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Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The war-time photo that led to a well-known war correspondent!

Since starting my family tree journey, I have made contact with several members of my extended, distant family - long lost cousins and new found ones too.

Some have been found online via forums with a shared research interest or tree, some offline via family address books or more random objects.

Whilst at a great aunts house earlier this year looking at photos, a photo of two young boys in the 1940s jumped out at me. The photo was encased in plastic which made me laugh as it looked like the very modern "photogifts" you can now buy from online photo specialists such as Photobox - an item that was clearly way ahead of it's time, as a novel gift.

Upon closer inspection, I noticed that there was a postcard on the back of the photo which contained a hand-written message - "With love to Uncle Bert & Auntie Daisy. From Chris and Peter". Bert & Daisy were my great grandparents, and if you are a regular reader of my blog you will know that they feature quite a lot as I knew them as a child, and they are the oldest link to the past that I have.

My great aunt confirmed that the two boys were her cousins, and that she was still in touch with the older of the two (Chris) and they exchanged Christmas cards. "I've got his address if you want it?" she said, and of course I did.

I wrote to Chris, my Nan's elder cousin and enclosed a copy of the photo. He wrote back and said that he could remember it being taken and he had a copy of the same photo at home. It had been taken, he said, by his kind billetters during the war, who looked after him and his brother after they were evacuated. They had had some copies of the photos encased in plastic as one of them worked in a plastics factory and sent them to family members.

Chris also told me that he was just about to publish his memoirs based on his life as a journalist, and mentioned that I would probably enjoy the opening chapter of the book about his early life.

Now, many years before, my Nan had mentioned her cousin who was a journalist. I was just about to start studying journalism and radio at college, and she said "One of my cousins was a journalist. Very good he was". That was it. What she didn't mention was that he was a very successful war correspondent called Christopher Dobson!

So, I got the book on Amazon and Chris was right - I loved the info in the first chapter about his mum's family (including a bit about "Uncle Bert" - my great granddad!). It was amazing to read about people who I only know as names on a tree or faces in a group photo, and find out more about their character, and as Chris is a little older than my great aunts he can obviously remember a lot more about their grandparents. 

As I told Chris in a subsequent email, I also loved the rest of the book as even without the family connection, it was a great read! A story of old school journalism about a grammar school boy from the Miles buildings in Marylebone in some of the world's most dangerous war zones - an amazing life where danger always lurked. The book can be found here on Amazon.


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Sunday, 20 October 2013

Reuniting and reconnecting with family through genealogy

I wrote a post a few months ago about finding some of my mum's relatives on Facebook and how after getting in touch with one of them, she had put me in touch with another cousin who had sent me a wealth of family history information collected over time.

We have shared emails, letters and photos over the last six months so there was one thing left to do - meet up. This wasn't easy to arrange as I felt it important my mum came along too as the link between me (her daughter) and the relatives (her cousins), but I work Monday to Friday and my mum works weekends so we had to find a date we could all be available. We then had to check my mum's cousins were free on the same date, which luckily they were.

So, last weekend we (me, my husband, my mum and my sister) all went to Northampton where my mum's cousins now live to meet them. I was nervous about the trip as I only knew these people through email, letter and telephone and my mum hadn't seen them in close to forty years. But after we had been there a short while, it was like we had known them forever!

It was particularly nice to see my mum reconnecting with people she had last seen as a teenager - people who shared the same grandparents as her and had memories of her and her siblings growing up. The weirdest thing of all was how much my mum looked like one of her cousins, and her cousins daughter. There was definitely a strong family resemblance between them, and not just in looks but in mannerisms too. That fascinated me as it was another example of why family history interests me so much - the fact that some things are inexplicably genetic.

My mum (centre) reunited with two cousins after nearly forty years!
The day went really quickly and we all plan to meet up again soon as there wasn't much time for family history chat. But it was a really nice day, and another reminder of why reconnecting with your past can often bring benefits to the here and now.

Coincidentally, the cousin who we visited lives just a few miles from where a branch of my Dad's family originated on the Northants canals. So next time we visit Northampton there is a whole other branch of the family tree to investigate!

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Sunday, 29 September 2013

Happy anniversary to Bert & Daisy (AKA "Nanny & Grandad Payne")

Today would have been my great grandparent's 83rd wedding anniversary and I think that's worthy of a blog post!

Daisy Howard married Albert Norrie Payne on 29 September 1930. Daisy was 19 and Albert (known as "Bert) was only slightly older at 20.

They married at Willesden Register office before setting up home together a stones throw away from the place they were wed and going on to have four daughters, the second eldest of whom was my Nan.

Daisy did a series of factory jobs throughout her life as well as brining up the couples' daughters whilst Bert spent most of his working life "on the railway".

By the time I was born they were in their seventies and were still living in Willesden in a house they had lived in since just after the second world war. They were cosy and warm and spent most of their time at home at this point, although Nanny Payne did like to sometimes venture round to the bingo hall and Grandad Payne would visit the betting shop on a daily basis. In fact, whenever we visited, Nanny Payne's first words to us would inevitably be "He's 'round the corner", meaning he was in William Hill's.

Nanny Payne made a mean victoria sponge, sprinkled with sugar on the top. Grandad Payne cooked too (unusual for a man of his age I guess, but presumably a skill he had learnt during the war years), and his mashed potato was legendary and the nicest I have ever tasted - largely due to the half a block of butter he would use!

As they approached their eighties their health deteriorated meaning Nanny Payne could no longer go to the Granada bingo hall, but Grandad Payne somehow still managed to get to the betting office, even after a big operation that people thought would end his daily betting office trip.

In September 1990 they celebrated their Diamond wedding anniversary with an afternoon party at their house in Roundwood Road and a telegram from the Queen (that was proudly displayed for all to see). Then the cancer he thought had gone returned to Grandad Payne and he spent a lot of time in and out of hospital before finally dying in October 1992 at Park Royal Hospital, following another operation. Nanny Payne died just nine months later in the same hospital and whilst a long explanation was given on her death certificate, we all knew what she had really died of - a broken heart.

So, sixty two and a half years after their marriage they were reunited and back together like they belonged. And twenty years later, having found out more about their lives than I could have imagined during their lifetime and having realised how few people know their great-grandparents, I'm more pleased than ever that I knew them.

September 1990 - Brent Chronicle

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Sunday, 8 September 2013

The wartime will of Private John Howard

As soon as I heard that the wills of 230,000 WW1 soldiers have been made available online for the first time by Her Majesty's Court & Tribunal Service (HMCTS), there was one I knew I needed to search for - Private John Howard of the 23rd Batallion of The Royal Fusiliers (City of London regiment).

John Howard was the older brother of my great nan, Daisy Payne (nee Howard) and like many thousands of others, he went to fight on the front line during WW1 and never returned.

I remember my great nan telling me when I was little that one of her brothers had died in the great war when she was a little girl and when I started to research my family tree a few years ago, it was one of the first stories I set about investigating. 

I discovered that John was killed in France & Flanders in 1918 as the brutal war came to an end, and he is commemorated on the Arras war memorial in France, which I hope to one day visit.  He was 22, and his family were devastated to receive news of his death. My great Nan was just seven when her brother died, and a few years later her mum died too (another story for another day).

So, as soon as the wills became available, I searched his name and hoped that he was there. As the site had only just gone live, there were some teething problems and for the first few days I was unable to order John's will from the HMCTS website, but eventually it worked!

For £6.00, you can order a digital copy to be sent to you. The website emails you when the will is available to view and warns you that this can take up to ten days. Luckily for impatient old me, I only had to wait two days - but it still felt like a long wait! Once available you can download the document s much as you like for 31 days.

Many of the wills released have had letters attached - a last message for family that was never passed on due to security concerns. I really wanted John's paperwork to have a letter enclosed but unfortunately there was just a will when I downloaded it.

As he was so young with no real belongings, the will is short and just says that he leaves all of his property and belongings to his mother ("Mrs Howard of Priory Park Road, Kilburn"). But there is still something very poignant about seeing that written on an official document and imagining it being read to his mother.

As we approach the 100th anniversary next year of the outbreak of WW1, it is as important as ever to remember the sacrifices made my so many like John Howard and the wills make them that little more "real" as ancestors. The digitisation is a fab project and I would recommend anyone with WW1 soldiers in their tree search the available wills here.

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Sunday, 4 August 2013

For Northern social history, The Beamish is the museum to beat!

I’m a big fan of museums – I have been since I was a child. They are a great place to learn about a subject and wander around on a Sunday afternoon. 

But since I have become interested in family history, I have realised that they are as important as documents, archives and record offices in telling a story and often “fill in the gaps” around a certain subject. They also provide context and a wider description of an area or historical timeframe.

No visit to the North of England would be complete without a trip to the Beamish Museum, described as “the living museum of the North”, so we pencilled in a trip whilst we were in the North East.

Situated between Newcastle and Durham, the museum is much more than you would expect from the word museum. It is set over several acres of open countryside and is actually a series of small villages and buildings that recreate a time gone by in fantastic detail so that you can walk around and totally immerse yourself in the rich history of the North.

Particularly of interest to my family history research was a recreation of a colliery and pit village – you could smell the coal by the colliery and sense the danger that lay underground and then go into the immaculate terraced houses of the pit workers and their families. The houses were very cosy!

Colliery at The Beamish Museum

There was also an opportunity to visit the Edwardian town and browse the shops such as the Co-Op and sweet shop whilst admiring Suffragette posters that called for women to have the vote.

Some vintage transport can take you between the sights at the museum, or you can walk around the paths leisurely and enjoy the magnificent views of the Durham countryside. We walked around mainly, before boarding an old fashioned Blackpool tram to take us back to the museum entrance.

Vintage transport at The Beamish Museum

At £17.50 for an adult ticket (10.00 for children, with a family ticket also available), entrance to the museum isn’t cheap but you can return free throughout the next 12 months (if you live near enough to do so!) and there is enough to do and see to warrant a full day out.

Like all good museums there is a well stocked gift shop for both souvenirs of your visit and historical books and DVDs, as well as a restaurant and tea room for refreshments. We got the “Waggonway” bus from Newcastle city centre which took around 40 minutes but did give us a 25% discount on our entrance to the museum. Also luckily for me, it took us through Lanchester (another place on my ancestral trail!). There is also ample car parking available at the museum.

The Beamish Museum was a favourite stop on our trip and I would recommend it to anyone who has Northern ancestors or is looking to learn more about Northern social history. Both young and old would enjoy the museum and as long as the weather is OK, you would have a great time.

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Sunday, 28 July 2013

Consett & Blackhill - home of The Consett Iron Company (and my great grandfather!)

Consett is a Durham town forever linked with miners, steel and industry. So much so that when Margaret Thatcher died earlier this year, TV crews went to Consett to get a reaction to her death. Needless to say, they weren’t exactly big fans of Britain’s first female prime minister in Consett.

But long before the closures and unemployment in Consett of the 80s and subsequent deades , when my great grandfather, William Henry Brown was born in Blackhill (an area of Consett) in 1895, it was the heart of British industry.

Me upon arrival in Blackhill!

The Consett Iron Company (previously the Derwent Iron Compnay and later part of British Steel)  were colliery and limestone quarry owners, and iron and steel manufacturers. They were at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution and the whole area was dominated by their presence -  from the collieries and red dust from them that affected the landscape to the recreation areas and houses provided for the workers.

William’s father and other family members were employed by the Company and he too in time would work for them, as did nearly all the men in the town.
We visited Consett and Blackhill on day 2 of our trip. The road that William was born in and lived in until his marriage in 1915 to my great grandmother still exists in name (Dale Street), but the houses have all been pulled down and replaced with a modern development. I knew this before our trip (as I had looked on Google streetview) but there is still a moment of regret when you see that roads around where you’re standing are intact and the road you are after isn’t!

The view of the Derwent Valley - once home to Consett Iron Works

The fact that many roads still had the original Victorian terraces did however mean that I was able to envisage what William’s house would have looked like.

I was also able to enjoy the stunning views of the Derwent valley that once would have been dominated by the iron works, and take a walk through the Blackhill & Consett Park which has recently been totally refurbished due to a Heritage Lottery grant that has allowed the park to be restored to it’s former glory -complete with replica Victorian bandstand. The park was originally gifted to the town by The Consett Iron Company, and the Company’s presence has been kept in the refurbishment.

Consett Iron Company reference on park entrance

Many of the workers (including my ancestors) lived in terraced houses in Consett known as “Company Rows” as they were provided by the Company. The rows often matched the jobs in the Company – Furnace Row and Puddler Row appear in my family history, with furnace worker and puddler appearing as occupations. The rows were all pulled down in the 1930s but the name lives on in the Wetherspoons pub that is on the site today – it’s called The Company Row!

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Tundergarth - A beautiful Scottish church

The first place we visited on our trip was Tundergarth and it was a lovely place to start.

Tundergarth is a rural village in Scotland, not that far from the border with England. I use the term “village” loosely as it is so rural there are just a few farm cottages scattered amongst rolling hills. I knew before we visited that it was rural, but I hadn’t really considered how rural until I was there. I’m a town girl and as the taxi drove the three miles from the nearest town to Tundergarth parish church, I will admit that I did start to worry we would not be able to call a taxi to come back again – you could see nothing for miles except open beautiful Scottish countryside.

The parish church that stands now was built in 1900 on and beside the ruins of a much older church, and the immaculately kept churchyard has many 18th and early 19th century headstones including one in particular that I had come to see.

The picturesque Tundergarth parish church

My 5 x great grandfather, William Graham, is buried at Tundergarth along with several of his relatives. William was a tenant farmer in Tundergarth and he died in 1827. The family spent a long time in Tundergarth and the area of Dumfries around it before moving on to the North East of England, probably in search of work.

Like many of the graves, weathering has made some of the inscription difficult to read on the family grave but with a bit of perseverance (and a monumental inscription recorded previously) you can make out the following:

"William Graham, tenant in Mosshead, who died March 12th 1827, aged 83 years. Also Mary Johnstone, who died 12th April 1847, aged 87 years. Also James Graham, son to William Graham, in Mosshead, who died August 21st 1792, aged 6 weeks. Also Mary Graham, sister to the above, who died at Mosshead, January 11th 1817, aged 667 years. Also William Graham, son to John Graham in Mosshead, who died 13th February 1837, aged 11 months. Also the above John Graham, who died 6th March 1869, aged 86 years"

As I stood at the grave of my ancestor who lived nearly 300 years ago and farmed the land around me, I felt an amazing sense of belonging. The connection between then and now felt stronger, and I could imagine William’s family standing where I now stood when they buried him.

Me at the grave of William Graham (1744 to 1827) and family, Tundergarth churchyard

Additional info on Tundergarth

As well as the ancestral pull, Tundergarth has its own charm – an idyllic, peaceful piece of rural calm. As we stood in the graveyard, there was no noise except birdsong and the odd “Baaaaaa” from the sheep in the field next to the church. Beautiful on any day, it was especially beautiful on a warm summer’s morning as it bathed in sunlight. It is difficult to imagine that anything could shatter the calmness felt there, but it has seen tragedy a rural parish of it’s size should never see.

I mentioned earlier that Tundergarth is three miles from the nearest town. The town is Lockerbie.

On the evening of 21 December 1988, Pan Am flight 103 came down over Lockerbie. I won’t dwell on the horrors of that evening as I am sure everyone is familiar with the terrorist atrocity. A total of 289 people died – everyone on board, plus some Lockerbie residents on the ground. There is a “famous” photo that has come to symbolise the Lockerbie disaster – the nose cone of the plane lying in a Scottish field. The field is in Tundergarth, just opposite the church.

There is a "memorial room" in the Tundergarth churchyard. A former stone watch room, it has been renovated as a memorial to those who died in the disaster and we visited for some quiet contemplation. There is also a visitors centre at Dryfesdale cemetery, just a few miles away which tells the story of both the Lockerbie air disaster and the wider history of Lockerbie. Dryfesdale Cemetery is also home to the Lockerbie Air Disaster Memorial and Garden of Remembrance, which we also visited. The list of names on the memorial is heartbreaking - there are so many, it looks like a war memorial.

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Monday, 15 July 2013

Such an enjoyable week. I loved every minute!

I am back from the North East and it looks like I was right when I said that I may not be able to blog whilst away due to being tired! The six days we were away were jam-packed with sight seeing and research and as a result we were absolutely knackered at the end of each day!

We had fantastic weather - the North East of England and the Scottish borders were basking in sunshine all week with the highest temperatures of the year. If anything it was too hot, as we got a bit too warm and miserable as non sun worshippers. I even got sunburn on a bit I missed with suncream which is a sentence I never thought I would write after a day in SCOTLAND (a country known for being cold, but which was 30 degrees the day we were there!). Our apartment hotel was fab (the apartment was gorgeous) and it was very close to the railway station which made our trips outside of Newcastle a little easier.

We went to libraries and archives but also went to places my ancestors had lived and died, as well as museums for a wider context of the lives they lived. We spent time in Newcastle, Gateshead, Durham, Consett, Blackhill and Beamish and our day in Scotland was spent in Dumfries, Tundergarth, Dryfesdale and Lockerbie. We'd planned to spend a second day in Scotland visiting Glasgow but I forgot to book our train tickets in advance and walk on fares were close to £200 so I decided to keep Glasgow for another trip!

I've learnt lots about the area, my family and the times that they lived in and it was a thoroughly enjoyable week of genealogy. We saw the sights of the North East and I was amazed by how beautiful the area is. We fell in love with the region and I can't wait to return.

I will blog more about the week in the coming days - once my feet stop hurting, and I am a bit more organised!

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Sunday, 7 July 2013

Packed and ready to go!

The sun is shining, I'm all packed and tomorrow me and hubby go on a summer genealogy holiday.

We're off up to the North East of England for six days, staying in Newcastle but taking in lots of North East towns and Scottish towns where my ancestors have lived and worked. I know it's not everyone's idea of a summer holiday, but we're looking forward to it :-)

We've got some appointments booked at archives, some trips to museums planned and my iPad and digital camera are charged and raring to go. I'm hoping to blog during the week whilst I am away but that will depend on how good wifi is and how tired I am after long days researching!

We've done day trips for genealogical research before, but this is our first longer trip in search of information on those who have lived before us. Wish me luck!

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Sunday, 23 June 2013

My Nan

Today marks what would have been my lovely Nan's 80th birthday. We should be eating birthday cake and celebrating, our chatter assisted by constant cups of tea. She liked tea, my Nan. And Marks & Spencer too. Did she love that shop! To the point where when my sister announced she was returning to college to enable her to go to university and retrain as a social worker, my Nan's immediate reaction was disbelief that she would leave a job in M&S to do so!

She was warm and cosy, always baking goodies like all good Nans should. If you were bored, she'd invite you to help with the baking - "Let's go and make some jam tarts / scones / a crumble". Half an hour or so later, you'd have forgotten you were ever bored and you'd have some warm baked goods to enjoy too. Her apple crumble in particular was amazing!

Whereas everyone else at school when I was a child seemed to have an elderly grandma, Nan was "young" (she was 49 when I was born) and still went to work. She worked in a school kitchen as a supervisor serving up goodies to lots of children - well, she'd have to with her love of cooking and baking, wouldn't she; it was the ideal job! As I got older and school kitchens were closed, she went to work in a nursery, cooking lunch for pre-school children who she referred to as "babies". When out shopping with Nan, we would often be stopped by a mum who would come up and tell Nan that their little one wouldn't eat a roast dinner at home because "it wasn't like June's". She didn't retire until she was 69.

She shopped in M&S (her favourite shop as I said before) and Wallis, and always looked smart and stylish, not old. She got her hair done every weekend and coloured it a particular shade of red, which to us was ginger!

She was good for days out and I have fond memories of trips to the zoo, to ice shows at Wembley, pantomimes, shopping and trips to London (including when she came with me and a Dutch penpal to Abbey Road when I was 14).

Me & Nan at London Zoo (c. 1984)

She would say funny things, and get things muddled up. As she got more grandchildren, I got used to answering to three other names as well as my own. But even as she got into her 70s she was still full of energy, and once ran for a bus aged 71 to stop it for me (aged 22).

Then, just before her 74th birthday she was diagnosed with bladder cancer. Doctors had missed it for several months, despite her presenting with symptoms. It was stage 3 and she had to undergo a huge operation to remove her bladder as well as a full hysterectomy. The operation took hours and we were all terrified of losing her, but she pulled through and recovered well. For a woman in her mid 70s, her recovery was remarkable. Even her surgeon joked that she was like superwoman. I preferred to call her a "tough old bird". She was back to M&S in no time.

Of course even tough old birds aren't immortal though and in 2010 as she approached her 77th birthday, a routine check-up showed the cancer had returned, this time to her lungs. She was told that it was terminal, and given only a few sessions of radiotherapy to prolong the inevitable.We couldn't believe she had a terminal illness as she still looked so well.

Luckily, it was only the very end of her life where she was unable to carry on as normal. Even as she went into a hospice a month before she died, she got a hairdresser to make her hair look "presentable".

Watching my beautiful, amazing Nan fade away was horrendous. My Nan didn't belong in a hospice, or a nursing home. She belonged in M&S.

On her 78th birthday, two years ago today, I spoke to her on the telephone for the last time (I had seen her just five days before, but a cold meant I was unable to visit as those who are so ill obviously have weakened immune systems and cannot be exposed to germs). By now she could barely talk, and high on morphine, not everything she said was clear.But the last thing she said was very clear - "We'll meet again". Even at the end if her life, she wanted to reassure me that this wasn't the end. She died the next day, the day after her 78th birthday,

In the two years since she died I have started to research my family history, and found out lots of things I would love to share with her, as well as uncovered things she kept secret and which I may now never know the full story of. In life she gave me love and warmth, and in death she has given me an amazing hobby and interest.

RIP Nan x

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Saturday, 15 June 2013

How times (and attitudes) change

One of the things that you discover as you research your ancestors is how much things (and in particular, attitudes) have changed, in a relatively short period of time. The biggest examples that I have found of this so far have been with regards to mental health issues.

One of my Great Grandmother's sisters died in a mental institution in Ealing in 1928. I don't know too much about the nature of her mental illness at the moment as it is relatively new discovery, but I know that she spent several years in the institution before dying there, and that her husband remarried (bigamously, it would appear) whilst she was there.

Her grandfather, John Graham (my 3x great grandfather) also died in a mental asylum, as it then called, six decades earlier (in 1867). Like his granddaughter, he was only in his early 40s.

 John was a weaver who lived in Eaglesfield in the parish of Middlebie in Dumfries. At the age of 40, he was admitted to the Southern Counties Asylum (also known as "The Crichton") and is described in the admission records as being "one of the  worst, miserable, wretched and exhausted creatures I have ever almost seen" which given how many people they must have had going in to the asylum, does not sound good. It certainly sounds far removed from the language we would use today to describe someone with a mental illness. He died four years later.

The awful truth is that my ancestors who entered the asylum, and thousands of others like them, were doomed as soon as they first experienced mental illness. There was a stigma attached to mental illness - even common mental illnesses such as depression were hidden until they could no longer be hidden, with incarceration in an institution the only likely outcome. Once an inmate (and that is what they were called) had spent time in an asylum, most became so institutionalised that they could never be released.

Today we live in a world where mental illness is much better understood. There are a range of therapies and treatments available, and people are encouraged to talk about their illness openly. Detainment in a hospital is a last resort, and even those whose illness does end in a hospital stay, return to their homes to continue treatment at home.

We have come a long way.

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Friday, 31 May 2013

Older relatives + newer technology = Great genealogy!

I spent last Saturday morning visiting three great aunts and some cousins who I don't see very often. The three aunts were my late nan's sisters and since she died two years ago, I hadn't been to see them. Not because I didn't want to, but because I knew that seeing them together would be hard, knowing that my Nan was missing.

And it was hard at first seeing them all together and feeling like Nan should be there too. But you know what? After about ten minutes it wasn't hard any more because they had memories of her, and memories of when they were young and memories of people who I only know as names on a tree. It was actually really fantastic - not only to see them and reconnect with them, but also to talk to them about family history and ask some questions!

I did a PowerPoint presentation of their mum and dad's branches of the tree complete with pictures of places I have visited and census pages on which they could see their parents and grandparents, and they seemed to really enjoy it. I also took my trusty FlipPal along and scanned some old photos they had, and showed them some old photo I had uncovered from various other sources on my ipad.

I realised during my visit just how well older people and technology works when it comes to genealogy; places long visited in person are just a few clicks away on Google Streetview, and there are forums of people wanting to share memories on neighbourhoods, schools and decades. I wish I had realised all of this when my Nan was still here, but to be able to share it all with her sisters was really nice.

Me, my little sister and our three great aunts :-)

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Thursday, 2 May 2013

Finding living relatives is fun too!

As my mum and her siblings had very little knowledge of their maternal grandparents, I recently decided that it would be a good idea to cast the net wider and involve some of her cousins. The only problem with this course of action was that my mum had “lost touch” with her cousins some years ago (before I was born), so I only had the names she had provided me with to go on. Or that’s all I thought I had to go on until one day I mentioned that I would start to look for them and she said “You won’t have to look too far for Mac, he’s on Facebook”! A quick look on her Facebook friends and there was the said cousin, along with two of his sisters. Three “new” relatives in under a minute!

I contacted my mum’s three cousins, and one of them (Janet) immediately messaged me back to say that it was nice to hear from me and did I know that Margaret (another cousin) had done lots of family history research and had got back to 1745?! Of course I didn’t know this, but it was music to my ears and the cousin said that she was sure Margaret would like to hear from me. I was reluctant to just call Margaret out of the blue as I didn’t want to intrude, so I asked the cousin who had messaged me if she could pass on and let her know that I was researching the family.

The next day I had a call from Margaret, who was really lovely and was able to tell me lots of info on the family and the places they had lived. This meant I was able to confirm that what I knew was correct as well as learn some new stuff. She has been researching the family tree for years! She said she had lots of documents and photos, and would copy some to send me to get me started on our shared branch of the family, and that I could call her any time and wasn’t intruding!

This week, a week after my telephone conversation with Margaret, I received an envelope in the post jammed full of family history info. Copies of documents and certificates, copies of photos of people I had been unable to put a face to, print outs from emails and a hand drawn family tree with scribbles added over time. It was the best post I have opened in a long time!

Sorting through the info that arrived by post from distant cousin Margaret!
I think it is going to take me a loooooooooong time to go through all the information and process it but I am so happy to have so much info to go on and also so touched that someone who has never met me can be so helpful in my quest for family history!

And the best bit? I’ve found some new relatives to keep in touch with and share my research with! In a hobby that involves spending an awful lot of time dealing with dead relatives, it is nice to find some living ones every so often J


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Monday, 1 April 2013

A trip to the Museum of London Docklands

We had a lovely day out yesterday at The Museum of London Docklands. It was freezing cold outside and being Easter Day the museum was quieter than I'm sure it is most weekends, but it was still a fantastic place to visit.

I've got to be honest and say that I didn't know that the museum was there until a few weeks ago. I have been to the main Museum of London before and it was whilst visiting their website I discovered that they had a second museum tucked away in the docks.

As I have recently discovered that some of my ancestors lived and worked in the Docks, I was keen to find out about the area's history and the lives that they would have had.

The museum is housed in a grade I listed warehouse in West India Quay (one of the few buildings in the area not to be have been destroyed by the bllitz or regeneration of the area) and is housed over three floors. You start on the third floor and finish on the first floor, and the museum tells the story of the Thames, the docklands and the local area and people from 46AD when it was a small port through it's heyday as the biggest port in the world and on to the areas resurrection as London's financial district.

The most interesting part of the museum for me was "Sailortown" - a full size reconstruction of the streets if Shadwell and Wapping that Patrick Crawley (my 4x great grandfather) would have walked. It was dark, it was smelly and it was very, very easy to imagine the reality of life lived on the streets of East London in the early to mid 19th century.

Also interesting was the London, Sugar & Slavery exhibition, a permanent exhibition which tells "London's untold story" of it's part in the slave trade. I knew very little about slavery, and found it really interesting, as well as shocking.

The museum also has a cafe, shop and restaurant (the appropriately named "Rum & Sugar") and also houses a research centre where you can access port of London records by appointment (so I will be back!).

It is well worth a visit if you want to know more about the East End, the docks and London's past.

Afterwards we got the Docklands Light Railway and as we winded through the tall glass buildings housing financial institutions and luxury apartments worth £2,000,000 plus I couldn't help wondering what old Patrick Crawley and his friends would make of the transformation of the area!

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Sunday, 24 March 2013

Genealogy often makes me sad

Is it weird to get upset at the difficult lives our ancestors have lived when we haven't known them? I find that as I am researching people, I start to feel as though I "know" them and feel a kind of connection to them, which means I feel quite sad about their personal tragedies.

This week for example, I have discovered (thanks to *) that my great-great Grandmother died aged 41 of breast cancer in 1914 at the Royal Cancer Hospital in Glasgow. Now that is sad enough as it is, a relatively young woman dying of an awful disease. But it was other facts that made it even more sad and poignant for me:
  • When Barbara Robertson died, her youngest child Elizabeth (my Great Grandmother) was just four years old.
  • She died on 27 December, just two days after Christmas.
What I knew came later for the little girl who lost her mum at such a young age also made me sad:
  • Elizabeth, having lost her mum at a very young age at Christmas time, herself died at Christmas - she had a heart attack an died suddenly at home on Christmas Day 1970.
Now I never knew Elizabeth, or Barbara, but I have grown up knowing that Elizabeth died on Christmas morning. I know the story of my Dad seeing his Nan on Christmas Eve and exchanging gifts with her, for her to die a few hours later unexpectedly. I know how Christmas changed from a happy family occasion to a time of mourning and grief in a moment and I am certain that this has had some bearing on my Grandad and my Dad not being huge fans of Christmas. But I didn't know that Elizabeth herself may have had bad memories of Christmas, and that upset me.

This happens a fair bit with genealogy. You spend time researching a name and as you do, they become more than a name. You feel a connection to them because you're following their story and wanting the best for them. And then, they hit hard times or die. And it's sad, even if the tragedy is a hundred or two hundred years old because they as your ancestors are a part of you. Without them, you wouldn't be here!

*If you have Scottish ancestors and haven't used the Scotland's People website, I would urge you to have a look as it is a fab website with lots of info as well as a huge selection of digitised records all available on a pay as you go basis. As in the case described above, you can even get a statutory death record online (due to Scotland's legal and register system being slightly different to ours in England) which includes all the info you would expect to see on a death certificate but is much cheaper and faster than ordering one.

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Saturday, 23 March 2013

Utah brilliance!

I've spent the last two evenings watching talks from RootsTech, the genealogy technology conference now in its third year, which is happening this week in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Have I been lucky enough to be actually there? No, I've been at home in the UK, but that doesn't matter because the RootsTech website offers live streaming of some of the talks online which are so good it's like you're actually there in Utah (rather than on your sofa in Essex).

I even have the RootsTech app on my iPad which not only lets you stream the talks, but also gives you full bios of all the speakers at the conferenece, full details of all the companies exhibiting and lots of other useful info. It's amazing!

The session I enjoyed last night was Valerie Elkins "From paper piles to digital files" about her quest to organise her genealogy research. Up until fairly recently, I would have said that I am quite an organised person. However, as I've done more genealogy research I have noticed that I find it more and more difficult to locate a particular piece of paper or book when I need it so I have obviously slipped!

Being organised more and having my research easily accessible at all times is something I'm aiming for though (a bit like a kind of late new years resolution!) so I found Valerie's talk quite inspiring and hope to try using some of the tech she suggested in order to make this huge task a little easier.

Evernote was something she mentioned a fair bit and to be honest, I have tried using it a little already but found it all a bit confusing (despite being a lover of technology, I just find myself wanting a notebook and pen!). However, after the talk, I have decided I need to maybe give it a go again with what Valerie said in mind or maybe try One Note and see if I get on with that more.

I have also discovered just how many tutorials there are on YouTube, so I think I will watch a few of the "Evernote for Genealogy" ones and see how other people are using it. Pinterest is another thing where I have signed up for an account but don't really get how I can use it for what I want so that's another tutorial to search for I think.

I would love to know how other people are using apps and tech to organise themselves so do leave me a comment with your top tips!

Follow me on Twitter - @FamilyTreeNat

Valerie Elkins @ RootsTech

Sunday, 17 March 2013

The FlipPal scanner - my new best friend!

We went to London at the weekend to see my Mum for Mothers Day and as well as her Mothers Day gift and flowers, I took my new FlipPal scanner along.

Mum managed to locate a huge box of photos (loose, in albums and in photo wallets), and whilst we all chatted, ate cake and drank tea, I scanned about 200 photos with ease in a few hours.

My Mum, Dad and Sister were all fascinated by the tiny scanner that can scan photos in and out of albums and save them on to a tiny memorycard. My Dad doesn't really even understand a memorycard so 200 photos being put on to one took some serious explaining!

I think that the FlipPal is the most useful thing I have bought since becoming interested in genealogy and as we have now scanned close to 400 photos in all (my Husband also had some old family albums of his parents wedding and him as a baby), it has already proved its worth. Scanning is so simple - it really is just a touch of a button, and unlike a normal scanner you can turn the scanner upside down and scan without the lid to scan photos that are in albums without the need to try and move them, which is brilliant if they're someone elses photos. There's no more pleading to borrow pics from relatives who are scared that they wont get them back either as the Flip Pal is so portable you can scan there and then.

The only downside I have found to the FlipPal so far is that as it runs on batteries and as scans take a fair bit of battery power, they run out a lot during a scannning session (I am getting about 60-80 photos scanned per set of batteries at the moment!). It's OK though, as long as you have good rechargable batteries in use or a good supply of normal ones. There's nothing more frustrating then realising you have run out mid scan!

I haven't needed to scan any large photos yet, so I haven't tried out the scan and stitch technology which allows you to stitch several small scans together to make a large scan. Other people who have tried it tell me it works well though and I have no reason to doubt them.

At just over £120 the FlipPal isn't cheap, but it's a great gadget that is essential if you want to quickly and easily digitise old family pics. I'm now a huge fan!

Follow me on Twitter - @FamilyTreeNat

My FlipPal 

Sunday, 3 March 2013

A week on from WDYTYA Live

I can't believe it has been a week since Who Do You Think You Are? Live (WDYTYAL)! Where has the week gone?

It was a fantastic event to attend, and even better than I thought it would be. Having only gone for one day tickets for the Sunday on the basis of "Surely there can't be enough to keep you busy for two or three days", I can report that actually there *IS* enough to keep you there for an entire weekend! We were upset we hadn't gone on the Friday and Saturday and next year I will definitely be going for at least two days of the weekend in order to see more workshops.

The workshops were without a doubt my fave thing about WDYTYAL - I learned a lot, and it was good to hear experts talking on a variety of subjects. The most useful workshop we attended was Janet Hovorka's session on using social networking and mobile devices for genealogy (as discussed in my previous post, the session is why I have set up this blog), but I also enjoyed Rebecca Probert's talk on cohabitation and marriage and John Titford talking about tracing London ancestors. I've decided that I'm going to have to see what talks the Society of Genealogists have on in the coming months as I can't wait a whole year for my next genealogy workshop fix!

There were also a lot of stalls to browse, with lots of genealogy companies, family history societies and online family tree sites exhibiting. I bought a couple of books, as well as a Flip Pal scanner which I have been after for ages (more on that in a future post, I am sure) and also came home with a huge bag full of leaflets, brochures and free gifts (my fave being a magnifying bookmark - very handy!).

For anyone who hasn't been, I think WDYTYA is best described as my husband described it: "A bit like the Ideal Home Show, but with family tree stuff instead of home stuff". However, unlike the Ideal Home Show which is held at Earls Court, WDYTYAL was held around the corner at Olympia - which I think is a superior venue.

So, roll on next February when I can go back again :-)
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Monday, 25 February 2013

The first post...

I have been interested in family history for quite a while and seriously started to research my ancestors just over a year ago. 

It has become a massive hobby taking up a lot of time - the trouble being with genealogy that there is always more to find out! Of course, it is much easier to research your ancestors now than it ever was for budding genealogists in the past - technology has made it possible to find out a huge amount about those who have lived before from the comfort of your living room, which is great (although there is still always a long list of physical places to spend a weekend afternoon uncovering family history!).

I have started this blog after listening to a talk by Janet Hovorka, a US-based genealogist, who spoke at Who Do You Think You Are (WDYTYA) ? Live about the uses of social networking and mobile devices in modern genealogy. She was very engaging and described how social networking and blogs can be used for a genealogical purpose. And as I am a Facebook & Twitter addict, it sits well with me to have a go at marrying technology and genealogy up.

I hope to use the blog to talk about all things genealogy that interest me - my own family history, local area history, genealogy websites, records and archives and everything else.

Follow me on Twitter - @FamilyTreeNat