Inquiring readers, One of the benefits of overseeing a long-lasting blog is the number of Jane Austen aficionados one meets via email and online. Ronald Dunning, a descendant of Jane Austen’s brother, Francis, recently emailed me to discuss his new genealogy site and Jane Austen family website. After I visited the sites and read Deb Barnum’s excellent post on the topic at Jane Austen in Vermont, I invited Mr. Dunning to explain how he managed to fill in so many members on his family tree. When all was said and done, what excited me most was when I saw the resemblance between Mr. Dunning and his illustrious ancestor. The Austens do indeed live on. Enjoy!
Hi Vic! I’m a 4th-great-grandson of Frank Austen, and a committed genealogist. I’ve been working for quite a few years on an extended and inclusive genealogy of the Austen family, which can be seen at RootsWeb: http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~janeausten. It’s an ongoing project, subject to addition and revision, but has reached an advanced state of maturity. Various writers on the Austen family in England and the US have used it, and I’ve even found it cited as a reference source for biographies at Wikipedia.
I’ve just posted a new website dedicated to Jane Austen’s Family, which was announced to the public at last week’s JAS AGM. The address is www.janeaustensfamily.co.uk. The first content is Joan Corder’s “Akin to Jane” – a 1953 manuscript listing as many descendants of George and Cassandra Austen as the author could find. Joan recorded something like 320 descendants of George and Cassandra Austen, which is very good going for 1953. The biographical detail in the manuscript makes it invaluable. She could never find a publisher and the book exists only in a couple of manuscript copies, one of which is at the Jane Austen’s House Museum at Chawton. When I first began working on the site, I wasn’t sure whether it would interest anyone – I was simply driven on by my obsession with family history – but it’s been well received, to my delight. The Museum is pleased that they can now retire Joan Corder’s fragile original.
With the benefit of modern genealogical facilities, I’ve increased the tally from 320 to over 1200 – all of whom are to be found on my RootsWeb site. I have to admit that I have included very little anecdotal information, it is mainly genealogy; and all details except the surname are withheld for anyone born after 1915, though I have them on my computer database.
You asked for an anecdotal example for Jane Austen’s World readers that would flesh out the details of my research. I immediately thought of James Brydges, 8th Baron Chandos of Sudeley and Elizabeth Barnard – Cassandra Leigh’s great-grandparents. Cassandra was of course Jane Austen’s mother.
Hearing Miss Barnard was engaged to a party with a fashionable conjuror, who showed the ladies their future husbands in a glass, he by a proper application to the cunning man beforehand, and by a proper position at the time, was exhibited in the glass to Miss Barnard: clapping her hands she cried, ‘Then Mr. Bridges is my destination, and such he shall be.’”
This lovely anecdote was recorded in a footnote, in The Complete Peerage,under the entry for James Brydges, the 8th Lord Chandos of Sudeley. The lady in question, Elizabeth Barnard, did become his wife. Elizabeth’s father Sir Henry Barnard was a “Turkey merchant,” a trader whose business interest was in importing from Constantinople. Her husband James Brydges was himself the Ambassador of the “Turkey Company” (properly the Levant Company) in Constantinople from 1680 to 1686.
Elizabeth gave birth to twenty-two children. We are familiar with the mortal threat to women’s lives from childrearing – three of Jane Austens’ sisters-in-law suffered that fate. Elizabeth survived her twenty-two deliveries and lived to the age of 77. Not all of her children fared so well – only fifteen were baptized, and of those, three sons and five daughters survived infancy. This was far from unusual – Antonia Fraser, in her study of 17th-century woman, The Weaker Sex, stated that it was normal for only a third of children born to a large family to survive. Their eldest child, Mary Bridges, was one of the survivors. The link to Jane Austen can now be traced within a few generations. Mary married Theophilus Leigh; they were Cassandra Leigh’s paternal grandparents and the parents of Theophilus Leigh, who served as Master of Balliol College in Oxford from 1726 until his death in 1785. Theophilus Jr.’s brother Thomas Leigh married Jane Walker, and they were Cassandra Leigh’s parents. Cassandra, who married George Austen, gave birth to eight children, including Jane Austen in 1775. (And she too survived to a ripe old age, outliving her daughter Jane by 10 years.)
I hope you enjoyed this small sampling of the information that my sites offer about Jane Austen’s family. Deb Barnum from Jane Austen in Vermont has interviewed me, and written a very thorough review and detailed explanation of how to find information on the sites.
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