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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

Monday, 29 September 2014

Ooo Source-y!

Well this weekend I did my last webchat for the Organising Your Genealogy course (as whittered about in previous posts!).  It has been just three actual lessons but boy has it given me a wake-up call.  Each week has crammed in so much information that my head is still spinning!
This week we covered sources.  Both protection/use of original sources such as documents (acid free tissue paper and so on, apparently, are needed) and the correct usage for citations - forms, information to include etc.  It got quite academic in the end.
It has made me realise just how carried away I got at the beginning of my family research.  I had always had an interest in my family history and had made a couple of hand drawn family trees when I was a teenager and my grandparents were still alive.
However, I started again four ago in earnest.  I was looking for an original christening present for my gorgeous nephew.  So I agreed with my sister-in -law's sister that each side would provide family tree material.  She wisely employed someone to do this for her.  I, in my enthusiasm, decided I could do it myself!  Typical, some might say...
The amount of information that was by then available to me was astounding.  I had never really attempted to get any further back than whatever my grandparents and great aunts could actually remember.  In part, I had been put off with my father's Anglo Indian side by the difficulty of getting any data.  I had made a new effort using some of the sources referred to on Alastair McGowan's Who Do You Think You Are? [when he discovered for the first time that he was Anglo Indian.].  However, these yielded little new information.
What a revelation to find Families In British India (FIBIS), the British Library India Office records and the National Archives catalogue on line and searchable!  And that was just the free basic stuff for starters.  I remember being up until one o'clock in the morning many times in the weeks before the christening - completely overexcited about following the newly revealed trail that I had begun.  I took out an Ancestry subscription there and then!  Totally carried away. Made no attempt to see which subscription service would best suit me or anything.  (FYI, do check them all out before you choose.  SO much better!)
Of course, in the rush to see as much as possible, I ended up with a pile of notes and hurriedly drawn trees.  I did not, unfortunately, write down the sources properly...
Having now read The Ten Commandments of Genealogy, as recommended by my tutor for the sources lesson, I can see that I basically broke many rules that first week - because I did not know any better.
I did produce a tree of sorts for the christening day.  However, as detailed in my very first post on this blog, my brother and his son are still waiting for me to produce the "final" document.  Hence "how long is a piece of string"...
I am sure that there are items on those original scribblings that, for the life of me, I could not find again.  Worrying.  I need to re-trace those steps somehow.
So herewith are my own commandments of genealogy - at least for the next few months:-
1)  Thou shalt finish the trees that thou has started - at least, pursue no further lines of investigation until...
2)  Thou has provided sources for every item on said trees.
3)  Thou shalt finish the new filing system and buy a cabinet for it to reside in, rather than leaving piles of folders on the window sill...
4)  Thou shalt learn how to use the new Family Tree Maker software to assist in this process.   There is no excuse for scribbled trees all over the place in this day and age.  It is time that thou grasped that nettle!
I am actually looking forward to getting more organised.  I highly recommend Pharos courses.  They are reasonably priced and convenient; their materials are excellent.
Just be prepared for the real work to start after the course!

Saturday, 27 September 2014

The Minutiae

Recently, I have written a number of posts about aspects of family history such as making sure that we label photos, keeping paper items of interest and thinking about our "friend tree" as well as our family tree.
Today, I have been looking at the online coverage of George Clooney's forthcoming wedding [sob, *chokes back tears*].  And it occurred to me that many of those people who are in the public eye these days will profoundly confuse any descendants who decide to investigate them.
It never ceases to amaze me how much weird, so-called detail can be published about people who are just, at the end of the day, human beings like the rest of us.  So-called because it is impossible to know what is true.  Weird because I cannot understand why some starlet's daily routine is of such interest.  I can see why a wedding or a red carpet event is of interest.  But someone collecting their Starbucks, "working a laid back look" as they walk down the street?  Really?  They just threw on whatever was hanging of the back of the chair and popped out to get the paper, didn't they?  (Am I just na├»ve?)
So there must be thousands of people out there who are not, and never will be, of the fame of Mr Clooney, Mr Pitt and others.  All the reality TV "stars" and budding actors who have managed to get some internet coverage because of their relationships/outfits/general behaviour.
What will happen in the future, say in three generations time, if their descendants decide to look for their ancestors?  At the moment, collections like The British Newspapers on Find My Past are searchable and provide a quite amazing, in the circumstances, service.  And if we are very lucky, we may find mention of an ancestor in such sources or in local archives or libraries.  A court proceeding or planning application; a medal or prize won; a wedding or birth announcement.  Never would we find the sort of coverage that a descendent of a forgotten X Factor star might come up with about their ancestor!
Imagine Who Do You Think You Are?  in a hundred years time....
"Well, Miss Random Star, your ancestor was in fact very well known in their day.  If you would like to look at these 30,000 Google hits, you will see that they started off in a singing competition but went on to take part in all sorts of strange televised game shows/took their clothes off for magazines shoots/"designed" some rather nasty clothes and made an apparently rather nasty perfume....  It appears that they made quite a lot of money.  Any idea what happened to all that?".
Sometimes on Who Do You Think You Are? in our times, a connection is proudly wheeled out such as "the best banjo player of his time" or "one of the first to make penny farthings in Glasgow".  Still don't know much about them really.  Not their outfits, weddings, clothes, children.  Not their make up or ex partners.  Oh how different it will be for those looking for ancestors in 2120!
Of course, there is a level of interest in many celebrities which is now completely beyond their control.  They may have started off with the minor magazine coverage and posed "on holiday" shots but now they cannot contain the monster which is the internet gossip sites and they want to rein in the coverage but they cannot.  To say nothing of issues such as phone hacking, long lenses photos, general dishonesty.
For his sake (ggrrrr), I hope that the lovely George manages to get married in privacy [although the picture above is apparently of him having breakfast this morning so his chances would seem to be limited].  His descendants will more than likely be fully aware of their ancestor's fame and will still be benefitting from his wealth.   For that lesser level of celebrities, maybe they should think about what their descendants will think when they find out what they got up to. 

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Coffee and Cake Make Us Stronger

When deciding upon this post, I initially thought "It is not about family history".  But of course it is.  Cancer appears in every family tree somewhere and in some form.  We may not have a family history of a particular type or we may have generations who have fought the same disease.  No matter.  It is a terrible disease and we all should do everything we can to fight it.

For the last five years, I have been fundraising for Macmillan.  I saw the idea for the Big Coffee Morning and thought "well, I am not likely to be the person doing the marathon or climbing Everest for charity but I can do coffee and cake!".  So for the last few days, I have been making cakes and stockpiling teabags and getting all the spare mugs and plates out of the back of the cupboards - ready for the 2014 event tomorrow.

If you read my blog, please consider making a donation to Macmillan this week.  I cannot send you cake in return but you will be contributing to a fantastic cause!

To donate, please go to http://coffee.macmillan.org.uk/ and follow the links or text CUPCAKE to 70550 to donate £5.  Or even better, find a coffee morning near you and go along.  There will be lovely drinks and cakes, raffles and sweepstakes.  The website can even help you to find a nearby venue.
Last year, a record £20 million was raised by the Big Coffee Morning.  Even if we cannot pinpoint the effects of cancer on our own family trees, we all know someone whose family tree has been affected very recently.  Macmillan say:
"every coffee sold and every cake eaten...will give someone who's been hit by the news they have cancer the support they need to take back control of their lives".
Go on, for the sake of all of our descendants' futures, join in.
#coffeemorning to see the Tweets from the events.
(Normal, off the wall blogging service resumed this weekend!  Lecture over!)

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Copperplate or maybe not

Apologies for the lack of blogging - should you be avidly awaiting new installments (!).  Girls weekend away plus mad puppy to look after.  Puppy is sleeping less, most annoyingly.

Anyway, today I thought I would ponder about the enumerators who conducted the UK censuses.  During the web chat for my course, someone asked a question about when women were allowed to start working as enumerators [we were talking about how difficult the handwriting was to read sometimes!] and it turned out that it was not until 1891.  To be honest, I had not given the process of conducting a census a great deal of thought but this question made me Google the how's and whereby's.  So I present a short guide to how they managed to conduct a census in the days before we were all presented with a fair sized book to fill in and expected to sort it out mostly by ourselves!

The first thing to make clear is that although it is exciting to see the "original images" when you log onto an online census provider, the censuses are actually secondary sources for information, not primary.  This is because what you see may be (mostly beautifully) handwritten but it has generally been compiled onto that collective form for the street or area after the event.  I have to admit that I didn't know this.  I had visions of a kind of door to door survey, I suppose. 
In a way, it still was  door to door survey because the 33,000 specially recruited enumerators were each given an "Enumeration District" of about two hundred households.  In theory, this amount was about a day's work.  However, as can be imagined, the variation between locations made the allocation of these districts quite unfair sometimes.  Imagine if you were given two hundred households in the Yorkshire Dales, with  miles in between?  Or 200 "households" in the East End of London only to discover three families living at each tenement address in the slums?
Each household was given a form on the enumerator's first visit.  The next day, the enumerators returned to collect the forms, give help filling them in where required and to chase any uncooperative householders.  (Here I will resist the temptation to talk about the Wikipedia article I found about the number of people who now put Jedi Knight as their religion on modern census forms.  Click on the link!)
The information from the forms was then transcribed into a Census Enumeration Book (CEB) for each district.  It was these which were then sent on to the Census Office in London.  Some original forms still exist but not all.  Later censuses are more likely to have the forms online and you may see your ancestor's signature in that case.
Some of the articles which I read in looking into the census process detailed the recruitment process for the enumerators.  In 1871, the ad in The Times stated that the individuals must be
"intelligent, trustworthy, active, be able to write well, have some knowledge of arithmetic"
and be
"temperate, orderly, and respectable, conduct himself in strict propriety and civility in the discharge of his duties" [1]
The first census to attempt to survey every household was in 1841.  It was held on Sunday 6 June.  Thereafter, the census was always March/April as in 1841, it was realised too late that lots of people were working away for the harvest season!  And there you were wondering why that is the census time every ten years.  Nothing to do with April Fools Day, don't worry.
So it can be seen that human error has a lot to answer for in terms of information that can be gleaned from a census return for our ancestors.  Spelling of names, calculation of ages and so on were all dependent on the character and abilities of the enumerator dealing with their forms.  In the modern age, there is also the problem of transcription of the original CEBs for online search use.  The original images are examined and then the assumed contents typed into online forms.  Another hurdle for human error!
Still, a census return for your ancestors is a fascinating thing, snapshot of life though it is (see my earlier post Ten Years of Life!).  It is just a pity that the hundred year rule was introduced because the next time we will see new data will be 2021.  At least that gives the family tree websites time to gird their loins and their systems to cope with the onslaught of people wanting to see the next part of their ancestors' stories, even if they will have to have that pinch of salt ready in terms of the "trustworthy"...!
[1] The Times newspaper, 8 February 1871

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Who Do We Think We Look Like?

Last night, my husband and I watched This World on BBC2, an episode called "Ireland's Lost Babies", presented by Martin Sixsmith.  [Sixsmith was the author of Philomena, the 2013 film starring Judi Dench about an Irish woman searching for her lost son.]
As it happens, my husband has two elder brothers who are Irish and adopted but now is not the time for that long and convoluted story.  Suffice to say that I was surprised to come downstairs from child bedtime duties and find my husband watching the programme.
What struck me throughout - apart from, of course, the awfulness of what the Catholic Church did in effectively selling the babies of unmarried mothers - was the desire of the "children" to find roots.  To find who they looked like and whose mannerisms they had inherited.
This is a striking theme throughout Long Lost Family on ITV too.  Humans, it seems, have a great desire to belong to other humans in a recognisable way.
Friends and acquaintances who were adopted have often said that a real driving force to find their roots has come upon them when they have their own children.  There comes, at its best, a curiosity but at its worst, a desperation - to make sense of your history and your personality and characteristics when you are confronted with your own flesh and blood.  No matter how wonderful your childhood has been within your adopted family, many adoptees feel a sense of difference - whether that be looks or temperament or both.  One of my brother in laws recently said that he had thought for the first time of where his true roots lay.  My in-laws are elderly and he himself was ill and it occurred to him that he had no real medical history in terms of predilection for heart problems, dementia or whatever.
On last night's programme and indeed on the recent Long Lost Family episodes, I don't know whether it is just me but when the families finally meet or when, as last night, you see photos of the parents next to the children, it suddenly seems obvious that they are connected.  Last night, Martin Sixsmith was talking to "children", now in their fifties and sixties, who had been adopted from Ireland to America.  Their upbringings were poles apart from where they came from - not always happily either.  Yet upon seeing them in proximity to images of their lost parents, the resemblances were remarkable.
My grandad had a real thing about people trying to say whom babies resembled.  He used to say quite firmly that "babies look like themselves".  He was right of course.  Humans do not look identical - unless, like the Harry Potter characters above, they are identical twins!
But people, it seems, have a need to look like someone or be like someone.  Whilst we are living with our families, maybe we just don't see the similarities because it is all to close and if we are lucky, very comfortable.  But it must be very different if you grow up without anyone to "take after".  Adoptees who only found out late in life that they were adopted often refer to a feeling of not belonging - an underlying feeling of which they could not make sense, even when they had what could only be described as happy childhoods.
In a way, you can see what you want to see, I suppose.  My son looks very like my husband, according to many people.  My mother, though, often sees characteristics which remind her of my brother at the same age.  I, on the other hand, see just my son.  He is, as my granddad would say, "himself".  Just as all of those people searching for lost relatives are, in the end, THEM selves.  However, I am coming to the conclusion that there is an inherent comfort for many humans in having a sense of belonging to the people around them.  I think I need that Tardis again - I need to check out cavemen and see where this comes from...

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Labels Are Good Sometimes

This is a picture of "Lily's Gran".  That is, my great great grandmother.  The thing is, we are not sure which of Lily's Grans!

Lily was my mother's mother, my grandmother of course.  When she was still able to remember - sadly in her later years, a form of dementia set in - my aunt went through some old photographs with her and labelled as many as she could on their backs.

Unfortunately, all Lily said for this one was "my gran".  It was only when it was too late to ask - or to remember if she gave any further details - that it was realised that we do not know whether it was Sarah - the paternal grandmother - or Audra Ann - the maternal!

So this is a good example of the kind of detective work that genealogy can involve.  In fact, if you buy any of the genealogy magazines such as Family Tree or Who Do You Think You Are?, there are usually sections on how to identify details on photos which may assist in dating them and therefore identifying the "occupants".  It is a really interesting part of the family tree process as photos really bring a tree alive, so to speak.  When people go from names on a census or a register to faces in photos, we start to think of them as more three dimensional somehow - at least I do!  Maybe it is just me...

Anyway, looking at the information I have on Sarah and Audra, I am still as yet not one hundred percent on which grandmother it is!  Sarah died aged 93 in 1935 but I don't know how long even grandmothers would have kept wearing full length dresses after the First World War.  However, she was in her seventies when that war started and photography was easily available in the years before 1914.  The lady in then photo certainly does not look 93 (hoping for those genes if she IS 93 in this picture!).

Audra Ann was born in 1855 and I have not yet found her death certificate.  There is an Ann with the right surname who died in the right area of London in 1917.  So, although I try not to do this very often as it is expensive, I have ordered a copy of that Ann's death certificate.

Not sure how this helps with the photo though!  It still could be Audra!

Another lesson learned.  Labelling of photos is vital for the future generations.  And uploading is going to make these situations worse!  Yes, the photos are safely on "the Cloud" or wherever.  But who has time to go back and label all the endless pictures that we take on digital cameras and phones?

Even if we only label pictures from family gatherings, left to right, it would help identify the occupants of many other photos in the future.  At least uploading gives some kind of dating - unless like me, you only upload pictures every blue moon that you run out of storage!

So, go forth from this blog and label - for the sanity of your descendents...

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Tardis Required

I have decided that today is Time Travel Tuesday.  I had wanted to blog about the definitions applied to the Anglo Indians in British India but it is rather statistical and official and definitely needs more research.  So whilst pondering for a theme for today, I took to the idea that if one could time travel (preferably with David Tennant's Dr Who, sorry Peter Capaldi!), which ancestor would I most like to go and visit.
I have been to London a couple of times quite recently and was amazed at the changes in places that I had not visited since leaving in 2003.  I have always wanted to experience London in another age.  Pre Blitz, with all the little alleyways and courts and so on - so few of which remain today.  So I think I will ask the lovely David to take the Tardis to eighteenth century London.
Joseph Shaller Sr was apprenticed to Benjamin Pickering, a brandy merchant by his father Edward.  The indenture was paid on 18 April 1753.  The original document for this can be seen on Ancestry.  From the records I have found online for their parish church in Shoreditch, it appears that Benjamin Pickering was known to Edward Shaller personally.  They served together on parish committees.  [This was another example of how googling/fiddling about/ whatever you want to call it can produce unexpected results.  I tried Edward Shaller's name with the baptism church's name and managed to find references to the Shaller family (this site is a great place for such research too http://www.british-history.ac.uk).  I was of course helped by the unusual surname!
I would love to know the family's circumstances.  They would seem at first glance to have been reasonably well off and Joseph Sr was able to marry as soon as his apprenticeship was finished, going on to have six children with his wife Susanna Slade.  However, I have not as yet managed to find any reference to property so it is highly possible that although they had reasonable livelihoods and supported families, they did not actually own any "bricks and mortar".
Would I recognise anything about these Shallers or their personalities?  Could any characteristics have made their way this far down the family tree?  What did they wear, for surely that would have been an indication of their place in society?  Well to do?  Or just keeping their heads above water?  Would an apprentice brandy merchant have been taught to read and write?  There were four sons and two daughters.  Joseph Jr was not required to sign the surviving muster list which recorded his joining up with the army in 1804 so I don't know if he could write either.  According to the muster, though, Joseph Jr was a staymaker (a profession looked at during Mary Berry's Who Do You Think You Are? last week, as it happens - corset making!).
The difference in father and son professions raises endless questions.  Did Joseph Sr leave the booze trade?!  Did he and his eldest son have a falling out?  More importantly, how did Joseph Jr end up in the army?  I have a suspicion that my whole paternal line stems either from someone escaping justice or someone who got drunk with the press gang and woke up the next morning in uniform!  Carole Divall, who has done a huge amount of work on the history of the 30th Regiment of Foot (where Joseph found himself!), has told me that London was not a usual recruiting area for that regiment.
So from the Tardis, I will need to visit 1778 when Joseph Jr was born and then periodically wander into their lives until 1804.  And David Tennant will be helping me!  Must not get distracted.  I suppose a basic survey would be very useful, if they could be persuaded.... questions like dates, birthplaces, ancestors and relations would be brilliant for checking my research so far!  Yes, time travel is definitely the answer for genealogists.  The possibilities would be endless.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

I'll Be There For You

As a side line to family history, today I feel the need to write about "friendship trees".  There is much debate in the modern media about whether friends are the new family.  An article I read recently laid this idea firmly at the door of the Nineties and said that the programme Friends promoted the feeling amongst twenty somethings that a good group of friends was all you needed.
Well that was me, a twenty something in the Nineties.  And yes, I had a group (or rather various groups) of solid friends, many of whom I am still in touch with.  However, I am not sure why this should be regarded as having been a bad thing.  I was living with just my now husband in London.  We knew no-one when we got there.  Gradually a couple of university friends were there too but we had initially to make our own way in the Big Smoke.  We were grateful to meet like minded people!
I do think though that it would be interesting to one day draw a friendship tree as opposed to a family tree.  Last night I was out for dinner with a friend whom I have known since we were pregnant together with our first children.  We met when we were huge and bobbing around in an antenatal swimming class (the water displacement was terrifying!) and we have laughed and cried together ever since.  I could not manage without her. 
But she is part of a lifelong tapestry of friends.  School, university, carefree twenties, baby groups, friends met on holidays, school gate friends.  All precious in their own ways.  Tonight we have friends staying with us who were at school with my husband, tomorrow we are meeting relatively recent new friends for lunch.
Obviously solid groups of friends are not a modern phenomenon.  If we could visit our ancestors in their own time, we would find that although they loved their families, they had friendships that they valued immensely - many probably more than family.  Of course they did!
So when we draw our family trees, it is interesting to speculate on the "secondary" relationships that we can't see.  Who helped that person when they went bankrupt?  Which friend did my great great grandmother turn to when she lost a baby?  These are the unseen and forever lost stories.  A family tree, as I have pondered on a number of posts recently, does not show the whole story of our ancestors' lives.
In writing a memoir for our descendants, in labelling photos, maybe it is the friends that we should take extra care over.  Too often we get an old photo out and say things like "oh, there is granny but who is that person with her?" when actually that person was probably a huge part of granny's life.
Like most of us, I have many layers of friends.  My husband and I used to throw a lot of parties in London and many of our friend groups know each other.  There was even a marriage thanks to one of our parties - a childhood friend of my husband's best friend with one of my best university friends!
Maybe I should start to write some of this down somewhere as well as looking at my family history.  Some kind of Venn diagram maybe?! Or in years to come, when they get out the dusty old photo albums, my children will be spending a lot of time saying things like "well that's mum there but who are the other people standing in the fountain with her?" and "that seems to be a wedding, but who are all the people doing the weird synchronised dance with her".....

Friday, 12 September 2014

A Rose by any other name?

Two days into my course work for Organising Your Genealogy and I am already making more work for myself.  No, not my poor record organising skills.  They have reached a plateau, I hope!

A tree which was done by a genealogist for my mother's eldest sister some years ago has always been taken as gospel.  It followed my grandfather Gerald Pratt and my grandmother Lily Goodey.  None of the spouses' lines were followed.  It simply looked at the Pratt and Goodey origins.  Two trees and some fact files to accompany them.

Since my father's lines were so much harder to trace and so much more misted because of the Anglo Indian connections, I have put most of my own efforts into looking at my paternal side.  I did, though, look at my maternal grandmother Lily's mother's side.  She was Violet Tiller and it turned out, as readers of this blog may remember, that my mother and her siblings have recently come into a small inheritance from this side.  So I was pleased that I was able to confirm the heir hunter's findings.

However, yesterday I had to fill in my own "pedigree" chart as part of starting this course.  The form which I have been asked to use looks like this:

This leads, at the right hand side, to sixteen lines of enquiry.  I have made good progress with five of the eight paternal Indian lines; two of the eight maternal lines are covered by my aunt's tree and two of the maternal lines have been done by myself - Violet Tiller's parents.  However, this leaves half of the maternal lines uninvestigated because my aunt's tree does not pursue them, only the Pratt and Goodey lines - ie the males!

So when I came to fill in my own pedigree - all excited to be doing my first coursework! - I realised that I had very little information about these lines.  I returned to the "fact files" attached to my aunt's tree and it states that my paternal great grandmother, Mildred Rose Higgins, was the daughter of Thomas and Annie Higgins.  I filled this in for the fifth generation - two of the eight maternal lines.

As ever with me, though, I couldn't "leave it"!  What was Annie's surname, I wondered?  And what are subscriptions to family tree services for if not to solve such conundrums? (And to distract one from the business that needed to be taken in hand before the puppy woke up and made it impossible to finish anything?!)

When you search for Milfred Rose Higgins on the census results for 1901 and 1911 - she was born in 1893 - you are given results for Mildred Rose Higgins and for Rose Higgins.  I am now completely convinced that the genealogist who did my aunt's tree has used results for Mildred Rose, my great grandmother and for a different Rose Higgins and has combined them to make a complete history for one person.

The fact file states that in 1901, Mildred Rose, aged eight, was living with her parents Thomas and Annie in the Guards Officers Quarters in Aylesbury - Thomas was some sort of civil servant.  However, when I looked at this census entry, it is for a Rose Higgins.  I did not think anything of this to start with because I remember that she was usually referred to as Rose when I knew her as a child.  However, skip to 1911 and the fact file says that Mildred Rose, aged seventeen and born in Waddesdon, is living and working as a domestic servant in Kensington, London.  But the Rose Higgins with parents Thomas and Annie is shown in 1911 as well!  She is still living with her parents and works at a printing works - as her elder siblings had been doing in 1901.

So which is my Rose?  Well, my original notes state that my great grandmother was born in specifically Waddesdon, as opposed to Aylesbury nearby.  There is a Rose Higgins shown for Waddesdon in 1901.  Age eight, she is living with her parents John and Ada and her sisters Winifred and Margaret.  In 1911, John is living with just Winifred - who is keeping house - and Jack.  This fits because Mildred Rose, born in Waddesdon, is shown at a large house in Kensington.

And I think it is the names which prove my theory.  Mildred Rose and Walter Pratt had eight children, seven of whom survived.  Their first child was a girl named Kathleen Ada.  After Mildred Rose's mother?  The second son was named Jack - more common, I grant you.  But also, my mother has a sister named Joan Winifred and I am wondering if the Winifred came from my grandfather's aunt's name.  It is not the most usual of names, even for those days.  A final piece of circumstantial evidence might be that Walter Pratt was a train driver from Smethwick.  I can't help feeling that he was more likely to have meet a girl who was travelling from London to see her family in Aylesbury than a girl who had stayed with her parents all along.  But maybe this is a supposition too far!  As I wrote about last time, we should not jump to conclusions...

I intend, now that my curiosity is awoken, to pursue the Higgins connections and to establish the truth if possible.  But that must wait.  I have a pedigree to finish.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Ten Years of Life (Wedding Wednesday!)

Well it is Wedding Wednesday again.  This is me and husband!  Following on from yesterday's post about how the horizontal lines on a family tree diagram probably hide all sorts of personal stories, I have been thinking about how much can happen in a ten year period.
We tend to look at a census return and see who is living within a particular household.  Then try to draw conclusions from that "moment in time" which has been set down on paper.  The census must record who is in a particular property on that particular night in that particular year.  There is no note of why the people are there.  So when, in our own research or during a Who Do You Think You Are? episode, we find families in, say, 1881, 1891 and 1901, it is tempting to think of that information as a complete record of the family's situation for that thirty years.
"Oh look, they are all still together" followed by "The mother has died but it looks like the son has moved back in with his family" and many other endless possibilities.
These "conclusions" simplify, to say the least, the situation in which the family found itself in real life.  There might have been a ten year struggle to keep a business going, culminating in a family having to all share one house again whilst hating the sight of each other, for example!
What has this to do with Wedding Wednesday?  Actually it is not so much about my wedding as in the idea of the conclusions which will be drawn from my own "contribution" to censuses during my lifetime.  My then boyfriend and I moved to London five years before we married.  We had both been students so I believe that we would show up on our parents' census returns for 1991 but we might be on halls of residence returns.  We will not show on another census until 2001.  Still in London but no details of our lives, how many addresses, our careers.  I left my job to start cooking school the year after the census and by the time of the next census, I was a stay at home parent - so the "cooking phase" will not show up at all on job descriptions for censuses!
Our wedding was in Chelsea.  My husband was keen for a Catholic wedding and we lived in Walthamstow - in a our first much loved bought home.  However. the local Catholic Church was next the North Circular Road and opposite Walthamstow Dog Track so I (understandably, I believe!) started looking for somewhere a bit more picturesque!  Boy, is that going to confuse future research.  "Well, they must have had terrible luck.  They married in Chelsea behind Sloane Square and three years later, I have found them on a census in a two up, two down in Walthamstow".  See what I mean?  Easy to draw conclusions, isn't it?!
So whilst it is wonderful to have access to censuses, it is important to keep their information in perspective.  It is definitely possible that that relative that you have assumed was back living with his parents and down on his luck was actually staying there because he had had a heavy night on the beer or because his wife had thrown him out for the night but they patched things up in the morning....
http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/catalogues-and-online-records.htm will take you to the free census records up to 1911 if you wish to take a look at your own relations' moments in time!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Horizontal Lines

The rather blurry image above is an image from Google, gleaned from Googling simply "family tree" images.  I was looking for something to illustrate the point that I wanted to muse about today.
Which is how we perceive the lines of family when we are recreating them from records alone.  The accepted practice is to draw family trees with each generation on the same line.  This should give you half a chance of working out the cousins, second cousins etc in a visual way.  It can lead to issues with fitting everyone onto your tree if you are physically drawing it onto paper but most computer programs and genealogy website treemakers will accommodate this principle.
But what about the stories behind those lines?  From records, we might discover that a male ancestor had two or three wives, that they each had children and that there are resultant descendants.  On our lovely diagram, it all looks very simple, especially if that male was widowed and then remarried, rather than divorced and then remarried.
Was it that simple in real life?  For most of these relationships, you hope that it was indeed that easy.  That the new wife took on the step children cheerfully and without resentment and that all that happened was that the lovely happy family just got bigger.
Except that of course we know that this probably was not the case.  If the brother and sisters on one generational line had had a falling out, then it is unlikely that the cousins on the next line down would have had proper contact.  And if a father had abandoned his children or had them fostered when his wife died, who is to say, just by looking at a diagram of essentially nothing but dates, whether those children had a happy ending in a big extended family when their father remarried?
As I have blogged about before, I enjoy the chase of genealogy and I like the sense of achievement when you solve a puzzle, break down a brickwall, whatever you want to call it.  If you stop to think about it though, the human stories are what are missing in most family trees.  (Unless you are Royalty and your every move has been pored over - and even then, who is to say what the truth is?!)
My mother's great grandmother Violet was left fatherless early in her life.  She was one of three children and their mother Audra remarried then three more children came along.  On the tree, it all looks quite easy.  They are on the same line! How happy they must have been!  Who is to say, though, what it was actually like to live as part of that family?  Maybe the first three could not wait to leave home.  Maybe the half brothers did not get on.  We will never know.
And presumably in the future, if our descendants try to do their family trees, they will see the same neat lines of generations.  They will probably never know the heartaches behind them.  I wrote a couple of days ago about the "New Model Family".  If we are lucky, our extended modern connections work out.  If we are not lucky we may find ourselves on someone's future family tree sited happily next to someone whom in life we could not abide!

Monday, 8 September 2014

And the winner is....

This weekend saw the inaugural Scarecrow Festival in our village.  It was fantastic fun.  With the "help" of my children, I attempted to create a scene from Disney's Frozen.  I was really quite pleased with my efforts until I actually did the trail myself and saw what everyone else had made!

When did a farm necessity become a competitive sport?!  There were Batmen and Spidermen (one on a roof!), soldiers and nursery rhymes, cartoon characters and ballerinas.  All home made and all wonderful.

It got me thinking about the evolution of traditions.  I look at, for example, a family tree that I worked on earlier this year for a friend and I can see that the entirety of one side of her family were very much based in a relatively small area for many, many years.  As discussed on previous posts, such situations were mainly due to the lack of affordable transportation.  However, it makes you wonder how things like scarecrow festivals and other community traditions (like those mad Pancake Day football games, summer raft races and so on!) have survived when you see how spread out families are these days.

It is a shame that so many traditions have gone by the wayside.  But when you do see a proper old fashioned event, it is usually a wonderful demonstration of British humour and eccentricity.  A couple of years ago, we were lucky enough to attend a raft race in Beer in Devon.  The pebble beach slopes very steeply there and the aim was for teams to push their rafts down this slope, get some speed up and then be the furthest out from the shore and the longest afloat.  However, when I say rafts, I mean floating Tardis with Weeping Angel and sound effects, the whole family of the Simpsons, a Thunderbirds rocket complete with uniformed pilots and a real piano with haybales and party of Wurzels on board!  Brilliant!

So maybe this is the way to keep some of these traditions going.  Bake sales become Bake Off's, Raft and scarecrow building become competitive sports.  And local music festivals have X Factor style heats.  Is this a bad thing?  I do think that our ancestors would rather see communities staying together and traditions continuing, even if it means tapping into the modern obsession with competing. 

So it is a great thing to see people starting something new, drumming up support for a community, bringing people together.  A short post today but I was feeling the positive vibes from the weekend as we walked to school this morning and I felt I should share them!

Sunday, 7 September 2014

The Why's

Oh my goodness I am going back to school!  Yes, after posting a while ago about my lack of organisation with my family history records, I have decided to get professional help.  So I am about to start a Pharos online learning course called, quite perfectly, "Organising your Genealogy".

It is a whole new world to me.  Not the genealogy but the enrolment and set-up for an online course.  I have done online learning like "HR required" courses and so on over the years but yesterday, three emails arrived telling me to begin my registration procedures.  It is brilliant!  And I haven't even learnt anything yet!

My tutor is based in Salt Lake City in the US apparently. She works for the Family Search organisation run by the Mormons (see my post on the fabulousness of their resources!).  And we all had to reply and introduce ourselves on the course forum.  There are people from all over the world doing the same course.  I do love modern technology sometimes....

So it includes three "lessons" over the three week period (yes, I guess I was exaggerating about the going back to school but hey, it is quite a thing for me to give myself permission to take time for myself and commit to something like this.  Once in a blue moon in fact!).  The tutor holds live "chats" for each lesson - two or three so that each time zone is accommodated.  Plus we get "chat notes" for each session in case you have missed out.

There is an open forum where you can ask anything you like and this came with notes telling me to post whatever I needed to ask and "not to worry about looking stupid" - which is excellent encouragement as I am not sure I would be brave enough to put anything down at all otherwise....I will be taking advantage of the opportunity to ask as many stupid questions as possible!

All in all, very excited to be beginning my three week adventure.  The trick now is going to be making sure that my family do not disrupt my attendance at the live "chat" sessions.  I have this fear that I will find myself typing a really (I hope) insightful comment only to be interrupted by a child/dog/husband issue.  The down side of distance learning, I guess.  I don't get to actually leave the house!  Always a treat for the stay at home parent, obviously...

In all seriousness, I do believe that it is important in life to keep learning.  And whilst it is great to be self taught at something which you love doing, there are times when we can definitely benefit from another's expertise.

In 2002 I left the City and retrained at Leith's School of Food and Wine.  I had considered doing so for some time but 11 September 2001 had kind of pushed me to make some changes to my life.  At that time I was working in Canary Wharf and watching live as people in New York jump to their deaths from burning buildings haunted me for months afterwards.  It all felt a bit too close to home.  So I followed a dream - in the absence of managing to get pregnant - and spent a wonderful six months properly learning to cook.  In the end, I only managed to cook full time for a relatively short while after the course as the de-stressing brought on pregnancy at last!

The thing which I have been endlessly grateful for from the course, though (apart from the career change and later being able to teach cooking), was an understanding of the principles of cooking and how things actually work.  Eg, the reason that everything should be at room temperature for making a sponge cake is that eggs and sugar do not actually like to be together so if they are at the same temperature when mixed, it helps to persuade them to stay mixed.  If you have learnt to cook from books, very few actually explain the science behind something like that.  So the tendency of the home cook is to think "oh well, how important can that be and I am in a hurry anyway".

I am hoping that starting to do some proper genealogy courses will give me the same kind of basic principles.  An understanding of the "why" as well as the "how to".  I will post again about the course at the end...watch this space...

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Wedding Wednesday

Been thinking about themes for a few posts so here's Wedding Wednesday!

This is a picture of the marriage of my Great Aunt Mary Noella Shaller to Trist William Beale Leach.  It took place in December 1937 in Bhusawal in India.  He was 36 and she was very nearly 23.  Don't they look serious?!  I love the 1930s hairstyle on Mary.  And the lapels on Trist's jacket!

I have no idea where or how they met but they were both Anglo Indian and the marriage took place in the Beulah Full Gospel Tabernacle, with a missionary in attendance.

Actually Great Aunt Mary - always just known to us as just Aunty Mary and so forthwith in this post - was the only one of my Grandad's sisters to live in the UK after Partition in India.  The other two sisters Dagma and Thelma went to Australia and New Zealand with their parents and their own families. 

Aunty Mary was amazing when I knew her as an old lady and I am quite sure that she was just as amazing when she was younger.  She trained as a nurse (although the marriage certificate gives no profession for her) and had lived through the worst violence of the time around Indian Independence.  I remember her stories of being in cars that were attacked on the roads, by angry mobs of people and of the chaos in the hospitals.  She had a fabulous memory and very strong opinions on absolutely everything from the price of bread to how the country was being run.  Her political commentary during long car journeys could be exhausting...

I never knew Great Uncle Trist.  The certificate says that he was a telegraph engineer in 1937 - one of the occupations mainly taken by Anglo Indians under the British.  I believe that Aunty Mary arrived in England in 1949 without him - for some reason to do with his application for British citizenship.  Trist's family were from Burma and the hold up was connected to this - Burma gained independence separately from India in January 1948.  I have a copy of Mary's application and it does say that Trist had applied separately but we have not located a copy of his application - yet another avenue to follow up at some point!

Sadly, Trist died in London only 8 years later in 1957.  Mary nursed him all through his last illness, she told me.  I do not have his death certificate yet and to my shame, I cannot remember the actual cause of death but I know that he was ill for some time.  They had one daughter Annabel and from her, one grandson - who never, of course, knew his grandfather.

Mary resolutely stayed in the same house for most of the rest of her life.  It was filled with items that were the kind of things that you remember and look forward to seeing again when you are a child being taken to an elderly relative's house!  Unusual pictures and pottery from India, old family pictures and so on.  Mary managed well alone (she never remarried) - a famous incident being that she found a burst pipe in the middle of the night so bandaged it up, painted over the bandage to waterproof it and went back to bed!  Resourceful and determined would be a good description for her.  She did though become a little eccentric.  If she phoned you, beware when you answered - she always made it sound like you had called her and had disturbed her... And it was always pot luck if you were invited for a meal - it might be a bowl of crisps and a cup of tea or it might be three gourmet courses!

In her late old age, Mary decided that she was going to go to live in South Africa with her daughter.  My father duly made the travel arrangements, sold her house for her and escorted her to Johannesburg.  He returned to visit a couple of times in the next three years only to find that she was not at all happy.  She missed her routines, her garden, her hospital visiting for friends - all the things that had kept her going and kept her mind agile.  So she came back again! And lived until 2009 in sheltered accommodation, doing the garden and looking after "the old people" as she called her fellow residents.

It was a long way and a long time since her wedding day in 1937 but she was a true original and was much loved by the family.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Nothing to do with David Beckham

It seems only right to acknowledge that this blog should acknowledge the global phenomenon which is the Ice Bucket Challenge.  It seems that half of the world has taken to throwing buckets of iced water over their heads in the name of charity.  My family and I have all had a go, in the name of Macmillan rather than ALS, as have most people that I know.

There is now the inevitable backlash over water shortages and so on.  All of which arguments I do understand.

However, in an early post (Tour de Yorkshire, de France, de Sky's the Limit), I wrote about where science might take us in terms of geographical spread of families and the search for future family history data.  In my last post, I was musing on family ties and what they mean now.  Perhaps the Ice Bucket Challenge might eventually come to be seen as the start of global charity efforts and then global co-operation (I can dream, people, I can dream!).  Sure, we have had Live Aid and other global campaigns but nothing as big as the challenge has been achieved by social media alone, as far as I know.

Even if you discount the fundraising aspect, the challenge is a true indicator of the combined power of the media with which we surround ourselves.  Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to post the evidence; bloggers (!), news websites, TV and press to discuss and disseminate the challenge; texting to instantly donate.  All without a central leadership!  The no-make-up selfies earlier in the year were similar, though not nearly as popular and without the seeming longevity.  Amazingly powerful.

We cannot fool ourselves that the whole world has been mobilised when so many millions are unaware of the challenge or have no interest and when so many have far more important things to worry about, like staying alive from one day to the next. 

But since this blog is partly about the use of modern technologies, by newbies like me, to further family history research, it is heartening to see that these technologies can bring people together in a good cause as well as selfish ones.

It was also going to be an opportunity to post a lovely pic of David Beckham doing the challenge but I have resisted temptation in the interests of a short but serious attempt to discuss the challenge....  oh what the hell... here he is....