Friday, 23 November 2012

Sepia Saturday - Two Close September Sisters

Sepia Saturday encourages bloggers to record their family history through photographs.


There was no hesitation in coming up with my posting for this week's theme.  It had to be the story of two close sisters - my mother and aunt, Kathleen and Edith Danson.  of Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire.

My mother Kathleen Danson and her sister Edith were born one year and one week apart, in 1907 and 1908, daughters of William Danson and Alice English of Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire. They remained close all their lives - as can be seen  these photographs below.

Edith and Kathleen Danson  = late 1908

Playing in the garden - Edith (seated) & Kathleen, c.1914
Edith and Kathleen, 1916.
Aunt Edith was the eldest born on 2nd September 1907. I think of her as one of line of "Feisty Danson Females" and she was fond of regaling me with stories of the family and her life in teaching. She was the only one in the family to win a scholarship to Fleetwood Grammar School, riding the four miles on her bike in all weathers. She became a teacher at Burn Naze School in Thornton (a poor area of town the time), kept home for her father and brother, travelled widely, even to Russia in Iron Curtain days, and married for the first time at the aged 73. You can tell from her photographs that she was someone who enjoyed life.   Aunt Edith, was, of course, my godmother and took on the role with great gusto.

Her sister Kathleen (my mother) was born 8th September 1908 and was more reserved. I have been proud to give tributes to her in other postings such as Happiness is Stitching.

Both Edith and Kathleen enjoyed fashion, and made their own clothes on a treadle machine (their house did not have electricity until 1958) and regularly went dancing at the Winter Gardens, and the Tower Ballrooms in Blackpool - where my mother met my father. 
Kathleen & Edith
Kathleen & Edith

Both were  accomplished at needlework and crafts, with Aunt Edith also a talented artist.  and both , like many of their generation were skilled  bakers. 

Stitched by my mother
Painting by my Aunt Edith

Collage by my mother

Who could be my mother's bridesmaid in 1938, but ~Aunt Edith.   Forty-three years later, in 1981, the roles were reversed when Edith married. 


 Both sisters left me with a wonderful legacy on how to get the most out of life.  I  have a lot to thank them for. 

Copyright © 2012 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Military Monday: John Cornwell VC - with a personal linkl.

Jack Cornwell
 On September 16th 1916, "The Times" newspaper reported on the Victoria Cross being awarded to a young  sailor John Travers Cornwell for a conspicuous act of bravery whilst on board HMS Chester during the Battle of Jutland.

The Victoria Cross (VC), born in the carnage of the Crimean War is the highest award available to the armed forces for gallantry in action in the face of  the enemy. The medal  was originally made from the bronze cannon captured during the Crimean War (1854-1856).

The citation for John Cornwell read " Mortally wounded early in the action, Boy, First Class, John Travers Cornwell remained standing alone at a most exposed post, continuing to service his gun, until the end of the action, with the gun's crew dead and wounded all round him. His age was under sixteen".


John was a keen scout in his home town and in his honour the Boy Scout Association instituted  the Cornwell Scout Badge, awarded for outstanding acts of  courage and endurance in the face of adversity.

There is a personal dimension to this story, for my husband received the badge in 1948 following three years illness  in hospital.


Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Beyond the Internet:: Offline Newspapers - A Window on the World.

Cassmob at Family History Across the Seas, in her series "Beyond the Internet" aims to highlight some of the sources for family stories beyond our computer screens. The latest theme focuses on Newspapers.

Old newspapers I have always found fascinating. The accounts enable us to "experience" events as they were recorded in the press of the time. It is not textbook history in the conventional manner but is full of vigour on many varied aspects of the lives of ordinary people. Have a look at my "Stop Press" series for some of the quirky reports that I have come across.

My local archive centre at the Heritage Hub, Hawick in the Scottish Borders promotes itself primarily on the value of its unique archive sources that are not available anywhere else. These help family historians go beyond the standard resources of census returns, old parish records, monumental inscriptions etc.many of which can be accessed online.
The newspapers I have accessed on microfilm have not been indexed , so it it vital to be exact as possible with the date of an event i.e. at least month and year, or else you are in for an eye-breaking lengthy on-screen trawl to find what you are looking for.

How have newspapes helped my family history? I have found:
  • A 1905 account of the funeral of my great grandfther James Danson (a local joiner) which included a list of chief mourners.
  • A poignant account of the death of my great uncle George Danson at the Battle of the Sommr in 1916.

  • Lenghy and colourful account of the weddings in the 1920's of my great aunt Jennie Danson and my mother's cousin Annie Danson - they are worth reading just for the journalistic "over the top" style in the description of the dresses - with such phrases as "gowned in delphuinium blue georgette" and "Her hat was of georgette to tone with uneven pointed dropping brim, having an eye veil of silver lace and floral mount!

    Do have a look at the links as they are great fun to read. .

For family historians, inevitably newspapers seem more concerned with prominent people. landed gentry and profesional men. Early notices of births were often short merely stating “On the 1st inst. a son to……" – with the mother’s name not always given.

But even if you are unsuccessful in finding specific details on your own family, newspapers are an indispensable tool in providing you with that essential background material that can so enliven your family story.

What was happening during the lifetime of your ancestors?
  • You should find reports of military campaigns abroad, court cases, politics, royal visits, accidents (often with graphic descriptions), health, farming, trade, church activities, and  transport.  
  • Advertisements, generally on the front page for maximum impact, offer a valuable source of information on all aspects of life. In “The Kelso Mail” of January 1804 ”, the main advert informed readers of the signals that would be made across the county on the “enemy’s [Napoleonic] fleet appearing off the coast."
  • Regular features throughout the year featured railway timetables, market prices, local shipping agents offering passages to America, Canada, South Africa, India, Singapore and Australia, , auction sales notices with lengthy details of estates and their contents on the market, bankruptcies, tradesmen, events such as balls and talks, and church activities plus new arrivals at shops from the last novel by Charles Dickens to India rubber boots.
  • The classified adverts revealed households seeking housekeepers, cooks, parlourmaids, scullery maids, between maids, laundry maids But life was changing in 1916, with an advert for a "Lady Motor Driver" and a "Lady Clerk - not under 30, must be a first class typist and shorthand writer and experienced in filing and indexing". Also seeking work was a "Gentlewoman, excellent cleaner of plate....speaks French and Italian, with own portable Corona typewriter".
  • You can find out through the adverts what your ancestors were eating, what was Christmas like in war-time, what was the well dressed lady wearing?
  • One article I came across advised on "The Home Treatment of Alcoholic Excess and the Drug Habit"- with no interference with social, business or other duties". Still topical today!

    Items from "The Times: 16th September 1916

Items from "The Sunday Chronicle" 26th September 1937.

So I am pleased to promote local archive centres in this way to show there is genealogical life well beyond the Internet. It is records such as these which can contribute so much to us discovering the stories of our ancestors.

So start browsing the newspapers.
You may be surprised at what you uncover.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

We Will Remember Them - Military Monday

Long term readers of my blog will know how much I like to mark the month of November and Remembrance Day by paying tribute to our ancestors who  fought in war.  Here the focus is on War Memorials. 

Clitheroe, Lancashire

Taynuilt, near Oban, Argyll
Commando Memorial,
Spean Bridge, Scottish Highlands

Millstatt, Austria

Ypres, Belgium
Cenotaph, London
For other posts in this year's series of "Lest We Forget"
 Copyright © 2012 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved

Military Monday is one of many daily blog prompts from
to encourage writers to record their family history.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

A Soldier's Short Life - Sympathy Sunday

Long term readers of my blog will know how much I like to mark the month of November by thinking of Remembrance Day and paying tribute to our ancestors who fought in war.   This story of my great uncle George Danson (1894-1916)  is  adapted  from a posting that first appeared in the  Sepia  Saturday series.

This is the sad story of a short life  - that of my great uncle George Danson who was killed at the Battle of the  Somme  a week after his 22nd birthday.  Photographs and memorabilia here came from the collection of his only sister Jennie.    

George Danson was the youngest of eight surviving sons of James Danson and Maria Rawcliffe of Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire. Born in 1894, he was followed three years later by the birth of an only daughter Jennie. George was the favourite uncle of my mother and aunt, and they had fond memories of him, perhaps because he was nearest to them in age and took on the role of the big brother. I can see why in the photographs of him below.  

 George (below)  worked on W.H. Smith bookstalls at different railway stations.

George joined the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1916 and I was lucky enough to trace his service record on as many were destroyed in the Second World War. On his enlistment, George's medical report stated he was 5'3" tall, weighed 109 lbs. (under 8 stone), with size 34 1/2 chest and he wore glasses.

A photograph of George, with his brother Tom on the left,
Taken by W. J. Gregson & Co, Photographers, 92 Talbot Road, Blackpool.

One of the many embrodered cards sent back from Flanders to George's  mother Maria Danson

Also amongst the family papers were two letters written headed paper of the British Expeditionary Force. A letter of 19th March 1916 to his eldest brother Robert said "I will tell you one thing it is no easy job the army life today and I am of the opinion as most of the chaps are here they won't be sorry when it is all over."

The second letter of 23rd August 1916 was to Frank, his brother nearest to him in age. "At present we are abut 8 miles behind the firing line. I had to assist the wounded at a dressing station and stuck to it for about 40 hours. It's blooming hard work being a stretcher bearer in the field. On Friday I was in a big bombardment and will say it was like a continual thunder and lightening going off. As I write there are blooming big guns going off abut 50 yards away every few minutes. Don't I wish that all of us could get home. Wouldn't that be great, lad, there's a good time coming and I hope we shall all be there to join in."

Three weeks later, and a week after his 22nd birthday, George was killed on 16th September 1916 at the Battle of the Somme, and buried in the Guards Cemetery, Les Boeufs, near Albert.

A photograph of George's grave, sent to his widowed mother Maria Danson

The later memorial to George

Captain Macleod in writing to his mother who had four other sons serving, said "He was one of my stretcher bearers and was gallantly doing his duty over open and dangerous ground which suddenly became subjected to severe shell fire. He continued steadily bearing his burden and was only stopped by the shell that took his life. We mourn his loss and are very proud of him".

The death announcement in the local paper read:

The bugle may sound, the war drum may rattle
But no more they arouse their young hero to battle
For his King and his Country his life he nobly gave
And now he lies sleeping in a soldier's grave.

From Mother, Brothers, Sister, 2 Bull Street, Poulton-le-Fylde.

George's Victory Medal and British War Medal which remain in the family possession.

The War Memorial at Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire.
George is remembered below the name of his brother John Danson

For other posts in this year's series of "Lest We Forget"

Copyright © 2012 · Susan Donaldson. All Rights Reserved

Sympathy Sunday is one of many daily  blog prompts from to encourage writrs to record their damily history.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Girls All Together - Sepia Saturday

Sepia Saturday encourages bloggers to record their family history through photographs.

This week's theme prompted this story of my Great Aunt Jennie Danson who worked in Poulton Post Office, Lancashire.

This photograph was in the collection left by my Great Aunt Jennie.  According to her daughter, it was a group   of Jennie's work colleagues at Poulton Post Office. Certainly they seem to be dressed in a uniform of  the same skirts and blouses.     Jennie had written the names on the reverse  (how we wish all our ancestors would do that!) -  Gerty Roskell, Jennie Danson, Annie Jolly, Margaret Porter, Madge O' Rourke, Edith Jackson.
My great aunt Jennie Danson (1897- 1986) was, by all accounts, quite a feisty character. She was the only daughter and last child of James Danson and Maria Rawcliffe  born on 24th December 1897, after eight surviving brothers - George then aged 3, Frank 5, Albert 7, Tom 9, William 12 (my grandfather), Robert 16, John 18 and Harry 20 - a large family in a small terraced house. Her father died when when was eight years old, and two brothers John and George died in the First World War.

The oldest photograph below  c. 1909 of Jennie shows her to be around 12 years old, pictured with her widowed mother and her niece Annie Maria, daughter of brother John.

On leaving school, Jennie went to work in the local post office.  Her daughter Pam recalls a story that during the First World War, a telegram came through  for Mrs Maria Danson. Fearing the worst, Jenny was allowed to run home with it. Fortunately it was good news to say that Frank was in hospital in Malta but was doing well.  

I  love this photo below of Jennie with the "modern" hairstyle of the 1920's.  She was determined to lead her own life, much to the dismay of her five unmarried brothers who were used to her running the home after the death of their mother (Maria) in 1919. Jennie married Beadnell (Bill) Stemp in 1929 and died in 1985 aged 88 years old.

Jenny left  to her daughters a legacy of memories of her mother Maria, tangible family artifacts such as her mother’s tea set and jewellery, a large collection of photographs  and other family memorabilia, much relating to her two youngest brothers Frank and George.  
Copyright © 2012 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved

Click here to find other bloggers' stories on this week's theme.