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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, 27 October 2014

Be My Guest

 
 
This last week, every time I have sat down to write, something has interrupted me.  Stuff completely beyond my control but I do apologise for the silence (although maybe you were relieved). 
 
However, I have been attempting to write a post about my great great great grandfather Edward Guest.  I was even going through my notes as I sat waiting in A&E after my son sustained a footballing injury - not serious incidentally, I am not completely heartless!  So here, finally, is the tale of Edward Guest... 

I knew that one of my paternal great great grandmothers had been Annie Jane Guest and from her marriage and baptism details, I knew that her father was called Edward.  Until last year, however, I had not pursued this line of inquiry very far.  Reading a back copy of a  Families In British India Society (FIBIS) journal though, I came across a mention of an Edward Guest.  The article's author Dorota Walker was a British Library employee and had been engaged in research in areas of the library's resources outside of the India Office collections.  [These are the collections that relate to the entire period of British rule in India - the East India Company, the Empire and all their records.  Follow this link for details.]

Anyway, she had stumbled upon two volumes from the papers of a Sir Charles Napier relating to his time with the Indian Army.  Some related to the 22nd Regiment of Foot and amongst them was a permit for a Private Edward Guest.  From her description of him and from the follow up work I was able to do, I am sure that this was my ancestor.

Edward Guest was born in Belfast in 1808.  A labourer by trade, he signed up for the army in 1825 and joined the 41st Regiment of Foot.  He served in Burma, Afghanistan and Madras apparently.  There are records relating to him in the National Archives though and these concern three court martials.  Two in 1834 for drunkenness and theft.  He served three months in solitary the first time.  The theft charge brought a sentence of fourteen years "transportation" but this ruling was overturned for, as yet, unknown reasons.  Makes one wonder what he stole!  The court martial papers for these two appearances can be seen at the FIBIS website.
 
The third was in 1839, again for drunkenness.  According to the FIBIS article, this resulted in the loss of a Good Conduct badge - I could not find this note.  In the meantime, he had married, in 1837, an "Indo Briton" (ie an Anglo Indian) woman named Amelia Emsley.  The marriage record states that she was fifteen - her baptism record suggests that she was probably thirteen... shocking to us now but not unusual then.  Her father Joseph Emsley had also been in the 41st Foot and the Emsleys were a large family.

Between 1838 and 1861, Amelia and Edward had at least eight children - I suspect there may be others as yet untraced as there are some long gaps between them.  Five children were living when Guest made his first petition in around 1850.  He had been discharged from the army in 1846 (having transferred to the 22nd Regiment of Foot in 1843 in order to remain with his family when the 41st returned to England).  "Extreme ill health" was cited.  He then managed to get a permit to open a stall in the bazar [market] of the 22nd Foot - selling anything but alcohol!  The pension award is also shown on FIBIS - 26 April 1846.  However, in 1848 his pension was withdrawn - it looks like drunkenness is given as the reason for this....

Ex-Private Guest must have been desperate at this point.  He obviously had issues with alcohol - a common problem in the army in India in the nineteenth century as it was not exactly a stimulating posting - Billy Connolly's Who Do You Think You Are? gave further details of British India army life recently and it left a lot to be desired!  He managed for two years but then tried and failed to get his pension reinstated in 1850.  In 1854 he wrote to Sir Charles Napier and even to the Duke of Wellington [hence the tenuous use of his picture above! - I could not identify the correct uniform for Guest - when you Google, you get lots of re-enactment society snaps...].  There are no records pertaining to the result of this second attempt.

At my great great grandmother Annie Jane's birth in 1858, Guest is listed as "a discharged soldier of the 41st Regiment of Foot".  Then in 1860, he died on 10 September of "ebritas".  If you were watching the  Billy Connolly WDYTYA episode, you may remember that this is alcoholism.  He was buried a day later, aged around 52.  [As an even sadder postscript, his youngest daughter Isabella Bedelia was born in 1861.  Her father is listed as the "late Edward Guest".  She herself only lived for a year.]

By my calculation, my 3 x great grandmother Amelia was then left with at least three children who would still have been dependent, including my toddler great, great grandmother.  In 1860, Amelia also lost her father Joseph, then aged 72, to dysentery.  Her mother had died in 1841.
 
In a move typical of the times in which she lived, Amelia Guest almost immediately remarried.  Another soldier, Daniel Liffick.  He had been widowed only months before he married Amelia in June 1861 but it would seem to have given both of them a form of security as he too had young children to cope with.  However, in 1870, Daniel Liffick - by then working as a guard on the Great Indian Peninsula Railway - died of "an accidental gunshot wound to the chest" according to his death record.  I am still looking into this - not that he is directly related to me, of course but as previous readers of the blog will know, I find it hard to resist a detour when an interesting story awaits!
 
So it just goes to show what information is out there about apparently lowly relatives.  We can find chapter and verse about the Duke of Wellington of course (although I prefer to think of him as Stephen Fry played him in Blackadder The Third!) but Edward Guest, Joseph Emsley and Daniel Liffick were in the lowest ranks of the British Army and there is far more available to find then I ever thought would be possible.  Incidentally, if you want to make a start with military records, the National Archives are the best place to begin but the various chat forums such as Victorian Wars are also very good.

Monday, 20 October 2014

My Kingdom for a Boy

 
 
This weekend my adored nephew was staying with us.  Apart from the fact that he was born nine weeks early and is none the worst for it, he is no different to any other child.  All children are by turns adorable and frustrating - particularly your own - and all children are special.

However, my nephew appears to be the last holder of my family name - Shaller (see previous blog posts!).  Me being female and married, my children bear my husband's name (we were terribly traditional about the whole thing).  My cousins on that side of the family are all female and married and likely not to use their maiden name for their children.  So my brother is the one male on our horizontal tree line and his son too is the one male.  My sister in law having no nieces and nephews, my nephew/her son is also the only child on his horizontal line on their tree.  No pressure then, kid!

When we look at our family trees, the general trend is usually for families to have dwindled in their numbers of siblings since birth control became possible.  No longer did a woman have to risk having six children when she actually only wanted (and could cope with!) two.  Of course, big families were not seen as a bad thing in, for example, the Victorian age.  Partly people aspired to the standard set by Victoria and Albert's huge brood of prince and princesses, partly (sadly) not all children were expected to survive childhood.  A woman may go through eight births but only half of these children might survive.  And for the poor, a big family was both a blessing and curse.  Many mouths to feed and people to clothe but later, extra workers to contribute to the family pot and live-in childcare for those children still too young to work.

It is unimagineable to us - brought up with the NHS and medical breakthroughs and knowledge of infection and so on - that you might lose a child every couple of years.  But on my Anglo Indian family tree, there are a number of examples where a couple have produced three or four children and none or just one have survived.  I have not looked as closely yet but I imagine that there will be similar situations on my maternal side.
 
There are still cultures in the world which prize male heirs above female.  Even in the UK, it has only just become possible for a first born royal female to inherit ahead of a younger brother.  Of course, William and Kate have obligingly managed to produce a boy first time so this is probably not ever going to be an issue anyway!  But our long reigning queen was actually the bottom of the heap - no more boys to inherit instead of her - the same with Elizabeth I and Victoria.
 
If I was to imagine that my family tree were heirs to a great estate or a throne (!) and these principles still applied, my father would be king, followed by my younger brother and then my nephew.  Despite being the eldest, I would be bypassed, as would my children and grandchildren unless something awful happened to my brother's line.  This is where you can begin to feel sympathy with all those medieval princesses, Tudor queens and various princes for their scheming (although not for their methods!).  Sometimes they must have been so close to the throne that they could almost feel it and then another baby would come along and  oh, not your turn next, sorry.....  Of course, the flipside of this was, as with the Tudors, the pressure to produce male heirs....
 
And on that note, to return to my lovely nephew, I have gone through most of my family tree now for five or six generations (at least) of the Shaller name and I suspect that the nearest holders of the surname who are related to us are in America.  I have not yet got access to US records (Ancestry and others charge separately for this typically - don't get me started...) but we believe that one male may have died in Vietnam.  It remains to be seen if there is another line.  My grandfather had three sisters but his father had brothers and one of these seems to have emigrated to America well before the Partition of India.  A whole new mystery to explore.  But not until I have the current mass of information under control (see previous posts!)....

Friday, 17 October 2014

Who were the Peaky Blinders?



My current favourite viewing is Peaky Blinders on BBC2.  I watched the last series and it is now three episodes into the second series.  I am not a TV critic and I dread to think how I would come across on Gogglebox but I have to say that Peaky Blinders is, my humble opinion, excellent television.

It is dark, gritty, violent.  The whole thing is set to fantastic modern music which despite its setting in the 1920s seems entirely appropriate somehow.  And the cast are fabulous.  There, that's my review!

I have started to wonder about the historical basis for the series though.  As ever, I was also thinking about the family history aspect.

The Peaky Blinders did indeed exist in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Birmingham.  The name Peaky Blinders first came to national notice in around 1890.  It has long been thought that the name referred to razor blades having been sewn into the peaks of the caps worn by the gang, for use in slashing victims or rivals.  However, a new book by Birmingham historian Carl Chinn disputes this.1.  Chinn himself discovered, during his research, that his great grandfather had actually been a Peaky Blinder!  He knew that he came from a line of illegal bookmakers but it turned out that, another generation back, there was a violent and abusive gang member.

Apparently, many of the descendants of members of the Birmingham gangs - the Peaky Blinders were definitely not the only one - are unaware of their ancestors' criminal pasts.  Their deeds were not discussed, whether from shame or guilt or whatever.

Carl Chinn actually began his research in the 1980s and 1990s, well before the current interest in the gangs obviously.  He was lucky enough to manage to get some first hand testimony from people who had lived through the period when the gangs were prevalent. 

In terms of family history, this is a major point of good practice.  Always question as many people as possible, especially elderly relatives, as a starting point.  You never know what snippets of information you might come across.  I wish that I had asked more questions when my own grandparents were alive, that's for sure.

There was a character referenced in the first series of  Peaky Blinders called Billy Kimber.  Kimber did indeed exist and ended up as a wealthy man in retirement in Torquay (sorry, now biting down on the desire to reference the view from Torquay hotel bedroom windows... love Fawlty Towers...).  He had made his money as a big hitter of British crime though.  The television series portrayed him as a Londoner but he too was actually a Brummie.  Chinn also traced a descendent of Kimber:

Justine said: “My family had thought of Billy Kimber as a criminal, we knew that much, who had done time in Winson Green.
“But we had absolutely no idea just what a major gangster he became. We had assumed he was simply a local thug.
“We are not particularly proud of his career, but of course it is rather exciting knowing one is directly related to a godfather of organised crime.”

Good grief, the producers of Who Do You Think You Are?  would probably fall over themselves if a celebrity subject could be proved to have such an ancestor.  Can you imagine the "journey" that they would be taken on?  Through the streets of modern day Birmingham, probably into Winson Green prison, a list of victims for them to shed a tear over.... maybe that's what they will do with Carl Chinn's book about the real Peaky Blinders - start tracing them forwards to see if they have spawned any likely celebrities!  [There is a long running joke - urban myth? - that Michael Parkinson's family tree was done by the programme but his roots were considered too boring!  One can't help thinking that the stories which are shown are the tip of the research iceberg...]

Another aspect which piqued my interest is the fact that even if we find a criminal record for an ancestor, this is not necessarily the whole story.  On last night's episode of Peaky Blinders, Tommy Shelby (played by the lovely Cillian Murphy - see above) ordered two gang members to get themselves arrested in order to avenge the death inside Winson Green prison of a stooge who had been paid by the gang to go to prison (to give the police an arrest for bookmaking and keep them off the real criminals).  So if that had been real life, three men would have criminal records.  One for no reason other than his family were promised money and two for some minor offence when they were actually violent gang members!  You can see how descendents became less and less aware of what happened, as the years passed.  Below are the pictures of some real life Peaky Blinders.  Their listed offences are actually things like stealing bicycles...

 


I must say that the violence shown on the television series is quite extreme.  But somehow because of the setting, it does not feel that it is shown gratuitously.  Although I could have done without watching Cillian Murphy being beaten to a pulp... far too lovely for that...  Sadly, 1920s Birmingham, many people could not just change channel when faced with such violence.


1.  The Real Peaky Blinders: Billy Kimber, the Birmingham Gang and the Racecourse Wars of the 1920s - Carl Chinn (paperback, 10 October 2014)
 




Thursday, 16 October 2014

Being Anglo Indian




Not sure I will get chance to post today but here is a great article that I found last night, to keep you busy!  Really interesting insights.

http://www.tasveerjournal.com/ai/#.VD0PyR_nYAE.facebook

Monday, 13 October 2014

Pandemic



As you will have seen on the news, the world is currently facing an outbreak of the Ebola virus, centred in Africa.  It is a terrible disease and governments are right to be concerned.  It is a pity, though, that they were not concerned a lot sooner.  As so often is the case, the rest of the world has to feel threatened (or totally shamed - see Band Aid circa 1984!) before serious situations in Third World countries get the attention they deserve.
 
Today, the BBC news website carried an article about Spanish Influenza.  I can see why they did this - it was at the end of the First World War that the pandemic took hold plus it is an easy comparison to the Ebola outbreak.  The article is very informative.  I certainly knew very little about the outbreak in 1918/1919.  I definitely did not know that it is estimated to have killed fifty million people worldwide.
 
The most recent modern day media reference to the Spanish 'flu outbreak was in Downton Abbey, when it very conveniently took away the fiancĂ©e who was getting in the way of the Lady Mary/Matthew Crawley, will they/won't they plot.  [There she is above, poor Lavinia.]
 
I had been going, in this post, to question the wisdom of putting out the Spanish 'flu piece on the BBC website, for fear of stirring people up - after reading it, I felt informed but disturbed, to say the least.  It made me cross with the Beeb  and want to rant about tabloid style scare mongering.  However, when googling to write today's post, I stumbled upon a piece about how accurate Downton Abbey's portrayal of the 'flu had been. 
 
This article about Downton Abbey argued that the rather sanitised view of the 'flu shown in the episode was bad for public health information as it would lead people to believe that there was no need to be afraid of such pandemics in the future.  It mentioned the lack of fear apparently shown by others in the house towards those who had succumbed.  The willingness to visit, the willingness to nurse the patients, the lack of face masks.
 
So maybe the BBC have it right and are starting to make people aware of how a pandemic actually works.  Let's just hope that they have jumped the gun and we will not ever find out truly how a pandemic works.
 
In terms of family history, I suppose the main point of interest for 1918/1919 would be to identify which relations, if any, we have who succumbed to the Spanish 'flu.  It only occurred to me as I was writing that I do not have cause of death for a number of ancestors at that time.  And therein lies the financial rub.  As mentioned previously on this blog, it is not cheap to order death certificates in bulk.  We need to be very sure that we have the correct person before we do so and we should have, in my view, a definite reason for wanting to know their cause of death.  Perhaps the ones "worth" spending money on are our direct ancestors - the great, 2xgreat etc grandparents.  Many of them will have come from very large families so it would be expensive to order certificates for all siblings.
 
However, if you have relations who died in 1918/1919 but were not killed in the First World War, it may be worth finding out if they died in the pandemic.  After all...
 
“It really was a major event in modern human history........Outside of wars, there weren’t many events seen like it. So to downplay it at all is wrong." (MNN Post article)
 
We can only wait to see and hope that such an event will not be seen again.
 
You can donate to the Red Cross battle against Ebola at http://www.redcross.org.uk/ebolavirus

Thursday, 9 October 2014

CVs for All

There are so many themes whirling in my head today, not sure what to talk about!  I missed Wedding Wednesday yesterday - apologies.  Child and dog issues caught up with me again.  Really, it is not a lie to say that a puppy is like a third child.  I truly feel like I am back to the time when my eldest child was a toddler and I had no idea what I was doing and I felt like a constant failure.  My hands are chewed to death, the house is trashed and don't even speak to me about the state of the garden....  On the plus side though, the puppy is always delighted to see me, eats everything that I give her (and much else besides!) and is gradually allowing me to meet people in the village where we now live.  It is taking a toll on my time for writing, research and general pondering though!
 
So, today I think it would be interesting to think about jobs.  This is prompted by eldest child last night saying "I still don't know what I am going to be!".  I pointed out that he hasn't reached secondary education yet but unfortunately, he has a friend who is in a football academy and a friend who is swimming at county and regional level so he feels that he is a little behind! I also pointed out that these friends' achievements now by no means give a definitive idea of future career.  Many things can happen to budding sportspeople.
 
I did start to think, though, that occupation is something which it is far more difficult to pinpoint for our ancestors than we might believe.  I have written before about the benefits of internet searches and I gave the example of having found "cordwainer" as an occupation on a census and discovering that this was actually shoe making/mending.
 
Another example which I recently came across - when writing my post about the creation of the censuses - is that of "Ag Lab" given as occupation.  A tree that I worked on for a friend in the summer had many generations with this as "occupation" on census returns.  It stands, of course, for "Agricultural Labourer". Apparently though, it was standard practice to stick this down for a wide variety of countryside work.  The census teams were short on time, they often had to assist people with filling in the forms and there was little space for a full description of what someone actually did.  So Ag Lab may mean someone who lived hand to mouth, possibly as an itinerant and picked the seasonal produce, scythed fields, helped with ploughing etc as required.  Equally it might mean someone with a steady farm job, a tied cottage and an established family.
 
It makes one ponder on what the modern day censuses will reveal in a hundred years time.  I cannot now remember the categories for occupation in the 2011 census obviously.  But I am sure that there will be job titles and descriptions which will cause much hilarity to 2111 researchers...  Maybe all job titles will have vanished by then and everyone will simply have a number?!  And technology will have moved on so much that they probably simply won't believe the number of telephone engineers, IT specialists, call centre workers and so on.  To say nothing of the trend in recent years for "multi careers".  Model/Actress/Whatever - what on earth did they write on their forms??!
 
Eldest has plenty of time to decide though.  And if I look at my own employment record, I can see that it looks different for every census I have taken part in - I have been lucky enough to have a wide variety of experiences in my working life, from politics to the City to cooking to teaching to stay at home parent!  Good luck with that, future researchers!  I guess that brings us back to my post about keeping some things on paper for future generations to find.  We cannot all write memoirs but maybe we should write something down about our lives.  Otherwise we may end up as the Ag Labs of the twenty first century.  We will be defined by the category that we ticked every ten years.
 
 

Monday, 6 October 2014

A New Life and New Chores


 
 
Today I was listening to Woman's Hour on BBC Radio 4.  I am not a daily disciple of Woman's Hour.  I don't know why as I usually enjoy it when I do listen.  Anyway, today was the start of a week of discussions about the results of a survey on household chores "division of labour".  Who does what in the home in the twenty first century, that sort of thing.  It has been conducted jointly with Mumsnet, as those who have logged onto my blog via Mumsnet will undoubtedly be aware. 
 http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/4xsS4Nqzhn21v52xYdMPQqJ/womans-hour-chore-wars  will take you to the interactive pages.  You can find the programme on BBC iPlayer.

My own division of household labour seems to be fairly typical (me doing most of it, swinging from happy to have the option to be at home with kids to resentment at said kids and their father for taking advantage of me!) and I don't propose to add to the debate which this survey has started.  [See today's Guardian, for example.]  There will be plenty in the media as the week of programmes progresses.

As usual though, I found myself wondering how the debate would apply in times past.  We all know that, for example, marriage in the 1950s meant women mainly giving up work outside the home and devoting themselves to house and family.  And before the advent of modern labour saving devices, housewife duties were hard work.  I cannot bear to think how I would cope with the washing that my household generates and no washing machine.  A day without it, if it has a breakdown, induces near hysteria about the building clothing mountain!

However, the thought that caught me with regard to my own ancestors was my paternal grandmother's entry into British society in the 1940s and 1950s.  She, my grandfather and father along with her own mother and her disabled brother arrived from India in 1949.  They came from a hot country to a British "summer".  But more to the point, they came from a relatively easy lifestyle, with domestic help such as an ayah to look after my toddler father.  See the sideways picture above! [I have tried every which way to sort this and have not given up, sorry!  Previous readers of my blog will be aware of my dodgy IT skills...]

They were grateful to be away from the rioting and bloodshed in the aftermath of the Partition of India, I'm sure.  But it must have been more than daunting to arrive to a small terraced house in Coventry with few belongings and little furniture.  No help and no idea of how daily life in a grimy British city went on.

I am sure this is not how my grandmother envisaged married life progressing when she married my grandfather in 1943.  Of course, no one who suffers great setbacks in life ever envisages them - or such set backs would never actually happen; our lives would continue exactly as we would wish if we had crystal ball style technology!

I know that my father has memories of using crates to sit on at their first house.  I also know that within months of their arrival in the UK, my grandfather was sent abroad to work.  He did not return again for almost a year, I believe.  So my grandmother set up home in England and learnt how to run it with little help and with a toddler into everything.  Little division of labour there!

No washing machine, probably no fridge to start with, no central heating equals a lot of labour.  Makes me feel guilty at complaining about my own chores.  In fact, perhaps we should wonder how, given the amount of labour-saving devices we have these days, our chores do not seem to have diminished...

My father having been so little at the time and me not having had the presence of mind to ask such questions when my grandmother was alive, I have no idea how she managed for cash.  She was always someone who prided herself on keeping up appearances though so I can imagine that she and my father were as well turned out as possible, even if, unbeknownst to neighbours, they were sitting on orange boxes and eating baked beans!

I am proud to think of what they achieved.  They followed that well worn immigrant path and managed to establish themselves in a new country and culture.  Fairly sure, though, that the division of home labour was non existent!

Friday, 3 October 2014

You Never Can Tell




Given my blog's frequent mention of my Anglo Indian heritage, it would be a crime if I were not to post about the wonderful episode of Who Do You Think You Are? last night where Billy Connolly, the quinessential Scotsman, discovered that he too has a little Anglo Indian blood.

Thanks to the amount of research that I have done for myself in the last four years, I guessed which way the wind was blowing for his tree but it was still amazing to watch.  In particular to see that the brilliant researchers had managed to find such a huge amount, by British India records standards, of original documentation.  Many of those researchers can be found on Twitter if you would like to see more of what they do - eg Kirsty F. Wilkinson, @GenealogyGirl.

And who would guess, from Billy Connolly's appearance and immediate family tree that such a secret lay buried?  From his tree, it looks as if the Anglo Indian relation (that is, the offspring of a white British soldier and an "East Indian" lady then actually married a white British soldier herself.  So the Anglo Indian blood line did not continue in the way that many, including my own, did.

For as British rule tightened and the rules pertaining to society got stricter, Anglo Indian people were gradually squeezed from British society without feeling that they had a place in full Indian society.  They were generally employed in jobs where their loyalty to the British could be used to the best advantage of the British government.  Civil service and vital services such as the telegraph and railway services.  Not allowed to climb, in general, too high in the ranks but high enough to persuade them of their superiority to the Indian workers and thus have a vested interest in British rule.  On my own family tree, it is a succession of railway workers - mainly drivers and station masters - with the odd school master or doctor.

It was lovely to see Billy Connolly's reaction.  He clearly enjoyed being in India and had visited before.  And he was so amazed and delighted by the results of his journey.  Times do change, don't they?  A century and a half ago,  a person would have gone to great lengths, if they were as European looking as Billy Connolly, to hide any connection with an "East Indian"...  Even my own grandparents preferred no mention of their true antecedents.

As usual, WDYTYA made the whole experience of looking for family history and documentation look rather easy.  In actual fact, I can imagine a whole heap of work went into Bily Connolly's story, to say the least!

A few days ago, I briefly mentioned FIBIS, that is the Families In British India Society.  This is a wonderful volunteer-led self-help organisation.  They have a fantastic website and wiki at fibis.org  and you can find them on Facebook and Twitter.  It is a great place to start your search if you come across or suspect a British India connection.  You can use the site without taking membership but I would urge you, if you find yourself using the site regularly, to take the membership or to make a donation.  These things do not pay for themselves even with volunteers running them!  As an ex PTA co chair, I can test to the economics of this!  Apparently their Twitter feed went crazy after last night's programme.  I hope that Billy Connolly's story will be of benefit to them, they deserve it.






Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The Opposite of Wedding Wednesday

I had decided that I would try to stick to a Wedding Wednesday theme for a while as it helps to focus one's thoughts for at least one blog ahead of the time that one sits down to write.
 
However, I came home this morning and really did not feel like blogging about weddings.  This was because I spent the morning at a solicitor's office with a friend who is going through a divorce.  So somehow, it just felt weird to be writing about weddings.  Even though my own wedding anniversary falls soon!
 
I have been fortunate enough to have spent the last twenty odd  years with my husband.  We have had our ups and downs as most couples have but we are still here, trying to hold together a relationship, a family and all that those commitments that marriage brings with it.  I suspect though that despite the rollercoaster, at the end of the day we have both, deep down, wanted the same thing.  Not to split up.
 
What happens if one or both of you stop wanting to try?  Well, you don't need this blog to tell you about that.  There are many, many blogs and articles and dating websites and all the rest who can help you with those sorts of discussions.
 
No, what today brought home to me was the necessity of divorce laws.  Marriage is the ultimate trust in someone.  Most of us will never be in a position where we have to trust someone with our actual lives but in marriage or long term partnership, we do tend to trust another person with everything else which is important to us.  Our emotional well being, our financial well being, our physical maintenance.  Not for nothing do the traditional vows say "for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health".
 
Even in this modern age, unless you had a large amount of cash as a couple, you are going to be left considerably worse off when you separate.  However, at least separating couples do, in 2014, have options.  I did a bit of research today...
 
The 1857 Act introduced divorce through the court. Men were able to “petition the court” for a divorce on the basis of their wife’s adultery, which would have to be proved, as would the absence of any collusion or condonation of that adultery. Women who wanted to divorce their husbands needed also to prove an aggravating factor of the adultery, such as rape or incest. The High Court in London was the only place to get your divorce, and proceedings were held in open court, enabling society to be scandalised by the personal details revealed during the process. (1)
 
Men and women did not achieve equality in the matter of petitioning for divorce until 1923!  In 1937, it was extended to include cruelty, desertion or incurable insanity (so now I understand why Mr Rochester stays married to the mad woman in the attic in the nineteenth century Charlotte Bronte novel Jane Eyre!).  However, by the post-War period, couple were simply arranging for one of them to be "discovered" in a hotel bedroom, "committing adultery".
 
It was the late 1960s and early 1970s that finally brought in the main parts of the divorce laws that we are subject to today.   Not long ago, is it?  And yet we take it for granted that an unhappy couple have this route open to them - it is viewed as a right.  Indeed, certain celebrities seem to make a career of marriage and divorce deals with gossip magazines!
 
To look for a moment at this blog's raison d'etre - family history - you do wonder how the marriages in your tree functioned.  Who was happy?  Who were living separate lives and keeping up appearances?  Who left their spouses and just moved away?  Some people did not move far but still managed to remarry as bigamists.  Prior to 1857, the only way to get a divorce was by Private Act of Parliament.  Between 1700 and 1857, only 314 of these were granted...
 
Not many really, if you consider that there were probably many couples who could have done with such an Act in that 157 year period!  Of course, it was spectacularly expensive to obtain a divorce and thus it was only open to the super rich of the day. 
 
Divorce is a not something that most sane people plan (unless they are faking a marriage for immigration purposes!).  We build lives together, have families together, expect a future together.  But the right to divorce has been hard won.  I believe that, unrecorded by any certificates or registers, there are many of our ancestors who would agree.




(1) online guide to divorce