04 March 2017

The Smell of Ancestral Worlds

When thinking about your family history, you may give most consideration to one or more of the following:

a) Your memories of family life

b) Tracing your family tree back further than your memory

c) Attempting to understand the experiences of life ancestors encountered

I have long been interested in identity across the centuries.  What have been the changes in your sense of identity as you grow older, suffer illnesses, have changing fortunes, have changing attitudes and beliefs and learn more about your family history and heritage?

I have also reflected on the influence of superstitions and traditions on family life, motivations and personal ambitions.  How have your sense of identity and view of the world been influenced by beliefs and attitudes passed down to you?
 
Are there ever any unpleasant smells in your life at present?  Were any of your ancestors in London during the Great Stink of July and August 1858?

Smells play a big part in our memories.  Many of my paternal grandmother's ancestors in London in the middle of the 19th century would probably have experienced the Great Stink.

How did the streets and waterways of London smell in those days?

How did other cities and towns smell?

How did the houses smell?

Even though scientific knowledge of diseases was only just beginning to develop back then, civil engineering projects, such as the Thames Embankment, were changing many aspects of life.

What is your attitude towards unpleasant smells?  Do you prefer to mask them, wash them away or consider an engineering solution to the problem?

In much of the world, pollution is still not prevented adequately, even here in Australia.  The science says pollution is dangerous yet governments frequently fail to act appropriately.

When you survey your family history, do you think about how surveyors directly and indirectly influenced their existence?

How did engineering affect their lives?

How did engines affect their lives?

One of my great, great grandfathers in Shropshire was described in census records as a stationary engine driver at a coal mine.  What would have been the smell and sound of his work?

The Great Stink of London was remedied through environmental engineering - and a considerable amount of money.

My paternal grandmother associated her teenage years in London with the smell of spices.  I associate her with the smell of cigarettes.  I associate my maternal grandmother with the smell of soap.  My mother associates me with the smell of roses.

I currently feel most at peace when I cannot smell anything much at all.  And I hope no-one would ever complain that I smell.

02 March 2017

Ancestors and a Glass of Water

If you went back in time and one of your ancestors offered you a glass of water, would you drink it?

How will you know whether cholera is or is not present?

How will you even know that the glass is clean?

How has contaminated water affected your family history?

What do you know about cholera and other waterborne and foodborne illnesses?

Cholera is still a problem in the world today, as are many other diseases.  Before visiting areas where cholera tends to be prevalent, I have been vaccinated against it.

There were many cholera outbreaks in Europe in the 19th century, including Britain.  Even the wealthy were affected.  There were several cholera outbreaks and pandemics.

Before 1854, people often assumed cholera was caused by contaminated air.  Medical science was still in its infancy then.

Do you ever take science for granted?

Do you ever take hygiene for granted?

Do you ever take medical advances for granted?

Do you ever take history for granted?

Do you ever take health for granted?

I briefly mentioned cholera and other diseases in a blog post of a year or so ago:

Finsbury Park and London family history

I have wondered whether my London relatives were affected by the cholera pandemic of 1863-75.  I still have no idea why most of my great, great grandmother's family died in the space of just a few years.

An orphan in the family

Her granddaughter, my grandmother, loved a cup of tea.  I loved having a cup of tea with my grandmother. 

Boiling the already purified water through the convenience of electricity would have been amazing to many of our ancestors.  Having that water supply in the house itself would have been beyond belief to them.  Yet cholera travelled along trade routes, including those bringing tea to Britain.

11 February 2017

Poverty and War and Higher Purposes

In wars, the various sides all think they are right.  Otherwise, why would they fight?

Which of your ancestors participated in wars eagerly?

Which of your ancestors participated in a war as a way to escape poverty?

Which of your ancestors migrated to escape fighting in wars?

Which of your ancestors were refugees before, during or after a war?

Which of your ancestors were coerced into fighting one or more wars?

Which of your ancestors were caught up in wars in which they would never win whatever the consequence?

On 25 February 1910, my husband's maternal grandfather was a young man of twenty-four.  He had just arrived in New York from Italy.

I found that fact for certain only recently.  When I discovered the record, his name was written incorrectly in the Ellis Island records but I knew it was him by his age and place of birth.

When I visited New York in 1994 with my husband, we went to Ellis Island.  We had no idea at the time that such a close relative had been there before us.  My mother-in-law never knew her father had been to America.

I found my husband's grandfather's name in the Ellis Island database only after looking initially through the Family Search website.  Family Search is the resource through which I have most often found matching records with different name spellings.

What do Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty mean to you?

My own paternal grandmother had an aunt and uncle who travelled through Ellis Island several times in the 1920s and 1930s.  Even their lives seemed remote to me in 1994. 

Although my grandmother often related anecdotes about the family history to me in my teens, I did not think much about the past back then.  When I was older, and visiting Ellis Island, my husband noticed that people with the same surname as his were commemorated on The American Immigrant Wall of Honor.  Our experience there would have been different if we had known we would pass though the same place his maternal grandfather had travelled all those years ago.

Even so, we really enjoyed our visit to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  It was a beautifully sunny, peaceful September day.  The staff on Ellis Island made us feel very welcome as they told us about the tragic and triumphant family histories flowing through that place over the years.

As a migrant myself, I have first-hand experience of the struggles and uncertainties involved in seeking a new life elsewhere.  Bureaucracies are rarely sympathetic to individual circumstances.

As far as the records indicate, my husband's grandfather travelled from the Veneto region of Italy to Le Havre in Normandy in France.  From there he boarded the ship SS La Bretagne to New York in 1910.

On his arrival, the Ellis Island Main Immigration Building would have been a relatively new structure. 

My mother-in-law believes her father trained as a Catholic priest in his youth though he then lost his faith.  Training for the priesthood may have been a way for him to escape life as a farm labourer, or as a conscript.  Similarly, going to America was probably a hopeful way to avoid poverty and perhaps gain riches.

But he was back in Italy by 1917.  He was then a soldier.  Towards the end of the year he was on Monte Grappa as a member of the Alpini.  Italy was facing defeat in the Battle of Caporetto to the east.

Here in Australia, much more recently, I visited the Australian War Memorial in Canberra with my husband.  His father and uncle had both been Australian soldiers in the Second World War.  Even so, our main interest has often been the suffering of civilians and the indifference of incompetent political leaders.

The euphemisms of 'sacrifice' and 'they gave their lives' have always sounded distasteful to me.  Wars are rarely fought by people who know what they are doing.  Most people do not, by definition, make a willing sacrifice of themselves, especially if they are coerced into a situation.  They are unwilling and unwitting human sacrifices.

As far as I am aware, all inaccurate, sentimental descriptions of suffering and death are mere propaganda.  Such propaganda is reflected in the sentimental official description of the origins and purpose of the Australian War Memorial.


The pain and suffering of the injured and dying in war is not a spiritual libation through the voluntary shedding of blood and life.  It is an obscenity.  It is nothing more than a murderous consequence of coercive political power.  Winning a war is not a sign of divine favour.  It is a sign that future wars must be avoided.

Since beginning this blog, I have discovered many things about my own family history, and that of my husband.  It has been a fascinating journey.  We now know far more about the early lives of our grandparents and great grandparents than we ever thought possible. 

How strong is your connection to the past, and to the future?

How often have you had a genealogical look around this blog?

Are you just starting out with family history research?

When I started this blog, I was particularly interested in the possibility of getting to know great-grandmothers better.  Little did I know that I would learn so much about them, their parents, their grandparents and great-grandparents, their siblings, their spouses and their children!

Understanding is a higher purpose, even when feeling overwhelmed by so many cousins.  I am an introvert.

I am often exhausted by crowds and noise and chatter and emotions.  This is not just the case when interacting with people who do not speak a language or accent I can understand.  Although our Italian journeys in 2009 and 2013 were particularly overwhelming, they were very rewarding in terms of information, interactions and scenic experiences.

On another of my blogs, I have written about all sorts of journeys.

I have written about singing, dancing and travelling.  You may have wondered whether there is any point in travelling now that so much information - and entertainment - is available online.

How have you been reflecting on your amazing journey into existence?

Have you escaped poverty and war and sought a higher purpose?

Have you ever travelled to participate in global prosperity?

What and where are the sacred mountains of your family history journey, whether literally or figuratively?

Does Monte Grappa mean anything to you?  Were any of your ancestors there towards the end of 1917?

From 1921 onwards, it was far more difficult for Italians to make the journey to America.  That is probably why my husband's grandfather came to Australia.  At least he would have understood a little English by the time of his arrival in October 1925.

The Statue of Liberty did not welcome him back.  Instead, he received his naturalisation certificate in Australia in 1931.

On another of my blogs, I have written about my own experiences of the Statue of Liberty:  Freedom Without Force.

With so many people still in poverty in the world, including all the homeless and downtrodden in America, where is liberty now?  What is the higher purpose?











In the First World War, my husband's grandfathers were meant to be Australia's allies.  In the Second World War, even though both had long been naturalised, they were treated as the enemy.

The Australian War Memorial gives attention to Australian military history from the Australian official perspective.