January Whirlwinds of the Historical and Domestic kind, with thoughts on the Genealogy ‘Do Over’

I am well aware that I have left my (devoted?) readership in a state of limbo lately. It has been that hectic post-festivities period when one has to do four weeks’ work in two in order to catch up. Add to this the after effects of the lurgy, the volume of things that have to be returned to their rightful places and the mountain of washing that are the after effects of visitors and blog writing has slipped down the ‘to do’ pile. On the subject of washing, my family administered a couple of strategic kicks to the ailing washing machine and it appears to have recovered.

Then there was the incident of the power cut. Given that the week after Christmas saw temperatures drop, I opted to abandon the idea of sleeping in the conservatory, whilst my visitors appropriated my bedroom, in favour of the settee in the living room. Granted this is a two-seater settee, which created problems of its own but it was worth it to have all the family together. The day of our ‘Christmas’ dinner there was a power cut. When it was not restored after a few minutes, anxious to have power in order to cook said dinner, I toured my near neighbours and ascertained that it was only me who was without electricity. It turns out that the fuse had tripped, we re-set it, problem solved. With two small persons needing attention in the middle of the night my descendants left lights on, which is how we knew that the supply tripped out again about midnight. I heard one of my guests come downstairs to reset this but shortly after, it tripped again. I went to investigate and after whispered conversations with those who were awake and ensuring that all who needed a light source had a torch (on their mobile phones – who knew?) we decided it was safest to leave it off until morning. By now wide awake, I was staring into space when I noticed a strange flash in the region of a wall-light. Said wall light had caused problems when my fuse box had been upgraded during the spring’s building works, was it about to burst into flames? I waited. It flashed again. Despite all logic telling me the electric supply was off and the house could not be about to catch fire, I did start mentally running through what I would save, after the family of course. After what seemed like an hour of rising panic, I heard a small person wake up and went to consult with the attending parent. Martha agreed that yes there was an intermittent flash and no it wasn’t a light flashing outside and then went back to bed. The flashing continued, By this time it was 5am and I was in a real panic so I sent for reinforcements. Chris, bless him, drove out from Bideford and diagnosed the problem. It seems carbon monoxide detectors flash to show you they are working (another fact that was new to me). Mine was on a table below the metal wall light, which was reflecting the flash. We did also identify the problem with the fuses, which were being tripped by a heater, set to come on in the conservatory when the temperature was very low. It had been on for weeks but this was the first day it was cold enough.

History, I promised you history and there has been plenty of it. Inevitably, with a new year come resolutions. Many are participating in the ‘Genealogy do-over’, which encourages us to restart our genealogy from scratch. This has led to some interesting debates and I can certainly see the merits of revaluating. I, in the company of some others, will be jumping off this particular bandwagon, whilst supporting those who are participating. My response to Yvette Hoitink, a fellow sceptic was as follows. I have been seriously researching for 38 years (since my early twenties) and much of my research is still paper based. Without wishing to sound like a dinosaur ‘in the old days’ people learnt how to do family history in a reasonably competent manner BEFORE they began researching in any depth. Although I still have things to learn and certainly didn’t begin research as a fully competent genealogist, I learnt from the outset to organise, to cite sources and to use original records and all my students have been encouraged to do the same. In those days it was impossible to import large (and potentially inaccurate) online family trees researched by other people, so there was another pitfall avoided. Of course my trees aren’t perfect but I hope they are as good as it gets because no one has ever been added to my tree on the basis of speculation or ‘best guess’ and every fact has a source citation (in almost all cases these sources are originals not transcriptions). People are added to my trees because I have researched them myself, not because I have grafted on someone else’s Gedcom. This is not because I am some sort of genealogical paragon but because that is how things were in the late 1970s (we had very few indexes or transcriptions) and I still adopt these procedures. When the ‘do-over’ call came I was a bit shocked. As a teacher of family history for the last 30 years, I should have known that many genealogists do not regularly review their work as a matter of course but I had naively assumed that revaluating and rechecking was not the revolutionary concept that it seems to be for the do-over participants. To me, reviewing is a process that anyone who seriously wants to be considered a family historian should do as a matter of course. Equally, citing sources is just part and parcel of the hobby and not an optional extra. Periodically I take a branch of my family, update, review, look for additional material and convert paper to digital images. I have always done this as part of what I consider to be ‘good practice’, I guess I thought that this was ‘normal’. Yes, there are things I need to do and in the unlikely event that I find that elusive commodity ‘spare time’, I shall be looking again at some of my family lines this year. I have joined the ‘do-over’ community because I am interested in the debate and I think it could be a good idea for some people. I also like the concept of mutual encouragement and support and the exchange of ideas. I shall be rigorously reviewing and re-examining my reasoning for making family connections, rather than re-doing from scratch.

B6NdOmQCYAEevKRFor those who like to start a new year with a challenge I like this one.

So what does 2015 hold for me? Plenty of talks around and about, with Canadian engagements coming in, although the Canada trip is a holiday not a lecture tour. I am really grateful to Canadian friends for help with this.

The Baltic Cruise with Unlock the Past will be a highlight. I have been invited by Unlock the Past to contribute some booklets to their catalogue – one down (on causes of death) and two to go. In the process of compiling this I learnt how to index using Word. Why have I never done this before? I shall also be at Who Do You Think You Are Live? In Birmingham and Mistress Agnes may put in an appearance. I also have some courses looming, there is (just) still time to book. So if you want to organise your family history research into some sort of coherent end product on February 18th or learn how to read old documents on February 21st or join in with Discovering your Ancestors and their Communities after 1800 on 28 February get in touch.

I and my lovely volunteers, are making progress with recording our memories of the period 1946-1969. Some of us are making better progress than others! I really must get on with collating more chapters. I would love to have this in print for Christmas (did I say which Christmas?).

Exciting times on the one place studies front. I am just about to help launch a year long project to study migration at community level with the Society for One-Place Studies. Look out for our first Hang-out-on Air on the subject on 23 January. This will eventually find its way on to YouTube

Locally I have been encouraging the local WI to create a scrapbook of our community for the year 2015. This was something that WI members did fifty years ago and I have had an overwhelming response to the idea of repeating the process from today’s members. Their enthusiasm gives me a that warm fuzzy feeling that makes all the hard work worthwhile. Also enthusiastic are my band of volunteers who are researching local world war one servicemen. I’m looking forward to our first workshop next week.

A significant amount of my local history and work on emigration involved the Bible Christians who celebrate the bicentenary of the foundation this year. A valuable resource book has just been made available online.

So it will be another busy year. I hope you will be along for the ride.

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5 comments on “January Whirlwinds of the Historical and Domestic kind, with thoughts on the Genealogy ‘Do Over’

  1. Mary Ibbotson says:

    Oh, thank you, Janet! I have been wondering what our WI might do for our centenary year – never mind 2015, we were founded in 1917, so it’s coming up fast. The scrapbook for the village would be a great idea….!

  2. Tessa Keough says:

    Sounds like a big year Janet! And I completely understand your comments about the Genealogy Do-Over. I wrote a post about it as well. These projects are a great idea to get people thinking and about (or rethinking) their process and/or workflow. Hopefully everyone has focused on accuracy, sources, analysis and putting their ancestors in their time and place all along. Sometimes all that technology right at a person’s fingertips spurs on the searching rather than the documenting. And many come to family history and genealogy without a history or research background – Thomas’ project is an attempt (one hopes) to give everyone that foundation that some may have missed out on or forgotten. And it is great to have others to bounce ideas off on (as long as it does not get too noisy or overwhelming. All the best with your busy year.

    • Hello Tessa
      I read your post on the do-over – I think we both have similar feelings. The ‘do-over’ participants seems to have got a bit hooked on the technology rather than the research, which is a shame but there’s a whole year to get to that. Look forward to appearing on the same bill as you in March.

  3. You’ll not be bored then! I can never understand why people don’t check facts, simply to avoid having to re-do it all – what a pain that is. Have a great 2015.

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