Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Sepia Saturday - All At Sea

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

I have the ideal match for this week's photo prompt in a lovely  sign,  photographed at Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. 

 Edgartown on the island of Martha's Vineyard off Cape Cod was founded as a colony by  Thomas Mayhew in 1642.   The settlement was later named after King James II's young son Edgar who died at the age of three in 1671.  Relations between the first settlers and their Wampanoag neighbours were harmonious and the population grew from 19,00 in 1850 to in to 4, 067 in 2010. 

By the 19th century Edgartown was one of the main whaling ports on the American Atlantic coast. The stately white Greek Revival houses built by the whaling captains are a striking feature of the local architecture.  Below is the Whaling Church on the Main Street,  built in 1845. 


Scrimshaw is the craft of decorating or carving whale bone or ivory, done by sailors as a recreational  activity.   


A Fascinating Fact - Maintaining the link with whales, Edgartown was used as the main location for shooting the  town of Amity in Steven Spielberg's 1975 blockbuster "Jaws". 
Across the Atlantic to the   Lismore Lighthouse on the west coast of Scotland.
This is one of my most favourite sights.  Sailing out of Oban on the way to the Isle of Mull, you encounter the Lismore Lighthouse, surrounded only by hills, sea and sky.  It is so peaceful and idyllic.  The Lighthouse, situated at the entrance to Loch Linnhe,  protects shipping  from Oban to the Western Isles and north to Fort William and the Caledonian Canal.  Built in 1833 by Robert Stevenson, it was automated in 1965.  
To my only glimpse of Eire and the lighthouse at the entrance to Cobh on the south  coast of County Cork, Ireland.
The locality, which had had several Irish-language names, was first called Cove ("The Cove of Cork") in 1750.   It was renamed Queenstown in 1850 to commemorate a visit by Queen Victoria.  This remained the town's name until 1920 when, with the foundation of Eire as the Irish Free State,  it was renamed Cobh. 

Queenstown/Cobh was the departure point for the millions of  Irish people who emigrated to North America  during the 19th and 20th centuries.  On 11 April 1912 Queenstown was the final port of call for the he ""Titanic"   as she set out across the Atlantic on her ill-fated maiden voyage.
In September 1966,  I returned home from a year in the USA, travelling aboard the Cunard liner "Sylvania" from New York, calling at Boston and Cobh  before reaching Liverpool.    Commercial jet planes services  were starting to hit regular  transatlantic  shipping and the Liverpool-New York sailings were axed in November after my return.  Still I enjoyed this experience  and had my first sight  of Ireland with dawn over Cobh.  

 Back to Scotland and Dundee on the east coast - home of the sailing ship "Discovery".

Discovery" was the last 3 masted ship to be built in Britain in Dundee in 1901.   it was taken on two expeditions to the Antarctic by Captain Robert Falcon Scott. The second expedition saw a party of five reaching the South Pole in 1912 only to find that Norwegian explorer had preceded them. Scott and his four comrades all perished on the return journey.
RRS Discovery later went into service   with the Hudson Bay Company,  and during the First World War ran munitions to Russia.  It was to make two further voyages to Antarctica before being laid up in London. In 1986 she made her triumphant return to Dundee and her final berth.

Family connections with the sea rest with my husband's family who across generations moved from Leith (Edinburgh's seaport), to South Shields on Tyneside and Portsmouth in the south coast of England.  The occupations of the Donaldson's and their extended family ranged from merchant and master mariner to  seaman, caulker, roper, ship's carpenter and river policeman.   Here in a Napoleonic pose is my husband's great great grandfather, Master Mariner John Moffet. 


John married  France Thomson Dunn, a widow with three children,  in Stepney in the east end docklands area of London.

In the 1861 census,  John was master on board the brig "Brotherly Love" off Flamborough Head, Yorkshire. The crew of eight included three young apprentices, four seamen, and a mate, with many born in South Shields.   Thee is a painting of the ship in South Shields Museum.

John's family were meanwhile at Limehouse, London with three Dunn children and three Moffet children, and Frances described as a mariner’s wife.  An interesting line to pursue was the fact that two of Frances' Dunn children  were born in North America - Jane c.1847 and John T. in 1849. 

It would be fascinating to research this American connection, but nigh impossible,  with no indication of which state and no distinctive  name.  You never know Frances'  first husband may have had a a sailing link with New England? 

This is something else to add to my "to do" list!

Click HERE to find tales of the sea from  other Sepia Saturday bloggers. .

Copyright © 2013 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved


Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Sepia Saturday - Scribbles in Danson Bibles

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

This week's  prompt reminds us of the major pleasure we get  in finding original documents that our  ancestors must have touched and written.

This Danson family bible was an important impetus  in starting me on the family history trail.  Kept In the glass fronted bookcase in my grandfather's front room at Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire, the bible  recorded  the marriage of his parents James Danson (1852-1906) and Maria Rawcliffe (1859-1919) on the 12th May 1877 and the birth of their first four children - all sons - Harry, John, Robert and Albert.  

Sadly all but Robert died young - Harry aged 30, Albert as an infant, and John in 1917 during the First World War.  

As their family grew, enthusiasm for keeping the record obviously waned, as they went on to have five more sons (William - my grandfather, another Albert, Tom, Frank, and George) and as their last child only daughter Jennie, none of whom were listed.     
Unfortunately the bible entry did not give the place of marriage, and in pre-internet days, efforts to trace a marriage certificate through various registrar offices proved  tricky.   The ceremony took place in neither Maria nor James  birthplace.  It was thanks to a local member of the Lancashire Family History Society   who traced the record of marriage at St. Anne’s Church, Singleton - a small village near Poulton.  As I had already found through the 1881  Poulton census  that their first two sons had been  born in Singleton, this should have been an obvious starting point that I failed to see.

On the marriage certificate, James (left) was described as a joiner of full age from Singleton, with his father Henry a toll receiver (at nearby Shard Bridge over the River Wyre)  

James' wife’s names were given as Martha Maria, (right)  a spinster, aged 18 of Thistleton, with no occupation, no address given, so nothing to indicate why she was then living at Thistleton - a tiny hamlet. Later research revealed that Maria’s eldest sister Ann was living in the village where her husband was a gamekeeper. The witnesses to the marriage were Henry Danson and Elizabeth Ann Bailey, who proved to be James’ brother and eldest sister.

Maria’s Christian name was a source of some puzzlement too.  On her birth certificate and early census returns it was given as Maria – and this was the name that her granddaughters recalled.  However a number of official documents, including this marriage cert6ifcate)  had her name as Martha or Martha Maria.  Research into the Rawcliffe family established that her youngest sister Martha had only lived a few months, dying when Maria was only four years old, so she could hardly have remembered her.  What prompted her to adopt the name for herself?   

 It is mysteries like this that make family history so absorbing a hobby .

A second Danson Bible  came to light through an internet contact who proved to be descended  from John Danson, brother of my great grandfather James (above).  John as the eldest son had inherited  the family bible which included three pages of scrawled writing.  It gets a bit confusing as the same Christian names appear down the generations!

The  page ((above)  headed January 4 1827 “Be good to the poor” features, among the  signatures, Henry Danson (my GGG grandfather), Elizabeth Danson (his wife)  and James Danson (their son);  also an entry “January 1st 1827 James Danson, Sone of Henry Danson” – which must mark the death of Henry’s youngest son at the age of 15.   Another entry that can be deciphered is for “Elen (?) Simpson Borne 29 October 1811”


Another page (below)  also features signatures scrawled all ways - ones that can be deciphered are    Henry Danson, Trap, Elizabeth Danson,  Ellen Danson, Carleton, Peter Danson, Ellie Simpson, Carleton, Trap, Servant, 1830.



Trap Farm was where my GG grandfather Henry Danson was living in the 1841 and 1851 censuses, so this record established  for the first time that  the family were there a previous generation.   Ellen and Peter were siblings of Henry. The fact that servant Ellie Simpson  was also included in the activity and signed her name,  somehow casts  a lovely informal light on the household - though the fact they used the Bible for these scribbles  raises other issues !

Sole entry on another page (below)  reads “January 4 1827 Henry Danson Son of Henry Danson Born 25 of July 1806”.  This entry was dated just after the death of Henry' s brother James, so is there a significance in this?

Fifty years on, John (1844-1914),  my great grandfather's brother, made a much neater job of recording births and deaths in his family,  with this beautifully written page  which even includes the days of the week when they were born.

Click HERE to find other ancestral discoveries by Sepia Saturday bloggers.  
Copyright © 2013 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved
With thanks to Janet, my third cousin once removed,   for the images from the earlier Danson Bible. .

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Dad's Wartime Memories - Sentimental Sunday & Military Monday

My father's wartime memories have been my main preoccupation lately of my family history activities.

 Dad always had an interest in journalism and it was a familiar sight to see him seated at the typewriter.  In later life he was a regular contributor of  letters to local newspapers and prepared talks on a variety of topics  to present  to local societies.  I persuaded him to write down his memories and Dad's own words form the basis of this family history narrative,  supplemented by letters written to my mother  in 1944 and photographs from the family collection.  It  concentrates on his wartime experiences and complements the earlier work  "Memories of A  Broseley Boyhood".    He would have loved the world of blogging!

Dad  often talked about this experiences  and I am afraid it did provoke the reaction “Not the war again, Dad”. We also used to joke about him being in the Intelligence Branch.  It was only later that we came to realise what a defining period it was in his life.  
I did send away (at some cost) for Dad's service record, but it proved to be a disappointing contribution to this story, being little more than a list of dates and meaningless abbreviations.    As the covering letter said  "The record was compiled at the time of his service and contains very little detail of his postings and movements". 

With my aunt Edith (left)
and my mother, Kathleen (right)

Dad's story began in relating how he came to be a member of the RAF Codes and Cipher Branch and then had an interview with Group Captain Fred Winterbotham where he was told  "You are being considered for a very secret job.  He  joined the Special Liaison Unit for training at Bletchley Park and the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall, London.

He was seconded to General Bradley's US 12th Army Group and in 1944 was with them when they landed at Omaha Beach  just after D Day.

"On the Monday morning we zig-zagged our way across the Channel  (to avoid enemy submarines)  and arrived off the beach at around 11pm, some distance off our landing point.  Sporadic  bombing went on during the night from high level German bombers. We slept where we could on the craft.  Just as dawn was breaking,  at 04.00am the captain started up the engines (there was quite a roar) and we moved in  fast to the beach.  The ramp was dropped, we drove off and we were in France!   The first night I slept in a tent  but during the night it poured down and my sleeping bag was in two inches of water.    I had a brief time off and went into the village. I saw some small bottles of brandy in a shop – and not much else, so I bought the lot (16 bottles) – they cost around 1/8 (under current 10p.) a bottle!"
Dated on the reverse
Paris - Sept. 12th 1944

Onto Paris, where Dad was stationed at Versailles and experienced a warm welcome from Parisians. 


I was stopped by a Frenchman who said in English “RAF Sir? My name is Joseph Calmy. I was the Shell agent here before the war”. I offered him cigarettes and he then invited me to a building and gave me a bag full of Chanel perfume, toiletries, powder and cream – it lasted Mum for years. I flew back with it when I got some leave in March ‘45,,,,,,,, We ended up in a café and went through some rush curtains into a back room. In a few minutes a man and a woman came in carrying a bag, which they unloaded to reveal eggs, butter, meat, grapes and champagne. I had a meal of steak with a large bunch of grapes.  When we came to leave it was as if I was walking on air – I floated out of the café!"

In  a typed letter home, Dad asked "I hope you have managed to have Baby's photograph taken".  
This was the photograph: 

From Paris Dad moved onto Luxembourg where he became friendly with a former member of the government and they remained in contact for many years. 
"It was now December 1944 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.  It was pandemonium...... This was the Battle of the Bulge.  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.......Anyone moving around that night not giving the correct password (which was Betty Gable), was shot on the spot......The weather did improve somewhat. 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 , often repeated,  apocryphal family story.
The advance on Germany continued.  "
"We cracked a signal from von Runstedt to Hitler, which read, “Our troops are exhausted, we have little fuel, we are retreating”. After this we moved north of Luxembourg to Malmedy on the west bank of the Rhine...  On March 7th 1945, there was great excitement in our operations vehicle. We learned that a railway bridge across the Rhine at Remagen was still intact – the charges had failed to explode. A US infantry battalion rushed across the bridge to the east bank.
"I crossed into Germany at Trier. I recall that vividly. Patton’s tanks were ahead of us and were nearing the Rhine. His engineers threw a pontoon bridge across and we followed. I was driving our operations vehicle – there were GIs on the bridge with machine guns, urging me to push on quickly in case of air attack. We made it and an hour later drove into Wiesbaden to what had been the Luftwaffe’s former HQ.  it was then April 1945."
V-Day arrived. The GIs went wild, but we took it all quietly, with coffee and doughnuts from the Red Cross post – very very nice!”
From Germany, Dad was posted to the Far East. " In Burma things were moving to a close.  I was there at the ceremony in Rangoon when the Japanese capitulated.  I was based at the university.  We were always short of tea, which seemed odd in that part of the world, but there was plenty of cocoa.  I also had a ration of one bottle of gin and one of limejuice a month.  I used to drink that under my mosquito net at night watching the insects run up and down the wall". 
"I had a short break in Bombay before sailing on the "City of Asia" for home.  I was in charge of a deck of some 200 men.  We eventually arrived at Liverpool on Christmas Day and went to a camp at Birkenhead.  Then caught a train to Blackpool and arrived home by taxi at 2pm. 
One of the first things I did was to cradle you in my arms – you were shy – no wonder!"  MY WAR HAD ENDED!"
This has been a very enjoyable, and at times moving project to read Dad's own words and create a story of his war memories.   
I am proud to have at long last made this tribute for myself and my brother and Dad's grandchildren.
Copyright © 2013 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Sepia Saturday - Warrior Women


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


This week's prompt features a somewhat theatrical figure - Boadicea or Britannia?  Though my first reaction was -  is it a character from a Wagnerian opera?  It inspired me to take the theme  Warrior Women.



Here is the famous London statue of BOADiCEA on Westminster Bridge opposite the House of Parliament.  Created by  Victorian sculptor Thomas Thornycroft, it was unveiled in 1902.
Boadicea  was queen of the British Iceni  tribe,  and  c.AD61 she  led an uprising against the occupying forces of the Roman  Empire  whose governor was then Gaius Suetonius Paulinus. The rebel queen is depicted as a heroic patriot, standing triumphantly in her chariot.
As regular readers of my blog know, I am always keen to promote the history of my local area - the Scottish Borders. 

Here is probably a little known fact - the words of "Rule BRITANNIA"  were written by  Borderer James Thomson(1700-1748), who was born in the village of Ednam, near Kelso, Roxburghshire. He  attended Jedburgh Grammar School and studied divinity at Edinburgh University, before making his home in London.  

 Britannia was an ancient term for Roman Britain and   came to be personified as a goddess, armed with a trident and shield and wearing a helmetIt later became  as an emblem of British imperial power and unity, featured on banknotes and coins.
Thomson's  words of "Rule Britannia were set to music in 1740 by Thomas Arne, and his poem "The Seasons" was used by composer Haydn as the text of his oratorio of that name.
Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves!
Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.

When Britain first, at heaven's command,
Arose from out the azure main,
This was the charter of the land,
And Guardian Angels sang this strain:
Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves!
Britons never, never, never shall be slaves

NT5832 : The Temple of the Muses by Walter Baxter
This circular nine columned gazebo, unveiled in 1817, was  dedicated to James Thomson.  It stands on a mound overlooking the River Tweed at  Dryburgh, near St. Boswells. in the Borders.   For the opening of the temple, poet Robert Burns wrote an “Address to the Shade of Thomson”

The Gallic equivalent of Britannia is MARIANNE, depicted below on a mural at Bastille Metro Station in  Paris. 
Bastille Metro Station in Paris
The Bastille Metro  Station pays homage to French history, notably events of 1789. In the centre of this picture is patriot Marianne, wearing the Revolutionary tricolour cockade in her cap. The origins of Marianne  are obscure, but she became a prominent national symbol in France, a personification of the new Republic, with its principles of Liberty and  Reason.  Statues of Marianne appear across France at civic buildings  and law courts and her image features on French euro notes and postage stamps.
JEAN OF ARC, Maid of Orleons (c.1412- 1431) was born a peasant girl, but became a folk heroine of France and a saint. Claiming divine guidance, she led the French army to several important victories during the Hundred Years War.   She was captured, put on trial] and was burned at the stake for heresy when she was  only 19 years old.
Statue in Paris of Joan of Arc  

The  gilded bronze statue in Paris  was commissioned by the French government following the defeat of the country in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. 

And finally,  I have included this 1960's photograph for two reasons. It is from a student production of the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera,   "Iolanthe,  where the Fairy Queen (front right) has taken on the persona of a Wagnerian woman warrior.  Also I cannot helping thinking that the very short brown  tunic of Strephon in the centre is very reminiscent of the tunic worn in this week's photo  prompt.     As a matter of interest I am the "fairy" in the emerald green outfit on the right, behind the Fairy Queen's staff.  
Click HERE to see how other bloggers have taken to the stage
with this week's prompt.  
 ** Image Copyright Walter Baxter. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic Licence. To view a copy of this licence, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.


Tuesday, 16 July 2013

I'm Over the Moon - I'm Among Top 50 Family HIstory Blogs

50 Genealogy Blogs You Need To Read In 2013


As they say in Scotland, "I am fair chuffed".  My blog has been  listed  among 50 genealogy blogs in the magazine Inside History which focuses on  Australia and New Zealand.  Issue 17 (Jul/Aug 2013)  is out now with the theme   "Eureka moments in family history".
Penned by Australian blogger Jill Ball for the second year in a row, the listing cites  top 50 blogs that every genealogist needs to follow and includes   libraries, archives, societies, personal and professional genealogists, speciality topics and organisation blogs from around the world. You can view the full list on the magazine website  at:
Thank you to the magazine and to all  the Australian and New Zealand  readers of my blog,  especially those who regularly take the time to give comments. Your support is much appreciated.
Inside History magazine

Friday, 12 July 2013

Sepia Saturday - "Never Mind the Weather - We Had Fun".

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

I thought I had the ideal photograph for this week's west weather theme.  Taken about 25 years ago, it showed my daughter holding an umbrella over my head as I tried  to cook our first meal on a barbecue.  We had bought the barbecue  as a summer present to ourselves as we were not going away on holiday. (This was long before the term "staycation" came into vogue).  The barbecue  took ages to light and just when I thought the coals were hot enough, down came the rain!  And my husband got his camera out to record the occasion.  Unfortunately I cannot find the photo!  We never really went into barbecuing after that.

Neither have I  photographs of ancestors holding umbrellas - or even parasols, and I cannot say it ever occurred to me or my family  to take pictures of rain.  So instead I am taking a nostalgic look back at holidays with less than perfect weather - but hey, in Britain we learn  to enjoy  ourselves whatever is thrown at us.

Cartoon_umbrella : Smiling Water Drop With Umbrella Under The Rain

My early memories  recall my father building a house out of deck chairs on an empty  damp Bournemouth beach.  I think my mother had decided that a look around the shops was a better wet weather option, but my brother and I enjoyed our makeshift tent.  On another wet occasion we donned our willies and went a walk along the Chimes (cliffs) to collect  pine cones which we later used in Christmas decorations.   
As a student I was coming back on a crowded  Dover ferry.  As we perched on our cases on the top deck, the heavens opened as we approached Dover harbour and we got soaked - but thought it was hilarious.  On the train to London we scrambled around trying to find some dry clothes in our luggage, before we began the long journey north to Scotland.  That is almost my main memory of that holiday!  
It even poured down on our wedding day in July and we have no photographs of the occasion taken outside.
Many years on, and another ferry - this time from Oban to Mull - still on the top deck braving  the elements with a very wet dog.
Sheltering from the wind on Iona in May - though our dog does not look much happier.
The hills are alive with "The Sound  of Music!
We have had our share of downpours and mountain thunderstorms  on holiday in Austria and this was the dramatic sky just after we landed at Salzburg Airport.
P.S.  I am writing this on one of the hottest days I can remember for a very long time - what a contrast!
Click HERE to see how other bloggers have enjoyed the weather.