Friday, 30 December 2011

With Best Wishes for 2012 to all my Blog Readers.

A card in the family collection of my cousin Stuart
An embroidered card from the collection my grandfather, William Danson,  sent back from Flanders during the  First World War.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Advent Calendar 21 - Christmas means Singing

Advent Calendar  is a daily blogging prompt used by many genealogy bloggers to help them tell stories of their family and their ancestors.  The theme today  - Christmas Music.

To me Christmas means singing.  One of my earliest memories is  taking part in a primary school (girls only) nativity play, singing solo the first verse of  "We Three Kings of Orient Are" and wearing a cardboard crown with jewels made from fancy sweetie papers. I have never wanted to sing solo since.

In another Christmas concerts, my role was to play the triangle in the percussion band - a bit of a come down from the most desired instrument that everyone longed to get - the sleigh bells.
One family get-together, after the meal, we children did our party pieces, with mine  on the piano.  My young brother decided to plough his way through all 12 verses of "The Twelve Days of Christmas".  He developed hiccups and his long socks kept falling down - this was the days of lads in short trousers, despite the weather.  But he was determined to finish singing the carol, kept pulling his socks up and by the end,  we were all falling about laughing and we never allowed him to forget this occasion.
At secondary school we always had a carol service where the tradition was to sing some carols in foreign languages - so for French  "It est ne le divin enfant"  or "Qui est cette odour agreeable",  German was "O Tannenbaum", "Es ist ein Rose entsprungen"  or "Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht" and Latin always "Adeste Fideles".

My father sang in the church choir and my mother in the Townswomen's  Guild Choir and being a choir member myself has been one of my key interests.   In  autumn,  out came the orange, green and blue books of "Carols for Choirs" (Oxford University Press)   as we prepared for our Christmas concerts, looking for a mixture of old favourites  and newer arrangements and trying to come up with slightly different themes e.g. Carols from Around the World, Carols Down the Centuries, Carols for All Ages etc. (I know,  not exactly original, but then Christmas is a time for tradition).  

My own favourites have not changed much over  the years "Silent Night", "In the Bleak Mid Winter", "Three Kings from Distant Lands Afar" and "O Holy Night".  I like the simple unadorned arrangements best - nothing too fancy, but the descants of the standard choral classics  such as "Hark the Herald Angels Sing", I find it so uplifting as the sopranos soar up to the high notes. We always end the concert with a lively rendition of "We wish you a Merry Christmas"  followed by the serving of  mince pies and mulled wine to complete one of my "must do" Christmas activities.

It is  much the same with that other staple Christmas music -  Handel's  "Messiah" which I have sung many times and it never palls.  An unforgettable, wonderful  experience was singing in the Royal Albert Hall in London in a "Come and Sing" Messiah in a choir of 1000,  with  orchestra, organ  and a packed audience.   Singers came from all over Britain and Europe to take part, so there was a great buzz and camaraderie as we found our seats. It was altogether marvellous, moving  and exhilarating,  and at the end, I walked out on a high!

Classic FM is my favourite radio  station and come December 1st we know we are in for a  feast of carols and Christmas music.  On Christmas Eve,  it is time to watch on TV the candlelight carol service from Kings College, Cambridge. 

So for me,  Christmas would not be Christmas without the enjoyment of seasonal music!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Advent Calendar 18 - A Christmas Stocking Collection

Advent Calendar  is a daily blogging prompt used by many genealogy bloggers to help them tell stories of their family and their ancestors.

I cannot remember having a Christmas stocking as a child, though we always hung pillowcases at the foot of our beds.  

 An apocryphal story was told every year of my mother and aunt,  as children, waking early and delving in the dark  into their Christmas stockings.  The house at that time did not have electricity and they thought they had come across a box of chocolates and opened it up to eat them before breakfast.  But to their dismay they found them too hard and later discovered it was a box of dominoes!  

My first attempt at making stockings for my family was a  simple patchwork version.  Then I move onto crossstitch for some tree decorations - see below.   

I later  wanted to reflect the fact my daughter was older and had started learning languages at High School.   I combined the idea with my love of cross stitch, whilst the tartan ribbon reflecting our Scottish connection.

Other  stockings are below,  along with reminders of holidays  - the lace stocking from Bruges, the golden boot (as the red boot above)  from Austria and the brocade stocking  was bought at the shop of the Royal Opera House in London after seeing a magical performance of the ballet "Sleeping Beauty". 

All bring back happy memories.

Copyright © 2011 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Advent Calendar 15: Holiday Birthdays

Advent Calendar is a daily blogging prompt from to encourage writers to relate their family stories and memories.  Prompt: December 15 - Holiday Happenings.  Often times December to mid-January birthdays get overshadowed by the Christmas/New Year holidays. So  shine a spotlight on those family members and ancestors with  birthdays and/or anniversaries in your family tree. 

December 4th 2008  - the birthday of our little granddaughter Naimh Maria who has brought such pleasure to our lives. 

December 24th 1897  - the birthday of my great aunt Jennie, only daughter,  after 8 surviving sons, of James Danson and Maria Rawcliffe. 
See A Feisty Female

Maria, Annie & Jennie

14th January 1905 - the birthday of my mother's cousin Annie Maria Danson. Sadly Annie's mother died a year later aged only 21 and Annie made her home with her grandmother Maria and aunt Jennie who was only 7 years her senior.  Further tragedy followed when Annie's father John Danson died in 1917 aged 38, leaving her an orphan.

January 15th 1859 - the birthday of my great grandmother  Maria Danson, nee Rawcliffe who is the cornerstone of my family history writing.  

January 15th 1973 - the birthday of our daughter Gillian, 114 years after her great great grandmother Maria. A coincidence that makes family history so fascinating!

Copyright © 2011 · Susan Donaldson. 
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Advent Calendar 16: Christmas at School - 1915

This colourful certifcate from the time of the First World War is from the collection of the Heritage Hub in Hawick, and featured here with their kind permission.  -


Advent Calendar is a daily blogging prompt from to encourage writers to relate their family stories and memories.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Advent Calendar 6: The Four LIves of Santa Claus

I came across this in my local church magazine and it made me smile.  No source or acknowledgement was given,   so here it is. 

The Four Lives of Santa Claus

I believe in Santa Claus
I don't believe in Santa Claus
I am Santa Claus
I look like Santa Claus.

My mother, Kathleen Weston, nee Danson,  made this "Santa Claus" many years ago for a Christmas display - just one of the many soft toys she made.  She was a very talented lady, sewing well into her 80's  and her personal motto is reflected in the posting Happiness is Stitching. 

Copyright © 2011 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved

Advent Calendar is a daily blogging prompt from to encourage writers to relate their family stories and memories.

Monday, 5 December 2011

The Queen's Coronation: Personal Genealogy & History: Wk 49

Week 49 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series. – . Describe a memorable national historical event from your childhood. How old were you and how did you process this event? How did it affect your family?

2nd June 1953 - The Queen's Coronation.  I was nine years old  and had been busy making  red, white and blue decorations at school,  creating  a coronation scrapbook, collecting my coronation mug (presented to all children) and playing with the doll my mother made for me, dressed as the Queen with a long velvet purple train, embroidered
in gold.

On the day itself we woke up to the news on the radio that Everest had been conquered and watched the coronation procession and ceremony on our new 10-inch screen black and white television - one of the first in the  street, with a full household of my aunt and uncle and neighbours crowding round the small screen.  I wore  my yellow taffeta party dress in honour of the occasion.

A few weeks later we all trooped in a long crocodile from school to a local cinema to see a film of the conquering of Everest (some of the scenes of men crossing deep ravines frightened me), followed by a film  of the coronation, this time  in glorious technicolour.

But there was a personal dimension to Coronation Day, as my mother was in hospital for three weeks around that time following a major operation. For my younger brother and myself it was a strange uncertain time, especially as children were not allowed to visit the hospital.  Dad talked about the red  white and blue decorations that the nurses put up on the wards and Mum won a sweep stake on the Grand National, in picking successful  jockey Gordon Richards.

The day Mum  came home was emotional as we all burst into tears - and I wore again my party dress to welcome her back to the family

Copyright © 2011 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved

Sunday, 4 December 2011

A Meal of 5 Boiled Sweets - Dec. 1944: Military Monday

This posting  is taken from notes that my father John Weston (1912-2003) made on his war experiences.  He often talked about them and I am afraid it often did provoke the reaction “Not the war again, Dad”.  It was only later that we came to realise what a life-defining period it was and I persuaded him to write down an account.  This is his story from winter 1944.  

“I served in the RAF Codes & Ciphers Branch and was indoctrinated into the mysteries of Enigma and the One-Time Pad code.  I was seconded to General Bradley’s US 12th Army Group HQ and landed in Normandy in 1944 for the advance on Paris.

From Paris we went onto Verdun and then Luxembourg.  I made friends with a former member of the government and was invited to his house.  He produced champagne from his cellar and served them with lovely cakes with kirsch in them.

It was now December and bitterly cold – lots of ice and snow.  Out of the blue at 4a.m. on December 16th came a major attack on the American front. There was pandemonium as the Germans broke through the US lines, troops retreating and the populations streaming back from the German advances.  The GIs ran out of ammo. and threw their rifles away – some 8000 were taken prisoners of war.  We were cut off in Luxembourg city as the Germans had separated the 12th Army from the US 1st Army further north as they were making for Brussels.  We carried thermite bombs in a safe in our operations vehicle to be used to destroy our codebooks and machines.  We had rifles fully loaded with us at all times. 

We were dropped supplies of food and more important the GIs got further weapons and ammo. supplies.  At one stage we were being served up five boiled sweets for one meal!"

This meal of five boiled sweets became an apocryphal family story!  

(See Advance into Paris for an earlier story from Dad's memoirs)

Copyright © 2011, Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved

Military Monday is a daily prompt from, used by many bloggers to help them tell stories of their ancestors.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Advent Calendar 4 - A Christmas Card Collection

The postcard above, sent in 1877,  was in the collection of my  third cousin, (once removed), Janet,   who made contact with me through the website - we went onto exchange family memorabilia.   The verse reflects  rather Victorian maudlin sentiment of the time,  but it is still a lovely picture.

Christmas Card Scrapbooks

One of my favourite post Christmas occupations is to create a  Christmas Scrapbook.   It seems such a shame to bin so many lovely images that I have come up with my own way of retaining the cards for future pleasure.

I began doing this years ago when my daughter was small, with  "Gillian's Christmas Scrapbook"  (right)  a way of conveying the Christmas story,   message and traditions in a strong visual way and displaying  cards that had been spent especially sent to her.  I hand-wrote the words as this was long before the days of computers. The scrapbook came out of the cupboard every Christmas to look through and reminiscence over  and  it became part of our family tradition which now inludes our little granddaughter.    

More years down the line, I had a growing collection of cards that I had refused to throw out, so I created something similar in a more adult version calling it "Christmas Kaleidoscope"- (above left) annotated this time by the computer, which of course made a huge difference to the style of presentation.

By then I had the bug, so the next year it was "A Christmas Anthology", (left)  using the cards to illustrate poems, songs and literature relating to Christmas.     

Last year the theme was  "Christmas A-Z"  (right)  focusing on a  wide range of aspects of the Christmas story.  What would I do without the internet to help with history and definitions?  

I do mean to stop - but already my mind is on a new theme - perhaps looking at the stories behind Christmas carols.  

Since I began, scrapbooking has become a sophisticated hobby, but I have kept to  a very simple style with  the focus on the illustrations.

So to anyone who sends me a card, it continues to give pleasure long after the 12 days of Christmas have past.

Advent Calendar is a daily blogging prompt from to encourage writers to relate their family stories and memories.

Copyright © 2011 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved

Friday, 2 December 2011

Advent Calendar 3 - A Tree of Happy Memories

Advent Calendar  is a daily blogging prompt through December from used by many genealogy bloggers to help them tell stories of their family and their ancestors. 

Reading some of the house-style magazines, some people focus on   colour themes  such as silver & blue, or red &  gold etc. for their Christmas Trees,  but for our family the Christmas Tree is one of happy memories.

In the past it featured my young daughter's home-made decorations - who can forget the bells made from egg cartons covered in baking foil?

Now it signifies our interests - we have collected items whenever we have been on holiday abroad - mainly Austria and Bavaria, but also Bruges, with stockings, hearts and bells abounding. 

 Reflecting our other pastimes are miniature musical instruments and cross stitch items.


Discovering the decorations again when we get the boxes down from the loft is pleasure in itself .  Our tree is quite small but looking at it every year, brings back memories of happy times.  

Copyright © 2011 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Trade an Ancestor Event - can anyone surmount my "brick wall"?

Why not trade an ancestor? Do you have an ancestor who is a challenge to research? Would you like to hand him or her off to another genealogist for a couple weeks and let someone else worry about it?
Amy at posted this question,   so here is my contribution. 

Alice English - could this be a wedding photo,
given she is wearing a corsage?
How far back have you got?" This is a standard question for family historians, and I am sorry to admit that the search for my maternal grandmother Alice English (1884-1945)  quickly hit the proverbial brick wall.

My mother and aunt were surprisingly reticent about her early life.  I failed to ask the right questions at the right time, and ended up with vague, but colourful,  conflicting information.  Was she born in Manchester or Bolton?  There were stories that her mother had been a matron, with some Irish connections;  that Alice was orphaned and her uncle went off to America with her money and never called on her to join him, as planned 

Alice went to Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire as nursemaid to the Potts family, prominent local Methodists and was confirmed at St. Chad's Church in 1904 (I have her prayer book from that occasion).  She became known locally as an unofficial midwife and the doctor wanted her to train but this was not possible.
I did know (from the marriage certificate) that she married my grandfather William Danson in April 1907, at St. Chad's Church when Alice was 22 and her father's name was given as Henry, a painter (deceased), plus I was always told we shared the same birthday - September 23rd.  The certificate of her death in 1945 confirms her year of birth and that is it! 

Despite many years of hunting and using a professional researcher,  I have been unable to trace a birth certificate for Alice to find out the name of her mother.  I cannot link an Alice English born in Lancashire 23rd September 1884 with a father Henry, a painter, and have gone down several fruitless paths.  

Nor could I trace Alice in the 1891 census when she would have been 6 years old.  The 1901 census did not move things forward  - there was an Alice English, born Bolton aged 17, so born c.1884,    living-in domestic servants at  Stockport.  This could well be my grandmother, but does not help with any more information on her family.  

So I was eagerly awaiting the early release of the 1911 census to find the record for the married Alice.  It  confirmed that Alice's birthplace was in fact Bolton. However I am still no further forward.  The Improved search facility  for parochial records on came up with a Harriet Alice English born Bolton in 1884 - my hopes rose, but her father turned out to be James, a weaver. So more frustration!

Does anyone have any ideas how to break through this brick wall?  I am unsure where to turn to next.

Note:  if Alice had married and died in Scotland, there wouldn't be this problem.  Scottish certificates were introduced in 1855, later than England (1837) but they are much more informative, notably the fact that both marriage and death certificates give the names of both parents, including the maiden name of the mother - a huge advantage for Scottish researchers.

Alice with her children
Edith, Kathleen, Harry and baby Billy.  c.1916
Most likely taken before William went off to war.

This item is based on an earlier posting of November 2010.

Copyright © 2011 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved