Monday, 30 May 2011

Maritime Monday: The Ancient Mariner (Great-Grandfather No 3)

I could have posted this one under Madness Monday, because this GGrandfather drives me mad, but seeing as I posted GGrandfather No 2 under "Madness", I thought this one could (and indeed more properly should) be "Maritime".

James Toal is my maternal grandfather's father. His father was Bernard Toal.  He was born in Ireland around 1857.  He married Mary Ellen Fitzgerald in Liverpool on 8 August 1887.  He was a master mariner.  There!  That's it!  All I know, after countless years of research!

Here are some "maybes":  He may have been born in County Down - a 14 year old James Toal was on board a vessel recorded for the 1871 Census in Wales and that was his place of birth.  After that, James disappears - not a solitary appearance in a Census.  In 1891 his wife is recorded at her parent's home with my grandfather, but no James, so presumably at sea.  In 1901 both my grandfather and his brother are with their maternal grandparents, sans either parent.  Again in 1911 my grandfather is with his maternal grandmother, whilst his brother has joined the army.  My grandfather evidently felt close to his grandparents - he added "Fitzgerald" to his name.

I haven't been able to trace an entry for either James or Mary Ellen in the death index or with the Catholic burial register in Liverpool.  Perhaps they retired to Ireland, perhaps they died at sea or abroad - perhaps he is still out there, an ancient mariner, eternally sailing the seas!

Madness Monday: Naked Ambition (Great-Grandfather No 2)

Alfred Williams was my maternal grandmother's father.  Until very recently I knew very little about him, other than that he was Welsh.  My mother wasn't one to talk about her family and was indeed quite snippy about them.  So, Alfred was very much shrouded in mystery.

My own efforts revealed that he was born to Daniel Williams and his wife Hannah around 1865 in Glam Dowlais.  The Williams family were miners, Alfred too.  Somehow Alfred met and impressed Eleanor (Ellen) Jenkins, the daughter of the landlord of the Pandy Inn, Ton-y-Pandy.  The couple married in 1891 and moved to Robert Street in Ynysybwl, where Alfred continued to work as a miner.  By 1901 the couple had six children (three more, including my grandmother, came along) and Alfred was now "Living on Own Means" according to the census.  How did this coal miner come by enough money to support himself, a wife and six children?

The truth is that he was not living on his own means, he was living on his wife's means.  Ellen's father, Daniel Jenkins, had been a remarkably shrewd pub landlord.  He had bought property including houses in Ynysybwl and invested in shares.  On his death, he left the bulk of his estate to his youngest daughter, Ellen.  Thanks to his wife, Alfred escaped the mines and was able to live in relative comfort for the remainder of his days.

So, there is the ambition part - here is the mad part!  My mother's sister is now quite elderly and allegedly suffering from Alzheimer's Disease - I say allegedly because she seems perfectly lucid to me.  On our last visit to her she recalled that she had met her mother's father once, when she was a small girl.  She said that he was a stout gentleman and he had given her sixpence.  Later in life she was told that he had gone quite mad - she wondered if Alzheimer's ran in the family (something else for me to look forward to!).  Apparently he would escape from his house, entirely naked, and run about the village, until caught by neighbours who would wrap him in a sheet and take him back home.

Quite disgraceful, but you've got to smile!
Friday, 27 May 2011

Follow Friday: Some drama and then costume

First of all, can I say how amazed I am to discover today that I have more than 20 followers!  Bless you all for allowing me to waffle on at you - I really do appreciate it!

Secondly, can I say - what a week!  Evacuation from my home, daughter's first trip away from home (3 nights in London), finding myself on a sub-committee to help set up a new museum - I am quite exhausted.  However, the fire in the garage near our house did not result in the massive explosion promised by a rather harassed policeman ("Get your things and go!"), so we are safely back, our beloved one is home this evening and I am very excited about the museum (although I hadn't appreciated that there was quite so much to say on the subject of cabinet lighting - I now know that there is - it takes approximately an hour to say it if you are the bearded gentleman sitting opposite me at the meeting).

So, with such a busy week, I haven't been blog reading too much.  However, I did come across one little gem and would like to share it.  Costume is something that has been an abiding interest for me since childhood and I think I have a fair knowledge of what was worn when.  This is of course useful for dating family photos if your slapdash ancestors forgot to write the date on the back (mine invariably have).  For more insight into this area of genealogy have a look at the Kith & Kin Research blog.  This week Luke Mouland has a guest writer, Jayne Shrimpton, writing about her experience of dating photos and watercolours using clues from the subjects' dress.  Jayne gives some interesting examples of how her work has helped to unravel family mysteries (though not all!).  Now that I have read Jayne's article I shall be digging out a mystery photo from my husband's family - a lady in late Victorian dress (or is it?), holding her lap dog.  No one knows who she is,  perhaps a further study will reveal more clues.
Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Betty's Wedding

A while ago I posted photos of my grandparents' at their own wedding, and at their daughter's wedding.  Here is the bride, my Auntie Betty, with her proud father Philip.

Betty had no children and consequently spoiled me rotten - my part of the bargain was to adore her wholeheartedly, which I did.  As a child I spent many happy hours playing princesses while wearing Betty's wedding dress - I can still remember the feel and the smell of it.

Betty died of cancer in 1973.  Her death left a hole, never quite filled.
Friday, 20 May 2011

Follow Friday: Reality and Escapism

How did you cope last Friday?  Truly Friday the Thirteenth - no Blogger!

Happily, Blogger's little vacation gave me the incentive to read some non-Blogger blogs and I rediscovered (and subscribed to) LaDonna Garner's blog, The Leafseeker.  LaDonna is based in Maryland.  She is studying Historical Preservation and offers historical preservation and genealogy services.  Her blog offers practical advice and guidance.  I particularly liked her "Skillbuilder" article on placing your ancestors in their historical context.  This is definitely essential if you want to make your family history more real and meaningful.  She suggests ways to build a timeline for your fore bearers and lists some sites that can provide historical facts for specific dates to help place your ancestors in context.

LaDonna's blog also includes a "LeafSeeker Life" section in which she shares recipes and photos of her rather lovely farm.  Seek LaDonna out here.

Like LaDonna, one of the things that I enjoy most about genealogy is finding out about the world in which my ancestors lived.  To this end I am often immersed in historical text books.  At the moment I am doing a lot of reading about World War 1, and very rewarding it is too.  However, sometimes it is good to just escape from reality and take a little historical adventure.  This is where the Historical Novel Review blog comes in.

I have loved historical novels since I first read Jean Plaidy when I was a child.  Alexander Kent was another favourite (try Peter Smalley if you like historical naval novels).  Current favourites are C J Sansom, Andrew Pepper and James McGee, but its always good to have some new suggestions.  Having read Historical Novel Review I am convinced that it is time to quit the dark reality of the trenches and be whisked away to the Court of Henry VIII, courtesy of The Confession of Katherine Howard, a novel by Susannah Dunn.

Whatever you are seeking, be it reality or escapism, this week, happy blogging!
Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Tombstone Tuesday: The Forgotten Few

Yesterday, on my other blog, I mentioned my visit to our local cemetery.  I don't have any relatives lying there myself, I was there in pursuit of my war memorial project.  My visit was fairly brief - the dog was with me and she was for some reason spooked - but it did get me thinking about the whole business of graves and remembrance.

I am tempted to say that I am ashamed to say that I have never visited the grave of a relative.  However, we moved away from my home town when I was sixteen, so I was never in a position to go off on graveyard visits on my own.  Indeed, I didn't know where my grandparents, aunt or family were buried.  My parents came from a generation who had grown up with parents who were essentially Edwardian.  Death was still a highly ritualised occasion and mourning was formal.  In my view, my parents and their generation rejected their parents' stiff attitudes to life and death, rushing through mourning and quickly moving on.  Hence, no formal mourning period and no graveyard visits.  Personally, I think the modern attitude to "quick" mourning, coupled (thankfully) with far fewer infant mortalities, makes us shy away from death and has given rise to a society that shuns its dead.  And, of course, we move around a lot and leave our family graves behind, as I have done.

My visit on Sunday to the graveyard went some way to confirm this view.  Barely any of the graves were tended by relatives.  The town council workmen had ensured that the cemetery was presentable, the grass was cut, fallen grave markers stacked neatly, but where was the love?  Admittedly these were old graves, but it still made me sad.

I found several of the graves I was looking for, including the graves of five crew who were killed in a torpedo attack on their ship just off  Newquay in 1918  (you can read about them here).  One of these graves was for James Cunningham Mann, the 17 year old cabin boy.  It turned out that Sunday was the anniversary of his death and I desperately wanted to lay flowers for him and his shipmates - unfortunately when I got home my daughter was ill and I couldn't make it back to the graveyard.  But I will next weekend - these forgotten few are forgotten no longer. 
Monday, 16 May 2011

Military Monday: 'Strewth! Facebook Finds

If you have read my posts before you may remember that I have an interest in the ANZACs during WW1.  This arises because two of my great-uncles, Reginald and Ernest, emigrated to Australia and joined the Australian Imperial Force during the Great War.  Sadly both fell at the Somme within a fortnight of each other.  Thanks to the excellent National Archives of Australia and the Australian War Memorial, I have been able to find out a lot about Reg and Ernie.  Indeed, it was through their war records that I was able to trace the whereabouts of my eldest great-uncle and thereby find his grandchildren, my second cousins.

Although I have found out far more about Reg and Ernie than I had thought possible, I am still slightly dissatisfied - I really would like to find more details about their war and ultimately identify a photograph of them.  To this end I am still reading up about the "Diggers" of WW1 and, notwithstanding my great-uncles involvement, find it a fascinating piece of history.  So, I was really pleased to find on Facebook that there are a number of sites dedicated to helping you trace your Digger relatives.  Here are a few (once you find one, you will find more - they naturally all "like" each other!)

Discover a Digger  Advice on how to find a relative's service records
WW1 Lost Boys  For finding and sharing military photos of relatives
Regimental Books  Experts on Aussie military history, have a daily military historical event post and are very approachable.
Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Wordless Wednesday: VE Day Party

As it was the anniversary of VE Day a few days ago, here is a photograph of the party that took place for VE Day in 1945 in my father's street (I believe it was Ilchester Crescent, Bedminster, Bristol).

My aunt, Betty Brown, is the young woman leaning over the table in the dark dress on the right. My Dad is one of the boys on the left - you can just see him squinting at the camera. He was 11 years old when the war ended, so could remember little else. In fact, he has fond memories of the war - despite the heavy Blitz in Bristol. He remembers a time of great freedom and excitement. I think the adults around the table would have had a different view.

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Friday, 6 May 2011

Follow Friday: Modesty, Envy and Intrigue

Another busy week (is there another kind?) so here are just three of my favourite blogs this week.

One of the first blogs (if not the first) I followed was Rebecca Hudson's Blundering Blindly Backwards. I liked Rebecca's idea of an "On this day" post and admire her organisational skills to be able to have a system that allows her to come up with an appropriate daily event from her family history research.  Could I have such a system?  No, because my system extends to:  an old cardboard file held closed by a now saggy elastic cord, lots of notes on One Note and several trees on Ancestry.  By the time I had found an event for a day, the day would be last week.  So, I feel that Rebecca is being modest in her blog title - she may be looking back, but I don't think she is blundering blindly, I think that she is marching back with her eyes wide open.  Oh, and she had a lovely photo for Wordless Wednesday - take a peek.

Greta at Greta's Genealogy Bog has had a traumatic week - the Blog Gremlins invaded her blog and gave it a virus.  Fortunately all is resolved and Greta is back blogging.  On Sunday she posted about her technological loves and in the process created a little green-eyed monster - me!  I hadn't heard of a Flip Pal before - nor had my family - but believe me, now that I know about this little portable scanner they do too (judging by the glazed eyes, far more than they want to).  I shall not rest until I have this small item of desire - sadly, I haven't yet been able to track one down which is making it all the more alluring.

Even more alluring is my last blog - different, a little outrĂ©, a bundle of over-the-top fun.  Madame Guillotine is the blog of Melanie, "a middle class housewife" who is seriously obsessed by Versailles.  Her blog is full of gorgeous photographs and art work and some occasionally saucy writing.  If you like ladies with tall hair and rosy cheeks check out Madame Guillotine.

Have a fab weekend - happy blogging
Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Wordless Wednesday: One Date, One Church, Two Weddings

After last Friday's small, intimate affair up in London (a beautiful princess, at least two pantomime dames and a Queen clothed in marzipan) I thought I would toot my own family trumpet. 

My grandparents, and later their daughter Betty, got married at St Mary Redcliffe Church, Bristol (the "fairest and goodliest parish church in all England" - see here). Philip and Ethel tied the knot in 1924; Betty and Percy followed them down the same aisle in 1952.  Here a couple of photos of my grandparents on both occasions.

And here they are 28 years later - Philip has cheered up and Ethel has plumped up!

Monday, 2 May 2011

Amanuensis Monday: Miss A Wiseman and the Major

Last Monday was ANZAC Day and I wrote about my great-uncles Reginald and Ernest - if you missed that post it is here.  Today I am recording the correspondence between Ernest's sweetheart, who I know only as Miss A Wiseman, and the army's Base Records office.

The first letter is undated by Miss Wiseman, but was stamped received on 18 October 1916.

3 Westbourne Street

Victoria Barracks

Dear Sir

I should be much obliged if you will kindly inform me as near as possible the date of death of Pte E Brown reported "Killed in Action" in Casualty list nos 212th and 213th and which appeared in Sydney newspapers September 16th 1916.

Below is Pte E Brown's address.

I am

Yours sincerely

(Miss) A Wiseman

No 394
Signaller E Brown
C Company
17th Battalion
5th Brigade
2nd Division

The reply was as follows, a very polite brush-off

20th October

Dear Madam

I have to acknowledge receipt of your communication (undated) concerning the regrettable loss of No. 394 Pte E Brown, 17th Battalion, and to state the only information available at this office was obtained in a brief cable message reporting him "killed in action 26.7.16 to 7.8.16."

Detailed circumstances of his loss will not, it is anticipated, be known here until the receipt at a later date of the final official confirming documents from Abroad, when all such particulars which may then come to hand will be promptly transmitted to next-of-kin, shown as Mother.

Yours faithfully

o/i Base Records

Miss Wiseman was not to be deterred and tried again (remembering the date this time):

3 Westbourne Street

Major J C Lean
Officer in Charge Base Records
Victoria Barracks

Dear Sir

Re:  No 394 Pte E Brown 17th Battalion

I received your letter of the 20th inst and I thank you very much for the information contained in same and also for the trouble you have taken in this matter.

Will it be possible for you to let me know the date of his death when you receive the official documents or will the information only be sent to his parents who reside in Bristol, England.  I would be very much obliged if you would send the same to me also.

I am enclosing a stamp for a reply, and again thanking you

I am

Yours sincerely

Miss A Wiseman

The letter shows that Miss Wiseman's letter was passed to Cpl Howard on 3 November 1916.  Sadly there is no further correspondence between Miss Wiseman and Base Records in the National Archives of Australia.  I do know that Ernest's date of death was fixed at 2 August 1916 and I have no doubt that Miss Wiseman remembered Ernest on this date for some years to come.

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