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


One thought on “A Blissful Confusion

  1. One had better be careful and sure about what one writes. Right? I’m thinking of me, because I write stuff, too..

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