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Friday, 29 June 2012

H is for Happiness and Help, Honouring Heroes, plus Hawkyards: A-Z Challenge

Having just finished a quick sprint through one A-Z challenge from Ros at http://genwestuk.blogspot.com/, I could not resist participating in a further series from Aona at

My focus here is on what we experience on our family history journey.

H  is for:

  • The Happiness gained from my family history and blogging activities.  

  • The way I am Heartened by comments from fellow bloggers and the Help they have given in terms of resources and tips on becoming a better blogger.

  • The Honour I can give my ancestors through my blog postings. I am thinking here in particular of my family Heroes - grandfather William Danson who won the Military Medal in 1918; three great uncles (George Danson, John Danson and Arthur Matthews) who lost their lives in the First World War; my father (John Weston) who advanced in 1944-45 from Omaha Beach through France to Germany; my uncle (Harry Danson) who was rescued from Dunkirk; and uncle Charles Weston who suffered as a Japanese prisoner of war.
Poulton le Fylde War Memorial, Lancashire with the names
of John and George Danson inscribed on it

The Military Medal citation awarded to my grandfather  William Danson

My uncle Harry Danson who was evacuated at Dunkirk
Is there a look of Errol Flynn about him?

In contrast Humour can be a part of our family stories, with my father contributing two such tales which make me laugh with his accounts of his Hair Raising First Drive and How a Pigeon Sent the News (a forerunner of Twitter!).

Also if anyone in the family looks to be getting above themselves, I can always bring them back to earth by the reminder that one of their ancestors was a lowly  "tripe dealer"!

My father John Weston (left) with his first car and brother Charles

  • Finally a mention of a strong sounding, distinctive name in my husband's family  - Hawkyard.  To me that is a surname that could come out of a gothic novel - picture the tall, dark eyed, arrogant hero (or villain) with an aquiline nose and haughty, brooding  stare.  

    The reality is much more prosaic.  These Hawkyards were from South Shields, a seaport on the north east coast of England and in the early 19th century they had a lodging house in Alnwick, Northumberland.  An internet search showed that the surname was particularly prevalent in Yorkshire.  On my long "to do" list for further research. 

Copyright © 2012 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserve

    Thursday, 28 June 2012

    Gaol Records - Beyond the Internet

    Cassmob at Family History Across the Seas, has introduced a series "Beyond the Internet" to highlight some of the sources for family stories beyond our computer screens. The latest theme focuses on Gaol Records .

    So far I have not uncovered any prisoners or criminals  in my own family history, but there is no doubt that to have such an ancestor offers a fascinating research task and a source of good blogging stories.

    thought I would highlight some of the records on crime and punishment available in my own area at the Heritage Hub, Hawick,
    home of the Scottish Borders Archive, Local and Family History Service.  

    The Hub holds  an  extensive  collection of Police Records for the three Border counties of Berwickshire, Roxburghshire and Selkirkshire.   Following a quick search  at the Hub online catalogue ( http://www.calmview.eu/HUBCAT/CalmView/default.aspx, a sample of such  holdings is listed below:

    • Complaint. Procurator Fiscal upon William Watt and others for refusing to assist Burgh Officers in seizing a vagrant and carrying him to jail. The vagrant made his escape. 1738.
    • Bill from James Brown, Yetholm to William Smith, Kelso for searching for and apprehending Andrew Young convicted of poaching and sentenced to Jedburgh Castle Jail. 1836.
    • Bill from David Armstrong, Constable to William Smith, Procurator Fiscal, Kelso for apprehending rioters, citing witnesses, taking prisoners to prison at Jedburgh etc 1836.
    • Bill submitted by James Lindsay to William Thompson for providing prisoners dinners and coals 1836.
    • Receipt signed by Thomas Aitcheson for payment for meals and fires while Barney Hamilton was confined, 1836.
    • Petitions of Indigent Prisoners held in the Castle at Jedburgh. 1862-1877.
    • Register of persons detained in custody at Hawick Police Station. 1871-1904.
    • Register of Criminal Prisoners, Berwickshire, 1881-96.
    • Register of Juvenile Male Offenders Sentenced to Punishment by Whipping in the Duns Police Station. 1885-1896.
    • Prisoners' Property Book Forkins Police Station, 1886-1923
    • Police charge book for county of Berwickshire, 1897-1903
    • The Police Gazette (includes list of deserters and absentees from His Majesty's Service). 1902.
    • Register of visits to criminal prisoenrs. (no date)
    • Abstract of the rules and regulations for convicted criminal prisoners (no date)

      Note - there will be data protection restrictions on accessing more recent records.

    Accounts in local newspapers enable us to experience events as they are reported in the press at the time. They are often full of vigour in describing life of ordinary people and the three short items below are typical of what you might find.

    Kelso Chronicle: 31 July 1847. Robert McIntosh was sentenced to seven years banishment for horse stealing at the Circuit Court at Jedburgh.

    Kelso Chronicle: 9 March 1849. At Northumberland Spring Assizes - James Renwick (24) and Thomas Howey(30) were charged........with having maimed, bruised and wounded George Thompson with intent to do him grievous bodily harm. The prisoners were also charged with night poaching. After the examination of witnesses and the summing up of his Lordship, the jury returned a verdict of guilty. To be transported for ten years.

    Kelso Chronicle: 22 Jaznuary 1847. At Dunse,  John Dodds, labourer was on Tuesday last convicted before the Sheriff, at the instance of the Inspector of Poor, of deserting or failing to mainain his illegitimate child and sentenced to sixty days imprisonment at Greenlaw Jail.

    Indexes to Scottish Borders Prison Registers have been produced by Maxwell Ancestry (http://www.maxwellancestry.com/ancestry/publishing/prisons.htm. The registers, held at the National Archives of Scotland, are packed with
    information about the  individuals who were in prison, including their height, colour of hair and eyes, physical state, their offence and sentence, and much more. The indexes are available for each prison, and if you locate someone of interest, you can send away for a transcription of the full entry.

    So if you are looking for an elusive "black sheep" in your family, it is always worth contacting your local archive centre. You never know what you might find!

    The Heritage Hub, Hawick, Scottish Borders

    Sunday, 24 June 2012

    Favourite Desserts - Sharing Memories

    Lorine McGinnis Schulze at http://olivetreegenealogy.blogspot.com/p/sharing-memories.html has begun a new series of Sharing Memories . Here the theme is Fav Desserts

    As a child I was a fussy and unadventurous eater, but desserts were always my favourite.
    Growing up in the1950's meant  food was simple,  limited in choice and all home prepared by my mother.

    We always sat round the table for meals, apart from Sunday tea when it was sandwiches, jelly and cake from a trolley, whilst we watched the classic children's Sunday serial on the television.

    My mother's recipte book
    During the week, desserts were puddings, such as spotted dick with custard or golden syrup sauce, baked apples, and rice pudding (which my father loved all his life but I hated)   Shrove Tuesday meant pancakes served with sugar and lemon.

    Friday was my mother's baking day to set us up for the weekend and week ahead - cakes and biscuits with fruit pies or crumbles (apple, rhubarb, gooseberry, blackcurrant or blackberry).  Lemon meringue was my favourite Sunday dessert, along with trifle and jelly fluff (whipped up with evaporated milk). I disliked blancmange but liked Angel Delight.  Sunday tea meant chocolate cake with thick butter icing.

    Icecream was a very special treat, reserved for birthdays, as we did not have a fridge until c.1958, so it had to be bought at the last minute.

    At school dinners,  current pie was one of my few favourites - despite its nickname of "fly pie" or "fly cemetery".  I loathed with a passion all milk puddings - rice, tapioca (called "frog spawn" or "fish eye pud" - enough to put you off it for life!) and semolina where I tried to eke out the miserable spoonful of jam to disguise the awful taste. Also among my dislikes soggy bread & butter pudding and Queen's pudding (apart from the meringue topping).    Menus did not seem to change much over my 13 years of school life.

    A page from my mother's recipe book

    My mother was a great baker and a great follower of the Bero 
    Book - Caribbean slices, Victoria sponges, chocolate crispies, currant slices, coconut pyramids, ginger biscuits and Shrewsbury biscuits, flapjacks, fairy cakes, butterfly cakes. Eccles cakes, home made jam and jellies with the muslin bag slung between to two chairs to drip. I loved home-made marmalade - nothing to beat it.

    Looking back so much of this food seems stodgy and fattening, yet I cannot remember obesity being an issue. I suppose we walked everywhere, played outside, got plenty of fresh air and exercise and did not snack as today.     It remains  a happy family time in my memory.
    Mum, Dad, Chris & myself c. 1954

    Friday, 22 June 2012

    G is for Gripe, Groan, Grumble - plus Gratitude.

    Having just finished a quick sprint through one A-Z challenge from Ros at
    http://genwestuk.blogspot.com/, I could not resist participating in a further series from Aona at


    My focus here is on what we experience on our family history journey.

    G is for:

    Gripe, Groan and Grumble  - I win no prizes for originality here,  as many other geneabloggers have touched on this -  namely the information that appears on online trees such as Ancestry, without any references to sources and shows major differences from  what I consider to be my robust research. 

    I have tried to make contact with polite requests about "being very interested to know the source of your information,  as mine differs etc." - but usually never get a reply.  So that approach seems a waste of time.  

    The concern is that mistakes are perpetuated and there is plenty of scope with my Rawcliffe family - a not uncommon name in Lancashire. It proved to be story of eight daughters, the early death of their mother, a step mother with three illegitimate children, and four half-brothers and sisters.  So rather a complex family tree, but I have the marriage certificates and birth certificates to support my findings.
    My great grandmother Maria Danson, nee Rawcliffe
    with her granddaughter. Annie Maria.

    My family photographs are precious to me, and I did start adding key ones to my Ancestry tree, hoping it would increase interest from possible family connections.  I shouldn't have been surprised that they were uplifted and appeared on other trees, but this was another grumble - these were mine!  I would have happily given consent, but would like to have been approached first of all.

    Perhaps though there is one benefit in discovering these instances  - it has forced me to reconsider  "Am I right in my findings" and to review my early research.  Not a bad thing to do, and so far I stand by my work!   So a Gripe, Groan or Grumble can be turned into a positive.

    Gratitude for the Gifts I have received from my family history activities:
    • The fact that people are interested enough to read my blog.
    • The pleasure and increased knowledge gained from researching, writing and networking.
    • The contribution of Geneabloggers (www.geneabloggers.com).  It was recommended to me in the early weeks of starting my blog in summer 2010. I fully expected to have run out of material for postings by now, but geneabloggers' prompts, plus the support of like-minded enthusiasts are so stimulating, I have never looked back.
    • The online friendships made.
    • The new cousins discovered, such as the son of Elsie Oldham (below)  - my mother's second cousin.  The new found connection brought a great boost in the way of photographs and stories to my blog.  Elsie set up a hairdressing business "Elise"  in her home in Blackpool in the 1920's.  What a difference that slight change in her name makes to marketing her business!!

    Elsie Oldham -
    "Elise" c. 1920's


      Copyright © 2012 · Susan Donaldson.
      All Rights Reserved

      Thursday, 21 June 2012

      My Brain is Buzzing - Sorting Saturday.

      My brain is buzzing and my mind  all over the place with family history matters - I definitely need a Sorting Saturday. 

      Why this "headless chicken" phase?   A burst of family history developments, which I am so keen to get down on paper and screen,  plus a slight health scare (fortunately under control)  which made me want to do everything now.  There is nothing like a bit of success to get motivated, but the result is  I am juggling so many  postings and lines of research  at once, flitting from one to another.    

      So what has led to this state of affairs?

      • A telephone call from my cousin to say a distant relation had contacted her with some old photographs relating to our uncle Fred Weston.  

        By coincidence this came just after my posting "Are You Inspired by Some Ancestors more than Others"  where  I expressed a wish to  look more at my father's Weston family and I bemoaned the lack of photographs and memorabilia.

        Here is a photograph I had not seen before of my uncle's wedding in 1930, with my father, looking rather solemn on the left, carrying a trilby (or is it a panama hat?), and my grandmother  in the cloche hat in the middle.    Unfortunately I cannot identify my grandfather - he could be the man partially hidden in the back row.  I presume the older couple on the right are the bride's parents.
      • A photograph in Uncle Fred's collection  was identified as  Tommy Rodger, Ironbridge and showed him with a coracle on his back standing by  the River Severn,  with the famous iron bridge in the background.

        My father grew up near Ironbridge, but I am unaware of any Rodgers connection.  A quick Google search revealed lots of information on Tommy who appears to be quite a colourful local character and a classic subject for a blog posting. 
      • A visit from my brother who was home from working abroad prompted his  interest in our Weston background and he is off to ironbridge, to explore the area, and hopefully provide me with photographs for my blog.
      • Then the same week I heard from an internet (www.ancestry.co.uk) connection whose grandfather Samuel Matthews was the sister of my paternal grandmother - Mary Barbara Matthews. Linda was over the moon to hear I had photographs of our great grandparents - John Matthews and Matilda Simpson, a rather stem looking couple, known to be prominent Methodists. Again this discovery was another incentive to find out more about my Matthews ancestry.

        A few months ago, after many years of fruitless  message board queries etc.  I heard from the great granddaughter of Alice Mason, nee Rawcliffe, who emigrated to New York in 1887 and was the sister of my great grandmother.  We have exchanged photographs and I  need to update my information on Alice and my new set of American relations - albeit distant ones.
        My grandparents
        William Danson
        & Alice English
        Last week I was delighted to be contacted by a  history teacher who  is researching the men who fought in the King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment during  the First World War.   He had found my blog and the postings on my grandfather William Danson who  was awarded the Military Medal for "conspicuous gallantry and determined devotion to duty in action at Givency on 9th April 1918".  We have exchanged information and photographs and I look forward to using this new material for my postings.
      • Plus I am trying  to keep pace with my particpation in various blogging series  such as A-Z Family History Challenge, Sharing Memories and Life's a Journey, and record stories from my other family sidelines.
      It's all happening - so how do I intend to get sorted?

      A professional approach is called for, I think. I have done the brainstorming and I have a long list  of topics for future postings. My watchwords for the future  need to be:   Focus - Strategy - Action Plan.

      Watch this space to see how I get on! 

      Sorting Saturday is one of many daily blog prompts from www.geneabloggers.com to encourage writers to record their family history.

      Childhood TV Classics - Life's A Journey

      Helen at http://saveeverystep.wordpress.com/lifes-a-journey-series/ urges us to share our memories from milestones in our life. This week's theme -Television  
      Calling all British bloggers - do you let me know if these memories strike a chord with you? 
      1953 was the year television came to our house in the shape of a small 10 inch screen Bush set, so we could watch the Queen's Coronation on June 2nd. 

      Children's TV seemed to centre on puppets - Muffin the Mule and Sooty (with the spin off toys as Christmas present). I must surely have been too old for Andy Pandy, and Bill and Ben the Flower Pot Men, but perhaps saw them with my younger brother. The forerunner of family soaps The Grove Family and The Appleyards were also favourites; as were were Billy Bunter's Schooldays (I had a crush on Bob Cherry), George Cansdale from London Zoo on Looking at Animals, and Crackerjack, with its Double or Drop challenge
      Mum, Dad, Chris & myself c. 1954

      Saturday and Sunday were treats in that we had tea on the trolley around the television to watch such programmes as the Lone Ranger (Tonto and Hiya Silver!) and Circus Boy - my brother's favourites, and All Your Own presented by Huw Weldon and introducing talented youngsters.

      Then there were the memorable BBC Sunday serials which we enjoyed so much as a family and which fostered my love of history, costume and reading the classics - Children of the New Forest, David Copperfield, Nicholas Nickelby, Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, Count of Monte Chrsto, Railway Children, Pride and Prejudice, Worzel Gummidge. Robin Hood, Emil and the Detectives, and The Silver Sword - which told the story of children caught up in Poland during the war - a time close enough to have meaning of what living during the war must have been like.

      When the new ITV channel first came on the scene, our old television could not receive it, so I missed out on the school gossip of the previous night's Emergency Ward Ten and Coronation Street, though once we got a new set, I later became fans along with the other soap Compact, set on a woman's magazine - I was an avid follower of that.

      Programmes I remember from my teenage years:
      • Z Cars (Jock Weir my favourite)
      • Billy Cotton's Bandshow
      • Black and White Minstrels (now very politically incorrect, but I enjoyed the music, singing and dancing)
      • What's My Line
      • Eric Robinson's Music For You.
      • Francis Durbridge Detective Stories
      • This is Your Life
      • Sunday Night at the London Palladium
      • Man from Uncle (David McCallum my favourite)
      • Opportunity Knocks (with my father often said to look like Hughie Green)
      • Eurovision Song Competition where we were impressed with presenter Katie Boyle speaking French -" un point")
      • Gripping modern drama which seemed either to be Welsh miners trapped underground, or a plane about to crash with the crew going down with food poisoning and a passenger saving the flight. 
      • Comedy such as Charlie Drake, Hancock's Half Hour, Likely Lads, Morecombe and Wise 
      • For my brother - Doctor Who.
      • For myself - classical ballet, especially at Christmas - seeing Margot Fonteyn, Svetlana Beriosova, Nadia Nerina, Nicholai Faderechev (the names just roll off my tongue!)

      American programmes came into vogue:
      • Doctor Kildare
      • Phil Silvers
      •  Dick van Dyke Show
      • Jack Benny Show
      • George Burns and Gracie Allan
      • I love Lucy
      • Perry Como Show

      The BBC was the natural channel for current affairs and we always had the news on and special coverage to see Yuri Gargarin, the first man in space, the Amercan space launches, and ocean splash downs; major events such as royal weddings, funeral of Sir Winston Churchill, Aberfan disaster, assassination of John F. Kennedy. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. By the time of the first man in the moon, we set the alarm to get up during the middle of the night to see the "first step", and then dashed into the garden to look up at the moon in the sky.

      Two programmes my father absolutely refused to have on were the new satirical comedy show "That was the Week that Was" and irreverent comedy Till Death Us Part - the previews were enough for him to ban them. He always had to watch Panorama - until they were showing a programme on maternity care when he suddenly decided this was not family viewing.

      Pop Culture passed me by and I was never into it, though I remember 6.5 Special and Top of the Pops. Of course everything I saw was in black and white, and I did not see colour TV until 1970 which I think was when it reached Scotland.

      But I was enough of a TV teenage child to compile a scrapbook, with cuttings from the "Radio Times "of cast lists and photographs of my favourite actors and performers I had crushes on -  to pour over and admire!

      Memories of Pets - Life's A Journey

      Helen at http://saveeverystep.wordpress.com/lifes-a-journey-series/ urges us to share our memories from milestones in our life. This week's theme -  Pets, with a tribute to our much loved cockeer spaniels Beauty, Colleen and Cass.

      Our daughter was 5 years old and Crufts Dog Championships Show was on television - how could we resist that combination. The result by the summer was that Beauty a golden cocker spaniel became part of the family. 


      It was a sad time when we lost Beauty at the age of nine, and we said we would not go through that again. Bur surreptiously we were all looking at adverts in the local papers, and within a month we had Colleen - a 2 year old gentle blue roan cocker

      Colleen died suddenty at seven years old at a time when there were other stresses in the family. We could not imagine family life without a dog and that had to be a cocker spaniel.
      So within a few months we had puppy Casmir (Cass) - an orange roan cocker - she had such a distinctive colouring, she became well known around our small town and lived to the grand age of 13.

      Casmir (Cass)
      I always felt that if Cass starred in a Disney cartoon, she would be the Princess.   Judge for yourself here!

      [Based on an earlier posting in the 2011  series 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy]

      Copyright © 2012 · Susan Donaldson. All Rights Reserved

      Thursday, 14 June 2012

      F is for Fun, Frustration and Foolish False Trails

      Having just finished a quick sprint through one A-Z challenge from Ros at http://genwestuk.blogspot.com/, I could not resist participating in a further series from Aona at

      My focus here is on what we experience on our family history journey.

       F is for:

      Fun:  Given my blog title, I hope I can convey  what enjoyment  can be achieved from a wonderful, life-long and all consuming hobby - in researching, writing and networking on my family history journey.  

      Frustration: a fact of life of all hobbies I suspect -  in not breaking through my major brick wall to find the name of my grandmother's mother;  In not finding the piece of evidence that would confirm the name of my great great grandfather;  in coming to what I think is too early a halt on a particular line;  in hearing that a relation has thrown out some precious family photographs. 

      Still by this time I am so caught up in the ancestral chase, I just move sideways and start investigating brothers, sisters and distant marital lines.   

      Fooled by False Trails can abound in family history and for many years when researching my husband's Donaldson family, I made serious wrong assumptions.

      I traced the family easily through census returns and old parish records to the marriage of Samuel Donaldson and Ann Howieson in South Leith, Midlothian, Scotland in 1759. 
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      Marriage entry for Samuel Donaldson in the Old Parish Records for South Leith , Midlothian, 1759

      Then I reached the proverbial brick wall in trying to prove Samuel's parentage.

      In the Old Parish Records, there was a Samuel Donaldson born in 1729 in Kirkbean, Kirkcudbrightshire on the south west coast of Scotland. This very much appealed to me - the date was about right, the coastal location on the banks of the Solway Firth in south west Scotland  fitted with Samuel's later life as a merchant in a seaport and Kirkbean had an interesting history as the birthplace of John Paul Jones, found of the American navy. On the basis of following ancestral roots, we even had an enjoyable  short break exploring the area which was only about 70 miles from where we lived.

      It was only many years later when I was writing  the Donaldson family history, that I stopped suddenly and thought - I have absolutely no proof that the Samuel Donaldson, born Kirkbean was the same person as the Samuel Donaldson who married 30 years later in Leith and was my husband's G.G.G.G.G. Grandfather.

      I had another look at the ScotlandsPeople website (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/) and there were only 3 entries for a Samuel Donaldson born in Scotland in the relevant period:
      1729 - Samuel son of John and Jean
      1725 - Samuel, son of James and Jean
      1752 - Samuel, son of John and Janet

      The traditional naming pattern can sometime be a clue to identifying the "right" person. However Samuel's firstborn son was named David (probably after his maternal grandfather), though second son was John. None of his five sons was called James, and none of his three daughters named Jean or Janet.

      Given that it was not compulsory to register births, marriages and deaths, perhaps there is simply no record of Samuel's birth and no evidence to confirm the names of his parents.

      So years of assumption and work on the background history of Kirkbean came to nothing, though we did enjoy our holiday there. And the lesson - don't jump to conclusions that can see you following a Foolish False Trail!

      Monday, 11 June 2012

      Speccy Four Eyes - Sharing Memories

      Lorine McGinnis Schulze at http://olivetreegenealogy.blogspot.com/p/sharing-memories.html has begun a new series of Sharing Memories .  Here the theme is Wearing Glasses.

      "Speccy four eyes" was a popular call at my primary school for those of us unfortunate enough to have to wear glasses.   I was a quiet,  shy child, but funnily enough I cannot recall being upset by the taunt - it was just part and parcel of playground culture. 

      My mother was emphatic that I was not going to wear the hideous national health service wire glasses  with pale pink frames and was prepared to pay for a slightly more flattering pair.  I always made sure, though,   I took my glasses off when having a picture taken then.
      Fast forward to my teens, and it was time to get my passport for a school trip to Germany.   Here I am being brave in highlighting publicly this dreadful passport photograph.This was the 1960's era of the Cold War and I look like the archetypal Russian spy - the hair style did not help either!

      After five years, you could get a passport photograph updated, and I could not wait to do this, working hard on a new look - only to be further mortified when, instead of replacing the photograph, the new one was just stuck beneath - to more family hilarity and more quizzical looks from passport control.

      By the late 1960's,  I was in the fashion with these heavy frames (right)   Vanity prompted me to try contact lenses and they proved a great source of stories with friends as we recalled  tales of losing them.  I remember one occasion where I was scrambling around on the floor of a pew at church, (not praying) but  trying to find this miniscule lens.

      Pregnancy and being an "at home" Mum meant I lost the incentive to bother with inserting, cleaning, and removing contact lens - I had trouble getting used to them again and I reckoned I had better things to do with my time, so it was back to spectacles.  

      We were now at the time on TV of Dallas, Dynasty and Charlie's Angels, with big hair, big shoulder pads and big glasses - hence this rare look for me taken for a work Annual Report. Less glamorously, I was also likened to Deidre Barlow of "Coronation Street" soap opera fame, known for her huge specs!

      Fashion has come full circle and here I am (right) wearing specatcles remarkably like those I wore in my teens. 

      Copyright © 2012 · Susan Donaldson.All Rights Reserve

      Friday, 8 June 2012

      E if for Excitement, Examining, Exchanging, Exploring, Empathy & Exhaustion - Family History Challenge

      Having just finished a quick sprint through one A-Z challenge from Ros at http://genwestuk.blogspot.com/, I could not resist participating in a further series from Aona at

      My focus here is on what we experience on our family history journey - E words proved to be very prolific.

      E is for:
      Alice Mason, nee Rawcliffe with her husband
      and 3 of her 11 children.

      Excitement  at finding  ancestors who were unknown to me,  For example   finding through a casual browsing on  www.familysearch.org that my great grandmother's sister Alice Mason, nee Rawcliffe died in  New Jersey, USA - my first knowledge  of an overseas connection.  After many years of appearing on message boards etc. without any success, I  heard a few months ago from  Alice's great granddaughter who had seen my blog posting. Great Elation!

      Examining Records:  The fascination and pleasure in touching documents  written over a century ago that relate to my ancestor's life.

      Roxburghshire Militia  List of 1797
      Courtesy of Heritage Hub, Hawick -

      Exchanging Information:  In pre-Internet days this activity came from joining Family History Societies and studying their listings of Members Interests. Now the world is open to us. My first venture into Internet research on my Bryning connections  resulted in more information in four weeks than I had unearthed in four years.  A wonderful tool - as long as you check sources!

      Exceeding Expectations:  When I first started on my family history trail, I thought I would be lucky to trace my very ordinary Danson family back to the 1841 census.  I have far exceeded that, discovering my great great great, great  grandfather John Danson, born 1736, son of Peter.

      Maria with her only daughter Jennie
      and granddaughter Annie Maria
      Empathy:  Finding the detail in research can bring "alive" our ancestors in that they become real, vivid personalities whom we can idenfity with.  For me it is my great grandmother Maria Rawcliffe (1859-1919) who is at the heart of my blog. How did she cope in a small terraced house bringing up eight surviving sons and one daughter?  How did she face, as a widow,  seeing five sons go to war,  with two not surviving?   

      Expressing the family stories:  Research is an all abosrbing task, but turning the facts, names and dates  into a family story that people are interested in reading, whether through  blog  or book, is my favourite FH occupation.  Joining www.geneabloggers,ciom almost two years ago has been an Eye-opener , and I feel has developed considerably both my research and  written skills.  I recommend it, as a way of gaining Expertise and Enjoyment.

      Expressions of sympathy and regard are made through Epitaphs and these  can often be moving or witty. Ones relating to my family  are not particularly striking, but the poetic style of this tribute appealed to me. Young Alice Cookson, another Danson descendant,  died 9 May 1815 aged 22, with her gravetone recording the touching thought:  "She lived respected and died lamented"  

      Excursions into  Local and Social History  - The possibilities are endless. for adding colour to a family story.............,,,,,
      • Was your ancestor alive when  a Napoleonic invasion tyhrreatedned  with towns and villages ready to light beacons to warn of the French attack? threatened
      • Might your ancestors have seen the Jacobite army marching through Scotland and the north of England in 1745 as Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) attempted to take the Hanoverian throne?
      • The coming of the railway to a community must have been a thrilling event to witness, with local newspapers giving extensive coverage of the excitement generated.
      • Peebles Station in the Scottish Borders, c 1910.
        With kind permission of the Heritage Hub, Hawick

      • What about the impact of the invention of the sewing machine on the task of making a family's clothes?
      • Might your female ancestors have seen suffragettes campaigning locally?  
      • When was your local cottage hospital built, or the local football club formed?
      • How did your ancestral town or village mark Queen Victoria's Jubilees in 1887 and 1897 and her death   in 1901?

      Envy:  If I had a touch of genealogical envy, it would be for family historians who have a diary written by their ancestor. What a wonderful piece of personal history which must bring you so much closer to the writer - not only the way  of life,  but with a unique insight into the emotions behind the words.   A family quilt or a family christening robe would evoke similar feelings  - the wonder of  touching something that was sewn by an ancestor.

      Expense:  I have read comments in family history magazines about the expense of the hobby.  I have been lucky in that I have not had to spend much on obtaining BMD certificates. I can appreciate that people are on a tight budget, but it can be a question of being very focussed in accessing paid internet sites - being sure you have done the background work through other means and especially that you have found the "correct" person - admittedly not easy if you are researching  a popular name.  But it is worth remembering  so many leisure activities come at some cost, whether it be  sport, music, art and crafts,  collecting etc. 

      And finally after all of this  - Exhaustion!

      Tuesday, 5 June 2012

      Wills - Beyond the Internet.


      Cassmob at Family History Across the Seas, has introduced a series "Beyond the Internet" to highlight some of the sources for family stories beyond our computer screens. The latest theme focuses on Wills.

      Feather bed, sheets and bedstead desk and books, meal chests and corner cupboards  - all items  of personal value mentioned in the wills of my ancestors.

      Quite early on in my research, I was delighted to trace through the Index at Lancashire Record Office  two wills relating to my Danson ancestors. 

      They not only gave information on their children and grandchildren, including the married name of daughters - some unknown to me previously, but also cast a light on what were considered important possessions at the time. 

      My great great great, great grandfather John Danson (1736-1821) made his will in 1813. It conveys something about his standing in the community, his level of education and confirmed the names of grandchildren. It is the little personal touches which give a picture on important possessions at the time -  " I bequeath to my son Henry my desk and all my books...to my daughter Jennet, wife of John Bryning, my corner cupboard now standing in the parlour of my house and my meal chest in the room above

      John Danson's Will, 1813

      The will of Henry Danson (1767-1839) is dated 1833, six years before his death. It is beautifully written in copperplate but very short on punctuation. The will brought first knowledge of two daughters - Ellen and Margaret (who predeceased her father) and the names of Margaret's five children. It also raised interesting questions as middle son Peter, unlike his brothers John and Henry,  was not named as a legatee or executor.  Was he perhaps not regarded as fit or suitable in some way ?  Peter never married and in the 1841 and 1851 censuses was in the household of his brother Henry until his death in 1855.  

      As a follow up to the wills, I traced online an index to Death Duty Records held at the National Archives (www.nationalarchives.gov.uk), and found entries relating to John and Henry Danson.    I had to use someone in London to obtain copies for me and again it is so fascinating to have records relating to an ancestor of so long ago.  The quality of the copies was  not great, but they did confirm the names of the legatees and I am pleased to  add them  to my family archive collection.

      My Danson family was related through marriage to the Bryning Family and Internet contacts proved the source of valuable information here.
      • The will of John Bryning was written in 1779 and names four chlldren with some  bequests listed below.  What was unusual here was that the receipts for the legacies had also survived and been passed down through generations. .

        To my daughter Margaret Bradbelt an annuity of £2 of lawful British money.

        £5 each to the children of Margaret Bradbelt at the age of 21.

        To my daughter Margaret and son John  a pair of sheets and the rest of my bedding I give to my daughters Mary Cragg and Aliace Lythm.
      • Another John Bryning died in 1855 at the grand age of 92.  His will notes

        To my grandson Thomas Bryning (the son of my son Richard) one feather bed with the bedsteads and bedding there unto belonging.
      • Descendant Thomas Bryning  died in 1886 at the age of 67, leaving a young wife Margaret 31 years his junior and two daughters aged 9 and 5. His will stipulated:

        To my wife Margaret, my household goods, furniture, plate, linen and china, afterwards to pass to my daughters Agnes and Margaret.
        A sum of two hundred pounds until my stepdaughter Mary Jane  Roskell shall attain the age of 23 years....subject to her (my said wife) providing my said stepdaughter with necessary clothing and wearing apparel.

      So if you are lucky to trace a will, you have a unqiue resource which can add so much to your family history story.

      Are you Inspired by Some Ancestors More Than Others? ? Motivation Monday

      Do you feel drawn to some particular aspects of your family history?   

      Do some ancestors appeal to you and become almost "living" vivid personalities, whilst others fail to capture your interest and  are no more than one dimensional - little more than names and dates? 

      Are family photographs, memorabilia and heirlooms  powerful motivators for research?

      My blog has concentrated very much on my mother's Danson and Rawcliffe family in Lancashire, largely I think because I grew up with my mother's relatives and regard Poulton-le-Fylde as my spiritual home.   Also the collection of old photographs at my grandfather's house was a great stimulus to finding  out more about the people who featured in them.  

      Mary Barbara Matthews
      In contrast we lived some distance away from my father's family (Weston and Matthews) in the English Midlands  and only saw my grandmother, aunt and uncles once a year.  Although my father  regularly corresponded with them, and talked about his childhood, anything further back was very nebulous.  Sadly there was hardly any  family memorabilia, which had been thrown out on the death of his eldest brother. 

      As a birthday present for my father, I did write up his family history, making use of a professional researcher in Shropshire to come up with the basic facts - this was the days before the Internet.   It included sections on where the family lived as background, and I added timelines of major events, but looking back at it, I admit it is pretty superficial and leaves me quite cold.  I find it hard to identify with most of the people featured.

      By coincidence when thinking about  this posting,   I came across a blog entry Writing on Family from Dawn,  where she reviewed an anthology entitled Women Writing On Family: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing. It’s edited by Carol Smallwood and Suzann Holland and published by The Key Publishing House, Inc. of Toronto, Canada (www.thekeypublish.com). 

      A key quote in the book struck a chord with me. 
      "The best family histories are rich in detail" 

      That is what my Weston family history lacks. So I am motivated to look at it again, to unearth more behind the bare information on the census returns and BMD certificates and to discover the stories behind the genealogy.

      Where do  I start to create a more illuminating paternal family history?  There are some pointers.
      • My great great grandfather Thomas Weston lived 1826-1917.   The only family anecdote I have was told by my Uncle Fred who remembered Thomas picking damsons from the tree in his garden not long before his death at the age of 91.

      • Thomas was a bricklayer   and married Annie Walker in 1851, making his mark on the certifcate.  Six children were born, but by 1881 Thomas was a 54 year old widower, with his youngest child Annie only 7.  However by 1891 he had remarried with his wife Harriet 18 years his junior and another son Thomas aged 9.  In the 1911 census, the age of Thomas (senior) was given as  84 years and he died five years later. What a lifetime Thomas witnessed - born before the accession of Queen Victoria and the first passenger train in Britain and died during the apocolypse of the First World War.
      • The names of Thomas's daughgers appeal to me - Evangeline Lucy and Caroline Emily - quite high sounding names for a very ordinary family and I want to find out more about them, especially Evangeline.  A quick initial look on census returns on  www.ancestry.co.uk revealed she had 12 children.

      • I was always told that my grandmother's parents John and Matilda Matthews were prominent Methodists - they certainly look straitlaced in the only photographs I have of them.  So  a new set of records for me to investigate here.
      • Few families were unaffected by the First World War and the Matthews were no exception with www.cwgc.org. revealing that their son Arthur William was killed in 1915 at Gallipoli, aged 35, leaving four young children fatherless.

      So watch this space for progress on my research
      and new stories on my paternal ancestry.

      Motivation Monday is one of many daily prompts from www.geneabloggers.com

      to encourage writers to record their family history and family memories.