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The New Genealogy

by Rex Kissack

According to the Manx Sun of July 30h 1859, Paul Bridson, Esq,. Hon. Secretary of the recently formed Manx Society, had attended a meeting of the Genealogical & Historical Society of Great Britain (founded 1854). There he had been appointed Local Corresponding Associate for the Isle of Man, and 'would have much pleasure in receiving from time to time any communications of a genealogical or historical nature connected therewith, which may be considered of interest to the society;, which, it was explained, consisted of members of the nobility, gentry and clergy. Understandably there was no great response from an Island society, unpretentious and innocent of hereditary titles.

Some 80 years later the Isle of Man Family History Society was formed of a membership which bears few connections with nobility, gentry or clergy, and as such it is largely of a piece with those other like societies that had sprung up all over the country in the preceding decade. For the specific mark of what I might call the New Genealogy is that it is a proletarian movement, aptly symbolised by Alex Haley's unearthing of the lineage of a slave family in America.

That is a far cry from the Genealogy of 1854, fruiting as it is has in illuminated copperplate vellum Trees in which the hand of the topiarist is all too obvious, and where branches whose fruits were not to taste have been pruned out and expurgated. Is it significant that 'Roots' and 'Kitchen Sink' drama had a contemporaneous origin? The New Genealogy is stark and realist. A concern for warts and all turns out to be the trail not of the elite, but of the Anti-Hero.

The new Proletarian Genealogy has still to articulate its own philosophy. For its motivation cannot be identical with that of the gentry and nobility of a century past, the uncovering of illustrious descent. Of course the common man can go in quest just with the elitist interest in discovering that he is not so proletarian after all. That is one way of reacting to a contemporary social patten that constantly impresses on the individual that he has no particular identity in the mass. Yet this could turn out to be a merely modern variation of the age old romantic fantasy of the nameless youth's wanderings in search of family and fortune. Indeed if his only interest is this romantic one of finding a strain of nobility, he is likely to be disappointed very soon, and the new genealogical boom will fade away. And if he does indeed find nobility, his researches run an ultimate risk of becoming just a form of narcissism.

It is to be hoped that the New Genealogy will evoke not just a new realism, but also awareness and appreciation of a social and communcal dimension in its interest. Whatever he finds, the search is an end in itself, and a facet of the instinctive urge to self-understanding, through understanding the social forces that have made him what he is. There are psychologists today who tell a man he is only the multiplication of his parents' faults. Is he to believe it? And what a compound equation genealogy makes of that thesis! And if it is not true, he will be a better master of his fate by knowing more about the stuff he has to work on.

I am convinced that if this new interest in genealogy needs this sort of social motivation to sustain it, it must be a study of more than Me and Mine. So I make my study that of Us and Ours - a survey not of one personal individual line, but of the spread of a Clan, perhaps the least among the tribes of Man, with Man itself an insignificant spot of earth. Yet if it was worthwhile to write the Diary of a Nobody it may be of use to look at a Clan of Nobodies. Only in an isolated community is it possible to cover up to 10 generations of a family and some 400 households, as well as to see what pictures such a family group can display across the years, when for quite two-thirds of the time hardly any of its members were literate, and never left a written line of their own.

I have always thought of the seven years research that issues in this book as Human Archaeology - retrieving out of the soil of our Manx past evidences of homes and people who have become as thought they had never been born.

And the imagery of Ezekiel fitted its results so perfectly. A Clan unearthed through historic records emerges indeed as a Valley of Dry Bones. First they must come together to produce (besides the inevitable family skeleton) the Skeleton of the Family. Next the bones need to be clothed in sinew and flesh. But to make them into a book calls for superhuman and perhaps impossible effort to breathe life and spirit into the whole.

The first part of this work is what I call a Gazeteer. It collects out of the registers of some 300 years single families as household units, appended to which are any details of abode or trade as may be to hand. In order to articulate them into the Family-whole, each unit - let me call it a cartouche - bears a reference number. In the early centuries these are based on the 17 Manx parishes. When civil registration was established about 1880, teh basis becomes four areas North, South, East and West. The parishes however neatly fall into these groups, and so throughout we follow the pattern of fourfold division centred on Ramsey (N), Peel (W), Castletown (S) and Douglas (E).

A cartouche, then, consists of a two letter symbol denoting the parish or registration area, plus a Roman numeral. eg BaXX (Braddan XX) or NcX (Northern Register, Book C). These symbols are also used in the text of the second part.

In a more perfect work the series of these references would be numbered precisely. But the discovery from time to time of doublets, or the occasional later identification as one of what had seemed two different individuals, has led to gaps in the enumeration. Nor has justice been done to the mobility of families, and some may be listed under parishes with which they may have only minimal connection. Every individual however is indeed by year of birth and family cartouche reference.

The cartouches are linked by reference symbols. Wherever it seems a reasonable identification, the head of the family on the cartouche bears the reference number of the cartouche on which he appears among the sons. And there under his name should appear the reference of the household he himself heads. Where no issue of the marriage is traceable, the name of his wife, if known, is put under his name in place of a cartouche reference. The same applies to the marriages of daughters of the family, if known.

Over the last century when we have the guidance of full civil registration, there is an almost 100% certainty in linkages, but naturally this accuracy declines with increasing steepness the further back we go. The local parish register suffer from all the vicissitudes of human clerical error and idiosyncrasy, and the profusion of namesakes create problems of identity often to be solved only by sheer serendipity.

As in less developed countries today, the majority of people neither knew nor cared about their exact age. Possibly they knew their birthdays, but if it should become important to know their precise age they would 'go to he vicar'. There are numerous little subtraction sums sketched in the margins of baptismal registers, when the vicar had such queries to answer. In lawsuits too, the reliability of the completeness of the clergy's records are at times called into serious question.

A dispute about the legitimacy of a claim for tithes in Lezayre in 1774 turned on the reliability of the records left by Matthias Curghey, an earlier vicar. Robert Kissage testified how he had asked the current vicar for details of his daughter;s baptism some 20 years before in Curphey's day. But no record could be found. Michael Kissage, in his duty of supervising the just distribution of servant labour in the parish, and needing evidence from the same period to settle a dispute over a girls' true age, had had the same experience, and had to resort to consulting the memories of the women of the parish.

Similar lapses can be detected due to the occasional suspension of the clergy under accusation of immoral relations with their servant maids. Whether by malice or not, it was, for instance, found that a so-circumstanced vicar 'had totally neglected to insert the names of all the infants whom he had baptised since the year 1789 to Easter 1803'. They held accordingly a general meeting of parishioners and parents in October 1803 to try and reconstruct the register. There are even greater lacunae in other parishes, notably in Lonan and Marown.

Probability then must be our criterion, and every suggested linkage is open to reassessment. I have indicated by a single letter in the bottom left hand corner the degree of probability that the father in the cartouche is the son in the appropriate reference.

  • A Indicates Assumption, based usually on considerations of age and residence
  • C denotes Corroboration by some other factor
  • D implies Documentary evidence
  • ? indicates presence of negative factors
  • in many cases no suggestion presents itself.

 

Some dozen cartouches of the present century of illegitimate births have been omitted.

The Gazetteer is a pioneer's map, a series of genealogical propositions to be tested, but able nevertheless to indicate with confidence the general configuration of the Family's development within the bounds of known history.

The second part of the book tries to put flesh and sinew on the bare bones, and so to sketch a composite picture of the sort of people we were, and reveal what sort of a figure bearers of the name Kissack have cut in Manx history,as well as to peer out into the wider world and catch some glimpse of them after they left the island. These off-the-island branches I call "Transmarians".

Here then are the reference symbols:

NORTH SOUTH
Andreas An Rushen Ru
Bride Bi Arbory Ar
Jurby Ju or JY Malew Ma or Ml
Lezayre Lz Santon Sa
Ramsey Ry
Maughold Mg EAST
Dhoon Dh Braddan Ba
Registry Nc and Nc Douglas Churches Dm
Onchan On
WEST Marown Mr
Michael Mi Douglas registry Dr
German Gr
Patrick Pa Transmarian Tra
Ballaugh not in use

 

In the interests of readers unfamiliar with the Island a general description of the Island and its ways, seen through the eyes of visitors who have written of it during the last three or four centuries, is inserted at the beginning of the second part.

Finally, I acknowledge that the publication of this family history has been made possible only through the supportive interest and generosity of members of my own family, especially James Morrison Kissack, and of the Manx Heritage Foundation.

I also acknowledge the gracious permission of the following to use illustrations:
The Manx Museum (Nos 8, 17 ,18, 24 and frontispiece)
Mrs Mary Pallister of Crosby (Nos 4 and 14)
Mr & Mrs R Hendrick of Wisconsin (Nos 21 and 22)
and the following Kissacks:
Helen of the Wirral (No 9)
Mabel of Warrington (No 16)
Keith of Monmouth (No 15)
William of Santon (No 12)

But above all I put the contribution of my wife, Elizabeth, true helpmate and fellow labourer.

Rex Kissack


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