11 May 2015

VE Day with Vera

Vera, my grandmother with two names, was in London for much of the Second World War.  She often told me of that momentous day.

It was just a few weeks before her 30th birthday, in 1945, when she joined the crowds in Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square and along The Mall leading to Buckingham Palace.

It was certainly a victory for Vera, her children and her parents.  They had all survived the war.  Soon her husband would be returning home, too.

Vera lived to be 95 years old, with an active mind until the very end.  She would have been 100 this year, if she had lived a little longer.

And she would certainly have wanted to watch the recent commemorations on television.

25 April 2015

Lest We Forget Arthur Tom Ginn (1893-1915)

The Dardanelles Campaign was over almost before it began for my great grandmother's brother Arthur.  At the age of 22 and 4 months Arthur died on the 25 April 1915 and is remembered at Cape Helles.





Before the outbreak of the First World War, as far as I am aware, Arthur had been in the infantry with the 1st battalion of the Border Regiment, on garrison duty in Burma.  He was a member of the regular British Army and his Regimental Number was 10399.

13,167 members of his Regiment lost their lives during the war.  Arthur's widowed father kept the memorial card and it passed to his eldest daughter, my great-grandmother.  I wonder how many other families have similar cards today.

Arthur - You are not forgotten.

31 December 2014

Consanguinity, Affinity, Privacy and Peace

I would like to wish everyone a safe, happy, reasonably private and pleasantly peaceful New Year, with many interesting and inspiring family history explorations throughout 2015.

Over the years, I have found there are probably six main types of persons who visit this blog:

1. Those with whom I possibly have some consanguinity

2. Those with whom I probably have some anthropological affinity

3.  Those who believe they share some social affinity with me, either through their own family history investigations or another shared interest

4. Those merely seeking general information for their own family history quest

5. Those seeking to obtain sensitive information to the detriment of others
6. Those wishing to exchange information with me, mainly for their own commercial or professional benefit


One of the reasons why I write this blog using a pseudonym is to prevent persons in category five from obtaining information they could use to disadvantage others, including myself.  At the same time, I want to provide as much useful information as possible to persons in categories 1-4 and avoid giving too much of my time and privacy away to persons in category 6.

One of the current themes of my various investigations happens to revolve around the concept of affinity.  You may have heard about the idea of chemical affinity. I have been working on some theories around privacy, culture, peace and social affinity.

Privacy is important to people for many reasons, one of which is safety.  As far as consanguinity is concerned, my father's family tree leads back along its paternal line into Northern Ireland, an area also known as Ulster.   Along his maternal line it leads mainly to London, Huntingdonshire and Belgium.  My mother's family tree leads to Shropshire on both sides.   I know that my own loyalty and affinity is towards the truth and gentleness, although any family history is likely to lead to evidence of truth being hidden or distorted for a variety of reasons.

A few months ago, I received an email from a media person, asking questions about the personal meaning I place on a particular piece of music.  The theme of the questioning appeared to be in connection with the First World War, which has received much media coverage over the past year and is likely to do so even more in the year ahead. 

Although I am often happy to receive something of relevance to me from members of the media, and even an acknowledgement of their interest in my work, I never dwell on war and other tragedies, much preferring to transcend the worst of experience through the most uplifting forms of human achievement: through art, music, literature and an aesthetic relationship with nature.

When looking at the past and the present, I like to see past the thorns to smell the rose, but never to forget the thorns are there.  In a blue mood, a person may just say the rose will die and all that will be left is a thorny stalk.  How we reflect upon our experiences, and our family history, is important in many ways.

As I rarely listen to the radio or watch television now that I have so much to read and to write and to investigate, I can usually place myself at more of a distance from the media.  I know that many people can find inspiration from some types of media presentations, for example Who Do You Think You Are? and may even overcome blue moods that way. Yet we all need to be careful where our moods take us if we are to avoid depression, anxiety and excessive stress.  It is why I am glad I do not need to work in an open-plan office!

Recently, I discovered that in 1901 my father's father's father was working at the linen mill in Bessbook in County Armagh.   I already knew that in 1911, the family was living in Belfast, which is where most of them had been born.

You may have some Irish linen in your own home. I certainly do, and much of that was inherited from my husband's family and from my father's mother.  As some pieces are quite old, I now wonder if my great grandfather had helped to make them in Bessbrook

Apart from the flax growers in Ireland, much of the best flax woven into quality linen in Northern Ireland apparently came from Flanders, where my paternal grandmother's paternal line originated.  My great, great grandfather from that region worked as a tailor there before going to London to make theatre costumes.  Working with yarn therefore occurred on both sides of my father's family. 

I have never visited Flanders, except when travelling through its flatness on the way to Holland.  It has had a linen industry of its own for several centuries, like much of north west Europe.  Lingerie is a word derived from the word linen, although not much underwear is made from linen today, as far as I am aware.  Do you ever wear a linen chemise?

I have visited some parts of Belgium, though.  In 1985 I was in Brussels when a horrible incident occurred not far from where I was staying.  At the time, I did not know that one of my great, great grandmothers had been born in or near the city in 1848

There has been much violence in the world whenever people have competed for power and glory.  Innocent persons always suffer when there is such violence. When there is injustice, everyone suffers.  

One of the consequences of 18th century revolutions in America and France was the Irish Rebellion of 1798.    Earlier, Derrymore House was built at Bessbrook as a quaint cottage by a politician called Isaac Corry.  It was where the Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland was drafted in the hope that it would prevent further uprisings.

There have been many uprisings in Ireland.  For example, there was one in 1848 just like in many parts of Europe.  It was called the Young Irelander Rebellion.  Around the time of the Easter Rising in 1916, my widowed great-grandfather died in Belfast.  My grandfather had probably already been sent to Devon in England by that time to live with one of his adult brothers.  I rarely think of uprisings and upheavals when looking at a linen tablecloth.  Today I discovered that much lace was once made with linen.

My own work has never involved the production of linen, the use of aggression or the requirement to make a theatrical costume.  My relatives living in Westminster in London in the 1880s were likely to have been affected by the Fenian dynamite campaign of that era, just as my relatives in London in the 1940s would have been affected by the S-Plan as well as the Blitz.  I moved to London a week after the 1982 bombings.  I was living there when the 1983 Harrods bombing occurred.

Learning about the history of Ulster - and of Ireland - never seemed particularly relevant to my existence until recently.  I had been to southern Ireland briefly in 1988 for a holiday.  My experiences there were mainly quaint and rural, and somewhat frustrating and amusing.

Most of my time was spent in the counties of Clare, Limerick and Cork.  The public transport arrangements in the region appeared to me to have no co-ordination, with train times not matching up to the bus timetables.  Several local people recommended hitchhiking, which I refused to do as a single woman in my 20s.  Fortunately, I was invited to borrow a bicycle from the owner of one of the places where I was staying.  That meant I was able to venture out on my own for longer distances than my legs on their own would take me.  I also hired a somewhat unco-operative horse for a short distance.

But back to the family history.  One of the similarities between my father's family in Bessbrook and my mother's family in Shropshire is that the livelihoods for the families came about through the work of Quakers.  Both John Grubb Richardson in Bessbrook and Abraham Darby in Coalbrookdale were Quakers and therefore pacifists.

There is an irony, therefore, that the Bessbrook factory has been used as a British army base in recent years, and the activities in Coalbrookdale have allowed for the mass production of the metals from which many weapons have been made. 

The British military base in Bessbrook may have closed in 2007 but intimidation is still occurring in various ways, even when it involves no more than the flying of a flag.  Yet the Quaker Meeting House still exists in Bessbrook. For me, the house and the model village of Bessbrook itself are signs of tolerance, respect and peace amid the historical injustices.

Being a person of peace myself, I find it difficult to understand why some people enjoy bullying others to conform to misguided opinions, and why they are not more easily prevented from doing so.   I also find it difficult to understand why someone witnessing or experiencing injustice would become so prejudiced as to see most other people as their enemies.  Perhaps prejudice is sometimes a sign of post-traumatic stress.

In 1994, I went to Northern Ireland for the first time. After a few indirect experiences of terrorism and many direct experiences of intimidation and abusiveness in various parts of the world, including in London in the 1980s as mentioned above, I was certainly apprehensive about going to Northern Ireland.  I could not understand why anyone would choose to live in such a dangerous place, except that the people we were visiting had relatives there. 

My husband was with me and we hired a car from Belfast airport so that we would have our independence.  We had transferred at Heathrow from a flight from southern Africa, where we had been touring.  Only two months earlier, there had been a terrorist mortar attack on the runway at Heathrow.  We had experienced no major problems in Africa, even though our flight had originated in Harare and we had been face-to-face with large, wild animals and other potentially dangerous situations on several occasions.  

The scenic parts we saw in Northern Ireland included castles, villages, forests, beautiful gardens and the Giant's Causeway.  We also visited shops, pubs and restaurants, like most tourists anywhere, but I was not delving into my family history very much back then.

I vaguely knew the name of the street where my grandfather had been born, in Belfast, but nothing would induce me to go there.   I did not know, at that time, that shortly before the First World War my family lived just off the Shankill Road.

I visited Northern Ireland for the second time in 2000.  Both occasions were frightening, the first time more so than the second. There were still atrocities happening there quite frequently in 1994, one of which occurred while I was there, just down the road from where I was based.  I could easily have been in that location as a tourist.  The horrific event was apparently in retaliation for an incident in the Shankill Road the year before.

Between my visits to Northern Ireland, the 1998 Omagh bombing occurred in which several tourists were killed.  In central London, after I moved to Australia, there had been the mortar bombing of Downing Street in 1991, the bombing of the Baltic Exchange in 1992 and the Bishopsgate bombing of 1993.  I have been looking at the beautiful Baltic Exchange Memorial Glass on the website of the Royal Museums Greenwich recently.

There has certainly been a long history of terrorism in London, as elsewhere.   At the Metropolitan Police Crime Museum there has even been an exhibition about London terrorist incidents. We were planning to be in London later in the summer of 1994.  Our visit subsequently occurred, not long after the attack on the Israeli embassy there.  And we would shortly be travelling on to New York, where there had been a terrorist attack the year before.  On my Quieter Living blog, I have already written some reflections about that and the terrorist events of 2001.

There was a bombing in the Docklands of London at Canary Wharf in 1996.  And it is now almost ten years since the horrific bombings of 2005.   They occurred just after I had left Britain for Japan that year.  I am also reminded that soon after I first arrived in Australia in 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 fell over Lockerbie in Scotland from a terrorist bombing. There have been many other tragic and terrifying events in the world, but also many wonderful ones. 

I am glad I have not found any unusually violent persons in my family tree (yet).  And I take comfort from the fact that very few people become terrorists, even though many misguided young people have been temporarily excited by adventures of false heroics.  Selfish individuals often fail to understand that others are worthy of respect, care and support.

In terms of consanguinity, few of us are probably sure whether we are resilient to trauma or likely to have a genetic predisposition to post-traumatic stress disorder or even survivor guilt.  If you are feeling distressed after reading this latest installment of my family history research, please seek suitable support.  Like linen, we all should at least try to develop soft, strong and durable characteristics, however creased we may be!

I hope that in 2015, more and more people will feel a gentle affinity for one another, whatever their family background, geographic location or sense of loyalty.  We only have one world for us all, no matter how much some people want it mainly for themselves and for people they mistakenly believe to be like them.

29 December 2014

1914 and its Personal Consequences, Remembered

World War I has left a strong legacy in my family history, and that of my husband.  As the end of 2014 draws near, have you been thinking about your ancestors and what they were doing, and where were they living, at the beginning of 1914?  Where were they and what were they doing at the end of that year?

What can the first 20 years of the 20th century tell us about humanity, and about life on this planet today? What were your family members doing during the First World War? What happened to them?  Did some of them not survive the influenza pandemic afterwards?

The BBC has some useful information for anyone researching their own family relationship to one of the most difficult times in history, one hundred years before the present.

Here are a few of my own earlier blog posts mentioning events before, during and after the First World War.  I hope you will be able to provide some useful information for me on one or more of them, and on this one, of course.

Finding great grandparents

27 December 2014

Family History Delvings and Unexpected Destinations

If you have been celebrating Christmas, you may have been interacting with family members in one way or another.  Those interactions may have involved some family history delvings and unexpected destinations.

There are so many experienced genealogists in the world today, whether their families are aware of the fact or not.  Sometimes we may want to be quiet about our research, in case it causes some embarrassment!

If you are just beginning to find out some interesting facts about your ancestors, and you have had difficulty working own how to take the next step on the exciting journey ahead of you, then you may wish to find someone who will take you to the first interesting destination of 2015.

A site called Mad About Genealogy could be where you need to start if you are one of the thousands of perplexed beginners.  There are plenty of other blogs and websites for beginners, too, though the one just mentioned is one I recently discovered and thought I would merely share a link to it for the benefit of new investigators.

Of course, you do not need to be mad to learn about your family history.  In fact, it is likely to be far more useful and interesting to the rest of your family if you have some sense!

The problem with family history research is that it tends to become addictive, hence its propensity to cause a gentle form of madness in many people.  It has even been known to become an obsession quite often, too.

If you do not want your family history to drive you crazy, then delve into it methodically, if that is at all possible.  I know that my own method sometimes has more madness in it than method when I am following clues and chasing leads.

Knowing how far we want to go with our research, and the areas we are likely to find too dangerous or difficult to tackle without additional support, can keep our minds focused on the joys of discovery rather than the pitfalls. 

I often consider my own family history explorations to be like being on a mystery tour.  Perhaps you are finding the same.  It is unlikely anyone today or tomorrow will really ever know the destinations anyone's family history journey may reach, or whether a researcher is at the end of the journey or the beginning, or how long a person will travel down a particular genealogical road.

A few of my own blog posts on beginning family history - with or without a touch of madness or additional assistance - can be found through the following delvings and destinations:


The age of reflecting on age

My heritage, your heritage, our heritage

Tidying up

Shadows of inheritance

Just starting out with family history research

Genealogical biographies

Collecting recollections

Genealogy for absolute beginners

01 November 2014

Shropshire: Pitmen, Poachers and Preachers

I want to tell you something about a book I have recently discovered.  It is called Pitmen, Poachers and Preachers and it was first published in 2009.  I have no idea why it has taken me so long to find out about it.  If you have read it already, why did you not tell me it existed?!!


There are reasonably reputable reviews of the book available through the British Association for Local History and the Welcome to Little Wenlock website.  The book is also on a reading list put together by Dawley Heritage.  If you look at the reading list from Ironbridge, you will see there are an overwhelming number of books about the district.

The author, Ken Jones, was in his late 80s when he wrote the book, meaning that there is no age limit on producing work of great value. 

01 October 2014

Shropshire Pit Girls and Wenches

If you have ever been to Ironbridge Gorge in Shropshire, the ghosts of my ancestors will be nearby.  They lived lives of sweat and toil.

Being the descendant of several Shropshire pit girls and wenches is something I truly cherish.  Such ancestors were strong enough to survive great hardships during their early lives.  Several did not reach old age or even middle age.  They only ever earned low wages.

My pit bank ancestors worked and lived in difficult, uncomfortable conditions, both as children and as young adults. They did not have much time to consider how they looked or how they felt about life.  They had little education.  They carried the load for other people's growing wealth.  They were considered to be of low status, and even immoral.

The history of women and mines in the United Kingdom is not only part of my personal heritage. It is part of the world's heritage.  My ancestors were not responsible for the effects of climate change.  They were not the mine owners.  They did not have the means to buy many products created as the output of the Industrial Revolution.  They had no access to electricity, nor even a clean water supply.

Many of my ancestors worked for the mines as children.  Did they think their lives were normal?  Did they believe all children experienced life in a similar way?

Even when my grandmother's family moved to Staffordshire for work, in the Wednesbury coalfield area, the conditions of their lives did not improve.  But at least work was available there.  The mines in Shropshire have long been closed.  There were pit wenches in Wednesbury, too.

In some areas of England, the young women were also known as pitters.  Some were called pit brow girls. The girls were also known as lasses.

Even so, there are many people interested in the history of mining in Shropshire. You may be involved in the Shropshire Mines Trust.  You may even be a member of the Shropshire Caving and Mining Club.  Some readers of this blog may even be participants in the Shropshire Geology Society.  Is your genealogy shaped by geology at all?

You may have found out something about your Shropshire mining heritage from the 1851 census.  You may even have read a diary from the 1870s and 1880s, giving some idea of life in a mining district.

01 September 2014

Discovering Shropshire's History

Were any of your ancestors Salopians?  Salop is an old name for Shropshire.  If you are a native of Shropshire in England, then you are probably a Salopian yourself.  

I live in Australia and I was not born in Shropshire, though my mother was born in Shrewsbury, the county town of Shropshire.  All her grandparents were born in Shropshire, as were their grandparents before them.  

My only maternal ancestor not to have been born in Shropshire, was my grandmother.  That was probably because her father could not find work in his home district.  Are you interested in Shropshire's history at all?

If you can trace your ancestors back through several generations of Shropshire's inhabitants, then we have something in common.   I have found information on geni.com (without making any payments at all) tracing one of my maternal lines back through several generations of Salopians to the 1600s.  My matrilineal line goes back as far as Winifred Taylor of Dawley Magna in Shropshire (and interesting information about that parish was found on familysearch.org).

The geni.com site states that Winifred was born circa 1805.  At the age of 20, she married Richard Buttery of Little Wenlock on 30 May 1825.  Between the ages of 21 and 38, Winifred gave birth to eight children.

I have found from freebmd.org.uk that Winifred Buttery died at the age of 66 in 1870. I would obviously like to know more about her mother and maternal grandmother as my maternal line is the one of most personal interest to me.  I call it the Matryoshka line of my family, after the Russian dolls.  

By the way, it seems that Matryoshka dolls were inspired by the Japanese Daruma dolls.  Those dolls have a great deal of symbolism attached to them.  Perhaps I should try making a symbolic set of dolls - Dawley dolls - to represent my ancestors.  Have you done that for your ancestry?

Discovering Shropshire's History is another website from which I have located information about my Salopian ancestors. From there, I discovered that many of the primary school children in Shropshire know more about some of my ancestors than I do myself.  They have seen a dramatic representation of my grandfather's great aunt, whose maiden name was Rebecca Bailey.

Several of my female maternal ancestors worked as pit girls at the mines, but also spent part of the time each year in and around London.  The girls of Shropshire had a reputation for being strong and hardworking.  They carried baskets of strawberries from the market gardens around London to the produce markets of the capital during the 1700s and 1800s.  They did not receive much income in return for their efforts.

Yet I worked in many menial jobs myself in my teens, long before knowing anything at all about my family history.  I earned a very small income as a strawberry picker in damp, English fields.  I picked potatoes from heavy clay soil to put into sacks. I washed dishes by hand in a busy Scottish restaurant.  I experienced long hours as an overworked waitress and as a cinema usher.  The money was not for luxuries.  It was for the basics of life.  A pair of shoes and a raincoat were my first priority purchases.

My first 'proper' job, no less menial than the others, was as a secretary in London.  I spent hours on end sitting at a manual typewriter, producing standard replies to people who had failed to obtain a job at all. Many of my ancestors could not even read or write, but at least they managed to work - for next to nothing.

I have written before on the iron and coal mines of Shropshire.  When my ancestors could no longer make a living from agriculture, possibly due to the enclosure movement by rich landlords, they usually worked in the mining industries.  During the 1800s, my ancestors were humble people, without any material wealth at all.  Who has benefited most from their work today?

27 August 2014

Italian Migrants and their Family Histories in Australia

One of the most interesting discoveries through family history research is that there are very few people who fit a stereotype.  This particularly applies when investigating Italian migration to Australia.

I place migrants, of any origins, into four initial categories when examining their experiences in Australia:

Pre-1945 arrivals, 1945-1955 arrivals, 1956-1986 arrivals, and post-1986 arrivals.  My husband's family were all pre-1945.  I am a post-1986 arrival myself.

After looking at time, in other words, dates, I look at space - geographical origins. Italy is even more regional than Britain, and for that matter, Australia.  Someone from the Veneto is likely to find a person from a peasant background in Calabria completely incomprehensible in conversation!

I spent much of the first half of my life in various parts of England, Wales and Scotland.  I know, from first-hand experience, the difficulties regional languages and dialects, and unfamiliar accents and phrases, can cause.

After looking at dates of arrival and geographical origins, I look at other features of a person's life.  Education, experience of work, family connections and support, interconnections with other people, and their friendships, are part of the picture.  What is of even more interest to me involves the attitudes, values and expectations of people.

Mass multicultural migration has been a post-1945 phenomenon in Australia.  I put it into three categories because of the influence of television in people's lives.  In Italy, most people did not have access to television until the mid 1950s.

Censorship also has an influence on people's lives.  The political situation in Italy has changed quite rapidly, and censorship has been more prevalent in some eras than in others.

If you are just starting to research your Italian heritage, and even if you have very little understanding of the Italian language (like me), I recommend the online resources at the Italian Historical Society in Melbourne.

24 August 2014

Questions and Mysteries

The insights gained from family history research are reshaping ideas about the way history is explored more generally.  Here are a few questions you may have tried to answer for yourself:

Why is an understanding of history of any significance to ordinary individuals in their everyday lives?

How does an understanding of history help people to make important decisions?

Why do so many people gain enjoyment from discovering their family trees?

Who knows most about life as it was in Eynesbury and St Neots in Huntingdonshire in the 1840s and 1850s?

What was life like in Southwark in London in the second half of the 19th century?

What were the duties of an inspector of London post offices in the 1850s and 1860s?

What were the political and economic situations like in and around Cremona in Lombardy, Italy in the 1870s and 1880s?

Where can you trace the Second World War experiences of members of the 6th Battalion of the Green Howards?

Why did people migrated to Soho in London from elsewhere in Europe in the 19th century?


I think I have asked enough questions for one day, and I am looking forward very much to hearing from you if you have some answers to any of the above questions.