The last Will and Testament of Marmaduke Wetherell, in the Parish of Croft, Gentleman in manner

Introduction

Before 1837, when Civil Registration in England began, my ancestors didn’t leave to history much of a paper-trail of documents. They were, for the most part, either farmers or agricultural workers. In addition they were mostly illiterate. The few records that exist were written about them in Parish Registers. Their sole contribution was to sign their names, or more commonly make their Mark as part of a married couple or as a witness to such an event. It’s therefore being quite exciting to find an ancestor who is literate, has left documentary evidence and has pushed my family-tree back one generation further. It’s perhaps even a little more exciting that this ancestor is along the branch of my direct maternal line that has given me my Mitochondrial DNA.

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Villa Ascenti Gin Review – building the Diageo Portfolio

Up until about a year ago I had neither seen nor heard of Villa Ascenti gin. There was a good reason for this. The “brand” was only launched in 2019. as you may have guessed from the review title this gin is actually part of the, ahem, Gin-portfolio of drinks giant Diageo. If you have not being following Diageo, let me give you a brief summary. Diageo was formed in 1997 by the merger of the Guiness Brewery and leisure conglomerate “Grand Metropolitan”. Since then the group has morphed into one of the world’s leading beer and spirits group and is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is part of the FTSE100 index. In other words it’s a big-fish in the world of alcoholic drinks. It’s gin portfolio includes covers The Good (Tanquerey), The Bad (Gordon’s) and the Ugly (Gilbey’s).

Villa Ascenti was launched as a “Super-Premium” gin with a focus on it’s Italy’s northwest Piemonte region heritage of “Moscato grapes, fresh mint and thyme”. So think of it as a very Mediterranean gin.

As you would expect it’s beautifully packaged in what you might describe as a “Super Premium” brand bottle pushing it’s Pietmonte credentials (“Prodotto in Piemonte”) along with a retro label vibe. You can’t accuse Diageo of sloppyness here. As ever the question is what’s it like to drink.

Day or Night Gin ? It’s a 41% ABV gin and, since it’s a super-premium drink, I feel it would be a shame to rush it. Think of it as a Sunset Gin.

What does it smell of ? It’s summery – a slightly sweet smell but minty with a firm touch of lemon.

What does it taste of ? A slightly bitter tip-of-the-tongue start, but bringing the classic juniper and citrus balance of a good gin. One of the key attributes of this gin is the “velvety” smoothness of the gin. It feels like they have added back a little grape juice to sweeten ands often the taste. It’s clearly not a dry gin, but can still work as a refreshing G&T.

Buy It ? Given that this gin is part of the Diageo portfolio I am surprised that it isn’t more readily available. My regular suppliers – the Lidl online-shop and the Galeria website (nee Galeria Kaufhof) do not stock this gin. Online prices see to be offering the 70 cl bottle for arround the €34.90 price mark. This seems a tad expensive for a bulk distiller.

Overall ? 3/5 It’s not that I don’t like this gin, but to damn it with faint praise, I would describe it as interesting. In my mind it’s not up with the top gins that it’s price implies. If you don’t like the bitterness of some gins then this will work for you, but it just didn’t deliver the wow I was hoping for.

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How to improve your DNA matches with your German relatives at Ancestry.com

Use these two simple tricks to help connect with your DNA relatives back in the “homeland”.

I’m sorry, I just got carried away with writing click-bait titles. I have just got my wife’s DNA test results back from Ancestry. Her ancestors come from “Germanic Europe” so provides a good preview of what to expect from connecting with “German” relatives. Based on this experience and my understanding of her family tree I hope that this post will help you can get “better” matches with family back in Germany. The truth is these suggestions apply to helping reconnect with relatives from anywhere, but are particularly important in the context of matching the relatively small number of Germans in the Ancestry database. So, without further ado, here are my suggestions.

Learn to love the Umlaut.

The German language has three additional letters (ä,ö, and ü) with Umlauts (the two dots above a letter). These letters have a different sound from their un-umlauted equivalents and are used in people’s names just as everywhere else in the German language. The correct way to translate them into languages without umlauts is to add an e after the letter. So, for example, Böll, would be written as Boell. If you have German relatives they will have used umlauts in their family trees. If you want to help the Ancestry “Common Ancestors” feature you should also use Umlauts. On top of this there is the Eszett (ß). This in not a capital B. In my own experience this is something you will encounter in a a lot of German records.

Know your German Geography

Ancestry has a specific format for place names. It is important to use this format to help correctly place your ancestors’ birth locations on the map that the ancestry website users. The Ancestry format is either Town, State/County, Country (Stadt, Bundesland, Land in German) or, for smaller places, Village, Municipality, State/County, Country (Stadt, Kreis, Bundesland, Land). This means the Ancestry website will understand “Bielefeld, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany” and “Kelsterbach, Groß-Gerau, Hesse, Germany”.

In addition, if you have German ancestors, they would probably have used the German name for a place. For example the historic city of Breslau (in German) is Wrocław in Polish. You need to also be aware that some places ended up being renamed with the ebb-and-flow of history. Zabrze in modern-day Poland was Hindenburg Oberschlesien in German (after it was renamed from the Polish Zabrze in 1915). In the Silesian language it’s Zŏbrze.

These correctly-formatted place-names are important for two reasons. Firstly, the map that shows your ancestors birth locations to a DNA match needs this information. As an example, below, is a plot of my wife’s ancestors.

Secondly, you can search by the location of a DNA match’s ancestors. In both cases the better the information you provide, the more helpful it will be for other researchers looking at your family tree.

Finally, if you want to help other people with their research then try and give the best location information you know for your ancestor. If you believe that someone came from Bavaria in Germany then a location pin with the Bundesland Bavaria is way more informativethan the more-general “Germany”.

My personal preference is to put both the (German-language) name your ancestors would use and the correct, current name of their birth place. You can enter these with the non-standard name first, followed by a comma and then the current “correct” name format.

Whilst you are here

One other tip. This will not help you in connecting with your German relatives but is important for any research you do. It is helpful to know the confession of your ancestors. The Christian faith in Germany is divided into two confessions, Roman Catholic (Katholisch) and Protestant (Evangelisch). Church records (Kirchenbücher) are similarly divided. The best source for Roman catholic records is Matricula, whilst Protestant church books are available at Archion.

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DNA Outliers – How do I interpret a match with no shared Ethnicity ?

As a genealogist I, spend a significant amount of my research-time using my DNA results. DNA can reveal a lot about your ancestors, particularly those that lived before the advent of proper civil records.
As part of this research I look at my DNA Matches: those people with whom I share DNA and presumably ancestors. The largest and most useful pool of my DNA matches are on the ancestry.com website. When I look at the matches I normally look at two key things. Their family tree and the “Shared Matches”. What I don’t normally look at is people’s “Ethnicity Estimates”. There is a reason for this. My ancestors, for at least the last couple of hundred years, are all from small communities within the British Isles. Anyone I match, even those North American cousins whose families were living in the United States since long before the American Revolution, is likely to have some distant ancestor from the British Isles. As a result their Ethnicity Estimates will, most likely, include a chunk of British Isles heritage. This even applies for those people with mostly African-American heritage where our shared DNA bears witness to the brutal sexual slavery that their ancestors had to endure.


This week I was rather thrown by a relative with whom I share no common Ethnicity. Now I realise that Ethnicity Estimates are both “only Estimates” and a very broad brush stroke pictures, but in this case the Ethnicty Estimate ties up with the family tree. My matches’ ancestry is all Mexican. Their four grandparents were all born in Mexico in the early part of the twentieth century. All of their more-distant ancestors they know about are also Mexican. Their Ethnicity Estimate is exactly how I would expect – a mix of Native American and colonial Spanish with trace amounts of other Continental European heritage and even a pinch of European Jewish.


According to Ancestry I share 12cM of DNA with this person. Based on the research of Blaise Bettinger this is somewhere between the “safe zone” i.e. a genuine IBD (Identical by Decent) segment (>15cM) and the “danger zone” i.e. an IBC (Identical By Chance) segment (<10cM). In effect it is oin the border range and could be either real or a false-positive.


If this match is a real match then we have a distant shared ancestor, either documented or more-likely via a Non-Paternal Event (NPE). In such case I would expect this to show up, even in a trace amount, in their Ethnicity Estimate.


A false-positive result would be due to either due poor compatibility between tests from different companies using different chips OR that the match is generated as a mixture of my parents “un-phased” DNA. Since Ancestry do not take DNA results from other companies then the first option is unlikely (although I was an early tester at Ancestry, so there is a small possibility of incompatibility between chip versions used at Ancestry).


What I find confusing is that this persons DNA is distinct enough from my own to have a completely different Ethnicity Estimate, but at the same time be similar enough to generate a false positive. Perhaps I’m overthinking this, but I’d welcome other people’s thoughts.

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Genealogy in a time of Covid – A personal review of 2020

Introduction

2020 has been a year like no other – well unless you lived in AD 536. On a personal level we (my family) have been very lucky to live and work in a low Covid-risk environment. At a personal level, however, I found it hard to be able to concentrate on my genealogy work. I thought I would use this short post to highlight what I have been able to achieve and put down a marker to help direct my future work.

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Exotic Aldi – Saraswati Dry Gin Review

Everyone has their nemesis. For Captain Ahab it’s Moby Dick, for Dr Doofenschmirtz it’s Perry the Platapus. Mine, it turns out, is a cheap Aldi gin. For the last couple of months I’ve been trying to finish this gin review. It should be a simple things. Drink the gin, write something about how it tastes, then press publish. It’s not been that simple, for a couple of reasons. Firstly I got floored by the manufacturer’s claim that it’s signature botanical is Thai Basil. I can taste something a little like Thai Basil, but it gets lost in the general taste. Secondly I’m beginning to like this gin a lot more than I expected – but more of that latter. Let’s start with the back-story.

Even if you are tea-total, you will have seen the gin-revival of the last decade. We’ve now reached the point where even the artisan gin makers are producing a range of gins. The supermarket own-brands are no exception. As an example we have the Saraswati Dry Gin distributed through Aldi-Süd in Germany.

The Saraswati gin is the Aldi attempt to fit in the “exotic East” niche, competing alongside such established brands as the Ophir, Tangerey Rangapur and the Mombasa Club Gin (I know the last one isn’t geographically in India but it aims at the same spice-vibe)

The Saraswati gin is named after (drum roll) Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of “knowledge, music, art, speech, wisdom, and learning.” To be honest that’s quite a list of attributes to live up to and I’m not sure if the use of the goddess’ name may upset some people.

The botanical list isn’t complete, but majors on juniper, angelica, and coriander as well as a subtle spicy hints of Pandan as well as fresh citrus and peppermint (as a rough translation of “raffiniert-würzige Noten von Pandan sowie frische Zitrus- und Pfefferminzanklänge”)

Design-wise, it’s just a shade away from being a “good-looking gin” The bottle is a classic pharmacy style round with a gold shrink-warp foil. It’s the type of bottle that would look at home on the shelves of and Indian or Thai restaurant. (Which is, I think, damming it with faint praise, as we Brits say).

Finally before we dive into the gin, one point I should raise. The gin is manufactured by Pabst & Richarz. A quick look at their website presents a slightly different take on the Saraswati gin. The screenshot below presents the Saraswati as a Thai and Thai-Basil themed gin. This has thrown me a Asian-vibe curveball as my idea of an Indian-themed and a Thai-themed gin are actually quite different. The only way to decide is to try it, so on to the tasting notes.

Day or Night Gin ? it’s a healthy 40% abv. Sounds perfect for an evening pre-meal drink.

What does it smell of ? It hits a lot of the right notes – juniper, certainly a sweet-citrus note with a hint of herbs – coriander – or possibly Thai-basil.

What does it taste of ? As a pure spirit, it delivers a surprisingly plesent taste. Smooth at first with a gentle warmth and a strong herbal tastes with a mild earthy after-taste. Way better than I was expecting. For my first tasting as a Gin and Tonic I tried it with the Fevertree Mediterranean tonic and pitted it against the Ophir and Tangerey Rangapur; all garnished with Line. Surprisingly none of them came out great. A second testing with the regular Fevertree Tonic Water and Lemon was a way more pleasurable experience, something I really wasn’t expecting. I think that the Saraswati Gin has such a good combination of the Lime and Spice-based botanicals that it needs a regular tonic and Lemon to contrast the tastes.

Buy It ? As my blog has implied, you can buy this from the Aldi, more specifically the Aldi-Süd in Germany in a 0.5 litre bottle. It was available a few months back (October 2020) as a special offer, retaining for 8.49 and then discounted to 6.49. These days a quick twawl of the internet has only found it sold by a few opportunists on eBay.

Overall ? 4 / 5 I really wasn’t expecting this to be a good gin – I guess I’ve been drinking too many cheap gins from the Penny recently. I’m enjoying it way more than I expected. Now I’m not sure if I’ve become a little soft in my old age, or a little stingy by giving it four out of five. I’ve reached the end of the bottle and would buy again, however I’d love to hear your thoughts on this gin, so please do let me know what you think in the comments section.

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On the Origins of the Grass family Surname in the Brandon Area of Suffolk

Yes, I’m sorry about the clumsy title, it’s merely a nod to the revolutionary “On the Origin of Species by Mean of Natural Selection” work by the great Charles Darwin (and Search-engine optimisation).

Introduction

For many people the interest in family history starts with curiosity about their own surname. I’m no different, especially as my surname, Grass, is rather rare. In this post I want to identify the earliest known Grass families within the Brandon area and the evidence for them. At the moment we are unable to tie these early family cluster together, but I hope this post will be a building block for further DNA research that might help with that.

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Researching the Smiths of Great Ayton

Introduction

When I first stated to write this (August 2020) the genetic genealogy world was at war with itself over a decision by Ancestry to remove some distant matches from peoples DNA Match List results. It’s all rather sad and frustrating to see such arguments. For myself it was insignificant part of my research and something I do not miss. The annoying thing with the arguments is that they miss the fact that some of the other tools that Ancestry do provide, such as the “Common Ancestors” algorithm. For myself, this tool is way more valuable, as I hope this post will illustrate.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, researching British ancestors splits into two parts. The easy part is after Civil Registration began in 1837. Shortly afterwards, in 1841, the first genealogically-meaningful UK Census occurred. Before this period we are reliant on our ability to interpret the parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials. When you have a rare surname, such as “Grass”, my Father’s, it’s so much easier than trying to trace a common surname. My Mum wasn’t blessed with such a unique surname. Her surname, Smith, is the most common surname in the British Isles. One consequence of this for genealogists is that it is much harder, and more error-prone, to research the Smith surname.

In this post I want to illustrate how the “Common Ancestors” feature has turned up a DNA-relative who is helping the research on my Smith line. I’m always incredibly reluctant to use the phrase “prove” with DNA evidence. DNA matches alone rarely prove things and there is enough ambiguity in my family-tree to make other DNA-inheritance scenarios possible.

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The Botanist Islay Dry Gin Review – A walk on the windy side

Truly a work of genius from the Marketing department – and a solid paperweight if you need it

Sometimes it can be hard work trying to find the specific botanicals used to create a gin. The Botanist Islay Dry Gin is different. It “wears it’s heart on it sleeve” and it’s “botanicals on it’s bottle”. As the packaging says it supplements 9 classic gin botanicals with “22 local herbs and flowers, foraged responsibly and by hand from the hills, shores and bogs of this fertile Hebridean Island by our own team of botanical scientists”. These 22 local flavours are, if I understand it correctly,  rather beautifully written on to the sides of the bottle. They are: Tanacetum Vulgare, Juniperus Communis (Common Juniper), Myrica Gale (Bog-myrtle), Artemisia Vulgaris, Mentha Spicata (Spearmint), Chamaemelum Nobile (Chamomile), Galium Verum,  Calluna Vulgaris (Common Heather), Teucrium Scorodonia, Sambucus Nigra (Elder), Cirsium Arvense (Creeping Thistle), Trifolium Repens (White Clover), Crataegus Monogyna, Melissa Officinalis (Lemon Balm), Thymus Polytrichus (Wild Thyme), Mentha X Villosa (Apple Mint), Betula Pubescens, Filipendula Ulmaria, Ulex Europaeus (Gorse), Myrrhis Odorata (Cicely), Trifolium Pratense (Red Clover), Mentha Aquatica (Water Mint).

It’s an impressive list,  although the skeptic in me wonders if this is all gathered in the wild, rather than commercially grown, but I’m not going to argue with “Botanical Scientists” over the distribution of, say, Apple Mint on Islay.

Stepping back a bit from the romantic branding it is important to note that this gin is distilled at the Bruichladdich distillery on Islay, which is itself part of the drinks giant Remy Cointreau. Nothing wrong with this, but don’t be surprised how often you find it, given the distribution power of such a company. Being distilled at the Bruichladdich distillery has it’s positive side – the distillery/distiller has decades of experience  making whisky, something that may be lacking from your recently started artisanal gin-maker.

Day or Night Gin ? This is a 46% abv gin, so reserve it for the evening.

What does it smell of ? As you would expect from the botanicals list this is a wonderfully herbal gin with enough woof to clear your sinuses. Imagine hiking on Islay with the wind in your face.

What does it taste of ? Juniper and the full list of herbal botanicals come to the fore in this gin, with a healthy dose of something spicy (celery seeds / lovage ?). Unlike some of the cheaper gins this has a lovely, sweet aftertaste. Naturally it works well in a G&T.

Buy It ? Available at all good stockists. Online you can purchase it at Amazon, Lidl or any one of a number of online distributors. The 70cl bottle is priced at around €30, but you can also pick up a litre bottle if you ever get to fly again.

Overall ? 5 / 5 This is an excellent gin. Bold, herbal and versatile. It reminds me of the Durham gin that I picked up a few years ago. It can be paired with an Indian or a Mediterranean Tonic and garnished with orange or lemon. Try it, and let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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Penny Supermarkt – San Fabio Italian Dry Gin review

The Penny Supermarkt San Fabio Italian Dry Gin

I have a bunch of lovely expensive gins to review, but today it’s time for the San Fabio Italian Dry Gin from German discount supermarket Penny. This gin is, at the moment at least, a special edition alternative to their own rather dull Orsons London Dry Gin. As you may have guessed from the “San Fabio” branding (as well as the name) this is an Italian Dry Gin. So we’re thinking about a citrus-flavoured summer gin, ideal for enjoying as the heat of the day disappears and you sit at a restaurant by the Mediterranean waiting for your evening meal. The botanicals featured here are “Orangen, Mandarinen and Bergmotte”. The first two are clear to english-language readers and the third is for those familiar with citrus-fruit hybridization. As Wikipedia tells me the Bergamot Orange is “a probable hybrid of lemon and bitter orange.” So we are clearly on a citrus vibe. The bottle itself is a rather plain Jane looking clear-glass affair filled by the Kastell Markenspirituosen GmbH in the German city of Rottenburg an der Laaber (not to be confused with the  similarly-named picture-postcard city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber). Kastell make/bottle/distribute a vast range of own-brand spirits to both the Aldi and the Penny, including the aforementioned Orson’s Gin. Let’s try not to hold that against them as we dive into the review:

Day or Night Gin ? This is a 40% ABV gin so I guess the correct answer is somewhere in between day and night – let’s call it an after-work gin.

What does it smell of ? Not too much, a little juniper and citrus – which isn’t bad. It’s neither rocket-fuel bad or Chelsea flower-show fab.

What does it taste of ? It actually delivers what you expect – a light citrus-based gin. Although what it’s missing is a bit of the herbal strength and after-taste of a great gin. If you are making a G&T you need a good (e.g. Fevertree) tonic and a strong herbal garnish. Try something like a slice of grapefruit and sprig of mint.

Buy It ? Well you need to go to the Penny supermarket and hope it’s available. This week there was a bottle on offer at our local Penny. If I remember correctly it was marked down at €6.99 for a bottle. The gin is sadly not listed in the Penny online store, but I guess this may change if the sales figures come through.

Overall ? 3  / 5 I’m probably being a little generous here, but this is a budget gin. It’s certainly a better gin than the Penny Orson’s Gin (although that is damming with faint praise). It will work fine for a round of drinks in the summer, however I would personally suggest you upgrade to the Rewe Feine Welt Diamond of Marrakesh if you want the best of the supermarket gins. Whichever way you go I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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