Well, what a busy week it has been. Firstly, preparing my presentations for the Guild of One-Name Studies conference and Who Do You Think You Are? Live. I have come across some great websites whilst working on the former, which is entitled Ship to Shore: sources for researching coastal communities and their inhabitants but no spoilers. For those who aren’t at the conference, all will be revealed next week. Then the really exciting news that I have been allocated an additional presentation slot at Who Do You Think You Are? Live. So at 2.15pm on Thursday 6 April I shall be in the Education Zone talking about Give me a child until they are seven: young children and family history. This is a subject that is very dear to my heart and Edward has been helping me with some of the slides. This is a free, no need to book session but it hasn’t been publicised so please spread the word. It is such an important subject and I don’t want an audience of one. I have the large hall to fill for my second session at 3.15pm The Ones that got Away: tracing elusive English ancestors. There are still some spaces for that one, says she, shamelessly seeking support. Most importantly, if you are there, do come and say hello. I shall be there on all three days.
Then I’ve been writing an article for The In-depth Genealogist about the history of prostitution, well the column is about working women. It has made my internet search history look a bit dodgy. I have learned the hard way that it is best to go for ‘Prostitution in Victorian times’, rather than ‘Victorian Prostitution’. I could but won’t, give you some interesting information about shady goings on in Victoria Australia and Victoria Canada. I managed to restrain myself before searching for ‘copyright free images of prostitutes’.
Next, I attended the excellent book launch event for Liz Shakespeare’s Postman Poet and the accompanying CD by Nick and Becki (with a small contribution from a fisherman of my acquaintance). It was a brilliant evening and I have already started the log-awaited book. I even got VIP treatment and an honourable mention on the strength of providing my kitchen.
Then it was off to the ENT department for the next instalment in what has now become the ‘what Janet hasn’t got wrong with her’ saga. This time it was to determine why my voice periodically sound like a frog on steroids (one drug that has not yet been suggested). Turns out my knowledge of anatomy is more rudimentary than I thought. In order to look at my voice-box, I had a camera shoved up my nose. This is a strange sensation and not to be tried at home, particularly not if you use a Canon G7X. Allegedly all looked fine and the verdict was that I seem to have somehow learned to talk using the wrong muscles (but weirdly not all the time). Nope, I don’t understand it either. I am now being sent for speech therapy. I am viewing this as Continuing Professional Development and wondering if the travel costs to the hospital are tax deductable.
On the good news front, copies of Putting your Ancestors in their Place: a guide to one place studies are now in short supply. It must be the recent publicity. At least, I think this is good news. I hadn’t really factored working on a revised edition in to the diary. Then even more excitement as I receive a letter to say that an article that I wrote so long ago that I barely remember has been short listed for a British Association for Local History Award. I feel like I’ve been nominated for, if not quite an Oscar, at least a Brit Award. So The Impact of the Bible Christians in Rural North-West Devon: a force for unity or division? must have gone down well. Devon History Society is well represented as another article in the same edition of their journal was also nominated. There are usually about eight nominees chosen from hundreds of local history articles. Now I am just working out if I can possibly get to London to collect the certificate that all nominees are awarded. Fortunately I don’t think I need to prepare a speech that thanks my agent, my family and my dog and makes telling comments about the current political situation.
Before anyone suggests that I am not wearing well, or wishes me Many Happy Returns (do people still say that?), I am, sadly, not celebrating my 40th birthday. This week I enter my fifth decade of serious family history research. It was March 1977 when I took myself off, alone, to Cornwall to visit my father’s ancestral village for the first time. I arrived by public transport at a B & B some six miles away. All I can remember about this was that the proprietor chatted incessantly about her late husband’s role with the electricity board. The next day was Sunday. Said small ancestral village not being overly well blessed with Sunday public transport links (there weren’t any) I decided I would walk. I am still of the opinion that Cornish miles are longer than those elsewhere. I plucked up courage to enter the local pub (think lone female, 1977, rural pub) and ask if there was anyone of my surname living locally. It turned out that half the village were related and I was ‘adopted’ by members of the family instantly. They even had a car to take me back to the B & B.
Forty years on and the family history world has changed beyond recognition, not always for the better. The hobby/obsession has shaped my leisure time, my friendships, my working and academic life. I am still of the opinion that an understanding of history is crucial to our well-being, both personally and as a nation, as a world. Only this week a ‘think tank’ (who no doubt were paid a small fortune to work this out) suggested that schools should teach children to recognise fake news. Schools have been doing this for centuries. The subject dear think tank is called history. It teaches the ability to evaluate sources, to recognise the role of propaganda, to think critically – or at least it should. The very personal brand of history that is family or community history, gives us a sense of self, a sense of place. ‘Lone Tester’ has just posted a very interesting blog entitled ‘Are you a Genealogist or a Family Historian?’ I have long-since realised that ‘genealogist’ and ‘family historian’ have different meanings in different parts of the globe and perhaps the way in which the terms are understood also varies according to how long an individual has been researching. To me, genealogy is the basic family tree and family history is the wonderful contextual background, setting those individuals on that family tree into their time and place.
Whilst on the subject of putting our ancestors in their place, I was pleased to see what a great job Family Tree Magazine made of my article on One-Place Studies in their latest issue – than you Family Tree Magazine.
…. and the latest in the ‘what does Janet not have wrong with her?’ saga – having been x-rayed last week, still no idea. Am I alone in thinking it ironic that I was greeted by the radiographer with ‘Hello, are you all right?’ I was tempted to reply ‘Yes, I’m in full health, I am just sitting around waiting to get zapped with radiation for the fun of the thing’.
It has been a week of giving and preparing presentations and there are two more forays into the seventeenth century still to come. It began last Saturday, with a webinar for the Surname Society on tracing emigrants and immigrants, which, apart from the inability of participants to ask questions, appeared to be hitch free. Thanks to the organisers, this will be available on the Legacy platform before too long. Then final preparations for my session on coastal communities ready for The Guild of One-Name Studies’ conference. A certain degree of smugness because my session for Who Do You Think You Are? Live on finding elusive ancestors is already done. So that I am not elusive, I will tell you that will find me on the Thursday, April 6th, at 3.00pm. You can book for this one you know – I am in the big hall, I don’t want to have to resort to rent a crowd! Seriously, some sessions are selling out, so don’t hesitate to book for your favourites.
I have had the opportunity to put my elusive ancestor finding techniques into practice this week, whilst helping a friend. I really enjoy going back to the early stages of a research journey. Part of this hunt involved a possible change of surname and an individual, with a rather too common surname, who grew up in care but find them we did. One satisfied customer.
I have done some #Daisy writing, honestly, I really have. Whisper it quietly, one chapter even got finished. For reasons best known to myself I decided that I wanted to insert an anchor symbol into the text. This was not as easy as I feel it should have been and in the process of attempting to use the ‘special characters’ function, my screen turned on its side. Not wishing to adopt a permanent crick in the neck, I had to work out how to undo whatever I had just done. Let’s just say it took a while and at one point I was standing on my head but normality has returned to the screen of my laptop. The publicity flyers have arrived to advertise our Writers in a Cabin weekend. Do come and say hello. If you want to chat to a particular one of us, watch out on individual writers’ websites for when they are ‘on duty’, as there isn’t space for us all to be there all weekend.
The lottery that is good health once you reach a certain age has handed me a few lemons lately. Whilst I am busy making lemonade, it has meant that various appointments with medical personnel have been required. To make sense of this story you need to know that it is a cardio-thoracic issue (probably) – I watch Holby City, I can do technical terms. Two letters arrived on my doormat, with different phone numbers to ring for appointments 1. Cardiology 2 Diagnostics (a scan think I). It would be just too simple for the two things to be on the same day. Cardiology booked no problem. I ring Diagnostics ‘Where would you like to go for your hearing test?’ I just restrained myself from saying ‘Pardon?’ Last I heard that was the one bit of me that was still working! Turns out it was a clerical error.
On International Women’s Day it seems appropriate to have a female themed post. As the mother of daughters and the grandmother of a granddaughter (and two super-cool grandsons who must not be left out), I am ever mindful of the maternal line. I have already outlined who these women are in a post I wrote to celebrate the arrival of the newest generation. Since then I have confirmed two earlier generations, so we now have an unbroken line of eleven generations of women, stretching back to the early eighteenth century. What were they like these women? What sort of life did 5 x great grandmother, Ann Fitch née Palmer lead? She married at seventeen and then spent the next thirty years producing twelve children. Her daughter Elizabeth Oliver lived to be ninety five, no mean feat. I am still hoping that I may be able to extend the direct maternal line further back into the shadowy past of rural Essex. Or perhaps my autosomal DNA will highlight fellow descendants of some of the earlier generations. In the the absence of much biographical detail for most of these women I content myself with finding out out the social history of their time. So I know what sort of clothes they probably wore, something of their household routine, how they might of cooked food for the family and the homes that they may have inhabited. Of course, I would love to know more, to now what they looked like, whether I would have liked them, if I have inherited any of their characteristics but it has to be a ‘glass half full’ scenario and I am thankful that at least know their names and I can commemorate their existence.
My general interest in women’s history, led me to write my Ladies First Column for The In-Depth Genealogists’ Going In-depth Magazine. This column investigates the working lives of our female ancestors, covering both paid employment and household tasks. It is often easier to research the occupations of the men in our families, so I enjoy redressing the balance and putting the ladies first.
Today, intrepid members of our Authors in a Café group ventured out of their usual haunt to combat fog, drizzle and the steep street of Bucks Mills, in order to recce the venue for our up-coming Writers in Residence weekend. We are all very enthusiastic about the inspirational setting, if less enthusiastic about the ‘rest room’ facilities, or lack of the same. So if you enjoy chatting about books and writing and want to experience the spectacular North Devon coast, do drop in at The Cabin, Bucks Mills on 29 April, 30 April or 1 May between 10.00am and 4.00pm. Who knows which of our merry band of seven you will encounter (possibly with their legs crossed)? My ‘shift’ is the morning of Monday May 1; come and say hello, copies of all our books will be available for purchase.
The last couple of weeks have seen us on our travels again. Sandwiched between seventeenth century presentations to Sheffield and District Family History Society and at the Society of Genealogists were days in the weird and wonderful world of the toddler. I now know my gup-x from my gup-d (great TV series called Octonauts – try it) and my Lightening McQueen from Chick Hicks (Cars). If this makes it sound as if my descendants spend their time in front of a screen, far from it. I have built railway layouts, completed jigsaws and failed spectacularly to create a workable marble run. I have sung and signed. Make that watching admiringly whilst others sung and signed. I didn’t know the signs and really no one wants to hear me singing, even very quietly. I was placed in sole charge twice. This was greeted with varying degrees of equanimity, in direct proportion to the age of the child who was entrusted to my care.
The journey home was a challenge, with four hours at a standstill on the motorway. There are obvious disadvantages to being up the M11 without a ‘rest room’ or even a usable hedge. We missed the opportunity to make our fortunes by renting out our caravan toilet and its presence meant that we were in less of a dilemma than most but it made for a long day. The following day, we were off again to the foreign territory that is south Devon. We approached Axminster with confidence, having programmed the street name in to the sat-nav. It can be difficult to time journeys through the Devon countryside with much accuracy so we often arrive early. Ok, so we often arrive very early. This time, with half a mile to go, we could see that we had got it just right. We were aiming for Silver Street. We turned off the main road rather sooner than expected and in increasing darkness, signs of habitation receded and the road got narrower; that would be much narrower. Even given that we were in the Nissan Micra and not towing a caravan, it was becoming a bit of a squeeze. The likelihood of there being a nearby handy heritage centre up this track seemed remote. We turned around, no mean feat and enquired at a local garage. The girl serving appeared to be of an age to have just left primary school and had imperfect English but told us reassuringly that she knew where Axminster was. Next was the local pub where the helpful landlady sought out the road we required using her phone. The fisherman of my acquaintance has a smart phone, could we not have tried this? Let’s just say that the phone might be smart ……….
For some reason best known to our sat-nav it had no knowledge of Silver Street, Axminster and was under the impression that we really needed to be in Silver Street in Kilmington, a village a couple of miles away. In the end I managed to phone my hosts for advice and we arrived just in time. This makes the presentations that I do from the comfort of my own home seem positively stress free. Apart from the latest run through of my Pharos ‘Writing and Telling Your Family History’ course that has just begun, I have an online session coming up next week for The Surname Society. Hurrah, no traffic hold-ups or sat-nav malfunctions, just the vagaries of the internet connection to be worried about.