22 November 2017

Citizenships of Ancestors and Descendants

Like many family historians, I have been taking considerable interest in the constitutional citizenship saga still playing out in Australian federal politics.  Are you aware of the original meaning of the word saga?

Most Australians today are either migrants or descended from migrants over one or more generations.  Even a considerable proportion of indigenous people in Australia have non-indigenous ancestry as well as indigenous ancestry. 

Are you fully aware of your own citizenship status?

Are you fully aware of your ancestry over at least three generations?

It is extraordinary there has never been a proper investigation, in previous decades, into the eligibility of people to stand for election to the Australian Parliament.  I have long known I have been ineligible as a consequence of my dual citizenship. Even if I gave up my British citizenship, I would probably still be ineligible to become a federal candidate as a consequence of my eligibility for Irish citizenship.

I have only twice mentioned citizenship on this blog.  Both times were in relation to internment in Australia in the Second World War.

The first time was in 2009.  The second time was in 2011.

Identity derives from many sources, not just ancestry, of course.  This is my family history blog.  I have another blog about identity more broadly.  I write about citizenship in that in 2009, too:

In the Name of Freedom

Virtual Via Nation

I also wrote about the subject in 2010:

World Class and Social Class

Australian Passports are Precious

And in 2011:

Sense and Censuses

Then in 2015 I wrote another one:

In the Name of Nationality

From my own research into the family backgrounds of several federal parliamentarians, quite a few of them are likely to be dual nationals.  As I am ineligible to be a member of the Australian Parliament, so are they.

02 October 2017

Respecting Ancestors

Many cultures practice some sort of veneration of the dead.

What does veneration mean to you?

What are your own cultural beliefs about death?

How do you reflect upon the inevitability of your own death?

What do you believe to be respectful towards the living, the dying and the dead?

And what do you believe to be disrespectful in each of those circumstances, and why?

27 September 2017

Time to Read

When I write blog posts, they are often mere notes of things I have discovered.  I am often too busy or too tired to check the words carefully before publishing them.  My writing is therefore usually initially published here as a draft.

In this way, I quickly offer a few snippets for other people to check themselves.  Much history research obviously involves checking and rechecking facts.  It also involves plenty of editing and re-drafting.

In 2009, I wrote about working families and genealogical studies.  My ancestors worked mainly because they needed money, or at least the money with which to pay for life's necessities.  I write this blog as a hobby.

In 2010, I wrote about celebrities, genealogy and your family history.  I do not have either the time or the interest to follow the lives of celebrities and learn about their ancestors.  Nor do I have time, other than generally through this blog, to assist with your family history, even if you want to pay me.

Also in 2010, I wrote about Lily of Lawley Common.  I am not sure if Lily had much time to read.  She was my great grandmother.

I want to have more time to read about the history of Lawley and nearby Dawley, preferably on paper or a small screen.  I prefer to type of a full-sized keyboard and to look at a large screen whilst doing so.

Recently, I came across an historical listing of Shropshire mines and mine owners.  That was a great find.  I have been searching for it for a long time.  Making the time to research is just as important to me as making the time to read, write and edit.

In 2011, I wrote something for people just starting out with family history research.  My own research began properly in December 2007.  I can't believe almost a decade has passed since then!

I did not have the time or the inclination to do the research earlier.  The online resources then were either difficult to locate or unavailable and I had other priorities.  The offline resources would have taken far too much time, money and effort to bother finding and I knew other relatives had struggled to find them in the past.

Nor did I have enough facts available about my great grandparents and their ancestors - so I would have to make the time to ask my older relatives quite a few questions.  When that time would become available became apparent to me about ten years ago.

By the latter half of 2011, I was getting to know great grandmothers quite well, and not only my own but also those of my husband.   There is a great deal more I would like to know about them all.  Could your great grandmothers read?

I have long been collecting recollections but not through audio or video recordings.  Most people of my acquaintance would be reluctant to talk if I recorded them in such ways. 

Nor have I written notes on most occasions.  My memory, and previously documented memories, have often had to suffice when listening to the answers to my questions.

Many people find questioning intimidating.  Their own memories may be faulty or their emotions may intrude upon their recollections of facts, particularly facts about events from long ago.  In my experience, older relatives prefer to reminisce about particular events while forgetting or ignoring other aspects of the past.

My mother's family history is tied up with the history of Coalbrookdale though most of her 19th century ancestors were involved in coal mining rather than iron production.  There is much still for me to learn about Shropshire history.  Do you know anything about the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust?  Have you recently visited its website?

Early last year, I wrote about Finsbury Park and London family history.  London sometimes seems further away from Shropshire to me than Australia does.  They are all like different worlds in the present.  How different were they in the past?

Making the time to read about a place, and a time, is usually easier when I have an interest in doing so.  When I was much younger, I often tried to learn about everything all at once and then became overwhelmed.  Even now, I tend to become overwhelmed by my own ignorance.

A few months ago, I mentioned the editing of Ancestors Within.  Since then I have been on my travels again.

Even when I do not have so many distractions, I find it difficult to concentrate on correcting mistakes in my writing.  As I was in England, visiting family, the weather gave me a little time to read.  It was often rainy or cold or threatened to drench me if I ventured outside.

Quite recently I haphazardly managed to put together a blog post on the coal war and family history.  My mother still has a coal fire in her cottage in the English countryside.  She urgently needs something better but is unsure what to do.  Mainly she wants to keep warm when she reads in the evenings.

Who or what are you attempting to understand at present, and why?

How are your ancestors assisting or hindering your understanding?

How has your reading been helping you?

True understanding is the most valuable gift.  Unlike shallow sentimentality, understanding requires time and knowledge and thought and care.   It is an expression of empathy.  And empathy can usually only occur with an understanding of the context of an attitude, belief or situation.

Happiness is often based on mutual understanding, a sense of belonging and of feeling appreciated.  Your happiness may or may not involve consanguinity.  It may or may not involve the activity of mirror neurons.  It may or may not involve nostalgia.

How may your time and knowledge and thought and care in relation to Ancestors Within become an expression of your most valuable gift?  And in which direction will your reading take you next?

04 September 2017

Useful Family History Information from Australia

I often find it frustrating when a genealogical website offers nothing more than a list of irrelevant links.  Fortunately, there are better information resources though they rarely reach the top of search engine listings.

Many interesting Australian genealogy and history websites and blogs are listed on Unlock the Past - including this one!

16 August 2017

The Coal War and Family History

Politics, coal, mining and undermining have had a long, interrelated history.  Even today, in England and elsewhere, political views may tend to correlate with experiences of former coal mining areas.

What are the features of a normal way of life, in your view?  How do you define politics?

In recent years, here in Australia, much of the economy has been focused, perhaps too heavily, on the mining industry.  My husband's maternal family has been strongly connected with the mineral mining industry in Australia, as have many other migrant groups and low-skilled workers.

In the past, many young women, like my mother-in-law, preferred to live - and marry - outside mining communities, when offered that choice.  They did not want the worry of their husbands - and sons - being killed or injured in one of the regular mine accidents.  In fact, there was a major mine disaster nearby on the day my in-laws married.

When you were growing up, did your way of life seem to be normal to you, and did your experiences seem fair?  Was the environment in which you lived ordinary to you or somehow unusual?

In the 20th century, there were power engineering industries of the English Midlands where my family lived.  There were many type of engineering work in the area then, just as there are today.

My grandfathers both worked as engineers at the same factory from the late 1940s until they retired.  They contributed to the production of the huge transformers used in coal-fired power stations.

My childhood in England during the early 1970s had been affected by events such as the three-day week, and the high inflation of prices experienced as a consequence of the 1973 oil crisis and the high unemployment of the subsequent recession.  I did not understand why my parents seemed to have so little money.  They never appeared to have any savings at all when I was growing up.

Whenever I looked out of my bedroom window in my middle childhood years, a huge coal-fired power station dominated the skyline.  I just considered it to be horrible and ugly.

My father worked in technical and engineering jobs but he never worked in a factory or a mine or a power plant.

Was anyone in your family directly or indirectly involved in mining or power generation in the 19th or 20th centuries? 

Have you mapped your family history in relation to coal?

My mother's great grandparents and earlier ancestors would have been familiar mainly with a small area of Shropshire dotted with coal and ironstone mines.  The mines dominated their lives.  When a mine closed down or reduced its workforce, the miners would move elsewhere.  My mother's maternal grandparents went to live in Wednesbury, which was then in the south of Staffordshire:

There are three excellent sources of information about the area:

A history of Wednesbury by Bev Parker

Wednesbury mining history forum

Mining in the Black Country by Mick Pearson


Around the world, there has been a long history of mining accidents.  A knowledge of that history could easily save lives, if implemented.  A knowledge of the risks of disease can also prevent suffering, at least when there is openness about the causes of pneumoconiosis and other lung problems.  There are still health problems in mines today.

My husband's maternal grandfather injured his leg in a mining accident in the 1930s.  He died of lung disease in the 1940s, long before being eligible for an old age pension.

Why should anyone risk life and limb just for somewhere to sleep and eat?  My husband's grandparents came to Australia to escape fascism in the 1920s.  Were they any safer at their destination?

All my mother's family heritage is associated with the 19th century mine workers who lived just to the north of Coalbrookdale in Shropshire.  My maternal 19th century ancestors, as men, women and children, would probably have been familiar with corfs and hurrying, both before and after 1842.  There is a fifty page section of the Children's Employment Commission (Mines) report of 1842 available online in relation to Shropshire.  The report lead to the Mines and Collieries Act 1842.

Do you know much about the 19th century mines and communities of Shropshire, or Staffordshire, or anywhere?  Do you know if any of your ancestors were members of the Midland Counties Miners' Federation?

Most British industry in the past two hundred years has developed in relation to cheap, accessible coal and the efficiency of transport routes, starting with canals.  Do you know much about the historical relationship between British coal mines and the development of British canals?

You may have heard of data mining and data about mining.  When I was young, I wanted to distance myself from anything associated with mining and roughness.  I worked in offices in London, though politics has long been one of my major interests.

Australia, 1887
City smog is bad for anyone's health, though there are dangers even in rural areas from coal seam fires.  People near the Hazelwood coal mine fire in Australia know this from their own experiences.  Who should own potentially dangerous assets, in your view?  And who should benefit most from those assets?

I am reminded that 1816 was the year the Davy Lamp was first trialled.  I have managed to trace my maternal line back to that time, when my ancestors were living in the mining community of Dawley in Shropshire.

1816 was the Year Without Summer.    What were your ancestors doing in 1816?  What would they have considered to be a normal way of life?  What were your ancestors doing in 1916?

Do you now consider your past and present experiences to be part of a normal way of life?  How do you define normal?

When I lived in London, the 1984-1985 miners' strike seemed more remote in relation to my own life than the events of the 1970s.  Did the strike have any effect on you and your views of politics and economics?

During the 1980s strike, I worked at the BBC in the production office of Newsnight in the television current affairs department at Lime Grove Studios in west London.  I was in my early 20s and only vaguely aware of my family history.  Coal mines were closing during that time, just as they had in the past.

There was much conflict between miners and the police on the picket lines.  There were extremist views expressed by political players on both sides of the dispute.  I could not understand why so much television news coverage was devoted to the strike when there were so many other significant issues in society.  Nor could I understand why anyone would want their sons and grandsons to have jobs in coal mines.

There had been mining in Shropshire since Roman times.  Miners had often faced possible death or injury on a daily basis.  The mines where my 19th century ancestors worked had closed down long before 1984.

Usually, I define politics simply - as competing views about fairness and unfairness.  How do you define politics?  And how do you incorporate political issues into your family history narratives?

With coal being a major cause of climate change, the war on the environment, and the poor, continues.  How do you look at your family history in this context?

Here are a few of my other earlier blog posts you may find relevant to your own investigations:

Finding great grandparents

The age of reflecting on age

Staffordshire miner becomes Prime Minister of Australia

The working lives of ancestors

Lily of Lawley Common

Liberty, Normandy June 1944

A Shropshire lad called Harry

Superstitions and traditions

Treasure troves

My fair ancestors in Mayfair

The importance of being earnest with Alice in wonderland

Our changing perceptions and opinions

A genealogical look around

Shropshire pit girls and wenches

Italian migrants and their family histories in Australia

Discovering Shropshire history

Work. literacy, poverty and conscription