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Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Backdrops to Life: Sepia Saturday

A vintage studio photograph is the subject of this week's Sepia Saturday prompt.  My  focus was, not on the person (a baseball player),  but on the backdrop.  I turned to my family collection to find a range of examples of sea, drapes, stairways, idyllic rural  scenery and dreamy views as backdrops to studio photographs. 

A  Seaside Setting, complete with a spade prop,   was created in this photograph in my Great Aunt Jennie' Danson's  collection - labelled Jessie and Bernard Pennington, Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire. 

Stately Stairways were often used to give the impression of a grand country garden settig. 

A lovely little curly headed  girl with her teddy. 
 Unfortunately this photograph in my great aunt's collection  was unidentified. 

Janie Riley of  Fleetwood, Lancashire, c.1916,
 a relation of my great grandmother's family 

 Stanley Wood of Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire, c.1916  - 
one of many such photographs taken as men set off for service in Flanders.

Confirmation photograph of my husband's great aunt - Violet Hibbert 
taken at  Frank & Hamilton, Ocean Road, South Shields, County Durham. 
Look closely and you will see the stairway on the right. 

My husband's  grandparents Matthew Iley White and Alice Armitage, 
with their daughters  Lalla, Patti,  and standing -  Ivy. c.1914
Photographer taken at Crown Buildings, 74 Ocean Road, South Shields. 
Again the stairway can just be seen leading  off the picture on the right.

Exotic Plants feature  in photographs taken in Blackpool, Lancashire , and the same plant turns up across the country in South Shields, Co. Durham.  

My cousin's father Arthur Stuart Ingram Smith, born 1907 in Blackpool,  and looking rather unhappy here, clad  in a tartan dress as was the custom for very young boys.   The tartan reflected the family's pride  in their Scottish roots,  with an ancestral trail leading back to Unst,  the most northerly island in the Shetlands.  Photographer - Arthur's  father Edward Stewart Ingram Smith. 

My husband's uncle  - Matthew Iley White (1915-1978)
Photograph taken by T. W. H. Liddle, Photographer, South Shields.  

Opulent Drapes are, rather inappropriately  the backdrop to this group of sailors.

Jack Riley of Fleetwood, Lancashire (sister of Janie above)   is identified in the centre  of this group, wearing sailor’s uniform  and a cap HMS Chester, c.1916.

Idyllic Country Scenes were the most popular backdrop  (as in  the prompt photograph below) whatever the age, occupation  or status  of the sitter.  

Jackie Threlfall, wearing the popular sailor suit.
Taken by ? Watson, 13 Wellington Terrace, Blackpool 

An unknown boy, taken at  Speed Photos,   South Shields. 

Joseph Prince Oldham (1855-1917) and his granddaughter Elsie Oldham, proudly showing off her doll, c.1911 .The Oldham family were carters and coalmen in Blackpool, Lancashire and  Elsie Oldham and my mother, Kathleen Danson, were second cousins

Beatrice Oldham  married Jack Clarke in 1919 in Blackpool, Lancashire.   

Little Arthur Smith again, c.1909
The note on the back of this photograph reads  "Arthur in his first pair  of trousers". 

Dreamy Backdrops to finish with:  

My Nana -  Mary Barbara Weston, nee Matthews. 

My husband's uncle again - Matthew Iley White - named after his father above.
Photograph taken by T. W. H. Liddle, Photographer, South Shields.  

 My cousin Stuart with his sister and how angelic they look, with their blond locks obviously inherited form their father Arthur (above) 


Sepia Saturday give bloggers an opportunity to share 
their family history and memories through photographs.

Click HERE  to see what has struck other bloggers about this week''s prompt  


Saturday, 20 May 2017

Books that have Inspired my Family History

         "Which five books have you found most useful  in your  
                                         genea activities?

This is the challenge that Jill Ball  of GeniAus has thrown at us, picking up on a  blog post from Meg Carney blogging on the QSQ blog.

My focus is more on the  books that have inspired my family history writing,  and given me a better understanding of the lives of my ancestors. 

  • Wiliam and Christina:  One Woman's Search for her Ancestors, by Hilary Wallace Forester.   Published by William Sessions Limited, 1988.
 I first came across this book years ago  at my local archive centre  and was immediately attracted by its format.  The author traces the story of her great grandparents,  William Wallace and Christina Galbraith   - their ancestors and descendants;  the background to their lives;  and the places and times in which they lived.  

My own story of "James and Maria" owes much to her approach,  though it is over several volumes narrating each branch of the family,.


  • Who Do You Think You Are?  The Essential Guide to Tracing Your Family History. by Dan Waddell.  BBC Books, 2004.
I bought this at an early stage of being serious about my family history. Written to accompany the major BBC TV series, it offers a basic guide to research with examples of the lives unearthed by the celebrities in the TV  - an inspiration for us to take up the research challenge. 

  •      "How to be a Victorian" by Ruth Goodman, published by the Penguin Group in 2013.
Do you want to find out what life was really like for your ancestors living  in Victorian Britain?    The book gives us an insight  into how Victorians lived their daily lives, whether they be rich of poor, town or country based.  Material has been gathered from contemporary accounts,  letters, diaries, newspapers and magazines.   

The author takes an innovative approach by following a typical routine  day in all its detail  from Waking Up in the Morning  to Evening Behind the Bedroom Door.

Of added interest are the descriptions by the  author of her attempts to experience some aspects  of Victorian life  - such as doing the laundry, trying out Victorian recipes, heating the home or  struggling into the multi layers of dress.

We often can gather information quite easily on the life of the upper classes, but the emphasis here is very much on the day to day lives  of ordinary people - in other words like most of our ancestors. 

  •  Out of the Dolls House, by Angela Holdsworthy:  the story of women n the 20th century,. BBC Books, 1988,
In many ways the book complements my third title listed above.   It presents a social history  exploring  the changing role of women of all ages and social backgrounds, and relates to the lives of our mothers and grandmothers. 

  • Local Histories - too numerous to mention individually.

    Again these are invaluable in  putting our ancestors lives in the wide context of where they lived.  My "ancestral" home is Poulton-le-Fylde near Blackpool, Lancashire and I try to buy every local history book on the small town.   I have discovered photographs of my great uncle in a local football team,  early class photographs of where my aunt and mother went to school, and the terraced house (since demolishes),  where my great grandmother raised  a large family of eight  sons, one daughter and one granddaughter.   


A message from Jill of GeniAus
To participate in this meme,  simply pen a blog post sharing details of five books written by others you have found most useful in your geneactivities.  Use the above graphic to decorate your post if you wish. Please let me know via a comment on my  post HERE  or via another form of social media when your post is done and I will add it to a compilation that I will publish on this blog in early June. 


Thursday, 18 May 2017

My Mini-Skirt Days : Sepia Saturday

This week's Sepia Saturday prompt photograph shows a pair of fish net clad legs, with a mini skirt well above the knees.   So it was time to take a look back at the 1960's and 70's - a time to hunt out my needle and thread to take up my skirts and follow the trend. 

In the UK, designer Mary Quant is usually credited with introducing the Mini-Skirt, and she was said to name the style after her favourite make of car - the Mini.   It came to symbolise the era of the "Swinging Sixties".

1965  - A family photograph before I set off for a year in the USA.  I am wearing a very staid pinafore dress, the length covering my knees. The Mini Skirt had yet to reach my fashion world.

1965  -  A favourite photograph with my father .  I am wearing a pencil skirt with knees just on show. 

1966 - Skirt lengths are rising  up the leg  here,  as I set out on  a long distance  Greyhound bus journey, across the USA.  I met another British girl and we travelled  across America on a brilliant ticket - 99 days of travel for 99 dollars. 

1967 - Back home in Edinburgh, and  even my mother is following the fashion  with shorter skirts. 

1969 - Hemlines are climbing upwards.  My  first  job after Library School was as an Information Officer in a small organization in Edinburgh.  For  some reason the four girls on the staff opted to dress up for an evening reception, rather than go for the professional look.  No knees on show in the photograph, but look at the length of those skirts!  This time my choice  was a turquoise pinafore dress worn with a frilly collared blouse.  Vanity had won the day, as I had by now forsaken my glasses for contact lenses.

1970 - and can't you tell from our outfit  colours!   I am in the orange  and brown which seemed to characteristic the decade and my mother equally vibrant in royal blue and shocking  pink.  I had been to the hairdresser's to achieve that bouffant hairstyle. 

1971 - I have shown this photograph before on my blog, but it is such a natural  one for the prompt,  I had to include it here.  I am wearing a blouse  with a peter pan collar, a very short skirt (despite the winter weather), and  the jazzy striped coat - perched on my (to be) husband's car.

1971 Hemline rising even more!   I thought he was very brave and trusting to let me behind the wheel of his car, given I had hardly driven,  since passing my test a few years previously.

1971 - A visit to Inverary on the west coast of Scotland,  with the castle in the background. Back to my pinafore dress style,  but a lot shorter than in the first photograph here. 

 1971 - Honeymooners at Stonehenge  - I wish I was as slim now!

 1973 - A mother by this stage, but no lengthening of my skirts. Taken in the hot house of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgth.

c.1980 - sitting on North Pier, Blackpool (my ancestral home)  with its famous Tower in the background.   I reckon this was taken in the October half term holiday,  when we went down to visit relations.  I am wearing my best winter coat,  and how styles have changed, as today I wouldn't dream of wearing something so dressy  for windswept Blackpool - much more casual clothes would be my choice - trousers and a hooded jacket.  

 1977 - I will end with a mother and daughter alike pose - same colour outfits, four knees on show.   

We were soon to move fashion wise  into the midi and the maxi and  the hippy look - long flowing skirts - not my style at all.  But  for a brief period,   and at  the only time of my life,  I was on trend  with my minis.    But fish  net stockings never made an appearance!


Sepia Saturday gives an opportunity for genealogy bloggers 
       to share their family history
by featuring each week a photographic prompt 

Click  HERE
  to read other bloggers fashion statements!

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

What Part did Politics Play in Your Family Life?

People say never speak about those two often thorny, divisive  subjects - religion and politics,  but both can play an important part in family life.  Given current topicality, I have chosen to look  back at the part politics played in my own family, as I was growing up.

"Politically informed but no activist" - that sums up my attitude. My father (below)  had a strong interest in current affairs and politics and this rubbed off on me from a relatively early age.  He also involved himself in community affairs wherever he lived as I have done.

We were a family who always listened to the news (radio in the  morning and  TV in the evening), and watched major events ranging from the Queen's Coronation, Royal Weddings, and Sir Winston Churchill's funeral,  to the building of the Berlin Wall, Cuban crisis, space missions returning to earth and  the shooting of President Kennedy - this had a particularly strong impact on me, especially  as I had never lost anyone  close to me. 

During Kennedy's election campaign I was still at school and JFK was someone we admired and we poured over the photographs of Jackie's fashions.  We saw on TV his powerful inauguration speech, his meeting with Kruschev, his speech at the Berlin Wall and my father got up during the night to hear his statement on the Cuban crisis.  We felt part of a new era.   Young and energetic-looking for a world leader, he made such a contrast with our own Prime Minister Harold Macmillan who seemed to epitomise the Edwardian period of 50 years past. 

Dad had left school  at 14 years old and was very much  a  self-taught man.  He was unashamedly Conservative, reader of "The Daily Telegraph", admired the Queen, Winston Churchhill and Margaret Thatcher and was a member of the local constituency party helping at fund raising events, delivering election leaflets etc.  He often wrote letters to the local newspaper on political issues - much to the concern of my mother who did not like the verbal brickbats that he could receive.

I have recollections of the Suez Crisis of 1956.   Through one of those quirks of fate,  an international event had an impact on our  family,  as  my father was transferred work-wise from Lancashire (my mother's home all her life) across country  to York to replace  his predecessor who was in the  territorial army and called up to serve.  We later moved to Scotland and experienced a different political scene.

At school I was hopeless at creative imaginative writing and in exams etc. I always opted for the report style topic. The General Election of 1959 gave me inspiration for an essay at school where I won a prize - so it stuck in my mind.  I began with "Here is the six o' clock new - A General Election has been called for..........the rest I can't remember at all,  but I ended with   "Here is the 6 o'clock news - all election results are in and the Conservatives have been returned with a majority"  - at the time I thought this linking of the start and the finish was a neat essay writing technique!  In both French and German exams,  one essay choice was to  write on a famous person - and  each time I chose Sir Winston Churchill. 

With Dad,  I followed the course of General Election campaigns and results and remember one year marking up with coloured pencils a newspaper  election map in  red and blue (Labour & Conservative) with occasional  yellow for Liberals.

At university I studied Modern History and Politics at a time of both a British general election  and American presidential election, when we were given a very informative little booklet  by the American Consulate in Edinburgh explaining the procedures of primaries, electoral college votes  etc. 

Dad and I also shared an interest in journalism and I always fancied working as a newspaper librarian, or as a BBC researcher,  though jobs are few and far between.  However my second professional post was to set up a modern studies information unit at Edinburgh's College of Education.  This was long before the internet, and  it largely involved project files of ephemera - mainly press cuttings, so I got to look though all the quality daily papers - a great job.   

Frustratingly I had to wait quite a time to exercise my own vote - I was 21 just after one election and had to go another 4-5 years before having the next opportunity.   I did attend some hustings and meetings held by  party leaders David Steel (Liberal), Harold Wilson (Labour) and Edward Heath (Conservative).     Those were the days when candidates  actually tried to meet the  public and I once went late at night to hear the results announced from the Town Hall balcony - and that sums up my poliical activities.    Wearing a duffel coat was the  closest I came to student rebellion! 

The suffragette cause is one I have always followed,  and I have always advocated that women should exercise their right to vote, when the battle to achieve it was so hard.  I must have passed this view  onto my daughter,  as she was shocked  to hear me say that I might not vote in an election for members of the European Parliament, as the whole process seemed so  meaningless.     I did end up voting!

I was secretary of my local community council for three years.  I was asked to stand as a Councillor, but I knew it was not for me - I am no good at thinking on my feet and in no way could I cope with the hurly burly cut and thrust of modern day politics, even at a local level.  
But the  influence of my father in being involved in community issues  remains with me,  all be it in a quiet way.   Like him, I am also an avid reader of newspapers.  

But how I vote is between me and the ballot box!

Adapted from a post first written in 2011

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Scottish Kirk Session Records: Church Records Sunday

For local and family historians,  SCOTTISH KIRK SESSION RECORDS   provide us with a unique  social commentary on life  at the time - with the emphasis on chastisement and charity, as the church provided help to the poor and needy, but censure to those involved in what was regarded as moral turpitude.

The Kirk Session, made up of the Minister and the Elders of the parish,  was the local court of the Church of Scotland,  set up after the Reformation  of 1560 and the break with the Catholic Church of Rome.  Its duties were to maintain good order amongst its congregation, administer discipline and supervise the moral and religious condition of the parish. 
The Minute Books recorded:

  • Detailed accounts of income and expenditure.
  • Appointments of church officials,
  • Reports on the parish relating to poor relief, and the parish school. 
  • Proclamations of banns, communion rolls, seat rent books and the hire of the mortcloths which was used to cover the coffin prior to burial.

An illustration of the Parish Church, demolished in 1891.
From the collection of Auld Earlston.
Below  are some random entries from the Kirk Session Records (1820-1901) for  the village of  Earlston, Berwickshrie, in the Scottish Borders. 
  • 1st January 1843 - the Kirk Session agreed that:

    "The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper be dispensed on the second Sunday in February  and that the Thursday preceding shall be observed a day of humiliation but likewise as a day of thanksgiving  for the late abundant harvest".

  • 17th January 1843 - "Paid three pounds, thirteen shillings and sixpence to William Scott, Saddler, for harness, and one pound, four shillings and seven pence for laying the gas pipe from the street to the church."

  • 8th January 1861 -  the Session recorded the early history of the Parish School noting that it had opened the beginning of winter 1825. 
  • 24th November 1856  "Mr Daniel Aitkenhead , who was lately chosen to be schoolmaster of the parish, the Session unanimously appointed to the office of Session Clerk. At the same time they appointed Mr Robert Smith to the office of Treasurer and Mr Adam Shortreed to be precentor."
  • Mr Aitkenhead's signature appears at the end of many of the minutes.   He went on to serve Earlston in varied  roles, dying in 1922 aged 90. A memorial in the churchyard, erected by his pupils and friends noted that he was "a scholar for whom the ancient classics were his delight,  a teacher of rare merit and a man to all the country dear".
  • 1st May 1864 - reflecting concern  for the poor, the young and the aged,   2/- was paid to a destitute family, 6/6 to a family for school fees, and 5/0 to Widow Watson.

  • Bags of coal were regularly distributed to the poor, many of whom were listed as widows.  The local press reported on this gift  to around 50 poor of the parish who each received about 10-15cwt of fuel, supplied by William Gray, coal agent at Earlston Station. It was noted that this Kirk bounty would be very welcome in the severe winter.   Below a list of recipients in 1901.

  • November 1862 saw a surprising entry which reflected the church's concern for a wider mission beyond the village,  with the decision that:
    "A collection be made in the church on Sunday, the 23rd instant  in aid of the distressed cotton weavers in Lancashire."
    This was at the time of the American Civil War when a blockade of ports in the Southern states meant that raw cotton supplies were not reaching Lancashire and workers at the mills were unemployed and facing hardship.
  • 4th December 1859 - the Kirk Session discussed  a £200 legacy  from William  Rutherford, spirit merchant of Bruntsfield Place, Edinburgh to be used "for the benefit of the poor"£200 in 1859 is equivalent to about £19.000 today, so a huge sum. According to a newspaper report on the bequest, Mr Rutherford was "believed to be native of Earlston."

  • Two pages of accounts for 1864 noted payments to Robert Shillinglaw  (a church official}, the salary to the precentor increased to £10 per annum, for communion wine, and  the  cleaning of the church yard walls, - and a rather unusual entry for the supply of cod liver oil.

  • Income came from legacies, church collections, fees for proclamation of the banns, from fines,  and from the hiring of the hearse and mortcloth for burials. 

    It was customary for Kirk Sessions to hire out a mortcloth (funeral pall) to cover the coffin or corpse during the funeral service.  From the point of view of family historians, the Earlston records,  unfortunately, do not name  the deceased person.

  • Many entries abound with the church's concern for what was termed "ante-nuptial fornication". The notable feature of these records is the fact it is the woman who bears the brunt of the  "rebukes".

  • 7th May 1820 - it was confession time for Isabel Dunn - although she had had a child out of wedlock, she now wished to have her church privileges restored. Compassion was duly shown.
  • As late as 14th October 1901,  a woman was brought before the Kirk Session  to be questioned on her "sin of fornication and having a child out of wedlock". 
"Having confessed  in sorrow for her sins and resolution to walk through grace in newness of life, the Moderator after solemn admonition did in the name of the Kirk Session absolve her from the scandal of her sin  and restore her to the privileges of the church."

How attitudes have changed!

  • Parochial boards later took over responsibility for matters such as poor relief, with elected parish councils introduced in 1894.
  • Scottish Kirk Session Records are not currently available online,  though there are plans to add them to the ScotlandsPeople website.  Many archive centres across the country have them available in a digitised format for their area including the Heritage Hub, at Hawick, which serves  the whole of the Scottish Borders. 
Church Records Sunday is one of many daily prompts from www.geneabloggers.com


This  post first appeared on the blog of the Auld Earlston Group in  February 2017.

A summary version appeared  in the 2017 April  A-Z Challenge  - letter S