she is such a great person and makes it easy to love her.  The family has a strong Facebook presence, so now Deb has dozens of new “friends” there, and it’s been buzzing with the posting of everyone’s pictures at different ages to see all the family resemblances.

It was a very happy ending, and it made our Christmas even more exciting than usual.  And I’m so thrilled to have a new first cousin – I can’t wait to meet her this summer!