The Midnight Adventures of an Historian. Latest DNA news and the contents of my second advent box are revealed

You may remember that, last year, I inadvertently applied to present webinars for Ontario Genealogy Society and failed to correctly assess the impact of the time difference. This saw me – yes, the me who is normally asleep by 10pm and never sees midnight, even on New Year’s Eve, presenting to a Canadian audience beginning at what was midnight my time. Last night I got to do this again. This time, not only was it midnight but the temperatures outside were doing a good job of replicating those experienced by my audience. In order to get the maximum bandwidth I am not in my cosy wood-burner heated living room, nor still in my relatively balmy bedroom but in the arctic spare bedroom. I suppose the upside of this was that the temperature helped to keep me awake. My session on historic causes of death seemed to go well – if you can judge how well you are doing when you can neither hear nor see your audience. At any rate, there were plenty of questions and some lovely comments at the end. In a peculiar brand of masochism I have agreed to present a webinar for next year’s series too!

Yesterday I posted my DNA kit. Thanks to a helpful suggestion, I opted for ‘genealogy kit’ on the customs form. It turns out, had I listened to the instructional video, that would have made a similar suggestion. Instructional video? I thought I had done well getting someone else to check the written instructions. I had to persuade the young man in our Greendalesque mobile post van that I actually needed a customs form. ‘It is quite small you won’t need one’. Really? No way was I having my DNA end up on one of those border force TV programmes, so I insisted on having a form, which he struggled to locate. Perhaps that was why he had suggested not bothering.

51amm97hjtl-_sy344_bo1204203200_The historical novels out of my advent box today are the books of my friend, local author Liz Shakespeare. Liz writes evocative stories set in Victorian North Devon. These take their inspiration from real characters and are meticulously researched. Fever: a story from a Devon churchyard recounts the anguish of the families in my neighbouring parish of Littleham, as the community is overwhelmed by an epidemic. A gripping story and plenty of social historical context, with a health history aspect that appeals to my interests. Another novel that recreates the era and the locality in striking detail is The Turning of the Tide, which is set in Clovelly and Bideford. It follows the life of Selina Burman who is rescued from the workhouse by a local doctor with an unusually modern outlook. Liz has also written a beautiful set of short stories All Around the Year, inspired by the Devon landscape. Her oral history of Littleham The Memory be Green was garnered whilst she had the opportunity to speak to those who remembered the early years of the twentieth century in her home parish. Not only is this a fascinating account but it could be replicated in other communities. Liz is currently taking pre-publication orders for her forthcoming novel The Postman Poet. This tells the story of Edward Capern, who walked from Bideford to Buckland Brewer on his daily round, resting in my house before making the return journey and penning poetry whilst he did so. My account of Liz’s re-enactment of Capern’s journey can be found here.


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