Friday, 15 February 2019

Happy 219th Birthday Henry Fox Talbot

I know it’s an unusual birthday to celebrate but in the field of genealogy/photography Henry Fox Talbot is an important man. He was born on the 11th of February 1800 in Dorset, England. He could be regarded as one of the fathers of modern photography as the practices he developed allowed for the modern processes we use today to be developed.
Henry Fox Talbot
Henry Fox Talbot
Now Henry did not invent photography but he did develop new methods for making more stable pictures. He discovered ways to treat the glass plate in the camera so that with the long exposure times required the image would not be lost if too much sunlight entered the camera lens. Thus hours of work were not lost. Also he developed a process which allowed a photograph to be taken in bright sunlight in just a few minutes. His greatest development was discovering a process which would allow a negative image to be printed multiple times on to paper and thus allow for mass availability of an image. So if you can make mass images from one negative you can sell pictures of important events such as the monarch seated on their throne. Also if the event was outside images could be taken quickly so an image of a disaster could be taken for future reference. For example from 1864 there are photos of the devastation caused by the Great Sheffield Flood. This could have been examined to find out why the dam wall failed and thus may have prevented another dam from collapsing.

It should be pointed out that other scientists were also making the same developments and other innovations at same time and thus who invented the processes first is debatable but Henry Fox Talbot’s work in the field cannot be ignored.
The damaged dam wall which caused the great flood of Sheffield in 1864
Aftermath photograph of the Great Sheffield Flood of 1864
So I’ve discussed in the past how important photography is to genealogy as through old photos of our ancestors we truly get an image of the past. But one way that photography helped out ancestors and thus modern genealogists was through post mortem photographs. Now this does not mean the images taken at crime scenes or of murder victims. It was the taking of photographs of loved ones after they had died so you had a permanent memento of them.

Warning! Post mortem image
A post mortem family photograph
This is an image of a girl with her parents taken after she had died. Now some may not like the idea of such a photo being taken, but this could be the only way for the parents to remember their daughter. If you didn’t know you would think it was just a family photo, but in this image if you look closely you can see something is not quite right. The girls image is totally crisp and sharp where as her parents have a slight blur to them as if they didn’t remain perfectly still for the exposure of the image.

Post mortem images were very often tastefully done, especially with young children. In these images the child is usually placed in such a way as they just looked like they were having a nap either in bed or in their parent’s arms. Although there are exceptions to this. There is a picture form the 1940’s of a Syrian bishop seated on his throne at his own funeral.

So to all the men and women who had a hand in developing the camera, negative, lens and final photograph thank you. You may not have realised it at the time but you opened the world of genealogy up by letting us see the faces of our ancestors no matter what stage of their life they were in.

Friday, 8 February 2019

Our Scottish Clans

Many of you will have Scottish ancestry and as such you may be part of a clan. But what really are the clans and how do they work.

Well from the start let me state that I have ancestry in the Buchanan Clan. I am descended from ancestors called Dow and as such am part of the Buchanan clan. My Scottish ancestors came from Govan in Scotland but the furthest back I’ve got is to the late 1700’s in a small village called Lorn which used to be on the banks of Loch Lorne. My 5 times great grandparents were Duncan Dow and Mary McIntyre. According to their son Archibald Dow’s death certificate from 1855 Duncan was a shepherd.
Buchanan tartan
Buchanan Tartan 
So what is a clan? In basic terms a clan is a group who come together as a sort of family. Many started out as villages or regions under the control of a laird or chieftain. They usually share a common bond and have sub groups who come under their flag. They usually share a tartan to denote they are of the clan so they can be easily identified. The use of tartan is also a way of showing who your fealty to a clan chieftain.

Clans are usually headed by the most powerful family of the clan, although they may not carry the clan name surname, so just because you are chieftain of the Buchanan Clan doesn’t mean you have to be a Buchanan. The 6th chief was McBeath McCausland. Since the 8th Chief they have carried the surname Buchanan. The current chief is John Michael Baillie-Hamilton Buchanan.

The clans in some respect were like states or counties. They set their own local laws and the members would pay taxes to the chief. The Chief would hear grievances from the clan’s people and act as a sort of judge and jury. The Chief would also have soldiers who would defend the clan’s lands from attack from other clans which happened when other clans decided to use this method to expand their territory. Chief’s also used marriage to expand their lands. They would marry their children to into other clans in the hope of the marriage bringing another clan under their control.

The role of the clans changed after the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. This was when Charles Edward Stuart the Young Pretender or Bonnie Prince Charlie tried to get the throne back for his father James Edward Stuart the Old Pretender. James Stuart was the eldest son of the deposed King James II/VII (depending on if you’re using the English or Scottish regnal number although now I think we’re supposed to use the VII) of Great Britain and his second wife the catholic Mary of Modena. James was deposed due to his Catholic faith as Great Britain was a Protestant country. He was replaces as King in 1688 to be replaces by his daughter Mary II and her husband William III.
Bonnie Prince Charlie
Charles Edward Stuart 
During the rebellion Bonnie Prince Charlie led his troops in battle against the British army to try to force William and Mary to give the throne back to his father. The rebellion failed but the clans came under great scrutiny for their role in the rebellion. May of the clan chiefs powers were revoked including that of passing laws. Also the wearing of tartan was banned but this was repealed later in the century.

Today the wearing tartan by those descended from the Scottish clans began in the Victorian era. It became fashionable to be descended for the clans and people wanted to show they had a Scottish heritage and all things Scottish. Whether the fact Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had just bought Balmoral had an impact on this I don’t know, but you would think it had. This even continues today. Any Scottish city you visit you’ll find a shop where you can trace you Scottish ancestry and purchase tartan, scrolls, and clan badges showing your lineage. I know I went in one as a kid and have a badge that states my clan in Buchanan.

So the Scottish clans today may not be the powerful groups they were in the past but they do still exist and you can trace you ancestry to them. They are famous throughout the world and new tartans have been developed to show the diversity of Scotland. The Sikh’s of Scotland have their own tartan. Which is the most famous of the clans, well it’s probably the McDonald’s, but not for they clan heritage, more for the burgers.

Friday, 1 February 2019

Jobs that no longer exist

In the course of genealogy you may come across jobs that you don’t know what they are. It may be that they were not uncommon, it’s just that they no longer exist for what ever reason.

So what were some of these jobs?

Well one I’m glad doesn’t exist anymore is a knocker up. I have nothing against the people who had this occupation, it was just what they did. A knocker up was someone who you paid to wake you up in the mornings. They were a human alarm clock. In the industrial towns it was important that you got to work on time. If you didn’t you may be expected to work the entire day for no pay. This meant it was vital to get to work on time. So you paid a knocker up, probably only a penny or two a week, to wake you up. They used various methods from knocking on the house door to using a long bamboo stick to tap on your bedroom window. One lady in London even used a pea shooter to aim at the windows to wake people up.
Artist’s impression of a knocker up
Another job that’s gone is that of a lamp lighter. We all take for granted that when dusk comes the street lights come on automatically and then go off in the morning. In the Victorian era this wasn’t the case. People’s job was to go round lighting the gas lamps in the streets and then putting them out in the mornings. They were imaginatively named. Now they’d probably be known as illumination specialists or something. But they did a really vital job. Can you image walking the streets of Whitechapel in the 1880’s without the gas lamps, it was dangerous enough without it being dark as well.

Another job which technology got rid of was the type setter. Before the advent of typewriters if you wanted to print something you had to load the individual letters into a holder to produce the page you wanted. This was a highly skilled job as you had to put everything in the holder backwards and led to the phrase getting hold of the wrong end of the stick, as if you started from the wrong end then the text came out back to front. Also the person doing the job had to be literate. Imagine if someone wanted a book printed, you would have to place each letter by had until you had a page and then print the page and then do the next page and so on.
A type setter at work
Going further back in time some of the jobs were just horrible and thankfully they have gone in this country.

How would you fancy being a leech collector? Doctors were using leeches to bleed their patients as they felt this would keep them healthy. So they needed leeches to use. People would go to the marshy areas where the leeches lived and catch them. They didn’t use a net. It they were canny they used an old animal. They would stand them in the marsh and take the leeches of the animal’s legs. It they couldn’t afford an animal they used themselves! They stood there and let the leeches attach to them and then pulled them off when they’d had their fill after about 20 minutes. They probably continued to bleed for several hours after so it wasn’t a particularly healthy occupation.

The final job we should all be thankful has gone was that of a gong farmer. They had the nastiest jobs ever. They dug out, buy hand, the cesspits and the toilets. They would remove the waste and take it away. That is a job no one should have had to do. But it did have some advantages. If anything went down the loo that shouldn’t have they could keep it. Also they were paid quiet well as well you would have to be to do the job.
Advertisement for a Gong Farmer
So our ancestry is full of different jobs to those were do now, but really would you want to do some of them. Getting up early in the morning to wake people up or spending all night digging in poop. Sounds like having kids to me! But for society to function they were needed.

Friday, 25 January 2019

The family recipe book

How many of us have an old recipe book on the bookcase. It’s probably in a worse for wear condition with the cover falling off and bits of paper sticking out from every angle. It can give you an insight into the lives of your ancestors.

By looking at the recipes it can give you an insight into what foods your ancestors could afford to make and also what they liked to eat. It could also give you an insight into their kitchen as the more complicated the recipe the more kitchen equipment they may have needed so this may indicate they were from a wealthier background. These books can also span the generations as they are passed down from mother to daughter (or father to son). There are at least 5 different handwriting's in one of my family recipe book.
My Grandmas recipe book
I’m lucky as I have access to my Grandma’s recipe book and my great Grandma’s.

So let’s look at the recipes inside.

Well in the main meals section we find a recipe for a meat mould which is sausage meat and corn beef mixed with a tomato and an egg all mixed together. Then it is steamed for 45 mins. Then there’s a Christmas pate which involves leftover turkey and lots of butter. There is also a terrine made with bacon, veal, port, liver and chicken liver, gross, I’ll just eat the bacon thanks.

The books also packed with recipes for chutneys, soups and pickles. Then it’s my favourite the cake and puddings section - boiled fruit cake my absolute favourite. This section does give a big clue about family life. There are lots of low sugar and diabetic recipes. This indicates someone suffered from diabetes and they did. It also shows how times have changed. There are recipes for jams and curds. I know some people still make them but many do just go to the shops and buy them.

Recipe books can also show regional foods. Now this would be seriously confusing in Grandmas recipe book. She was born and raised in Northamptonshire. He mum was from Cambridgeshire and her grandma was from Lincolnshire. Add into that her dad was from Nottinghamshire and the fact that she and grandpa travelled all over the country before settling in Yorkshire. Your family recipe book may offer better clues as to where their origins lie. One example of regional foods in grandma’s recipe book is for Yorkshire parkin. For those who don’t know it’s a spiced cake made with oats, treacle and ginger. Here’s the recipe, try it’s gorgeous.
Grandma’s Yorkshire parkin recipe

If you consider my great Grandma’s recipe book then this too will have a hodge podge of regional recipes. She was born in Sunderland but raised in London. Her mother was from Sunderland but her dad was Scottish.

You may also find some really bizarre recipes. I took to the internet to see what other recipes I could find from peoples recipe books.

How’s this for a delicious recipe, stewed sparrows anyone. This 18th century recipe calls for boiling the sparrows in ale and water. Put 3 egg yolks, verjuice (made from unripe grapes, crab-apples or other sour fruit) cinnamon and ginger and stir. Add the sparrows to the sauce. I think I’ll give that one a miss.

One which maybe you can try next Christmas, picked turkey anyone.

If you try this recipe let me know how bad it is. Picked meat sound disgusting, but I suppose it preserved the meat so it would keep longer and could be used when fresh food stocks were low. It could have kept the entire family going when there was nothing else available.

If you have an old recipe book in the family why not play make a recipe. Just open the book and if you like the ingredients in the recipe on that page, and if you can still get them, make it and see what it’s like. If your ancestors took the time to write it down then maybe it was a family favourite. Who knows maybe it will become a future family favourite to another generation of the family.

Friday, 18 January 2019

There’s nowt so queer as folk

We’ve all heard in our family’s strange saying and expression but have you ever wondered what they mean? I have. Some may even give you a link to where your ancestors may have come from it the expression has been used for years in a family.

Many of you will know the expression there’s ‘nowt so queer as folk’ from the film the Full Monty (which was set in Sheffield). This is an expression I know well as my Mum’s always said it. Well it’s a colloquialism from Yorkshire/Lancashire meaning there’s nothing as strange as people. So yes a good expression for Sheffielders to use. What’s unusual is that my maternal grandparents weren’t from Sheffield so presumably native Sheffielders said it and it got into our family that way.
Sheffield home of the Full Monty and nowt so queer as folk
Another expression used by our family is black over bills mothers meaning that there a dark clouds coming. This is a midlands expression but I have absolutely no ancestral connection to the midlands, so again this must have come from another source.

What about having a gale in your tail? It’s what’s said when kids go hyper when it’s windy. This is one expression I have no idea where it comes from, but it’s true, it happens.

So what other expressions are there that we may use but have no idea what the origins or the phrase are?

Well one of my favourites has always been ‘mad as a hatter’. I always thought it related to Alice in Wonderland and the mad hatter, but it doesn’t, but it does. The actual meaning of the saying related to the fact that people who mad hats used mercury when making felt. The process gave off mercury fumes which gave the hatters mercury poisoning which lead to a form of madness. Thus you become as mad as a hatter. This expression could indicate a Cheshire/Lancashire amongst others areas ancestry as many of the hatters came from these areas.
Lewis Carroll’s mad hatter

Winning hands down. We use it to mean someone can do something easily and has to put no effort into it. This expression comes from horse racing and means the jockey doesn’t have to do anything to encourage there horse i.e. use the whip as there are winning with their hands down. Do you have a jockey in your ancestry?

Skeleton in the closet. We all use this to mean we have something to hide or we don’t want people to know about. You may even have used it in genealogy when you have an ancestor who seems to have had something to hide. It’s actually thought to have come from the body snatchers who had to hid the bodies they dug up before they got them to the medical students for illegal dissection. This expression seems to be widespread throughout the UK.

One I’ve definitely used in genealogy is barking up the wrong tree. We all know it means looking in the wrong place either for a physical object or a piece of information. But what of the origin? Well it’s believed to come from hunting when the dogs chased birds up the trees and continued to bark up the tree thinking the prey was still there when in reality it had flown off. You may have seen it in your own dogs when they’re barking at something that’s not there anymore. Does this indicate a countryside based ancestor or has it just percolated throughout the entire country now as a widespread expression.

My final saying that many may have used but not known the origin is letting ones hair down. These days we use it to mean where having a good time and enjoying ourselves. Well next time you use it think of the medieval women who if they went out had to where their hair up in the fashionable styles and elaborate up does of the day. We all know how just having a ponytail in all day can be uncomfortable so when we get home we let our hair down, as did our medieval ancestors!

So next time you use an expression or colloquialism just think as to its origins and what it says about your ancestry.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Unusual Jobs

In every generation there are those members of society who have unusual jobs. They may seem strange to us when we find them in the census but in the past they were could have been more common or even usual then.

So I’ve look through my tree and found you four people who had the most usual or less common jobs I could find.

I’d like to start with one of our family’s war heroes, James Briggs who was my great, great Grandma’s second son. James was born in Thorpe St Andrew in 1892 and died in 1917 in Belgium while fighting in WW1. Now James had a very important job for the company he worked for. James made the packaging for the company. He made the tins at the Colman’s mustard factory in Norwich, Norfolk. Now in the grand scheme of things this wasn’t an important job, but you have to admit it was unusual outside of Norwich.
Also in my family my 4 times great Grandad Enoch Goodwin was a toll keeper in Bosley Cheshire. My great, great Grandad Frederick Staton was a Professor of music at Worksop Priory in Nottinghamshire and I even have a dog track owner/bookie. My great Grandma’s brother owned and ran the greyhound track in the Darnall area of Sheffield and on the 1939 census he was recorded as a commission agent i.e. a book maker.

If you go through your family tree your bound to find someone who had an unusual job. They may have worked in industries that we are familiar with and even still exist but the role they carried out many not exist anymore and thus seem strange to us. So working in a coal mine may be a common job, but how many looked after the pit ponies?

One of the grossest unusual jobs was a resurrectionist, which thankfully doesn’t exist anymore. Now many will have no idea what this is and to be honest I didn’t know what it was. Once you read about it you will probably know 2 very famous ressurrectionists, Burke and Hare.
The resurrectionists Burke and Hare
So what is a resurrectionist? Well in laymen’s terms it’s a body snatcher. Medical students needed bodies to dissect to understand how the human body worked. Unfortunately this was illegal unless the person had been executed. So since a dead body was not classed as belonging to anyone, you could theoretically take the body from a grave as long as you didn’t take any valuables from the body. Also the medical schools didn’t like to ask too many questions as to where the bodies were coming from.

So you have ressurectionists. Burke and Hare took it a step to far though. When they couldn’t get enough bodies they decided to kill people to get the bodies. They then sold these bodies to the medical school in Edinburgh. They were doing this in the 1820’s. They were eventually arrested and imprisoned. William Hare was released from prison after turning Kings Evidence (admitting he did it and informing on his accomplice). William Burke though, well he was tried and executed. Then he was dissected and if you want to see his skeleton it’s in the anatomical museum in Edinburgh and a book bound with his skin is in the surgeon’s museum.

So there were loads of unusual and strange jobs that our ancestors could have done for a living, but is it any stranger than today? If you think about it anyone in the future who looks back at my life if going to think I had a strange job and wonder what a genealogist was.

Friday, 4 January 2019

Creative ways with genealogy

When it comes to genealogy we gather all the information on our ancestors and store it either on our computers or in folders, but what do we do with it then. Over the years I’ve seen many articles describing how to store genealogy and I want to give you a feel of some creative ways to display your family.

Most of us will be familiar with the concepts of photos of our family on the wall but I’ve seen some fantastic alternatives to just having a line of photos.
My Grandma, her parents and her maternal grandparents
You could go down a more traditional route. Once you’ve completed your tree, (does this ever happen?) you could decide to create an ancestry chart. I’m sure you’ve seen them. You can get them that go back a number of generations. On these you can write the name of your ancestors and on some you can add vital information such as birth, death and marriage. You can make these and print them out form your genealogy software or you can buy them and fill them in yourselves. I’ve got a 10 generation chart which one day I will fill in and frame. You can get great charts from My History, a wonderful genealogy supply company in South Yorkshire (my home county). You can see these at:

You could also go down the route of having you tree printed professionally. This can be printed in huge sizes so if you’ve got a massive tree you could have each side of your family printed out and framed. Each side could then be hung on your wall with a photo of the starting person in the middle. There are many companies that can do this including My History.

One of the best I’ve seen involved a drawing of a tree on the wall. On to this was placed photos of ancestors with a name plate underneath. On the plate was the person’s vital information. Now I know we’re not all that creative as to be able to draw a tree on our sitting room wall. You can buy massive stick on tree decals which you can put on the wall. On to this you could either stick photos of your ancestors or hang photos in frames on the wall in strategic places on the wall. I saw this done on the wall of a stair case so the tree started at the bottom of the stairs and the branches went up the wall to the upstairs. On it were the photos on the person’s ancestors.
Not a real tree, but one I put together to demonstrate the idea, as I can’t draw to save my life, (no seriously match stick men are my level). 
It doesn’t have to be a permanent display of your ancestors. You can display your ancestry in books. You could make yourself a scrapbook to display your ancestry. You can get as creative as you like. You can add background papers, photos and information on your ancestors. You can also add embellishments relevant to your ancestors and family stories to help bring their lives to life for future generations.

You could write a book about your ancestors. I’m not talking about a novel, although you could, but more their lives story. You could fill it with stories of their lives, photos and all the information about them. In some ways this is much the same as the scrapbook idea but it could contain more information. You can include copies of your evidence such as certificate and census returns.
A printed version of the family packages I offer.
So why not make this year the year you pull all of your ancestors together so you can easily look at them and read all the information you have. It may help you to connect with them more easily and also make them accessible to other members of your family.

Happy 219th Birthday Henry Fox Talbot

I know it’s an unusual birthday to celebrate but in the field of genealogy/photography Henry Fox Talbot is an important man. He was born ...