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.