Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Family history woes

Can you hear my screams of despair? If you are a family historian, a word of caution. DO NOT attempt to build your on-line family tree when you have only had abut 3 1/2 hours' sleep, and then brief periods of dozing many hours later. There is nothing worse than staring into the darkness of your bedroom, clock-watching and wishing away the night-time hours. I had also eaten a bad combination of food and still have a sore stomach, nearly 12 hours later. Rashly, I thought I would make the time productive by filling in my family tree. Wrong move, being compounded now when I have just discovered I have the biggest family put in THREE TIMES, and I can't seem to remove them either. I will have to get back to it later when my brain is less frazzled.

Of course, as I am currently in family history mode (something which normally happens about this time of year), I was very tempted by the selection of Family History magazines in town yesterday, but I resisted them all. I even ignored the lure of the Family History mag with the free CD which announced you could "Find out How Your Ag. Lab. ancestors lived". (At £4.99 to purchase it, the temptation was soon well under control!) When I gave it some consideration, however, I concluded that it wouldn't really TELL me anything - just give links to various websites which I could probably find myself anyway, or I could read relevant chapters in my books on Victorian rural social history.

There would be nothing which could tell me if my 3 x g. grandfather suffered from "the rheumatics" as so many Ag. Labs. did from working outside in all weathers with just an old sack across their shoulders. Nothing to link me to the documents which would give the details of his life when he applied to "go on the parish" because he could no longer work on the farm - well into his 70s. I have to go to Exeter to find those - or pay someone to do the look-ups for me. There would be nothing to say that the little holloway, a short cut between one road and the next, which we passed last time we were in Hennock, was one he was wont to take. The things I really want to know include more about his life as a sailor (when apparently he spent his pay on buying tobacco, dead mens' clothes and paying extra for a bunk instead of a hammock) and the excitement of being at Trafalgar aboard HMS Belleraphon (another ancestor was aboard HMS Victory). Was he on Belleraphon when she took Napoleon to Elba? I hope he was a better sailor than my father, who got seasick the moment his uncle's fishing boat got beyond the harbour wall.

It is the minutiae of family history which fascinates, those intimate details which tell you more about the person so they're not just a name and a date on a family tree. The ancestor with the sweet tooth, the musical one, the little girl who got sent down to the pub for a jug of gin every night (my husband's side, not mine!) I know so very little about them beyond the fact that many of my menfolk worked on the land, quite a few others were good with horses - carters, grooms, ostlers, saddlers, a coachman - no wonder I have a deep love of horses. The women were skilled with a needle and were dressmakers. On my mum's side, I come from generations of lace-makers. One of my grandfather's sisters was a servant for the Carus-Wilson family in London. They were strongly connected with the church and religion, and when I was reading a book about Charlotte Bronte's husband, Arthur Nicholls, it transpires that it was one of the Carus-Wilsons who was involved with the Clergy Daughters' boarding school at Cowan Bridge that figured so largely in Charlotte Bronte's early education, and which she wrote about so vividly in her novel Jane Eyre. Her two sisters, Maria and Elizabeth contracted TB there and died in 1825. One name - and suddenly family history starts to come alive.

The photo at the top was taken about 1920, and shows my dad, Eric Bolt (aged around 4), and his parents central. My gran's sister and her husband on opposite corners and the two opposite corners taken by the Bow parents.


  1. Sorry you feel rough ...hope you are improving now.
    Why is it harder to remove than add things in FH???? I like you want to read the history of the times and know more about the people ...they are not just names and dates to me either.
    Fancy having conections to the Victory and Napoleons journey to Elba ...makes it all so exciting.

  2. How exciting. I wish I knew more about my lot, but having the 3 most common Welsh sir-names to contend with, I got a bit lost! Lovely to have that old photo, what a treasure! Hope your colic is better soon (no rolling) LOL Kath

  3. Interesting looking folks. I enjoy the details of dress and hair in old photos as much as the faces. We had reproduction "shirting" fabrics in the shop lately which resemble those in the ladies' blouses [shirt waists?]
    What IS it with the plague of insomnia? Rhetorical question--sigh. It doesn't take much to set off one bad night and then it goes on for a week.
    I woke at a bit after four--after only a few hours of sleep. I found the cats were lodged around me like so many warm heavy bolsters. I considered getting up, reading, writing letters, decided that would disturb J. I watched the red numbers on the digital clock, saying to myself, "If I'm still awake at 5, I'll get up then." I didn't, and played the game until 6:15 when I fell asleep--and of course woke 2 hours later completely befuddled--J. had gotten up and fed the cats, who promptly came back to keep me company.
    Had I gotten up, nothing would have been accomplished. Those disturbed hours seem to be for huddling blearily in a quilt, simply getting through. And yes, sleeplessness does seem to be accompanied by some form of internal combustion!

  4. Yes, it MUST be the time of year. I've been corresponding this past week with an online geneologist that I stumbled upon while looking up my grandparents. He is somehow related to me (?) and has part of my family tree on his site. It's so fascinating, I love geneolgy. Although, I'll be the one filling him in as I've traced our family back to 1203, I believe. I hope you're feeling better soon, I know that feeling! Loved your post :)

  5. Gosh ER - 1203. Mine were Ag. Labs and not much trace of them prior to mid 1750s in most lines, but one in Stoke Gabriel goes back a hundred years earlier. If I was living in Devon (fingers crossed for our move) I could do some proper parish chest papers type research, but as it is, if it ain't on line, I don't have access to it.

    MM - I posted a reply last night, but it's disappeared so I will blame the vagaries of our connection. Sorry that you slept so badly too. Keith doesn't allow the cats on our bed and it was Banshee escaping and making a lot of noise on top of my chest of drawers that woke me the previous night, so I had to go and let her out downstairs.

    I've always quite fancied a lovely light cotton shirt like the ones they are wearing. In fact, I even have an Edwardian booklet with how to set the sleeves, embroider them etc, somewhere in my souvenirs. Not a family book, just one that was in a box of odds from auction. We used to have an excellent fabric warehouse in town, but that shut so Swansea is now the nearest place - need to go down there and see if I can track down some upholstery supplies too.

    Kath - ah, Welsh genealogy with the Joneses and Evanses and Williamses - daunting!

    Angie - I am going to try and wipe out the triple line of my grandfather and his siblings today, and start afresh. Sigh. Another cup of Earl Grey first perhaps though . . .

  6. 2 out of 3, go to the top of the class BB! :)