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Martlesham woman: ‘One of my ancestors was a Viking leader’

PUBLISHED: 19:30 29 July 2020 | UPDATED: 10:27 30 July 2020

Bridget's great-grandmother Mary, who was born on Ascension Island and spent time aboard HMS Tortoise Picture: Bridget Burke

Bridget's great-grandmother Mary, who was born on Ascension Island and spent time aboard HMS Tortoise Picture: Bridget Burke

Archant

Bridget Burke has spent years tracing her family’s history, uncovering a whole host of fascinating connections that go all the way back to the Vikings

Bridget Burke, with her husband Paul. Upon retiring, Bridget dedicated her time to uncovering both of their family histories Picture: Bridget BurkeBridget Burke, with her husband Paul. Upon retiring, Bridget dedicated her time to uncovering both of their family histories Picture: Bridget Burke

Bridget Burke, of Martlesham, first began researching her and her husband Paul’s family trees when she retired. With a love of history and more free time on her hands, she started on the journey of uncovering her roots and where her family came from – but hadn’t anticipated how far back she’d be able to go, and how much she was about to find out.

“I inherited a box of documents from my mother-in-law and my family bible with a collection of old photos, so I had a starting point,” she explained.

“I love history and I had been curious about some of the family stories. My great-grandmother was supposedly born on Ascension Island, and my father-in-law always said he was descended from one of William The Conqueror’s generals.”

With a couple of stories to go from, Bridget began her research and utilised various sources to help her delve deeper.

Bridget's husband Paul is a descendant of Edward IV of England Picture: Getty ImagesBridget's husband Paul is a descendant of Edward IV of England Picture: Getty Images

“The research has been fairly straight forward. I contacted my mother, aunts and cousins, and told them what I was doing. They all chipped in with evidence, including some documents and lots of old photos.

“I then signed up for Ancestry.co.uk, where my husband and I took DNA tests. Then it was easy to build the tree with the relatives I knew about, along with prompts from the site to investigate new ancestors.”

Bridget’s results showed that her ancestry was comprised of 66% England, Wales and Northern Europe, 26% Ireland and Scotland, and 8% Norway and Sweden. “Paul had more Ireland and Scotland, and no Norway and Sweden.”

Armed with their results, Bridget was then able to start tracing their family lines back, and began by following male ancestral lines only.

Paul Burke's 14th great-grandmother was William Shakespeare's aunt Picture: Getty Images/iStockPhotoPaul Burke's 14th great-grandmother was William Shakespeare's aunt Picture: Getty Images/iStockPhoto

“It was easier, and I was able to follow the lines right back to the 1500s with both families. It got really interesting when I decided to follow the female lines however, and it was through Thankful, one of my husband’s Puritan ancestors, that I discovered he was a descendent of an illegitimate child of Edward IV.

“His ancestor was a child of Elizabeth Wayte, one of Edward IV’s mistresses. Luckily, knowing he’s a little bit royal hasn’t gone to Paul’s head. My boys were very excited though, I think they thought we were entitled to a castle or two!”

As if having a royal connection wasn’t enough, Bridget later uncovered that Paul was also descended from none other than William Shakespeare.

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“My husband’s 14th great-grandmother, Margaret Arden, was the sister of Mary Arden – William Shakespeare’s mother. It was very exciting to be related to The Bard, however tenuously.”

When Bridget resumed researching her own genealogical roots, she then found out that she was also descended from royalty.

“My royal connections were also through a female ancestor, Charity, who lived in the early 1600s. She left a will and it showed she was a wealthy woman that had lands with titles that were ancient. I began researching her line and discovered that she was a descendant of Eadnoth the Staller, Thane of Gloucester, which has a ring of Shakespeare about it.

“However, he was in fact the steward of Edward the Confessor, and a minor royal from the Swedish royal family. In order to avoid the sons fighting over inheritances, they were sent to other countries to make their fortune. Eadnoth, who was my 26th great-grandfather, did well for himself.”

Upon finding out that her roots stemmed all the way back to Sweden, Bridget expanded her research and found herself looking in the Sagas for further information.

The Sagas are series of historical books that focus on the events that took place in Scandinavia hundreds of years ago, and are often used as a source of information when it comes to researching genealogy and family history.

“I did some research on the Swedish royal family and found out that one of my relatives was Ivar The Boneless, a Viking leader who invaded Anglo-Saxon England who was reported to be a giant. We laughed about this as my sons are all over six foot - so now we know where they got it from!”

Having spent years researching her and Paul’s family histories, and learning about the fascinating royal connections that go back centuries, Bridget was also able to find out more about her great-grandmother Mary who was born on Ascension Island, an isolated island in the South Atlantic Ocean that became a British settlement in 1815.

“I started with her father’s naval history, and was able to confirm that his ship HMS Tortoise was stationed at Ascension Island in the 1850s and matched with the census details. I then found out about life aboard a naval ship, and was surprised to learn it was a better option than staying ashore.

“The wives were fed and they had a place to sleep, childbirth on naval ships was quite common and records show guns were often fired to hasten the birth. I also learned that her father Robert worked on vessels that were involved in the suppression of the slave trade. He was aboard HMS Brisk that went in search of Dr Livingstone, an anti-slavery crusader. They didn’t find him, but they did leave him a message in a bottle.”

With interesting ancestral histories on both sides, Bridget and Paul have had their fair share of surprising discoveries on their genealogical journey. For any budding family historians who may feel inspired and wish to follow their own roots, Bridget has a number of tips to share.

“I’d start with the direct male descendants and then look at their wives - this can be the source of lots of interesting details. Also, be sure to tell your family what you are doing and collect family stories. Find out where people lived and what their occupations were - this helps you when you’re looking at the census. And be sure to have a notebook where you write down the things that you find out - it stops you researching the same dead ends.

“As well as the above, be sure to read census documents carefully - you can learn a lot from seeing how circumstances have changed from census to census. Wills are also a great source of information, as they often list family members and give details of possessions. If you know where your family lived, be sure to check out parish records and books on local history, too. As you can tell, I’ve enjoyed learning about the past!”

Have you been researching your family history? Do you have an interesting discovery to share? Email danielle.lett@archant.co.uk with your story.


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