One generation passeth away, and another generation
cometh: but the earth abideth for ever

Ask not of a person's descent,
but ask about his conduct

(Ecclesiastes 1, iv) (Buddhist saying from the Sundarikabharadvaja sutta)


This is the Home Page for my family history website. The website is intended to make the results of my genealogical and family history research available to my many cousins, to genealogists researching into connected families, and to historians who may be interested in particular individuals from my ancestry. The site is under continuing development, as my research progresses; a summary of recent activity is shown below, with a more comprehensive list of updates here.

The site basically contains four types of material:

The menu items in the panel on the left give access to index pages for these different types of material.

The best "entry points" for anyone wanting to explore the website are the pages respectively on my  father's ancestry and mother's ancestry, which contain brief accounts of the various families involved and give links to the relevant family trees and family history pages.

This page also has a few random thoughts and notes of my own, discussing miscellaneous matters more-or-less relevant to the study of family history:

John Mordaunt Barnard
Sheffield, UK
May 2021

About Me

John BarnardI am now retired from a 45-year scientific career involving software development and consultancy for chemical information systems, based on a first degree in Biochemistry from Birmingham University, and an MSc and PhD in Information Studies from Sheffield University. This gives me more time for active pursuit of a lifelong interest in my family's history and genealogy. When not doing that I can be found climbing up and skiing down mountains (pursuits which now extend over at least five generations on my father's side of the family) and I am also the Archivist for the Eagle Ski Club, which will soon celebrate its centenary. More sedately, I am a regular attender at classical orchestral and chamber music concerts and opera performances, and (the pandemic-disrupted 2020 season excepted) have spent part of each of the last fifty summers standing in the arena of the Royal Albert Hall at the Henry Wood Proms. Though originally from north London, I have lived for more than 40 years in Yorkshire, on the edge of the Peak District national park.

November 2023

Genealogical and Family History Interests

Family papersFrom a very early age I remember drawing and redrawing family trees of my immediate cousins, and the discovery of various reference works at Birmingham University library, giving pedigrees for the posher bits of my ancestry, further spurred my interest. A family friend, the genealogist and author David T. Hawkings, introduced me to the Society of Genealogists, which I joined in 1974, and whose library yielded more material of interest. Work and other leisure interests curtailed active research for some decades, though I continued to horde boxloads of family photographs and papers (some dating back more than 200 years); it is only since retiring that I have made any serious progress in sorting and cataloguing them.

I continue to enjoy laying out complicated family tree diagrams (they have something in common with metabolic pathways and complex chemical synthesis routes). But I believe that they are only the framework on which to hang information about the lives and social conditions of the individuals involved, the factors that influenced them, and their moves up and down the social scale over the generations.  I am fortunate in that I seem to have no shortage of interesting ancestors to work on, even if they do come from a fairly restricted background of middle-class professionals, with occasional links to the landed gentry and aristocracy, and are almost universally English. This does at least make them relatively easy to trace, though some of the most fascinating work is trying to expose the carefully concealed "skeletons in the cupboard". More recent generations have widened the social and national mix considerably and I have cousins with French, Dutch, German, Norwegian, mittel-Europäische Jewish, Mexican, Turkish and Chinese ancestry, to mention only a few.

At my traditional English "Public School" I was forced to decide at the age of 14 whether to specialise in the humanities or the sciences. There was never much doubt that I would, like my father, be a scientist, but this meant that I had to give up history. This was a pity in retrospect, as the history master was the eminent historian Alan Palmer (1926-2022) who continued publishing well into his nineties. My reawakened genealogical interests have encouraged me to learn more about the history of the periods in which my ancestors lived, and the events in which some of them participated. In short, to go back to some of the learning I missed out on fifty years ago, but with the added spur of looking at it from the point of view of my own forbears and relations. I hope that my scientific training has given me the ability to look critically at the evidence I find, and to avoid unquestioningly accepting lines of descent, or dates of birth, marriage and death, just because I find them on a genealogy website or on a bit of paper written by my grandfather, or even in the Victorian vanity publications of Sir Bernard Burke. I hope also that my training as an information scientist (really just a glorified librarian) has drummed into me the importance of recording sources and bibliographic references for every statement of fact.

Updated March 2022

Current and Recent Activity

There is a comprehensive log of changes and updates to the website; the following notes indicate the main areas in which I have recently been active:

November 2023

The Mystery of the Disappearing Surnames

As I have put together family trees for the various branches of my ancestry, and tried to trace all the descendants of my four sets of great-grandparents, I have been struck by the way in which several of their surnames have become extinct among my relatives, or are about to become so. 

The reason for this, of course, is the patriarchal inheritance of surnames (conventionally men pass their surnames to their children, but women do not), and the fact some men have no sons to pass their name on further, thus breaking the chain of inheritance. The resulting tendency of surnames to become extinct was first noticed in the 19th century by the geneticist Francis Galton (a cousin of Charles Darwin) and he and the mathematician Henry Watson published a paper about it in 1874, describing what has become known as a Galton-Watson process. Their approach included some slightly dubious assumptions, most particularly that the overall population remained static, and has been refined by more modern geneticists. This has shown that in a growing population, once a surname has achieved a "critical mass" its survival is essentially assured. An analysis of the 1920 US census data suggested that (for that population at that time) the probability of this was about 18% (i.e. about 82% of surnames would eventually disappear). The distribution of surnames in China (which has used patriarchially-inherited surnames, usually represented by a single character in the Chinese alphabet, for some thousands of years) illustrates the point well. In modern China 70% of the population share only 45 surnames, whereas historical records show much higher numbers of surnames (nearly 600 in AD 627, and 438 in AD 960). There's a more detailed (and more mathematical) discussion of all this given by Manrubia et al. (2003), and the Guild of One-Name Studies also has an extensive bibliography on the subject.

Of course the inheritance of surnames is purely a social convention, though the commonly-used patriarchal system has the interesting feature that it mirrors the inheritance of Y-chromosomal DNA (exclusively inherited by boys from their fathers - girls have no Y-chromosomal DNA). Replacing the convention by one of matriarchal inheritance would give exactly the same effect (and would mirror the inheritance of  mitochondrial DNA, which mothers pass on to all their children, but fathers do not pass on at all). Such conventions can change, and are changing as society perhaps becomes less patriarchal. Some couples now choose to give their sons the father's name, and their daughters the mother's, but even if it were widely adopted, this approach would be unlikely to reduce the surname extinction problem, as the survival of a "founding matriarch's" name would depend on a continuous line of daughters uninterrupted by sons, just as the survival of a founding patriarch's name depends on a continuous line of sons. A more appropriate way of encouraging the survival of both parents' surnames would be to alternate the surnames used for successive children in the same family, irrespective of their sex. Even more effective at reducing surname disappearance would be to prefer the names that are already less well represented on collateral branches of the family trees involved.

The reason why particular surnames survive, while others do not, is almost certainly pure chance. It is related to the probability of each individual having sons (and the number of those sons), which depends both on the number of children they have altogether and the ratio of sons to daughters. There have been suggestions that some families have a genetic bias one way or the other [Shetty, 2018], though this is complicated by the fact that couples may decide that their family is complete once they have at least one of each [Long and Zhang, 2020]. However, an analysis of the birth records of the entire Swedish population showed no genetic influence on the sex ratio (Zietsch et al., 2020).

Random occurrence of sons will result in greater or lesser numbers of individuals bearing a particular surname in succeeding generations. In any given generation, if there are plenty of males with the surname in question, it is more likely that some of them will have sons to pass the name on to the succeeding generations. On the other hand, if there are very few males with the surname, there is a much greater chance that all of them will either have no children at all, or will have only daughters, thus further reducing the number with the surname in the next generation, and eventually leading to its complete disappearance.

Inheritance of Barnard surnameThe various collateral branches of my Barnard relatives illustrate this quite well. My great-great-great-great-grandfather, Rev. Thomas Barnard (1720-1781), Rector of Withersfield, had five sons, three of whom went on to have children of their own. The descendants of one of them, Rev. Robert Barnard (1760-1834), Rector of Lighthorne, changed their name to Verney when one of them inherited, though Robert's wife, the ancient title of Baron Willoughby de Broke, which can pass through the female line (all of them are thus in remainder to to the title). Though they have continued in the male line through to the current Lord Willoughby de Broke, the change of surname means that I have not considered them in this context.

My own male-line branch descends from Rev. Thomas Barnard (c.1765-1799), Vicar of Great Amwell, but the number of male Barnards has gradually diminished in subsequent generations, with 5 sons, 3 grandsons, 3 great-grandsons, and just 2 great-great-grandsons, one of whom is myself. As I have no children, and my third cousin and exact namesake John Mordaunt Barnard (1887-1939) left only daughters, the Barnard name will disappear from this branch when my sister and I do (unless I emulate my great-grandfather and become a father in my seventies!).

In contrast, the number of male Barnards has increased in each successive generation of descendants of the eldest son of Thomas Barnard (Withersfield), Rev. Robert Cary Barnard (1758-1827), who succeeded his father as Rector of Withersfield. He had 6 sons, 9 grandsons, 10 great-grandsons, and (at the last count) 14 great-great-grandsons with the name Barnard. Whilst this might not yet have reached the "critical mass" needed to guarantee indefinite survival of the name, it certainly reduces the chance of its disappearing in the next few generations.

The disappearance of my mother's maiden name of James can be seen in the descendants of her great-grandfather Trevenen James, shown on the James/Coulson/Leah family tree. Though he had six sons, only one of them, George Coulson James (1828-1875) had children. His 3 sons between them left 5 male James's in the next generation. Of these, Harold and Eric had no children at all, Hilary did have 2 sons (though because he was not married to their mother, they did not have the James surname and, in any case, both died without issue), and my uncles Trev and Bob had only daughters. Thus the number of males with the surname James in each generation went from 6 to 3 to 5 to 0. Of course, there may still be male-line descendants of Trevenen James's elder brother Nicholas (1790-1858), who emigrated to Australia, but I have not systematically traced that branch.

E. Long and J. Zhang (2020) "The Coupon Collection Behavior in Human Reproduction", Current Biology 30 (19), 3856-3861;

S.C. Manrubia, B. Derrida and D.H. Zanette (2003), "Genealogy in the Era of Genomics", American Scientist, 91 (2), 158-165;

N.K. Shetty (2018), "Inheritance of Chromosomes, Sex Determination, and the Human Genome: A New Paradigm", Gender and the Genome 2 (1), 16-26;

B.P. Zietsch, H. Walum, P. Lichtenstein, K.J.H. Verweij and R. Kuja-Halkola (2020), "No genetic contribution to variation in human offspring sex ratio: a total population study of 4.7 million births", Proceedings of the Royal Society B287: 20192849 ;

Copyright © May 2021