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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, 25 January 2016

Adolescent Angst

On my family tree there are some people who were clearly forced to grow up very quickly.  On every family tree, in fact, there will be ancestors who married young, joined the army young, died of horrible diseases after childhood's blighted with illness.  The ones which stand out on mine are a couple of Anglo-Indian girls who married at 13 or 14 and a pair of brothers who, having lost both parents, were sent, in their early teens, into the army via music scholarships.  Both stayed in the army all of their lives, although only one died in middle age.
And now, as I struggle with the beginning of the teenage years for my eldest child, I have begun to question how such ancestors - and the millions like them - managed to begin adult lives so early.  I have been reading quite a lot of articles about teenagers.  My son is a good lad on the whole but there has been that very definite Harry Enfield-esque shift in his manner and attitude.  And, joy, it is only going to get worse.
One of the arguments around teenage psychology is about to what extent the 'teenager' is a modern invention.  Some believe that there was no such thing until the 1950s.  That young people went from childhood to dressing like their parents, getting jobs and settling down with nothing in between.  No experimentation, no rebellion.
However, the biological and cognitive changes in children between around twelve and seventeen are substantial and surely these cannot be a modern 'invention'.  The changes in their mental abilities during this period are very important for their future lives.  There are all sorts of huge life changes to deal with - all linked to their increasing independence.  And thanks to all of this, they are particularly vulnerable to abuse by others or of substances.
So how did our teenage ancestors cope with marriage, work, etc?  Modern Western children could not marry at 13 even if it was legal.  Most are still far too dependent on adults and far too immature in general - despite their attempts to have us believe otherwise via social media!  For example, for my above-mentioned ancestors, I am assuming the girls that married at thirteen then had to run households.  They did not make fantastically wealthy matches and then sit around chatting all day.  My kids can barely keep track of their pocket money or remember to feed the dog!  Actually, maybe despite the faux maturity projected on instagram, etc, possibly we have made teenagers less able to cope.  They are never completely out of contact with us, we drive them everywhere and we agonise over their every grade.
I think the 'teenager' definitely is an invention in terms of the recognition, by 1950s advertisers, of the huge marketing potential of the age group.  However, I do think that humans must always have had the attitudes, insecurities and frustrations during this period of their lives.  One of the biggest problems which Marie Antoinette had when she arrived in France, aged 14, to marry the heir to the throne was her own immaturity, capriciousness and tactlessness.   Quite the teen queen.
My issue now is how to deal with  these changes, these attitudes without losing communication with my son.  I know it is a phase and I know it will pass.  I just wish I knew when.  To quote Harry Enfield's Kevin, 'It's SO UNFAIR!'

PS my fiction writing efforts are continuing.  My first ever proper short story has been published on Kishboo e-magazine.  If you have a chance, please do read it and vote if you enjoy it!  It has an Anglo-Indian theme, in keeping with my family history interests!

Monday, 18 January 2016

Family Diseases Tree

So this week before writing, I looked back at what I wrote this time last year.  Sadly, a great deal of it was connected with the death of my own father-in-law and it is not an easy readback.  However, in some ways, it seems like far longer than a year ago.  My mother- and brother-in-law have not coped well with the loss.  Well, he was not coping before that really and if you looked at previous posts, you will know of the alcoholism which has consumed him.
We have lurched from crisis to crisis in the last twelve months.  Culminating in  my mother-in-law being hospital herself on the anniversary this week.  She broke her arm in a fall.  The fall was caused by a diabetic low.  The diabetic low, the doctors now think, was caused by early dementia.  She is not remembering what she has eaten/taken or when (it was even discovered last month that she had, for reasons best known to herself, thrown away the emergency injections from the fridge).  Quite a chain of events but one which it has taken many near misses to diagnose.  Falls without actually breaking anything.  Being found unconscious due to the diabetes but being brought round just in time.  Many incidents of slightly odd behaviour that we hoped were just age rather than the degenerative dementia.  So we start the second year with a whole new scenario but one with which, due to her location in western Ireland, we are struggling to assist.
Actually, both diabetes and dementia run in her family.  (Although for years, when my husband mentioned diabetes being passed down, she denied this!)  So what did the generations before do?  Close ranks and keep the person at home if it was dementia?  Just find a person unconscious on the floor when it came to diabetes?  My mother-in-law was born in 1933.  It was only around ten years prior to that when the first clinical diabetes treatment was made, although apparently there has been an awareness of diabetes symptoms since the times of ancient Greece.  (see Wikipedia for more information).  Dementia, of course, still has no effective treatment.
This is what the World Health Organisation website says:
Noncommunicable [by which they mean non-infectious] diseases were responsible for 68% of all deaths globally in 2012, up from 60% in 2000. The 4 main NCDs are cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes and chronic lung diseases. Communicable, maternal, neonatal and nutrition conditions collectively were responsible for 23% of global deaths, and injuries caused 9% of all deaths...
...In high-income countries, 7 in every 10 deaths are among people aged 70 years and older. People predominantly die of chronic diseases: cardiovascular diseases, cancers, dementia, chronic obstructive lung disease or diabetes. Lower respiratory infections remain the only leading infectious cause of death. Only 1 in every 100 deaths is among children under 15 years.
I don't think it is unreasonable to assume that at least one of my mother-in-law's grandparents had diabetes.  Her mother was born at the turn of the century and developed the disease.  A number of her siblings - of which there were around a dozen - have succumbed to it.  Or to dementia.  (Or both).
So in that family alone, there is over 120 years of diabetic history.  And they may be classed as having lived in a high income country but their own family background was, quite frankly, very poor.  Subsistence farming.  Plain food.  Few treats.  It is genetic.
More should be done to research these 'non-communicable diseases'.  The sad deaths of David Bowie and Alan Rickman in recent days have once again shone a light on the lack of treatments for some cancers.  President Obama has promised a push to 'beat cancer'.  But it is not just cancer that needs to be tackled.  We are encouraging developing countries to catch the high income countries up.  So it follows that we are storing up a future of increases in these causes of death.  Only recently, I heard a piece about how breast cancer research funding will only really take off when the world's biggest population - China - begins to see the effects of its modernisation on its people's health.  No-one wishes for another human to be ill.  We should not be waiting for these shifts to happen.  These diseases should not need to be trailing through centuries of family health.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Concise Descriptions

Well, week two of my resolution  to write every week.  Made it by the skin of my teeth!  I have had a subject in mind for a couple of days but just have not put fingertips to keyboard.  [End of excuses]

Anyway, it relates to last week's subject, Herbert Wason Major.  In continuing to attempt to solve the mystery of his provenance, I came across an army record for a Herbert Wason Major.  The dates all tie in so it may well be him.  However, what really caught my eye for the blog was the reasons given for discharge.  The record was not a personal record for him, more a list of soldiers discharged from that regiment and the reasons why.  It is from the 1870s and goodness, you would not get away with the reasons they used these days...

To give a few excamples:  'Old Age';  'Inefficient'; 'Worthless'.

And I began to imagine if we could use such descriptions in public service discharges today...

Quangos, MPs, civil servants, spin doctors.  And don't get people started on the Environment Agency or the local councils.  The list is endless.  To say nothing of the private sector. 

Of course things are so much better and fairer now.  But back then, they could dismiss someone's career of choice with a one word answer.  Chapter and verse for reasons?  Warnings?  Suspensions?  Why bother with all that!  Maybe these soldiers had been warned, reprimanded, penalised before their discharges but those one word descriptions do make for hilarious reading.  The words used as 'reasons' are repeated for different men too, which makes one wonder what the army's definition of "inefficient' or 'worthless' actually was.

If I ever get any time, I intend to look into some random discharge records and see if this habit was peculiar to this regiment.  Somehow, and rather sadly, I doubt it.

Monday, 4 January 2016

So long, Napoleon

So. I had pretty much given up on my blog.  Not on writing.  Or family tree stuff.  I just felt I had nothing sufficiently interesting to say and no time to think.  But it is a New Year.  With new goals and intentions.
And one of mine is to post once a week.  To give me a break from my attempts at longer pieces. I also have a renewed interest in my family tree (I will explain shortly) and I am hoping to stick to regular times for all of my writing so this blog commitment will help give structure.  I hope.
Anyway, the renewed genealogy interest has come in the form of a most annoying piece of news.
One of my most prized family discoveries had been my four times great grandfather, Solomon Major.  He joined the 66th Regiment of Foot in 1805 and in 1817, in Bengal, he produced (as ever, no sign of a mother on the paperwork, indicating illegitimacy) a son named Robert Clement Major.    Solomon left India in 1817 and his regiment were sent to St Helena to guard Napoleon.  A fact which, as an obsessive history reader, I loved.  (I ignored his abandonment of Robert and subsequent English marriage!)
But...  The Ancestry website very 'helpfully' leaves you links to items which may be of interest.  When I looked last week, for the first time in ages, there was a link to someone who had included the Majors on their tree.  But theirs looked very different to mine.
Now, I have blogged before about the wariness with which one should approach information from other people's trees (my own mother was dead and buried in America according to one Ancestry tree!).  However, I was really interested in this Major tree because that family is a real brickwall for me.  My great grandfather Frederick Clement Major did not leave India after Partition and we do not even have a date of death for him.  Other than his parents' names, his grandfather Robert and Solomon, I have very little.
But this new tree's Robert Clement Major had many children, one of whom was apparently Herbert Wason Major, Frederick Clement's father (come on, keep up!).  After fruitless digging, I posted a query about these extra siblings on Rootschat.com (an excellent source of help).  And after a number of replies, the whole top of my Major tree - including the treasured discovery of Solomon and Napoleon - is now thrust into doubt. 
So to cut a long and boring story short, I think Solomon as a wonderful family tale may be gone.  It looks increasingly like my Robert Clement Major should actually be a Robert Clement Major from the British Army.  He was born and raised in Barbados (!), married Mary (also from Barbados) and then lived all over the world before settling in England.  His children were born at various postings and his Herbert Wason was born in Jersey in 1853.  There is an army record for Herbert showing his resignation from his lieutenancy in 1876.  This would probably fit with his eventual Police profession in India.  Ex-military men often found employment in the Empire's police forces apparently.  It is the Wason bit which bothers me.  I have wondered if it was mis-transcribed before but I don't think so.  It is clearly written on a number of original sources and is just so unusual.  There is also record of connection between Wasons and Majors in Barbados.
The 1881 census is quite definite that Robert Clement was born in Barbados but there was definitely a Robert Clement born in Bengal in 1817.  At the moment, I can't prove either of these connections one way or the other.  But I reckon Herbert Wason might be the key.  His son, my great grandfather Frederick Clement, was very definitely Anglo Indian. If the newly discovered Herbert married an Anglo Indian then that accounts for Frederick's 'caste' , for want of a better word.  And there goes the Napoleonic dream. Bother.  Or other words.