Dem bones, dem bones….

There were many awe-inspiring moments on our recent tour of the Spanish cities of Seville, Cordoba and Granada – the Alcazar in Seville, the mosaics in the Roman city of Italica and the courtyards of the Alhambra to name but three.  But one of the most profound moments was viewing the actual coffins of the ‘Reyes Católicos’, Ferdinand and Isabella, in the Capilla Real in Granada.  That was quite unexpected.  Their marble momuments are splendid, but underneath lie their simple lead coffins.  So much history focussed in two simple coffins!  Click on this link to see a picture of the coffins.

In the case of Ferdinand and Isabella there is little doubt that Granada is their final resting place.  But the tomb of Columbus in Seville Cathedral is a different matter.  Although he died in Spain, his body was taken to the Caribbean thirty years later as it was his wish to be buried there, but he was brought back to Seville in 1898.  There is ongoing controversy as to whether the bones under that huge tomb are really his.

The tomb of Columbus, Seville Cathedral
The tomb of Columbus, Seville Cathedral

Why does it matter to us so much to be certain of the identity of bones?  I recently watched a TV programme where Shakespeare’s tomb was scanned and where a mystery skull buried elsewhere was tested to see if it could be his (it wasn’t!).  With amazing forethought Shakespeare had a curse placed on his tomb to avoid it being disturbed in the future.

Shakespeare's grave in Stratford
Shakespeare’s grave in Stratford

Somehow a sense of place is important to us as we research our ancestors.  To be able to visit (or at least see pictures of) the places where our ancestors lived helps us to appreciate more of their lives, but in many cases to be able to stand by their gravestones is also a special experience as we connect with the families who went before.

The grave of my great grandparents William and Mary Mitchell in West Grinstead
The grave of my great grandparents William and Mary Mitchell in West Grinstead

Increasingly this will be an unusual experience with the vast majority of people in this country now being cremated rather than buried and with there being no lasting memorial to visit.   Perhaps that’s as it should be.  We can still connect with the past through the places we visit and the objects we inherit without, as Ellis Peter’s first novel of the Cadfael Chronicles suggests, a “morbid taste for bones”.


Genealogy MOOC

Are you a fan of MOOCs?  (Massive Open Online Course).  These free courses are run by a number of providers, including a number of UK Universities, and are gaining in number and popularity.

As I write this I am half way through a six week course on Genealogy.  So far the course has looked at the nature of documentary evidence and has been a useful reminder of what primary and secondary sources are and the possible pitfalls of transcriptions and indexes.  Week two looked at research strategies and the use of wildcards in online searches.  It also tackled the issue of name changes.  This last week has given an overview of both civil and church records and the use of genealogy databases.

This course (as with most MOOCs I think, and this is my fifth) uses a mixture of short videos, articles to read and quizzes.  Discussion is invited and information and links shared by other participants can be very useful. The lead educator of this course is Tahitia McCabe, from the University of Strathclyde’s Postgraduate Programme in Genealogical, Palaeographic and Heraldic Studies.

You can access the material whenever you wish during the week, so it’s very flexible and with most of them you can spend as much or as little time as you wish, depending on your time commitments.

It’s not too late to start this course now, or you can register your interest for the next one at

Genealogy MOOC