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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.