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.....