Hello Cousin

By Terry Welshans

Cronological_tree_RolloAllow me to begin by saying first of all, this article is not about me. It is about us, all of us. I am going to relate this story from my perspective, which is really your perspective as well. Much of what I am writing about is speculation and is quite controversial as little documentation survives. There is great debate among scholars about many of the details and facts, so be warned, what I am writing may not be bound by proof that will withstand legal scrutiny. This may look like a history lesson, but there is an important point at the end.

My 29th great grandfather was a Viking named Göngu Hrólfr whose name was later Latinized as Rollo Rognvaldsson.

Rollo was an adventurer, and after plundering England with boat-loads of his friends, he found his way to western Europe sometime before 900AD according to some accounts. This was much to the dismay of Charles III (later known as Charles the Simple) the King of of West Francia. Rollo and his followers began raiding Frankish territory, including Sens, Étampes and Chartres, south of Paris and Blois on the Loire. Charles was pretty smart for a fellow known as “the Simple.” He and Rollo negotiated an agreement wherein Charles offered Rollo land in exchange for Rollo’s pledge of peace and loyalty to the King of the Franks.

Rollo agreed, settled down, and married Poppa of Bayeux, thought to be the daughter of Berengar II, the Count of Bayeux and Rennes and Margrave of the Breton March. Through her, Rollo converted from Viking Paganism to Christianity, was baptized under the name “Robert” and styled himself as the Duke of Normandy. Normandy was the name Rollo had given to the part of France west of Paris.

Rollo and Poppa had a number of children, one of whom was William I known as “Longsword.” William I also styled himself as Duke of Normandy after his father abdicated. William I had a son known as Richard I “the Fearless.” Richard I had a son known as Richard II “the Good.” Richard I died and was succeeded by Richard II who battled the Saxons in England. After Richard II’s death, his son Richard III succeeded him, but died shortly after taking the title. Richard III’s brother, Robert I “the Magnificent” succeeded him. Robert I was the father of William I, known as the “William the Conqueror” making him the 4th great grandson of Rollo.

Rollo’s great-granddaughter, Emma, sister of Richard II and the daughter of Richard I, married two kings of England, Æhelred “the Unready” and Cnut ,who was also king of Norway and Denmark at that time. Her son from the first marriage to Æhelred was Edward “the Confessor,” who was the King of England from 1042 to 1066. Edward was Rollo’s 2nd great grandson and William’s 2nd great uncle.

Cnut’s sister Estrid Svendsdatter was married to Ulf Thorgilsson, a Danish Earl. Gytha Thorkelsdóttir was Ulf’s sister. She married an Anglo-Saxon nobleman named Godwin of Wessex. Their sons, Harold and Tostig, faced each other at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, where Tostig was killed by Harold’s army. Emma was Tostig’s and Harold’s aunt and Rollo was their 2nd great uncle.

King Edward died in 1066, passing his kingdom to his nephew Harold. Harold’s cousin William I claimed that Edward had promised the kingdom to him, and became very angry, saying that Harold had stolen the kingdom from him. He gathered his army and crossed the channel intending to take England from Harold by force. Less than a month after the Battle of Stamford Bridge, three of Gytha’s sons, Harold, Gyrth, and Leofwine, were killed at the Battle of Hastings fighting against their cousin William I, who was the victor. History is written by the victor, and this is William’s version. This complete scenario is drawn on the 225 foot long Tapestry of Bayeux, and is on display at a museum there. The Tapestry was first described in an inventory of the Bayeux Cathedral taken in 1476.

William I is my 25th great grandfather. Thirty generations could generate more than a billion people. The One Trillion Principle website has a study on how many ancestors we have, I just inverted the spreadsheet.  If you have ancestors from western Europe or Great Britain, the probability that you are one of those billion is pretty much in your favor, and in all likelihood, he is your twenty-something grandfather as well.

About Terry Welshans

I grew up in Burbank, California. My dad worked at a company that made sub assemblies for about every airplane made in the 1960-1970 era, so it was only natural that the aviation bug bit me while I was quite young. I hold a commercial pilot certificate and fly as much as I can. I live in Bardstown, Kentucky with my wife, moving here after we retired. I am a Vietnam veteran and a cancer survivor. I like to keep politicians honest, and do so when they open an avenue where I feel they have erred.
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7 Responses to Hello Cousin

  1. I had not known much about genealogy until one of my first cousins took it up, tracing my mother’s side of the family back to France. They were Huguenots, coming to the American Colonies in 1629. Knowing the politics and religious turmoil of the time, my 10x great grandfather got out of France one jump ahead of Richelieu’s ethnic cleansing thugs.

    His name was Benois Brasseur when he landed in Nansemond County, Virginia, which no longer exists. It’s called Norfolk these days. He could not change his name fast enough, Anglicizing it to Benjamin Brashears (or Brashear). In those days, spelling was not an exact science.

    At any rate, he shed his French identity as fast as he could.

    My wife became interested in genealogy when I gave her a copy of “Family Tree Maker” to go with the new computer we got when the Internet first started to become useful, about 1997. She spent many happy hours researching her family tree. It began to expand exponentially, so she began to narrow her searches to her direct ancestors on her mother’s side. She got really frustrated when she could not find out anything about her paternal grandmother’s side of the family. She had the name of her great-grandfather, and that he lost a foot working for the railroad in the late 1800s or early 1900s, but at that point it was a dead end.

    She had a maternal great grandfather named Beatty (or Beaty/Beatie/Beattie). It is spelled several ways in old family bibles and in public documents. As I said, a couple of hundred years ago, spelling was hardly an exact science. Here is the kicker. Beatty is pronounced BEAT-eh. Southerners tend to mispronounce it more like BAIT-eh. The former is correct, because it is Scottish Gaelic. They dropped the original “Mac” which means, literally, ‘son of” or ‘from the family of.. The original name was Mac-bethad which is pronounced MAC-BEAT-eh.

    The English mispronounced it as MacBeth. I always behaved myself around her because, as I told people who asked, she was descended from the guy who cut off the head of the King of Scotland….in a church.

  2. Queries says:

    Seems we may be related, quite distantly though, only within 10 to 20+ generations as I do not recognize the surname which seems to be a origin descriptive in the old vein.

  3. Terry Welshans says:

    Jacob Welschhantz b. 19 Feb 1719 at Kirrberg, France d. 20 Feb 1763 at York, Pennsylvania. Jacob’s 2nd great grandson is George Henry Welshonse, b. 19 Mar 1791 at York, Pennsylvania.

    Mathias Ambrose b. 10 Feb 1695 at Alsace, France. Alsace is about 60 miles from Kirrberg. d. 10 Aug 1784 at Thurmont, Frederick, Maryland. Mathias’s 2nd great granddaughter is Mary Ambrose b. 28 Feb 1794 at Somerset, Pennsylvania. Sommerset is about 155 miles west of York.

    George and Mary married 11 Oct 1732 at Thurmont, Frederick, Maryland and are my 3rd great grand parents. Thurmont is about 48 miles sw of York.

    As Chuck said above, spelling is a relatively new concept as one must first be able to read and write, so those who could write, wrote phonetically until the spelling became important some time after 1900.

  4. pete says:

    So this “1st place 1765 American Colonies Spelling Bee” ribbon is really just a participation trophy. Great, great, great, great, great granddad Pete wasn’t so damn great after all.

    • Terry Welshans says:

      Not at all, Pete. He was a whole lot better educated than most were at the time. I have seen dozens of official wills and deeds signed with “his mark” on the signature line while many people were able to read and write very well. Some folks who lived in the country did not have the opportunity to go to school and relied on others who could handle that for them. Where did your relative live?

  5. I don’t have it in front of me because it is in a box of filed papers down in the storage shed, so this is from memory. My wife found a land deed record for one of my gg-uncles in the in Sullivan County, TN archives and made a copy. This is from the early 1800s. The family surname was Brashears, but the deed spells it as “Brzsyzeays” (probably not exact, but you get the idea). I figure the clerk who recorded that must have been of Eastern European or possibly Polish origin.

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