Northumberland Ancestors

The most favorite person of my mother’s life was her grandmother, Mary Payne.  My Mom was named after her.  That makes Mary Payne a very special person to me as well.

Mary was born in Bedlington, Northumberland, England, in 1870 to parents John Payne and Jane Weightman.  In 1881, when she was eleven years old, she and her parents and siblings emigrated to America, and settled in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, just south of Pittsburgh.

Mary Payne, circa 1891

Her father, John Payne, was not a native of Northumberland.  He and his older brother, George, traveled there in the 1860’s from Bedfordshire, about 250 miles to the south, presumably to find work in the mines.  Although I’ll research John and George themselves, their ancestors lived elsewhere.  So, my Northumberland research will focus primarily on the family history of Mary’s mother, Jane Weightman.

More specifically, my goal is to generate complete and well documented family group sheets for Jane and the three generations before her, which is eight families involving sixty-four individuals, all of whom lived here in Northumberland.  A family group sheet lists a couple and all of their children, with all the basic facts about each person’s life.  Here’s an example:

Partial Family Group Sheet for John Payne and Jane Weightman

I already know the basics about my direct ancestors back through Jane’s great-grandparents, but there are still plenty of mysteries to solve within the families.  In addition, I want to find out as much as possible about their lives by examining records in the local archive which can’t be accessed elsewhere.

I’m very fortunate to have a photograph of the Payne family, right around the time they baptized their first child, Mary Payne, at St. Cuthbert’s Church in Bedlington, just a few steps away from my flat.  I’ve posted it before, but here it is again:

John Payne (left), Jane Weightman (seated) holding baby Mary Payne, James Weightman (back right), and Thomas Weightman, ca 1871.  Photo taken in Blyth, Northumberland, England by W.T. Hunter.

The 1871 England census tells us that John Payne was working in the coal mines, along with the two boys, Jane’s brothers, ages 17 and 12.  It’s hard to imagine today that a 12 year old boy was going “down the mine” every day with the men.  I’m hoping to find out more about the mines, and how the families lived.  And I wonder why they were all dressed up for a photo that day?  Perhaps I can find  a special event at the right time which could explain that.

It’s unrealistic to expect that all my research questions will be answered.  The most important thing to me while I’m here is simply to experience being in Northumberland, and to look upon the same landscape, the same coast, and frequently the same buildings, that they saw each day.

Arrival in England

I’ve been to England before; I’ve even lived here before.  My father was a Professor of Statistics at New York’s Downstate Medical Center, and took a one-year sabbatical at the University of Bristol in 1968.  So, I went to 8th grade there, and my family traveled around Europe in a VW camper van for the summers before and after the school year.  That experience was one of the highlights of my life, and explains why I love traveling and camping, and being in England.

My father, brother Jamie, and me, somewhere in Europe circa 1969
Our house in Bristol on right, circa 1968

The second time I was in England was in the summer of 1972, between my junior and senior years of high school. I went back to Bristol and stayed for two months with the family of my BFF from 8th grade, Joanna.

Joanna’s house was 3 Windsor Terrace
Summer love with an English bloke, 1972

Thirty-one years later, in 2003, I saw a last-minute fare special to London, and for $200 round trip, impulsively flew there for four days with a friend.  Which hardly counts – it was all a blur of jet lag!

Then in 2010, when I was deep into my genealogy research and knew that I had to see the places where my ancestors lived, I took my 20-year-old daughter for a ten-day whirlwind tour of England and Wales.

Me and my 8th grade English friend Joanna in Bristol in 2010

It was in the process of planning that 2010 trip that I met my fourth cousin John on, and he introduced me to Kay and Peter (aka “KnP”), who are both avid genealogists.  Kay and I are connected by marriage but don’t ask me to explain further!  Ancestry tells me that she is the grand-niece of wife of 1st cousin 3x removed – which is way too complicated to understand.  Kay has drawn a tree so we have a visual of the relationship, which helps!

Exhibiting extraordinary generosity to people she had never met, Kay offered to house my daughter and I for our three-night stay in Northumberland in 2010.  We’ve been in close touch ever since.  It was Kay and John (Peter was feeling poorly) who met me at the airport in Newcastle when I arrived on December 30th.

The blue pin shows Bedlington on the UK map.

I spent the first couple of days at KnP’s house, recovering from jet lag, getting my phone set up with a local provider, and doing some grocery shopping.  Their son and daughter-in-law had a New Year’s Eve party, so we walked over to their place and celebrated with a houseful of their friends of all ages.  It was the perfect way to bring in 2018!

KnP were the ones who found me a flat for two months in Bedlington, beginning January 1st.  The town of Bedlington has special significance in my family history, which I’ll explain in the next post, so the location of the flat couldn’t be better.  It’s also within easy walking distance of pubs and shops.  The one-bedroom flat has everything I need, including unlimited wifi, television, linens, a fully stocked kitchen, a private parking spot, and the rent includes utilities and a weekly cleaning service.

My flat is on the first floor of this building.
Kitchen of the flat

So here I am, all settled in, and ready to experience Northumberland as my ancestors did before they emigrated to America in 1881.  So exciting!!

End of the Road for 2017

When I retired in August of 2016, I promised myself that I’d make the next twenty years the best ones of my life.  Well, 2017 was so amazing that I can’t imagine topping it.

I traveled extensively, visiting New Zealand, China and Mexico, and ended the year with a flight to England.  I enjoyed the experience of a winter in Florida.  I lived in an RV for eight months and drove it 7,000 miles from Florida to Vermont to Wisconsin to Arizona and then to California.  Some photo memories:

Lake Matheson, New Zealand
My happy home in Georgia
I have the campground to myself in Ottsville, Pennsylvania.
My campsite at Waterhouses Campground, Lake Dunmore, Vermont
Ohio campsite
Wisconsin campsite
Mississippi River campsite near Fulton, Illinois
Campsite at Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona
Sunset view, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

I spent time with my children, staying in Seattle an extra week before the trip to China and also before Christmas week, gathering us together in Los Angeles for a fantastic Thanksgiving, and ending the year with a magical Christmas in a snowy cabin in the Cascade Mountains of Washington.

I spent time with extended family.  I stayed with my cousin Betsy for a week in Virginia, and saw my cousin Barb for a quick visit in Florida. I met a first cousin in Missouri – Dixie and her many descendants.  DNA found Dixie a half-sister and me a brand new first cousin, Deb, who we never knew existed.  I met a second cousin, Melody, in Pittsburgh.  I stayed in LA with my Uncle Jim and Aunt Vicki, who I hadn’t seen in many years. And I think the most exciting family visit was when I got to see my wonderful niece and nephew for four hours in LA at Thanksgiving!

I spent time with friends.  My very dear friend Agnes came back into my life.  I reconnected with old friends Jeff and Dawn in Vermont, Kris in Virginia, and Marty in California.  I visited my childhood friend Carol on Long Island, and she and Debbie came to see me in Vermont.  I traveled with Sandra, an old friend who also lived in an RV this year, in Georgia, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and New York.  And, I visited a genealogy friend, Marina, in Phoenix.  I saw my Bucks County friends briefly (too briefly) when I was there in May and August.

Agnes and Chris, circa 2009
Chris and Carol
Bob and Sandra at Point State Park, Pittsburgh
Enjoying an evening with Dawn and Jeff on Lake Champlain, Burlington, Vermont. Photo by Jeff Schneiderman
Chris and Kris

I spent time at genealogy events.  I attended three conferences and one week-long institute:  RootsTech in Salt Lake City in February, the National Genealogical Society’s annual conference in Raleigh in May, the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh in June, and the Federation of Genealogical Societies’ annual conference in Pittsburgh in September.

I spent time researching my family history.  It’s one of my favorite things to do, and I got to do a lot of it.  I went to archives, courthouses, libraries and cemeteries to my heart’s content.

In spite of all the visiting with friends and family, I spent a lot of time alone.  That’s the part that wasn’t so good, and it’s really the part which is driving me to go back to Bucks County in 2018 and settle down in my community.

So, my first full year of retirement was fabulous!  I feel like I really lived this year, doing so many exciting and fun things. Now it’s on to 2018 and even better years to come…

Happy New Year  – wishing you all the very best in 2018 and beyond!!

A Christmas DNA Surprise

I know I don’t have to tell you again how much I enjoy spending Christmas with my family:  my ex-husband and our two kids.  You already know, so I won’t go on about it for long.

What I really want to talk about is the new cousin we got for Christmas, thanks to Ancestry DNA.  You know those TV shows where adoptees meet their birth parent for the first time?  This was like that, except it was real life.   Our new first cousin was a wonderful, delightful surprise.

I spent a week in Seattle with my daughter before the family converged to spend the holiday week in a cabin in the foothills of the Cascades.   The four of us are on an app called “Life 360”, so we can track each other down if needed.  Before the holiday, we were all in different corners of the country – Washington, California, Pennsylvania, and Florida:

The four of us in four corners of the country!

It isn’t too often that we’re all together, so it’s precious time for us.  We went on a couple of incredible hikes, saw many bald eagles, and our daughter’s little dog Foxy stole the show. Here are a few pictures from our Christmas:

A scene on one of our hikes
Christmas Tree 2017
Chris and Foxy in Seattle

So, on Christmas Day, I received an email from an Ancestry user, saying that she was adopted and that we were a DNA match.  I’ve had emails like this before, and usually it’s a distant match and difficult if not impossible to determine the relationship. I don’t even know why I read the email that day, much less looked at the match.

But I did, and was completely stunned when I saw that we shared 935 centimorgans, which is a match at the first cousin level.  She also matched my two other first cousins, so I knew we were related on my mother’s side.  And when I saw a photograph of her, I knew she was ours.  Here’s the match page from Ancestry:

What would you think if you saw a match this close with a stranger? Yikes!!

Deb said she was born in LA in 1964, and learned only that her mother was from Montana, was staying with her uncle in LA, and was 21 years old.  She had a physical description of her father, and knew that he had managed some parking lots in the area.  The social worker also made a note at the time that the father had not been informed about the pregnancy.

My mother had two sisters and a brother.  Since Deb’s mother was from Montana, the only possible relationship was that she was my uncle’s daughter.  And my uncle lived in LA, matched the physical description Deb had, and managed some parking lots in 1964.

Both my uncle’s and my mother’s DNA are on FamilyTreeDNA.   I got Deb on the phone and walked her through downloading her raw data from Ancestry so we could upload it to FTDNA to confirm the suspected relationship.  But we had some technical problems, so Deb called FTDNA the next morning to try to resolve them.  As it turned out, the more recent Ancestry  files aren’t compatible with FTDNA, so it wasn’t possible to upload there.

We were saved by GedMatch, which is a free website accepting raw data from most of the big testing companies.  I had already uploaded both my uncle’s and my mother’s DNA there, and Deb was able to upload hers as well.  In a matter of minutes, we did a one-to-one match with my uncle’s DNA and found that Deb shares 3,500+ cms with him.  Bingo!! No doubt about it – Deb is my uncle’s daughter and my first cousin.

There’s always the concern, rightfully so, that the birth parents won’t want anything to do with the child they put up for adoption, and Deb was very sensitive to that.  I suggested that the next step was for me to call my uncle, and she asked me if I thought her father would want to meet her.  I know my uncle, and I was certain he would be very happy to hear that he had another daughter.

And he was.  In fact, he was downright excited!  He told me he remembered Deb’s mother quite clearly.  He didn’t know her for very long and had no idea she was pregnant.  Unfortunately, he can’t remember her name, so we’re still working on that part.

He called Deb right away, and within hours, they met in person.  I heard from both of them the next day – by all accounts they clicked immediately and it was an amazing reunion.  My uncle met a daughter he never even knew he had, and my cousin met a father about whom she had known virtually nothing.  A day to go down in family history!!

My extended family is just the best.  Everyone was very accepting and welcoming to Deb –  of course, it helps that she is such a great person and makes it easy to love her.  The family has a strong Facebook presence, so now Deb has dozens of new “friends” there, and it’s been buzzing with the posting of everyone’s pictures at different ages to see all the family resemblances.

It was a very happy ending, and it made our Christmas even more exciting than usual.  And I’m so thrilled to have a new first cousin – I can’t wait to meet her this summer!

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Ok, so I’ve been binge-watching “Stranger Things” on Netflix, and I can’t get that Clash song out of my mind.  But “Should I Stay or Should I Go” perfectly describes the dilemma I faced when I left Fresno in my RV in early December.

As mentioned previously, my plan was to store the RV and car at my uncle’s house in Los Angeles.  My flight to Seattle was scheduled for December 14th, but since I had an appointment to bring the full rig to the Camping World in Fresno on the 7th, I decided to head for LA the same day.  I had to completely unhook and pack up the RV at the campground to take it to the shop, so it made sense to just keep driving.

The most direct route from Fresno to LA is via the “Grapevine”, which is where I-5 goes over the Tejon Pass.  It’s a long and steep climb – I’ve driven it with a car many times.  I was terrified of driving it with my rig, and preferred to avoid it at all costs.

Another alternative is to drive west to the coast, and then south along the 101 freeway.  It adds a few hours to the trip, but it’s worth the extra time to avoid getting stuck. So I carefully planned that route, studying maps and the Mountain Directory to make sure there were no big hills.

Two alternative routes from Fresno to LA (the coastal route continues to Ventura and then east, but Highway 101 is closed due to recent mudslides so Google maps would not allow me to finish the route).

I didn’t have reliable television in Fresno, but the night before I planned to leave, I happened to see an online headline about fires in Los Angeles, and thought I better check it out. I soon learned that a section of Highway 101 was closed due to the Thomas fire, directly along my planned route.

Reluctantly, I researched the Grapevine option, but learned that there were strong wind warnings,  especially for vehicles with high profiles.  That would be me.  Clearly, the drive to LA had to be postponed.

Not wanting to go back to the Fresno campground after the Camping World appointment, I decided to drive south, stay overnight in Bakersfield, and see how things looked the next morning.  Highway 101 had re-opened the following day, but the wind was fueling the fires and making everything worse.  Should I stay or should I go?  If I go, should I drive through the fires, or tackle the steep and windy pass?

Thomas Fire on Friday, 8 December 2017 (source:

The campground in Bakersfield was lovely.  It had everything I needed, including cable TV so I could stay informed about the fires.  And it just so happened to be directly next door to an RV repair and storage place, which got me to thinking that perhaps I should give up the idea of driving the RV to LA, and store it in Bakersfield instead.  So, I checked it out.  It cost only $50 per month for storage, and they could do all the repairs I needed.  Best of all, storing the RV there would allow me to postpone the drive to LA until next year.  It felt like the right solution.

I spent the weekend preparing the RV for storage, and doing my packing.   I was able to wash the RV for the first time since May because the campground allowed it, which is rare.  I got up on the roof with my big push broom, a bucket and a hose, thinking constantly that this would NOT be a good time for an accident.

But it’s a good thing I did go on the roof, because I discovered a big hole in one of the vent covers.  Rain water would have poured in, creating a disaster inside.  I was able to buy a new vent cover at the local Camping World, and replace it.

Hole in the vent cover

My uncle’s house was a quick hour and a half drive over the Grapevine in my car, and I spent three wonderful nights in the warmth there before my flight to Seattle.  It was an exciting day when I finally got on that airplane with my two 50 pound suitcases, all ready for Christmas with my kids, and then 5 months in Europe….


Two Game Changers

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know that I pretty much had two years of my life planned out in advance.  And I’ve followed that plan so far.  But, two little grenades have been thrown into my life, and thus, things have changed.

The first involves the impact of health care on my budget, which has forced me to choose which parts of the plan I can still afford to implement.

As I’ve written about before, I enrolled in health insurance for 2017 through the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare.”  Since I retired early, prior to eligibility for Medicare, there weren’t a lot of choices.  So I didn’t do much research in advance – I just went on the website and enrolled.

My income in 2017 consisted of a small pension from the State of New Jersey, and Social Security.  I became eligible for Social Security in June, so I received just six payments.  At that income level, the subsidy toward my health insurance premiums was about $350 per month.  I selected a very high deductible plan ($7,500), making my premium about $275 per month after the subsidy.  Fortunately, I didn’t get sick in 2017 so I didn’t have to pay much of the deductible, the premium was affordable, and it all worked out pretty well.  Fingers crossed that I stay healthy at least until I’m 65 and eligible for Medicare.

Next year, my income will include a full year of Social Security, making it higher than 2017.  So when I enrolled for 2018, I was in for a complete shock. Not only did the premium for the same high-deductible plan increase by about 50%, but I was no longer eligible for any subsidy because my income was too high.  So, my premium was going to increase from $275 per month, to $775 per month.

Did you know that if you exceed the maximum income amount, which is around $47,000 per year, by even one penny, you lose all of your subsidy?  I had no idea, but I certainly do now.  There’s a thing called the Obamacare “cliff” – at a certain income level, you just drop off it and get nothing.

The short version of the story is that I was able to “un-do” my application to start my Social Security in 2017, thereby keeping my income well below the Obamacare threshold.  Without the Social Security income, my health insurance premium for 2018 is $12 per month, and my subsidy is about $9,000.  And once I re-start Social Security, maybe when I’m 65 and on Medicare, my monthly check will be significantly higher.

It’s the right decision, but it does have a big impact on my financial situation, and on my travel plans.  Although it’s relatively inexpensive to live in an RV, I can no longer afford to do the other traveling I’ve been doing.  I decided NOT to change my plans to stay in England and Wales for the winter and spring of 2018.  There would be a financial cost to cancel because everything is already arranged, and besides, I really feel that if I don’t do it now, I might never do it.  So, I’ll be funding it with savings.

But, I have to cut out my planned summer sublet in New York City, and I’m debating about the Panama Canal cruise next September.  And these changes are really OK, because of the second game changer.

I’ve mentioned before that my 23-year-old son has moved from Seattle back to his hometown of Newtown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and started a career in real estate (see  It has been quite an amazing transition to witness.  After graduation from college, he had a strong pull to experience “somewhere else”, so he went to Seattle, where his sister was living.

Then last summer, after a year of struggling to support himself and make new friends in a new place, he is incredibly happy to be back home.  He’s lived in Bucks County since he was two, and that’s where he’s comfortable.  He’s an Eagle Scout, and has been active in sports since he was four, so his network is wide and deep.  All the people who know him the best are there – except, of course, for his family.

So, I’m going to change that!  I think Kyle and I have learned very similar life lessons, even though we’re at very different points in life.  We’ve learned how much we appreciate “home” after we’ve been away from it for a while.  We realize how incredibly important our relationships are – the friendships which we’ve spent years nurturing.  Both of us have realized that we belong in Bucks County.

During my travels across the country, I enjoyed visiting all sorts of different places.  I’ve been all over the country, in all four corners, and in between.  I’ve seen big cities and small towns, rural and suburban landscapes, dramatic mountains and peaceful farmland.  A common theme I felt was that the people who live in each place seem to belong there.  They fit.  And it made me ask myself “Where do I fit?”.  Everywhere I went, I asked myself “Could I live here?”, and I tried it on for size in my mind.

Before Kyle made his decision to move back, I might have answered my questions with “Maybe here.  Maybe.”  But, I didn’t feel enthusiastic about anyplace.  After Kyle’s decision, every time I considered a new place, I asked myself, “Why would I live here, when Kyle is back in Newtown?”.  And that’s what stuck.

The combination of the desire to live near at least one of my children, and the desire to be near many of my very dear friends, including a whole community of genealogy friends, made the decision to move back to Bucks County an easy one.  It was literally a no-brainer; I just followed my heart.  And I’m ready to make it happen as soon as I touch down in Philadelphia on May 20, 2018.

More details to follow as I work them out!

Fresno – the Good and the Bad

My RV was in Fresno for about a month in November and early December, and during that time I had wonderfully high highs, as well as some challenges…so typical of life!

I spent Thanksgiving with my kids at my uncle’s house in the Los Angeles area.  I hadn’t seen my aunt and uncle in about five years, and hadn’t been to their home in decades.  My kids met my uncle when they were too young to remember much, so this was truly a family reunion.

The day after the holiday, my brother’s two kids rode a train for two hours each way to visit with us at my uncle’s house for four hours.  We hadn’t seen them in almost two years.  I can’t even describe with words how amazing it all was.  A fabulous visit!

The four loves of my life – the boys are 6’4″ and 6’5″ – my father and both brothers were also tall!

From Los Angeles, my daughter and I drove up to San Francisco to visit an old friend.   I lived there in my 20’s and early 30’s, and hadn’t seen my friend in 28 years – so many great memories!

My house in San Francisco in the 1980s

And, my father grew up in San Francisco, so we visited his childhood home as well.  From there, we drove back to the RV in Fresno, and Caitlin stayed with me for a few days before flying back to Seattle.

General Grant Sequoia at Sequoia National Park
Road to Kings Canyon National Park at sunset

That part of the past month was fantastic!  But, for the remaining three weeks of my Fresno stay, I was alone – two weeks before the trip, and one week after.  Unfortunately, I was able to do very little genealogy research, which was the whole point of being there.   I spent a few hours in the genealogy section of the library one day, and my daughter and I visited the cemetery together.  That was it.

Caitlin and I are fascinated with my great-great Aunt Elsie, who purchased a house in her own name in Barton, Wisconsin, where she lived with her mother until she died in 1895.  Then 45 year old Elsie went west.  On her own?  We’d love to know the details!

My time in Fresno was spent preparing for my trip to England, and taking care of a myriad of administrative details.  It was enrollment time for health insurance, which threw me into a financial tizzy for a week afterwards.  I researched trip insurance,  phone, internet and medical coverage overseas, RV storage options, car rentals in England, rental car insurance, how to get my prescriptions filled while I’m away, and what to do for a GPS.  I finalized lodging plans for England and researched options for my trip to Italy.  I did my online Christmas shopping and worked on my genealogy classes.  In other words, I was busy.  Not much fun, but all good.

When I was in LA, my aunt and uncle very generously offered to allow me to store my RV and car at their house while I’m in Europe, which will save me a ton of money, and give me peace of mind as well.  More good.

Moving on to my complaints, I truly did NOT like the Fresno campground.  I paid extra to be on the lagoon, but it was all dried up.  The site was sandy, which meant I tracked the stuff in to the RV and I was constantly cleaning.  There was no picnic table.  My fellow campers seemed to be more or less permanently there – perhaps seasonal workers – most of whom had dogs which constantly barked.  Either that, or there was loud music playing into the night.  Or both.

It was cold – the last day there, I woke up to 28 degrees – and the bath house wasn’t heated, so I had to wait until it warmed up in the afternoon to take a shower.  Not only that, but the bath house was disgustingly dirty.  Even my daughter said that she didn’t know how I could stand it.  I took really fast showers.

I had an infestation of ants and lady bugs.  I was under a tree which constantly dropped something hard, like a nut, which made me jump out of skin every time I heard it.  The tree debris also prevented my slide-out from retracting on the cold morning I packed up, so I had to get up on the icy roof with a broom to sweep it all off.

And, things started to break.  My brand new computer completely crashed and I had to send it back to HP for repairs.  My brand new microwave stopped heating food.  The hot water heater was emitting a horrible burning smell, so I turned it off and had no hot water for the last week there.

Oh, and let’s not forget the car.  I had a recall notice regarding the seat detection mechanism on the passenger side, which impacts the airbag.  There was no Mini dealer anywhere near Fresno, so I scheduled an appointment in LA.  Then, I had to jump-start the car with the RV several times the week before the appointment, so I asked the dealer to take a look at the battery.  The final bill was $1,200 – evidently the power steering lines were leaking and had to be replaced, which was completely unexpected.

For car repair news on the positive side, I took the whole rig into the Camping World in Fresno the day I left. They repaired the damage to the front end of the car at no charge.  The hitch shouldn’t dip more than 3″ between the RV and the car, and my level was something like 9″, they said.  They corrected the hitch by installing a down bar (which I understandably had to pay for), so it won’t happen again.

It was kind of serendipitous that as I was coming to the end of my time in the RV, things were falling apart and I was feeling very ready to move on.  I just felt done, and very much looking forward to the next chapter in my adventure.