Sunday, 9 October 2011

Family History

I began tracing my family history about 10 years ago before the days of all those fascinating programmes magically unearthing amazing links to historic figures in the past of celebrities - and of course much harder work than it appears too! Being the actual searcher and having the experience of handling the enormous paper registers at the family records office with its earnest and hushed atmosphere - is an unbeatable experience. I am glad too that I have had the experience of hand cranking the microfiche machine when I compare it with the infinitely faster online method. Still I am grateful to the internet for the new opportunities it has given us to track down more and more information about our ancestors and for the online community of relatives it reveals to us.

It can still be a fraught business and lead you up the wrong path. Having found wall to wall working class crafts people on both sides of my parents' family lines I was, for one nano second, interested to see the splindly words Lawyer written on a marriage certificate - only to realise it said "Steam Sawyer".(yet more woodworkers!)

Tracking down my grandmother took another wrong path initially. Not a very common combination of names and the same birth year turned up - unbeknownst to me - two candidates. I only spotted one and established a story in my head about how my grandmother had come from alkali labourer stock in the Preston area. Later in transpired that she came from the only middle class part of my family history. Her family, it seems, were in the luggage trade and were located in a wealthy part of central London. Here is my grandmother in her Edwardian hat in about 1915:
Family group
There is a lot of interest in the census records. Over the years this 10 yearly audit added more fields of information but the sense of overcrowding, the age of the children already working, whole families engaged in one industry...the glove trade on the other side...and the mortality rates...fascinating stuff.

It was the sepia postcard photograph of this family group that set me off I suppose - given to me for safe keeping by my father but I think it is the lives of the working families that interest me the most. I try to imagine what kind of conditions a dyer might have endured in 1840s  Devon, or what it was like to be a female home worker making gloves. I have travelled to London and the west country in search of streets and houses to try and get a sense of my ancestors and visited their graves where I could to add to my knowledge and been greatly rewarded and frustrated in turn. I have enjoyed every minute of it though and almost wish I could start all over again!

1 comment:

  1. They do make it look very easy on that TV programme, don't they. It sounds like you've done really well tracing your family. We've tried but we can't get beyond the pogroms in Russia in the early 1900s. All records were destroyed. I do love sepia photographs. Aren't those hats amazing.