Jane Austen’s been in the spotlight more than usual lately; last month, the Daily Mail published a series of photographs of nineteenth-century aristocrats in their sprawling manors and estates. Unexpectedly, the photo album includes a number of Jane Austen’s relatives–Captain Edward Bradford, who lost his arm in a tiger attack, and Fanny Knight, who was Austen’s favorite niece–and has been shared across every social media outlet you can think of. It’s no wonder: Austen’s novels have stood the test of time, and they’re masterpieces of social commentary and criticism. Readers root for the love story and laugh over the well-timed irony; “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife,” indeed.
This week’s 52 Ancestors theme is “love”–Valentine’s Day is in a few days, after all–and it took me a while to decide on a relevant post. I’ve shared many stories of couples who were simply meant to be on the blog before–Thaddeus and Gertrude; Tom and Janice; and Peter and Fanny–as well as stories of a mother’s love for her children and of my family’s connection to Lucille Ball and I Love Lucy. And then I received another We’re Related notification on my phone (it’s an app that links to your Ancestry.com family tree and suggests potential connections to famous politicians and movie stars and writers). According to the app, I’m related to Jane Austen; she’s my 5th cousin 8x removed.
The family connection begins with Captain John Younglove Nelson–possibly the most fitting Valentine’s Day-themed name ever–of Suffield and Hartford, Connecticut. Captain Nelson was my 8th great-grandfather; he was born on August 10, 1726 in Suffield and married Sarah Rising–a descendant of James and Elizabeth (Hinsdale) Rising–in 1745 at the age of 19. After marrying, John and Sarah moved to Rupert, Vermont, and John served in the Revolutionary War in the Vermont Militia under Colonel Ira Allen. Records about Captain Nelson are difficult to come by, but I have found a copy of his will: he died in 1802 in Rupert, leaving behind his wife and nine children.
Where did the name “Younglove” come from? Captain Nelson’s mother was Hannah (Younglove) Nelson; she was born on August 3, 1702 in Suffield, Connecticut to James and Hannah (Phelps) Younglove, and she remained in New England until her death in 1770. Hannah’s paternal grandfather, John Younglove, was an educator and a preacher in Ipswich, Massachusetts, and his father, Samuel Younglove, was a butcher who traveled to America aboard the ship Hopewell with his wife, Margaret, in 1635. The supposed connection to Jane Austen in England lies with Margaret; according to We’re Related, Margaret was the daughter of Richard Legate, a yeoman–or a man holding and cultivating a small landed estate–in Theydon Garnon, England.
Unsure of Margaret’s connection to Richard Legate, I decided to trace Jane Austen’s side of the family tree. Austen’s parents, George and Cassandra, shared a gentry background: George descended from wool manufacturers who had risen to the lower ranks of the landed gentry, and Cassandra was a member of the aristocratic Leigh family of Stoneleigh in the County of Warwick. George’s father, William Austen, was a surgeon in Tonbridge Parish, and William’s mother, Elizabeth Weller, was a remarkable woman who raised her seven children by working as a housekeeper to the bachelor headmaster of Sevenoaks School. Elizabeth’s grandfather was supposedly John Legate–Margaret Legate’s brother–but other sources list her grandfather as Thomas Legate, an esquire in Westminster.
Are my Younglove ancestors connected to Jane Austen? I’m unsure; I haven’t found the necessary documents to prove or disprove both my and Austen’s relationship to the Legate family in Theydon Garnon. But here’s what I do know: Austen’s works are among my favorites–I will read Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice again and again for the rest of time–and that is enough. This We’re Related connection, though? I couldn’t pass it up, even with such an uncertain conclusion: Younglove is the perfect surname to highlight this week, and Austen’s romantic novels are the perfect accompaniment to this story. And I’ll leave you with Austen’s–or rather, Mr. Darcy’s–famous words: “In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” Until next time–