And in an Historical Household this Week….

Just to prove that my family have been busy training up the next generation and putting my booklet Harnessing the Facebook Generation: ideas for involving young people in family history and heritage into practice, Edward, aged nearly 3, has been investigating social history. He told his mother very seriously, ‘In the olden days they ate porridge.’ In the world according to Edward we now live in ‘newen days’ – got to love the logic.

I spent a lovely morning with my authors’ group, chatting about choosing titles and other book related gossip. We hope that we will soon be able to announce an exciting ‘writers in residence’ event for our group, in a stunning and inspirational location. All we can say at present is, if you would like to come and chat to us about our work, keep part of 29 April – 1 May free. Edward again, ‘Where have you been Granny?’. Me: ‘I’ve been talking to my friends who write books’. ‘I’d reeeely reeeely like to read those Granny’! That’s my boy! His cousins are just as keen on books, although, to be fair, the youngest tends to regard them as a dietary supplement.

#Daisy is actually making progress. You have no idea how long it takes to work out the state of the tide in relation to a newspaper account of a shipwreck. You’ve no idea but I can tell you that the answer is all afternoon, even with the expertise of a fisherman of my acquaintance. At 4.30am one morning inspiration struck and the blurb for #Daisy popped into my head almost fully formed. Even I am not up at 4.30am so I scrabbled for something upon which to write these beautifully crafted sentences before they slipped into oblivion. It is surprising how much you can scribble in the margins of a TV paper. As a bonus I could even read most of it afterwards, no mean feat with my handwriting.

ivy-and-gwenFamily history has led to fun tracing World War 1 Red Cross volunteers, oh and spending a small fortune on an online auction site acquiring a related medal. I’ve also enjoyed immersing myself in plague and pestilence, partly to revamp our Swords and Spindles history of medicine revision session and also to work on my new Pharos course In Sickness and in Death: researching the ill-health and deaths of our ancestors. I am looking forward to the start of Discovering your British Family and Local Community in the Early Twentieth Century on Tuesday – still time to sign up if you are interested. It is an online course so no excuses. In celebration this post includes one of my favourite family photos from the time.

The weather is taking a chilly turn so the garden bird feeding regime has been stepped up a notch. I am also still ploughing my way through the post-Christmas visitor laundry pile. My only method of drying laundry is to hang it on a washing line outside. Well fed birds and a line full of washing are not the greatest combination methinks, as I scrub away at the after effects of a very large flock of starlings.

New Year, New Discoveries, New DNA Results

Well, here we are, 2017. Who knows what the year will bring? This time last year I am sure few could have predicted the seriously scary political machinations and plethora of celebrity deaths that accompanied 2016. So far this year I have learned that it is possible for a memory stick to survive being vacuumed up along with Christmas tree prickles.

I would also like to share an incident from the lacuna that is that gap between Christmas and New Year during which the descendants descend. The phone rings at 7am. A phone call at this time of day normally means bad news – or that your daughter has arranged for T****s to deliver food to your house later in the day. I am a T****s delivery virgin; I know not how these things work. Having the food delivered was deemed easier than having my personal shopper struggling to identify various ‘modern’ ingredients on the list. We do not know our humus from our quinoa sadly – even spell checker doesn’t recognise quinoa, so we are not alone. The main challenge for the T****s delivery driver will be finding the house. If he uses his satnav he is doomed. It turns out, for some reason that he tried to justify, he was expecting to be delivering to a building site. The justification involved my house name – any suggestions anyone? He had a list of what had been ordered. What would a building site do with several dozen nappies of a suitable size for a two year old?

The DNA results arrived sneakily early, before I had finished restoring the house to a semblance of normality and before I had made any discernable impression in the mountainous pile of post-Christmas laundry. This means that I still haven’t completed my documentary trail hunt for third cousins, so more on that when I get the chance. What have I learned from my results? To be honest, not a lot. Sadly, no previously unknown half-siblings have climbed out of the woodwork. I have 788 matches. Big deal, or not, actually. Eleven people are predicted to be related in the range 2nd-4th cousins. Sorry FTDNA, unlikely I think. I know these people are not my second cousins (or second cousins with a few removes). I think it is very unlikely that they are my third cousins, so that leaves fourth cousins. Three of these matchees (it’s ok, I just invented that word) do not provide any surnames apart from the one they now carry. To be honest I don’t blame them. It was a bit of a learning curve working out how to add these. I have included the surnames of all my great great grandparents and will be adding those for the previous generation when I get a minute (like in about 2031).

As expected, most of the testees have families trees that seem to still be rooted in the US and the only surname that is common with any of my ancestors is Smith and I really don’t think this is the same Smith. What is slightly worrying is that there appears to be no commonality with members of the Braund family who have done this test, although, to be fair, our likely relationship is more distant than 5th cousins. This didn’t stop me from hoping for a remote cousin match. Two of the eleven 2nd-4th cousin matches have uploaded a family tree. I guess that this is the next challenge for me to tackle. No areas of commonality here either. There is one match that looks possible, although it wouldn’t be at 4th cousin level. He does at least have Cornish ancestry and a surname that appears on my family tree, although not amongst my direct ancestors. I know I am supposed to do something with my centimorgans. Maybe we don’t share enough of them. I will await instruction. I had a play with the chromosome browser. The most likely match and I share seven segments. I am not sure why therefore they are identified as a closer relative than someone with whom I share 18. I clearly need someone to explain the significance of this in words of half a syllable.

What other fun can I have with these results? I am 99% European, no surprises there then. This is allegedly Britain, Scandinavia and Western Europe, although not Iberia. As regards my ancient origins, I am 10% a Metal Age Invader. What does that even mean? I am 40% Farmer, which seems to mean I may have origins in Aleppo. Excuse me, I’m just off for a bit of hunter gathering, in line with 50% of my ancient origins.

And Finally ……. Last Historical Novelist for Advent

This morning has been spent doing my bit for the community, wielding a scanner in the local community shop, alongside someone dressed in red, uttering strange ‘Ho, ho, ho’ sounds who looked strangely familiar. A great way to wish my friends and neighbours ‘Season’s Greetings’. Everyone keeps asking me if I am ready for Christmas. Christmas I can do. Whether I am ready for the familial onslaught on 27th is another matter. At this point in time, most of the house is (by my standards) clean and tidy. I have achieved this by shoving all the junk in one room. This would work well if a small person didn’t have to sleep there. The excavation of sufficient space begins on Boxing Day. I really should be finishing an article this afternoon but this may have to wait until next year. I might just spend some ‘me’ time trawling for a few more third cousins.

813sroorzkl-_ac_ul320_sr208320_I started at the beginning of December with twenty four authors in the historical novelists’ ‘hat’. I drew one out each day to determine the order in which I have introduced them to you. Today’s entry is south Devonian Michael Jecks. For his Templar series of books, we return to the Medieval period, where we find former Crusader Sir Baldwin and bailiff Simon solving mysteries in and around Dartmoor. Baldwin’s official title is Keeper of the King’s peace for the shire of Devon and it seems that there are plenty of incidents to keep him busy. The mystery element of these books is well crafted and it is rare that ‘who dunnit’ becomes obvious before the denouement. The history is well informed and the geographical setting is beautifully recreated, all the elements are therefore in place for an absorbing novel or, of course, in this case, whole series of novels – bliss. There really are enough excellent Devon authors for me to be able to ‘read local’ for several years!

I am sorry to those authors amongst my historical fiction collection who did not get included in my calendar; it is not a reflection of my opinion of your work, advent was just too short for everyone to get a mention. I have to say this series of advent blogs has led me to purchase rather more books than I like to admit, as I discovered new titles by favourite authors – now all I need is time to read them.


Birthdays and another Historical Novelist

I don’t suppose many people have time to read (or indeed write) blog posts at this time of year but I committed to twenty four days of historical novelists and twenty four days thou shalt have. Today’s distraction was the ‘big’ birthday of my significant other. For the past month I have endeavoured to keep various secrets associated with the occasion. This has not been easy. You have no idea the difficulties I have had ensuring that the birthday boy was in the right place at the right time today and not dragging a boat up a slipway, or on his hands and knees cleaning a church. I had asked a few people back to my house to celebrate (or should that be commiserate) his great age. This required an unprecedented level of cleaning and tidying that immediately aroused suspicion. I have decided that I am really no good at subterfuge but the day seemed to pass off well.

the-outcastAnother great historical series for today’s novelist: the Morland saga by Cynthia Harrod Eagles. The thirty five books take this comfortably off family and their estate from The Founding in the time of the wars of the Roses to The Phoenix, which is set in the 1930s. Over the years, the family have links to succeeding generations of the royal family and we watch major events of British history unfold through the story of the Morland family. They become embroiled in the English Civil War, the Jacobite Rebellion, The Industrial Revolution, Suffragism, The First World War and many other key events. We follow one branch of the family to America, so the American Civil War also gets a look in. Family trees in the front of each book help the reader to keep track of the ever spreading clan. The number of characters is kept in check by unrealistically frequent marriages between cousins but I can forgive that. A little like Jean Plaidy, this series is a gentle way of familiarising yourself with historical chronology. Harrod Eagles has the advantage over Plaidy, in that she can work with fictional characters and is not constrained by writing solely about the lives of real people. Forget box-sets, give me a great historical saga any day. I am so glad that the original plan for twelve novels was expanded to thirty five. Harrod Eagles has now turned to writing mystery books but the original brief was to take the family to the Second World War, so we can hope there may be a few more still to come.

Christmas Preparations and Advent Boxes reveal another Historical Novelist

Sorry folks, it has been a day of cleaning, cooking and present wrapping, so not much time for blog writing. I will spare you the details of my cleaning regime! I am sure you don’t want to read about the gory details of my swirling ecologically sound cleaning products round toilet bowls. Cake icing then. I should explain that this is not some elaborate creation; I usually opt for a rough snow scene. Something strange happened to the texture of today’s efforts, which somewhat resembled rice pudding. That would be very runny rice pudding. It wasn’t quite as bad as the year when the icing was so lacking in substance that I ended up with a bald cake and a halo of icing on the plate but it was close. My present wrapping efforts were not of the most elegant but the majority of my recipients are not of an age to appreciate the finer points of envelope corners and delicate bows. Time to relax.

saturnalia-255More Roman sleuths today in the shape of Lindsay Davis’ Marcus Didius Falco and her later creation, Flavia Alba. Between 1989 and 2010 Davis published twenty novels about the hapless Falco who, together with his sidekick Petronius from the vigils, attempts to solve murders and mysteries in the Roman world. Several of the novels are set in Italia but others take Falco across the Roman Empire, including Roman Britain. We first meet Falco in 70AD in The Silver Pigs. His stable but socially daring, relationship with senator’s daughter Helena Justinia follows the reader throughout the series and we watch their family grow over the years. The historical background is convincing and it is easy to picture Ancient Rome, from Falco’s perilous accommodation in Rome itself, to well known landmarks such as Pompeii and Bath. Falco’s nemesis the Emperor’s official spy, Anacritis, crops up in many of the books; the final one in the series is actually called Nemesis. There are other recurring characters, such as Thalia the exotic dancer. We also learn more about Falco’s own, slightly disreputable, family; these too become people we come to know and love. In fact the careful drawing of minor characters, such as Agatha the laundress, is one of Davis’ great strengths.

The heroine of Davis’ more recent books is Falco’s step daughter, Flavia Alba but somehow I can’t quite take to her as I did to Falco. In a rare departure from the Roman Empire, Davis wrote Rebels and Traitors, set during the English Civil War. Parliamentarian, Gideon Jukes, inhabits a believable seventeenth century world and you can absorb the social history woven within the fast-moving plot. A favourite author and a favourite time period – winner! PS her audio books are on offer this month

Of Christmas Stockings, Stairgates and Historical Novels

Christmas preparations are underway. Firstly, we are attempting to go some way towards toddler-proofing the house. We managed to acquire a couple of second hand but never used, stair gates, which, with luck, will stop small persons who are no longer entrapped in cots from endangering themselves. These were officially A Bargain but required screwing to the door frames in a semi-permanent fashion. As I am just about capable of not hurling myself down staircases (I hope this isn’t a case of famous last words) I was relieved to find that the gate parts are removable and I am not going to find myself crashing into barricades during nocturnal wanderings. The instructions had clearly been badly translated from an obscure foreign language but with very little profanity, one is now in situ, with the assembling of the second on tomorrow’s ‘to do’ list.

Sixty years ago my mother was hand crafting a large Christmas stocking from netting, bias-binding and ribbons. Actually, she was better organised than I, so it was probably sixty years and some months ago. I used it every year for twenty six years, then it passed to my daughter. Thirty years ago, having two daughters requiring stockings, I made one that resembled the first as closely as possible, using different coloured binding and decorative ribbons. My grandchildren have their own Christmas traditions when they are at home but at Granny’s, the stockings are again in use. So, another thirty years on and I am making a third stocking. Realistically, I suppose I might just still be here in thirty years. I wonder if there will be the need to make another then?

Making a third stocking was not without its complications. First I needed to assemble the raw materials. Net curtains seemed the way to go. As my house is hidden away I have no need for net curtains and none survived my last house move. Luckily a horder near me found not only a surplus to requirements net curtain but an alternative in the form of a prawn net. I was tempted by the prawn net but I thought that small fingers might get caught in the mesh and in the interests of making all three stockings as similar as possible, I went for the net curtain. Next bias-binding. Time was when I put a reel of cotton and a card of bias binding in my mum’s Christmas stocking each year; it became a standing joke and a family ritual. Unfortunately, I did not inherit the life-time’s supply of bias binding when she died. I used to get these from Woolworths. Woolworths is no more. Does bias binding even exist in the twenty-first century? I found a local fabric shop and keeping a low profile, kept an eye out for bias bonding. I didn’t want to make a complete fool of myself by asking for something that no one has used for twenty years. It seems it is still a thing, although you now buy lengths from a roll, phew. I am now in the process of hand sewing the binding what suddenly seems to be a very long way round the third generation stocking.

4581718Another North Devon author is pulled from today’s advent box; there is so much talent in this county. Pamela Vass has written several books that are rooted in the Devon landscape. Seeds of Doubt is a novel that has the catastrophic 1952 Lynton and Lynmouth floods as its inspiration. Thirty four lives were lost in the flood, as the monthly rainfall was 250 times the normal level. Pamela’s novel is the product of careful research and reflects the actual speculation about what caused the tragedy; was it a freak weather incident or were there rainmakers at work? Shadow Child has Lundy Island as its setting and investigates the workings of Children’s Services as a young boy is abandoned in mysterious circumstances. Pamela has also written a biography of the computer pioneer Thomas Fowler in The Power of Three. She is currently working on another historical novel, Fire in the Belly: the North Devon Suffragettes. This is another opportunity for me to indulge my love of historical books and those with a local setting in a two for the price of one way, what a delight!

C20th Research, Third Cousins, DNA and another Writer

Well, today has been exhausting. Slightly delayed start (still in my pyjamas at 9.30am) because I got carried away with the hunt for third cousins. The more I do of this the more I am convinced that anyone who takes an autosomnal (family finder) DNA test should be doing the same. Without verifying our documented trees down to at least our own generation, what use are all those suggested cousins going to be? I should make it clear I am being pretty thorough (ok, so I am a perfectionist – very thorough) about this and adopting the sorts of techniques used by probate researchers/heir hunters to trace living people. Actually, that is not quite true as I am doing it on a zero budget, so can’t order eleventy million certificates to prove or disprove theories. Apparently Ancestry estimate that the average person has 175 third cousins (Thanks to Debbie Kennett for that information). Obviously there are huge variations either side of that number and it looks like I am going to be at an extreme end of the scale. It was probably fitting that real ‘work’, when I got round to it, was finally finishing off the course that I’ve been preparing about C20th family and local history. I am now going to market it to anyone who has taken an autosomnal DNA test!

common-people-book-cover-usa1Now for the advent calendar. This is a book I haven’t actually read yet but it looks so good that I am going to include it – shamelessly relying heavily on the blurb and other people’s reviews. It isn’t actually a novel either but the story of a family. The author has done exceptionally well to find a publisher for her family’s story in the days of the hobby’s boom. I remember when I first started, reading Marjorie Reeves Sheepbell and Plougshare – don’t read that unless you want to be seriously envious about the amount of family documents and memorabilia that she inherited. Others from that era were John Peters’ A Family from Flanders. Must also mention John Titford’s Come Wind, Come Weather but all these date from the 1970s and 1980s. Now the world and his wife are writing up their family stories getting one commercially published is next to impossible, which is why I think Alison Light’s Common People: the history of an English family is going to be something special. As the title suggests, Alison has woven and interesting story around the lives of ordinary people.

It is an opportunity to find out more about Victorian England in the throes of its industrial heyday and it is by setting her own family’s experiences into the broader context of their time that Alison has produced such a successful book. Now all I need is time to read it. I shall be recommending it to students on my Writing and Telling Your Family Story course – advert alert – you can register now for this – it starts at the end of February and it is online, so no excuses for those of you overseas.