Home to Historical Happenings, the 1939 Register and Other Matters

It has been a sobering and thought-provoking week both internationally and personally. Not only have world events put matters into perspective but on the way home from delivering a talk to Somerset and Dorset Family History Society (always amongst my favourite audiences) we were involved in a minor car crash. It was a total accident. Chris was driving my car round a bend at about 25mph on a quiet road between Crewkerne and Taunton. A very slippery surface meant that there we were, on the wrong side of the road with an oncoming car. Result: one very squashed car, five hours in A & E, some bruising for Chris and severe seat belt related bruising for me. Ironically, I spent most of the Canadian trip being convinced that we would have a car accident. We come home to a familiar type of road, slow speeds and not a manic driver in sight and that is where it all goes wrong. The ‘what ifs’ go through your mind. ‘What if we had decided to go home via Exeter instead of Taunton?’ – we debated this and I chose Taunton. ‘What if the other car had been going faster?’ etc. etc..

Now I am supposed to rest. Although many of my days are fairly sedentary (too sedentary) I really don’t do resting, whatever that is. I joke that it was not the ideal way for Chris to get out of listening to my Leonard Cohen CD on the way home and bemoan the fact that that my favourite CD and of course my car, are now in a car graveyard somewhere near Yeovil but of course these are insignificant material possessions and the important thing, for which I am very thankful, is that we and those in the other car, are unlikely to have any lasting ill effects. As I can’t travel very far in a car until I am less bruised, or stand up much, I have had to rearrange my diary for the next week or two. This means failing to go to work due to illness for only the second time in over 30 years. Chris is currently impersonating Mistress Agnes for one of several school bookings that have come in in the last few weeks. He is not, I should make clear, wearing Mistress Agnes’ clothing, merely fulfilling her role. Seventeenth century bookings have come in thick and fast in the last few weeks and we have been in some lovely schools.

Back to my ‘normal’ life. I have spent a few mad weeks catching up since our Canadian adventure, including of course visiting the small members of the family to find that they are now less small. I have several new research clients, which is always exciting, especially as one case fits the bill as a North Devon Bible Christian emigrant to add to my collection. In my absence, my article ‘The Impact of the Bible Christians in Rural North-West Devon: a force for unity or division?’ for The Devon Historian Volume 84 (2015) has appeared in print. Shauna Hicks has also blogged her recollections of the Baltic Cruise, with some lovely comment about our presentations. These have been added to my testimonials page and that of Swords and Spindles. What an honour to have impressed one of Australia’s leading family and local historians. Thank you Shauna, we enjoyed your presentations too and are so sorry that your cruise was marred by injury.

 I can’t ignore the recent release of the 1939 Register by FindmyPast, on behalf of The National Archives. So far, I am still waiting to be impressed, although, to be fair, I haven’t ventured to the part where you actually part with money. On the subject of money, I do understand that they need to recoup their costs but I feel that subscribers could have been given a better deal. We are, they claim, paying for, amongst other things, a multitude of contextual information that is being provided. Am I alone in feeling that this expensive hand-holding is unnecessary? Those who want context (and I hope most do) are surely capable of finding it for themselves and sadly many are merely name gatherers who won’t even bother to look at this.

With one place studies in mind, I am very disappointed in the place search. As yet I have totally failed to bring up a rural area. It may well be possible but it certainly isn’t intuitive. I did find my grandparents’ road as part of an attempt to work out what they had been mis-transcribed as (surely you can’t do much wrong with Smith?). Unfortunately the road, which I did find, had over 600 houses and they were not in full numerical order. Odds and evens I could cope with but these were in chunks of random odds and evens and I lost the will to look through 25 pages to find number 159.

As for the 98.5% transcription accuracy claim, I think my family must all be in the other 1.5%. Out of ten searches only two were apparently problem free. Three were not found at all, despite imaginative searching, one of these was probably due to a recent death. One forename was mis-transcribed and the birth year was incorrect (although that may not be transcriber error), two had no middle initial but may not have provided one, one of these also had an incorrect birth year. Two are almost certainly redacted entries but both have very unusual names and died in the district in which they were born before the key year of 1991. In any case, one was born before 1915 as well. None of those who I located could be found by searching under their date of birth – I have the birth certificates – they can’t all be wrong. So, so far then, ‘could do better’. Now thoughts are turning to the Christmas, season. Do check out my friend’s wonderful cards. Some people are so creative and talented.

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