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Wednesday 17 October 2012

V is for Valour, Vessels, and Verses: A-Z Challenge

I am enjoying participating in this series from Aona at ttpw.gouldgeneogy.com/2012/05/take-the-family-history-through-the-alphabet-challenge.  Circumstances mean I am running behind,  so here somewhat belatedly is my contribution on V. 

V is for:

Valour -  for our ancestors who served their country with distinction, including my grandfather who in the First World War  fought at Passchendaele and won the Military Medal at Givenchy.

My grandparents William Danson and Alice English

Vessels and Voyages   - Family HIstory take you in strange directions.  To me "snow" was the white stuff falling in winter and a "smack" was a slap to a recalcitrant child. But that all changed, as I began researching my husband's maritime ancestors and learnt about the different names for ships in the 19th century - barque or bark or barc, brig, sloop. smack and snow

My husband's ancestor Robert Donaldson (1801-1876) was a master mariner in South Shields on the north east coast of England and I was delighted to discover through Tyne and Wear Archives  details of the ships he sailed on.

The entries make fascinating reading, with all six ships on which Robert Donaldson sailed, having an eventful history and sadly coming to a sad end (though not under his charge).

  • The Thetis became a wreck after sinking off the Yorkshire coast in 1869.
  • The John was stranded in 1861 and became a wreck during a severe easterly gale.
    Twenty-eight other Tyne ships went ashore in the same area during the same gale.
  • The Emerald, in December 1855, when on passage from the Tyne to London, foundered in five fathoms on the Dough Sand (Long Sand) Thames estuary. Three survivors were brought ashore by two smacks. Eleven others were unaccounted for, including some of the crew of the rescuing smack who were in a small boat, which disappeared.
  • The Hebe was wrecked in Robin Hood’s Bay, along with other vessels on 27 January 1861.
  • The Ann & Elizabeth disappeared after leaving the Tyne in November 1863, with her captain leaving a wife and six children.
  • The William Mecalfe was Robert Donaldson's largest ship. On her maiden voyage, it transported 240 male convicts from Portsmouth to Hobart, Australia on a passage that took 102 days. In January 1855 eight of her crew were sent to goal for three months each by the North Shields magistrates for refusing duty. In October 1858 her master and one man were washed overboard. Nine days later, the ship was abandoned, with the crew taken off.
These incidents were by no means unusual and bring home the hazards our mariner ancestors faced in their daily lives.

Verses - How many people can claim to have a published poet amongst their ancestors? That is the case of my third cousin Stuart whose great great uncle was John Critchley Prince (1808-1866), well known in his time as a writer of poetry in the Lancashire dialect.

In  "Death of a Factory Child",  he addressed the social conditions of the time, with these stark lines to end the poem. :

Hard had he labour'd since the morning hour,—
But now his little hands relax'd their pow'r—
Yet, urg'd by curses or severer blows,
Without one moment's brief, but sweet, repose,
From frame to frame the exhausted sufferer crept,
Piec'd the frail threads, and, uncomplaining, wept.

In a much lighter vein, I came across this verse in a local history publication when researching the background of my great grandmother's Rawcliffe family from Hambleton, near Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire. It is an area of small villages, epitomised in:

Pilling for paters (potatoes)
Presall for pluck
Hamelton for bonnie lasses
Stalmine for muck

I like to think my great grandmother Maria Rawcliffe (below) was a "bonnie lass" - and I am glad she did not hail from Stalmine!

I have not unearthed in my research any Villains, Vagabonds or Vagrants to add some Vivid details to my family history stories. 

On a more prosaic level, Valuation Rolls of Property are one of the key sets of records in establishing where our ancestors lived and their occupation, especially as they issued  annually and supplement the ten yearly census returns.

They also help us Verify facts and Validate evidence - two important principles of family history research, along with avoiding Vagueness or a Varnishing of the truth.

Copyright © 2012 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved



  1. Susan you have so many wonderful V words, and you have that fabulous photo of your grandfather in his army uniform, ANNNND a poet in the family. You're very lucky to have such treasures, and thank you for sharing them with us ;-)

  2. ooohhh... poets amongst the Ancesors... How wonderful!!! Maybe if your great grandmother had hailed from Stalmine, John Critchley Prince would have been an absolutely princely "Prince" and swapped the two villages :-) Great post, thanks Susan.

  3. How wonderful that your grandfather was awarded a MM and to have the certificate. I liken the poet but the MM more;-) I knew about smacks fm my North Shields lot but not snow. Great array of V words.

  4. A very interesting post. I have a mariner in the family too. I didn't know about Tyne and Wear archives so have located the website and will have a good look over the weekend.
    Thank you :)

  5. Many thanks to everyone for their lovely comments. I was surprised at what I managed to unearth for the letter V.


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