Recovering the Gunn lineage

I don’t have any known Gunn ancestry but I got interested in them a lifetime ago. Someone at the Family History Center in Salt Lake City suggested the Swanstroms, if they were originally Scottish, might have been Gunns.

Actually, I think the idea was that the Swanstroms absolutely, positively had to be Gunns for a variety of reasons, but we won’t worry about that because they’re not. Nevertheless, I was left with a lifelong interest in the Gunns.

A tradition that evolved only in the past few hundred years claims an illustrious descent for the Gunns. They are said to be descended from Sweyn Asleifson, poetically called The Ultimate Viking.

However, this descent is known to be nonsense. It’s endlessly repeated because so many people prefer romance to reality. I’m not immune myself. For many years, I carried Eric Linlater’s novel The Ultimate Viking (1956) on my list of use books to find and read. It was long out of print, so I had very little hope of finding it. It was only a few years, with the advent of the Internet, that I was able to find and buy a copy.

As I struggle to break the addiction to romantic fantasies, I’ve come to admire the work of Alastair Gunn, whose no-nonsense style is bringing Gunn history into the light of reality. His idea is that the first known ancestor of what became the “chiefly family” was George Gunn (“Coroner Gunn”), died 1464. Everything before him has been concocted out of unconnected bits and pieces.

There’s a Facebook group for Clan Gunn that posts occasional updates. See it here. I haven’t watched it long enough yet to know the general feeling about the legendary origin of the Gunns, but on, which is supposed to be a respectable genealogical site, there has been quite a bit of vitriol around conforming the Gunn line to the facts. I created a Clan Gunn project there a few years ago and did some cleanup. It hasn’t been an easy sell.

Some day I need to go back and clean up my own notes.

Side note: If I have any Gunn ancestry at all it would be through Bessie Rorieson [Gunn], mistress of John Sinclair, Master of Caithness (d. 1575). They were the parents of Henry Sinclair of Lybster, speculative father of immigrant John Sinclair (d. 1700), of Exeter, New Hampshire.

Post-Christian America

My sense from talking to our customers is that there is trend toward post-Christian America that is likely to be vaguely pagan, but not exactly pagan in the way my generation (Boomers) might think of it.

I’ve become interested in books and arguments that suggest that there actually is, or might be, a genuinely post-Christian future for America and that the term “paganism” might be reasonably revived to describe the new American religion, currently struggling to be born.

A fascinating version of this argument is put forward by Steven D. Smith, a law professor at the University of San Diego, in his new book, Pagans and Christians in the City: Culture Wars From the Tiber to the Potomac. Smith argues that much of what we understand as the march of secularism is something of an illusion, and that behind the scenes what’s actually happening in the modern culture war is the return of a pagan religious conception, which was half-buried (though never fully so) by the rise of Christianity.

What is that conception? Simply this: that divinity is fundamentally inside the world rather than outside it, that God or the gods or Being are ultimately part of nature rather than an external creator, and that meaning and morality and metaphysical experience are to be sought in a fuller communion with the immanent world rather than a leap toward the transcendent.

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Jews in the New World, II

We’ve seen this idea, now very common, that many Hispanos in the American Southwest have crypto-Jewish ancestry.

The evidence for this exotic ancestry is weak. The story seems to be a relatively recent phenomenon, and there is some reason to believe it might have its roots in the 19th and 20th century Seventh Day Adventists.

A recent story in The Atlantic seems to go the other direction, offering some new genetic evidence.

“Chacón-Duque and his colleagues pieced together the genetic record by sampling DNA from 6,500 people across Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru, which they compared to that of 2,300 people all over the world. Nearly a quarter of the Latin Americans shared 5 percent or more of their ancestry with people living in North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean, including self-identified Sephardic Jews.”

Sarah Zang, “The Genetic Legacy of the Spanish Inquisition” in The Atlantic (Dec. 21, 2018).

But that’s not quite the same thing as saying Latin Americans have crypto-Jewish ancestry. This is about people with Jewish ancestry, not necessarily people who are practicing Judaism secretly. And even then, the article goes on to say, “DNA alone cannot prove that conversos were the source of this ancestry, but it fits with the historical record.”

In fact, because of the history of the Iberian peninsula from Roman times to the discovery of America, there would be quite a bit of mixed ancestry among the New World colonists. Not just from the time of the expulsion of the Jews in 1492 but also from the preceding centuries as well.

After the expulsion of the Jews, the Spanish and Portuguese were deeply suspicious of those who converted to Christianity, and equally suspicious of their descendants. They were haunted, it seems, by the idea these people might be practicing their former religion in secret. They emphasized limpieza de sangre (purity of blood), and went to great lengths to hide mixed marriages in their own ancestries.

Given the stigma of converso ancestry it would be no surprise if the immigrants to America included a number of people with Jewish and Muslim ancestry. And this is all this new study is reporting. The evidence is consistent with widespread and low-level converso ancestry in Latin America. We don’t need to add to the stories about crypto-Judaism.

For the original article, see Juan-Camilo Chacón-Duque et al., “Latin Americans show wide-spread Converso ancestry and imprint of local Native ancestry on physical appearance” in Nature (Dec. 19, 2018).


Having just finished writing about tomatoes, I couldn’t find a place to sneak a quick bit about cantaloupes.

Talking to Mom yesterday, she was reminiscing about how much Daddy liked salt on everything. And he didn’t much like sugar because when he was growing up he drowned in sweets from his German mother. That’s why he didn’t let us have sugar on our tomatoes.

Mom says she’s always surprised that I put salt on melon, like Daddy did. She prefers sugar.

When she was growing up her dad would buy three cantaloupes. They’d cut them in half, scoop out the seeds, and fill the halves with cream, sugar, and nutmeg.

I remember doing that, both at home and at Aunt Betty’s, but I’d forgotten until now.


Laura and I don’t like tomatoes. Is it genetic? Probably not. It does, however, puzzle Mom.

Mom loves tomatoes. She told me yesterday that when she was pregnant with me she craved them. Her dad would buy them for her. She learned to eat them in sections, so they didn’t drip.

I joked that maybe that’s when I got tired of them. A raised eyebrow. She’s skeptical about that one.

When the subject comes up, I tell people I don’t eat them because tomatoes are poisonous. That was a real belief. (See Why the Tomato Was Feared in Europe for More Than 200 Years.) No one ever gets it. The usual reaction is “No, they aren’t.” Sigh.

When I was growing up, we usually had tomato slices at dinner. When we lived in Logan we put sugar on them. After Mom married Carroll and we moved to Mantua, no more sugar. He was a food fascist. We could put salt on them or eat them plain. Nothing else. He ate his with salt and pepper. That boy put salt and pepper on just about everything, even his buttermilk and cottage cheese.

So, I stopped eating tomatoes. Mostly.

When we lived in Las Vegas, there are no bees to pollinate tomatoes. Mom still planted them. It was my job to go out with a little paintbrush and gently brush the flowers in order to pollinate them. Also my job to pull off the tomato worms. (I never thought about it before. Where did tomato worms come from in an area and climate where people don’t grow tomatoes?)

Talking yesterday, Mom wondered if I remember whether Evonne liked tomatoes. Most certainly, she did. The reason I remember is that when Evonne married Danny they clashed on the right way to make stew. Danny thought stew was supposed have a gravy base. Evonne thought it was supposed to have a tomato base.

And that reminds me of another piece of my childhood. Every year Mom would put up I don’t know how many bushels of stewed tomatoes. Aunt Betty did the same. I suppose those tomatoes went into quite a few different dishes through the year, but the I remember is stew. I don’t know the recipe but I’m pretty sure it must have started with “Put two quarters of stewed tomatoes in a sauce pan.”

I was happy enough to leave the family stew recipe and tomatoes behind when I left home. Evonne dug in for tradition.

Jews in the New World

An article in The Atlantic caught my attention. We’re going ’round again with conversos and crypto-Jews, and once again the fantasy is just as stronger or stronger than the proved reality.

In 1492 Ferdinand and Isabella ordered all Jews in Spain to convert to Catholicism or leave the kingdom. Those who converted became known as conversos. Some of them continued to practice Judaism in secret, and even if they didn’t, they were often suspected of it. The functional result of this suspicion was that many conversos took pains to hide their Jewish ancestry.

Ferdinand and Isabella commissioned the first voyage of Christopher Columbus the same year they expelled the Jews. Two grand narratives in the same year. The temptation to link them is almost irresistible.

The popular story is that Columbus himself was a Jew looking for new homeland, and the American Southwest is full of crypto-Jews who are descendants of conversos driven further and further north as the territorial government solidified its hold.

Here in Colorado we have a native Hispano population that goes back to the early days, before the Anglo-American conquest. One of my step-mothers belonged to such a family. It’s not uncommon.

What we’ve seen just in the course of my lifetime is that Hispanos throughout Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas increasingly claim Jewish ancestry. In some circles the stories have reached a saturation point where no one doubts them anymore. They are taken at face value. In fact, there’s now a special term for them — the anusim, the one who were forced.

The modern fashion for finding crypto-Jews in the American Southwest seems to have started with Stanley Hordes in the mid-1980s. As New Mexico State Historian he heard stories that could be broadly interpreted as pointing to Jewish customs. He became convinced there was a bigger story there. After he left his job he began promoting the idea that conversos made their way to the New World, where they were able to practice Judaism in secret for 400 years. (Barbara Ferry and Debbie Nathan, “Mistaken Identity? The Case of New Mexico’s “Hidden Jews” in The Atlantic (Dec. 2000)).

In the late 1980s and early 1990s the story exploded in popularity. Now there’s even a Society for Crypto-Jewish Studies. But were they really crypto-Jews? There’s a great deal of doubt. Certainly, the Inquisition was looking for crypto-Jews. About 100 were executed in Mexico, and many more were investigated, including a governor of New Mexico.

Many experts now believe Hordes misinterpreted the stories he was hearing. What he thought were survivals of Judaism might have come instead from Catholic converts to Protestant churches that emphasize Jewish practices. The most popular of these seems to have been the Seventh-Day Adventists, who observe the Sabbath on Saturday, practice Jewish dietary restrictions, celebrate certain Jewish holy days.

To be continued…

Gollop, of Strode

I was pleased and surprised tonight to check Feedly and discover an article by Stephen Plowman. Now there’s a familiar name.

The article is Armorial Bearings of Gollop of Strode. Another familiar name.

Like many Americans with ancestry in Colonial New England, I’m descended from Capt. John Gallop (c1593-1650), an early settler at Boston.

His ancestry is not certain but he is widely believed to been been the son of John and Mary (Crabbe) Gallop, and probably a grandson of Thomas Gollop, of Strode and North Bowood.

One thing is certain — his Internet genealogies are nearly always mangled beyond recognition, and Geni seems to be no exception, although there was a joke among Geni’s curators in the early days that the fastest way to become a curator was to be be a Gallop descendant.

John Gallop is a favorite of researchers because we have a touching glimpse into his personal life. Gallop’s wife did not come with him to America, and that was a problem. Gov. John Winthrop in Massachusetts wrote to Rev. John White in England:

I have much difficultye to keep John Gallop here by reason of his wife will not come. I marvayle at the woman’s weaknesse. I pray pursuade her and further her coming by all means. If she will come, let her have the remainder of his wages; if not, let it be bestowed to bring over his children, if so he desires. It would be about £40 losse to him to come for her. Your assured in the Lord’s worke, J. Winthrop, Massachusetts, Jul 4 1632’”

(Winthrop Papers)

Rev. White seems to have succeeded. Christobel Gallop and her children came over the following year. Capt. John piloted the ship into Boston Harbor through a new channel he had discovered, the channel running by Lovell’s Island, a quarter of a mile east of Gallop‘s Island.

I’ll be very pleased if someday we get a documented genealogy for these Gallops. There is a review of sources in The Great Migration Begins, 725-28, and a good research summary at Wikitree.

More Information


“In a world of change, the learners shall inherit the earth, while the learned shall find themselves perfectly suited for a world that no longer exists.”

― Eric Hoffer

A Phantom Margaret Luce

I don’t know how to understand how these fables have developed.

The introductory problem is that some researchers attribute Abraham Luce and Cycely (Darke) Luce with a daughter Margaret.

Parish records for Horton, the home of this family, show Abraham and Cycely were married in 1604 and had children Abraham (1605), Israel (1605), and John (1608).

Many Luce researchers will recognize this Israel instantly. He’s often claimed as the father of Henry Luce, immigrant to colonial Massachusetts. There’s no direct evidence but some researchers believe the circumstantial evidence makes the relationship probable.

Anyway, no Margaret.

Yet a Margaret, supposed daughter of this couple, is claimed as an ancestor by two different families in conflicting scenarios. That in itself seems quite a feat for someone for whom there is no evidence anyway.

Margaret is claimed as:

  • Wife of Isaac Wells, the immigrant to Barnstable, Massachusetts
  • Wife of John Harris, of Sandon, Essex

She can’t be both. There’s no evidence she was either. But here she is spread across our Internet world:

Margaret and John Harris were (supposedly) married 15 February 1620 in Sandon, Essex. That’s 160 miles from Horton. If John Harris’ wife was really a Luce it is far more likely she belonged to a Luce family in or near Sandon.

Margaret and Isaac Wells were married, say about 1620, probably near his home at Welches Dam, Cambridgeshire. That’s 170 miles from Horton. Here again, if Isaac’s wife was really a Luce it is far more likely she belonged to a Luce family in or near Welches Dam.

And this doesn’t begin to deal the problems of estimated ages in these different versions.

Someone will have to get serious about this problem and do some comprehensive clean up across the Internet. In the meantime, these lines should be treated with extraordinary caution.

Human Terrain

I’m fascinated by this graphic way of viewing the size and spatial relationship of the world’s cities.

I live right there in Denver but I was born in Laramie, which is that little spike up there to the left of Cheyenne.

Try it yourself: Human Terrain: Visualizing the World’s Population, in 3D. You should see your own area and be able to fly around the world looking at others

It seems like there should be some way of adapting this type of presentation to genealogy, but I’m not seeing it right off.

Revised to update link.