171. tensile


Bayeau FragmentSorry it’s been a while. My nonfiction writing class started at the end of January and that’s been pretty writing, as well as emotionally, intensive. The focus of the class is on personal narrative, so (naturally) I’m writing about the experience of coming out gay and during the process of that losing my Christian faith as well. Coupled with therapy, it’s dredging up a lot of memories – some good, some painful – but already I’ve experienced quite a bit of healing. It’s going to take some time still, and it’s odd becoming your own archivist, but it’s a fascinating experience.

I’ve also been digging into my family tree the past couple of weeks and have made some really fascinating discoveries that are crying out for further investigation. (This has the strong likelihood of becoming another book after the one about my dual coming out story.) I’m contemplating a trip to England just to do some digging and maybe even find some original genealogical records.

The past couple of years I’ve attempted to trace my 3rd great grandfather, John Miller (or Mueller), my great grandmother’s grandfather. It appears that he arrived in Baltimore, Maryland at the age of 18 on June 5, 1850 with his brother (whose name I haven’t been able to uncover – yet). He embarked from Bremen, Germany about six weeks earlier on the passenger ship Adolphine. According to records from the 1850 census, he lived in Ward 5 of Baltimore, Maryland with the Wigar family. That’s where the trail runs cold.

My third great grandmother Mary Barbara Giessler (or Geissler) arrived in Baltimore, Maryland in November of 1854 on the passenger ship Minerva. She was born on September 3, 1829 in Bretzfeld, a town in the state of Baden-Württemberg, Germany. She was 25 years old when she first set foot in the United States. I’m still not sure when or where they were married.

That’s as far as I’ve been able to go with the Millers (my great grandmother’s maiden name). So last week I decided instead to trace the Norris clan, which is my great grandfather’s name. That tree was actually much easier to trace. (I’m starting with Ancestry.com. Yes, I know it’s owned by the Mormons, but who better to start with than people who have a genealogy fetish?)

The first interesting discovery was that my 8th great grandmother, Mary Norris (b. Jun 1, 1689), was murdered on Feb 1, 1760 by Cherokee Indians in an event known as the Long Cane Massacre in South Carolina. She was 71 years old when she died. All of the adults were slaughtered, and two girls were carried off, one of whom was rescued years later (think John Ford’s The Searchers).

Thomas James, librarian

Thomas James, first librarian of the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

Second interesting discovery was that my 15th grand uncle, Thomas James (c. 1573 – 1629), was the first librarian of the Bodleian Library at Oxford. He began his appointed duties on November 8, 1602.

As close as I can tell, the first of my grandparents to come to what was then the American Colonies was Thomas Edward Norris (1608 – 1675). He was born in Congham, England, and arrived in the Colonies in the early 1630s. There are apparently a number of interesting stories about him, some of which may be true. The gist is that he ran away from home around age 10 or 11, went to sea as a sailor, and landed in Nansemond County in Virginia around 1630 or 1631. (By the math, Thomas was at sea for about twelve years! What a badass!) He married his wife, Ann Hynson, in 1637. Curiously, their seventh child, Cuthbert, drowned at sea near Sulawesi, Tengah, Indonesia in 1668 at the age of 23. Fortunately, Thomas’ eldest son Thomas Jr. (1608 – 1675) survived long enough to spawn my 9th great grandfather, John Norris (1672-1752), along with 10 other children by two (consecutive) wives.

Note that all of these dates so far are pre-Revolutionary War! Most of my relatives were probably Loyalists to the Crown.

SirThomasFlemingNext interesting fact I discovered is that Thomas Fleming, husband of my 15th great grand aunt, Mary Fleming (née James) (1554-1614), was a judge in the trial of Guy Fawkes. Yes. Guy Fawkes of the Gunpowder Plot. Mary’s grandmother was my 17th great grandfather Thomas James’ wife Alice Porter (1502-1547), the daughter of Dr. Mark James, who was personal physician to…

Elizabeth I.


The Virgin Queen. Gloriana. Bess. The Faerie Queen.

After that I kept expecting to hit a dead end, but the branches just kept going up. Starting from my first true English ancestor, Thomas Norris (10th great grandfather), the line continued. Geoffrey Norris (1559-1609), John Norris (1528-1572), and then to where the story starts to get more interesting, Geoffrey Noreys (1490-1572). Noreys is an earlier spelling of Norris, which we will see the origin of in a moment.

His father was Robert Noreys (1460-1572)… and then we enter the very confusing period of Everyone And His Father Is Literally Named Geoffrey. (No joke.) The interesting thing is that after 19th great grandfather Geoffrey, the surname went from “le Norreys” to just “Norey” or “Norrey.” This was around the middle of the 14th century. Plague time in England.

Skip several generations to a guy named William de Noers, which is where the story keeps getting interesting.

William de Noers was a steward to William the Conqueror. He fought at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and apparently for his loyalty was granted thirty-three manors along with lands in the areas which became known as Lancashire, Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, and Norfolk, making him a tenant-in-chief. His name was important enough to record in the Domesday Book of 1086, where his surname is spelled “de Noyers.” The book tells us he had charge of lands in Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Buckinghamshire for the King that had once belonged to Archbishop Stigand of Cantebury.

William’s father was Sir Gilbert de Noers (990-c.1024), a Norman knight and Baron of Missenden in what is now Buckinghamshire. Gilbert was born in Normandy, in the northern part of France (Norris means “man from the North”).

Here I thought my family was boring…


2 thoughts on “171. tensile

  1. Lily Mountjoy

    Hi, this is Lily. You are not the only one… bored here. I am the part of the Norreys, too. Sir Gilbert de Noers was my 24th great grandfather. HEH.

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