Clickety click!

66Clickety click? You play bingo, don’t you? It’s the 66 ball.

And yesterday was my 66th birthday. Another milestone. It has been a busy year, what with the 4th International Rice Congress in Bangkok three weeks ago (and the months of planning that went into that event).

But yesterday, I could indulge myself for a while. Our weather has been appalling recently – windy and wet, and getting colder. But yesterday dawned bright and sunny, so I took myself out for a 5 mile walk along the Worcester & Birmingham Canal. There were a couple of boats coming down the Tardebigge Flight (that’s 30 locks), and I got chatting with one of the boat owners. Seems they were traveling in tandem – two sisters and their husbands – since June! All over the country, and were now heading for winter quarters at Droitwich, just a few miles down the canal, for the next four months. They are live-aboard boat owners.

Then a little further up the towpath I stopped to chat with a surveyor from the Canal & River Trust who was checking out the brick and stonework in some of the locks. I discovered that this canal will celebrate its bicentenary next year. And thinking about that is really quite remarkable. Here was this canal being dug – by hand – over a period of 20 or more years, at the height of the Napoleonic Wars!

Anyway, it was a wonderful walk along the towpath, as usual.

And then in the evening, Steph cooked my favorite meal: steak and kidney pie, with a puff pastry crust (accompanied by potatoes, carrots and sprouts). Delicious! And, of course, the ‘mandatory’ bottle of wine, in this case a Rosemount Diamond Collection 2013 Shiraz – the perfect accompaniment to this delicious meal.

What a perfect – and peaceful – day.

Earth, wind, fire and water . . . Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in Wyoming were the planned destinations of our road trip last June across the Great Plains, although it didn’t quite work out that way. Including travel time through the parks, we originally planned to have three days exploring the various corners. In the end we stayed for just two. But this change to our itinerary was well worth it, as I explain in another post.

We entered Yellowstone through the northeast entrance, and had planned to depart through the north gate.

Northeast entrance to Yellowstone

Northeast entrance to Yellowstone

We also stayed at hotels well outside the parks – in Red Lodge (Montana), and Jackson and Cody (in Wyoming). Our scheduled third day in Yellowstone would have meant a long drive back west from Cody (about 70 miles) and then we faced a long journey north to get to our overnight stop in Billings from where we would fly back to St Paul. But there were major roadworks on this north exit road from Yellowstone and considerable traffic delays forecast. So we decided that rather than return to Yellowstone from Cody, we would head east and see what that landscape had to offer. But more of that another time.

As I have blogged elsewhere, Yellowstone was a little bit of a disappointment. Don’t get me wrong – the landscapes are truly magnificent, and the geothermal attractions all that I expected them to be. But there are quite long stretches of road that are almost completely closed in by forest on either side, and there’s not a lot to see. Fortunately we visited in early June so the tourist load was not that significant. I hate to think what Yellowstone must be like at the height of the summer. Nose-to-nose car bumpers I expect. And even in June we encountered several traffic jams as visitors hurriedly pulled off the road, whatever the prevailing condition, to catch a glimpse of a lonely elk or bison.

And the wildlife – or should I say the lack of it – was the other disappointment. I suppose my expectations had been raised through the many TV programs about Yellowstone that I watched over the years. Wall-wall wildlife? It was never going to happen. We did see a few small concentrations of bison (herds would be too strong a description) and a few elk dotted along the horizon. But that was it. although we frequently saw evidence that the wildlife was about and they visited the various geyser sites.

Nevertheless, we did enjoy our visit, and you can’t help yourself if the panoramas do sometimes take your breath away.

On our first day, we traveled through Yellowstone and Grand Teton from Red Lodge, MT to Jackson, WY following (for the first sector before we entered Yellowstone) the spectacular Beartooth Highway. We were fortunate that the road between Tower Falls and Canyon Village, just 19 miles, was already been open for the season, instead of a 51 mile journey via Mammoth and Norris. Click on the map below for an interactive version on the National Parks Service website.

And then we skirted west shore of Yellowstone Lake on our way south into Grand Teton National Park, and on to our accommodation in Jackson, WY.

The following day, we headed north along the west bank of Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park and the base of the Teton Range, heading back into Yellowstone, where we took the west loop road from West Thumb to explore the Geyser Basin including the mandatory stop to watch Old Faithful put on ‘her’ display. On the way to Old Faithful we crossed the Continental Divide at least a couple of times, then headed north through Madison, on to Norris, back to Canyon Village and the east entrance skirting the north shore of Yellowstone Lake. What’s special about the Tetons is that they just rise out of the plain to more than 6,000 feet above (12,000 feet above sea level). It’s just like a wall of mountains aligned north-south. No wonder the Rockies were such an obstacle to cross for the early pioneers.

There’s so much out there on the Internet to read about both national parks that I’m not going to attempt to emulate or surpass those sources. Let me however, provide a small pictorial guide to our visit below.

Scenes in the north of Yellowstone from the northeast entrance

 Sulphur Caldron

Yellowstone Lake

Old Faithful

 Colors of the Geyser Basin

 Landscapes of the northwest

Grand Teton National Park

And finally, we left Yellowstone heading for Cody by crossing the Absaroka Range once again.

We also don’t regret our decision to find hotels outside Yellowstone. Within there park there is limited – and expensive – accommodation. Taking hotels in Red Lodge, Jackson and Cody ensured that we really did see as much of both parks in a limited time.

Where do I come from?

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.

I knew both my paternal grandparents. Grandmother Alice Bull was born in 1880 and died in 1968. She was the second wife of my grandfather Thomas Jackson, who was born in 1872 and died in 1967.

My paternal grandparents, Thomas and Alice Jackson

Thomas had two children by his first wife Maria Bishop, and four with Alice – including my father, Frederick (born 1908, died 1980).

Thomas and Alice Jackson celebrate their Golden Wedding anniversary in 1954 at Hollington, Derbyshire with their children and grandchildren. I’m sitting on the left, aged 5.

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.

My maternal grandparents, Martin and Ellen Healy

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).

It’s all in the genes . . .

It was 1969, maybe early 1970.

I was just leaving the university library at Southampton where I was studying botany and geography. I should add that this was one of my too infrequent visits to the library.

As I headed for the main entrance, I was approached by two teenage girls, one of whom had long, dark, straight hair. They ‘invited’ me to purchase a raffle ticket – I think it was something to do with one of the charity events that students tend to organize each year, and these two girls were at one of the education colleges in Southampton. So I bought a couple of tickets, and then did something rather out of character.

Turning to the girl with long hair, I asked: ‘Is your name Jackson?’

Well, the look on her face made me think I was right.

‘Yes’, she replied, still looking rather surprised.

‘In that case’, I answered, ‘I think you are my cousin Caroline’.

And she was. As soon as I saw her, something inside told me she was ‘family’.

Now I should point out that I had last met Caroline maybe a decade earlier – she would have been five or six, and me about eleven. In some ways it was not such a total surprise, since her father (my dad’s younger brother Edgar) and his family lived in one of the small towns in the New Forest, to the west of Southampton. But I hadn’t made contact with them since arriving in Southampton two or more years earlier, although I had seen Uncle Edgar and his wife Marjorie at the funerals of my grandparents in 1967 and 1968.

Now this memory came to the fore just the other day for a couple of reasons. I’ve been doing some web searches for friends from my university days, so all-things-Southampton were on my mind. Secondly, my youngest grandchild Zoë was born (in the USA) at the beginning of May, and I’d been thinking that she was the youngest of a long line of Jacksons and Healys (Healy being my mother’s maiden name), and wondering what she will make of her antecedents. In just a few generations (my great-great-great grandfather) we’re back to the time of the French Revolution. I also heard in June (via my brother Martin) that my mother’s younger brother Pat had recently died at the ripe old age of 97 – he was the last surviving of eight siblings. Martin had heard about Uncle Pat’s death through his son, Pat – a cousin I did not know I had.

After my dad died in 1980, Martin began a major project to research the family genealogy, which is available online. On the Jackson side of the family he’s been able to trace back to about 1711, and on the Bull side (my paternal grandmother’s side of the family), there’s information stretching back about 12 or 13 generations to around 1480! Other lines – the Tippers and Holloways – can be traced back to 1610 and 1600 respectively.

Martin is going to have a more challenging time of it on the Healy-Lenane side of the family, who hailed from Ireland, Co. Kilkenny and Co. Waterford.

I have now made Facebook contact with cousin Pat, who lives in the Forest of Dean, about 60 miles south of Bromsgrove where I live. And through Facebook, I was contacted by two cousins, Karen and Patsy – daughters of one of my mother’s younger sister Bridie who emigrated to Canada in the 1940s – who live in Indiana, USA and Ontario, Canada, respectively.

There’s only one of my father’s siblings alive – my Aunty Becky, 96, who lives near Newcastle Upon Tyne, and who I’ve visited a couple of times recently since we have been travelling to there to visit our younger daughter Philippa and her family.

But to get back to the genes. As I look at the photos of my parents and grandparents, I can see very clear resemblances of my daughters to one side of the family or the other. Hannah favours, I think, the Jackson side. Philippa is a strong Healy!

I haven’t mentioned anything about Steph’s side of the family: Tribble / Legg. Steph’s parents came from small families. Her father had just one sister, and I believe her mother was a single child, so there’s not the raft of aunts and uncles and cousins on her side of the family as on the Jackson-Healy side. But both Tribble (a West Country name) and Legg are not that common, so I guess if someone with the time and inclination were to look into this side of the family, some quite rapid progress could be made.