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Genealogy: A jigsaw puzzle with 10,000 names

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Last in a series

There’s a gap in John Eveleigh’s genealogy of about 400 years. That covers the time between 1066 when an archer named d’Heverle landed in England with William the Conqueror and the mid-1400s when written records began to be kept by parish churches.

The village of Eveleigh is among those included in the Domesday Book, a survey of William’s land and tenants made in 1085 that is England’s earliest public record. “We’re named after the town and the town is named after a person,” Eveleigh said.

He admits there is no way to bridge the gap. The records just don’t exist. But there are other Eveleighs out there – not to mention Eveleghs, Eveleths, Eveleys and Evelys – generations that are descended from the archer. And John Eveleigh is tracking them down.

A Hagley resident today, Eveleigh grew up in Southwick, a town on the English Channel just outside Brighton. He became a scientist and invented a machine to sequence proteins. He worked in government research in the U.K. before coming to the U.S. to work in private industry and at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Genetics was as close as he came to genealogy.

“I wasn’t interested in genealogy at all,” he said.

But on a visit home in 1984, his father mentioned that the Eveleigh family started in a village in Devon in the west of England. He mentioned the name, too: Clyst St. Lawrence.

“This is the spooky bit,” Eveleigh said.

He and his wife, Janet, were driving along the M5 motorway that runs through Devon before ending on the coast at Exeter. They saw a sign for Clyst St. Lawrence and turned off. They found the village church. In the aisle was a stone that read “John Eveleigh, 1614.”

And in walked a farmer who was decorating for a church festival. He lived in “the old Eveleigh house,” he said. He took the visitors to see the thatched-roof farmhouse and handed John a chart of the family pedigree created by an Aldridge Eveleigh in 1965.

“Who wouldn’t get started in genealogy?” Eveleigh asked. “I started chasing my own family.”

That should have been easy, because his father told him that family tradition held that the eldest son was always named John.

“Don’t listen to old people,” Eveleigh said. He found that his grandfather, who died the year he was born, was named Richard John Eveleigh. He spent 15 years researching his family.

“It’s like a jigsaw. You start with the edges and then fill it in,” he said.

He hired a genealogist named Smith to do the traveling in England while he was in the U.S. If your name is Smith or Jones, “you just give up,” Eveleigh said. “These people have a very hard task.”

He and his wife also visited churches themselves, compiling information. Genealogy takes luck, Eveleigh said, but there’s a little more to it.

“Strange coincidences,” he said. “The book will fall open – as though beckoning.”

He never connected his line with the Aldridge Eveleigh chart. The last Eveleigh to live in Clyst St. Lawrence departed in the 1600s after ending up on the losing side in the English Civil War. Some of the family ended up in Charleston.

The Eveleighs ended up in Pawleys Island because John retired from DuPont in Boston. Their house sold in a day so they packed a motor home and headed south. They got as far as Huntington Beach State Park and decided to buy a house.

In retirement, Eveleigh expanded his genealogical efforts to include everyone that shares the surname and its various spellings. He has found 82 variations. “They couldn’t spell very well in the 16th and 17th centuries,” he said. “They can’t spell very well today.”

He is a member of the Guild of One-Name Studies, which sounds like it could be located in the same building as the Ministry of Silly Walks, particularly when Eveleigh explains that they are better known by the acronym GOONS. But it’s serious stuff.

If genealogy is a jigsaw puzzle, one-name studies is for the “jigsaw fanatic, the upside down, 5,000-piece puzzle.”

Eveleigh has 10,000 names in his database, arranged in 27 groups that he is still trying to connect somewhere in the 1600s.

The computer is an essential tool. Eveleigh has worked with them since the 1960s and says he was fortunate to start using the Macintosh in 1984 while at DuPont. He started a genealogy group as part of the Waccamaw Neck Computer Club to help teach people how to use computers in their research. It meets the third Monday of each month at the Waccamaw Library.

He uses the spreadsheet developed by OpenOffice, an open source software suite, to help sort through his collection of Eveleighs. He’s been able to identify family members by the process of elimination.

Genealogy has become popular, he said, because people are looking for connections. “We like to think we’re a tribe,” he said. “A lot of people are interested in the past. Perhaps because they’re disenchanted with the present.”

But perhaps there’s something else, something Eveleigh wrote about in a poem inspired by his discovery in the church at St. Lawrence Clyst. This is how it ends:

Down through the years, or so it seems,

Strong vibrations make their way,

Playing songs with old familiar themes,

Tuning still, ancestral chords of DNA.

Take heed and listen to these Sirens call,

This town, this street is not the same,

For there, behind the churchyard wall,

Waits a ghost or two that bear your name! Read more: In the previous article in the series, Bill Shehan finds a family he never knew existed. Click to read.

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