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.