Thursday, 4 February 2016

Pat's Story: Finding Family

Hi, my name is Pat, I have been asked to write a little piece about my interest in family history.

I was trying to remember why I started with the ancestry. I remembered it was for the children , you know and my grandchildren. Also to continue the work my father started when, before the age of the internet, he spent many painstaking hours searching through microfilm at the archives of the Mormon Church he belonged to and made many long trips about to verify his information.
My family is somewhat fragmented, as is the way today, and I hoped that my investigations would help to give my children and grandchildren more of a sense of belonging and rootedness.

There is a sense of excitement in the chase in studying family history. The satisfaction of the sleuth, who seeks out all the clues, follows the hints and the intuitions and meticulously and thoroughly verifies each piece of new information. It is a bit like a detective novel that you cannot put down. Well at least it is for those of us who find it addictive and comb the internet into the wee small hours.

For the most part my family is kind of unremarkable, no connection to royalty detected yet! However I have found a fascination in that ordinariness, in peeking into the lives of people living more than a hundred years ago maybe. Also I have a renewed sense of injustice about the lives they lived, the struggles they endured, and their bravery in the face of it. I’m afraid my findings have awoken a new disdain for the “toffs”, the aristocracy, Royalty even and the people who got rich on the backs of other people’s suffering.

As I said my family is mostly unremarkable, well, unless you count my great grandfather, who left his first wife to die in the workhouse while he married another and then was sentenced to 12 months hard labour for bigamy. To be fair, he came out of prison and remarried the second wife (my great grandmother), so- love maybe? Not much consolation for the first wife though. Therein is a great tragedy as two of her children died along with her.
My great grandfather went on to have twelve more children with my great grandmother, he fathered sixteen children in all, yet died at the age of fourty, worn out from a life in the coal mines of the Welsh Valleys. Only 11 of those children survived to adulthood, more tragedy.

You make contacts when you are studying family history. I have been in touch with several distant cousins, and also one first cousin that I never really knew due to a family rift, oddly he still doesn’t seem to want to talk to me, even though I never met him and the trouble was nothing to do with me! Takes all sorts doesn’t it.?
Anyway, I have been in contact with a few other people who I never knew before, relatives that I didn’t know existed, most of whom are extremely friendly. Like my distant cousin, Aywin, who travelled to Birkenhead archives to view the workhouse records from 1882, which led to the unfolding of the above mentioned tragedy. The first lady was her great grandmother, we share the same great grandfather, not sure exactly what relation that makes us, probably half cousins three times removed I think? We have become quite close and it is remarkable to learn similar family customs and traditions have been brought down to both of us.

It can take a lot of time to find and confirm all the facts of family events long ago. Also it can be a little costly if it is necessary to order birth, death or marriage certificates. Sometimes this is needed but sometimes you can manage without them. The census records and indexes of births marriages and deaths are usually the first place to start. Census records began in 1841, are still being recorded today, every ten years, but are not accessible for 100 years, thus the most recent census available is the 1911. I really only consider myself a beginner in Ancestry research, I’m no expert, I have a lot to learn still. I think the real challenge begins when you start to look prior to the census records and then have to become more resourceful about where to find information. There is a lot out there though, many different sights and resources. There have been many fascinating moments and discoveries I have made. It made me laugh when investigating the local history of a small Welsh mining town to find that when the owner of the pit decided to cut the workers’ wages, four miners made a citizen’s arrest and marched him to the police station, for “stealing” their wages, I presume. Trouble ensued and riots that are remembered to this day. How feisty and brave these people were. In these circumstances often the ring leaders would find themselves on a transport ship to Australia!

I have joined a course in family history at the local library, just 2 hours a week, enough to cope with. Also a good place to meet interesting people and to learn lots more about various sources and archives, everyone has a new bit of news about where to get information, and a fascinating story to tell about their own family.

It is there that I learned that it is possible to access midwives records from the 19th century, and that many women went purposefully to the workhouse to give birth as that was the only hospital service available to them. It is likely that my elusive great grandfather was born in Liverpool workhouse. I was fascinated to learn that after London Hospitals, Liverpool workhouse hospital was considered the best in the country as it was the second to be staffed by properly trained Florence Nightingale Nurses. Who would have thought it? A large part of the NHS developed from these workhouse hospitals.

I hope this article is not becoming too long for you MEers out there, my apologies if I go on a bit. I have made a few other interesting discoveries. For one, I was aghast to find my Irish grandmothers name ( the other side of the family now) amongst a long list of girls in a school run by Nuns in Belfast. My grandmother described this as an orphanage. It was probably what they called an “Industrial School” a kind of workhouse for girls really. I was told the nuns were very cruel. Due to my great grandmother and her five daughters being evicted from their tenant farm the girls had to go to the orphanage. More injustice! But at least they all survived.

Well I won’t go on too much longer. I have picked up on a few other interesting things in different branches of the family. Families branch out you see, we have four grandparents, eight great grandparents, 16 g G grandparents...and so on. And of course so many cousins and aunts in each generation, it’s hard deciding who to leave out! A few other interesting things cropped up though. A vicar who went to Shanghai as a missionary in 1920, Someone who ran an amusement park to rival Alton Towers today, that was in the 1800s, a travelling salesman in 1900, a distant cousin who was a well known artist and engraver, who I still need to investigate. I discovered that in the 1830s you could be sentenced to life in prison for stealing a pair of trousers, ( it seems to have been a common crime!) Maybe they stole them from the washing line? Who knows? Oh , and I found another great grandmother who was charged with Larceny ( stealing) and who seemed to have several false names.

Really in all I have found my admiration goes to the women who remained strong through so much adversity and surprisingly often flouted convention more times than you would imagine. To have several illegitimate children before marriage in the 19th century was not actually uncommon (just like today!) When I have found a woman who , together with her children, left her most likely abusive husband and moved in with a chap 15 years her junior to live “over the brush” as it was called, I have to say .....Go Grandma! Good for you!

Enough for now. I got up from my bed to write this. I had retired feeling tired and achey as I went out today and got chilled. Though my M E is somewhat improved these days, I find that I cannot stand the cold and get chilled very easily and it makes me feel a lot more ill. I decided in the end that I needed to take my mind off how I felt as nothing was helping to make me feel better. It has done the trick, I am not feeling half as bad now. I have realised that I am going to have to spend a lot of time in the house this winter, not easy as I live alone. I think really that perhaps my Ancestry studies may be one thing that helps to keep me sane. I get lost in it. I can spend hours and hours seeking that one bit of information. I even once sat up all night until 7am pouring over it.

If you are interested it can be a great distraction. If you can manage to sit at your pc comfortably for long enough, ( long sessions are not really good for me, I get back ache and obviously pay for it later and then have to give it a rest for a while) However it is a stimulating challenge to the mind and can avert boredom and frustration. If you can sit up in bed with your tablet though, that’s probably an option. Myself I cannot get comfortable sitting up in bed but my rise and recline chair is my best friend.

I hope you have found this article a little interesting and have seen how family history study can connect you with people and give you some sense of purpose.