Geoffs Genealogy Update 8 April 2011

Friday April 8th, 2011 | Geoff

I seem to say the same every month, but for sure the past month has passed so quickly. It’s hard to believe that we are in April already, and here in the UK the gardens and hedgerows are all breaking into vibrant growth. A lovely sight to see, to be sure!

Only about ten weeks now until our John Bankes Descendants’ Reunion at Coulsdon. I’ve been working hard for weeks now, trying to ensure that the Pedigree is as up to date as possible for our big day. It will never be up to date, you understand, but I would hate it if our attendees should be disappointed to find that their particular interests are missing when they come.

Helen and I are also addressing other needs for the big day. I need to prepare my talk on John Bankes, Citizen & Haberdasher of London (c1650-1719) for one thing. Then there are the identity badges to prepare, and the tree – now there’s a bit of a conundrum! How to fit the vast Bankes Pedigree on to sheets of paper in a way that is accessible to visitors. Believe me, this is proving a bit of a challenge, but rest assured that Helen & I will find a solution!

There are lots of other things to sort out for 18th June, so I think we shall be very busy between now and then. Our thanks to Dot for covering the catering. That’s an enormous help. As far as we can tell at the moment, we should have about 40 or so people attending the reunion. They come from several different lines of descent from siblings of Bankes:

  • Some descendants of Joseph Rand – the Welsh branch
  • Some descendants of Mary (Rand) Mitchell – my branch!
  • Some descendants of Anne (Rand) Deane – This branch included the Fiveash and Yaxley families.

We are still trying to track down more Bankes Descendants to invite, and will continue to do so right up to the day of the reunion. If you are descended from one of the Rand siblings of Bankes and are interested in joining us for the day, have a look at the relevant page on Geoffs Genealogy and /or contact me at via one of the links on the website.

I read a very interesting book recently. It had been on my wish list for a couple of years before Helen bought it for me for my birthday last year, and when I read it it certainly lived up to the reviews I had seen. It is entitled Jack Tar, and was written by Roy & Lesley Adkins. You can get some information about it at the authors’ website.

This book tells you pretty well all you may want to know about the everyday life of the seamen in Nelson’s navy. I suspect that we are all aware these people had a really hard time, but I think most of us have probably not imagined the half of it. This book goes into a lot of detail about most aspects of a life on the ocean waves in the C18 – C19 British Navy.

I’ll just mention one of the many points that I found interesting in this book. When discussing impressment the authors make the point that if a non-British man was impressed, it was possible for him to evade service in the navy if he could satisfy the authorities that he was not British. The point that really interested me was that many USA citizens found it impossible to escape the net in this way because in those days there was no such thing as an American accent and most people did not have documentary proof of their American nationality. I had never thought of this before, but it should not suprise us that so soon after the War of Independence an American accent had not developed. All of which begs the question – when did the US accent – in its many variants – start to develop. Answers please by email via one of the many email links on Geoffs Genealogy.

Reading this book put me in mind of several Bankes descendants who served in the British Navy, and in particular of Bankes Mitchell (Abt 1720-1763). He was a son of Robert Mitchell (abt 1692 – bef May 1742) and Elizabeth nee Russell (abt 1693-abt1740), and brother to the writer Mary (Mitchell) Collyer (abt 1716-1762). In 1744 Bankes was recorded in the Middlesex Deeds Registry as a Watchmaker. However, by 1763 he was in the navy, serving on the Alcides, a captured French ship, having previously served on the Temeraire, another captured French ship. A few weeks later he was transferred to the Hampton Court, and he served on that ship until 18 August 1763, when the Captain’s Log states “Departed this Life Bankes Mitchell Mariner and at 10 committed his body to the deep”.

To complete the picture, Administration of Bankes Mitchell’s estate was granted in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury to his sister, Hannah Mitchell (abt 1723-abt 1796), on 23 November 1763.

Why would a watchmaker swap his occupation for the rigours of life as am able seaman in the navy, especially at the age of around 42? That was quite an advanced age in eighteenth century England.

I’m no expert on naval records, but to me the letter P in the column of the Muster Roll that is headed “Whence and Whether Prest or Not” tells us that Bankes Mitchell was impressed. If I am reading this correctly it appears that within a year of being forced to join the Royal Navy Bankes had died and was at the bottom of the sea. I think about the hardships he must have endured, the separation from his family and a host of other things that I read about in Jack Tar, and I am very thankful to have been born in the mid twentieth century.

For me this is the essence of family history. It’s not just about accumulating a collection of names, but a process of sharing in the experiences of the people we trace so that they become more than just names on a sheet of paper.

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