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Brandon Penny

Family History Project
By: Brandon Penny
College Now Course - BSS 1

The Penny family is one of a long history, rich culture, fascinating stories, and best of all - strange but true facts. For example, I bet you didn't know that I am my own 8th cousin! Before approximately four years ago, neither did I. These days I know an awful lot about my family history. In fact, I know more than I could have ever imagined. I can currently trace my family back nine generations (count 'em, nine!) all the way to Devonshire, England in the year 1755. I can name almost 99% of anybody that was born between the late 1700s and now and is somewhat related to me. I can probably tell you their name, family members, date of birth, date of death, and their relation to me.

The way this all started was back in 2003, just four years ago, when something clicked in my father's head and he decided he wanted to learn more about our family background and the genealogy of the Penny family. When he began his journey, he acquired a great deal of drive and determination. Nothing could stop him and he would let nothing get in his way of finding out as much as possible about the family history. He began - where else - on the Internet. He's browsed through, what by now must be, a few hundred web pages (one of which is the records of the Latter Day Saints, because, interestingly enough, one of my relatives is/was a Mormon and posted some family records on there), purchased a few books, and I'm sure even made some telephone calls. Lucky for him, Newfoundland (the part of Canada that, for the most part, we are from), keeps excellent genealogical records and has some of the oldest parish records in North America! Within the past four years, he's been continuously filling in little pieces of the family history, but amazingly it only took him approximately a year to trace all the way back to William Penny who was born in 1755.

Speaking of William Penny, let's start my family history with him. William Penny is my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. He was born in 1755 in Devonshire, England and at about the age of 18 he moved to English Harbour, Trinity Bay, Newfoundland with his two brothers, George and Ralph. He settled there to fish because at the time fishing was a big industry in Newfoundland. Once there, he married Ann Jones and they had William, John, Charles, James, and Samuel. Little did they know that down the line there would be a total of eight William Pennys, seven John Pennys, two Charles Pennys, three James Pennys, and three Samuel Pennys.

William Penny was one of twelve jurors in the trial of Mary Power and Robert Fling, who were accused of the murder of Maurice Power, Mary's husband, in 1772. They were accused of strangling Maurice, Mary's husband, in his sleep. As it turned out they were guilty and Robert Fling was sent back to Ireland, while Mary Power was sentenced to be hanged; however this is where it got interesting. Sometime after they sentenced her to be hanged they realized/found out that she was 5 months pregnant! Fortunately, they allowed her to give birth after four more months and then they still hanged her!

As we move on down my family tree, the next significant person would have to be Alexander Penny, who was born in 1849. Alexander was the master builder of the only church in English Harbour, Newfoundland - All Saints Anglican Church. In fact, this church is of immense relevance today because of what has become of it. Just recently, there is a group of people who are trying to save the church and turn it into an Arts Association. If this does not occur, the church that my great-great-great-grandfather built 100-150 years ago will be destroyed. The bigger plan is to turn the town of English Harbour into an artist community and have the church as a giant studio. Last year, an art auction was held in Toronto to raise money for this project, and they also applied for government grants to assist in the funding. Turning the church into an artists' studio would be a great idea, considering they cannot find any other alternate use for the church, and this would hopefully bring about a rise in the population of English Harbour. At the height of the town, in the mid-1800s, there were approximately 1,000 people in the town, whereas today there are only 48.

Today, I am beyond glad that my father decided to do all of this research and found these hundreds of people that make up my rich family history, for without it I would know close to nothing about my history. For example, I can tell you that there have been some interesting first names to share the last name Penny, such as Absalom, Bertram, Colin Gilbert, Gertrude, Honor, Mahalah, Malcolm Wilifred, Martha Sweetland, Miriam, Muriel, Pierce Francis, Solomon, Sweet, Urias, and Violet. Speaking of interesting facts, please allow me to explain how I am my own 8th cousin. My great great-grandparents, John Francis Penny and Janet Wells each had a great-grandmother (obviously). Their great-grandmothers were sisters; therefore, when the two of them got married every single person before and after them became related in a very strange way. That is why I am my own 8th cousin and my father is my 7th cousin once removed.

As I have mentioned, I am simply enthralled by all of the work that my father has done over the past four or five years. Through his hard work and dedication I have been able to find out about many, many, many relatives that I have and now I can trace my family back nine generations! This amazes me compared to the knowledge that most people have about their family. Not only does my family go way back, but now I found out many interesting anecdotes about them. (One more thing: my 15th cousin 4 times removed shares my birthday! Only she was born 118 years before me) My father now holds over 500 pages worth of family history and when I go through those pages, I feel as if I have the world at my fingertips. What is the one most interesting thing that I found out, well in my opinion that would have to be that my family really came from England, and because my grandfather left Newfoundland before Canada became free from England, I am British and not Canadian like I was lead to believe my entire life. Now that my father has gone back nine generations, he has one path in mind - to keep going back! He now plans on finding out exactly where in England William Penny is from, and who his parents are. In order to do this and find out even more, he plans to visit