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. 

01 October 2014

Shropshire Pit Girls and Wenches

If you have ever been to Ironbridge Gorge in Shropshire, the ghosts of my ancestors will be nearby.  They lived lives of sweat and toil.

Being the descendant of several Shropshire pit girls and wenches is something I truly cherish.  Such ancestors were strong enough to survive great hardships during their early lives.  Several did not reach old age or even middle age.  They only ever earned low wages.

My pit bank ancestors worked and lived in difficult, uncomfortable conditions, both as children and as young adults. They did not have much time to consider how they looked or how they felt about life.  They had little education.  They carried the load for other people's growing wealth.  They were considered to be of low status, and even immoral.

The history of women and mines in the United Kingdom is not only part of my personal heritage. It is part of the world's heritage.  My ancestors were not responsible for the effects of climate change.  They were not the mine owners.  They did not have the means to buy many products created as the output of the Industrial Revolution.  They had no access to electricity, nor even a clean water supply.

Many of my ancestors worked for the mines as children.  Did they think their lives were normal?  Did they believe all children experienced life in a similar way?

Even when my grandmother's family moved to Staffordshire for work, in the Wednesbury coalfield area, the conditions of their lives did not improve.  But at least work was available there.  The mines in Shropshire have long been closed.  There were pit wenches in Wednesbury, too.

In some areas of England, the young women were also known as pitters.  Some were called pit brow girls. The girls were also known as lasses.

Even so, there are many people interested in the history of mining in Shropshire. You may be involved in the Shropshire Mines Trust.  You may even be a member of the Shropshire Caving and Mining Club.  Some readers of this blog may even be participants in the Shropshire Geology Society.  Is your genealogy shaped by geology at all?

You may have found out something about your Shropshire mining heritage from the 1851 census.  You may even have read a diary from the 1870s and 1880s, giving some idea of life in a mining district.

01 September 2014

Discovering Shropshire's History

Were any of your ancestors Salopians?  Salop is an old name for Shropshire.  If you are a native of Shropshire in England, then you are probably a Salopian yourself.  

I live in Australia and I was not born in Shropshire, though my mother was born in Shrewsbury, the county town of Shropshire.  All her grandparents were born in Shropshire, as were their grandparents before them.  

My only maternal ancestor not to have been born in Shropshire, was my grandmother.  That was probably because her father could not find work in his home district.  Are you interested in Shropshire's history at all?

If you can trace your ancestors back through several generations of Shropshire's inhabitants, then we have something in common.   I have found information on geni.com (without making any payments at all) tracing one of my maternal lines back through several generations of Salopians to the 1600s.  My matrilineal line goes back as far as Winifred Taylor of Dawley Magna in Shropshire (and interesting information about that parish was found on familysearch.org).

The geni.com site states that Winifred was born circa 1805.  At the age of 20, she married Richard Buttery of Little Wenlock on 30 May 1825.  Between the ages of 21 and 38, Winifred gave birth to eight children.

I have found from freebmd.org.uk that Winifred Buttery died at the age of 66 in 1870. I would obviously like to know more about her mother and maternal grandmother as my maternal line is the one of most personal interest to me.  I call it the Matryoshka line of my family, after the Russian dolls.  

By the way, it seems that Matryoshka dolls were inspired by the Japanese Daruma dolls.  Those dolls have a great deal of symbolism attached to them.  Perhaps I should try making a symbolic set of dolls - Dawley dolls - to represent my ancestors.  Have you done that for your ancestry?

Discovering Shropshire's History is another website from which I have located information about my Salopian ancestors. From there, I discovered that many of the primary school children in Shropshire know more about some of my ancestors than I do myself.  They have seen a dramatic representation of my grandfather's great aunt, whose maiden name was Rebecca Bailey.

Several of my female maternal ancestors worked as pit girls at the mines, but also spent part of the time each year in and around London.  The girls of Shropshire had a reputation for being strong and hardworking.  They carried baskets of strawberries from the market gardens around London to the produce markets of the capital during the 1700s and 1800s.  They did not receive much income in return for their efforts.

Yet I worked in many menial jobs myself in my teens, long before knowing anything at all about my family history.  I earned a very small income as a strawberry picker in damp, English fields.  I picked potatoes from heavy clay soil to put into sacks. I washed dishes by hand in a busy Scottish restaurant.  I experienced long hours as an overworked waitress and as a cinema usher.  The money was not for luxuries.  It was for the basics of life.  A pair of shoes and a raincoat were my first priority purchases.

My first 'proper' job, no less menial than the others, was as a secretary in London.  I spent hours on end sitting at a manual typewriter, producing standard replies to people who had failed to obtain a job at all. Many of my ancestors could not even read or write, but at least they managed to work - for next to nothing.

I have written before on the iron and coal mines of Shropshire.  When my ancestors could no longer make a living from agriculture, possibly due to the enclosure movement by rich landlords, they usually worked in the mining industries.  During the 1800s, my ancestors were humble people, without any material wealth at all.  Who has benefited most from their work today?

27 August 2014

Italian Migrants and their Family Histories in Australia

One of the most interesting discoveries through family history research is that there are very few people who fit a stereotype.  This particularly applies when investigating Italian migration to Australia.

I place migrants, of any origins, into four initial categories when examining their experiences in Australia:

Pre-1945 arrivals, 1945-1955 arrivals, 1956-1986 arrivals, and post-1986 arrivals.  My husband's family were all pre-1945.  I am a post-1986 arrival myself.

After looking at time, in other words, dates, I look at space - geographical origins. Italy is even more regional than Britain, and for that matter, Australia.  Someone from the Veneto is likely to find a person from a peasant background in Calabria completely incomprehensible in conversation!

I spent much of the first half of my life in various parts of England, Wales and Scotland.  I know, from first-hand experience, the difficulties regional languages and dialects, and unfamiliar accents and phrases, can cause.

After looking at dates of arrival and geographical origins, I look at other features of a person's life.  Education, experience of work, family connections and support, interconnections with other people, and their friendships, are part of the picture.  What is of even more interest to me involves the attitudes, values and expectations of people.

Mass multicultural migration has been a post-1945 phenomenon in Australia.  I put it into three categories because of the influence of television in people's lives.  In Italy, most people did not have access to television until the mid 1950s.

Censorship also has an influence on people's lives.  The political situation in Italy has changed quite rapidly, and censorship has been more prevalent in some eras than in others.

If you are just starting to research your Italian heritage, and even if you have very little understanding of the Italian language (like me), I recommend the online resources at the Italian Historical Society in Melbourne.

24 August 2014

Questions and Mysteries

The insights gained from family history research are reshaping ideas about the way history is explored more generally.  Here are a few questions you may have tried to answer for yourself:

Why is an understanding of history of any significance to ordinary individuals in their everyday lives?

How does an understanding of history help people to make important decisions?

Why do so many people gain enjoyment from discovering their family trees?

Who knows most about life as it was in Eynesbury and St Neots in Huntingdonshire in the 1840s and 1850s?

What was life like in Southwark in London in the second half of the 19th century?

What were the duties of an inspector of London post offices in the 1850s and 1860s?

What were the political and economic situations like in and around Cremona in Lombardy, Italy in the 1870s and 1880s?

Where can you trace the Second World War experiences of members of the 6th Battalion of the Green Howards?

Why did people migrated to Soho in London from elsewhere in Europe in the 19th century?

I think I have asked enough questions for one day, and I am looking forward very much to hearing from you if you have some answers to any of the above questions.

19 April 2014

Genealogy for Absolute Beginners

If you are just starting out on your historical quest, I hope you will discover how easy it can be, once you know how. If you have any questions, perhaps this blog can help. 

Genealogy is all about people and their lives - past, present and future.  I don't usually have much trouble making contact with people who might know more than I do about my ancestors, particularly those lovely individuals who do not expect to receive payment for the privilege of being contacted by me!

It has also been quite easy for me to find records in archives when communicating in English with archivists and enthusiasts. Fortunately, much of my ancestry is mainly English and the English language happens to be the only one I know with any sort of proficiency (though I am a very poor speller).
Many online records are usually very easy for me to locate, too.  I have not even had much difficulty when making contact with people in other languages by email, thanks to Google Translate.
If you are just beginning to discover your ancestors, what are the difficulties you have been facing?

09 April 2014

The Joy of Genealogy

I live in a household with ancestral links to many countries. If you have been searching for your ancestors and their various descendants in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Belgium, Italy, the United States, Canada, Australia or somewhere in South America, or anywhere else in the world for that matter, then your investigative experiences may have been like mine. They may quite easily be very different, too!

Why do you enjoy exploring your family history?

25 January 2014

A Peaceful Future

Discovering the history around us can often help to shape a peaceful future.  Short memories and an inadequate understanding of the past can cause many problems when policy responses fail to promote respectful interactions.  Every person we meet has a history and is a history.

You may know about my explorations of the experiences of people of Italian ancestry in Australia before and during the Second World War, and especially during the First World War.  Several academic researchers, and quite a few amateur family historians have also been researching similar topics, from a range of perspectives.

When ethnicity counts

When we know that some of our ancestors have been affected by war, it can affect our view of the world, and help us to have empathy for anyone finding themselves in a war situation in the present.

I have been watching some footage of Italian troops in the First World War, one of whom may even be my husband's grandfather.

07 December 2013

Knowledge of History


Please share your knowledge of history.   

I invite your insights, findings, questions and suggestions.

You are welcome to make a few comments after any of my blog posts, even if anonymously. All comments are moderated before publication.
You can also send me an email quite easily - writetovia (AT) gmail.com. Your privacy is always respected here, too.

I'm looking forward to hearing from you! 
Best wishes from Via 

25 July 2013

Successfully Researching the Lives of Ancestors

Welcome to Ancestors Within at bisnonni.blogspot.com if you have not been here before.  And welcome back to everyone who likes visiting here regularly.

This record of my genealogical research has been unavailable to the public in recent months.  For security reasons, I set it behind a password while I took another of my investigative journeys.  Keeping our identities safe is particularly important when we are away from home.

Discovering more about the lives of ancestors can sometimes be helped along by visiting the places they once inhabited.  Although many current features of those locations may not be familiar to them, if they had the opportunity to be there today, our own time there needs to be used wisely, unless we have endless amounts of time and money.  

For most of us, doing plenty of research and some basic planning before we set off is therefore essential, though it always takes time.  I am particularly interested in uncovering interesting biographical details, rather than seemingly endless charts of ancestral connections.  At all times, it is especially important to remember the purpose of our journey if we are to avoid wasting time and/or money.  Are you well prepared for the journey ahead?

One of the most interesting aspects of any biography, at least to me, is how the person in question overcame difficulties.  Learning about such achievements can even help us to overcome the challenges we face ourselves, especially when we meet unexpected obstacles during our journeys, and during our prior and future research.

When we know that at least one of our ancestors managed to triumph over some sort of adversity, then that knowledge is worth treasuring.  Life itself can be a continual journey of discovery, if we allow it to be so.  Biographies are essentially about the existence of someone we would like to know better, wherever and however we may find that information.

Our ancestry is the prologue to our own journey, and what we write may become the epilogue.  If you are just starting out with your own family history research, I have already written an introduction to the topic.  If you have read it, have you found it useful?  What is the purpose of your own research?

The above introduction mentions some items I had not discovered at the time.  Fortunately, in the past year, a long-lost photograph of my husband's maternal grandfather has resurfaced.  It was found within the pages of an old book at my mother-in-law's house.   My journey was to take her, for the first time, to where her parents were born, and to meet her father's relatives for the first time.