Travels with a 3½ year old Day 5 Donkeys, Garlic and what came after

I am having to play a serious game of catch up with my blog posting. We return to the adventures with a 3½ year old to report on a trip to a donkey sanctuary, which was full of, needless to say, donkeys. I was clearly expected to know the names of every donkey present. This was followed by negotiating a ridiculous diversion in order to purchase many varieties of garlic at a garlic farm. You’d be amazed at what can be combined with garlic, with varying degrees of success: ice cream, chocolate and beer to name but three.

Day 6 found us minus the 3½ year old, who had departed for home. We fought the remnants of tropical storm Brian in the most exposed spot on the island. This sadly saw the demise of my Niagara Falls red plastic poncho, as it was whipped to shreds by the gale. I suppose I had done well to preserve it for two years.

Morian HelmetI finally reacquainted myself with my house for a couple of days. During which time I viewed some very interesting local history documents, chatted to my Writing and Telling your Family History students for the first time and gave a talk to a group of local metal detectorists (as opposed to a group of metal detectors – which is what I wrote originally – that would just be weird). We were billed to give our normal seventeenth century social history talk but decided to change the focus to concentrate on metal objects. This turned out to have more scope than you would think. We spoke of armour, of weaponry, of instruments surgical and of torture (fine line between the two anyway). We had cutlery, cooking pots, plates and mugs to allow us the opportunity to talk of the food of the time. All in all an interesting slant on what we do.

There was also the incident with the village guy (as in Fawkes) competition but I think I will save that until I have recovered from visiting a not yet 2 and a very nearly 4 year old and it is the appropriate day.

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Reflections on being a (Rockstar) Genealogist – a Family Historian having Fun

Rock Star Genealogist Gold 2017.‘Is being a Rockstar like winning the Piston Cup Granny?’ asks the non-resident 3½ year old. Those who are unfamiliar with the Piston Cup have either not spent five seconds in Edward’s company, or the modern world of Disney has passed you by. I tell Edward that it is probably just as exciting, although I don’t see myself as Lightning McQueen.

I am taking a day off from finishing the Travels with a 3½ year old because I would like to pay tribute to all my wonderful fellow Genealogical Rockstar medalists. Congratulations to everyone who was awarded or nominated, you are all stars and I am proud to call many of you my friends. To say that I was incredulous, dumbfounded, astonished, all those things, when I heard that I had been awarded the UK gold medal for a second time, especially in such illustrious company, would be an understatement. It was several hours before I stopped expecting a message to say it had all been a mistake, in a similar vein to the Oscars.

There are of course more important things in life and work but inevitably you think, ‘Wow’ or even ‘Double wow’. Of course I am thrilled, honoured, grateful to have won. I am, after all, if I am honest, just the teensiest bit competitive. I am however seriously rubbish at self-promotion. I am indebted to those who voted for me and spread the word. Thank you. To think that people feel that I have made a significant contribution to the genealogical world gives me a warm fuzzy feeling and makes me very humble. Thanks to John Reid who undertakes the thankless task of organising the annual vote. See my post of 16 October for my comments on the process.

What I find more encouraging than the award itself are the private messages that people have sent, explaining why I attracted one of their votes. It has led me to reflect on my life as a family historian (still a more accurate term for what I do than ‘genealogist’ I feel).

It is 54 years since I drew up my first family tree.
I am now in my 5th decade of serious research.
43 years ago my school 6th form ‘liberal studies’ (you wouldn’t call it that now) led me to conduct my first local history project.
I have, so far, spent over 40 enjoyable years learning about history, heritage and related subjects, including, because I am officially bonkers, deciding that a PhD would be a good idea.
I have completed 35 years researching on behalf of others, often voluntarily but sometimes in exchange for money, yet I still can’t stop myself getting carried away and putting in far more hours than the client has actually paid for. I get every bit as involved in other people’s families as I do my own.
I have clocked up 35 years of inspiring my children (and now grandchildren) to take an interest in the past. This has extended to encouraging other young people to value their heritage.
I have spent 31 years serving on family and local history society committees at a village, regional and national level.
… and 31 years of teaching others about family, local and social historical topics. Tonight sees the first ‘chat’ with the latest cohort on my Pharos Writing and Telling your Family History course, so my role as an educator goes on.
Countless years of writing articles, books and random blog posts.
I’ve been on TV and radio several times.
It is 10 years this week since I was first Mistress Agnes.
Having administered a DNA project for 10 years, this year I finally took my own first DNA test, firmly entering the exciting world of genetic genealogy.

What will the future bring? Having only a few years left to retirement age (unless the government moves the goal posts yet again), I am beginning to be more selective about where I expend what is left of my energy. I can’t imagine ever ‘retiring’. Next year promises to be particularly exciting, with overseas speaking engagements and a novel publication date to look forward to, to say nothing of a whole new role in the job I must not mention.

Does this make me a rockstar? Not in the slightest and I certainly don’t do it for fame or fortune. It is what I love. My random historical life is still evolving and continues to be challenging, absorbing, all consuming. I often say that I either work 100 hours a week or just spend all my time enjoying myself. That others feel that they have benefited along the way, is gratifying. I am not a rockstar. I am merely one of many who are trying to encourage people to take an interest in their heritage. I am just an historian having fun and hopefully sharing my enthusiasm on the way.

Travels with a 3½ year old Day 4 Trains, Swimmers and Footballers

Although I am now back home I realise that, in my exhausted state, I have left my readers on tenterhooks wondering if I survived the holiday with the 3½ year old. Incidentally, if you have ever wondered what a tenterhook is (and who hasn’t?), it is indeed a tenterhook not a tenderhook. This refers to the hooks used to stretch bleaching linen on the tenterground – never say you don’t learn something with which to impress your friends when reading this blog. I suppose, depending on the friends, you may bore them rigid, if so, you need different friends!

DSCF4220Back to day 4. When you are 3½ travelling on a train is fun. You don’t actually have to go anywhere. Thanks go to the train driver who waved to a small boy making him very happy. We travelled up the line, we travelled down, we stopped to watch hovercrafts and I explained that the train was even older than Granny – hard to believe I know. Then for some reason best know to herself my daughter decided to relive her youth and swim in the sea at Sandown beach. This is England. This is October. She did have a wetsuit but there was incipient storm Brian and rain to contend with. Small person Edward contented himself with a swift paddle. We did however pass the house where Mummy grew up and the building site that used to be the hotel where Granny once worked, all reminders that there is a past.

Just because dashing about the beach didn’t put a dent in a small person’s energy levels, we returned to the camp site to play a rigorous game of football. The liking for energetic games definitely does noyt come from my side of the family. Then to get value from the hot tub we tried it out again in the rain. Yes, we are officially crazy. I can report that hot tub chemicals take the coating off one’s glasses (as in ones you wear not ones you drink out of), good job I was planning to take out a second mortgage to get new ones.

Travels with a 3½ year old – Day 3 – Swimming and Beachcombing

You can tell how exhausting all this travelling with 3½ year olds is, as there is no energy left for blog writing. Day 3 was meant to be a more relaxing day and not just for my benefit. If this is relaxing………. Anyway, we started with a quick session in the on-site pool and adjacent soft play. Retrieving ball pit balls should be an activity in every gym. After this, some food at Culver Haven where we should have been able to admire spectacular views. I am sure they were there somewhere amidst all the mist and howling gales. This was actually where I had my wedding reception, so I am told. As I had measles at the time, I was unable to fully appreciate it. Anyway, my parents also walked this part of the coastal path on their honeymoon, so a double family history connection.

DSCF4192Next stop, the beach for a bit of beachcoming and hunting for fossils and dinosaur remnants. The only discoveries were in Edward’s imagination. It is our turn to host the extended family travelling toy, Captain James, knitted to represent a nineteenth century family member. He has been round the world several times, in the company of various hosts. This responsibility involves posing him in various locations and reporting back for the benefit of his blog. At least with a 3½ year old in tow one doesn’t feel quite so conspicuous wandering around with a stuffed doll. Then a quick game of Guess Who with Edward, reminding me that I am going to create a set using family history photos one day.

We are staying in our caravan but the others have a chalet, complete with hot tub. It seemed rude not to test this out, despite the cool outdoor temperatures. At least the hot tub itself lived up to its name, even if getting in and out was a trifle bracing.

Travels with a 3½ year old Day 2 More Dinosaurs, Dodos and other weirdness

DSCF4214You can see how stressful all this holidaying with 3½ year olds is – this ended up as a webpage instead of a blog post – now in its proper place! Today the delights of Blackgang Chine, billed as the country’s earliest theme park; it opened as a pleasure park in 1842. I first visited at Edward’s age (a few years after 1842) and we have been returning ever since. In my day it was a garden with a few lights and plastic gnomes. Much of the park of that time has now disappeared under many cliff falls but further inland the climb-on fibreglass dinosaurs, talking litter bins and toadstools of my children’s era have been joined by animatronic dinosaurs, a dodo valley (needs to be seen to be fully appreciated!) and an underwater world, lacking in water. As I first visited with my parents and grandmother, five generations of the family have now laughed at themselves in the hall of mirrors, got lost in the maze (although I know the secret) and climbed through the crooked house.

DSCF4208So, apart from yet more dinosaur conversations, with dodos thrown in, how did we relate this to history? Well, we spent the day taking photos that replicate those of earlier generations taken in similar positions. Unfortunately I only have the modern ones here, so you can’t get the full effect but believe me we have a whole series of ‘my children sat on toadstools’ photos, to which I am now adding ‘my grandchildren sat on toadstools’ images. I also have a picture of me aged three holding a cuddly toy and this is, I believe, the same spot although the gnomes have now been replaced by a dinosaur.

Travels with a 3½ year old (sorry Edward) – Day 1 Dinosaurs, Gruffaloes, Piddocks and Apocalyptic Skies

DSCF4174After a quick trip to see friends, we drove to the Dinosaur Museum, where we were met by the newly arrived Martha, Rob & Edward. We headed off to see bits of dinosaurs, models of dinosaurs and other fossily bits. Cue explanation of how dinosaurs were real once but aren’t now, as opposed to things like Gruffaloes (Gruffalos ?), which are pretend. Slight niggle at the back of the brain that maybe Gruffaloes could be viewed as a form of dinosaur but I let that pass. Edward has fun ‘excavating’ bits of dinosaur and enjoying the interactive exhibits.

On the way out of the museum we pass through the door and view a landscape with a lake and grasses and an apocalyptic sky like none I have ever seen. I kid you not, it took me a good few seconds to realise that this was the real outdoors and not a post-dinosaur diorama. I later learned that skies at home were red with sand blown up by ex-hurricane Ophelia but here, further east, they were indescribable. The atmosphere was similar to that at the time of a solar eclipse. No wonder our ancestors thought phenomenon like this heralded the end of the world.

A wander along a windswept beach led Edward to hunt for fossils of his own. He did light upon a large holey rock, which inevitably we then had to lug with us for the rest of the walk. Martha, who fields the many questions of Edward on a full time basis and has obviously come across this before, reveals that the holes are caused by, in Edward speak, little creatures poohing through the rock. This is actually about right. How have I lived to this great age without knowing about piddocks?

Rockstar Genealogists: Rockstar Family Historians

It is that time of year again and each year I can’t quite believe it when I see my name alongside so many ‘greats’ of the genealogical world, several of whom I am honoured to consider my friends. Yes, the voting is now open for this year’s genealogy rockstars’ poll. This time the shortlist has been drastically reduced and I am humbled to see that my name is still amongst the nominees. For those of you who are unaware of this annual phenomenon, I will explain. This is this sixth time that John Reid, of the Anglo-Celtic Connections website, has risked bouquets and brickbats in order to undertake the thankless task that is organising an international poll to find what he calls the ‘rockstar genealogists’ of the English speaking world. ‘Rockstars’ are, in John’s words, “those who give ‘must attend’ presentations at family history conferences or as webinars, who when you see a new family history article or publication by that person, makes it a must buy. If you hang on their every word on a blog, podcast or newsgroup, or follow avidly on Facebook or Twitter.”

Plymouth Local Studies Day May 2015Initially, the vote was designed to help conference programme organisers to ascertain which worldwide speakers were likely to be popular and it does fulfill that function. Each year, despite John’s best efforts, the poll leads to some criticism.  Complaints usually run along the following lines: Are those who do well really ‘the best’, or are they just those who are most active on social media? Or, worse still, are the medalists merely those who are able to command hosts of non-genealogist mates to blindly cast votes in their favour? As regards the first, I would argue and I think that John would agree, that being active on social media in this field is part of the criteria for rockstardom. John has done his best to reduce the second problem of block voting but the best way to ensure that the ‘right’ people do well is to cast your vote for those that you feel are most deserving. To make the poll truly valid more people need to vote. Each year, by far the greatest number of votes come from the US. That’s great America, please keep voting but the rest of the world need to take part in greater numbers. By casting your vote, or votes, you are helping to ensure that the genuine rockstars reach the top of the national and international lists. I could choose not to mention the poll because, let’s be honest, it does smack a little of electioneering but I risk that criticism because I want to spread the word that this competition exists, so that the result fairly reflect the opinions of the greatest number of people. Those who need to vote are people who have a genuine interest in and knowledge of family, local or social history. Obviously I would love it if you felt that I was deserving of one of your votes, it would be disingenuous if I tried to imply otherwise but genuinely, what is most important is that you vote for someone who is worthy of genealogical rockstardom. The voting window is now open and is very short. You only have until Saturday 21st October. This is the link that you need. Please pass the message on.

Why is this blog entitled ‘Rockstar Genealogist: Rockstar Family Historian’? It is because I prefer the term family historian, which I somehow feel has more gravitas. I know that the precise definitions vary in different parts of the world but to me a genealogist searches out the basic pedigree but a family historian looks beyond the names and dates to investigate the social, local and national historical context that brings our family stories to life.

Anyway; a final word. Please vote but please, please, also honour all those unsung heroes of the world of family history, those who help to keep our local societies going; those who offer their time and expertise quietly, freely and unstintingly. They may never feature on a list of rockstar nominations but they are every bit as vital to the wonderful world of family history.