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Blogging about things that matter to me. Photographing things I love - Instagram @debcyork. Writing about both. Only wine and chocolate can save us… You can also find me on Twitter (@debcyork) and Facebook. If you like four-legged views, try @missbonniedog on Twitter

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Both Sides of the Story

"In seeking truth, you have to get both sides of a story" - Walter Cronkite

A few weeks ago, I made contact with a very very distantly related person in Australia.  She is from the Guest/Gidney side of my Anglo India family tree and we made contact via some old forum posts that came up while I was googling.

To cut a long story short, we have been swapping various information and it turned out that she is in touch with someone who actually remembers some of my family.  The lady is very old and sadly quite ill but she does still love to chat about India apparently.

The picture above purports to show John Gidney and his first wife Margaret.  It was made available via a webite called  sirhenrygidney.net.  The site is run by a Gidney descendant of John and Margaret, as far as I understand it.  They had three children, Charles, Louisa and Henry, before Margaret's untimely death.  John went on to marry twice more (which is where myself and my Australian contact come in - from wife number two!), according to the site and to my research so far.  [Henry became a leader of the Anglo India community and fought for Anglo India rights to be considered throughout the years of wrangling over possible Indian independence. Maybe a subject for a future post!]

When I found this site, I was thrilled as it answered a lot of questions for me, as well, of course, as throwing up many more questions (always the way for a curious genealogist!).  However, the elderly relation in Australia recounted a somewhat different tale to my contact and after hearing it, for a while I panicked and wondered if I had been too quick to trust the family website that I had stumbled upon.

The site states that Margaret David's family opposed the marriage as although Miss David was Anglo Indian, she was highly educated and had good prospects.  The Australian lady recalls that, the way she heard it, John was not called Gidney until he arrived in India, having run away from Ireland and changed his name.  She also believes that John's family would have nothing to do with his wife as she was too dark skinned.

What to believe?  And how to prove the truth of the matter?  A real lesson in snap family tree decision making?  Had I been too delighted to find the family life story online and ready for copying?  

After hours more searching, I do believe that I have proved that the Henry Gidney site is more likely to be correct.  I have done this via the brothers of John who are mentioned on the site.  There are a number of people who have posted in forums etc that they are related to Sir Henry Gidney (quite a badge of honour apparently!) through his uncles.  

I can only hope that they have not stumbled upon the same site and made the same assumptions, of course.  I have as yet found no way to trace Margaret David's roots and that seems to me to be the only way to get closer to having both sides of the story.  Do let me know if you can help!

Friday, 25 July 2014

Memories are made of...what?

There is a large farmhouse in a small hamlet in Northumberland where my family used to stay when I was a child.  Actually, we did not stay in the house but either in a run down caravan in the garden or latterly in some holiday cottages in the farmyard.

A few years ago, when I started to go on holiday to the area with my own children, I decided to drive up and see the house that I remembered.  It seemed, as we drove, to be much further away from the main road than I remembered but we kept going.  As we rounded a bend, my husband was just starting to say "will you know it..." when I saw it.  Yes!  That's it!  And how did I know?  Well, topiary animals were all cut into the very high hedges!

If anyone had asked me "have you ever stayed somewhere with topiary animals outside?", I would have denied all knowledge.  I honestly did not remember until I clapped eyes on the house.  And as an experiment, I sent an untitled picture of the house to my brother.  His wife said "where on earth is that?" and without blinking, he answered "Mrs Murray's house" - again, not having previously remembered about the topiary!

So my question from this, looking at my family tree, is how many of the people on my tree, just two generations back, did I meet as a child?  And would I remember them if I was able to see them again?  I know for sure that I met two of my great grandmothers.  I also must have met most of my grandparents' siblings. 

Of course, most religions hold that we will see our loved ones again some time and I didn't write this post to start a religious debate.  Each to their own and leave it at that.  I just wish that I could remember some of the people about whom I am now writing and researching.

My Anglo-Indian grandfather had a cousin of whom he was very fond, surname Westerling.  When looking at the family tree, I can see that there are a number of reasons why the Westerlings were a strong connection, not least the coming to the UK when most of Grandad's family went to New Zealand.  We used to spend weekends with the extended family.  When my grandfather died, a number of that family came to the funeral.  I could not have told you how long it was since I saw them but I was able to introduce every one to my husband without thinking "who are you"....  How do our memories do this?  Such connections seem to me to be very visually based.  The sight of someone or something activates your memory.

The shame of this is that I cannot remember my great grandmothers or the others as I sit here now.  It would be nice, wouldn't it, to be able to reach into the depths of one's memory at will, rather than needing these external stimulus?

Of course, a life of balancing family arrangements and needs does tend to sap your memory powers to say the least.  Mine, certainly, have taken a battering...

Monday, 21 July 2014

Heir, Apparently

One of my guilty pleasures is the TV programme Heir Hunters.  I watch it on IPlayer whilst catching up with the ironing... sad but true.  I do switch off from research ideas sometimes, I promise.

For the uninitiated, Heir Hunters is about the companies that make their livings from specific genealogical research - usually in pursuit of the beneficiaries of unclaimed estates left by those who have died without leaving a will.

I am always fascinated by how possible it is, even in our modern world, for someone to be almost anonymous.  Today I watched an episode where the researchers had been unable even to find a photo of the deceased person.  Nothing.  How different to today's Instagram/Facebook/Twitter generation.

A couple of months ago, my aunt called my mother to say that she had had a call from an heir hunter.  It was to do with a relative of my grandmother's but the caller had given very few details on that first call and my aunt wanted to know if it was even possible that what they had said was true.

Well, far from being demoralised that I had not found this person myself, I was delighted with the challenge!  I haven't watched all those episodes for nothing, I told myself.  I do family trees but this was my chance to be a "proper" heir hunter - against the clock, unknown cash at the end.  Let's go!  Excitement for a Saturday morning instead of son's football and daughter's gym!

It turned out that the tree I had created for my mother and her siblings - of their mother's maternal line of Tiller - was the answer and that I had come very close to at least finding out about the existence of the deceased person when I first did the tree.  I had concentrated on working backwards and had not yet pursued the possibility of cousins for my grandmother.

Anyway, my grandma Lily apparently had a first cousin called Constance, the existence of whom we were blissfully unaware.  My uncle believe that the name jogged a memory of someone named Connie being mentioned but no-one else had a clue.

One of the biggest puzzles is that they all appear to have grown up in the same area of North London - Lily and her siblings, Constance and hers.  My grandmother even appears to have been named after her aunt Lillian - her mother's sister and Constance's mother.

Of course, people move on and grow up and, even within families, lose touch.  However, my grandmother lost her brother whilst he was very young and they had already lost their parents.  Her remaining sibling, a sister, also died relatively young.  So it seems sad that she and Constance were not in touch.

My mother and her three siblings will be sharing a small amount of money from Constance.  My grandmother died ten year ago and it appears that Constance did not long survive her.  Hopefully, by adding Constance to our family tree, we can preserve some small memory of her.  And I got to be a sort of Heir Hunter, even if only for a day!  A new string to the research bow?

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Great (Travel) Expectations

The school holidays are upon us once again.  The mind automatically turns to travel (even though one is not going far this year!).  Everyone is talking about where they are going, how they will get there and what they will see when they arrive.

We know so much about so many places these days.  Often, before we arrive at our destination, we have made restaurant bookings, booked outings, even taken virtual tours of our hotels or the sights around the area.  There are, of course, many places where you might not know quite how it will be upon arrival, even in these highly internet connected days - the Antarctic, the desert, the jungle, certain bars (!).  However, for most people, they do at least have some idea what they can expect once they have booked a holiday.  And you tend to want to talk to your travel company if your travels do not live up to these expectations!

Which leads to one to wonder what it must have been like to take months to get somewhere whilst all that time not knowing what you are in for.  One of my ancestors joined the army in around 1804, when Napoleon was emperor of France, George III (the one who lost the plot somewhat) was on the British throne and the general population really had no concept of foreign travel.

Joseph was a "staymaker" from London (ie he made corsets!).  On the enlistment roll, no reason for joining up is given but he joined the 30th Regiment of Foot, the Cambridgeshires - as mentioned on a previous post.  By April 1806 he was on his way to serve in India. 

It would have taken four to six months to get there at least - actually the battalion stopped to help with the taking of the Cape of Good Hope on the way!  The conditions on the ship must have been awful.  And then there was the worry of what awaited him and for how long.

As it happened, Joseph never saw England again.  The First Battalion 30th Foot remained in India until 1829.  Much to their frustration, it seems.  Life in India was hard and there were long periods of tedious garrison duties.  Their opposite numbers in the Second Battalion got to fight in the Napoleonic Wars... far more exciting for professional soldiers presumably.

The picture above shows Cannanore (also called Kannur) in South Western in India - in Kerala, actually.  The regiment had landed in Eastern India and had lived and worked on that side of India since arrival.  However, in autumn 1811, they were ordered to march (!) to the strategically important Cannanore.

It was in Cannanore that Joseph's eldest two year old son, who had apparently accompanied the regiment, died and his second son was born.  Joseph himself died in Hydrabad (back on the east coast again) in 1822, having worked his way up to Sergeant and had four Anglo-Indian children along the way. 

Imagine taking months to get somewhere that you have not even seen in a picture.  Imagine finally making a life there and then being ordered to walk hundreds of miles to start all over again.  Actually, it is hardly possible to imagine, for most of us.

The idea of international travel is taken for granted these days.  You only have to look at the list of the poor passengers on the Malaysian airliner that was apparently shot down this week.  They were (mostly) not on the way to start completely new lives in unknown lands.  They were holiday makers, people travelling for work, people visiting family or friends.  Short, planned trips that would have been laughably impossible in 1811.

We are very lucky to have such opportunities as those people thought they were taking - to travel, experience new places whilst being able to return to easily to our roots if we so wish.  It is unbelievably sad for those families who have lost their loved ones this week that what should have been easy and routine travel has ended in tragedy.

Friday, 18 July 2014

The Thrill of the Chase

Not posted for a couple of days.  I am drowning in paper!

The tree that I have been working on has numerous large sets of siblings on it and unfortunately, I have been so enjoying puzzling it out, I have let my record keeping get a little out of hand.

Below is a fabulous picture of one of the families involved.  Not dated it yet but it shows the parents with their eleven children - all of whom survived childhood!  It is going to be quite something to trace all of their descendents.

One of the most interesting things about genealogy, for me anyway, is the detective trail that it sets in motion.  So much information is available out there!  I have always loved puzzles anyway - the huge Samurai Sudoku grid in the Saturday Times is the only reason that I buy the paper rather than read it online.  And don't get me started on the Saturday giant crossword...

For me, working on a family tree is like a giant puzzle.  I am always thinking "ok, so that is that person, what happened to them/their husband/wife/sibling".  You need to be very logical in your approach to dates and possible timings.  The big websites, in particular, have so many records that you must narrow down search periods as tightly as possible or you will be confronted with thousands of possible matches every time.  This work seems to suit my brain type.  My parents say that I was never happier than sorting things into piles, according to various categories.  I rarely actually played with the toys - just sorted and tidied!

My current work has flummoxed (what a lovely word!) even me though.  It is shown me that I need to tighten up my record keeping.  That is, keeping better records as I go along the trail.  With so many names that all have similar dates, it has become a little tangled...

This has led me to the question of software for family trees. Should I make better use of the "tree making" facilities on one of the big sites?  If so, which one?  Or invest in a better program?  How do I make it so that a client can share their tree electronically without needing a subscription to a service? Endless questions and possibilities - much like genealogy in general.

Actually, my head began to ache yesterday with the number of people all called similar things, born to the same two or three sets of people in the same time frame.  Suddenly the puzzle was not so thrilling.

It is time to return to my own roots - those of chief sorter and queen of lists.  This weekend, before I extend this massive tree any further, I must update my electronic records.  It is just not as much fun as the chase though....

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Harry Potter and the Fusiliers

I am lucky enough to spend quite a lot of time in Northumberland with my family.  It is a beautiful county and despite having visited since my own childhood, I never get tired of going there.  Fortunately my own children are now learning to love the places that I holidayed in as a child.

One of these places is Alnwick Castle.  The ancestral home of the Dukes of Northumberland, Alnwick Castle was a wonder to me as a child.  We used to picnic on the river banks below its walls and gaze at the statues of soldiers which adorned its battlements.  I think I must have been inside at some point but it is that view which sticks in my memory.  No interactive displays or ghost tours in those days!

To my own children, however, Alnwick Castle is Hogwarts.  For the uninitiated (where have you been?!), Hogwarts is the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry attended by Harry Potter in J.K.Rowling's books.  Alnwick Castle starred as Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter films and nothing makes my children happier than to find themselves once again standing on the castle green where Harry first learns to fly his broomstick. 

In fact, they regularly take full advantage of the free "Broomstick Training" offered by the Castle during school holidays.  [This, incidentally, for the watching adults, is the equivalent of laughter therapy as two fantastic actors put the kids through their paces...!]  My son, never one for dressing up, will happily spend the day in his Harry Potter robes, clutching his wand - safe in the knowledge that he will be far from the only one doing that!

I have discovered, however, an amazing little museum in the Abbots Tower right next to the broomstick training ground...  It is the Fusiliers Museum of Northumberland and it holds the history of the 5th Northumberland Fusiliers.  It also has regimental records as I realised when looking online for information about an ancestor's military past.

So leaving my husband to the joys of broomstick training, I have sneaked off on a couple of occasions to look around.  The staff and volunteers could not have been more helpful and when I submitted a written request for information, I received a letter with all the details that they had, suggestions for tracing more information and ideas about which books might help me.  Fabulous service, all in all.

And the deeper I go with looking for details about various family trees, the more it becomes apparent that all over the country there are relatively small museums all trying to protect their collections and share them with the public but on shoestring budgets.  The juxtaposition of the behemoth which Alnwick Castle and Gardens have become with the tiny regimental museum is staggering, despite the Duke's obvious support for the regimental connection.

When looking for details about an ancestor, there are all sorts of sources.  I wrote a post recently to praise the National Archives and that is indeed an amazing place.  But don't forget the smaller institutions too.  You can usually find their details on the internet and they will be staffed by keen and knowledgeable people.  If needs be, even write a good old fashioned letter! And if  you are not a Muggle, you could even send it by owl post.....

This shows the regiment fighting at Lucknow in India, where my ancestor lost his life.

Monday, 14 July 2014

It's a Hard Knock Life

I started thinking about this post as I sat waiting for my children's school sports days to get underway.  Amazingly, the sun beamed down and a good time was had by all.

Sports Days are such a strong tradition for most schools that it sometimes seems as if all children have always had school and its accompanying experiences in their lives.  We tend to forget that as late as the 1950s, children could leave school at 14 or 15.

Even more so, we forget that school and education were either not available or were only very basic for the vast majority of children right through the nineteenth century.

A family tree that I am currently working on gives a good example of how easy it is to apply modern standards to the lives of those we are researching.  This particular tree has turned out to have a number of very large families of siblings on it.  Seven, eight and even thirteen children in a family have not been unusual.  No special programmes about "13 Kids and Counting" then - you just got on with it!  My own mother-in-law was one of thirteen as it happens!

The current tree has reminded me to try to think in the mindset of the times when looking at records.  Online, transcriptions on sites such as Ancestry do not show, for example, occupations.  To see these, you need to click on Original Image - if it is available.

When looking at the children of a family, make sure that you do check these occupations.  Don't just look at the parents.  So far, I have found nursemaids, agricultural labourers, plough boys and various other occupations for children under the age of 12.  I cannot imagine my children coping with this!

Another little tip is not to assume that a child who is not shown on as living at home on a census (when you believe they should be in their early teens) has died.  Obviously this sadly did happen.  However, as shown by my current work, it is worth making sure that they are not living elsewhere by the age of 13 or 14 - domestic servants "lived in" as did some agricultural workers and later some retail workers.  Think about Daisy from Downton Abbey in the first series!

We all know from our own schooling that children did work.  And we all know via news coverage that sadly many children in the world today are still working poorly paid, long hours in back breaking jobs.  Make sure that you take advantage of the information available in the censuses and other records to find out what your ancestors were doing in their so-called childhoods.  And spare a thought for those still enduring similar.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Where there is a Will, there is a way

Tomorrow I am venturing to London Town for the first time in a long time.  Sometimes I think that I must have dreamt living there for ten years of my life as it seems so far removed from my current existence.  Actually, it is probably that I drank and partied away ten years, if I am being honest.  I did work very hard but pre children, one could also party hard with little discernible effect...
Anyway, I am off to London to see Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies at the theatre.  A lot of theatre in one day but it was the only way to see both plays (And by the way, if by some miracle Hilary Mantel should read this small and insignificant blog, please please please Hilary, hurry up with the third book of the trilogy!).
Preparing to go today, I realised that the last time I had been to London was to visit the National Archives (NA) for research.  It was a fascinating visit and I cannot recommend a visit highly enough if you are able to get there and have found things online that it would be worth you checking out for your own research.
My own visit came about because I stumbled upon a wonderful website run by an historian named Carole Divall (actually called www.caroledivall.co.uk funnily enough!).  The 30th Regiment of Foot is Carole's particular interest and she has written a fascinating and ongoing online diary of the Napoleonic years in its existence.  I had been searching for information about that regiment as the original adventurer to India from my own family,  Joseph Shaller, had enlisted with it.  I then decided to read Carole's fabulous book,  Inside the Regiment, about the daily life of the 30th Foot - postings, family life, education, discipline and so on.  It looks at the battalions in both Europe and India.
So I was reading the book and suddenly Joseph's name leapt out at me from a page!  Carole had used him as an example of how the soldiers were encouraged to write basic Wills to ensure that any monies due to them were passed to their children.  She detailed Joseph's bequests and noted that he had left everything to his three children.  She also stated that she had seen the Will and that all three had signed it to confirm receipt!
It was an amazing moment for me as it confirmed a sibling name that I had been pondering over but more importantly, there was a document available to see and touch which had been in India and had been signed by my great great great grandfather in 1822.
So that was it.  I was determined to find it!  Except that I had no idea how to go about seeing the paper for myself.  Then Carole Divall very kindly replied to a post on her site, explained how to find the Will at the NA and also gave me some further information.  I read up on the NA rules and regulations on its website (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/) and off I went, filled with trepidation.
Sometimes I think we are frightened of places like the NA.  They seem so quiet and serious and quite beyond the reach of "ordinary" people.  However, the whole experience was fantastic (if you like that sort of thing - and frankly if you don't, I am surprised that you have read this far as I wax lyrical!).  It is easy to find, easy to use and the staff could not be more helpful.  There are some incredible documents available and they detail quite normal lives - they are not all the Magna Carta or Cabinet papers or such like!
I was able to view the Will and touch my 3xgreat grandfather's signature.  I also saw enlistment rolls and documents relating to other family tree brick walls.  Sadly, the pictures I took are on a defunct phone so unless I can retrieve them, I am going to have to visit again.  Do let me know if I can help you with anything while I am there.... any excuse for another day...


Thursday, 10 July 2014

Into the Unknown

This ship is the SS Strathaird.  It is shown on a postcard sent by my great aunt to my grandfather as she and her family left India forever in December 1948 - on this very ship.  Their parents, siblings and friends were also leaving.  My grandfather lasted for another six months in the increasing chaos and violence of the Partition of India before he too booked passage for his family.  They were Anglo Indian - mixed race Christians abandoned by the British administration.

As discussed in yesterday's post, we now live in a world where we can see and hear about events all over the world.  We can watch amazing sporting achievements, royal weddings and Hollywood ceremonies as they happen.  Sadly we can also see bombs falling, people dying, refugees fleeing and any number of other terrible events.

I am currently reading India Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire by Alex von Tunzelmann1.  I wanted to start to have some understanding of the events which drove my family to leave their home of many generations to start new lives in countries which were completely alien to them.

The more I read about Partition, the more outraged I have become.  Not even particularly on behalf of my own Anglo-Indian relatives.  Just generally outraged for all involved (well, my nickname at college was Millie Tant...!).

At the end of May 1947, the British government - struggling against a tide of debt and misery in the wake of the 1945 peace - approved a plan which would carve up India and create a new country - Pakistan.  On 3 June, this plan was announced to the leaders of the many factions involved - the Hindu dominated Congress, the Muslim League, the Sikhs, the Anglo Indians, the many rulers of princely states, etc.  And at that meeting it was sprung upon them that Britain would be handing over power on 15 August 1947.  Not June 1948 as everybody had thought.  In just ten weeks time the British were expecting two new governments to have been created to govern two huge states, each with massive mixed and volatile populations.

It seems quite incredible that the British government got away with this.  Indian Summer details the fear of outside influence from the US, Russia, China and others; the concern about Pakistan becoming a focal point for an increasing hegemony of Islamists; the worries about the strategic position of Afghanistan and the ambitions of its rulers.  Is this all sounding horribly familiar?

We all watch rolling news broadcasts of wars and refugees.  My family were luckier than most that we see in, say, Syria.  They had British passports already; they had European lifestyles. They left with nothing though.  My grandfather ended up in Coventry simply because he had met one British man in the same line of trade (telecoms) and he had his business card.  Two of my great aunts went to New Zealand followed by my great grandparents.  To my knowledge, my grandfather never saw his parents again, although they did not die until at least twenty years later.

This post is not about the rights and wrongs of immigration; it is about how the human stories get lost in sweeping generalisations made by governments.  It was right that India was given independence.  It was not right to think that such a delicate operation could be carried out in ten weeks.  

1. India Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire - Alex von Tunzelmann (Simon&Schuster 2007; Pocket Books 2008)

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Tour de Yorkshire, de France, de Sky is the limit?

Last weekend the Tour de France came to Yorkshire.  It was an amazing couple of days after months of build up and excitement but it lived up to all of the hype.
Watching live as the cyclists made their way across the Dales though, it made me think about how amazing it is that such an event can be watched by so many millions of people from the comfort of their own homes. 
The first Tour was staged in July 1903, six months before the first flight by the Wright brothers in December 1903.  News still took a long time to travel, the idea of being able to sit in your home and watch such an event live was unimaginable.
In 1903, many people still rarely left their own locality.  Certainly over the preceding century, inventions like the bicycle and steam trains had made travel seem far more possible but the idea of living in one part of the country and working in another (just for a day at a time!) would not have seemed sane!  As for regular international travel....
For family historians, that tendency to stick to one's locality can be very helpful when we are looking for clues.  If confronted with a list of names on a genealogy website, knowing a little about possible location for the family can be very helpful.  Especially if you don't have the inclination to wade through what can be thousands of possible matches!  [This week, I was looking for a person named "Josiah Lloyd".  Naively I thought it seemed relatively unusual and would not take me long.  Well, 156 Josiah Lloyds later....]
Of course, locality can also be a hindrance; for example, if a family have stayed and expanded in an area, it becomes very difficult to disentangle many relations all bearing the same names.  One of my tree names is Gidney - a name apparently so common in Norfolk that my joy at finding my William Gidney's military record quickly disappeared.  It has proved, so far, to be a major brickwall!
To quote the marvellous Carrie Bradshaw, "I couldn't help but wonder"... at the weekend.  If families now are spreading internationally so easily, when in 1903 they may not have even ventured fifty miles, what will happen if we do ever properly make it into space?  [On proper Star Trek ships that people can walk about on, of course, far more sensible...]
Presumably, record keeping will have to take account of a whole new strata of birthplaces and the genealogist will have to plan space travel rather than library visits.  It may seem to be in the realms of the fantastic, but if you had said to the founder of the Tour in 1903 that in just over one hundred years from now, his race would be a global phenomenon, I expect he would have said the same.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

To share or not to share?

This week I will be mostly working on a family tree for a friend....

Hooray!  The start of a new tree is always completely fascinating.  New names, new stories, all exciting (if you like this kind of thing!)  However, it has reminded me of something which happened when I first looked at my own mother's side of the family.

My friend had shown me a photograph - a Victorian family grouping.  She knew the names for one or two of the people shown but was hoping that I might identify some of the others in the course of my research.  It is a classic picture of three generations all posed in a garden.

Whilst searching on a genealogy website, I came across a "public member tree" - a family tree that has been created and shared on that website by a member - which appeared to have a copy of the same photograph attached to it.  Even better, it had names attached to all of the participants!  I had a brief "struck gold!" moment before I remembered my previous experience with such trees....

Whilst researching my mother's family tree, I came across a number of public member trees which included members of my granddad's family.  He had a number of siblings so this was not surprising.
What was surprising was to discover that my own mother had emigrated to the USA and had died in Iowa or some other US state that I had barely heard of!!!

There was no way of knowing which of these public tree creators had first picked out this American with the same name as my mother and attached them to their tree but clearly a number of people had found this first one and decided to copy it, for ease.

And the funny thing was that even though I knew that my mother was safely at home, doing the crossword with my stepdad most probably, it really gave me quite a jolt!  There in black and white, a death date!  A very very weird feeling, I can tell you.

So although it is wonderful to be able to share our findings, please beware!  Beware of what other people have attached - make sure that you do not use other trees as your one and only source.  And beware of what you put out there.  As in all internet and social media situations, once it is out there, you can't take it back.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

The Book of Mormon

Last weekend I visited the Yorkshire Family History Fair.  It was the second year running that I have been but this year I was accompanied by one of my children.  Always a nerve wracking experience, taking a child to something not really aimed at them, their needs, their enjoyment.  However, on this occasion it was really lovely.  I received a lot of comments about how it was good to see someone so young there (albeit under duress!) and by the end of our visit, said child was actually so interested that we have been able to do a simplified version of the family tree to summarise what I have discovered.  Where am I going with this?  Am I just going to muse about my child's visit to the Fair?  Well no, but the fact that I had a child with me is very pertinent to a big surprise that I received at the Fair.
One of the best (and probably the biggest) family history databases is the free familysearch.org website which is run by the Mormons - the Church of the Latter-day Saints (LDS). 
When I was a child, the words "the Mormons are coming" were a cue to hide and pretend that we were not at home, whilst two or three black suited Americans stood on the doorstep ringing the doorbell.  My mother had been trapped before into long conversations with them and had no intention of being so again!
Since starting my family tree, though, I have learnt to appreciate the Mormons and to be grateful for their belief that "marriage and families can continue beyond this life. But this can only happen when families are sealed together in one of the Lord’s holy temples around the world and united for all eternity".
This is "why [we] have the largest genealogical library in the world and why 13 million Mormons are encouraged to research their family roots."  They believe that the dead can be baptised into their faith, as far as I understand it.
Well, at the Fair the Mormons had a big, fully Wi-Fi'd up stand and lots of volunteers to talk to people.  Having happily and gratefully used their resources for a number of years I did not feel the need to actually talk to their representatives (always having in mind the childhood experience too!).  But whilst looking at a stand opposite, a voice said "Hello there, how are you?" and I turned to see an acquaintance of ten years there.
To cut a long story short, it turns out that she and most of her family are Mormon and have been for the whole time that I have known them.  I was utterly amazed - although pondering afterwards, it made sense with what I knew about how close they have always been as a family.  It was a real one in the eye for my in-built prejudice though.  Never once have they tried to recruit me, to send black suited Americans round or even let on that they had such a strong faith!  They can't be Mormons!  I would have known!
In researching the LDS website when I had this blog in mind, I have read the "Beliefs" and "Values" sections and I would say that the Church does not appeal to me personally.  Apart from the encouragement of close family ties.  I felt that I had bonded with my own child over looking at the family tree and since my own interest is driven by not  knowing about so much of the family, I am glad that my own family will hopefully benefit from my work/passion/madness!
There has been and will continue to be a lot of good from the Mormons' family history work.  My acquaintance told me that the Church reckons it has fifty years worth of work at its present rate if it is going to digitise all of the records that they have gathered in their vaults in Salt Lake City.
A large chunk of my own family tree would be missing if it was not for their work all over the world.  You may not agree with their beliefs but do have a look at their website!  If the mood takes you, you can even assist with the indexing process.
Now, was that the doorbell?.....


Tuesday, 1 July 2014

The pressure, the pressure of a Name

What's in a name?  My maiden name was just annoying quite frankly.  I got sick of spelling it out to people (as my sister in law now must) and no-one ever seemed to know where it had come from.  It is not, as far as a I know, rude in any other language, infamous for some reason or any such.  It was just highly unusual and therefore caused much annoyance.

However, it has proved to be a genealogist's dream.  At last it is proving its worth.  And yet, it has also shown me just how unreliable some of the family tree sources available to us actually can be, if you take them at face/(ie transcription) value.

Initially, when I began my father's family tree, it was not plain sailing because I had to learn about the India sources.  However, the unusual surname then often worked in my favour.  So much so that I began to wonder if I was over excited, as everyone of that surname on each database seemed eventually to link to my tree!  Was I, in my enthusiasm, making connections that were just not there?

But no, I am  now as certain as I can be that my initial conclusions were right.  The tricky part has been the gaps - or "brickwalls" as they are known to genealogists.  For example, I simply stalled on the question of how my ancestor founded our line in India.  That is to say, I do of course (!) know how the mixed race babies were made!  But how would I ever find out who their mother was?

I had the name of the original Napoleonic era soldier who had gone to India.  His name appeared on a marriage entry for my 3 x great grandfather and I was able to establish that he had been born in Shoreditch in London.  No sign of a mother's name - it was not required on the marriage certificates.  What to do?

To quote Kit de Luca (Pretty Woman sidekick - got to love a Pretty Woman quote), "the pressure, the pressure of a name"....  However, in my case, it was clear that "Cinder-f**king-rella" was not going to work as an answer...

And so I ventured to the British Library for the first time.  Pathetically over excited at the idea of a whole day of research and a hotel night on my own. 

It was amazing.  For the first time, I could actually see the handwritten records of things that I had seen transcribed on websites.  There was so much more that could be gleaned from these records.  For example, until recently, most websites' transcriptions for British India deaths simply gave the dates and name, possibly a spouse name or place of residence but definitely not causes of death.

A big question for the day was Joseph, the original soldier.  To my immense surprise, I could not find the birth of my 3 x great grandfather even though it was one of the few dates of which I was certain.  My desperation at knowing that it would be months before I could return to the Library spurred me on and I began to feverishly look at all entries with similar spellings.  And there he was.  My 3 x great granddad and 3 siblings!  But each of their surnames were spelt differently (hey, I did say that it was a pain of a name!). 

So different that were it not for the regimental detail given in each birth (and sadly death for one child) entry, I would not have made the connections.  So different that unless I had trawled through every web entry for names with the first same few letters, I would not have found them from the comfort of my own home. 

And even better, the name of a mother was given for the eldest sibling.  "Namallah, a native of Madras".  Not Cinderella but for me, a fairytale (after a fashion!) end to my Library day.

I have to go shopping now.....