Local and Family History Feel-good Factors

There are some moments in the daily round of historical research that make you feel warm and fuzzy and help to make it all worth while. There have been several of these lately. Yesterday I went to our local school to present prizes to pupils who had entered a competition run by Devon Family History Society’s Acorn Club. This was one of the outcomes of Buckland Brewer History Group’s involvement with the school, helping them to investigate the role of local men in World War 1. I had forgotten to factor in Children in Need day. I was one of the only people in the room not dressed as a super hero. I am not sure that my explanation – ‘I am me on a posh day’ – sufficed.

This week I was able to provide a young person, who is not in contact with half of their family, with details of their ancestors. The reaction ‘This is the best thing that happened to me in a long time. I feel a little bit more placed in this world now I know more of my family. I haven’t stopped smiling.’ reminded me why I do this.

I have enjoyed presenting to appreciative audiences, sharing three very different strands of history. Mistress Agnes aided by Master Christopher, instructed the Bridport Group of Somerset and Dorset Family History Society in the ways of the seventeenth century. This was followed by an online one place study session and a talk about emigration from North Devon to a local U3A. Next, I shall be discussing witchcraft in Bude and then more one place studies at the Society of Genealogists.

It has been ‘Explore Archives’ week in the UK and I visited my local record office. We are now so used to records being available online that we forget the plethora of documents that are only available in repositories; repositories that are increasingly under threat. So the good news that many more Devon records have been uploaded by FindmyPast, is tempered by the realisation that this will decrease the footfall in the record office and help to provide ammunition for those seeking to close the archives. The fact that without archives and archivists documents could not be preserved, catalogued, digitised and made available online, escapes many people. More on this here.

But back to the happy stuff. The wonderful world of genealogical and local historical collaboration came to the surface recently. I have exchanged information with the one-place researcher for the Buckinghamshire village where my grandmother was born. I have been sent a newspaper report, telling me that my great grandmother won prizes at the village show in 1872. In another newspaper report, I learned of the exploits of young people in my home village. All this information was thanks to the generosity of other researchers.

Exeter Gazette 30 September 1830 Guy Fawkes football

Exeter Gazette 1830

In an effort to spread the goodwill, I have enrolled on a (thankfully very short) ‘fun’ run. Can ‘fun’ and ‘run’ be used in the same sentence? So, in aid of Children’s Hospice South West, on November 30th, I shall be dressed as Santa (yes really) ‘running’ along Bideford Quay. I am touched by those who have sponsored me so far; additional sponsors are welcome.



Visits, One Place Studies and an Inadvertent Brush with Experimental Archaeology

Just catching my breath after a hectic round of visits to far flung family and friends. First stop the Isle of Wight. Not, as intended, accompanied by Martha, Rob and Edward, as they were busy moving house. Whilst on the ferry the fire alarm sounds in a protracted manner. Nobody takes any notice. Several minutes later and still no one is taking notice, although a few meaningful glances are being exchanged. Then the announcement. We are not to be dismayed, it is a false alarm. Dismayed? Moi? I am too busy making the most of the free wifi before I drop into an internet free black hole. The frenetic few days of socialising involves a great deal of eating out. I delude myself into thinking that this is compensated for by a daily forty lengths of the caravan site small (that would be really very small) swimming pool and a couple of long walks. It turns out that this is not the case.

Regular readers (and there must be some as this site has now topped 30,000 hits) will remember the car debacle that accompanied our trip to Scotland. This time the car worked perfectly. Our fairly new-to-us caravan however performed less well. It is equipped with many gadgets. Gadgets of course are fine as long as they work. The legs descend at the flick of a key – or not as it turns out. Gale force winds are forecast. Will the caravan cope balanced only on its wheels and a car jack? A call to the manufacturer of the leg lowering equipment enables us to effect a temporary repair. My dread is that the legs will get stuck in the down position but as we leave the Isle of Wight they ascend successfully.


Blist’s Hill Draper’s Shop where I spent rather a lot of money

On to the Society for One-Place Studies’ inaugural conference in Telford. We nearly went to Tamworth instead (long story but to be fair, they both begin with T). A fascinating visit to Blist’s Hill Victorian Village. Then the conference. What a joy to meet with such enthusiasm and friendliness. I now have the honour and responsibility of chairing this organisation and I am looking forward to continuing to promote the cause of one place studies. I am very thankful for the support I’ve already received from committee members, postholders, members and like minded organisations. I also received the news that, following my first foray into appearing at a conference via a web link last month, I am to present at next year’s Ontario Genealogical Society conference.

Next stop Lincolnshire, to move a million (well maybe not quite a million) boxes and give gardening advice in between being in granny mode with Edward. The internet was not yet up and running in their new home so, each morning, I skulked in Boots’ car park to download and send emails. I have no idea what anyone monitoring the CCTV thought we were up to. And the caravan legs? Well here 75% of them worked. The trouble is that, unless the mechanism senses that all four legs are on the ground, it continues in descent mode ad infinitum. Gales have subsided so we settle for being legless for the remainder of the trip. Finally, to Cambridge to celebrate my granddaughter’s first birthday. Surely she cannot be one already.

Meanwhile in darkest Devon it turns out that we have no water; well we have water but just not in the right places. This has been discovered by my friends who have the misfortune to be looking after my house. Last time they were keyholders they encountered the deceased cat, this time there is water pouring through the hall ceiling. Well it is one way of getting out of the job in future. Bless them, they mopped up, drained the tank and turned the water off. Home then to forty eight hours without water, a real taste of living the lives of my ancestors. In the days when all water would have been collected from the village pump or well people would be used to managing with very little water. On day one I have three litres with which to wash and eat, a practical exercise in how difficult life would have been in the past. I hadn’t actually planned on conducting some experimental archaeology at this time but hey ho. Fortunately the water butt is full and its contents can be used for flushing the toilet. The key to using very little water is to reuse and you really need to do things in the right order. So minimal water is in the basin ready for washing and I start cleaning my teeth. Ah, I have neglected to work out where to spit the toothpaste out. I can’t waste the washing water so it has to be a quick trip downstairs. I’d already decided that I could wash my hair in water that I had already been used to wash my body. Fine so far. Next a brilliant idea – I can use the now cold water from my hot water bottle to rinse my hair. A hot water bottle may sound like a waste of precious water but no water equals no heating. Great idea in theory. My antiquated hot water bottle disgorges its liquid contents over my head, accompanied by quantities of bits of perished rubber – great. I did admit defeat with the washing up. In the past I would have been looking for bran and pewterwort (a plant also known as horsetails) to clean my dishes but I just pile them up and put my faith in a twenty first century plumber turning up when he said he would. Normal service is now pretty much resumed but it is a sober realisation that this is not only how our ancestors would have lived but also how people are still having to live in some parts of the world.