Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tracing Mormon Pioneer Ancestors: Location, Devon

Rather than simply noting the locations of your ancestors' origins in your genealogy program, spend some time looking up where they came from. It will help you in your genealogical research.

Here is an example.

Richard Litson was from Devon, England, before he moved to Cardiff, and as far back as I can see, his ancestors were from Devon. [1]

What and where is Devon? Devon is a large county in southwestern England. Its largest cities are Plymouth, important in the history of the settlement of America, and Exeter. Here is a map from Wikipedia showing Devon's location:

More specifically, Richard Litson and his ancestors were from (A) North Molton, (B) Brendon, (C) Countisbury, (D) Lynton, and (E) Parracombe: [2]

And what does it mean to be from Devon? I had to look it up, but once I did, what a literary place! Devon is the setting for The Hound of the Baskervilles and the location of Sabine Baring-Gould's beloved Lew Trenchard and the subject of his Book of the West. It's the setting of Lorna Doone: A Romance of Exmoor. It's the setting for the Laurie King novel The Moor. Devon is part of Thomas Hardy's Wessex.

Devon has two large moorlands, Dartmoor in the south, and Exmoor in the north, both now National Parks. Historically the Litsons lived on the edges of Exmoor in North Devon. 

The Welsh coastline viewed from Countisbury Hill. And that answers the question about how and why Richard Litson could have ended up working in Cardiff. There must have been extensive boat traffic between the two coasts.

A travel author described Exmoor thus:
It is a very beautiful and romantic coast, this of Somerset and North Devon, with the Bristol Channel flowing between it and the vapory hills and shores of South Wales. From desolate moorlands it drops into the sea by crags and precipices of red and yellow rock, sandstone, and granite, with here and there a narrow sandy or shingly beach, which appears or disappears as the tide comes in or ebbs. Seen from the sea, without a closer acquaintance, it seems to fall inland in softly rolling valleys, high enough for the clouds to rest upon them, but easy of passage, billowed in tranquillizing curves, peaceful and arable.
There is no wilder country in England, however, than this. It is all moorland, wild, uncultivated, solitary; open to all the winds that blow; clothed with only gorse and heather and bracken, or clumps of scrub oaks and dwarf pines, in which the wild deer still finds shelter and multiplies. A good part of it is Exmoor, and what is not Exmoor is like Exmoor. Pitiful the plight of the wayfarer who thinks it is as easy to cross afoot as it looks! He sees from the coast nothing between him and the horizon but one shallow basin after another, with barely a ridge between them; no steep hills to climb, or gullies to descend; a comfortable farmhouse, or a cluster of cottages, appears, perhaps, in the lap of one of the valleys. He is spent before he is undeceived. The wild moorland falls away everywhere into dark and difficult ravines; and the cottages, instead of lying in a vale, are on a cliff with a long descent to the opposite slope. There are few levels on Exmoor, few grades that do not drag the breath out of us. It is uphill and downhill, all the way to Lynmouth...
And the wonderful thing is — something unanticipated when one sees the blackness and desolation of the moorland— that while the uplands are so austere, all the valleys, or most of them, especially where they are narrowest, support a vegetation of a richness unsurpassed even in England. Here you will find the hydrangeas growing in colors never seen before; roses climbing up porch and lattice; the fuchsia as high as the chimneys, and raining like the thorns of Calvary; myrtle and laurel, and hedgerows that are nothing but solid banks of flower and leaf. [3]
Exmoor is famous for the Exmoor pony.

The people living in the Exmoor region mostly would have been farmers and miners.


There are at least two historical books online about Devon. Each has specific information about the five locations listed above, North Molton, Brendon, Countisbury, Lynton, and Parracombe:
Great Western Railway (Great Britain). 1906. Devon. The shire of the sea kings. London: Great Western Railway Co. 
Baring-Gould, Sabine. 1907. Devon. London: Methuen & Co. [On the frontspiece: "'Is there a land of such supreme and perfect beauty anywhere?' Longfellow."]

[1] The names "Devon" and "Devonshire" have been used interchangeably throughout history, but "Devon" is the correct modern usage. See an explanation here.

[2] Two of the Litson children married Glades, who were from southeast Devon, specifically (A) Yarcombe, (B) Membury, (C) Whitestaunton, and (D) Churchstanton:

[3] Rideing, William H. 1895. In the land of Lorna Doone and other pleasurable excursions in England. New York: T.Y. Crowell & Co., pp. 1-2.

Historic Devonshire map by Richard Blome from Freepages at RootsWeb. Maps of England and Wessex from Wikipedia. Photo of the Welsh coastline from Countisbury Hill from Photo of the Exmoor ponies from Photo of Parracombe from

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