Canadian Adventures, Google+ Calamities and Badgers on Set

I know, I know, Mistress Agnes has been uncharacteristically quiet of late. To be fair she has been suffering from some dreaded lurgy. You know the sort – you wonder why you are sitting around doing nothing, go to do something involving minor exertion, like walking across a room and realise just why you have been semi-comatose for a fortnight.

Despite this she has dragged herself off her sick bed to fulfil some speaking engagements, probably being generous with her germs at the same time. Pre-lurgy was the excitement presenting to the conference of the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa. Sadly I was not actually in Ottawa – maybe next year. I was delivering via Skype, a first for me and them. There were all sorts of minor panics about the technology. What if my laptop made its intermittent 747 about to take off noise, as it often does? Then there were the forecast thunderstorms – what if there’s a power cut? In the end all went well, although it was disconcerting not to be able to see my audience as I was screen sharing my presentation. Fortunately, when I switched back to normal view, the audience were all still there and awake!

Less luck with technology on other fronts though. What on earth possessed me to think that I could host an online course via Google+. I usually consider myself to be reasonably tech savvy but I am quite a baby at Google+. Firstly there were the preliminary ‘test the technology’ sessions with potential students, which, with a bit of effort, were successful. In the end, thanks to kind people who actually know what they are doing, most of us managed to be in the right place at the right time. Just as I felt I was getting to grips with this, I inadvertently deleted my Google+ account. Let me explain. I had a Google+ account that I used and another that I barely remember setting up, which I did not. It seemed sensible to remove the redundant account. Easy! A bit too easy. So easy in fact that I deleted the active account as well. You’d think there’d be one of those nanny state ‘Do you really want to do this?’ messages wouldn’t you? Not so. Normally I am irritated by such messages but just when I could have done with one it was conspicuous by its absence.

Received wisdom suggested that I should be able to retrieve a deleted account within five days and indeed the old account was still visible when you searched, even though I couldn’t access it as the owner. I followed every possible permutation of instructions on the absolutely no help at all pages to no avail. In the end I gave up and started a new account. So if we were in contact on Google+ you will find a new Janet Few has added you to her circles. At the moment the new Janet Few is contact less so please take pity on her and add her back. You will know you have the right one as Mistress Agnes is her avatar.

Whilst on the subject of media, I was involved in some more seventeenth century filming yesterday. It is always a tad incongruous for Mistress Agnes to be televised and I think her role will be minimal to non existent but it was fun as ever and you will see Master Christopher, even if Mistress A is consigned to the cutting room floor. We were working with the internet channel SW1tv and the programme, which is part of a series called ‘Things that go Bump in the Night’, should be online in December. Talking of things that go bump. Imagine Mistress Agnes’ surprise when she went to inspect her seventeenth century abode, prior to filming, only to find that a local badger had adopted our set as his/her sett. Whilst the hovel had been unoccupied over the last few weeks the badger had burrowed in under the wall and made itself at home. Despite living in the country, this was my first encounter with a live badger so I was excited as well as surprised. Let’s just say said hovel now replicates the smells of the seventeenth century. Philip Fulford and Dorcas Fulford (1)

The other excitement is that the Buckland Brewer History Group is now the proud possessor of four glass plate photographs of mid-nineteenth century residents of our place. We are hugely grateful to the person who rescued these from ebay, where they were way beyond our budget and donated them to us.


Is the Twentieth Century History?

The obvious answer is ‘of course it is’; yesterday is already history. Certainly anyone who knows anything about current UK secondary school history teaching would be forgiven for thinking that the twentieth century is the only history. Students seem to leap from conflict to conflict – the second world war, the cold war, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Irish troubles and if they are really lucky, that dim and distant event, the first world war. For community historians, the twentieth century has an appeal because it is within living memory; oral history projects abound. Why then do family historians seem reluctant to venture further forward than the 1911 census? Some adhere to the concept that the twentieth century is somehow ‘too recent’ and therefore not worthy of investigation. Perhaps this is partly because we often already know the names of our twentieth century ancestors, without the need for research. Are some put off by the difficulties of researching in the twentieth century? Records are subject to closure, people migrate or emigrate more frequently, there are just more people. Then what do you do with any information that you might find? Plastering the names of living second cousins twice removed, whom you have never met, all over family trees is, for most, an unacceptable invasion of privacy.

So do we just go back to the comfort of the nineteenth century and beyond? No; your twentieth century ancestors are every bit as much part of your family tree. Perhaps begin with your direct ancestors who are no longer living. Try this exercise:- Make a list of all parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and so on, who were alive between 1900 and 1940 but who have since died. If they were born during this period, make a note of when, otherwise write their age in 1900 next to their name, so you can appreciate their life stage at the time. You will probably be surprised by how many names are on this list. If you have photographs of any of these ancestors you may like to create a montage, otherwise keep the list of names handy. These are important links in your chain of ancestry. You owe it to them to find out more about their lives, their communities and what they experienced.

So here are my direct ancestors who were alive between 1900 and 1940 – no great aunts, great great uncles or cousins – just my direct line.

Cyril Albany Braund 1915

Gwendoline Catherine Smith 1925

Albany Braund 12

Clara Dawson 1858-1949 possibly taken 1886

Clara Dawson

Elizabeth Ann Hogg 14

Frederick Herbert Smith 6

Ivy Gertrude Woolgar 7

Fanny Thomasine Bishop 31

John Hogg 45

Herbert Havet Smith 34

Catherine Seear 34

Philip James Woolgar 45

Clara Dawson 42

Elizabeth Buckingham 67

Elizabeth Pearson 72

William Howe 69

Anne Stratford 66

Mary Archer Bowyer 69

Eliza Seear 77 – she only just makes it, Eliza died on 1 January 1900

Anne Balls Bulley 65

Writing that felt a little like reading the Roll of Honour on Remembrance Day. Perhaps that is how it should be. These nineteen individuals are my personal role of honour, as are all those who died before 1900. I shall be holding them in my mind as I begin my online course on Tuesday ‘Discovering Your Ancestors’ Communities in the early Twentieth Century’. I still have a couple more spaces in the ‘room’ if you would like to join in and feel you can cope with Google+.


The United Kingdom and our Ancestors

Ok, so I am almost as far away from Scotland as I could be, given that I am in the UK. Nonetheless I have taken quite an interest in the history-making Scottish independence referendum; fuelled perhaps by my recent visit to Scotland. Media of all kinds have brought this campaign to a world-wide audience and anyone who considered this issue realised that the impact of the result, whatever the result might have been, would stretch way beyond Scotland itself.

Of course being an historian, especially one with an interest in the seventeenth century, I can’t help wondering how the bringing together of England and Scotland might have affected our ancestors. It was of course a two stage process. The accession of James I/VI in 1603 created the Union of the Crowns of England and Scotland; from then on we shared a monarch, almost by default. On that occasion it was England who were reluctant for their parliament to be subsumed in that of Scotland, rather than vice versa. Had, as King James no doubt expected, the union of the crowns been also an immediate union of parliaments, would Edinburgh rather than London have been the seat of the united government?

Despite abortive attempts during the seventeenth century (1606, 1610, 1667 after the Restoration and 1689 under William and Mary), it was to be a century down the line before the parliaments of the two countries were united. An Act for a Union of the Two Kingdoms of England and Scotland was finally passed in 1706 and came into effect on 1 May the following year. This was in part prompted by the potential constitutional crisis that was on the horizon, as a less then healthy Queen Anne, who had singularly failed to provide an unequivocal heir, neared the end of her life. In 1706 the decision was in the hands of a few. In 2014 a huge majority of the population of Scotland, male and female, of all income brackets had their say.

113 4 August 2014 Wallace Monument from Stirling Castle

View of the monument to William Wallace, hero of an earlier attempt at Scottish independence

I think of the ancestors that I can name, who would have been alive at the time. A young John Braund, living in Devon (wish I knew where). His future wife Florence (I am not even sure of her surname). The Madicks and the Elfords, also of Devon and the Oughs of Cornwall. How would the new regime have affected them? Well I strongly suspect that they were blissfully unaware of what was going on. It may have been days before they were aware of a change of monarch, let alone a change of regime. Would the Act of Union eventually have been announced from the pulpit or on a news sheet? John Braund and Peter Elford may have been able to read, the latter was an overseer of the poor but I think it is unlikely that they had much understanding of the workings of parliament, united or otherwise. I doubt that any of my ancestors had the vote until 1832 at the earliest.

I do also have ancestors from Northumberland. I don’t know the names of those who lived there in the seventeenth and early eighteenth century but they are every bit as much my ancestors as those who I can name. I feel that this may have had more of an impact on their lives. To me, putting our ancestors in the context of the national events of their time is an integral part of being a family historian. So how did the Union of the Crowns or Parliaments effect my ancestors? I don’t know but it is right that those questions should be asked.


The Last Word on Rockstars or Mistress Agnes is Stunned into Silence (a rare occurrence)

I never win anything, not even the fete raffle. Well I did come third in a hurdles race when I was eleven but that was only because the person in front of me didn’t realise that you had to carry on running after you cleared the last hurdle. So imagine my amazement when I found out that I was the gold medal awardee for Britain in the recent Genealogical Rockstars poll, organised by John Reid of Anglo-Celtic Connections. Humbled, overawed, excited and a million other emotions. Now I guess comes the acceptance speech, where I thank my family, my agent and my cat. I would like to thank my family who have endured my historical obsessions since I took this up seriously 37 years ago – I was of course barely out of them pram at the time. I didn’t have an agent but people did champion my cause, so thank you too. And the cat? Well the cat has gone to the great cats’ home in the sky. Most of all I was truly moved by all the lovely comments from those who told me that they would be voting for me. I genuinely had no idea that my historical net had stretched so wide or had such an impact. When I look at the other award winners and nominees I know I am in illustrious company. They include people whose presentations I have listened to, hanging on every word; people whose blogs are thought provoking; people who write ‘must have’ books. An awesome line up.

GoldNow I have to live up to the accolade. So what do rock stars do? I am not about to develop drink or drug habits, to lead a bizarre personal life or to start smashing up hotel rooms, as some of the musical equivalents are prone to do. I guess I just carry on doing what I have always done, trying to enthuse others with a love of history in its many forms. So this week I have a meeting of the parish history group. I will be taking the final (surely it really is final this time) pictures of local gravestones. I will be preparing an online one-place studies course and getting ready to address the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottowa, sadly not in person but via Skype, Then there is the next topic in the memories of 1946-1969 to tackle, there are family and local history queries to answer – as I have said before, so much history, so little time.


Of Diaries, Domestic Issues and a little about Rock Stars

DSCF1701I am still playing catch up after my summer away, hence the lack of blog posts. Things have been taking off on the local history front and it has been very satisfying to unite more than one set of distant relatives who have origins in my village. I also now have on loan, just over there, a diary written by a farmer from my parish between 1830 and 1864. I am hugely grateful to the owner for entrusting me, a complete stranger, with such a treasure. I can’t wait to examine it in more detail. There are one line entries for each day commenting on farming duties, the weather, local funeral, emigrations and chapel activities. Some girls like diamonds, me I would chose this over jewels any day. Happy smiley one-place studier here! Similarly, yesterday my inbox offered me two invitations for Saturday, one a free pampering day at the local outlet village and two, a change to survey a local hill fort – no contest!

The society for one-place studies has been shortlisted for a grant to develop a community mapping project and we would be really grateful for your votes. More details can be found here and voting takes place via this link.

While you have your voting fingers at the ready, there are still twenty four hours or so in which to vote for your favourite genealogical rockstars. This is an annual opportunity to acknowledge those from the English speaking genealogical world whom you think deserve recognition. I was amazed and flattered to find my name included as one of 150 nominees who were considered worthy of consideration. There are some seriously big names on there, so I am humbled to be listed in the same breath as some of these genealogical heavyweights; do vote for your favourites. First of course you have to decide what you think warrants rock-stardom, there are some hints on the voting instructions. Is it someone who delivers inspiring, entertaining and informative presentations? Someone who works tirelessly and often inconspicuously, to further the cause of family history? Maybe your rockstar has written a ‘must have’ book or maintains an informative web-presence. Often more than one of these criteria will apply. I voted for those who I feel help to enthuse others about matters historical. It is all quite light-hearted, at least as far as I am concerned but it is a chance to show your support for anyone who you think has made a noteworthy contributing to the genealogical world over the past year.

Now to matters domestic. There have been some strange household incidents lately. Firstly a new item of furniture is to be ‘delivered to my kerbside’. ‘Good luck with that one’ I thought – living where I do behind another house and up a footpath, I do not have a kerbside. Then there was trying to track down the dongle that was, according to the instruction ‘supplied’ with the not yet smart enabled TV. The conversation went something like:-

Representative of a well known electrical retailer: ‘we don’t supply those’

Us: ‘but it says ‘insert dongle open bracket, supplied, close bracket’ in the instructions’.

Representative of a well known electrical retailer ‘but we don’t supply them. You will have to pop into your local store’

All very well representative of a well known electrical retailer but ‘popping’ involves a 32 mile round trip. Still not resolved this one.

Then there are the spam emails that have been arriving at a local history archive alias that re routes to me. Am I gullible enough to think that a local history archive will have purchased nine tickets to see Peter Pan in Bournemouth?



What Happened Next or Never Rely on the Internal Combustion Engine

Will we or won’t we get our car back today? Finding out is an effort in itself as there is no phone signal for ten miles and we have to resort to using the telephone box for which the minimum charge per call is 60p. I am sure it was 2d last time I used one. At 11.00 we are to ring back at 3.30. We decide to be optimistic, pack up the van ready to hitch up and start to head for Skye in the courtesy car, intended to ring as soon as we have signal and turning round if our car is not finished. So we head over the bridge to Skye for the third and in this case unscheduled, time. We top the courtesy car up with petrol. Strangely, the more petrol we put in, the lower the petrol gauge seems to go. Confident that we must have returned the contents of the tank to the required level, notwithstanding what the gauge suggests, we seek an opportunity to contact the garage. Unfortunately phone signal and potential passing places do not coincide. As soon as we spot a signal indicating bar appearing on the phone screen we pull in to a turning, as the road is too narrow just to pull up. Immediately we do so the bar flickers and disappears. This happens several times before finally signal and parking opportunity coincide and we are told we can collect the car in an hour and a half’s time, at 5.30. At this point we realise that we really should have eaten our main meal in the middle of the day. We use the spare time before car collection to acquire some very good fish and chips from Portree harbour, highly recommended. It is raining, what a surprise, so we have to eat these in the car. This means that we have to continue our journey with all the windows open in an attempt to alleviate the smell of fish and chips.

We find the garage and there is our beloved car minus its wheels. Correction, it is Chris’ car. When I see the size of the repair bill it is most definitely Chris’ car. Wheels affixed, we set off, hoping to get to Granton-on-Spey tonight, some 150 miles away from the garage on Skye. We make good time back across Skye to the caravan site. Van attached and we feel our holiday is back on track. Five miles up the road and the car begins to sound like a jumbo jet, there is also a rather alarming smell of burning paint. Admitting defeat we limp back to the site we have just vacated and settle in for the night.

The next day we return to the phone box for another call to the recovery services. Whatever is wrong seems unrelated to the previous problem and we are told the car will get us home. Ok, I’ll admit, there was no mention of when. I am not clear on the nature of the problem in technical terms – something to do with thrusts or turbos. In practical terms our top speed is 50mph and that’s going downhill, uphill is a very noisy 30mph. This is the highlands of Scotland. The clue is probably in ‘high’; there are a lot of hills. Chris is convinced that it is ‘all downhill’ on the way home; I am sceptical. We have 642 miles to go and Bank Holiday traffic is looming, deep joy.

We begin the journey home as soon as we can, at midday. The weather is that typical Scottish combination of beautiful sunshine one minute and rain the next, although this is probably the best weather we’ve seen for a fortnight – inevitable really. We nurse the car southward, including along past Loch Lomond on a route that we have not traversed previously. After 150 miles and 4½ hours of annoying the traffic behind us we reach our first dual carriageway. We arrive in Glasgow for rush hour. Signs warn us that progress will be slow for seven miles, or in our case four hundred and seventy seven miles. Our not recently updated satnav doesn’t recognise this bit of road. We decide to ignore her instruction to ‘turn around where possible’ in the middle of the M74. We finally give up at Carlisle but at least we are back in England and the site has a television signal so we can watch Who Do You Think You Are?

An early start the next day as we still have 375 miles to go and the sooner we reach the south west peninsula the more likely we are to miss the worst of the weekend get-away traffic. The weather is glorious – no comment. Now we have motorway we can manage a steady 50mph, when the road works, traffic jams and accidents allow. On spotting a caravan that has come adrift from its towing vehicle on the M6, fortunately it seems without injuries, we realise that we could be worse off. In fact looking at the traffic heading north, which is solid from Manchester to Tewkesbury, we could be a great deal worse off. Getting through Bristol, eight hours in to our journey and during the rush hour build up is time consuming. Beyond Bristol things improve for us but there are clearly still serious north bound delays. At last we are thirty miles from home and the end is in sight when we see the dreaded ‘road closed due to accident diversions are in place’. Said diversion was up a narrow (narrowish – our caravan passed another going in the opposite direction without mishap) road and our convoy is being led by someone who has clearly never driven on anything more slender than a motorway. Their response to being on a road with only four foot on either side of their vehicle is to drive at twenty miles an hour; at least we are no longer getting the blame for impeding the flow of traffic. This diversion puts another hour on what has already been a ten hour journey. I reflect that, in the past, ten hours to travel the length of England, without getting wet or saddle sore, would have seemed like a dream; sadly though I have twenty first century expectations. At least I am compensated for the debacle and missing what promised to be some of the ‘best bits’ of the holiday by the fact that half my family are waiting to greet me at home. I have gate crashed their time in Devon but at least I can enjoy being a Granny.


Wester Ross

Another wet and windy day in the van waiting for the garage to not mend our car. We have an amended plan here on in but it depends on our car being available the day after tomorrow and there are no guarantees. Ah well, I do manage to make progress with the Braund Society Journal whilst stuck in the van.

The next day we decide we really should do something. First, in to Kyle of Lochalsh to find a cash point and get some food. There is a very tiny general store and meat comes from the butcher’s next door. We show ourselves up by being unsure of the weight of the mince that we require. I hate to admit that we normally grab pre-packaged mince in a plastic box that looks the right sort of amount, without being aware of its weight. In this area there are plenty of road signs exhorting us to drive on the left. This of course is for roads that have space for two vehicles to pass and given the number of European tourists, may well be necessary.232 19 August 2014 Wester Ross

We head north across the breathtaking countryside that is Wester Ross. We have chosen a destination somewhat at random and are aiming for Torridon Countryside Centre. The weather is what we have come to expect of Scotland, raining one minute and sunny the next. Along the Wester Ross Coastal Route we encounter a sign to Stromferry. Helpfully, the sign warns that there isn’t actually a ferry at all at this location. We have seen many abandoned and ruined crofts, either a relict of the ‘clearances’ or signs of where a more recent crofter has found themselves unequal to the demands of life in the remote highlands.244 19 August 2014 Deer

On arrival at the Countryside Centre, we are able to watch a short film about the flora and fauna of the area. Accompanied by an evocative smell of pine, we walk down to the small deer museum and park, where we can see captive Red Deer. There are meadow pipets and curlew and as ever, rowan trees (Mountain Ash) full of berries. As the year progresses and we get further north, the Rosebay Willow Herb that has been prolific since the Lake District is finishing and the heather is becoming more noticeable.

We take a slightly longer way home to avoid retracing the whole of our route. Firstly, along Glen Torridon, alongside the towering Beinn Eighe range, then through Glen Docherty and Glen Carron. Here we re-encounter the convoy of Italian camper vans that we first met at Killin. Here also our first close up view of a wild, full grown, male red deer, unfortunately not in a position where we could take a photograph.

Our car is still being described as ‘a work in progress’, which is less than helpful and may mean that the revised plans require further revisions.