A Blissful Confusion

Genealogy of the Bliss Family in America, published in 1891 by John Homer Bliss, chronicles the descent of the Bliss family from the crowning of William the Conqueror as King of England to their removal to America in 1635. Members of the Bliss family, according to the book, were friends of lords and kings, later persecuted for their stance on matters of politics and religion and driven from their ancestral home in Belstone in the county of Devonshire.

After reading about his ancestors in Genealogy of the Bliss Family in America, Charles Arthur Hoppin was inspired. He describes his experience in his own book, The Bliss Book, published in 1913: “What feelings of pride stirred the imagination of the unquestioning reader! How could one resist a desire to learn more of all this? What greater pleasure could there be to the mind [I] thought, than to view in reality ‘Belstone in Devonshire, the home of our forefathers’!”

Having had previous experience in researching English records, Mr. Hoppin determined to find the documentation that had been lacking in Genealogy. He spent the better part of ten years in England. He made some interesting discoveries.

“Alas! Belstone in Devonshire in the West of England has been visited; Belstone amid the lonely tracts of bog and moor and rock, out of which sterility man has never yet succeeded in raising the means of sustenance for any but the fewest of settlers; Belstone upon Dartmoor, high, bleak, and barren, an almost treeless tract of 225 square miles; Belstone that Devon’s splendid novelist, Eden Phillpotts, calls ‘a village that looks like a smudge of mud’…How odd seemed this region of England for the home of such titled Bliss ancestors as [I] had been reading of!”

Everything about Belstone, from its desolate appearance to the peculiar race of people who lived there, led Mr. Hoppin to believe that “the story printed in 1881 as to our Blisses in Belstone was only a story, flimsy and unsupported.” Furthermore, he discovered that records for the area did exist and that there was no evidence of any Blisses in or around Belstone prior to the year 1800.

It turns out that J. Homer Bliss, when compiling material for his Genealogy, received all of his information about the English Blisses from a correspondent, who claimed to have hired an English genealogist to do the research.

Mr. Hoppin suggests that although the great ancestral stories that had so excited him turned out to be mere fables, the truth is much better. The Thomas, George and John Bliss he discovered came from Daventry and Preston Parva. They were never imprisoned, never persecuted for their political participation, nor were they forced to flee to America to find safety. The Blisses, according to his research, were blacksmiths for many generations; good, sturdy families, hard workers and honest people.

Unfortunately, Mr. Hoppin’s research was later proven to be almost entirely incorrect as well. More on that another time…

You can read for yourself, here: https://archive.org/details/genealogyofbliss00blis           and here: https://archive.org/details/blissbookromanti00hopp


Of Lords and Kings

A long time ago, in a land far from here, there was a great war. With swords and spears, lord fought against lord, each sitting astride his horse. It was a very hard battle and many hundreds of men were killed. The duke was thrown from his horse and badly wounded. His men, including a man named Honestus, carried him to the woods, away from the battle. They laid him on the ground, under the protection of a great oak tree.

While the rest of the men went to find a way to carry the duke to safety, Honestus remained behind, in order to protect and care for his lord. At the request of the duke, Honestus put on his lord’s armor and took up his sword.

In a little while, Honestus saw five of the duke’s enemies coming through the woods. Honestus was very skilled with the bow and slew three of the men without ever giving away his position. The other two men ran away, but then sneaked back to find Honestus’s hiding place. As Honestus raised his lord’s sword to battle his enemies, the duke said, faintly, “Now, God speed thee, Honestus!” They fought a long time and Honestus was wounded. Weary and ready to faint, Honestus suddenly spotted the rest of the duke’s men, hurrying toward him through the woods. The sight gave Honestus renewed strength and he smote off the head of one of his attackers. The other man fled, but was pursued by the duke’s men and killed. Honestus and the others then carried the duke to a church for safety. Honestus stayed there with his lord until he was healed of his many wounds.

When the duke was recovered enough to return to his own castle, Honestus went with him. There they found all the duke’s lands completely destroyed and all his people gone. Honestus’s cottage was also destroyed and his wife and children were missing. The duke fled for safety, but Honestus stayed behind in a hut in the woods. He thought his heart was broken.

One night, Honestus heard voices outside, mingled with the screaming of children. He rushed from his hut. On the ground, he found two children in their night clothes. One was covered in blood. He picked them up and carried them to his hut to care for them. There, he discovered that they were the duke’s own children. Honestus cared for the children and loved them as if they were his own.

After many months, Honestus and the children heard a great commotion outside. It was the duke who, while returning home, had found Honestus’s wife and children. Upon seeing his own children in the care of Honestus, the duke fell upon Honestus’s neck and kissed him and called him a nobleman. The duke carried them all to the castle where they had great rejoicing.

In reward for his bravery and loyalty, the duke gave Honestus many acres of land and built him a house called Greystone Garth. Over the door was laid a stone, carved with the words, “God speed thee, Honestus.” Honestus was very happy and much thought of and his children and their children and their children kept the estate in their family for a long time.

Many years later, during the reign of Charles I, Jonathan and Thomas Bliss, two of Honestus’s descendants, rode to London with members of the House of Commons. Upon his succession to the throne, Charles declared himself supreme ruler and had refused to call Parliament for 11 years. In 1640, at war with Scotland, Charles was obliged to call a session of Parliament to obtain funding for his military endeavors. The members of Parliament, furious with the king and citing numerous public grievances, refused to consider his request for finances. The session was dissolved after only three weeks.

The king was very angry and sought revenge against all those who had waylaid his plans. Jonathan and Thomas Bliss were marked for destruction. Before long, they were fined for nonconformity and kept in prison for several weeks. Their belongings were seized, their horses and cattle were driven off and their father was tied to the back of a horse and dragged through the streets. Jonathan was thrown into prison again, along with his father. Thomas and another brother, George, were forced to sell many of their belongings in order to obtain a release for their father, but they were not able to raise enough to buy freedom for Jonathan. He died in prison.

Thomas and George sold the estate, which had been in the family for over 200 years, and secured passage for themselves and their families to America. They arrived in Boston in 1635.

This remarkable tale would be a classic example of the kind of family story that should be passed through the generations except for one thing: none of it is true.

To be continued…

What I Thought I Knew

This post was originally published at The Mom and Pop Shop in 2008. It is republished here at the request of Mom & Dad.

I know that William Jedediah Brimley is my grandfather. I know I never met him. He died in April 1943. I know that my grandmother is Margaret Kirk. I never met her. She died in 1930. In the 1880 census in Salt Lake they were both shown living with their families in the “5th Ward.” She was 13 and he 24. (It says 24, but our records would make him 23.) His occupation was listed as “teamster.” Aunt Janeen thinks he delivered groceries from their store in the wagon. In 1885 they married and in July 1891 they were sealed in the Manti Temple. My Dad was born in Manti in 1891, the fourth child. Aunt Janeen says they lived in Manti for one year. I also know that my Dad loved his father very much and that he practically worshiped his mother.


What I didn’t know is: on September 20, 1927 William Jedediah was sealed in the Salt Lake Temple to Elizabeth Helen Evans, who died in 1883 at the age of 19. Dad and I looked at the actual Temple record of this event yesterday at the Family History Library. We know the name of the officiator, the names of the witnesses, the name of the proxy who stood in for Elizabeth, and we know that William Jedediah stood for himself. What we don’t know is who this woman was and how she knew my grandfather.

Looking at the census records has told me some things. I know that in 1880 Elizabeth lived with her parents in Salt Lake, in the “4th Ward.” She worked as a servant for a family that lived in the “7th Ward.” There was a child in the home where she worked who had measles at the time of the census. I saw a lot of measles on the censuses and in those days it was often fatal. So…if these two were married when they were young, it was only for a short while. They may have been sweethearts and never had a chance to marry.
Aunt Janeen has spoken to some of William Jedediah’s grandchildren in Arizona and they never heard of such a thing.

So we have a mystery! The new Family Search has uncovered several mysteries, but this one is ours. Suddenly I care about this woman. And I care more about my grandmother, Margaret Kirk, whose husband had to get at least verbal permission from her to have this sealing performed. I am learning that this is one of the most important results of Family History. We get to know these people and we learn to care about them a great deal. Elizabeth Helen Evans is no relation to me, but she must have meant something to my grandfather!