My Problem Female Ancestor #internationalwomensday

Firstly, I must share just how distressing I found typing that hashtag without the apostrophe. Regrettably, it seems that hashtags and apostrophes are not compatible.

On International Women’s Day, I thought I’d introduce my genealogy obsessed friends to my problem female ancestor. I do have information about many of my ancestresses. I wrote about my direct maternal line here and you can find out more about some of these women by clicking on the appropriate surname links on my family history page. There you will find details of what I know about them and their families.

My great great grandmother, Mary Cardell, is proving more of a problem. If anyone feels like a challenge over the weekend, please see if you can confirm who Mary’s parents were (PS I‘d also be pleased to find her in the 1851 census, when she would have been Mary Woolgar). I am afraid there are no prizes but I promise a warm fuzzy feeling and the satisfaction of having succeeded where, so far, I have failed.

Mary Cardell is my great great grandmother. I know quite a bit about her married life; you can read it in my file on the Woolgar family. On her marriage certificate and the birth registrations for her four children, her birth surname is consistently spelt CARDELL. The marriage certificate suggests that she signed her own name. Earlier generations may not have been literate, so the name might be rendered differently and my searches have included all phoenetically likely variants of the name.

I have used a range of documents to calculate Mary’s probable date and place of birth:-
Her burial has not been located
13 January 1892 death certificate age 74 – born 13 January 1817- 12 January 1818
1891 census age 74 born Highgate, Middlesex – born 6 April 1816-5 April 1817
1881 census age 63 born Middlesex – born 4 April 1817- 3 April 1818
1871 census age 53 born Highgate, Middlesex – born 3 April 1817- 2 April 1818
1861 census age 44 born Highgate, Middlesex – born 8 April 1816-7 April 1817
1851 census not located
1841 census age 25 born Middlesex – born 7 June 1811- 6 June 1816
1 May 1841 (when she married Philip Woolgar) marriage certificate ‘of full age’ – born before May 1820

Mary Woolgar née Cardell 1817-1892This seems to suggest that Mary (or at least whoever provided the information to the enumerator) was convinced that she was born in Highgate, Middlesex. Ignoring the 1841 census evidence, when ages should have been rounded down in any case, the suggested dates of birth from the other sources are consistent. If all ages are correct, then Mary was born on 4 or 5 April 1817. It seems probable that she was born between 1816 and 1818.

Other clues are provided by her marriage certificate. This was obtained from the General Register Office in 1983 and is handwritten, so there is scope for transcription errors. Ideally, I would check with the local register office (Edmonton) or, even better, access the registers for St. Mary’s Hornsey where the marriage took place; these are held by London Metropolitan Archives ref. DRO/020/A/01/011. Assuming that the certificate I have is accurate, Mary’s father was James Cardell, a gardener and one of the witnesses was a Catharine Cardell who is likely to be Mary’s mother or sister. There is no indication that either of the fathers were deceased. I know the groom’s father was still alive at the time but it may be that whoever filled in the register didn’t not make a habit of noting if the fathers were deceased

The obvious first search was in the parish registers for Highgate and this was carried out on my behalf by a reputable researcher some years ago. He was however using a transcript of the Highgate baptism registers. I would like to recheck this and use the original baptism register. These are in London Metropolitan Archives P90/MIC1/004 (003 for 1791-1812). He also checked the birth and baptism register of the Highgate Salem Chapel, although the entries in the chapelry registers are sparse. These records are at The National Archives RG4 1131 and I have rechecked this using the online images of the registers at FindmyPast; there is no mention of the Cardell family.

Mary claims to have been born in Highgate and she married in Horsey, giving her address as Fortis Green, which lies between Finchley and Muswell Hill, so Middlesex seems a likely county in which to begin to seek the Cardell family.

A marriage between a James Cadwell and a Mary Ann Guteridge took place in Highgate in 1813 and these are very strong possibilities as Mary’s parents. Mary Ann was the daughter of George and Sarah Guteridge born 14 August and baptised 7 September 1783 at St Leonard’s, Shoreditch. She is likely to be the Mary Ann Cardale who was buried 10 April 1841 at St Andrew’s, Holborn, ‘of Regent’s Park’, just a month after Mary Cardell’s marriage to Philip Woolgar. I could check the original entry for more information and purchasing this death certificate is on the list when the family history budget has recovered from my certificate ordering fest prior to the recent price increase. The burial register records Mary Ann Cardale’s age as 58. The corresponding GRO death indexes can be searched on their website and give age at death. Here, Mary Ann Cardale was said to be 57, which ties in exactly with the Shoreditch baptism of Mary Ann Guteridge.

There is also a Maria Cardell in St. Pancras workhouse in the 1841 and 1851 censuses. (1841 census for St. Pancras workhouse, Marylebone, Middlesex HO107 681/9 folio 9; 1851 census for St. Pancras workhouse, Marylebone, Middlesex HO107 1497 folio 599.) This workhouse would have covered Highgate. Maria Cardell was born in Dudley, Worcestershire and is almost certainly the Maria Withenbury, baptised in 1780, who married James Cardall at St. Alban, Worcester, Worcestershire on the 12th February 1798. These too could be Mary’s parents. A Samuel Cardel was baptised in 1802 in Worcester, son of James and Maria. Samuel cannot be found in the census returns.

A James Cardall aged 49 of ‘Mermaid Court’ was buried 17 November 1824 at St George’s, Southwark, this is probably the James who married Mary Gutheridge but is he my 3x great grandfather.

Mary Cardell’s marriage took place only a month before the 1841 census, there is no trace of a likely Catharine Cardell (the witness) in that census and no death or marriage for her in that quarter, using variants of both her names. There is a Catherine CAWDLE aged 27 bur Hoxton 24 Sept 1841 possibly wife of Henry Cawdle anf living in Shoreditch in 1841, neither were born in county. So could Catherine have been Mary’s sister-in-law? I don’t find this very convincing.

What this case study does illustrate is that, even after over forty years’ research, it is possible to have that pesky family line that is stuck in the more recent past. It also underlines that it important to periodically revisit sections of our family history that have been in abeyance. With luck, new sources will have become available, or a fresh pair of eyes with bear fruit. My own eyes are feeling far from fresh at present and cost me a significant sum yesterday when I , unexpectedly, had to buy new glasses. So, over to you friends and good luck!

 

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Being Ambassadorial and Finding Lost Cousins

LondonBadges_640x640pxAmbassadorThis week came the news that I have been accepted as an Ambassador for the first London version of the genealogical extravaganza that is RootsTech. This major genealogy show has been a staple of the world’s genealogical calendar for nine years but in October, it will be coming to the UK for the first time. Now the US version of the show is over for 2019, details of what the UK event will offer are starting to be revealed. So far, some of the speakers have been announced and British family historians will recognise several people who have been prominent on the family history speaking circuit for many years. Early Bird pricing is on offer until 9 April, so don’t leave it too late to book. Shortly, I will be running a competition to win a three day pass, so keep an eye out on this blog and my Facebook and Twitter platforms for details.

Although I had recently managed to stop myself compulsively checking my Kindle sales figures for Barefoot on the Cobbles on a daily basis, I did notice a distinct spike in sales this week and I reached the dizzy height of #8 in the biographical fiction category. For an independently published first novel, which is not being given away or offered at a drastically reduced price, this is big – well I was excited anyway. The downside is that I have now returned to the hourly refreshing of my page to see what is happening to my sales figures. These new readers have found their way to Barefoot thanks to a review in the Lost Cousins newsletter, which is run by Peter Calver. Peter does not normally review historical fiction and indeed professes not to like it, so I am particularly grateful to him for bending his rules for me, on the grounds that the story emerged from genealogical research and is about real people. It is interesting that his review has had a particular impact on my sales in Australia. I am now hoping that one or two of these new readers will leave a review (please – I have been known to grovel). Sadly these sales do not deplete my large stash of paper copies, currently residing in my living room. Still, I am hoping that I may reduce the pile a little when I am signing copies in Barnstaple W H Smiths on Saturday.

Peter suggested that, in return for reviewing my book, I might upload my ancestors to his Lost Cousins database. As someone who tries to keep abreast of developments in the family history world, I was aware of Peter’s regular Lost Cousins newsletter but to be honest, I hadn’t considered adding my ancestors to his database. Like the newsletter, contributing to the database is free, although you make a small contribution if you wish to contact those whose ancestry you share (paid up members can however contact you, even if you don’t contribute). It works like this. You upload the details of your ancestors, as they appear in the 1881 census (or 1880 for those in the US). Then you can search for others who have listed the same people. You can also add details from the 1841 and 1911 censuses, although it is advised that you start with 1881. So far, I have only uploaded the details of my own direct ancestors, although there are options to add other individuals you might be interested in. If you do decide to upload, please use the link in this blog there is no prize for me if you do but your entry will be credited to my recommendation.

Regular readers of this blog will be aware of my distinct lack of cousins, so I was a little sceptical of finding matches but it has been an interesting exercise and already one match is showing. It only took me about half an hour to upload all my direct ancestors who appear in the 1881 census, although, to be fair, I had previously done all the searching and had copies of the census entries already. 1881 is too early for any of my grandparents but all eight great grandparents, fourteen of the sixteen great great grandparents and three 3x great grandparents were alive at the time. I know all the descendants of the great grandparents (all six of them!). I have a pretty complete picture of the descendants of the sixteen great great grandparents (my 3rd cousins), although I think a few of the Smiths may have slipped through. My knowledge of the descendants of my 3x great grandparents is less complete, so the three alive in 1881 may well bear fruit and this is where the match I have comes from. I plan to add my entries from the other censuses and also the details of my children’s ancestors.

With the rapidly increasing popularity of DNA testing, the need to trace our family history forwards, as well as backwards, has never been more important, yet so many of us do not focus on more recent research. Uploading to Lost Cousins may well help with this. I have just finished guiding the latest cohort of students through my online Tracing your Twentieth Century Ancestors and their Community course for Pharos Teaching and Tutoring. I am afraid you will have to wait until next year for this one to run again, although places are filling up fast for the Writing and Telling your Family Story course that starts in April. I am also speaking about Twentieth Century Research at Family Tree Live and bookings are now open for this event. Once booked, you can reserve places at the lectures of your choice. Also on the subject of Twentieth Century research, in case you missed the announcement, we now know that FindmyPast will be releasing the English and Welsh 1921 census in three years’ time. As someone who remembers waiting for the 1881 census to be released, I suddenly feel very old.

I am still adding to the write ups of my own ancestral research. I should stress that these are very much works in progress and summaries of research, not necessarily fascinating stories. This week I have uploaded the Woolgars of Sussex.

Thank you to those who have asked about our BeingEdward story. We have been busy with family visits and Martha will be blogging again shortly. This week’s campaign is to encourage the government to stop the inappropriate detention, segregation and seclusion of those with autism and learning difficulties in mental heath units, institutions that are patently not designed to meet their needs. For those who have the time to explore our BeingEdward world further, take a look at this webinar, which introduces you to PDA, which is Edward’s condition.

Of Death Certificates, DNA and other Updates

The arrival of the huge pile small number of death certificates following my ‘beat the price rise’ ordering fest has focussed my mind on various branches of my family tree. I had fun investigating the ‘crushed by a train’ death. Safe to say, considerably more fun than was had by the poor victim at any rate. I have, after more than four decades of researching, begun to put some of my family history narratives online. I have to stress from the outset that these are not beautifully written stories. Instead, they are working documents, intended to set out all the known facts on a particular family, together with the sources for each piece of information. Some do have smatterings of local and social historical context added. So, if you are related to the Dawsons of Essex, the Bulleys of Norfolk, The Oughs of Cornwall, the Pepperells of Devon, the Hoggs of Northumberland, the Meads of Yorkshire, the Seears of London or several other related families, there is something there for you and more will, eventually, follow. Do take a look at the many other surnames of interest that are listed, who knows, we may be related.

 

My DNA estimates June 2017

My regional breakdown based on the documentary evidence

At Christmas, I persuaded Martha to take a DNA test. I was pretty convinced she hadn’t been swapped at birth, so I was certain who her parents were but I was interested in the profile for the ancestry that we do not share. We chose to go for Living DNA as I had been impressed by how accurately my own regional breakdown that they had provided matched the documentary evidence. I wrote about this here. Finding matches was not a priority. I must stress that I am a DNA dabbler and am by no means an expert. I do however understand a few basic principles (I think). I know that we inherit exactly half our DNA from each of our parents (except when it seems we don’t – see below). It is a random half, which is why siblings differ (unless they are identical twins) so in theory it would be possible to inherit nothing from one grandparent (although this would be very unlikely) and the further back you go, the likelihood that no DNA has come down from a particular ancestor increases greatly. I also know that if I am 20% Cornish, Martha will not necessarily be 10% Cornish. She may have inherited more or less than 10% of my Cornish DNA, or indeed none at all. I also understand a little about migration and population movements. You often see posts on online forums complaining that such and such a DNA company hasn’t shown any of granny’s Irish ancestry. This is ignoring the fact that many Irish families were Scottish or English in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It also ignores the fact that these ethnicity estimates are just that, estimates. This is an emerging science and should really only be regarded as a bit of fun.

 

Martha Living DNA regipnal breakdown actual

Martha’s Living DNA regional breakdown

Nonetheless, when Martha’s regional breakdown arrived it was, to put it mildly, weird. She is now wearing lederhosen and eating sauerkraut. These are my thoughts, maybe my DNA expert friends will chip in and find holes in this argument. If half Martha’s DNA is mine, I am interested in the other half. It has been very easy to identify the majority of this. Martha shows as being 34.6% Germanic; I have none. She also has 5% more Scandinavian ancestry than I have, 4.5% more from South Central England and 0.2% more from Northumberland. That adds up to a whopping 44.3% that we do not share, which, as I understand it must represent what she inherits from her father. From whom, I am reasoning, she has also inherited 5.7% of something I can’t identify because it overlaps with mine. I have been following the documentary trail since before Martha was born and I am a reasonable way back on all lines.

Martha documentary

Martha’a regional breakdown based on the documentary evidence

This ethnicity profile in no way reflects what I know of her father’s ancestry, which I would expect to reflect elements from the Channel Islands and Scotland as well as a significant portion from Gloucestershire. The latter came from the Forest of Dean, which is known as historically being a remote community, very unlikely to have been influenced by European in-migration within the genealogical time-frame and beyond. Martha’s paternal aunt has tested with Ancestry and her ethnicity estimate more closely reflects the documentary trail, with nothing Germanic at all.

 

We have been eagerly awaiting Martha’s matches to appear and today they arrived. It may be a relief for her to know that she is who she thinks she is as she matches both me and her aunt, who uploaded her Ancestry results to Living DNA, with the expected relationship. I still don’t understand why, according to Living DNA Martha and I share 47.72% of our DNA and not 50% but I have a great deal to learn about DNA.

For those of you who have taken an interest in our BeingEdward story. I am pleased to report that the number who have read my original post has now reached four figures; so thank you so much to all who read and shared. This week, Martha has posted some insights into what life with BeingEdward means.

Oh and if you were wondering about the progress of the ‘spring’ cleaning, it may be better not to enquire. I have however now discovered that I have enough candles to survive any post-apocalyptic catastrophe, providing I can work out how to run the laptop using candle power.

A Page from the Genealogical Birthday Book: Catherine’s Story

As promised, back to the family history today. Like most genealogists with UK ancestry, I have spent the last few weeks revisiting various branches of my family tree, making sure that I didn’t feel the need to purchase any more birth marriage and death certificates before the price rise. Inevitably, despite having a pretty comprehensive collection, there were a number that just fell into my virtual basket. I am not prepared to disclose precisely how many I am awaiting. I am consoling myself with how much I have saved, not how much I have spent. You know how it is – oh, I could just find out what that baby died from – click here. Annoyingly, I appear to have ordered at least one that I already have but that’s the fault of my inadequate filing system. Whilst I was compiling my very long modest certificate shopping list, I decided to make a note of all the anniversaries of my children’s direct ancestors in the form of a birthday book. I have only started from 1837 (the period of civil registration) and inevitably, there are far more births than deaths or marriages but it is interesting reading. Not much goes on in April or June. 23rd January looks like a dodgy day for our family, with no fewer than five deaths, including Catherine, who is the subject of this post.

Catherine’s birthday is today. I know that from the birthday book that I have created. Apart from my children and grandchildren, I am her only descendant. From my mother’s stories, she was not the most approachable person in the world, certainly not the archetypal cuddly granny. This is not a beautifully crafted story, it is merely my attempt to record the facts. I wish I had a more rounded picture of her life but this is the best I can do.

Catherine Seear 

Catherine Seear

Catherine Seear c. 1871

My great grandmother, Catherine was born on the 2nd of February 1866 to Frederick and Ann Balls Seear née Bulley. The family called her Katie, or Kate. She was their second child; her elder sister, Annie Ellen, lived just a few weeks in 1864. Catherine also had a half-brother, Frederick Rickard Seear, who was nine years old when Catherine was born. Three older half-sisters had also died in infancy. As the only daughter of five to survive, I wonder how her father treated her. The address that is given on Catherine’s birth certificate is 3 Market Terrace, Bridge Road, Bethnal Green, Middlesex.[1] This address does not appear to have existed and may be 3 Newmarket Terrace, Cambridge Road. Catherine’s family were comfortably off; her father was a master grocer with a shop in Hackney High Street, East London. Catherine’s younger brother, Richard, was born when she was thirteen months old.

Catherine Seear c. 1874

Catherine Seear c. 1876

By 1871, the family were living at 105 Grafton Street in Mile End. Her father’s business had expanded; he was a tea dealer employing eighteen men and there were two live-in domestic servants.[2] The family moved again fairly quickly because when Frederick made his will on the 4th of October 1875, he gave his address as 36 Cawley Road, Hackney.[3] In 1881, Catherine and her family were living at 11 Albany Road, Lea Bridge Road, Leyton, Essex.[4] Nothing is known of her education and she may have had private tuition; she spoke very good French.[5]

On the 22nd of February 1884, Catherine’s father, Frederick, died of angina, presumably a stroke, at 11 Albany Road. Despite imaginative searching, his widow, Anne and children Catherine and Richard cannot be found in the 1891 census.[6] When Catherine married the following year, she gave her address as 24 Eastbank, Stamford Hill, Hackney and this address is occupied only by a servant in 1891,[7] so the family may have been away from home. They apparently did enjoy cruises and pictures survive of someone purporting to be Catherine that were taken in Berlin, so they could have been on an overseas trip.[8]

 

Believed to be Catherine Seear. The right hand photograph was taken in Berlin.

On the 7th of June 1892 Catherine Seear married her first cousin, Herbert Havet Smith at St. Thomas’, Hackney. The witnesses were her brother, Richard and Eliza Smith, who was either Herbert’s mother or sister.[9] Their daughter, Edith Katie was born on the 8th of April 1893 and lived for just three days. The number of short-lived girls in the family might suggest some genetic problem. Edith Katie died from marasmus, which is a failure to thrive, akin to malnutrition.[10] She was buried at Abney Park Cemetery.[11] Their son, Frederick Herbert, my grandfather, was born on the 2nd of December 1894 at 32 Braydon Road, Stamford Hill, Middlesex. At the time, Herbert Havet was described as a corn salesman.[12] Frederick was apparently sickly as a child[13] and was not baptised until the 17th of October 1897.[14] The baptism took place at Stamford Hill Congregational Church[15] so it is likely that the family were still connected with the area at this date. This alliance with non-conformity is unusual in the Smith and Seear families and indeed Catherine Smith née Seear is reported to have become a Catholic in later life.[16]

In 1901, together with their young son, my grandfather Frederick Herbert (Eric) and Catherine’s mother, Anne Seear née Bulley, Catherine and Herbert were living at 159 Osbaldston Road, Hackney.[17] Despite having her mother to live with her, Catherine never spoke of her.[18] Anne was to leave this property to Catherine, along with furniture, plate and jewellery, in her will.[19] Herbert Havet was a cornbroker[20] and is thought to have travelled to India and China on business.[21] Several oriental artefacts remain in family possession. About 1908 Herbert and Catherine moved to ‘Lureka’, Westcliffe-on-Sea, Essex.[22] They later moved to Cambridge Road, Westbourne, Bournemouth, Dorset. Despite the ‘servant problem’ of the 1930s, they kept a butler, Basil and their granddaughter particularly remembered the red tulips in the garden.[23] By 1935 were at ‘St. Ann’s’, Bournemouth; this property had been converted into flats before they lived there.[24]

Catherine Smith nee Seear and Gwen Aug 1925

Catherine Smith née Seear and her granddaughter, Gwen

Catherine was described as being standoffish and undemonstrative, very ‘upper crust’ and a little like Queen Mary. She always sat on an upright dining chair with her crochet or knitting, with its steel needles on her lap. [25] The family were comparatively well off and owned other property in the Bournemouth area,[26] apart from the house in which they lived.[27] Apparently, Herbert put their properties into Catherine’s name to save death duties, thus she was able to give away much of their wealth to the Catholic church. Allegedly, they were left with nothing bit mortgages, an eiderdown, two cushions and an orange box for a table. If this is the case, then Herbert re-couped some of the money before his own death, twelve year’s after Catherine died. [28]

When Catherine died of a heart attack,[29] reportedly whilst replacing a light bulb,[30] on the 23rd of January 1938, they were living at 5 Branksome Gate, Western Road, Bournemouth.[31]

 

[1]    The birth certificate of Catherine Seear, 1866, from the General Register Office.

[2]    1871 census for 105 Grafton Street, Mile End, Middlesex RG10 568 folio 68.

[3]    The will of Frederick Seear proved 1884, held at The Principal Probate Registry.

[4]    1881 census for 11 Albany Road, Leabridge Road, Leyton, Essex RG11 1726 folio 5.

[5]   Information from the late Gwendoline Catherine Braund née Smith, granddaughter of Catherine Smith née Seear.

[6]    Census indexes for England and Wales at http://www.findmypast.co.uk.

[7]    1891 census for 24 Eastbank, Stamford Hill, Hackney, Middlesex RG12 183 folio 46.

[8]    Information from the late Gwendoline Catherine Braund née Smith, granddaughter of Catherine Smith née Seear. Photographs in the possession of the late Alan Seear.

[9]    The marriage certificate of Herbert Havet Smith and Catherine Seear, 1892 in family possession.

[10]  Death certificate of Edith Katie Smith 1893 from the General Register Office.

[11]    Abney Park Cemetery burials index website                           http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~abneypark/abneyy.html

[12]  The birth certificate of Frederick Herbert Smith 1894 from the General Register Office.

[13]   Information from the late Gwendoline Catherine Braund née Smith, granddaughter of Catherine Smith née Seear.

[14]   Baptismal certificate of Frederick Herbert Smith, in family possession.

[15]    Baptismal certificate of Frederick Herbert Smith, in family possession.

[16]    Information from the late Gwendoline Catherine Braund née Smith, granddaughter of Catherine Smith née Seear.

[17]    1901 census for 159 Osbaldston Road, Hackney Middlesex RG13 213 folio 87.

[18]    Information from the late Gwendoline Catherine Braund nee Smith, granddaughter of Catherine Smith née Seear.

[19]    The will of Ann Balls Seear proved 1918, held at the Principal Probate Registry.

[20]    The marriage certificate of Herbert Havet Smith and Catherine Seear 1892, in family possession.

[21]    Information from the late Gwendoline Catherine Braund née Smith, granddaughter of Catherine Smith née Seear.

[22]    Information from the late Gwendoline Catherine Braund née Smith, granddaughter of Catherine Smith née Seear.

[23]    Information from the late Gwendoline Catherine Braund nee Smith, granddaughter of Catherine Smith née Seear.

[24]    Information from the late Gwendoline Catherine Braund née Smith, granddaughter of Catherine Smith née Seear.

[25]    Information from the late Gwendoline Catherine Braund née Smith, granddaughter of Catherine Smith née Seear.

[26]    29 Surrey Road and ‘Hawthorn’ 40 Alumhurst Road.

[27]    Probate account in association with the will of Frederick Herbert Smith, proved 1957, in family possession.

[28]    Information from the late Gwendoline Catherine Braund née Smith, granddaughter of Catherine Smith née  Seear. Probate account in association with the will of Frederick Herbert Smith, proved 1957, in family possession.

[29]    The death certificate of Catherine Smith née Seear 1938, in family possession.

[30]    Information from the late Gwendoline Catherine Braund née Smith, granddaughter of Catherine Smith née Seear.

[31]   The death certificate of Catherine Smith née Seear 1938, in family possession.

The Hidden Children?: my thoughts on home education

Firstly, an apology to those who follow my somewhat random posts for the history, for the bits about books, or for the occasionally vaguely witty observations about my travels or my life in general. This is not one of those posts. There is something about today’s world that appears to have turned me into some kind of activist. It would probably be more accurate to say that I have been forced out of my comfort zone and those maverick qualities that I have always had have surfaced. I hope that you will read this anyway, despite its length (you’d better, I got up at 3am to write this because I needed to get it out of my head).

I also have to make it quite clear that I have nothing but admiration for all those who work within our beleaguered school system, struggling with increasingly inadequate funding and layers of ridiculous and frequently unnecessary bureaucracy. Many of my friends and family work, or have worked, in schools. In my convoluted career I have been and still am, associated with education in a variety of ways; in mainstream schools, in private schools, in special schools and in adult education. I was a pupil at three very different establishments, I have been a teacher, a teaching assistant, a governor, a university tutor, a bursar, a dinner lady and a parent.

Home education has been given a high profile of late and much of the media coverage has been negative. I have never been a home educator but I have encouraged friends to home educate and I have been a tutor for home educated children. Oh how I regret that I did not add this to my list of roles. There is talk of ‘hidden children’, children who have somehow slipped beneath the radar of officialdom. Suddenly, this is seen as some kind of scandal. Absolutely, the welfare of every child is paramount. Home education should never be allowed to mask inappropriate treatment of a young person but the recent demonization of all those who, often reluctantly, see no option but to take their children out of the school system is deeply unjust. With the exception of an infinitesimally small percentage, children are not home educated in order to deliberately hide them from the authorities.

Compromise is a necessary feature of even the best of schools. No teacher, however brilliant, can possibly be doing the absolute best for all thirty of the children in front of them at any one moment, let alone all of the time. Of course, teachers differentiate but no one can personally cater optimally for thirty different ability levels and learning styles every minute of the day. As a teacher, for the most part, you play to the middle, throwing as many scraps as you can to those on the periphery, perhaps, if funding cuts haven’t yet hit, with the aid of a teaching assistant. This isn’t bad teaching, it is survival. I have taught classes of just three children, where I was acutely aware that what I was delivering really only suited one of them. Yes I made sure it wasn’t always the same pupil but it meant that these children were not receiving an ideal education for much of each day. Despite this, broadly speaking, schools work well for most pupils, most of the time. Yet there have always been and always will be, those children for whom school is not the right place. Indeed for a few, it is so bad a fit that it is positively harmful and often having those children in a classroom is to the detriment of not just that child but also of the others in that group. These are the children on the side-lines, so far on the margins that they are, at best, ignored. At worst, their frustration, their anguish or their terror means that become disruptive and they are removed from the classroom, or they are permanently excluded. These children have been labelled forever. They are seen to be failures, yet it is they who have been failed. I really wish that our schools were ideal places for everyone but we are a long way from that and with more and more slashing of budgets, we are getting further away by the day. Here is the real scandal. The real hidden children are those who are within the school system yet are being failed by it.

So let me tell those who frown upon home educators, that this is not a decision that has been taken lightly. It is hugely difficult to keep your children at home. You have no resources, no pay, no energy and no respite. It can of course be unbelievably rewarding and indeed vital for those for whom school just does not work, for a variety of reasons. The home educating parent is investing heavily emotionally, practically and financially in creating an individually tailored, nurturing learning environment because they believe that this is overwhelmingly in their child’s best interests. The media’s implication that all home educated children are neglected, when in the vast majority of cases that could not be further from the truth, is not only wildly inaccurate but hugely disrespectful and damaging, as well as causing untold distress.

I was very nearly a home educator. As my eldest child neared school age, I doubted that school could prevent her from becoming disaffected and bored. Then we moved house and I approached three local schools to ask what provision they could make for my nearly four year old who could happily read the likes of Winnie the Pooh (unabridged) and was as precociously numerate as she was literate. I was brushed off, I was patently disbelieved and then I found the right school. All went well for four years. We lived in an area where children changed schools at the age of nine and again at thirteen. My child had been working with children up to two years older than she was. When her friends reached nine, I was told that my eight year old should stay where she was, whilst her classmates moved on. This ridiculous decision was based purely on her physical size. I was furious but impotent. Her academic education did not suffer but her friendship groups were severed and she became socially isolated. She would be the first to say that this did not materially change until she went to university.

Although I had seriously considered home education for daughter number one, school was working for her (at least at that point), so daughter number two went to school, of course she did, it is what you do. All the warning signs were there. Why did I ignore the fact that this daughter spoke to no one at school, unless she was directly addressed, for over two years? Why did I not read more in to her hitting me with her lunch box on the way home each day because I had put her through such a traumatising experience? Hindsight is a wonderful thing. So we persevered with school, she duly moved schools at nine and then the bullying began. Any school that tells you they do not have a bullying problem is deluded. What differs is how well they deal with it. This school dealt with it badly. Their solution was to suggest putting my already bored and disaffected child into a lower ability set to keep her away from the main perpetrator. I refused. Why should the victim be disadvantaged? Matters got worse. My child began deliberately underperforming and then school refusing. I spent many long weeks gradually getting her back in to school. Looking back, I have no idea why I did this. It remains the single worst mistake I have made as a parent. I have never been one to bow to social pressures, so I cannot cite that as a reason. I suppose, despite all the evidence to the contrary, I still had faith in the system. To make matters worse, I had the time and the experience to home educate. What little paid work I was doing would have been compatible with helping my child to learn at home. I would have had to sacrifice nothing but convention. I still can’t explain why I didn’t take her out of school and it is one of my biggest regrets that I did not. School left lasting scars on my child and any learning was despite, not because of, the education system. This was not all down to the school itself; it was primarily because my child was so deeply incompatible with that learning environment, that the experience was both harrowing and harmful.

I fully support our education system yet, equally, I realise that there are some children who are infinitly better off outside it. As regards education in the academic sense, there are few who would argue that a personally tailored one-to-one delivery is not the best vehicle for imparting information. Yes, learning to work with others is a skill, as is accepting that you cannot always be the main focus of attention but that can be part of home education. There is a massive emphasis on schools as a vehicle for socialisation as well as education. This is ridiculously artificial. At what other stage in life are you socialising with twenty nine other people with whom you may have nothing in common apart from your chronological age? As someone close to me said, you end up sitting next to the least worst person. Of course, we all have to live in the real world and learn to get along, to a greater or lesser extent, with others and be part of a group but school does not have the monopoly on providing this experience. Home education is not incompatible with socialisation, in fact it can encourage socialisation with a much wider range of people. Peers can be cruel as well as kind. Enforced school-induced socialisation wreaks irrevocable psychological damage on countless bullied children; every year some are driven to take their own lives.

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After all that I thought we deserved a nice calming picture

We also have to acknowledge that there are those for whom the prospect of interacting with others is an overwhelmingly anxious process. We would not remove hearing aids from a deaf child and expect them to ‘get used to it’ and somehow hear better as a result. Society would rightly be appalled at the prospect. Yet we do not apply the same measure to those with crippling social anxiety. By the application of some seriously perverted logic we think that throwing them into the school environment will help them ‘get used to it’. This is not just the equivalent of ‘the deep end’ but a bottomless chasm. It may be that this extreme form of exposure therapy might appear, on the surface, to work (the  child stays in school is the imperfect indicator of success) but at what hidden emotional cost? How much better would it be to lead that child gently and slowly, in a calm and supported environment, introducing them to others a few at a time, until the appallingly frightening prospect of ‘other people’ becomes more manageable.

In recent days, the media hype about ‘hidden children’ has reached a frenzy. Home educated children are not hidden. For the most part, they are happy, well-balanced, inquisitive young people who are learning important life skills alongside more traditionally academic topics in a manner that is one hundred per cent suitable for them. They are often highly skilled at self-motivation and are superior independent learners who are preparing to become engaged, sociable and often brilliant adults who are an asset to the workplace and society as a whole. The ill-informed who believe the ‘fake news’ now view all home educating parents as resting somewhere on a scale between weird and abusive. These parents are incredibly hard-working and self-sacrificing. They have often come to home education only after a lengthy battle to get suitable provision for their child within the school system; provision that the grossly overstretched resources cannot always provide. We have to accept that and not continue to attempt to fit the proverbial square pegs in to round holes, doing irreparable damage as we knock off those corners in the process. It is not and does not have to be, one size fits all. Instead of vilifying home educators, can we not celebrate difference and support those who have made this decision, not lightly, not on a whim but frequently out of sheer necessity? We do not all have to be the same, different does not have to be wrong.

For those who are here for the history, ponder on this. It is only in the last hundred and fifty years that we have universally delegated the education of our children to others. Until then, most children learned what they needed to from their parents and those around them, within the home. That may not have been best for everyone but it was certainly better for some. I for one want to live in a society where we have the freedom to choose what is best for our children and one where we are supported in that choice, even if the path we choose is not the conventional one.

Normal service will resume soon, I promise.

 

 

 

 

 

A Visit from Chantelle Atkins

Last November, I visited Chantelle on her blog The Glorious Outsiders. Now it is time for her to stop by on my blog. I asked her about her writing life:

966419_520738181296053_718030010_oYour website is called The Glorious Outsider, can you say a little more about why you chose that name?

  • Yes, when I first started a blog it was just named after me, but a few years back someone I know online was sharing a lot of interesting content about building your brand and improving your website. It helped me think about my books and what I want my website to say about them, so I revamped my site accordingly. When thinking about what all my books have in common, I realised that all of my main characters are outsiders in one way or another, and also that none of them are ashamed of this. In fact, they take pride in it. That’s where the title Glorious Outsiders came from, and it just means people who are fine with being a bit different, or on the outside of something. It sums me up and my writing and my characters.

tbwttihs-p3 (1)What have you written that you are most proud of?

  • I would have to say the series I am working on, The Boy With The Thorn In His Side. It’s been such a long and complex journey. All my other novels were dreamed up, written down, published and dealt with. But this one first came to me when I was 12, and I wrote an early version of it at that age, again at 14, 16 and 19. It just wouldn’t go away and the characters have always been totally real to me. They are in my head almost constantly. I finally wrote it and published it in 2013 in two parts, and then went on to publish a sequel, This Is The Day, as the characters were still chatting to me, giving me ideas. I then revised it again a few years later and merged the two parts into one huge book. Since then ideas for a storyline that would slot between that book and the sequel would not leave me alone. To keep them quiet, I started penning a screenplay of this storyline, and this just encouraged it to get louder, so I then turned it into a novel. This led to the decision to revise The Boy With The Thorn In His Side yet again, split it back into two separate books, Part One and Part Two, release the new material as Part Three, revise and release what was the sequel as Part Four, and now inevitably, I’ve gone and written a rough draft of Part Five and plotted Part Six! What was a storyline I dreamt up as a 12-year-old will now be a six-part series I would describe as coming-of-age, suspense, crime and psychological thriller! Parts One and Two, with new covers have already been re-released and Part Three will be released at the start of February, with Part Four close after. I am proud of it, mainly because I wrote it purely for me, and because I still love the storylines and the characters so much, all these years later! I’m also proud of how much work has gone into it.

Would you say that what you write is character driven or plot driven?

  • I’d say it’s character driven in that the characters always come first. I get them first and the background, storylines, back stories and so on always come after. I normally build a plot around the characters that have arrived.

If I was looking at your typical reader, who would I see?

  • I thought about this recently and even blogged about it! I see my typical reader as someone a lot like me. Introverted but friendly, drawn to the dark side but eternally optimistic. I think they like character driven books, something hard-hitting and edgy. They might also be a music fan, and someone who craves nature.

Are there other writers or creative people in your family?

  • Not really, I was always the only one, but two of my four children do enjoy writing. My son prefers drawing, but will write comic books and bits of narrative for this characters, and my eldest daughter writes a lot of crime based stories.

How does your writing fit in with the rest of your life?

  • I make time for it every day. Now that my youngest has started full time school, I have a lot more time to work on writing in the day, but I do still do an hour or two each evening after he’s gone to bed as well. I run my own Community Interest Company which is writing based, so that keeps me busy as well, and I try to split my time equally between working on projects and events for that, and writing my own stuff. Writing is always in my head though. I’m the most distracted person I know, always in a dream, always thinking about the storylines and the characters!

You are in your dream location. Where are you?

  • I would say, just over the road from my house, Sopley Common. It’s a beautiful, wild, untamed landscape of sandy hills, heather and gorse, heathland, woods and streams. Mostly unoccupied I find, meaning I can walk my dogs in peace and think about writing! It’s featured heavily in two of my novels, This Is Nowhere and Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature.

How did you go about getting your first book published?

  • I tried the agent and traditional publisher route for some time, and then decided to go with an indie publishing platform at the time called Autharium. They then went out of business and I put my books with Pronoun, who did a similar job but better. They then also went out of business, so I just self-published. Last year I signed up to an indie collective called Pict Publishing though. It’s still self-publishing but with a supportive network around you and the people running it have a lot of advice about marketing and promotional strategies, so I’m happy with it so far.

What one tip would you give to someone who says that they want to write a book?

  • Stop thinking you don’t have time, you’re not good enough, it won’t sell etc. Just clear your mind of all negatives and just do it. Once you’ve got that first draft you’re halfway there, but you’ve just got to get it done. Get it out.

What are you working on at the moment?

  • A few things! Obviously preparing The Boy With The Thorn In His Side Parts Threeand Four for release. Part Five is really calling to me for a second draft, but I’m trying to hold off at the moment, as I started a YA post-apocalyptic series I’m really passionate about, and it keeps getting side-lined. I’m up to Chapter 12 in book one and really want to get the first draft of book one done this year, so I’m dipping into it when I can. Obviously, the new releases come first and lots of preparation is going into that… Also, I have another YA book ready, A Song For Bill Robinson, and I want to send it out to a few publishers again, just in case. So I’m currently doing a read through on Word and trying to get the word count down, while also putting together a synopsis and a list of possible publishers. If no luck, I will also place it with Pict Publishing and release it towards the end of 2019 I expect. I’m also working on a second short story collection. I tend to accumulate them and released a collection in 2016. I also have some poetry this time around, which is new territory for me, but if I’m feeling really brave they will go into this collection and it will possibly get released this year.

What do you hope to achieve in the next five years?

  • I hope The Boy With The Thorn In His Side six part series is all finished and published. I’d then like to work on screenplays and try submitting them to competitions etc. I hope to have also completed the YA post-apocalyptic series and have published it. The short story and poetry collection will be out. The Ya book A Song For Bill Robinson will be published and it’s sequel, which I’ve also written, Emily’s Baby. If they are all out and done, I hope to be working on either the sequel to The Mess Of me and/or the sequel to The Tree Of Rebels, plus there is another book I have planned, which is sort of a spin-off book from The Boy series. Two characters appear in Part Five and Six and they are going to be getting their own book! I think that will keep me busy!

Chantelle Atkins was born and raised in Dorset, England and still resides there now with her husband, four children and multiple pets. She is addicted to reading, writing and music and writes for both the young adult and adult genres. Her fiction is described as gritty, edgy and compelling. Her debut Young Adult novel The Mess Of Me deals with eating disorders, self-harm, fractured families and first love. Her second novel, The Boy With The Thorn In His Side follows the musical journey of a young boy attempting to escape his brutal home life and has now been developed into a 6 book series. She is also the author of This Is Nowhere and award-winning dystopian, The Tree Of Rebels, plus a collection of short stories related to her novels called Bird People and Other Stories. Her next book Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature was released through Pict Publishing in October 2018. Chantelle has had multiple articles about writing published by Author’s Publish magazine.

Links:

Website/blog : https://chantelleatkins.com/

Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/chantelleatkinswriter

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Chanatkins

Pinterest: https://uk.pinterest.com/chantelleatkins/

https://www.instagram.com/chantelleatkinswriter/

Email Newsletter Sign Up: http://eepurl.com/bVVbGD

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/chantelleatkinswriter/

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Chantelle-Atkins/e/B00J7ACVCY/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Of Wonderful People, Chilling with a Book and a Little more about Edward

It is now a week since I posted about the wonderful world of Edward. During the past seven days we have been overwhelmed by the strength and the positivity of the responses that we have received. Thank you is completely inadequate. Thank you to the 76 people, from seven different countries, who shared my original post and to the unknown number who shared those shares. Thank you to the 844 people (and the number is still rising) who have viewed the post and thank you to those who have retweeted. The many comments and private messages of support, understanding and thanks have been amazing. You have no idea how important these are to Edward’s family. At one point Martha (Edward’s mum) said, ‘Aren’t there any negative comments’ and no there weren’t, not one single one because I have wonderful friends, so thank you again. We have tried to save all the comments for Edward to see when he is older. We believe that we have probably reached at least 1000 people, who are now a little more aware of what life with PDA can be like. To say this exceeded our expectations is beyond an understatement and it is not over yet. On the strength of this response and for the many of you who said you would like to hear more about life with Edward, Martha has now set up her own blog Being Edward, with the associated twitter account @being_edward so please do take a look. This process has been incredibly positive and uplifting for our family and it is all down to you; a real indication that social media can be a force for good and of course that I have wonderful friends.

chill with a book barefoot on the cobbles by janet fewLife has gone on in the midst of this media storm. I am ridiculously excited to have received a Chill with a Book Award for Barefoot on the Cobbles and the reviews and feedback have been wonderful. Another thank you. I promise I am working on book two but give me a year or so. There is even something that passes for continuous narrative now, about 4000 words worth. Ok, so they are going to need a lot of work but narrative nonethless. I am getting ridiculously sidetracked by the research and the focus is shifting slightly as I write but I hope the end result will incorporate many of the elements that you tell me you enjoyed in Barefoot.

More information about Barefoot on the Cobbles can be found here. Copies are available at various events and at all my presentations. You can order from Blue Poppy Publishing or directly from me. Kindle editions are available for those in the UK, USA, Australasia and Canada.