Adam Bird


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Monday, 27 October 2008

Not Alone in the Forest


"Exactly 100 years ago today, HMS Alert and HMS Discovery sailed past Plymouth on their way from Portsmouth on an Arctic exploration mission which was to keep their crews away from home for nearly a year and five months.

One of the members of this expedition, led by Captain Sir George Strong Nares, was a Newton Abbot man, Mr Henry Winser, who was picked as ship's carpenter for the team at the age of 24 because of his strong constitution.

The expedition suffered many hardships and accomplished much, reaching 30 miles nearer the North Pole than any previous arctic explorers, but still fell 400 miles short of its target.

The "Advertiser" of November 4th, 1876, summed up that the venture had demonstrated "that to reach the Pole is an utterly impracticable undertaking... deemed not to be accomplished by human energy."

Henry Winser was believed to have been one of the sledge party which spent 70 days on the ice in conditions so rugged that it could only advance only a mile a day towards its goal, the North Pole.

The Party suffered intensely from frost-bite and scurvy, to which four of his team-mates succumbed.

When a bear suddenly sprung at one of the men, Henry Winser with quick reactions, instantly killed the animal before it could injure his colleagues.

On his return to Newton Abbot, one of the many trophies which Henry Winser brought with him was a bearskin - believed to have been this bear's and in later years residents recalled that he used to walk through the streets dressed in the bearskin."

The above was an extract from a newspaper article written in 1974, the subject, Henry Winser, was my second Great Grandfather.

Stories like these have been part of family lore for as long as I can remember. I first read this newspaper article back in the early 90's on a visit to my Great Uncle George's house in Newton Abbot. At the time, it seemed a bit far fetched and the significance, well it didn't register very highly.

In 2004 we had a visit from Australia, a lady named Jennifer Keast came and visited my Nan. She brought with her a gift, a research documenting our family tree. Jennifer Keast, as it turns out is my second cousin, once removed.

For some reason it was only last week in which I was able to read the full document and inside it, were details of family members reaching way back into the early 1600's. As well as a full list of facts and figures was a recollection, small stories about the people contained within the lists and where they had come from, it began:

"John Blackstone is recorded as having married an Anne at Tormoham, Torre - Torquay in 1650. Torre was a small village built around an abbey that had been founded in 1196 and rebuilt in 1555. The occupation and actual residence of this John is not known but it is most likely that he was a fisherman of Teignmouth who traded with or delivered goods to the abbey. It is possible that he took the goods produced by the abbey, raw wool and cider, to the continent and returned with wine, cloth and luxury foods such as olives, oil and fruit. Sailing to France or Holland was fairly risky at this time as piracy, both officially sanctioned by the throne and by boat owners trying to make ends meet, was very common."

John Blackstone, as it transpires is my 9th Great Grandfather.

Continuing on through the recollections, and the people contained within and the lives in which they led make interesting and intriguing reading. Members of the family who became judges at Crufts, or worked within the walls of Buckingham Palace. How a certain Francis Allchin, known as "Nibbs" for being a 'player' when he visited Devon coming down from London in a Daimler and ending up marrying an American heiress, and living out his days on the proceeds of her estate.

Stories which are true and need to be recorded, not for any historical importance, but the continuation of the family tale. When Oliver asks me, where did George, my middle name come from? I can say, your Grandfather, a naval man who was born in Hastings in 1922, he was one of nine and he sailed the world and drank whisky in every port. He had an uncle named George as well, and there has been at least one George in every generation since way back when.

I have found much and yet covered very little, I have made connections with other descendants from different branches, the Uglows, the Tripletts, the Allchins, the Winsers, the Symons, the Furneauxs, the Kinsmen, and they are just the people on my Dad's Mother's side! I still need to add the Birds, the Simmonds, the Buckmaster's the Kent's and the Arthurs and whatever other names I manage to uncover.

And yet, from what Jennifer Keast started I have managed to continue, adding more names and people, places, records of births, deaths and marriages. My Geni account currently states, you have 390 blood relatives, 103 inlaws, 29 inlaw trees, 68 ancestors and 1 descendant. You are also connected to 1, 182 people on Geni.

Genealogy is not about the ghosts in the closet, it is a recording of people, their relationships and their movements. Looking back at our ancestors is incredible rewarding and unbelievable frustrating. For every dead end there is surprising story, like the brother of distant grandmother whom married four times, to four wives all going by the name of Elizabeth. The notes written by the person researching this particular chap wrote "It appears as if Richard Triplett was a serial killer whom married women going by the name Elizabeth only to kill them".

There are of course many stories which go untold, and in which you can read just by looking at the figures. A couple whom had five girls before they finally managed to conceive a boy. He carried his father's name, and yet six months later he died. His uncle born a son the following year and named his son after his deceased nephew.

As I keep travelling on this journey back through time and make many more new discoveries I hope to share as much as I can within the walls of this blog and revamp the family page to include a little more than just the photos of my nearest and dearest. As Geni, the website I use to join all the branches says - "We are all connected". My family tree may seem a little more like a forest, but at least I am not alone.


Katy Cotton said...

Hi Adam
Richard Triplett, the alleged serial killer, was my 5x great grand uncle. Nice to meet you distant cuz :)


Katy Cotton said...

Oh, my email address is if you want to say hi by the way :)


Adam Bird said...

Hi Katy, would you be able to drop me an email at, it would be great to find out which line you follow and swap any information you may have!


Francesca Burgess said...

This is fascinating, Adam. Definitely a story in Richard Triplett.

You probably already know about the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site, but I found one of my great uncles on there who served (and died) on the HMS Fidelity during WW2.

Btw, I have relatives in Newton Abbot too! (or rather, my husband does)

Adam Bird said...

Francesca - it's a small world! No doubt there maybe some connection along the line with your husband! How strange would that be? My most recent line of enquiries has led me to the national archive at Kings Cross to find out about a lineage who lived in India during Queen Victoria times!

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