I started The Rainbow Orchid in 1996/97 before it saw small-press publication in BAM! (Bulldog Adventure Magazine) in 2002. In 2005 I started colouring the strips and posting them online. One thing lead to another, which lead to getting an agent, which lead to several publishers showing interest, and eventually to publication through Tintin's UK publisher, Egmont.
Not content with one, I had two book launches in August 2009 - an 'industry' one at Foyles in London (I was super ill, but managed to survive the evening) and a local one at East Grinstead's Bookshop. The support and love shown for the book at these and subsequent events was wonderful, and has continued throughout the life of the book - an aspect I find pretty humbling and feel enormously lucky about.
At the end of 2009 I wrote up a little overview of how the book had been received, with some thoughts on the UK comic industry of the time (a lot has changed since then). I was privileged to have a number of lovely and enthusiastic people working with me on the book, and in 2010, around the time volume 2 was published, I interviewed several of them about their roles in publishing (agent, commissioning editor, editor, designer, and press officer).
In July 2010 I was able to announce the first foreign language edition of The Rainbow Orchid, in Dutch from Silvester Strips. This would be the first of a handful - with Spanish in 2012, French and German in 2013, and Danish in 2015. A contract was also agreed and signed for a Bengali edition, but sadly the book never materialised.
These European editions lead to me travelling to my first comic shows abroad - twice to Holland, twice to France, twice to Denmark, once to Austria, and four times to Germany. Of course I also attended a good number of UK comic shows and most of the big literary and book festivals - which were wonderful. (I won't mention specific shows, but all my reports are linked here.)
Not every event I did was a roaring success - I did a fair number of school events (not listed), some were fantastic and some I couldn't wait to get out of there! I turned up to one bookshop event to find none of my books on display, no promotion, and, perhaps not surprisingly, just one person turned up to my talk at the end of the afternoon. At another I found my audience was largely 5 and 6 year-olds - too young for my book really - and a table of cakes and fizzy drinks had been set up right next to them. That was memorable! At the other end of the spectrum I found an audience full of serious-looking twenty-somethings, obviously expecting the 'graphic novel' workshop they were attending to feature more darkness and grittiness, and less how to make a fun story out of the surprise novelty items I'd placed into a pillow case and reciting my 'Adventurer's Oath'. We got through it!
One of my favourite events was at my second Edinburgh Festival, jamming and drawing stories with Nick Sharratt and Vivian French inspired by audience suggestions. One of the most memorable was travelling on my own to Angouleme, getting to stay in the grounds of a misty 14th century castle and having a series of more and more delicious meals. I spent time with some incredible comic creators from the UK and Europe, I had dinner with Tom Gauld, Kerascoet and Boulet, discussed blues with Francois Walthery, had a one-to-one director's commentary on Franka from Henk Kuijpers, signed a stack of books for an hour with Posy Simmonds, walked around Angouleme with Eric Heuvel and Vano, and have generally met more lovely people than in any other walk of life.
Sketching in books at shows was something I had to get to grips with quite quickly - I was very rarely pleased with the drawings I produced, but I did slowly get a little better as I went along. At festivals such as Hay and Edinburgh I may have had shorter lines than the big-name authors next to me, but when they'd finished, I was still signing - a sketch in every book!
I had some unusual requests, especially in Europe. Could I draw Evelyn in the nude? (No!). Please draw Julius flying an aeroplane, Julius riding a snow leopard, please redraw this panel here, these two characters fighting, full-length, etc. etc. I usually declined and got them to compromise with something smaller - or my publisher would step in, saying "portraits only!".
In 2012 the complete edition of RO was published - by this time Egmont may have been running out of steam on it, budgets were dwindling, sales were slowing, and I think I was feeling a bit tired of it by now too. There were still some nice things to come - including blistering sales at that year's Thought Bubble and a British Comics Award the following year.
To this day I have still not read The Rainbow Orchid all the way through from beginning to end. While I'm proud of it overall, some of it makes me wince and it's still the bits I'm least happy with that stand out to me when I look at it.
Having said that, my six-year old son just picked it off my bookshelf and asked for it be his bed-time book. I tried to dissuade him, but he insisted, so I am currently reading it to him, a few pages at a time. One thing I will say - the dialogue reads rather well out loud, and it's one book where I can be sure of getting the voices more or less right!
The French edition (L'Expédition Perdue) is published by Nuts! Publishing and the Polish version (Zaginiona Ekspedycja) comes from All In Games. A Chinese version from Yihu BG is also available - or soon to be, I'm not sure - I've seen a cover but haven't yet seen any sign of a physical copy.
The game itself is largely visual and doesn't require much in the way of translation except for the rulebook, of course. Besides the above repackagings you can find a number of downloadable rules translations at Boardgame Geek, including Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Hungarian, and Russian.
There are degrees of fame, of course, and not all of it the good type. So I can say I'm related to a murderer or two as well as a couple of murder victims (separate cases), a dodgy priest who was uncovered by the Boston Globe, a well-respected Victorian army piper, and a number of local worthies and 'characters'. However, while it's quite often the smaller stories and individuals I find truly interesting, there are a handful of modern 'celebrities', more widely known, that I share some DNA with. They are by no means close relationships but I can say where they sit on my family tree, so I thought it might be fun to have a look at them.
The first is Chris Farley, probably most famous for his time on NBC's Saturday Night Live during the early 1990s where he performed alongside fellow cast members such as Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, Mike Meyers and Julia Sweeney. He also appeared in a handful of films, including Wayne's World and Coneheads. Farley had a number of similarities to one of his heroes, another SNL regular, John Belushi, and unfortunately that included an addictive personality - he died from a drug-induced overdose in 1997, aged just 33 years old (the same age and cause as Belushi, 15 years earlier).
Chris Farley (and his brothers, two of whom are also involved in the entertainment industry) is descended from the Henderson family who emigrated from Scotland to the US in the 1850s, becoming early settlers in some of the outpost communities of Wisconsin and Minnesota. Our common ancestors are James Ewing and Helen Clark (my 5xg-grandparents, his 4xg-grandparents), making Chris Farley my fifth cousin once removed.
Next on my list is the Queen of Brit-Art, Tracey Emin. I'd suspected we were related when I watched her 2011 episode of Who Do You Think You Are? where it was revealed she was descended from Midland Gypsies with the name Hodgkins, though hers came chiefly from Warwickshire, and mine from neighbouring Staffordshire.
At first I discovered that distant branches of our families did marry (through a very convoluted link) but it wasn't until a few key DNA matches appeared that I was able to confirm her as a blood relative and place her, fairly confidently, on the family tree. Our common ancestors are unknown, but it is highly likely that her 5xg-grandfather, Edward Hodgkins, is the brother of my 5xg-grandfather, Thomas Hodgkins, making us 7th cousins.
Finally, back to Scotland and late 1805 where a ship's carpenter, James Horsburgh, had a bit of a dalliance with the twenty-year old daughter of a local land labourer, producing a son out of wedlock. The son was named after the father but did not follow him to Dundee, where a new wife gave him several more children, this time 'legitimate'.
These Dundee Horsburghs prospered quite nicely throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century, and they were joined in the city some 50 or 60 years later by a separate Horsburgh branch - actually the descendants of the 'illegitimate' James Horsburgh, though whether the two branches were ever aware of their half-cousin status after so long can't be known (unlikely).
This later Dundee branch are my ancestors and were responsible for a number of carting and contracting businesses within the city. The earlier Dundee Horsburghs are the ancestors of one Glasgow-born James William Somerville, also known as Jimmy, and the face and voice of famous 80s synthpop bands Bronski Beat and the Communards. Our shared ancestor is James Horsburgh (my 5xg-grandfather, his 4xg-grandfather) and that makes Jimmy Somerville my half-5th cousin once removed. (Sidenote: my wife's uncle, Royston Edwards, designed much of the sleeve and logo artwork for the Communards).
As you can see, these aren't close relations and I just happened to discover them while climbing down some of the outer branches of my tree. There are probably others not yet discovered, and you'll likely have some too at this range where we have thousands of relatives spreading out from our common ancestors. I have been involved in a bit of acting, I've been in a band, and I work as an illustrator, so next time someone asks if acting or music or art runs in the family, I can answer, "well, as it happens ...".
"Will there EVER be another Julius Chancer graphic novel? We have been waiting for more than five years. I hope that you realize that it won't be long before your readers turn their attention elsewhere. Tintin has stopped the production of new stories, but there are 24 of them. Blake and Mortimer, ever since the title was revived, have come up with a new story every six months to a year. The Rainbow Orchid is too good to let die. Surely, the fertile brain that concocted that story has not run dry."
My stock answer to questions about an Orchid follow-up has been to say that the next story is plotted, partially scripted, and I've started the drawing - all true, but it doesn't really tell you much. So, I'll answer the points in the email above and, hopefully, shed some light.
Will there ever be another Julius Chancer comic? The real answer to that is that I have no idea. I always intended to do another and, as mentioned, I have started one. Since publication of the collected edition I have run hot and cold with the idea - sometimes feeling enthusiastic about it, and at other times thinking I should move on to something different. In the past year I increasingly felt I should abandon Julius Chancer and do something entirely new. The Rainbow Orchid was a big effort, wasn't quite as good as I wanted it to be, and the rewards have been mixed (though I hugely enjoyed the experience and I'm very grateful for all the appreciation it still gets).
To compound my recent feelings, last year I became very disillusioned with illustration and came to the brink of giving up on it. I'd thought about it before, when work was scarce (sometimes), or badly paid (nearly always), or if I was stuck in a particularly bad project (quite rare) - but it never felt serious and I didn't like the idea. But last year I felt absolutely fine about the possibility of leaving the profession and finding something new.
Even though I'm almost 50, it didn't feel like a mid-life crisis, I don't think I'm that sort of person. It felt calm and right. I went on holiday with my family and took all my Tardi albums to read (bliss!). I started getting new ideas about a different kind of work and perhaps some sort of comics hobby I could do that would free me from the pressure of perfection that ligne claire brings with it - it can be kind of exhausting.
After the holiday I left it at that and waited to see what might turn up. Soon enough a few bits of work came my way - I needed the money so said yes to them. Then more work came and my schedule was suddenly overloaded - and I enjoyed it. Illustration pulled me back in, and it felt fine.
In the past few months I looked again at what I'd done for the new Julius Chancer adventure and felt pretty positive about it. The story is good - more original than Orchid (which was very much an homage to books such as Allan Quatermain) - and my art has improved a lot, I think, since the last story.
The current position is this: I want to continue it, but I can't devote a lot of time to it as it doesn't earn me any money and I do need to make a living. So I'll do it as and when I can. It's likely to take a number of years to complete (though I will start putting it online at some point before that), and there's always the possibility it will not get finished at all (but I hope that's not the case - I like the ending).
As the email above says - do I realise my readers will turn their attention elsewhere? Oh, yes, I'm very aware of that, and there's no doubt that has already happened. I'm very grateful to have had any readers at all, but I don't owe them anything more, and they don't me any allegiance. I have no publishing contract, no deadline, and no pressure.
What about Tintin and Blake and Mortimer? Well, Tintin earned its creator a lot of money and he had a full-time studio working with him on his books. As for Blake and Mortimer, they are a star property in Europe selling well over 400,000 copies in France alone and the characters' new creators are handsomely paid for such a high profile project. I'm in a very different situation. I took a drop in paying work while doing The Rainbow Orchid for Egmont, and even with the foreign editions it wasn't enough to make a living. It took me quite a while to rebuild my illustration business afterwards - it's not something I can easily decide to do again, especially with two young children who have since come along.
While I'm here, the following is an example of another email I get fairly regularly ...
"My children are really enjoying the first two volumes of The Rainbow Orchid. They have read and re-read them countless times. The artwork is beautiful and the plot is engaging. They now want to find out how the story ends! Unfortunately we can not find the third volume for sale anywhere except at prohibitively expensive prices. We were wondering if there was a reprinting planned sometime in the future?"
From what I remember, and I might not be totally right on this, volumes one and two sold out their first print run and were reprinted not long before the collected edition was released - which may not have been the best timing. Volume three was released around the same time, so it didn't really get much traction. Whether it eventually sold out, or just stopped selling and was pulped or is hiding in a warehouse somewhere, I don't know. Resellers on Amazon sometimes seem to have copies available, and I think it appears on ebay every now and then. It won't be reprinted in book form and the digital editions were discontinued (that's another story!).
So, short version - Julius isn't dead, but don't worry about him for now and he'll make his reappearance when the time comes - whenever that may be.
It was a challenging but really fun job - a somewhat surreal city scene throwing together a regular town, a food market, and various giant food and drink products as part of the architecture. And I was very lucky indeed to be asked to follow up that first commission with illustrations for the subsequent 2018 and 2019 awards.
Here are the finished illustrations and a few of the working sketches (you can perhaps see I got a bit more confident and ambitious with each year!).
I also illustrated the covers (plus some internal art) for the accompanying Great Taste Books, distributed to over 245,000 retailers and celebrating that year's award winners.
The war had been a hammer swinging wildly into the families of those who were sent to fight, reshaping and defining them for generations to come. The children of the 1850s and 60s grew up with a vision of the British forces as lords of India, heroes of Africa, explorers and defenders of the Great Empire - well, that was the Boys' Own version, anyway. Victorian campaigns would see a handful of British casualties to show for a battle, ten or twenty, maybe a few hundred for a disaster such as Isandlwana or Maiwand. The Boer campaign gave a hint of what was to come, but still nothing could have prepared that generation for what they would be sending their own children into when the ego of Empire boiled over in 1914: banks of machine guns, barrages of shells that fell like rain, gas, snipers, mud, and the sharp end of a bayonet. Twenty-thousand British soldiers were killed on the first day of the Somme alone - industrialised death.
By its end twenty million young lives had been wiped from the face of the Earth, with the roughly 900,000 British dead immortalised in stone monuments in almost every town and village across the land - 205 names are engraved into the memorial on the High Street of my own home town.
A big part of my family history research over the past nearly 20 years has been researching those who served in the 'Great War', and I've currently identified almost 100 individuals within my wider family, many of whom were injured, a handful captured as prisoners of war, and 28 who lost their lives.
For me, it was my great-grandparents' generation who were tipped into the calamity of the conflict. Of my four great-grandfathers only two actually served. My grandfathers' fathers were a teacher and a coal miner, reserved occupations, and they lived on into their 70s. My grandmothers' fathers both joined up: Peter Cameron into the Royal Army Service Corps in December 1915, and Charles Hodgkins into the 4th North Staffordshire Regiment in September 1914. They both survived the war, but died young in the 1920s.
Peter died aged 41, in 1923, after a botched operation on a gastric ulcer. My Gran was just nine when she lost her father. At the time of his passing none of the family knew that another child was on the way, born almost exactly nine months later. Charles died in 1925, aged 34, the day before his little girl's (my Grannie) sixth birthday. The story that came through the family was that he had been gassed during his time in the Dardanelles and had never fully recovered, but my subsequent research revealed something different - gas was not used on the Turkish peninsula, and while it was a respiratory condition - pleurisy and pneumonia - that sent him back home in 1915, it was septicaemia from an oral infection that eventually ended his life.
Most of us are here today because our own forebears survived - only seven out of the 28 fatalities on my family memorial had children - but we all have tales of a much-loved uncle who never came back. Charles' younger brother survived the war, and he had three sisters, one of which, Lottie, married into a family where all seven brothers served, two of whom were killed. A first cousin with the same name, Charles Hodgkins, was killed at Ypres.
Peter Cameron had three first cousins killed in the war, in May, June and December 1916 - each the son of three brothers. Of his own brothers, Peter had three who served - all survived, though one was a prisoner of war in Germany for nine months, and another was severely injured by bullets to the chest and shoulder (he had no children and family lore connected this with his injuries, but I don't know if that's true).
Another family devastated by the war was that of my gg-grandfather, Andrew Phillip. He lost his youngest son to a shell while another was poisoned in a gas attack - but survived. His eldest daughter lost two sons and his eldest son lost one. His older brother lost a grandson - one of four to serve from that family. The stories could go on to fill a book, and there will be yet more to uncover as I continue my research.
As a child growing up the 1970s, it was the Second World War that was closer to home - my parents were born in the middle of it and my grandparents lived through it. I consumed its story through comics and films, and played it out in the school playground and with dolls, plastic soldiers and model aircraft. The family stories of the First World War were barely there at all - whispers, mangled truths, guesses and rumours inferred from the silence of a shell-shocked generation that was fading out of sight.
It was an old Edwardian postcard album that ignited my interest in family history - here were faces I didn't know, many in uniform, the wives and sisters and mothers, postcards that pleaded 'remember me', 'thinking of you' and 'until we meet again'. The emotion, sadness and hope that flooded down through the decades was palpable and helped fuel my drive to understand the effect this scar of history had on the lives of my ancestors.
But if it wasn't for the First World War, I might not be here at all. Great-grandfather Charles, having been sent away from the trenches of Gallipoli, ended up at Whittington Barracks hospital near Lichfield where my great-grandmother, a local farm girl, delivered eggs to the recovering soldiers. Here they met, fell in love and married, and two children, nine grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren, and even more great-great-grandchildren have been the result.
On this 100th anniversary of the Armistice, here's to the memory of those who were sent to fight - on both sides, from all nations; those who came back and those who didn't; to the parents who had to send their children and then read the casualty lists in the local paper and dread the clatter of the letter box every morning; to the sisters, wives and sweethearts who lived on; and to the children who wondered at the dark silences of their parents and grandparents, only to find the answer by being sent to fight in the next world war - hopefully the last generation to have to do so, despite the simmering waters of nationalism and isolationism that threaten to bubble up once more.
Walter is a fairly recent discovery - I'm currently writing the story of my Ewing family (it's turning into something of an epic) where some new research lead me to discover one of my 5xg-grandfather's sisters, previously thought lost, was actually widowed at the start of the 1850s and then emigrated, with her children, to America. While she probably died in Wisconsin sometime in the 1860s, two of her sons moved on to Minnesota and settled and had family there. The grandson of one of these Minnesota pioneers was Walter Henderson.
He was born near Spicer in Kandiyohi County in 1892. After school and some farm work, he ended up in Montana working for the Home Lumber Company, and in September 1917, six months after the US entered the Great War, he volunteered and was assigned to the 362nd Infantry, 91st Division, at Camp Lewis. On Christmas Eve of that year he married, in Washington but to a Spicer girl, and in June, by now a Corporal, he was mobilised with Europe as his destination (his troop train actually passed through Willmar, Kandiyohi, and he was able to see his family again, briefly, before he left).
Walter arrived in England in July 1918, and after a short while they were off to France where they spent their first few weeks in the battle-torn country training for what was to come. What was to come turned out to be hot battle - St Mihiel, where 300 Americans were lost, and then, constantly under the threat of German planes and gas, on to the Argonne and Epinonville. On the 29th September the Division found itself in action at Gesnes, battling enemy soldiers holding the Kriemhilde Line. It was here that Walter lost his life - he was last seen scouting ahead of a ridge occupied by his company.
Walter's grave, along with over 14,000 of his fellow US servicemen, can be found at the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery near Romagne-sous-Montfaucon in France. You can see my own family war memorial here.
His body of work was incredible in both quality and scope, and I would have been reading his strips in various British weeklies long before I knew who he was. He designed Judge Dredd, and became one of the character's cardinal draughtsmen. The first strip of his I became obsessed with was Strontium Dog: Portrait of a Mutant (1981), and the next was Judge Dredd: the Apocalypse War (1982), both classics that have stood the test of time. I read and re-read those stories, and examined his art until I could conjure up many of his iconic images at will, enjoying them again in my mind's eye rather than concentrating on the maths I was supposed to be doing at school. Every line he drew crackled with energy and every panel jolted the story into vivid life.
Four expansions are included in the little box, all of which can be added into the base game separately, or mixed and matched as you like. The Fountain provides 12 new adventure cards and tells the story of the original conquistadors who discovered the 'Fountain of Youth' and who now jealously guard it with their eternal but decaying lives. The Mark consists of six new adventure cards and injects an ancient dark curse into proceedings. The Mountain replaces the base game map with ten new terrain cards and some new rules for a bit of variety. And then there's New Friends - three companions to help you survive your quest.
As usual with Osprey, the production is as high quality as the mechanics, and it genuinely enriches the game play, it's not just an afterthought. The only criticism I've seen is a slight variation on the colour on the backs of the cards in relation to earlier editions of the base game, and a minuscule size difference, only noticeable if you look hard enough. Neither impedes game play. The one tiny criticism I'd have is a design one - the poor kerning of the title on the box cover, which could have done with a little attention.
If you own The Lost Expedition then you really should augment it with The Fountain of Youth - it adds a new dimension of enormous fun and adventure. If you don't own it - go and get a copy! (See my blog post on doing the art for the original game here.)
As you may have read in my previous post, I recently received the results of a DNA test, so my mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) has now had its haplogroup identified, the relatively rare J1b1 (subclade J1b1a1b) - or if you want to be a bit more romantic about it, the daughters of 'Jasmine'. This reignited my interest in looking at my maternal line to see if I could get back any further than Susanna - maiden name unknown and a 'brick wall' in my research. I think I have, but it's a puzzle, so I'm going to use this article to set out the facts, sort out my thoughts, and show a bit of process along the way.
Susanna's daughter, my three-times great grandmother, was Mary Harrison, born in 1813 in Radmore Lane, Gnosall, Staffordshire. In 1831 she married John Ecclestone in near-by Norbury and they had 13 children over the next twenty years or so. Mary's parents, according to her baptism record, were Joseph and Susanna Harrison (sometimes recorded as Harris) and, while I found six children for them, I could not find their marriage, and therefore had no idea of Susanna's family name.
Often a clue to the parent's antecedents can be found in their children's names, which in the case of Jospeh and Susanna were Benjamin, Joseph, Gregory, Samuel, Mary and Thomas - all born in Gnosall between 1799 and 1815. Presuming Benjamin was indeed the first child, I'd likely be looking for a marriage in the years closely preceding his birth, so perhaps 1797 or 1798, and probably in the local area - the main parishes being Gnosall, Norbury and Forton. Of course none of this is definite - Joseph and Susanna could have migrated into the area from Cornwall, had a previous six children - records now lost, and changed their names to escape a forbidding father-in-law. Going from experience, that would be an extreme rarity - the vast majority of my ancestors in that period married and had children in the same local area their parents came from.
Searching for a Staffordshire marriage with the names of Joseph Harris/on and Susanna within a fairly wide timeframe turned up only one result - Joseph Harrison, a shoemaker, marrying a widow, Susanna Hall, in Stafford in December 1819. Although it's perfectly conceivable they could have had all their children in Gnosall and then moved the seven miles to Stafford to marry, a search for children for this couple turned up five, all born in Stafford, starting with a Benjamin in 1820 - baptised three months after the marriage.
One thing to be wary of when searching old records is that you're relying on searching an index that has been transcribed from original documents by people who may have had trouble reading the unfamiliar and variable handwriting of the 17/1800s. This has led to one of my ancestors recorded as Thinford when the original document reads Winifred, the family of Morrisroe being transcribed as Morrison, Mudie as Micdie, Balle as Bailie, and the Youngs as the Trurys, to name a handful. There are mistakes in original documents as well of course - it took me years to find my Higson family in the 1841 census until I searched without the family name and concentrated on the fairly unique grouping of their first names and ages to discover them recorded as Jackson.
To tackle this you can search with more open terms. While many genealogy sites have algorithms that will return known variants (eg. a search for Ann will also return Anne, Annie, Nancy or Hannah) you can also use wildcards, for instance using H*k*n* for Hodgkins to account for archaic and alternative spellings such as Hoskins, Hodgkinson and Hodkins, etc.
Dropping the surname and searching within the expected timeframe for a Jos* marrying a Sus*an* in Staffordshire returns 100 results, rather a lot to examine in detail, but manageable enough to see if anything in the list stands out, for instance an obviously mistranscribed surname or something in the expected locality. While there were a couple within the wider local area (eg. Joseph Howl marrying Susannah Clever in Eccleshall in 1796), there was one in the exact area I'm interested in - Joseph Addison marrying Susannah Rodes at Forton in 1798.
It's not inconceivable that Addison could be a mistranscription of Harrison, so I needed to see an image of the original document, but that did not turn up with the results, just the text transcription from the more general 'England Marriages 1538-1973' database. But I know there is excellent coverage of Staffordshire images at findmypast, and opening the search more widely revealed the Banns record for 'Joseph Addisson' and 'Shusanah Roden' at All Saints Church, Forton. Looking at the image reveals one dashed hope and one raised hope: there's no doubt the name is written as 'Addison', not Harrison ... but one of the witnesses is a Benjamin Harrison - enough to intrigue and warrant further investigation.
Immediately a number of questions are thrown up which point the way to further research. If these are my ancestors, why would an Addison become a Harrison and name his children Harrison? Was he adopted by Harrisons? Was there a debt of gratitude owed to the Harrison family? Did Joseph Addison want to leave his past behind? Was Susanna Rhodes related to influential Harrisons?
A search for other Staffordshire Harrison/Addison relationships turned up nothing (a single marriage in 1873). But then a surprising result - I searched my own family file for any mentions I'd recorded of the name Addison and found that my ggg-grandmother, Mary Harrison (Joseph and Susanna's daughter), had her Will proved in 1890 by her son, Henry, and one Samuel Thomas Addison. The trail just got a little warmer.
There were now four families to research and see if any link would emerge: those of Joseph Addison, Samuel Thomas Addison, Susanna Rhodes, and Benjamin Harrison. I did have burial dates and ages for Joseph and Susanna Harrison (under the name Harris, residents of Sutton), showing - if accurate - that my Joseph was likely born around 1768, and his wife was likely born around 1782.
No obvious birth for Joseph Addison could be found - one in London, one in Norfolk, one in Cumberland and one in Westmorland - not impossible candidates, but unlikely. Next I tried searches for a Joseph Harrison born in the same period in Staffordshire - returning 18 possibilities with one who stood out, born in 1767 to a Gregory and Sarah Harrison in Church Eaton. Church Eaton is just a couple of miles from Gnosall, and my Joseph and Susanna named their third son Gregory - a relatively rare name for the period (between 1780 and 1820, in Staffordshire, just over 2000 boys were named Gregory, compared to roughly 580,000 Johns, 460,000 Thomases, 280,000 Josephs, 172,000 Samuels, and 75,000 Benjamins). Not much else stood out with the Church Eaton Harrisons - I could identify six children in all, but no other names chimed any bells - no Benjamin, for instance.
As for Samuel Thomas Addison, he was a farmer* who lived in the close neighbourhood of Mary and her Ecclestone family. I'd already established there was no local Joseph Addison in the records, but Samuel's family did hail from Gnosall and, it seems, Eccleshall before that. His father was George and his grandfather was Samuel Addison - Joseph and Susanna Harrison named their fourth son Samuel, so that is another point of interest, though it's not as unusual as Gregory.
Looking at Susanna Rhodes, a few more lights go on. Firstly she was born in 1782 which fits perfectly with Susanna Harris's age at death. Her parents were Samuel Rhodes and Mary Bellingham - both first names that were also used for Harrison children. A more detailed examination of her siblings is where things start to get a little more interesting. The Rhodes children were all born in Norbury and married in the local communities of Norbury, Gnosall and Forton. Susanna's immediate older sister was called Frances, and in 1797 Frances Rhodes married one Benjamin Harrison, so this explains his presence as a witness on the Addison/Rhodes marriage - he was Susanna's brother-in-law. Frances died in 1816 at just 39 years old, and it's interesting that three of the Joseph/Susanna Harrison children (Benjamin, Gregory and Mary) all named daughters Frances (aka Fanny).
Of the four other Rhodes siblings, all had their children baptised in Gnosall or Forton, but if you look more closely at the original records - all those born after 1812 (which, thanks to the Rose Act, recorded more detail), whether Gnosall or Forton, show Radmore Lane as the parents' residence. They had children in the same place and during the same timeframe as Joseph and Susanna Harrison. The youngest brother, Edward Rhodes, even named one of his children Joseph, born nine months after the death of Joseph Harrison (though that may have been his father-in-law's name too).
This could all be coincidence! But there are a couple more interesting pieces to place. At first I was not able to positively identify a birth or baptism for the Addison/Rhodes marriage witness, Benjamin Harrison. However, though his first wife died in 1816, he seems to have remarried the following year and can be found on both the 1841 and 1851 census still living at Coton. The 1851 census gives his birth place as Church Eaton - and that takes us back to Gregory and Sarah Harrison who had a son, Joseph Harrison in 1767, and who are, in fact, the only Harrison family having children in Church Eaton between 1740 and 1780. Opening up the search a bit I eventually found Benjamin - transcribed as Benjamin Hornson, but a closer look at the original image reveals it is in fact Benjamin Harrison, son of Greg and Sarah and baptised in April 1765. And for that extra little push, three of the Joseph/Susanna children (Benjamin, Gregory and Thomas) all named daughters Sarah.
Before the conclusion, let's just add in one more little fact. Joseph Addison and Susanna Rhodes published their first marriage banns on October 14th 1798. Eight months later saw the baptism of my four-times great uncle, Benjamin Harrison, first recorded child of Joseph and Susanna Harrison.
My conclusion from all this is that the marriage of Joseph Addison and Susannah Rhodes in 1798 is indeed the marriage of my gggg-grandparents, Joseph and Susanna Harrison. As every good genealogist should, I tried to disprove my theory but couldn't conclusively do that - I can say there were no children born to a Joseph and Susanna Addison (at least not until a couple with the same names had children in the 1840s and 50s in Norfolk) and there are no matching local burials that fit either.
The fact that the married Rhodes children largely lived together in Radmore Lane or very close by, the family names of Gregory, Mary, Samuel, Frances and Sarah, the matching birth years for Joseph and Susannah with their Harrison and Rhodes counterparts, and the Church Eaton connection, with two Harrison brothers (Joseph and Benjamin) marrying two Rhodes sisters (Susanna and Frances) - all little things that, together, hold a fair bit of weight.
In the light of all that, I now believe the name Samuel Thomas Addison on Mary Harrison's Will is a coincidence. In which case, the question remains - why the Addison name on the marriage? I do have a theory, though it's not a strong one ... if you look at the original document image above you see the Banns is written in a different hand to the entry for the marriage below it. The Banns handwriting is less confident and more scrawling than the marriage entry - indeed Susanna's name is written 'Shusanah Rodse'. Perhaps the Banns was written in by the church warden, whereas the curate (Rev. Richard Wingfield) recorded the actual marriage, copying the warden's interpretation of Addison, but correctly reproducing the witness's surname at the time of the ceremony. That's just a theory, I don't know. Perhaps Joseph had a really bad cold on the day of the Banns!
There will always be a part of me that would like something more substantial than all these little jigsaw pieces, because it doesn't add up to a complete picture (but does genealogy ever do that?), and I will continue to try and verify this hypothesis. DNA may help - either in finding Harrison, Wenlock, Rhodes** or Bellingham connections through autosomal results, or through a less likely encounter with a mtDNA match from the maternal line. But, overall, I feel fairly confident that I can now take my mtDNA line a bit further back with a couple more Ms to add in ...
Margaret > May > Minnie > Mira > Mary > Susanna > Mary > Mary ... and my new brick wall: Frances.
Update: * It turns out that Samuel Thomas Addison was a local worthy, and Mary Harrison/Ecclestone was probably a tenant on one of his farms - which could explain his presence on the Will. ** I have since found DNA matches with the Harrison/Rhodes family and further back with the Wenlock line.