04 March 2017

The Smell of Ancestral Worlds

When thinking about your family history, you may give most consideration to one or more of the following:

a) Your memories of family life

b) Tracing your family tree back further than your memory

c) Attempting to understand the experiences of life ancestors encountered

I have long been interested in identity across the centuries

What have been the changes in your sense of identity as you grow older, suffer illnesses, have changing fortunes, have changing attitudes and beliefs and learn more about your family history and heritage?

I have also reflected on the influence of superstitions and traditions on family life, motivations and personal ambitions.  How have your sense of identity and view of the world been influenced by beliefs and attitudes passed down to you?
Are there ever any unpleasant smells in your life at present?  Were any of your ancestors in London during the Great Stink of July and August 1858?

Smells play a big part in our memories.  Many of my paternal grandmother's ancestors in London in the middle of the 19th century would probably have experienced the Great Stink.

How did the streets and waterways of London smell in those days?

How did other cities and towns smell?

How did the houses smell?

Even though scientific knowledge of diseases was only just beginning to develop back then, civil engineering projects, such as the Thames Embankment, were changing many aspects of life.

What is your attitude towards unpleasant smells? 

Do you prefer to mask them, wash them away or consider an engineering solution to the problem?

In much of the world, pollution is still not prevented adequately, even here in Australia.  The science says pollution is dangerous yet governments frequently fail to act appropriately.

When you survey your family history, do you think about how surveyors directly and indirectly influenced their existence?

How did engineering affect their lives?

How did engines affect their lives?

One of my great, great grandfathers in Shropshire was described in census records as a stationary engine driver at a coal mine.  What would have been the smell and sound of his work?

The Great Stink of London was remedied through environmental engineering - and a considerable amount of money.

My paternal grandmother associated her teenage years in London with the smell of spices.  I associate her with the smell of cigarettes.  I associate my maternal grandmother with the smell of soap.  My mother associates me with the smell of roses.

I currently feel most at peace when I cannot smell anything much at all.  And I hope no-one would ever complain that I smell.

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I especially appreciate historical insights.