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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

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

The Hints

One of the first few posts that I wrote on this blog was about the perils of taking research by others at face value.  I had been completely over excited by finding all sorts of "hints", as they call them, on Ancestry.  They related to a tree which I had been working on for a friend but I was not careful enough at investigating their provenance and everything got a bit tangled.

Unfortunately, I have not taken my own advice and have once again got carried away with clicking on hints without checking carefully enough.  Apparently once bitten, twice shy does not apply to me when I am immersed in work!  Must do better.  I now have to trace each item and check it.

I did get to thinking about this problem's relation to life in general though.  How many people search feverishly for long lost family only to find that blood ties are not necessarily enough to break down years of separation and/or resentment?

My mother in law has, in recent years, welcomed a niece to their rather large fold.  The niece was the child of my mother in law's brother but from his first marriage.  A child when the marriage broke down, she will never truly know what happened and it being a Catholic marriage breakdown, it was not really spoken of amongst the family.

This niece only properly appeared in the family's lives when her own father died and she and her siblings were unfortunately excluded from full participation in the funeral organised by her father's second family.

From then on, it was a matter of taking sides in many ways.  She approached some of her aunts.  Some, like my mother in law, remembered her and were glad to see her.  They welcomed her without asking too many questions.  Others were more wary, to say the least (!).

The niece, my husband's cousin of course, seemed to be a reasonable person and her presence was accepted quite quickly at family events.  She asked for addresses of cousins and sent cards, made calls and generally seemed to want to engage.

It gradually became apparent, though, that she had unresolved issues ranging from anger at the family to drinking excessively (and I mean early morning etc - not just at parties).  She had a neediness which seemed odd in someone in their fifties.  There were rows with family members.

Now that we are sadly facing an imminent funeral and wake for my father in law, I have no idea how this is going to play out.  You cannot exclude someone from funeral attendance.

The family tried to do the right thing and they accepted someone on the basis of blood ties without digging any deeper.  Why would you?  But the "hints" were there all along.  I am just hoping that this situation does not backfire on a day on which emotions will be very high.  It will be a step too far.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

A Tribute to Experience

Sometime back, I wrote a post called The Oldest Man in the Parish.  It was about my 91 year old father in law and his memories.
Sadly, my father in law is now very ill.  We hope for the best of course but at 91, pneumonia is quite something to get over.  Whilst dealing with the rising grief and also the many practicalities involved in possibly having to get to an Irish funeral, I have been thinking a great deal about the loss of such experience from the world.  Strangely The Times had a piece today about the recent death of the UK's oldest woman - who died at 114 years old.  It was entitled "The Last Victorian" yet she was born in 1900, only a year before Victoria died.
My father in law was born in 1923.  The Irish Free State was not even a year old.  He lived in rural Ireland in a one room farmhouse (with a large number of siblings) and went to school - for minimal schooling - barefooted.  Meat was rarely eaten and poaching for salmon was rife.  He came to England during the Second World War and his passport declared him to be "an alien" (I know, I have seen it).  Most of what he earned went back to feed his siblings and mother, his father having come to England with him - they were wartime agricultural labourers.  He always says that his first memory of being in England was being on a train from Holyhead to Nottingham and finding himself in the middle of an air raid, the train plunged into darkness.
From then on, he worked to better himself, to earn more than just a living.  He married an Irish nurse who was actually born in the same county as himself but they met in Leeds of all places, at a dance hall.  After marriage he built up a haulage business with his closest brother and went into local politics.  I well remember a first meeting with him at which it became apparent that we were poles apart politically but we were able to agree on the necessity to at least vote and have your say.
I find myself in awe of his achievements.  My husband was the first of their family to go to university. A fact which reflects unbelievably upon my parents-in-law's progress as immigrants.  (I can only hope that they were not too disappointed that he came away with a future wife as well as a degree!)
Every death is a loss to human kind - a unique being, never to be repeated; often a wealth of knowledge and experience lost forever.  But the loss of the elderly is a confirmation of the march of time and history.  We tend to feel that the loss of a young person far outweighs the loss of an elder.  In many ways, this is true.  At least with an older person, one can rationalise by saying that they had a long and hopefully useful, happy life.  But they are still someone's relation.  And they are still a source of knowledge and memory that cannot be replaced.
Our society does not value such virtues.  A friend who is barely 50 recently spoke of the prejudice she is now facing in the job market.  She is in human resources for goodness sake!  Surely experience of human behaviour should be valued there if nowhere else!
If I do not post in coming weeks, you will sadly know why now.  Please spare a thought for the oldest man in the parish.  He and his contemporaries are the reason we are all where we are today, for better or worse.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

It's all in the details

Today my Facebook account threw a completely curved ball at me by suddenly showing me a picture and announcing that it was what I had posted three years ago today.  It was of my family on holiday in Thailand and I was really quite taken aback to see it so unexpectedly.  Especially given the weather in the UK at the moment! [The above picture is of "our" beach but minus my family!]

That wonderful treat of a holiday is still very much fixed in the minds of my family, despite others since.  The place, people, food and general feeling of the place seem somehow to have implanted themselves on us.  How does this happen?  Does it happen when you get a perfect combination of those factors?  Do all your senses have to have been affected before you can take away such a clear memory?
I have written about the vagaries of memory before - pondering on how we store apparently long forgotten memories, only to have then reawakened unexpectedly.  Silent Witness this week included a police officer who suddenly realised that, as a child, he had been involved in the killing of his father.  You would think that such an event would be too traumatic to block out but it is well documented that we can block things if our brains choose.  Especially events when we are very young.
On a family tree, you can see literally the bare branches of a family laid out.  Memory is what provides the leaves, the detail.  There is currently a competition on Find My Past for the best family tree.  There are various categories but all have the advice that the judges are looking for details.  Not just names and places and dates.  Real personal information like newspapers articles, photos and family anecdotes.
A good start is that Family Tree magazine this month has an article on how to extract detail from old diaries.  Diaries and letters can of course provide much information about dates and relationships.  Just make sure that you read the other stuff too.  Trying to get a sense of a person is a greater skill than finding the name and date.  Use other people's trees on Ancestry and other sites - people chasing the same family connections may have different photos and anecdotes to yours.
And even if you are not mad enough (!) to start a blog, do make a note of your own memories if you have the time.  Even Facebook entries can provide an interesting memory every now and then, amongst all the selfies, dancing animals and other delights.


Monday, 12 January 2015

Embrace the Cliche

Oh dear, it is too long since I posted here.  I am afraid that I rather lost my confidence, ironically after doing a writing course!  It all seemed a bit too earnest and just would not flow.  Then Christmas, family emergencies, etc etc and I am completely out of the habit.

Funnily enough, one of my planned posts was about clichés in family history.  And now I have almost fallen into the cliché of the blog which is soon abandoned.  So January 2015 sees a fresh push to make sure that I write regularly at least.

The cliché idea came from watching The Great Interior Design Challenge.  I was outraged that some classic items (see picture!) incorporated by a competitor were referred to by the rather smug judges as "design clichés".  When is it a cliche rather than good design or good taste?  It made me wonder about the cliché in general.  Good old Wikipedia yielded these gems in reference to the word...

A cliché or cliché is an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has become overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, even to the point of being trite or irritating, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel...

The term is frequently used in modern culture for an action or idea that is expected or predictable, based on a prior event....

There is a widely mentioned story that Michael Parkinson's ancestors were investigated by Who Do You Think You Are? and that they were considered too boring for a programme to be made about them.  Who knows whether this is true?!  The story has done the rounds for years. 

If it was true, though, is this the cliché of modern family history?  Do we need to discover something unusual to make our family history seem more original, more noteworthy?  Is it a cliché to find that your family have people in service, people ending up in the workhouse, farmers?  What makes these people any less interesting?  They had humdrum existences - but don't we all?

I do believe that Who Do You Think You Are? is a fabulous programme which has done much to improve the image of family history as a hobby but, as I have written before, I do worry that it has caused us to believe a) that it is an easy hobby and everyone can quickly get back centuries on their family lines and b) that we should have unrealistic expectations of what our ancestors were, mostly, up to.  Not just a working person - a campaigning trade unionist!  Not just a soldier - a soldier present at an historic event!

I myself do have the added factor of Anglo Indian lines.  These are fascinating in many ways.  However, upon closer examination, the actual people fell mostly into the Anglo Indian "cliché" - they were railway drivers, telegraph operators, civil servants, all striving to maintain the British Empire whilst not fully being accepted by their wholly white rulers.  For generations, they can be seen to be "expected or predictable based on a prior event [ie their birthstatus]".

We should be proud of whomever we discover on our family trees.  One thread is just thread on its own.  It takes many threads to make a tapestry and that is how we should view our family trees.  And therein lies another cliché but hey....