10 July 2017

Family Spice Mixtures

In the first half of the 20th century, the only prosperity anyone in my family appears to have experience was connected with the spice trade.  A spice warehouse in London provided employment for my paternal grandmother in her teens.  She worked there with several older members of her extended family.

You may wish to read my entire, earlier brief series called The Spice of Life:

Part one

Part two

Part three

Part four


On my travel blog, Continual Journeys, I have also mentioned the spice of life

How do you tell the difference between a spice and a herb? How do you use spices and herbs?  How did your ancestors acquire and use spices and herbs?







What is your understanding of the economic reasons for the European Age of Discovery?  And what do you know about the history of the world economy?

During the expansion of the British Empire in the 1700s and early 1800s, spices and other prized goods from Asia were imported to warehouses through the London docks by the East India Company.

London docklands became the warehouse of the world from 1840 to 1940.  But who mainly benefited from that economic activity, and who did not?

Where, exactly, my grandmother worked is something of a mystery to me.  Finding information about the location online has been difficult.  I am sure she did not work in the Shad Thames warehouses though there is a brief but interesting Hidden London history of that area.  There is also an interesting old photograph of the area on the 365 project.

There were many other docks and warehouses in London.  There were spice warehouses in the East India Dock at Blackwall, for example.

In her 90s, my grandmother told me the Tower of London and Tower Bridge were not far away from where she travelled to work by bus in the early 1930s, along Commercial Road in East London from her home in Finsbury Park in North London.

There are many sources of history about the London Docklands, including the Port of London Authority.   There is a Museum of London Docklands associated with the Museum of London.








I have also found a past and present panorama view of London's changing riverscape to compare.  There is also an interesting PDF document about London Dock.

Perhaps the spice warehouse where my grandmother worked was situated in Wapping.  It may have been converted into luxury apartments in the 1980s.  I have found a few such flats available for holiday rentals.

When I lived in London in the 1980s, I never really had the urge to go to the East End.  At the age of 19, I shared a large flat in West Hampstead in North London with four middle-class young women of my own age.  That was when I worked as a secretary at the BBC.  I later lived in a large house with an academic family near Clapham Common, in South London.

Little did I know, at the age of 19, that my grandmother's most affluent relative, had lived in West Hampstead in late Victorian times.  Uncle Louis Verheyen was the manager of the spice warehouse.






The City of London has long been involved in the commercial aspects of importing and exporting.  As a young woman, I was much more interested in working in the media than in any other industry, though the money offered in the financial sector was certainly much more than I was receiving.

But I felt fortunate that I worked in relatively comfortable offices and newsrooms, not in a warehouse or factory or a shop or elsewhere.  And unlike many other young people in the 1980s, but certainly like my grandmother in the 1930s, I had an income with which to develop my independence.

I first began writing this blog at the beginning of 2009, when the UK (but not Australia) was in recession again.  In many ways, I consider my life in Australia to be provincial, much like my British childhood.  Yet provincial life can often lead to a feeling of disconnection from the rest of the world, and its problems.

In Reviews of History, there is an interesting overview of the grocery business in provincial England between 1650 and 1830, particularly in relation to sugar and spices.  There is also an interesting review there on a book about spices and the medieval imagination.

Are you interested in food history?  I have written a few things on the subject on Ancestors Within, and in my other blogs.  After all, we are not only what we eat but must also consider how our genetics could be associated in some way with the diet of our (recent) ancestors.






How often did your ancestors experience hunger, malnutrition or an upset stomach?

When and where did your ancestors suffer from waterborne diseases, food-related illnesses and other digestive complaints?

How did your ancestors preserve food and prevent the spread of diseases?

What, for that matter, did your ancestors usually eat?

What did your ancestors eat on special occasions?

How were your ancestors involved in growing food, manufacturing food items, distributing food and retail sales of food?

What did my Flemish ancestors eat?

How many food blogs relate to reminiscences of childhood and family history explorations?

How many family history blogs and online reminiscences relate to food history in some way?








In middle age, my grandmother worked in catering.  She even helped to supervise the catering at large events.  She always loved preparing food for her grandchildren, too.

Who grew most of the food we ate?

Where did the ingredients originate?

At the end of my first year of family history blogging, I received a Kreativ Blogger Award from Michelina Hall in Florida.  I rarely look at other blogs because much of the information there is quite personal and not particularly relevant to my own research.  Like my husband, Michelina's family heritage is Italian. Her genealogical interests are commercial as well as personal though she has a reflective approach to her writing, as I hope I do.

I still find it strange, and somewhat uncomfortable, to know that other people outside my family sometimes read Ancestors Within.  I am not a commercial blogger.  Nor am I an academic one.  I write purely as a personal interest, in the hope that what I write may help other people to experience life more deeply and enjoyable than they had earlier thought possible.








For me, neat and tidy family history research is an impossibility.  History is always messy.  We can make pretty pictures of it to share with each other but the reality cannot be ignored.  The reality lives within us, just as it lived within our ancestors.

How do you distinguish between my heritage, your heritage and our heritage?

Who is the "we" you usually place within your definition of "our"?

Culture and nature are mixed together in family history, and in our individual lives, like spices in a cake or curry.  The digital world, much like the media of the 1980s, mixes the private and the public in unpredictable ways.

The ruthlessness associated with greedy acquisitions of wealth has often been noted by thoughtful historians.  What is your understanding of 1980s Britain?  What is your understanding of Britain's financial sector today?

How does world trade today relate to the Opium Wars of the 1800s?

How has the spice trade related to the opium trade, and to the drug trade more generally?

Were any of your ancestors addicted to something?

As far as I know, no-one in my family has had any addictions.  My grandparents experienced food rationing during the Second World War.  That taught them to appreciate good food when it was available, and to appreciate peace.







Early last year, I wrote about my paternal grandmother's experiences of Finsbury Park and London family history.  In May last year, I wrote about an orphan in the family.  Earlier this year, I wrote about ancestors and a glass of water.  I also wrote about breakfast with forebears.

More recently, I wrote about images of the world through migration.  My grandmother's Uncle Louis had been a child migrant from Belgium.

Back in July 2009, I wrote about working families and genealogical studies.  If you are just starting out with family history research, I have written about that, too.

Uncle Louis was a half-brother to my great grandfather.  The more I discover about my family history, the more complicated it seems to become!

I have written about so many cousins and Molenbeek and me and success after many years.  According to the blogger statistics, more than 2,000 people have looked at each of those blog posts.  How many of those persons might have ancestors in common with my own?








In July 2010, I wrote about the importance of being earnest with Alice in Wonderland.  In October of that year, I wrote about family experiences at the seaside.

I have not really written much about the East India Docks.  There is plenty of information about them online.  But was there a spice warehouse called Van den Berg or Vandenberg there?

Do you know much about the history of the East India Docks and its warehouses?  The current names of streets there suggest it was the place where my grandmother worked.

Commercial Road is now also known as the A13.  Looking at recent maps and old maps is often useful when researching family history.  I wrote quite an extensive blog post in December 2010 on the subject of a genealogical look around.

Do you write about your family history?  In February 2011, I wrote in memory of generations past.  We rarely know when we will join those generations to become only memories.

Over the generations, our ancestors mainly become historical figures as we learn about our genealogical journey.  Your ancestors may never have been notable in their lifetimes.  They may never even have been notorious.   Most of us only have ordinary ancestors who, as individuals, made very little difference over the course of history for good or ill.








In March this year, I wrote about the smell of ancestral worlds.  Now I have been writing about family spice mixtures.

There are many different spice mixtures in the world, just as there are many different sorts of families and experiences of family life.  There are many condiments and seasonings used in meals.  Perhaps they make family life more palatable for many people.

My family history connects the Port of London with the Port of Antwerp, through my Belgian ancestry.  Many spices entered the European market through Antwerp during the Renaissance.  It was, at that time, one of the most important commercial capitals in the world.

With Brexit looming over Britain's future, who knows what will happen?  World trade will inevitably continue to influence and possibly undermine national sovereignty - and national democracy - in various parts of the world.

During this first half of the 21st century, like the first half of the 20th century, there will continue to be considerable economic chasms between the people existing in relative poverty and those with access to significant wealth.  The many people living in the chasms will continue to experience a mixture of hope and fear.  They will struggle daily towards the promise of prosperity while scrambling away from dire poverty on various steep and slippery slopes..

My grandmother, in her youth, helped with the distribution of spices in Britain.  Her work took her, little by little, further away from poverty, just as mine did.  Our struggles towards prosperity never made us rich but we could always put good food on the table.  Many of those meals and snacks have been enlivened by spices.


03 July 2017

Images of the World through Migration

This blog post is more of an opportunity for reflection rather than a narrative.

There are many reasons why people migrate.  They may move from one place to another with the expectation that it will be temporary.

They may intend to move permanently to another location but later return to their homeland.

What does migration mean to you?

What do you understand about human migration and especially internal migration?

Do you consider yourself to be an expatriate?  Do you have only a brief and not very deep connection with your current location?

Do you consider yourself to be a migrant?

When have you moved from one place, for at least a while, to live and/or work in another?

Do you spend much of your life on the move?

Do you spend much of your life in one place?

What do you understand of the history of human migration?

How do migration events play a part in your family history?

Did any of your ancestors move from one place to another against their will?

Were any of your ancestors victims of slavery or penal transportation or indentured servitude?

Did any of your ancestors experience forced displacement?

Were any of your ancestors internally displaced persons and/or did they become refugees in other countries?

Have you ever sought asylum?

Have you ever attempted to escape family violence?

How have you developed a deeper knowledge of the world, and of your experiences in it, via history

What has your family history taught you about various chance occurrences via existence?

How has your family history, and your knowledge of it, developed via assistance?

How have your experiences of family history and family life been influenced via understanding?

People move from one country to another for economic reasons, military reasons, political ones, and for emotional reasons.

People frequently migrate from one area to another in the same country, especially for economic reasons.  This has happened many times in my own family history.

Many of my ancestors were migrants, but not to Australia.  They either migrated from other countries to England or from one area of England to another, most usually, I think, to escape starvation.

When attempting to understand the reasons for the internal migration of my ancestors within England and Northern Ireland, the move usually took them from provincial, rural and village life to industrial and urban conditions.

Their journeys took many forms, as have my own.  They, and I, participated in rural flight.

In my childhood, on the other hand, my family left a provincial town so that my siblings and I could have a more rural upbringing.  My parents consciously participated in the self-sufficiency movement.

My husband and I do the same.  We consciously practice frugal living.  We feel fortunate to have had the ability to save for the future.  We have also been fortunate to be able to fund our international family reunions and family history research trips to England and Italy.

In my teens, I experienced student migration from England to Scotland and back to England again.  I have also studied in Australia but that was after moving here for other reasons.

Have you ever migrated for educational or training purposes?

Do you consider yourself to be something of a nomad?

Were any of your ancestors nomads or day labourers?

Have you spend much of your life and/or career touring in the arts?

Have you been part of a travelling circus or funfair or sports team?

Did any of your ancestors tour?

Have you ever been a missionary or foreign worker or diplomat?

Were any of your ancestors missionaries or foreign workers or diplomats?

My father moved during his childhood several times as a consequence of war and his father's military career.

Have you ever been called a camp follower or military brat or third culture kid or foreign service brat or missionary kid?

Were any of the locations of your ancestors related to military careers?

Have you or any of your family members ever participated in existential migration?

Have you ever migrated for at least part of a year as a consequence of seasonal affective disorder?

Do you know the difference between social mobility and various mobilities?

Do you yearn for a more settled existence or do you have wanderlust?

Have you ever experienced post-travel depression?

Have you ever been a backpacker or participated in Bohemianism?

Do you have Romani ancestry?

Have you ever been a digital nomad and/or ultralight backpacker?

Have you or any of your ancestors ever experienced homelessness?

Have you ever been a perpetual traveller or a gutter punk?

Have you ever been considered to be a settler or squatter?

Have you developed competencies in inter-cultural and cross-cultural understandings?

Have you ever had an identity crisis or existential crisis?

Is your interest in your family history a consequence of a midlife crisis?

Has migrating been a rite of passage in your family history?

Did any of your ancestors experience exile?

Are you part of a diaspora?

Since discovering more about my Flemish ancestry, I have been exploring various types of Flemish art.  The artworks illustrating this blog post are by Eugène Laermans, Theodoor Verstraete, Jan-Baptist Stobbaerts, Joseph Lies and Eugène Siberdt.

How do you think about history, genealogy and politics via migration?

How do you think about migration and settlement patterns via values?

How do you think about migration and settlement patterns via hopes?

How do you think about migration in relation to the past, present and future?

Have you ever thought about travel and migration in relation to the sublime, the superlative and the soggy?

To stay in one place is often as much of a gamble as moving to another.  Few people know the risks they face in the future, wherever they may be.

What is your attitude towards safety at home?

What is your attitude towards finding a new home?

How did your ancestors think about such subjects?

Did your ancestors have passports?

Do you have one or more passports or none?

How did your ancestors make choices in their lives?

How do you make yours?

Do you think Australian passports are precious?

Were you a child migrant?

Is child migration part of your family history?

My grandfather migrated from Belfast in Northern Ireland as a young orphan.  He went to Devon in England.

After her second marriage, my great, great-grandmother migrated from Brussels to London with the children of her first marriage.

My husband's only uncle was born in Italy and came to Australia as a small child.

Do you know your cohorts in relation to newer migrant groups and long established groups?

Do you believe people are the real home?

When are you most likely to experience a medley of reflections?

Do you live a long way from Italy?

When are you most likely to spend time reflecting on history?

As you may have found for yourself, retracing migration steps has been necessary when finding great grandparents and earlier ancestors.

How have the various branches of your family tree experienced identity across the centuries?

Did anyone in your family experience migration from Belgium to London in the 1870s?

Did anyone in your family experience civilian internment in the Second World War?

Do artistic, academic, genealogical and/or media researchers usually treat your ancestors as objects or subjects?

How do you usually reflect on names and literacy, and the different spellings of names and places?

How do you usually connect to your heritage?

Did any of your ancestors make the journey from Viggiano to Melbourne?

Did any of your ancestors make the journey from Lombardy to Australia?

How have you used genealogical studies to trace the working lives of your ancestors?

In discovering the ancestors within you and your heritage, are you an independent scholar and non-commercial family historian?

How are you taking the best of the past into the future with family history research?

When I have travelled overland on long journeys, as I have on several continents, I have wonder what that must have been like to do the same in previous centuries.  I am fortunate that I can now choose to travel in much more comfort than I did on earlier journeys.

When I have travelled by ship or ferry, I have wondered how that experience must have been for people in earlier times.  I am usually bored on a ship within twenty-four hours.  I am usually bored on any monotonous journey within an hour or two.

My overland journeys, especially when travelling independently, can take a considerable time.  I love to stop off regularly along the way to explore the surroundings, appreciate the scenery and learn about the history.  I also like to sample the local refreshments, of course!

How do you reflect upon courtesy, trust, friendliness and untrustworthiness?

How do you reflect upon biases and prejudices and inaccurate assumptions?

How do you reflect on open-mindedness and closed-mindedness?

I am wondering if you may have thought about justice for Josephine in some sort of way.

You may have thought about the spice of life.

You may have reflected on the fact that we are all related.

You may just be here for a genealogical look around.

Do you ever think about your homeland as if it is sacred?

Do you ever think about sacred mountains?

Do you ever think about religion, and conflict between and within religions, in relation to migration?

Perhaps you are just starting out with family history research.

How have you already traced your ancestral scatterings?

Through the generations explored in a family history project, especially whenever an ancestor came from a large family, there can be so many cousins discovered that the quantity of information can be overwhelming at times.  The emotions can sometimes be overwhelming too, even when positive.

At other times, there can be a dearth of new information and a strong urge to locate it.  Are you more interested in gaining access to family history documents or old family photographs at present?

The pictures here now are by Frans Van Leemputten.

Images of the world through migration and/or family history and/or our own travels or explorations of art, can involve culture shock at times.  We can especially experience culture shock when discovering how our ancestors really lived.

How do you think about your ancestors and education?

How do you think about your ancestors and asylum?

How do you usually approach questions and mysteries?

Life in any century is likely to include the need to manage stress.  When the stress is to great, people either fight, flee or freeze.  Which do you tend to do?  Which did your ancestors tend to do?

What did your ancestors do to manage their stress?

Did they have many choices or very few?

When a community is safe, settled and relatively prosperous, most people probably choose to stay.  Those seeking to leave may mainly do so to alleviate boredom.

A settled community may consider newcomers to be disruptive.  The original inhabitants may not appreciate the changes occurring around them.  The community then is not as it once was.  It feels less settled when observed by the original inhabitants.  They may reminisce about earlier times and long for similar circumstances.

There are often similar patterns of migration.  Many migrant stories have much in common with each other whereas a few others do not.  I am mainly interested in those differing from the majority of cases.

Family history allows us to see the world beyond the influence of politicians and military leaders.  We gain insights into suffering in ways far more humane than impersonally presented statistics.  The fields of Flanders have been battlegrounds for centuries, in between being the source of many livelihoods.

What are your current fields of research?  Where your ancestors mainly treated by authority figures as if they were mere statistics?

Were any of your ancestors authority figures?

I have spent many years learning about Italian migrants and their family histories in Australia.  I married into one of those families.

You may already know about my interest in the harpists of Viggiano.  I have already gathered a considerable amount of information about them.

My next research project, away from this blog, will mostly involve the Italian front in the First World War. Do you know much about what occurred in the lives of civilians between the Battle of Caporetto and the Battle of Vittorio Veneto?

Through my research concerning Finsbury Park and my London family history, I have already examined various forms of disruption in the lives of my own ancestors.  I have also mentioned the connection between Molenbeek and me.

I have also experienced success after many years in relation to my Belgian heritage.  It is why I am so keen to develop more awareness of Flemish social and cultural history.

In some situations today there can seem like there is overchoice.  The selection of items in supermarkets is often confusing.  The options for products and services seems deliberately perplexing for much of the time.

Have you been seeking a simpler way of life?

Did your ancestors have less complicated lives than your own?

How do you think about poverty and war and higher purposes?

How did they think about food and nature and taxation?

How did they think about military activities?

I know that my family heritage, and that of my husband, transcends differences of religion and many other aspects of culture, including language differences.  I have made many discoveries about interconnections, too, through economic history and multi-dimensional explorations of human migration

How have your beliefs and other people's beliefs, influenced who and what you have become?

How have your movements from one place to another, and the movements of other people from one place to another, influenced who and what you have become?

How have your struggles, successes and tragedies, and other people's struggles, successes and tragedies in life affected who and what you have become?

How has your life been affected by superstitions and traditions?

Throughout history, wars have been fought mainly with the same aims in mind.  People with power want to preserve their wealth and acquire new wealth.  People without power want to maintain a sense of identity and gain a sense of security as they struggle to survive from day to day.  Perhaps that is why so many people are interested in discovering their family histories.

How much does your image of the world change as you discover more about your family history?

How do the various branches of your family compare in social, economic and political terms?

In recent years, and in less recent years, many mortgagees have defaulted on the repayments on their borrowings in several industrialized nations.  Whether having lost a job or having less hours in a job, there have been struggles within many households to keep hold of a house or home.  Renters have also struggled.  They are often unable to accumulate wealth through property ownership.

With nowhere permanent to go once they have lost possession of a dwelling, where and how are people meant to live?

In poorer countries, the people struggling to survive have probably never been able to obtain a mortgage in the first place. They may think that the cheapest accommodation in richer countries is luxurious.

In the 19th century, dangerously romantic views of nationalism were expressed in many parts of Europe by persons wishing to maintain or acquire power.  Those views, as well as greed and fear, drove the desire to expand empires.  In the 20th century, nationalistic views were one of the main causes of the two world wars, as well as much other violence around the world.

The next set of images are by Jan Hendrik Leys

Have you ever lived in one or more crowded squatter camps, tenements, other slums, tents and other temporary shelters?

Have you ever been forced to live off the kindness of friends or strangers when you had nowhere else to go?

Have you been one of the thousands of refugees who once had a nice, safe home you were forced to flee for your life?

Around major cities, in many countries, even in relatively affluent countries, there are squalid places in which people exist in poverty.  But what and where, really, is a home?

Disappointments in life, and a sense of being the victim of injustice, can sometimes lead people to express spite.  Unlike the spice of life, spite is at the centre of all forms of abuse. Fortunately, there has been little sign of consistent maliciousness or malevolence in my own family history.

The maternal side stayed mainly in a small area mainly around the east Shropshire Coalbrookdale coalfield and then briefly around the south Staffordshire coalfield. The paternal side of my family has had more experience of migration than the maternal side.

None of my ancestors were rich or even comfortably middle class in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  None had much of an education or much of an inheritance.

All sides of my family have been associated with poverty in one generation or another.  They never had consistent prosperity.  They rarely had any political or economic power at all.

How does your family history differ from mine?  What does it have in common?  Are we related at all?

You are likely to be exploring your family history at this very moment, even if your family history does not intertwine with mine along the genealogical lines of recent centuries.  Your family history and heritage, and perhaps even the future of your family, may be filling your mind at present.

Do you explore history mainly as a diversion from other concerns or as a central aspect of your sense of identity and belonging?

I first welcomed online readers to my family history research at the beginning of 2009.  How have you been exploring the connections between family history, social history, cultural history, migration, research and relationships?

Soon after beginning this blog, I also welcomed you to my Italian social history studies.  How do you compare family experiences in one part of the world, at a particular time in history, with family experiences in another part of the world?

How do you tend to compare the disruptive forces eroding the quality of family life?

What have been the connections between disruption and migration in your family history?