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Blogging about things that matter to me. Photographing things I love - Instagram @debcyork. Writing about both. Only wine and chocolate can save us… You can also find me on Twitter (@debcyork) and Facebook. If you like four-legged views, try @missbonniedog on Twitter

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Where will we be and who will be watching?

How do we imagine our species' future?  Where do we think we will be in one hundred, two hundred years times or even longer? 
We have been marking the centenary of the start of the First World War this year and the last soldiers from that have only just died.  Next year sees the two hundred year anniversary of Waterloo and the defeat of Napoleon.  I am sure that the participants in Waterloo never envisaged the carnage of the First World War but then, at the end of the First World War it was said to be the war to end all wars and look what happened....
I am going to see the new Hunger Games film this week.  My son and his friends are very keen on this whole genre of writing.  Survival, apocalyptic future etc.  When I was their age, I remember starting to read George Orwell and thinking, well he was wrong about Big Brother and all that.
Yet this week the media are raging about digital privacy versus the need to keep tabs on what terrorists and others are up to online.  Big Brother really does exist.  We all know it but choose to go along with it, driven by the belief that the spooks are not looking for "people like us" and of course they have not got time to check our online trails of films, emails, shopping, chatting.  Yet we expect someone, somewhere to keep tabs on our neighbours' secrets.  Their illegal porn habits, their illegal film downloading, whatever.  We want someone to police all that.
The thing is, what if a "nasty party" gets in to power and the legislation that they need is already in place?  The ability to watch everyone, to detain without the courts, to take passports, etc - all the things that we are told now are needed to deal with the very few.  Could they be turned on the majority?  Or at least, turned on a scapegoat minority like the Nazis did?  In the future, will a party like UKIP (or far worse) be able to convince us that immigrants should be turned away and ethnic communities deported?
In terms of a family history link to this, I guess as ever I find myself fascinated with what my ancestors would make of the world in which we live now.  I have vivid memories of watching Tomorrow's World as a child and seeing items about innovations like bar-coding, shopping from home and pocket computers.  And it all seemed quite unbelievable and very unlikely!
My ancestors who travelled to India must have found themselves hit like an (as yet mostly uninvented!) train with the difference in culture and could never have envisaged a time when you could fly to India in a few hours; a time when India is as powerful as it is now.  They could not even perceive of India as an independent entity.  Imagining a future like the Hunger Games or 1984 would have been impossible.
Wouldn't it be amazing to go back in time and be able to give your ancestor an ipad or something and get them to record their lives in real blinding colour?  How did it feel to be there?  If nothing else, the current obsession with social media does mean that our descendants will not be short of such material, provided it survives.  And survival is the key, as the participants in the Hunger Games know only too well.  Let us hope that it is not too worrying that we can start to imagine a future like that.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

The Big Society

This is just getting ridiculous now.  I had promised myself to write at least every other day even if I could not manage every day with the new puppy around. Yet here I am over a week later!  I will not bore you with the reasons for my lapse!
Anyway, what to muse about?  Actually, I did find a rather interesting tale in someone else's family tree last week.  I was trying to push one of the lines a bit further back and I stumbled upon a lady who had died in an asylum run by her trade union.

Emily Harriet Rumball was born in around 1819 and for most of her early adult life she was listed as a "bookfolder" or "bookbinder" on the censuses.  In 1852 she married James Swygart in Shoreditch.  From what I have traced, the couple had at least four children, one of whom, Emily, is my friend's direct ancestor.  (She married a Sainsbury but sadly not one with supermarket connections!).

James died in 1872 in Holborn and it appears that Emily Harriet returned to working as a bookfolder to keep herself.  Certainly by 1881, she was living with the Sainsbury-married daughter Margaret and her family, though still giving her profession as bookfolder.  This was in Islington.

In 1891 I found her on the census for Balls Pond Road.  And this is where my pure curiosity is so right for this work!  Next to her name was a number and I thought it referred to her house number.  Then I began to notice - by studying the image rather than the transcription - that all her fellow residents were bookfolders, -binders, etc.  Quite a coincidence?

It was not until I flipped back through the images of the previous pages that I realised that Emily Harriet was living in the Bookbinders Provident Society Asylum, shown above.  I had no idea such places existed.  We hear about the workhouses and reform schools when we do Victorian history in our school years but trade union-run asylums?  All full of single profession people with problems?

So I did what one does these days in such situations.  I googled.  Sure enough, the bookbinders formed a friendly society in 1830.  By 1843 there was also a charity for building an almshouse/asylum.  The two societies amalgamated in 1865.  This big society slowly expanded apparently, until 1882.  Eventually, the asylum site was sold in 1927 and the Society relocated Whetstone in London's suburbs, building cottages to run on their new site.
the asylum building no longer exists on Balls Pond Road - which connects Islington with Hackney and is quite sought after now as those unable to live in Islington have gentrified the edges of Hackney.
Looking back at this story from our 2014 viewpoint, it seems like an amazing story of charity and the growth of social responsibility awareness.  One does wonder, though, what Margaret Sainsbury, the daughter who was housing her mother, had to go through to get her mother into that charitable institution.  How desperate did things become before they were able to get help with her elderly and presumably deteriorating mother?  Does this all sound a bit familiar?
I have friends at the moment who suspect that they have parents with the beginning of dementia.  The hoops to jump through to get help are so high and so numerous that one could be forgiven for wondering if much has changed since Emily Rumball had to be admitted to the Bookbinders Asylum.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Supermarket Ethics

I do not have time to write a great deal today but I found that I could not let the day pass without commenting on the Sainsbury Christmas 1914 ad.  It "premiered" last night (why have we now become Americans with "premiers" and "finales" on our televisions??) and the internet has been awash today with debate on the supermarket's use of the First World War "Christmas Truce", comparisons to the John Lewis Monty Penguin ad, etc etc.

When I googled the truce in order to find the above picture, it seemed pretty clear that most of the press is united in thinking that the use of this incident is, to say the very least, unsavoury (and outrageous if you are the Daily Mail!).  And for once, I must say that I totally agree.

My son showed the ad to me this afternoon - I had not looked at Facebook or Twitter today - and my initial reaction was definitely one of discomfort followed by disgust.

When this ad went out, we were barely twenty four hours from the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.  You can just picture some young pushy ad executive sitting in a brainstorming meeting going "oh yes and if we are going with this theme, here's great idea, let's get it out as near as possible to the eleventh.  Why not on the eleventh?  At eleven?"!

As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, I have little personal connection to the First World War but those millions of men died for all of our futures.  Did Sainsburys think it was doing a good thing?  Did they see the public reaction to the Tower of London poppies and rub their hands, knowing what was coming?

The thing is, the ad is a good piece of film making - for all I know about these things! - and the sentiment "Christmas is for sharing" is an excellent one.  What sticks in the throat is the use of this incident and that sentiment to sell more Christmas groceries and gifts.  Presumably, they thought that hooking up with the Royal British Legion would help to divert some of this discomfort.  They thought we would think it was almost a public service ad, not a supermarket wheeze!

Unfortunately you have to enter one of their stores to buy the special chocolate bars which are giving 100%of their profits to the Legion.  And while you are there, you may as well get a few other things...

Paul McCartney used the Christmas Truce incident in his "Pipes of Peace" video years ago.  At least he had a peace theme and was well known for campaigning against war.  Although he was trying to sell records, so you could argue that one both ways.

I feel that I m ranting so I won't go on.  A final thought, though, is that it is a worrying indictment of our society when advertisements are becoming events in their own right.  Advertisements used to become news stories as people became aware of them.  They were not pre announced into our viewing schedules!  Their makers hoped that the desired effect would be created and word would spread (eg the Levis guy stripping in the laundrette!).

Whatever happens now though, whether the ad continues to be shown or whether public outrage continues to mount and it is pulled, Sainsbury have achieved more column inches and more search engine mentions than one can imagine.  It is wrong to have used such a poignant event to achieve this. And here I am, adding to that publicity.  A good place to stop my rant, I think.  If, by some miracle, you have not seen the ad, just google or go onto You Tube.....

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

A Big Fan

The above chart is a fan pedigree chart.  I first saw one of these at the York Family History Fair a couple of years ago and thought then that they make a very useful way of seeing your progress.

Typically, I then forgot all about it until I did the recent "Organising Your Genealogy" course which I have blogged about previously.  [See Pharos for course further details.]

This week, though, I printed off a new set of blank fan charts.  You can do this by simply Googling "fan pedigree chart" and choosing your preferred website.  There are also sometimes blanks available to print or download in the "learning center" areas of Familysearch or Ancestry.

The reason I did so was to check my progress with a friend's maternal family tree.  I have been working on this for some time - having to take a break due to not having enough "dog sleeping hours" in the day when the puppy arrived! - and I was anxious to gauge my progress.

It was actually very gratifying because the fan chart enables you to see clearly how many generations you have gone back on each line and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had done six generations on at least three lines and five on most of the others.  I must say, I had not realised, from my pile of notes, quite how many generations I had gone back.  Fortunately, her ancestors were all mostly in the same areas and were devout church goers - handily picking churches with registers that ended up on Ancestry!

So as you can see on the chart, you put the name of the "owner" of the tree in the centre bottom circle.  The fan then progresses outwards with the boxes getting smaller and smaller (tricky if you are hand writing the chart!) as the generations expand.  On the above chart, the main four colours denote the four lines from the owner's grandparents.  Within each colour way, the shading denotes the increasing number of different families per generation.

A simple version of a chart like this - with perhaps four generations - is an excellent way to show family history to children.  My daughter really understood her grandparents' lines once she saw a simplified fan pedigree chart.  You don't even necessarily need colours but a coloured in chart, framed, does look nice - a good gift for grandparents maybe, this festive season?!

The other advantage that this week's exercise has given me is that I can now see where the main gaps in the tree are and I m able to concentrate my efforts on filling these in, rather than just pushing back the lines which have proved easier to follow.  I would like to get all lines to six generations as this means 1700's rather than 1800's.  And I am so pleased to be saying that - the tree is a real testament to all the people who transcribe all these random church registers and other documents.  I salute their efforts.  You try reading some of the "original images" on the websites and see whether you would be confident enough to publish what you have deciphered! 

Monday, 10 November 2014

Find A Brickwall!

Further to my brief post about the Find My Past freebie weekend, I have tried really hard this weekend to break down some brickwalls in the USA using my extra access.

My Anglo Indian great grandfather, Frederick Jackson Shaller, had a brother named William Charles Shaller who emigrated to the US from India well before Partition.  This much can be definitely said.  However, I could previously only find one marriage certificate for him despite someone else's Ancestry public tree naming two wives.  I was hoping that the US data would help to solve this conundrum.

However, the FMP freebie weekend has actually deepened the mystery rather than beginning to solve it.  I was able to access the transcript and original image for the 1930 US census and the person who I assumed was the second wife is shown quite clearly as having been born in Montana in the US whilst the two eldest of the three children and William himself are shown as having been born in India.
The ages given for William and this "census wife" Dorothea are 52 and 37 respectively.  The eldest son is 20.  There is a marriage certificate from Bombay in 1906 which shows William marrying "Effie Moore" but it is "Dorothea" with whom he entered the US via Boston in 1920.
The eldest son Leslie was born in 1910 and the middle child, a daughter named Dorothea, was born in 1912 - both, as I said, in India.  The naming of this daughter would seem to point to the "census wife" being her mother, if not the mother of Leslie also.  The third child William Aubrey was on the way when they emigrated and he was born in New York.  He was nine years younger than his sister.  It is one of his descendants who has put a public tree onto Ancestry.
So is Effie Moore actually Dorothea?  Or was William married briefly to Effie and then - at some point between 1906 and 1911 - to Dorothea?  Was Leslie born to Effie or Dorothea?  If the age of 37 on the 1930 census is correct, Dorothea would have been 13 in 1906 if she is "Effie Moore".  I do have other relations who married at such an age, in Anglo Indian circles but 1906 seems quite late for this still to be happening.  the others are mostly early nineteenth century.  I have not been able to find a birth or baptism record for Leslie, which might have helped.  It is yet another Anglo Indian brickwall.
Funnily enough, when I search various sites for "Dorothea Shaller" in India quite a few turn up - well, not masses like for Jones or something but more than usual for that surname! - and they all appear to be connected to my tree in some way.
I have started to think about whether "Moore" is the route to go down.  However, a first glance search proved to be quite disheartening - there are many Moores.... 
I hope, if you tried the freebie weekend, you had better luck.  Find My Past is a good service, although its redesigned website takes a bit of negotiating.  I still get confused by its "Record Set" and "Record Collection" filters.  I shall plod away at this brick wall for a very little while longer - the freebie ends at midday today!

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Remembrance and the future

Earlier this year I wrote a post about how it seemed that I did not have any relations with First World War service, at least not in my direct line. And in fact, not for the Second World War either.  That has not stopped me, though, admiring the huge amount of work which has been done this year in commemoration of the start of the First World War in 1914.  Whether it be record releases by the National Archives, TV and radio broadcasts by the BBC and others or local history events - and everything in between - there has been a wealth of material available.
For A Level History, I remember doing "Causes of the First World War" as an essay title.  I wish I still had possession of this document because I seem to remember the most awful row with our history teacher (I cannot remember her name but we called her Gladys because she looked like Gladys Pugh - played by Ruth Madoc - from Hi De Hi....!).  As far as I recall, I wrote a piece - well argued, I thought - about said causes and Gladys took exception to my version of events.  Being, as I was, a bit of a Millie Tant, I probably dug my heels in and refused to rewrite it and I do seem to think that my mother actually backed me up so my paper can't have been that bad.  I thought of it this week though because my eight year old asked me what started the First World War and I could not, for the life of me, think of a way to explain it sensibly for her age group! 
There were the years of pre war build up of treaties and alliances; the years of skirmishes and colony grabbing; there was the ego of the Kaiser; the arrogance of numerous politicians; closer to the start, there was the general mobilisation and the train timetables issue; everyone thought it would a brief war to get it all over by Christmas and settle Europe back down again.; and so on and so on.  Eventually, I told the eight year old that after many years of problems and building armies and navies, a royal person was shot which gave everyone an excuse for a war to start properly....
Someone on the radio this morning pointed out that these days we assume that during the war, there was a general realisation that the generals were all stupid and the war was futile.  Blackadder and other comedies have not helped this perception but in fact, it did not feel like that to most people at the time.
This morning, as I stood at the Remembrance Sunday service for my son's Scout group and we prayed for those still at war as well as those from past conflicts, I began to wonder how my grandchildren will explain the current and recently past  Middle East conflicts to their children.  Britain has been engaged in modern conflict in the Middle East for almost my entire adult life.  We first invaded Kuwait while I was living in university halls.  [It was the first conflict to show round the clock, blow by blow coverage and I remember the uni newspaper making jokes about everyone suffering from Gulf War Vision from staying up too late, watching Kate Adie and the Scud missiles!]
Today, at the parade, people applauded the troops and veterans alike.  Tellingly, the active troops were all dressed in desert colours as a matter of course.  There are several large bases near my home and I am sure that most of those troops and their families do not believe the wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan to have been futile or our politicians to have been misguided.  They cannot do so because that would render their experiences and their losses futile too.
I do wonder though how these conflicts will be seen in 2114.  There has not been the mass slaughter of our troops but there has been mass destruction of nations and mass slaughter of their peoples.  Where, for example, will the rise of ISIS end?  Religious wars have cursed humanity since the first idols were set up.  We can pray for peace, we can fight back, we can do both at the same time.  I cannot help but feel that by 2114, there will have had to be a seismic shift in thinking or we could still be engaged in this endless "War On Terror". 
One of my favourite fiction types is that which rewrites history as we know it.  A novel set in a victorious Nazi Germany or a defeated Britain is a fascinating idea.  We are back to the time travel idea of previous posts, I guess - the well established science fiction principle that even a small change to the past has a huge ripple effect on the times stretching in front of us.
The many deaths which we remembered today were not in vain because they made us who we were, whether we like it or not and whether we agree with how they came about or not.  But it is both interesting and worrying to speculate on what the current wars will come to be viewed as in our grandchildren's futures and beyond. 

Thursday, 6 November 2014


Not able to write properly today but I did want to flag up a freebie!

From midday tomorrow, Friday 7 November, Find My Past is offering free access to all of its collections.  Until midday on Monday 10th!  And unusually, there is a benefit for existing users too.  They will get extended access to "world" collections if therapy do not have this already.  If they do, they will get an extra three days in their subscription period.

The article in Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine is here.

Happy hunting! I intend to spend the weekend scouring the US, Australian and Irish records that I have been waiting to see.  So much for not chasing down more leads and getting organised instead....

And who am I am kidding anyway,  I will probably get about an hour of research after child activites and dog walking.... Typically my kids have random training day tomorrow.... 

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Mental Family History

Well once again it is a worryingly long time since I sat down to write.  Between half term and puppy training, I am just incapable of getting off the sofa to sit down and think by the evenings and there has not been a spare minute during the days.  The modern problem.  Every magazine and Sunday supplement seems to have articles about being happier, getting more time, making time for people who matter to you, being more relaxed, blah blah.....

However, since this is a family history related blog, it occurred to me that it would be interesting to be able to understand how many of these "problems" are indeed a modern issue.  Every age must have had its problems.  Maybe it is simply that they did not have names for the problems a century  or so ago.

In part, I wanted to write this post because it was announced a couple of weeks ago that thousands of mental health records, dating back to the eighteenth century, are to be put online.  It will not be via the subscription sites so you may not be aware of it.  This link will take you to the article relating to the release.  From there, you can link to the various organisations involved in this fascinating project.  It looks like there will be a mass of information available eventually - and not just from London hospitals either.

On a personal note though, for the past ten years, I myself have battled mild depression.  Sometimes it does not feel so mild, to be sure, but in comparison with what many people suffer, I guess it is mild.  So I do have quite an interest in all the "be happier" articles and I have done a lot of work with a fantastic therapist (now, sadly for me, retired.  I am sure she is quite relieved!).  I have an even stronger interest in the idea of a family link with depression because I was always told that my paternal grandmother was a "manic depressive".  In modern terms, this is now known as Bipolar Disorder and everything I have read points to a strong genetic link for the condition.  Family history is very important in diagnosis.  Stephen Fry, above, is bipolar and has done a huge amount to publicise the condition. He is president of MIND.

I have always wondered about my great grandparents and even further back on that side.  Certainly my grandmother suffered quite extreme symptoms in later life - the main characteristic of the condition is mood swings - and was then subjected to quite extreme electric shock treatment in attempts to ease her situation.  [She died very suddenly of a heart attack at a relatively young age - I also wonder about the link between that and the stress that the shock treatment must have put her heart under but I need to really understand the treatment more...]

Unfortunately, at first glance, it does not look like I will find my grandmother's records in the new release.  I don't think her era will be released - too modern.  And my age old problem, as regular readers will know, is that my paternal side were Anglo Indian so finding their medical records in India is not going to be easy - in fact is probably impossible unless they were in the army.  The relevant paternal great grandmother did die in the UK though, so maybe I should start with her death certificate and see if that holds any clues.  I did meet her when I was very little but I have no clear memory of her.  (Although I do recall being given an old handbag of hers when her things were cleared out - it was red and it was in my dressing up box for years!)
Sadly for my grandmother, these days Bipolar Disorder is much better recognised and is treated mainly with various medication, therapy and lifestyle advice to deal with drink/drug/sleep/weight issues.  It was only in the 1980s that she was properly diagnosed, I believe.  There is reference, in the articles that I have read about the disorder, to recognising "triggers" which would bring on episodes of extreme behaviour - be it mania or  a real low.   I do recall mention of "triggers" when my parents tried to explain to me about Nana's illness.  I think her own siblings were a major trigger but I have never properly asked my father about this.  I think I need to get brave and find out.
I suppose, given my own recent history, one could be worried that one may develop Bipolar, given the family link.  After all, we do worry about our own future's if a relative is diagnosed with cancer or heart disease.  However, I do believe that Nana suffered so much in part because of ignorance of the condition. Maybe, for example, like myself, symptoms started years before - post natal like my own or even before.  If mild symptoms had been treated, maybe the condition would not have gone as far as it did.  Sad but highly likely, I believe.  Nana certainly had huge life changes in her time - children, issues with her family, leaving India after Partition, to name but a few - and I know only too well that for some people, change has to be carefully managed.
So maybe there is a place in the modern age for all the self help articles.  We do now have names for things and we do have an awareness of lifestyle choices and how they affect our mental well being.  That does not, of course, mean that we always follow the "path of good".  Personally, I self medicate with Maltesers quite a lot of the time.....