Monday, March 12, 2012

It's a Small Word After All

Cultures are held together by their language. It is their language that binds people together and identifies their presence to others. For the genealogist, trying to understand a language that differs from our own is sometimes a complex task. This is especially true for those of Welsh descent who face a language (Welsh) totally different then the one spoken to the ear of the researcher. Words change, and their meanings change, and their common usage changes, and...on and on it goes. The following is such an example of words that have become confused for the genealogist.

Let's begin with the descriptor(adjective) "small". This would seem a simple thing, naming a "small island"...a "small tree"... a "small man". In the Welsh, the word "small" is "bach".(1) It was often used in a Welsh name to distinguish the smaller of two individuals that happened to share the same name, for example " Ievan ap Rhys"[ who would be bigger ] and "Ievan ap Rhys fychan"[who was the smaller by size]. It was written in the Welsh this way because the sound "b" was mutated [changed] to an "f" and word "bach" became "fach".

The Welsh also had different words for "younger" = "ieuaf" or "ifanc", and "young" = "ieuanc" and to make matters worse a word for "the younger" = "leiaf"! [The Normans also threw in their word for "young"= "jeune".

Now these adjectives appear very similar to the proper names "Ieuan", "Ievan", "Yevan", and "Ioan". Now just imagine if your name was "Ieuan fychan ap Yevan ieuaf". Were you the smaller, younger, or junior, and in which order?

It has become common for the genealogist to assume that the name "fychan" means "junior". [the youngest son of ] In reality, this may not be case. Likewise, several surnames have developed from the use of these adjectives among those writing down the records. "Fychan" has become the origin for the surnames "Vaughan" and "Jenkin". Wow, it's a small word after all.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Unto These Hills

Furnaces reaching temperatures of around 2800 degree Fahrenheit were needed to melt iron from ferrous ores. Special drafts from blowpipes and bellows were needed, and the use of charcoal in shaft furnaces helped things along. From common oxide ores, the production of iron was accomplished. These developments seemed to center in Anatolia, and greatly advanced by the Hittites. Of course the Hittites past their knowledge along to those folks who became known as the Celts.

By around 800 BC these Celts began their exploration and settlement of the area which was to become Wales. This new material produced some of the most destructive weapons of the day. What was one to do? The widespread replacement of bronze produced a new strategy for survival. The "Hillfort" it was called.

The drawings above are my attempt to try and visualize this environment. These fortifications helped defend the farms, and settlements of what was to become Wales, The Marches, and Northern Britain. A ditch and wall to stand behind was the principle. Throw things down, not throw things up. Drawing labeled #1 is the simple plan. Let the enemy come to you. Let them climb up a slop A, to fall down to the ditch B, while facing a sharp wall C, and the wooden defensive wall D. Stand behind D, and throw down on those helpless folks trying to throw upward some 10 - 16 feet. Wow, nice plan if your standing at the top looking down. Drawing #2 gives a little more sense of the depth A to B, to C. Sketch # 3 tries to show a lateral view with the platform and wall. Stone could also be used for the wall. There could be many, many ditches and walls constructed around the hill top.

Ring the bell, and come. Save yourself...come unto these hills.

A wonderful reference is The Iron Age Hillforts of England, A Visitor's Guide, by Geoffrey Williams, Horace Books, 1993.