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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

Sunday, 31 August 2014

New Model Family

Rather than pondering on technique or news items or TV programmes today, I find myself thinking about the meaning of family.  Last Bank Holiday weekend, we had a day at the beach with my brother and his family and my mother and stepfather.  It was a proper British day - lovely weather one minute, blowy and grey the next.  We dug sandcastles, played beach games, paddled, ate sandy food from the beach bucket barbeque and went home tired but happy.  It was really lovely.

The dynamics of our family are like many modern families - complicated.  My parents are divorced and my mother remarried.  My brother is married with one child.  His wife and my mother's husband are both Scottish (with families there still), I am married to a man born in England but to wholly Irish parents who then proceeded to retire back to where they had come from.  My stepfather has a daughter so I also gained a sister in the last twenty years!

Something like a day at the beach together is a big exercise in diary coordination.  We all live in various locations round the country and there are also the in-laws to be accommodated.  My sister-in-law has a number of siblings and elderly parents; my in-laws are very infirm and cannot travel but this means that we have to travel long distances to visit and there increasingly frequent emergencies associated with their health.  I could go on... you get the picture and I am sure can relate to this very modern day stress.
It is often said that family is losing importance in this day and age.  Actually I think, in many ways, we are more desperate to hang onto family ties.  We feel that we should keep up Skype with those abroad, post on social media, send photos by all means, talk every week on the phone and so on.  We put ourselves under pressure because the means are there to stay in touch so we feel that we should use them, wondrous inventions as all these communication devices are.

When we look at our family trees though, it can often be seen that families who did end up living at great distances apart most probably did not see their loved ones more than once or twice again - if ever, in the case of emigrants - and more than likely did not expect to do so.  Emigration or joining the armed forces meant leaving for years, if not a lifetime.  Yet now the pressure is on to keep in touch and visit regularly even if  you are on opposite sides of the world.  Friends who emigrated to New Zealand come back for three weeks and fill the entirety with visits, whilst feeling that they must apologise to those whom they have not reached!

There is also the new found interest for family history, spurred on by the availability of online records.  We most probably can find out more about what happened to our ancestors than any previous generation could.  Family myths can be examined in great detail!  A great bonding exercise.
I think what I am trying to say is that maybe family ties are not as under threat as commentators think.  The ties are more complicated and obviously different to what has gone before but they are still there and learning about what and who has gone before can help to define them.
It is just a shame that, in this frenetic age, one finds one's self having to have conversations in August about where everyone will be spending Christmas...  The family ties I will take but talking about Christmas whilst packing for the beach is just wrong!  Necessary but wrong!
[Incidentally, our newest family member - the puppy mentioned in a previous post - is settling in well.  Just need to fine tune the duties of each family member or there may be another divorce on our tree!]

Friday, 29 August 2014

Tweet, Little Birdie, Tweet

Once again I find myself blogging about the most recent episode of Who Do You Think You Are?  The reviews of last night's programme seem to unanimously be amazed about the tragic story of Brendan O'Carroll's grandfather was and how fantastic the programme was all in all.
And I quite agree.  Marvellous all round.  Plus I watched the programme with my husband.  A record as it is the second full episode that he has probably watched!  Not his thing at all usually.  I thought the quality of the research that had been undertaken in order to take Brendan O'Carroll on his journey of discovery was completely outstanding.  To have reached a point where he was able to see the face of the presumed murderer of his grandfather was really incredible.  Just awful to find no justice at the end of the process.
An aspect which I found extremely interesting after the show was the reaction on Twitter.  Now, I do have a small number of friends on Facebook but I use it mainly to keep in touch with old friends more easily.  Twitter, on the other hand, I have been trying to use more for genealogy and history work.  I have been able to follow all sorts of (hopefully!) like-minded people and Twitter is great for picking up hints and tips.  [If you are on Twitter, the best way to find them is to search #genealogy or #family history or #family tree.  Too many on my list to put them all down here.]
For example, the other day, I stumbled across a tweet from someone in New York, offering advice on using the notetaking app Evernote for genealogical research.  I had downloaded Evernote but had not really done much about making proper use of it.  The short Tweet reminded me about the possibilities.  Other Tweets have helped with unusual sources, special offers for services and interesting facts and figures.
Last night, some of the genealogists whom I follow had done the kind of running commentary tweets as WDYTYA was broadcast (I only looked afterwards, I'm afraid, can't follow as I go along yet, not got the hang of that).  I also noticed that the "main providers" (for want of a better description) such as Find My Past and Ancestry were tweeting as the programme went on, advertising their services!  Only to be expected, I suppose.  There are not exactly many mass marketing opportunities for their services, are there?
I am not particularly techy, never have been.  My son is a typical 2014 kid - loves his tablet, Minecraft, Skype, etc.  However, although I am obviously coming late to Twitter - and I expect the in-crowd is completely onto something else by now - I do like how easy it is to make contacts on it.  I used to get sent to networking events as part of my various parliamentary and City jobs and I always hated it.  I am a fairly outgoing and confident person, I think, but I never found it easy to strike up conversations for work contacts reasons.  Maybe though, if I can manage to work up some interesting Tweets of my own - rather than following and/or re-Tweeting - I might make contact with some people who I might eventually meet face to face.  What a thought in this day and age!  Face to face meetings!  Whatever next. 
[By the way, to follow me on Twitter and see how I get on, you can find me @debcyork.]

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The Oldest Man in the Parish

I think I have previously mentioned that my in-laws are Irish.  My mother-in-law was one of thirteen children and my father-in-law, one of ten.

This post was prompted by a conversation with my son as we were walking through a graveyard recently (not looking for any particular grave or having a graveyard fetish, there is a well used path through it!).

He commented on how different that graveyard looked to the one where his great-grandparents are buried in Ireland.  We were in a very old Northumberland parish graveyard - so old and crowded with graves that the village has not used it for actual burials for a long time.  In contrast, the cemetery that he recalled visiting last summer in Ireland is a huge affair, up a steep hillside with rows of family plots - many with a large number of names and photographs.  (I never do get used to the photos...)

A grave that we had passed in the village was for a child and my son remembered that on the family plot in  County Mayo, there is the name of his Great Aunt Sheelagh who died at age two.  Not often being faced with child mortality in this day and age, last year he had been very shocked by this, particularly as it was within his Grandad's living memory.

Last week, he was more shocked when I explained that actually Sheelagh is not buried in the plot that he visited.  She and a great uncle who sadly died in his teens are remembered there but were not buried there when they died.  This was due to lack of money.  Both are buried in a corner of a churchyard near where to where they lived but the actual site is unmarked.  A sad but true fact is that this happened all to often in Ireland in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  A number of Irish themed episodes of Who Do You think You Are?, for example, have ended with celebrities standing on grassy areas which they are then told are unmarked paupers' graves...

Such situations do not make family history research in Ireland at all easy.  There are now some good sources online (eg www.rootsireland.ie or www.ancestryireland.com) but by good sources, we mean something a little different for the Republic of Ireland.  Many of the actual originals that should be there, somewhere, just do not exist.  And if they do exist, often the records remain in their parishes.  Transcriptions are continuing apace but Irish genealogy is still one of the most frustrating areas to research!

During the years of British rule, people would not necessarily record their family's details apart from at their church - whether to avoid further taxation or as a protest.  Even the records which were taken have suffered irretrievably.  I quote from the Irish National Archives website....

"The original census returns for 1861 and 1871 were destroyed shortly after the censuses were taken. Those for 1881 and 1891 were pulped during the First World War, probably because of the paper shortage. The returns for 1821, 1831, 1841 and 1851 were, apart from a few survivals, notably for a few counties for 1821 and 1831, destroyed in 1922 in the fire at the Public Record Office at the beginning of the Civil War."

My own attempts to start a family tree for my children's paternal side have been thwarted by the frequent appearance of the same names through the generations but also within each generation in the same locality.  My husband himself is something like the fourth generation with his name! 

I do, though, have a secret weapon at the moment.  My Father-in-law is now the oldest man in the parish, having turned 91 last week!  He is not in the best of physical health but there is nothing wrong with his long term memory.  Thanks to a distant American relation, a start has been made on a tree now and my Father-in-law has confirmed many of its details.  Long may he continue to remember.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Don't Give Up

A break for the arrival of our puppy and now I am sneaking a post while she is snoozing.  Honestly, it is like being back in the baby days with my two.  No idea what we are doing, trying to understand what the creature wants, up half the night.  Can't say we weren't warned though and to be fair, Bonnie (for that is said puppy's name) has actually been very good.  Just house bound now while we wait for her to get vaccinated against all of the many dog diseases that I had never heard of before.  But, as usual, I digress....

I am a big fan of the ITV programme Long Lost Family and have been thinking about the lessons that it gives to those of us starting out in genealogy.  For those who have not seen the programme, they follow two stories per episode.   In general they are connected with adoption cases - one story might be a parent searching and the other, an adopted child wanting to trace their birth parents.  The stories themselves are not so straightforward obviously but you get the concept of the programme.

I was a little wary of the fact that Davina McCall is one of the presenters when I first watched it.  Pre children, I watched far too many early series of the original Big Brother and have it found hard to take Davina "please do not swear" McCall seriously ever since.  However, she seems a lot calmer (thank goodness) these days so please don't let her presence put you off!  For Long Lost Family, she seems to strike the right balance of information and sympathy and not to have the mocking edge that she used for Big Brother interviews.  And the other presenter, Nicky Campbell, is generally to be relied upon as serious plus has apparently been through an adoption search himself.

In "genealogy circles" (do I sound like I know what I am talking about?!), the general term used for points in a family tree that cannot be pushed any further back is "brickwalls".  If you look at the covers of the magazines or Google genealogy, you will see that there are a great many articles/people.organisations offering to help you  "break down those brickwalls".

The Long Lost Family team are masters at breaking down brickwalls.  Lest we get too excited, they have the budget to employ adoption specialists, to fly all over the world and so on, remember.  However, I do think that the programmes offer a lesson in never giving up.  There is the "tugging of the heartstrings" side of bringing anxious people good news and introducing them to each other on camera.  All makes for good television.  (This week, though, was the first time that I can remember them finding out that a father for whom they were looking had died some years ago and they did give this news off camera.)  The good television moments are based on startlingly good research though.  Even Iranian spies have been found this series!

In research terms, I believe the programmes show just what is possible.  Who Do You Think You Are? of course does something similar.  The difference is that WDYTYA uses each celebrity's story to provide us with social history lessons as well as providing the celebrity with personal answers.  Long Lost Family shows what can be achieved with stories much harder to trace due to privacy laws, lack of online data and so on.  Sometimes they even admit that they have trawled social networking sites, looking for clues.  Censuses are embargoed for one hundred years.  The next time that UK census full results will released to the public is 2021 - for the 1921 census.  So researching the movements of people after 1911 is currently more difficult than nineteenth century research in many ways.

It would be interesting to know just how many cases do not make it to our screens of course but in general, I think we can draw the lesson "do not give up" from the episodes which are actually shown.  My father has a second cousin of whom he was vaguely aware.  There had been contact years ago but little or nothing since the death of my grandfather.   After much fruitless searching for anything later than 1950, I searched his last known locality's newspapers online and I did find him.  And he had been done for drink-driving so had made the press...  not an ideal thing to find on the other side of the brickwall but hey, at least I broke it down....

Thursday, 21 August 2014

You say Poona, I say Pune

With apologies for the lack of regular blogging during the school holidays....  working on getting better at blog time management!

This post has been born from my attempts to find out exactly why my grandparents were in Karachi when my father was born and also when they left.  As previously mentioned, I had been reading a book about the Partition of India (1) and I knew that if they had stayed in Karachi after August 1947, they would, of course, have been in Pakistan.  However, as also previously mentioned, I do possess a postcard sent by my grandfather's sister in December 1948, when she and her family left the country. It was posted to an address in Bombay.

Well, my search has not been progressing well.  Information about either Pakistan or India for the years after the Partition is harder to come by than the details from the period of British rule - and that is not easy!

So I have decided to take a different tack and try to reconstruct some idea of their personal lives during that period.  I do have a few photos on which Nana had written on the back and I am trying to use these small clues to help me.  More of this on a future post when I hopefully have more details.

In the course of looking into their personal lives though, I thought I would also have a look at my grandparents' education.  Many of the photos I have appear to be related to my grandmother's school days so I decided to start there.

The above picture is a photo of a treasured possession of mine.  It is a bookplate that has been pasted into a small leather-bound copy of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  As you can see, it was presented to my grandmother in December 1935.  For Grade 8 in Cello!  A fact that I never knew until we discovered this book after her death....

Anyway, the key thing for this search is the school name and the date given in the book.  Now, the power of speculative Googling can not be underestimated when looking for long lost relatives and information about their lives.  I have found all sorts of snippets of information by just sort of "wandering" around the internet.  If you know someone's job or employer, for example, you can often get the history of a firm or at least mentions of it.  Definitions are always useful.  I came across "cordwainer" as a profession and was amazed to discover that it was  "shoemaker"!

Two tips which I have picked up (sorry if this seems basic to you, it made me happy though!) - are to 1) use AND in capital letters between items that you want to search for as connected - eg a name and a regiment; and 2) to put speech marks around complete names and phrases to make sure that only items with the full phrase come up.  I found a new entry for a relative simply by putting speechmarks around their complete name.

In fact, I did not need to look far for St Mary's in Poona.  It seems to be a very well respected school and there is quite a lot of really interesting information available.  I did though have to first of all check Wikipedia to be sure that I was looking at the right place!  As with many Indian places now, an official name change has taken place.  "Poona" is now "Pune".  If you are looking for an Indian place name, do check that the name even still exists and is spelt the same even if the pronunciation has not changed.  [Click the link for information on why names have been changed.]

The next thing is going to be to contact the school, I think.  In my genealogy dreams, they will provide me with a full school record, photos and an invitation to visit as my grandmother will turn out to have been an exceptional, honoured ex-pupil... in reality, if they do actually reply, I will be astounded if they have kept pupil records for so long.  I will update you as and when....

1. Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire - Alex von Tunzelmann,
    Simon & Schuster UK Ltd. 2007

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Blessed are the Bookbinders

I wanted to "take a post" to comment on how utterly entertaining Who Do You Think You Are? was this week.  Brian Blessed was a human demonstration of the usually private emotions attached to finding out about your ancestors.  His reactions were almost toddler like in their "up" then "down" qualities!  Bookbinders!  Stationers! Paupers!

I didn't blog about the episode as soon as it was shown because well, I felt that many far better qualified to comment people would be doing so.  However, having now discussed the show with friends and relations, I think it has been very interesting to see how "the subject" (i.e. celebrity) can really make the show worth watching.

We all will have heard about celebrities feeling the pressure to cry at the discoveries that are put before them.  A ten year anniversary show for Who Do You Think You Are?, shown a couple of weeks ago, again talked about this.  And indeed, hats off to any subject matter that can bring emotion out of Jeremies Paxman or Clarkson.  And for sheer boring reactions, I suggest watching some of the US episodes - a series of "oh really" and "oh wow".  No comments about Botoxed faces please....

The fascinating thing about Brian Blessed, though, was his sheer joy - not just the sadness.  And he was so overwhelmingly grateful to everyone that he met on his journey (even if he did comment on one of the vicar's weights!).

Family history can be a joyful experience!  It is not all about early deaths, destruction and other assorted disasters!  Yay!  Brian Blessed even made the best, Pollyanna-style, of his Great Great Grandfather having been in the workhouse - he celebrated the boy Blessed's ingenuity in escaping - albeit briefly - by focussing on what a character the lad must have been.  And don't get me started on his pride in the "randy" man with thirteen children - no thought for how the poor guy clothed and fed them all!

Maybe this is the way forward for genealogists.  Reports should show five positive facts before reporting the doom and gloom!  I have sometimes thought that Who do You Think You Are? has tended to make us think that we should be looking for sad family history from which we can take serious lessons.  "look how far we have come", "wasn't that [insert disaster] awful for them?" etc etc.

Maybe we should focus on the positives as little more.  I have a four times great grandfather, Solomon Major, who was a British soldier in India.  When I found him, it became apparent that he had had a child with an Indian woman and had then left India with his regiment.  Who knows whether he ever had any contact again with his Anglo Indian son.  So far, so glass half empty.

Clearly there was not joy for the family left behind in India - in fact, most probably not for Solomon in leaving them.  Yet if he had not gone to India, I would not be here.  His Anglo Indian descendents survived and thrived. 

A further check into what happened to Solomon, though, revealed that when he left India, his regiment were sent to St Helena - to guard Napoleon in his island jailhouse!  This in turn led to the discovery that Solomon was granted Chelsea Pensioner rights because of his service on St Helena.  He returned to Bristol and had quite a large family, from a first cursory glance at the records.  A story worthy of positive thoughts, in my view at least.

Glass half full is a good life motto.  Or if you are Brian Blesssed, glass brimming over!

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Toy Story

I am just returned from a trip to London with my daughter and after quite some time in the Hamleys toy store today, I feel the need to blog about modern day toys versus those which would have belonged to our ancestors!

Don't get me wrong, we had a lot of fun in London.  And Hamleys is quite an experience in itself, regardless of whether you buy anything - although leaving without doing so is near impossible.  However, my sister and I were musing about how toys and marketing work these days.  For example, the whole floor dedicated to "girl stuff", in Hamleys, is pink.  Not just the stuff it sells but the d├ęcor as well.  A really worrying thing in Hamleys was that you only seemed able to get a toy hoover or washing machine or toaster (etc!) on the "girls' floor".  Actually the manufacturers had produced the items in black and red but small boys would have been unlikely to see the items where they were unless they had a sister who went to that floor.

I have never been one for the whole toy debate for little children.  I have "one of each" and they have both enjoyed all sorts of toys if given the chance.  However, it does seem that it is a vicious circle and marketing pushes people in certain directions for girls and certain directions for boys and it takes a strong parent to properly resist these directions as children naturally want to blend in with their friends and acquaintances and be "into" the same things.  My daughter was perfectly happy to use her brother's Nerf guns (polystyrene bullets, lots of fun) which are blue and orange until Nerf brought out Rebelle Nerf - pink guns!!

Loom bands have, this summer, proved to be a fantastic leveller when it comes to toys.  Every child I know - male or female - has loved the creativity provided by loom bands.  My children have spent many happy hours actually playing together for once to learn new techniques and create amazing designs.

But don't even get me started on the quantity of toys that children of today have.  Even the average child has more consumer items than whole families did in Victorian times.  Again, we were musing about this today.  As children of the 1970s. we were trying to work out if we had more or less stuff and came to the conclusion that so much more is available to children today.  They are a marketing department's dream audience.  Impressionable, pliable, they have nag power...!  Disney have made the marketing into an art form, unfortunately.

The picture above shows a couple of Victorian items which might have belonged to quite poor children.  But haven't children in themselves always been the same?  So much more is available to them now and income levels are so different, to say the least.  Yet those nineteenth century children must have had free time so what did they do?  Maybe, as I have posted before, they were all working at early ages.  I am sure that in a poor home, my ancestors would have had many household chores as well as possibly paid work.  And they would have known that money was not available for toys.  Plus their expectations would have been lower because of the lack of advertising and availability too.

What about the wealthy children though?  From trip to toy museums and stately homes over the years, it seems that even for these children, the quantity was not like it is today.  The wealthy would have seemed to have had a lot but I am sure that even those children would be amazed by what is on offer in this day and age.

I guess this blog post could go on for ages and link to my post about Scouting and getting kids outdoors and then link to the nature/nurture debate about how children are born into this world and whether toys condition them and then carry on further to discussions on whether children these days have too much, grow up to fast...  but this is not a parenting blog.

I just wanted to ponder on what I had seen today really.  An amazing toy store, a fabulous time was had but wouldn't it be fantastic to be able to show a Victorian child ancestor around our modern homes and see what they would make of it all?


By the way, in the week that I chose to write about Cliff Richard (see my last post), it seems that he has hit the news for rather worrying reasons.  I do hope that he is not going to prove to be another ex-hero.  I do pick my moments to write, don't I?!

Monday, 11 August 2014

We're all going on a [Permanent] Holiday

One of the few mentions that my father made, during my childhood, of his Anglo Indian Roots was his claim to have "arrived on the same boat as Cliff Richard".  This is a claim that had long puzzled me as my father was three and a half when he and my grandparents took flight from India.  How did he know?  Had he read it somewhere?  Did my grandmother make friends with the family?!  I knew that my father had a vague memory of the Suez Canal but fellow passengers??  Well, thanks once again to the wonders of modern technology, I have been able to sort this little family tale out...

Cliff - aka Harry Rodger Webb - arrived in the UK from India by P&O boat but according to the amazing immigration records which are now available online, it seems that he arrived in 1948 to my father's 1949.  Furthermore, my father was on the SS Mooltan and Harry/Cliff was on the SS Ranchi.  So far, so myth...

However, Wikipedia claims that Cliff gets his dark colouring from a Spanish great great grandmother.  Hmmmm....

It must be remembered that Cliff became famous in the late 1950s.  He had been born in 1940 and by his late teens was doing his best Elvis impressions for British audiences (sorry, I know he has national treasure status...).  This was the time when my father was enduring, as far as I have been able to establish, quite a lot of racism in his adopted home town.  There had not yet been a great influx of immigrants and the Anglo Indians looked undeniably different.

So it is not unreasonable to surmise that any Anglo Indian in "Cliff" was glossed over.  After all, the same had been done much earlier in the century for Hollywood star Merle Oberon.  Looking at the few bits of available family history for Cliff, one can find the person listed on Wikipedia as Spanish using Find My Past.  Since she married a Smith, though, I have decided not to put any more time into trying to prove my Anglo Indian theory!  What is definitely true is that there were a lot of Anglo Indian Christian families with Spanish sounding names because they were (are) descended from Portuguese/Indian liaisons and marriages in the nineteenth century.  Santos, de Cruz and others are all often in the records....

If this is true, it is a great shame that Harry Webb, on becoming "Cliff Richard" felt unable to stand up for his roots.  It is entirely a product of the times of course and one can understand why he would have done it.  I do wish they could get him onto Who Do you Think you Are? though!  Be nice to know if I am right.  My father, of course, is convinced Cliff is Anglo Indian. 

And on a related subject, if you have even the slightest suspicion that your relations may have emigrated/immigrated/travelled abroad by ship, do look into the travel records available online.  Most have original images of the ships' registers.  These give passenger names, professions, ages, address that they are going to and lots of other useful information. 

If you want a "celebrity sighting", search for Harry Rodger Webb and there is "Cliff" and his whole family, arriving for a new life in 1948, a year after the Partition of India.  Good job that he did, my mother would have missed out on her first teen crush - maybe I had better check the photos to see just how similar Dad and Cliff were....

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Sidetracked by a Scout

This is my very distant relation Francis "Skipper" Gidney.  He is indirectly responsible for taking my son away from me for a week!  He is also a very good example of how it is possible to get sidetracked on family trees if you come across a good personal story.  I know far more about him that I should, given the tenuous connection!
Francis Gidney was the son of another Francis Gidney.  That Francis was brother to John Gidney, my great great grandfather.  I have posted about John before but not about his siblings.  Francis Senior was in the British Army for his entire life, having joined up as a teenager.  There was another brother - William.  He joined up when  Francis Senior did although his career was neither so long nor so successful.
Anyway, this is a good time to write about Skipper Gidney as my son is away on his first international Scout jamboree and as it happens (did you guess from the uniform?!), Skipper was one of the first ever Scouts.  In fact, in 1919, Skipper was appointed as First Camp Chief at Gilwell Park, the new permanent home for the Scouting movement.  He was close to the Scouts' founder, Robert Baden-Powell and had founded, in 1908, one of the first Scout troops in the country - at his school in Lichfield when he was just 16.  He fought in the First  World War but was invalided out.  Although unwell for the rest of his life as a result of the wounds he sustained, this does not appear to have slowed him down - he developed the Wood Badge for camp skills and visited India for the Scouts amongst other contributions.  My favourite quote is "Gidney brought a touch of controlled lunacy to the place"1!  Despite a later disagreement with the Association, he remained loyal to scouting for his whole, sadly shortened life - writing to Baden-Powell on his deathbed in 1928.
My son has been through Beavers, Cubs and now Scouts.  This will be the longest that he has been away from home so far.  However, the opportunity provided by an international jamboree is hopefully something that he will remember for a long time.  This year, ten thousand people are attending, from all over the world.  There have been international Scout jamborees since the 1920s.  How many youth organisations can have sustained such loyalty?
There is of course the ever present worry about child abuse.  In these sad times of the aftermath of so many scandals, we cannot stop being vigilant because an organisation is well established.  However, if one can put aside those worries to consider what Scouting offers, I am a huge fan.
We are constantly being told that children should be outside more, should be away from screens, should be getting back to nature.  Yet at the same time, children's freedom is hampered by every tightening health and safety concerns.  A few years ago in our local park, the council chipped down all the hedgerows because they said children needed to be seen at all times by passers-by.  All they achieved was increased vandalism as drunks and others took advantage of the park at night, where previously they could not immediately see it and they could not climb in because of the hedges anyway!  I also had a run in with an official about tree climbing in the same park.
From the Scouting Association, children get discipline, camaraderie, outdoor and survival skills, a chance to roam and play outdoor games that have been played for a century, camping, cooking, you name it.  All with no electronic devices in sight!  [Although of course, the jamboree is tweeting and facebooking and I am anxiously watching the weather on my phone...].
Seriously, schools these days are often so tied up in knots over risk assessments and helpers that they just decide not to bother with any activity which is remotely risky or contentious. 
The founders of Scouting would hopefully be delighted and possibly amazed to know that their organisation is still going strong.  If you google Francis Gidney, the many websites which mention him say that he made an important contribution to the Scouting movement.  I have researched his life in great detail now (see what I mean about getting sidetracked - I have his schooling, his marriage, his descendents.... oh dear) and I am proud to even distantly be connected to him,  Everyone needs a "touch of controlled lunacy" in their lives. 
Oh, and below is the Frank Gidney Memorial Cabin at Gilwell Park!

1.  quote from The Twenty Four Years Hike - Charles W.Emlyn (C. Arthur Pearson Ltd 1932)

Friday, 8 August 2014

A Dog's Life

In a few short weeks, much to my friends' amusement, a black Labrador puppy is arriving into our family.  I say to their amusement because for many years now, I had sworn not to give in to the rest of the family's demands for a dog.  From watching my friends' experiences, it is clear that once the novelty has worn off, I am probably going to be the one doing all the work involved in having said dog!  Well, we do now live more in the country than we used to and since I am trying to write "properly", I am at home a lot.  So I figure that at least our new furry friend will get me up and out regularly!
Much to my amazement though, the breeder of the litter of puppies has sent me an amazing family tree for them!  I can't quite get over it actually.  As one keen on genealogy, who knows how difficult it is to come by information for human ancestors, it is really unbelievable to have a tree straight back to great great grandparents for a dog!  [Maybe I am now completely showing off my lack of dog prowess and "doggy people" know all about these things and think nothing of them...]
If I put the names on the tree into the Kennel Club website, I will apparently get all sorts of extra details about each dog.  Everything from their hip genetics to their prize winning activities.  And the "kennel names" are so impressive.
One of my first thoughts was "wouldn't it be amazing to have this sort of online resource for humans?"  Of course it would take the fun out of the detective work but how can we be so efficient for dogs and not for humans?  Obviously dogs live for a lot less time in human years so great great grandparents for a dog does not take us back a huge span of time.
But just imagine if this resource was available to humans!  We would have one place to go for births, deaths, marriages and everything in between.  Or would we...
The Kennel Club deals with pedigrees for dogs.  We call it a family tree but it is actually a pedigree for breeders to be able to match their dogs with the best possible partners.  What would this mean for humans?  Wouldn't this actually be a form of Nazi genetics or ethnic cleansing if such a database existed for humans?
If I apply such principles to my own family tree, I presume that a racist use of "pedigree" could or would exclude my Anglo Indian family from a "pure" tree for either Indians or white English.  We are mongrels!
So maybe it is best to leave the genetic breeding family tree for dogs and for us to continue to have the fun of the hunt for our own histories.  Now if  you will excuse me, I need to return to Pets At Home to buy the endless list of items required by puppies - pedigree or mongrel!

Thursday, 7 August 2014

What happened to our family in the First World War, Mum?

This week has, of course, marked one hundred years since the start of the First World War.  The commemorations have been, in my humble opinion, very well staged - dignified and well thought out.  The picture shows Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, an art installation at the Tower of London by Paul Cummins and Tom Piper.  One of the many impressive tributes to the fallen of 1914-1918, at local, national and international levels.
CBBC has been doing a great job of helping my children to understand what this is all about.  They have always been fans of Horrible Histories but there have also been dramas and documentaries for them as well.
However, knowing my interest in family history, it has led them to many questions about our own family's part in the First World War.  And it seems, from what I can find out so far, that the immediate, direct families somehow did not have any real involvement.
My father's side, as readers of previous posts will know, were all in India.  There appear to have been a number of these Anglo Indian relations in the Indian Medical Service but I cannot find any evidence, as yet, that they served abroad in Europe.
As for my mother's family, it appears that my grandmother's side took no role - there not being many male relations.  My grandfather's father was a train driver so presumably his role was to remain at home and keep the trains running.
And my in-laws - my children's "other family" -  are Irish and do not appear to have been part of the Irish regiments that were raised, despite the continuing battle for independence.
So, a disappointment for my children's interest "what our family did" but obviously a good, if unusual, situation for the families involved!
The combination of these rather unusual family situations with an article that I read this week about the home services and their losses during the First World War has, though, spurred me on to investigate where Walter the train driver worked and to check more closely into the Anglo-Indian relations' service.
I do not like "presumably" and "seem to" - these phrases spur me on to find more definite information!  There is one place that I think I am going to have to start though and it fills me with dread in many ways.
My son, when aged 2-3, was a total train obsessive.  I understand that this is a fairly common toddler trait but given the many Anglo Indians who worked on the Indian Railways and also Walter's family's history, we did wonder.  Living in York provided the perfect place to satisfy all train cravings.  The National Railway Museum!  I knew that place inside out and back to front.  I knew every climbable footplate and every press-able button.  I could get round it blind fold pushing a buggy.... and that place gave endless (free!) joy to my son.
I have managed to avoid it in the past couple of years, especially once the "Wheel of York" was moved from its yard.  The article about the services recommends the archives at the museum though.  Who knew?  I thought it was just the hardware - the engines and the royal carriages, the turntable and the Flying Scotsman.  Apparently not.  Apparently it is a mine of useful information about those who worked on the railways.
Bet my son won't come with me though, unless they have the history of Minecraft too....  the train days are definitely gone!

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Keep Calm and Keep Some Paper

I wrote this post whilst sitting in the wonderful institution which is Barter Books in Alnwick.  I have since been beset by tech issues (such as camping in a field!), meaning no posts for a few of days!  Sorry!

Anyway, a former railway station, Barter Books offers an amazing range of secondhand books along with comfy armchairs, real fires in winter time and lots of quirky features such as a ceiling top model railway, murals and many original station features.

It is also the home of the original Keep Calm and Carry On poster.  The poster, which was originally designed to be used in the event of German invasion during the Second World War, was discovered by Barter Books' owners, in a box of paperwork.  They liked it, put it on the wall and look what it has spawned!  A whole industry of "slogan ware"! 

However, the example of this poster is good demonstration of something which has been giving me thought lately.  With the electronic generations, how will future family researchers "stumble across" things?  And how will families make future discoveries like old tickets, letters, posters and be able to muse on their ancestors' pastimes or personal lives?  It is possible now to rarely even have to touch a paper ticket, for example - be it for travel, theatre or whatever.  And even if you print a paper ticket for a trip, it somehow doesn't look the same in a scrapbook or collection!
I had grandparents from a generation that still wrote letters and cards (no such thing as Moonpig.com to remember birthdays for you!), printed their holiday photos (however bad - you could not choose shots a la digital), etc.  Yet I still have precious little in the way of written material from them.  From my own parents, I will have even less - now that they have mastered email and text, even the rare letters from university days are no more.
What will my children have?  I have always liked to collect bits and pieces as life went along so there will be a few things.  But thanks to a parental divorce, numerous house moves and a '90s obsession with Feng Shui ("do you really need it?  is it dragging you down? etc"!), even I don't have that much paper left for them to ponder over when I am gone.
Last year, I went on a visit to a university student union for the first time in twenty odd years.  One thing that struck me was the corporate feel of the building.  This was partly due to a total absence of posters and flyers.  There were many ever changing screens advertising gigs, debates, societies, help.  But no paper.  Good for the environment obviously but what about when you want to prove that you saw [insert Band Name!] before anyone else??!  I can only presume that it will be photos of such events, stored on the endless "Cloud" which will provide evidence of such doings.
Historians dealing with "aristocratic" history have traditionally had far less problems with the social and personal lives of their subjects.  Families like the Percys at Alnwick Castle or the Cavendishes at Chatsworth have long had archivists.  But how will they document, for example, the personal friendships of today?  The current young royal generation are close to the younger members of the Percys.  Presumably they too use social media and email etc to stay in touch.  Will anyone ever have access to enough personal material to write a biography like Amanda Foreman's Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire, which drew heavily on letters (and even those were censored by the upright Victorians!)?
I am seriously considering returning to a paper diary.  Not that I am expecting a biographer to come calling but I would like my children to have the possibility of finding something from my life.  And I just don't think my Facebook page, tweets or emails will be the same...after all, they really don't need to know "which Harry Potter character [I was]" (thanks Buzzfeed quizzes!), which clothes I ordered and sent back in despair or which comedians I followed on Twitter.  Or maybe they will.... and it is me that is stuck in the Dark Ages!