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have a picture of me aged three holding a cuddly toy and this is, I believe, the same spot although the gnomes have now been replaced by a dinosaur.

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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.

Travels with a Three Year Old – day minus 1 – getting there

I sometimes wonder why I have a house as I see so little of it. This week we are paying a visit to the Isle of Wight. Not so much a holiday but a chance to see friends and family as, this time, small person Edward is bringing his parents and will be joining us. Last night was a local pub quiz. In a needle final round my team, by judicious playing of our joker, scraped a victory. Who knew that we could summon up so much knowledge of the Bible? We will however draw a veil over our performance in the science and music rounds. We scored by having our very own Australian team member, who was able to share the vital information that wombats have square poo.

After the quiz, adrenaline was running high and I found it even more difficult than usual to sleep. Believe me it is pretty difficult for me to sleep worse than usual. I was due at Chris’ for departure in the caravan at 9.00am. Chris’ house is a 12 minute drive away. Regardless of what time I go to bed, or how well I sleep, my natural waking up time is 6.00am + or – half an hour. Maybe a dozen times a year I might still be asleep by 7.00am. The only time I ever set an alarm is when we are working in a school and need to leave home before 7.00am and then I am almost always awake long before the alarm goes off. This morning I woke up thinking it was probably about 7.00am, after all, I had had a late night. I turned on the computer to check my emails before I disappeared into an internet-less black hole. I peered at the clock in the corner, oh good it was only 6.37. ‘That’s funny,’ thinks I, ‘it seems to be quite light outside’. I peer more closely at the bottom right hand corner of my screen 8.37!!! 8.37?!!! I can’t remember ever being asleep at 8.36 (it takes a minute to turn the computer on). If I have ever slept at such a ridiculous hour it is definitely more than forty years ago.

I made it to Chris’ for 9.20 and we said goodbye to our house-sitting Australian friends. It was an uneventful drive to deliver pasties and birthday cards in Christchurch and we had made up for lost time. After that things went less well. What should have been a 45 minute drive to the ferry terminal took nearly twice as long due to roadworks and we arrived at check-in with only minutes to spare. That may sound like ‘in time’ but you are supposed to be there a hour before departure.

Janet on beachI am now snuggled in the caravan trying to conserve my energy levels ready for five days at Edward pace. I spent my first ever holiday on the Isle of Wight when I was three, so it will be exciting to share it with a three year old. For those who are familiar with my Harnessing the Facebook Generation booklet, I shall be trying to put some of my ideas for inspiring young people to take an interest in history and heritage into practice while I have access to a small person.

Presentations Past, Presentations Future and Presentations at Midnight

Forgive me if this post is a little garbled but sleep is sadly lacking at present. Each year, I am invited to apply to present a webinar to Ontario Genealogy Society members. Each year this seems like a brilliant idea. For the last three years I have been lucky enough to have been chosen as one of their team of twelve international presenters. Then the day looms on the horizon and I realise that in the intervening months since the previous webinar, I have totally forgotten how the technology works. Fortunately, I get the chance of a practice run. Then comes the difficultly of staying awake. The first time I did one of these webinars, I lulled myself into a deluded sense of security by miscalculating the time difference and thinking I was going live at a respectable 2.00pm. Not so, midnight! Is there such an hour? I think I am correct in saying that the last time I saw midnight was when I presented last year’s webinar. Give me 5am over midnight any day. Needless to say, what passes for my body clock insists that this morning it is still time to wake up at my normal 5-6am. It’s going to be an interesting day. Anyway, what makes it worthwhile is that I have already had some very positive feedback about my session in the wee small hours. It was about inspiring young people to become interested in history, family history and heritage; something that is vital not just for our hobby but for the greater good of those young people and the world in general.

CaptureFanfare alert. The really thrilling news is that I can finally announce that I am honoured to be the keynote speaker at next year’s New Zealand Society of Genealogists’ conference. This pretty much qualifies as THE dream gig. Not unsurprisingly, I have had several people suggest that they would make an invaluable prop for one of my sessions. I have been asked to do some of my favourite presentations and it is rumoured that Mistress Agnes and Master Christopher will be muscling in on the act. I keep telling them that they can’t come, as New Zealand has not been discovered in their time but it seems that their presence has been requested. I have, with great forbearance, been sitting on this secret for FIFTEEN MONTHS. I was allowed to quietly announce that I would be attending a few months ago but now the official press release has been issued, I can jump up and down like an excitable mad thing. Next year is certainly going to be as ridiculously busy as ever with another overseas trip as part of the Unlock the Past Alaska Cruise lecturing team.

Of course there are many bookings that are much nearer to home and I enjoy those just as much. After several forays to different parts of darkest Devon this month, I finish October by speaking about the impact of nonconformity on communities of the past at the conference of The Society for One-Place Studies in Manchester. I am also looking forward to ‘meeting’ the next cohort of students on my ‘Writing and Telling your Family’s Story’ course, which starts in ten days time. This one is online so no travelling involved this time; there are still a couple of spaces if you are interested.

Amidst all this mayhem, I have a novel to finish. I promise #Daisy is making progress; maybe more about this next time.

Day 17 The Botanic Gardens and Homeward Bound

117 Botanic Gardens 30 September 2017On our final day in the Channel Islands, we are packed up and ready to go a good three and a half hours, even by my estimate, before we need to check in for the ferry. This gives us time to look round the nearby Botanic Gardens and they were certainly worth a visit. We admire the Japanese Garden, not exactly our taste but beautiful none the less. The herb garden is more our sort of thing and Mistress Agnes can identify most of the contents. There are also 140 apple trees as cider is made here. The colombier, or dovecot, is believed to be Norman in origin and has nesting places for 500 doves. Again our timing is perfect, as we reach the on site Rural Life Museum and carriage collection just as the guided tour begins. Apparently the traditional Jersey cart has five panels but that in Guernsey only four. Some of the carts are ‘flat pack’ and can be taken apart when they are not needed, so they do not take up so much barn space.

At some time today we need to eat what passes for a meal. We weren’t very impressed by the ferry menu on our outward journey, so have resolved to eat before we leave. We have sussed that the Herb Café at the Botanic Garden will suit. Some of their offerings are a little more exotic than we would normally choose, so we were hoping for the Big Breakfast. Leaving it as late as we can, we rock up at 11.35am to find that breakfast is only served until 11.30am. Perhaps our good timing fairy has gone awol. The chef takes pity on us however and agrees that we can have ‘breakfast’. To be honest, I am a bit of a Philistine when it comes to food, preferring quantity over quality but even I could appreciate that these ingredients were a cut above the average. This is probably just as well as this is the sum total of our food for the day.

On returning to the laden car, we observe that a hub cap is bent and despite the application of a cable tie, is in danger of falling off and flapping loose. It just so happens that I have some string with me. This was in case I needed to construct a washing line at any point. By a strange coincidence, I also seem to have brought the kitchen scissors with me, as you do. Well, as you probably don’t but I’d already locked up when I realised that they were still in my hand, so they have accompanied us on our travels. There is, of course, a pair of scissors in the first aid kit but their ability to actually cut anything is in question.

We approach the ferry with trepidation. Bad weather is forecast tonight and we are wondering if we will be marooned on Jersey. Luck is with us this time and we set sail. The journey is much smoother than our outward trip and there are no signs of people being unwell. The weather hazards begin as we disembark. There is torrential rain, with plenty of surface water and debris falling from trees in the wind. This persists as we cross Dorset but finally, we return to God’s own county and our holiday is over.

Day 16 A Rainy Mont Orgueil Castle

We have earmarked today for a trip to Mont Orgueil (pronounced ur goye) Castle, overlooking Gorey Harbour. We arrive as the castle opens, so are in time for a free conducted tour. Our guide, Daniel, takes us up twisting slippery stairways, down and round through a maze of rooms. We are very glad that we joined this tour as we learn much that we would never have found on our own. I strongly suspect that we would also have missed several of the rooms, as the periodic redevelopments of the castle have left it with a tangle of intertwined corridors, staircases and chambers. Here are some random things that we were told. I am taking no responsibility for the accuracy of the same!

There has been occupation on this site since Neolithic times but what remains dates from the thirteenth century or later. In 1204, King John lost control of Normandy to Philip II of France. The Channel Islands, which were part of the Dukedom of Normandy and thus joined to England since the Norman Conquest, opted to remain with England rather than Normandy. This made them the frontier during conflicts between France and England and thus fortifications were needed. We examine the murther (or murder) holes over the portcullis. Traditionally, these would be used to drop anything from boiling oil to dead animals onto the invading enemy. Mont Orgueil’s situation gave its occupants another option, boiling up shellfish to make quicklime, which would burn when it came into contact with the sweaty bodies of those attempting to enter the castle. The only antidote was urine. In order to provide a well within the middle ward in case of siege, they had to dig through nineteen metres of granite.

Mont Orgueil’s role as a frontier fortress was particularly important during the 100 years’ war, which bizarrely didn’t last for 100 years at all but from 1337-1453. In 1461, Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI, intrigued to return Jersey to the French but the French failed to capitalise on this and they were chased out in 1467. Henry Tudor was exiled to Jersey and spent time at Mount Orgueil, before his victory at Bosworth.

At various times in history, the castle has been the seat of island administration. In 1549, John Thynne was Captain of the castle and he oversaw many of the Tudor improvements. Thynne was also responsible for building Longleat House. Modifications to the castle kept in line with developments in weaponry. Lead from roofs of dissolved English monasteries, such as Glastonbury, were used in the castle. Henry Cornish was another captain during the time of an absentee governor. He was responsible for installing three breech loading cannons. By the end of the reign of Elizabeth I, the castle was deemed to be obsolete, as it was not suitable for defence against attack by cannon from the sea. It was to be demolished but Walter Raleigh persuaded Elizabeth I to leave it intact, whilst building Elizabeth Castle as an effective replacement for defensive purposes.

109 Gorey Bay from Mont Orgueil Castle 29 September 2017In 1634, the Puritan William Prynne had his ears cut off and was to be imprisoned for life for remarks that were deemed to be insulting to Queen Henrietta Maria. He was kept as a political prisoner at Mount Orgueil, where he was well treated by the governor Sir Philip Carteret. He was pardoned by Charles II. The castle was then used as a prison for three of those who had signed Charles I’s death warrant. Jersey was Royalist during the English Civil War and Jersey was the first place to proclaim Charles II as king in February 1648/9, just a month after his father was executed. Charles II rewarded leading family the Carterets, with land in the new world, now known as New Jersey. Three altar stones have been found at the castle. One is now in Trenton, New Jersey. Between 1562 and 1660 there were sixty six witchcraft trials on Jersey; half were put to death, mostly by hanging and strangling. I can’t quite work out how one can be both hanged and strangled but don’t shoot the messenger. During the Napoleonic era, Phillipe D’Auvergne used the castle as his headquarters for a spy network against France.

There are a number of fascinating art installations in the castle. One is a modern representation of the Medieval wounded man, which illustrated various possible battle wounds. In theory this was supposed to be encouraging, as the claim was that these wounds could be cured. I feel that this might be more off putting than encouraging but this was the era when John Bradmore successfully removed an arrow that had become embedded in the skull of the future Henry V. I guess they kept stressing the successes and conveniently ignored the failures. There is an unusual hologram of the queen, executed by artist Chris Levine in 2004 and an impressive sculpture showing the English and French Medieval Royal Families.

A very interesting historical interpreter is braving the rain and he tells us about Medieval weaponry, whilst undertaking his leather work. We are introduced to the Bec de Corbin (crow’s beak), a new one on us. This is a long metal pole with a spike and a multi-pronged hammer, designed for penetrating armour; you wouldn’t argue with someone wielding one of those. It was a shame about the drizzle, although my Niagara Falls poncho came into its own. The potential of a damp Mont Orgueil exhausted, we returned to the apartment to relax.