Roots of my Family


As a child, did you ever wonder where your ancestors came from?   I certainly didn’t.  It was a given.

I lived in Hastings, Sussex on the south coast of England .... so did my parents, and my grandparents. My school in Hastings held an annual celebration of the school’s foundation in the 1600s. To top it all off, I could look out from my parents’ bedroom window and see the ruins of Hastings Castle, built in 1066. I imagined that my family had lived in Hastings for ever.

So, it came as a bit of a shock, as I started exploring my family tree, to find that my father was my only ancestor born in Hastings. So much for ancestral roots in Hastings.

I thought it would be fun to visually see where my ancestors came from. The base map below depicts South East England c.1800. The birth places of my 16 great-great-grandparents are represented by the purple markers. Most were born in S.E. England, one in Ireland, and two in Northern Ireland.

They were all born in the 1790 - 1830 era, before railways existed. Travel was by horse-drawn coach, or by foot, or sailing ship for crossing water. Consequently, ancestors of the “purple” generation did not move far in their lifetime. Agriculture was the largest employer up until the early 1800s. By the 1840s the Industrial Revolution was underway, meaning more employment in cities and towns. Also, the Potato Famine in Ireland led to mass migration.

Stories that make up this website have come from my fascination with old maps and a curiosity about why and when my ancestors moved around. As the story count is rising, some sign-posting is needed to help site-visitors find their way around. I have grouped the stories into four “Family Trails”, starting from this page. Clicking on a trail link will take you to the next story on that trail. Some stories apply to more than one family, have multiple footprint buttons to keep you on your chosen trail.


Two family trees are referenced on the menu bar at the top of each webpage: On my father’s side -Gambrill and Reed tree; on my mother’s side -Taylor and Degan tree. On each tree, a star above a name is a clickable link to a story involving that person.


So between the stories, the trails and the family trees you have it all ... enjoy your walk.


Family Trails

Now to introduce the four family trails that will take you through my stories. Wherever you see footprints at the bottom of a page, this is a link to the next story on that trail. The stories on each trail are in chronological order. At the last story, the footprint is replaced with an end-of-trail link back to this page. To return to this page at any time, click Family Roots & Trails on the menu bar at the top of each page. The Gambrill and Reed trails follow my father’s roots; the Taylor and Degan trails follow my mother’s roots.



Gambrill family

From the villages of Barfrestone and Woodnesborough in Kent. There are at least five generations in this area. Many blends with other Kent families, and the Haynes family from Bedfordshire.

Reed family

From villages in the South Downs, west of Eastbourne in Sussex. Other names that blend in are Avis and Akehurst (both old Sussex names). Also Betteridge from the Cotswolds, and Mcgrath from Ireland.

Taylor family

From Colchester and the surrounding villages in Essex, certainly well back into the 1700s. Came to Hastings in the 1920s via a couple of generations in London.

Degan family

John Degan moved from Northern Ireland to London in the 1870s and married a Londoner. Their daughter married into the Taylor family.

Short on Degan stories, but you’ll find a surprise.