09 November 2015

Location, Location in Famly History Research

Real estate agents often say similar properties are worth more or less depending on where they are located.

Do you value the geographical origins of some of your ancestors more than others?
Do the homes of any of your ancestors still exist today?

What is the current resale value of the property they lived in? 

Did they own their homes or did they rent them?

Why did your ancestors move from one place to another?

And what about workplaces?  Do any of the workplaces of your ancestors still exist?

If your ancestors had employers, did they live in accommodation provided by those employers?

Did any of your ancestors spend part of their lives in Italy, England, Australia, Belgium or Ulster, or did they live elsewhere?

Do the places where they married still exist?

Google streetview is one way to discover or rediscover a location.  Another is to search through real estate listings.  

For example, in England I know that real estate agents are still called estate agents.  But even that information is not necessary when a street name is known.  

Several property listings exist.  Typing the name of a street into Google or another search engine often reveals real estate listings first.

I have found that the house of my grandparents in England has been sold several times in recent years.  I lived there as a young child and in my late teens.  It was first sold during my lifetime soon after my grandfather died, just after I first came to Australia.  

That house had been a haven for me when I was growing up.  It always seems strange, when I go back to England, that the house of my grandparents belongs to a stranger.  It has been sold several times in recent years. 

Through real estate listings, I have been able to look again at the layout of the house.  I have been able to see how the garden looks, and even a few of the rooms.  The house has been extensively renovated.  My grandparents would not even recognise it. 

The outside is painted a different colour.  The windows have been changed.  The back garden is now only a lawn.  I remember it as being mainly of bright flowers, with a greenhouse of tomatoes.

I have looked at other family locations, too, through real estate agent listings online, including other places I lived or visited as a child.  I have even been able to look inside some of those houses on websites.

And when I look at Google streetview, I simply take a photograph of that part of screen.  It is almost the same as going there in person.

Locations are worth more to me, emotionally, when I think about them in relation to my heritage.  There is little expense involved in collecting readily available images for my own private reminiscing.  The pictures help to jog my memory.  The places I knew as a child and my recalled memories make me realise that so much has changed since then!

05 November 2015

Work, Literacy, Poverty and Conscription

Examining the lives of ancestors often involves delving into their working lives, their levels of literacy and their levels of poverty.  Several of my husband's Italian relatives came to Australia to escape both poverty and conscription between the 1880s and the 1920s.

This included Domenico, my husband's great grandfather, who arrived in Australia aged 21, in 1889.  I have since discovered this picture of him was from his wedding day.   He married at St Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne in 1896.

In England, my father was fortunate to missed out on being called up for national service. If he had been born just a few days earlier, I may not have been born.

There is still conscription in many countries today. There was conscription in Australia at various times in the 20th century. My Australian-born father-in-law, then aged nineteen, was forced into the Australian Army in April 1941 as an alternative to being interned with his father, a naturalised British subject.

The Italian presence in Australia has covered the entire time of British colonialism and federation.  The earliest Italian family members in Australia had little knowledge of how to read or write.  They could not even speak English at first.

Italy relied on conscription since its modern founding in 1861.  It was finally abolished in at the beginning of this century.  The irony for my husband's paternal grandfather was that he had initially arrived in Australia in 1912, two years after his elder brother, to escape conscription and learn to run a business.  He succeeded and became engaged to an Australian-born young woman of Italian heritage in 1917.

Although there was no conscription in Australia during the First World War, my husband's grandfather was forced to return to Italy as an Italian conscript, leaving behind his business and fiancée.  In the same war, my husband's maternal grandfather was conscripted onto the frontline, where around half a million soldiers lost their lives.

My husband grew up with the possiblity that he could be conscripted himself, in Australia, but fortunately he was still too young when it was ended in December 1972.  His family had already considered sending him and his older brother into hiding.

Being able to make choices in life is eroded wherever there is military conscription without adequate humanitarian and educational alternatives, in my view.  This is especially the case when governments are inadquately supported by societies, and vice versa. 

26 October 2015

Jobs and Ancestors

The ability to do careful, methodical research, in any sort of investigation, is a great skill for anyone to possess in the 21st century.  That is a skill many family historians develop very well indeed.

Have you discovered very much about what your ancestors did for a living?

How might the work of your ancestors have shaped your working life, and your personal life?

If your ancestors were often unemployed, or in poorly paying work and living in poverty, how does that compare with your life today?

If your ancestors were wealthy, was that reflected in the education they - and you - received?

Back in August this year, I had a very interesting message in relation to one of my blog posts.  If you have Huntingdonshire heritage, do you have an ancestor with the surname of Ginn? 

If you have Hertfordshire heritage and the same surname in your family tree then you may be interested in the one-name study conducted by Michael Taylor on his blog:

Ginn Family of Hertfordshire

Mr Taylor is interested in social history, as I am myself.  During his research, several years ago, he went to Huntingdonshire and looked up the parish records for the Ginns, many of whom were my ancestors.  I am very pleased that Mr Taylor has kindly passed on to me the fruits of his labours.

Tom (on left)
Many of the Ginns in Huntingdonshire were tailors.  My Belgian relatives, two of whom married the Ginns, were also originally tailors.

My great, great, great, great grandfather's brother, Robert Ginn, was a sergeant in Wellington's army and was wounded at the Battle of Waterloo, just over two hundred years ago.  My great, great grandfather's eldest son, Arthur Ginn, was killed at Cape Helles, Gallipoli in the First World War, on 25 April 1915.  It is unlikely Arthur would have known about the family history.

Mr Taylor has taken the Ginn family tree back to the 1670s, to a Huntingdonshire village called Southoe, just off the Great North Road.  I now have several additional maiden names to add to my family tree. 

The names Martha Walton, Sarah Rutt, Mary Lawson, Martha Mannering and Ann Saunders are amongst my possible Huntingdonshire ancestors.

I do not have any Hertfordshire heritage, as far as I know.  I do have some Surrey and Middlesex ancestry, mostly around London, through Tom Ginn's second wife, my great, great grandmother Sarah, whose maiden name was Cole.

03 September 2015

The Harpists of Viggiano

Although I do not know if any of my husband's ancestors were Viggianese harpists, I do know that some of them came to Australia from Viggiano in the 1880s.  They did include musicians, though they also earned a living in other ways:  Selling ice-cream and vegetables, bricklaying and possibly a range of other jobs to make ends meet.

I am very grateful to all the people who have helped me with my family history research over the years: In Australia, Italy, Northern Ireland, Belgium and England.  In the later months of last year, I was contacted by a lady in Basilicata who is researching the Viggianese harpists who came to Australia.  She very kindly added a few more layers to the family history for me, and I have tried to help her a little more with her research.

If you can assist either of us in any way, you can either place a few words below (I only publish messages if there are no contact details attached) or send an email to:

writetovia (AT) gmail . com

Please note that I do not publish names of correspondents unless they have already been published.  Privacy is important to me.  It has been especially important this year as my husband is unwell.

Whatever your own family history interests, you may wish to read a brief overview of my mine.

The beginnings

From Italy to Australia

From Southern Italy - mainly Basilicata (1880s)

A man from the Mezzogiorno

A better life

Getting to know great-grandmothers - part three

From Northern Italy - Lombardy (1880s-1910s)

The mill in Ossolaro - part one

The mill in Ossolaro - part two

From Ossolaro to Australia

Via the independent scholar

At the seaside - part four

From Northern Italy - Veneto (1920s)

Getting to know great-grandmothers - part one

Ancestors and asylum

Overview of my Italian migrations research

Civilian internment in the Second World War

Italian migrants and their family histories in Australia

Objects or subjects - You and your ancestors observed

Justice for Josephine

Unlocking Australia's past

And finally, at least for today, I would like to present the following beautiful video.  The link was forwarded to me by the lady in Basilicata at the beginning of this year.

11 May 2015

VE Day with Vera

Vera, my grandmother with two names, was in London for much of the Second World War.  She often told me of that momentous day.

It was just a few weeks before her 30th birthday, in 1945, when she joined the crowds in Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square and along The Mall leading to Buckingham Palace.

It was certainly a victory for Vera, her children and her parents.  They had all survived the war.  Soon her husband would be returning home, too.

Vera lived to be 95 years old, with an active mind until the very end.  She would have been 100 this year, if she had lived a little longer.

And she would certainly have wanted to watch the recent commemorations on television.

25 April 2015

Lest We Forget Arthur Tom Ginn (1893-1915)

The Dardanelles Campaign was over almost before it began for my great grandmother's brother Arthur.  At the age of 22 and 4 months Arthur died on the 25 April 1915 and is remembered at Cape Helles.

Before the outbreak of the First World War, as far as I am aware, Arthur had been in the infantry with the 1st battalion of the Border Regiment, on garrison duty in Burma.  He was a member of the regular British Army and his Regimental Number was 10399.

13,167 members of his Regiment lost their lives during the war.  Arthur's widowed father kept the memorial card and it passed to his eldest daughter, my great-grandmother.  I wonder how many other families have similar cards today.

Arthur - You are not forgotten.

31 December 2014

Consanguinity, Affinity, Privacy and Peace

I would like to wish everyone a safe, happy, reasonably private and pleasantly peaceful New Year, with many interesting and inspiring family history explorations throughout 2015.

Over the years, I have found there are probably six main types of persons who visit this blog:

1. Those with whom I possibly have some consanguinity

2. Those with whom I probably have some anthropological affinity

3.  Those who believe they share some social affinity with me, either through their own family history investigations or another shared interest

4. Those merely seeking general information for their own family history quest

5. Those seeking to obtain sensitive information to the detriment of others
6. Those wishing to exchange information with me, mainly for their own commercial or professional benefit

One of the reasons why I write this blog using a pseudonym is to prevent persons in category five from obtaining information they could use to disadvantage others, including myself.  At the same time, I want to provide as much useful information as possible to persons in categories 1-4 and avoid giving too much of my time and privacy away to persons in category 6.

One of the current themes of my various investigations happens to revolve around the concept of affinity.  You may have heard about the idea of chemical affinity. I have been working on some theories around privacy, culture, peace and social affinity.

Privacy is important to people for many reasons, one of which is safety.  As far as consanguinity is concerned, my father's family tree leads back along its paternal line into Northern Ireland, an area also known as Ulster.   Along his maternal line it leads mainly to London, Huntingdonshire and Belgium.  My mother's family tree leads to Shropshire on both sides.   I know that my own loyalty and affinity is towards the truth and gentleness, although any family history is likely to lead to evidence of truth being hidden or distorted for a variety of reasons.

A few months ago, I received an email from a media person, asking questions about the personal meaning I place on a particular piece of music.  The theme of the questioning appeared to be in connection with the First World War, which has received much media coverage over the past year and is likely to do so even more in the year ahead. 

Although I am often happy to receive something of relevance to me from members of the media, and even an acknowledgement of their interest in my work, I never dwell on war and other tragedies, much preferring to transcend the worst of experience through the most uplifting forms of human achievement: through art, music, literature and an aesthetic relationship with nature.

When looking at the past and the present, I like to see past the thorns to smell the rose, but never to forget the thorns are there.  In a blue mood, a person may just say the rose will die and all that will be left is a thorny stalk.  How we reflect upon our experiences, and our family history, is important in many ways.

As I rarely listen to the radio or watch television now that I have so much to read and to write and to investigate, I can usually place myself at more of a distance from the media.  I know that many people can find inspiration from some types of media presentations, for example Who Do You Think You Are? and may even overcome blue moods that way. Yet we all need to be careful where our moods take us if we are to avoid depression, anxiety and excessive stress.  It is why I am glad I do not need to work in an open-plan office!

Recently, I discovered that in 1901 my father's father's father was working at the linen mill in Bessbook in County Armagh.   I already knew that in 1911, the family was living in Belfast, which is where most of them had been born.

You may have some Irish linen in your own home. I certainly do, and much of that was inherited from my husband's family and from my father's mother.  As some pieces are quite old, I now wonder if my great grandfather had helped to make them in Bessbrook

Apart from the flax growers in Ireland, much of the best flax woven into quality linen in Northern Ireland apparently came from Flanders, where my paternal grandmother's paternal line originated.  My great, great grandfather from that region worked as a tailor there before going to London to make theatre costumes.  Working with yarn therefore occurred on both sides of my father's family. 

I have never visited Flanders, except when travelling through its flatness on the way to Holland.  It has had a linen industry of its own for several centuries, like much of north west Europe.  Lingerie is a word derived from the word linen, although not much underwear is made from linen today, as far as I am aware.  Do you ever wear a linen chemise?

I have visited some parts of Belgium, though.  In 1985 I was in Brussels when a horrible incident occurred not far from where I was staying.  At the time, I did not know that one of my great, great grandmothers had been born in or near the city in 1848

There has been much violence in the world whenever people have competed for power and glory.  Innocent persons always suffer when there is such violence. When there is injustice, everyone suffers.  

One of the consequences of 18th century revolutions in America and France was the Irish Rebellion of 1798.    Earlier, Derrymore House was built at Bessbrook as a quaint cottage by a politician called Isaac Corry.  It was where the Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland was drafted in the hope that it would prevent further uprisings.

There have been many uprisings in Ireland.  For example, there was one in 1848 just like in many parts of Europe.  It was called the Young Irelander Rebellion.  Around the time of the Easter Rising in 1916, my widowed great-grandfather died in Belfast.  My grandfather had probably already been sent to Devon in England by that time to live with one of his adult brothers.  I rarely think of uprisings and upheavals when looking at a linen tablecloth.  Today I discovered that much lace was once made with linen.

My own work has never involved the production of linen, the use of aggression or the requirement to make a theatrical costume.  My relatives living in Westminster in London in the 1880s were likely to have been affected by the Fenian dynamite campaign of that era, just as my relatives in London in the 1940s would have been affected by the S-Plan as well as the Blitz.  I moved to London a week after the 1982 bombings.  I was living there when the 1983 Harrods bombing occurred.

Learning about the history of Ulster - and of Ireland - never seemed particularly relevant to my existence until recently.  I had been to southern Ireland briefly in 1988 for a holiday.  My experiences there were mainly quaint and rural, and somewhat frustrating and amusing.

Most of my time was spent in the counties of Clare, Limerick and Cork.  The public transport arrangements in the region appeared to me to have no co-ordination, with train times not matching up to the bus timetables.  Several local people recommended hitchhiking, which I refused to do as a single woman in my 20s.  Fortunately, I was invited to borrow a bicycle from the owner of one of the places where I was staying.  That meant I was able to venture out on my own for longer distances than my legs on their own would take me.  I also hired a somewhat unco-operative horse for a short distance.

But back to the family history.  One of the similarities between my father's family in Bessbrook and my mother's family in Shropshire is that the livelihoods for the families came about through the work of Quakers.  Both John Grubb Richardson in Bessbrook and Abraham Darby in Coalbrookdale were Quakers and therefore pacifists.

There is an irony, therefore, that the Bessbrook factory has been used as a British army base in recent years, and the activities in Coalbrookdale have allowed for the mass production of the metals from which many weapons have been made. 

The British military base in Bessbrook may have closed in 2007 but intimidation is still occurring in various ways, even when it involves no more than the flying of a flag.  Yet the Quaker Meeting House still exists in Bessbrook. For me, the house and the model village of Bessbrook itself are signs of tolerance, respect and peace amid the historical injustices.

Being a person of peace myself, I find it difficult to understand why some people enjoy bullying others to conform to misguided opinions, and why they are not more easily prevented from doing so.   I also find it difficult to understand why someone witnessing or experiencing injustice would become so prejudiced as to see most other people as their enemies.  Perhaps prejudice is sometimes a sign of post-traumatic stress.

In 1994, I went to Northern Ireland for the first time. After a few indirect experiences of terrorism and many direct experiences of intimidation and abusiveness in various parts of the world, including in London in the 1980s as mentioned above, I was certainly apprehensive about going to Northern Ireland.  I could not understand why anyone would choose to live in such a dangerous place, except that the people we were visiting had relatives there. 

My husband was with me and we hired a car from Belfast airport so that we would have our independence.  We had transferred at Heathrow from a flight from southern Africa, where we had been touring.  Only two months earlier, there had been a terrorist mortar attack on the runway at Heathrow.  We had experienced no major problems in Africa, even though our flight had originated in Harare and we had been face-to-face with large, wild animals and other potentially dangerous situations on several occasions.  

The scenic parts we saw in Northern Ireland included castles, villages, forests, beautiful gardens and the Giant's Causeway.  We also visited shops, pubs and restaurants, like most tourists anywhere, but I was not delving into my family history very much back then.

I vaguely knew the name of the street where my grandfather had been born, in Belfast, but nothing would induce me to go there.   I did not know, at that time, that shortly before the First World War my family lived just off the Shankill Road.

I visited Northern Ireland for the second time in 2000.  Both occasions were frightening, the first time more so than the second. There were still atrocities happening there quite frequently in 1994, one of which occurred while I was there, just down the road from where I was based.  I could easily have been in that location as a tourist.  The horrific event was apparently in retaliation for an incident in the Shankill Road the year before.

Between my visits to Northern Ireland, the 1998 Omagh bombing occurred in which several tourists were killed.  In central London, after I moved to Australia, there had been the mortar bombing of Downing Street in 1991, the bombing of the Baltic Exchange in 1992 and the Bishopsgate bombing of 1993.  I have been looking at the beautiful Baltic Exchange Memorial Glass on the website of the Royal Museums Greenwich recently.

There has certainly been a long history of terrorism in London, as elsewhere.   At the Metropolitan Police Crime Museum there has even been an exhibition about London terrorist incidents. We were planning to be in London later in the summer of 1994.  Our visit subsequently occurred, not long after the attack on the Israeli embassy there.  And we would shortly be travelling on to New York, where there had been a terrorist attack the year before.  On my Quieter Living blog, I have already written some reflections about that and the terrorist events of 2001.

There was a bombing in the Docklands of London at Canary Wharf in 1996.  And it is now almost ten years since the horrific bombings of 2005.   They occurred just after I had left Britain for Japan that year.  I am also reminded that soon after I first arrived in Australia in 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 fell over Lockerbie in Scotland from a terrorist bombing. There have been many other tragic and terrifying events in the world, but also many wonderful ones. 

I am glad I have not found any unusually violent persons in my family tree (yet).  And I take comfort from the fact that very few people become terrorists, even though many misguided young people have been temporarily excited by adventures of false heroics.  Selfish individuals often fail to understand that others are worthy of respect, care and support.

In terms of consanguinity, few of us are probably sure whether we are resilient to trauma or likely to have a genetic predisposition to post-traumatic stress disorder or even survivor guilt.  If you are feeling distressed after reading this latest installment of my family history research, please seek suitable support.  Like linen, we all should at least try to develop soft, strong and durable characteristics, however creased we may be!

I hope that in 2015, more and more people will feel a gentle affinity for one another, whatever their family background, geographic location or sense of loyalty.  We only have one world for us all, no matter how much some people want it mainly for themselves and for people they mistakenly believe to be like them.

29 December 2014

1914 and its Personal Consequences, Remembered

World War I has left a strong legacy in my family history, and that of my husband.  As the end of 2014 draws near, have you been thinking about your ancestors and what they were doing, and where were they living, at the beginning of 1914?  Where were they and what were they doing at the end of that year?

What can the first 20 years of the 20th century tell us about humanity, and about life on this planet today? What were your family members doing during the First World War? What happened to them?  Did some of them not survive the influenza pandemic afterwards?

The BBC has some useful information for anyone researching their own family relationship to one of the most difficult times in history, one hundred years before the present.

Here are a few of my own earlier blog posts mentioning events before, during and after the First World War.  I hope you will be able to provide some useful information for me on one or more of them, and on this one, of course.

Finding great grandparents

27 December 2014

Family History Delvings and Unexpected Destinations

If you have been celebrating Christmas, you may have been interacting with family members in one way or another.  Those interactions may have involved some family history delvings and unexpected destinations.

There are so many experienced genealogists in the world today, whether their families are aware of the fact or not.  Sometimes we may want to be quiet about our research, in case it causes some embarrassment!

If you are just beginning to find out some interesting facts about your ancestors, and you have had difficulty working own how to take the next step on the exciting journey ahead of you, then you may wish to find someone who will take you to the first interesting destination of 2015.

A site called Mad About Genealogy could be where you need to start if you are one of the thousands of perplexed beginners.  There are plenty of other blogs and websites for beginners, too, though the one just mentioned is one I recently discovered and thought I would merely share a link to it for the benefit of new investigators.

Of course, you do not need to be mad to learn about your family history.  In fact, it is likely to be far more useful and interesting to the rest of your family if you have some sense!

The problem with family history research is that it tends to become addictive, hence its propensity to cause a gentle form of madness in many people.  It has even been known to become an obsession quite often, too.

If you do not want your family history to drive you crazy, then delve into it methodically, if that is at all possible.  I know that my own method sometimes has more madness in it than method when I am following clues and chasing leads.

Knowing how far we want to go with our research, and the areas we are likely to find too dangerous or difficult to tackle without additional support, can keep our minds focused on the joys of discovery rather than the pitfalls. 

I often consider my own family history explorations to be like being on a mystery tour.  Perhaps you are finding the same.  It is unlikely anyone today or tomorrow will really ever know the destinations anyone's family history journey may reach, or whether a researcher is at the end of the journey or the beginning, or how long a person will travel down a particular genealogical road.

A few of my own blog posts on beginning family history - with or without a touch of madness or additional assistance - can be found through the following delvings and destinations:

The age of reflecting on age

My heritage, your heritage, our heritage

Tidying up

Shadows of inheritance

Just starting out with family history research

Genealogical biographies

Collecting recollections

Genealogy for absolute beginners

01 November 2014

Shropshire: Pitmen, Poachers and Preachers

I want to tell you something about a book I have recently discovered.  It is called Pitmen, Poachers and Preachers and it was first published in 2009.  I have no idea why it has taken me so long to find out about it.  If you have read it already, why did you not tell me it existed?!!

There are reasonably reputable reviews of the book available through the British Association for Local History and the Welcome to Little Wenlock website.  The book is also on a reading list put together by Dawley Heritage.  If you look at the reading list from Ironbridge, you will see there are an overwhelming number of books about the district.

The author, Ken Jones, was in his late 80s when he wrote the book, meaning that there is no age limit on producing work of great value.