25 June 2017

Ancestors Within Genetics

I was quite good at biology at school.  I could even remember that DNA stood for deoxyribonucleic acid.  I also knew there was something called RNA.  It meant ribonucleic acid.  They both had something to do with the genetic code.

Family history obviously has much to do with genetics. In turn, genetics and genealogy have something to do with the nucleic acid double helix.

For people interested in the ancestors within their genetics, it is a good idea to have at least a little understanding of nucleic acid sequences.

In an introduction to genetics, rather than an introduction to genealogy, it is necessary to learn about nucleic acids.   Those acids support the biological foundations of life itself.

Nuclei is the plural of nucleus.  In Latin, nucleus means seed, as in the seed of a fruit.  Most people are probably aware that the word nucleus now has many meanings.

How to you think about the seeds of the future?

How do you think about the seeds of problems?

How do you creative ideas germinate?

What do you know about your medical family history?

What do you know about the origins of your own DNA?

Do you know much about cell biology?

Although I was quite interested in biology during my teenage years, chemistry repelled me.  That is probably why I do not know much about acids except for lemon juice, vinegar and car batteries.

When I was young, chemistry to me was the opposite life.  It was about nasty smells, poisons and frightening explosions.  Bunsen burners in chemistry laboratories were dangerous things to me.  I later discovered that the asbestos mats under them were probably even more dangerous.

What has influenced your choices in life?

What is your understanding of the biological and cultural influences of your ancestors on your life today?

22 June 2017

Images of the World through Genealogy

Antwerp 1572
When we have the chance to travel, even if it is only though being invited into part of the life and imagination of a neighbour or visitor or colleague or writer, or perhaps even an ancestor, we see the world differently than usual.

How do you perceive the world?

Who do you invite into your life and imagination, and why, and how?

What are the usual images of your world and where do you usually source them?

Who gives validity to your opinions and who challenges your point of view, and how, and why?

How does the media shape your attitudes, perceptions and plans?

Social interaction and different cultural experiences sometimes make people aware that there are many different perceptions, attitudes and expressions of daily life, ambitions, the arts, religion and political ideologies. No two people are quite the same, even if they are twins.  Yet some minds are more open than others to that point of view.

When looking at images in holiday brochures of a place and comparing the presentation there with political news of the same place, where is the truth?

How do you make comparisons between cultural history and political history?

How have your images of the world changed through an understanding of genealogy?

Your perceptions of the world may have changed in some way since beginning your family history search.  Have you documented those changes?

Has your image of yourself changed as a consequence of those perceptions?

Has your attitude towards history, the present and the future changed through your genealogical research?

Do you view your ancestors as if they are stereotypical characters or as if they have full personalities and active minds, just like you do?

My husband has often perceived events and experiences differently than I have.  I am sure our family members and other people in our lives perceive situations differently, too.  I know my mother does, and my mother-in-law.  When all four of us have been together somewhere, we perceive the situation differently.

London 1896
We all bring our own prior experiences, preferred routines and current tastes and attitudes to our perceptions of the world.  Our perceptions of art and photography and maps and logistics, and to the news we hear and read, are all shaped by our differences more so than our commonality.

Without accurate knowledge of the past, it is difficult to observe the world with accuracy in the present.  I know how muddled my own mind can be at times.

Soho, London
Images and imaginings of earlier lives in different parts of the world are rarely as accurate as first-hand experiences of times, places and people.  Yet how accurate are your perceptions of your own life?

How well do you know how each of your known ancestors experienced life?  Did they believe their way of life was normal and ordinary or somehow special?

The media can distort images of places and people considerably, as can various academic views of the world.  All experts have a partial view, not a complete one.  Even historians look at the world as if it is a series of still life images, strung together with a narrative.  And all narratives, like paintings, maps and photographs, are selective.

History books are written from the point of view of the authors, and possibly even their senior colleagues and editors.  Advertising and other forms of publicity and promotion can distort images, too, as can government propaganda and other unreasonable forms thinking and communicating.

I can never have first-hand experience of the way of life of my ancestors, or of anyone else for that matter.  I can only have my own experiences and my own point of view.  I can compare my point of view with people like Osias Beert the Elder.

It is difficult enough trying to understand the pleasures enjoyed and difficulties faced by people living today.  Some of those persons happen to be my close and distant relatives.  I know they struggle at times to understand me!

Even so, I do my best to discover how the lives of other people might differ from my own, and how they might be similar.  We all need to eat and sleep and pay the bills somehow.

And I am sure many generations of my Flemish ancestors experienced a peasant wedding at one time or another, just like Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

Are you a local history expert, or a relevant expert of some other historical kind?  That was the first question I asked when I began this blog in January 2009.  

I had actively begun my family history research just over a year earlier.  In late 2007, I sought to provide my mother with a suitable Christmas gift, namely a much fuller picture of the early life experiences of her own mother.  Little did either of us know where that journey would lead.

11 April 2017

A Buttery in the Family

A buttery?
Along my maternal Shropshire line of genealogy is the name of Buttery.  Earlier, its spelling was Buttrey. 

In 1891, 41% of all Buttreys in England lived in Shropshire.  There were 8% of the Butterys there at that time.

A buttrey or buttery was a room or storeroom where barrels and butts of alcohol were stored in medieval times.  The name has nothing to do with butter.

I do not know if the Buttreys of Moreton Say in the 1600s were originally cellarers or merely peasants.  I have recently discovered a family tree tracing the ancestors of the family to Uffington near Shrewsbury.  Nearby is Haughmond Abbey.  There is likely to have been a buttery there.

06 April 2017

The Editing of Ancestors Within

Lately, I have been spending a little time editing my blogs.  Polishing my prose is much the same as polishing anything.  It is a job I tend to put off until the dust begins hindering the activities I would prefer to do.

A credible historian, unlike a romanticist illustrator of historical moments, must strive for accuracy, clarity and honesty.  The accuracy and clarity parts are straightforward for an honest editor.

But what of the honesty of an editor's purpose?  A romanticist writer or editor would choose to convey information in such a way as to sway opinions and stir emotions.  I prefer to help people to discover their own opinions.

How do you check the facts, communicate with clarity, be honest with yourself and learn about your own thoughts and emotions? 

How do you know when to change or challenge something?

How do you know when and how to intervene in history? 

I mainly want my earlier writings to be comprehensible to myself at present.  Whether anyone else finds my words easy to understand is of secondary concern to me, except that I hope readers will continue to be willing to assist me.  Finding the truth of history is usually a team effort.  You may even be willing to help me improve my spelling and grammar!

Although I prefer to do the dusting myself, as I often come across previously lost items while doing so, finding previously lost history is another matter entirely.  In fact, I consider explorations of the past to be much like dusting off false assumptions. 

Editing Ancestors Within is therefore a decision-making process, shaping my perceptions of both the past and the future.  It is certainly hard work.

I don't think my writing or editing or dusting are anything like the highly symbolic image of Oliver Cromwell as portrayed by Ford Madox Brown.  Nor do I think my efforts are like any of that painter's other work.  I would like to provide a true likeness of the past, and people in the past, perhaps as Robert Walker attempted to do. 

29 March 2017

Breakfast with Forebears

I have never much liked porridge, or cornflakes, or any other sort of breakfast cereal for that matter.  I prefer bread, butter and cheese and a cup of tea to begin my day.  I may have a piece of fruit with my cup of tea, or not.  Sometimes, I like an egg on toast.

You may know the story of Goldilocks and her porridge-eating experiences.  I would probably eat porridge too if I was very hungry.  If I had a choice between cold porridge, excessively hot porridge and a bowl of it at just the right temperature, I know which I would prefer.

This blog post is, of course, about forebears not three bears.  When I was growing up, I rarely felt like eating breakfast.  It was too early in the day for me.  I was not an early riser.  Getting me out of bed was almost as much of a struggle for my mother as attempting to untangle my hair and tidy it sufficiently before school.

My husband prefers a healthy, organic muesli for breakfast, full of different grains, seeds, fresh fruits and dried fruits.  I prefer different grains, seeds and dried fruits to be in cakes for afternoon tea.

The bathroom scales indicate I should cut back on my cake-eating interludes.  At least I no longer drink tea in the afternoons.  The caffeine keeps me awake at night.  I do my best to maintain a moderate approach to life.

I like to be up and about for at least an hour before I eat anything.  Luckily, I can now eat when and what I please although fewer calories would probably be a good idea.  I am not sure if the same would apply to my forebears.
 
Do you like porridge?  Have you ever experienced a Goldilocks economy? Do you know much about the history of breakfast?

Unlike in my earlier years, I now find it easy to get up early in the mornings.  That may mainly be because I wake up early with ideas I want to write down before I forget them.  If I stay in bed, the ideas disappear and I spend all day trying to think of them again.

If I had breakfast with my forebears, what would they think of me?

My maternal grandmother often spoke about food rationing.  I learned to appreciate food through my grandparents' appreciation of it.  They were never extravagant eaters.

My paternal grandmother worked as a caterer when I was a child.  She spent much of her life organising meals at home and in her job, as did her mother.

Good food is often the spice of life for many people, with or without spices. Even so, my grandparents rarely ate spicy foods.  They were all quite keen on crystalised ginger, especially my paternal grandmother.  My maternal grandparents liked it in marmalade.

My maternal grandmother had a very sweet tooth.  She loved bread and jam.  She called it 'a piece of jam'.

My maternal grandfather was especially concerned about digestive health and 'bowel movements' in later life.  He was not interested in trying different foods.  Having grown up in comparative poverty, buying strange foods was something he would have considered wasteful, especially if they did not taste very nice to him.

He often reminded me to 'masticate' my food properly.  He preferred a high-fibre, high bran packaged breakfast cereal

What did my Flemish ancestors have for breakfast?  Maybe they had waffles rather than porridge.  I would much rather have waffles if given the choice though they are a bit too sweet for my taste.  And I tend to prefer savoury foods.

What do you usually have for breakfast?

What did your forebears have for breakfast?

Have you often had a full breakfast or do you prefer to leave that sort of meal to fools?  What is a foolish breakfast in your experience?

What sort of breakfast do you consider to be unbearable?

Forgive me if I waffle on, but a full breakfast should really only be served with Staffordshire oatcakes.

I am not sure what my great grandparents in west Belfast had for breakfast.  Do you?

I do not think much of the traditional foods of Northern Ireland, especially if provided through the take-away outlets over there.  Nor do I think much of the quality of food throughout the rest of Ireland.  Even the vegetables and fruits in the supermarkets often looked past their best when I tried shopping there.

It seems something of a misnomer, therefore, to call Irish food cuisine, especially when comparing it to French food, or even Belgian food.

I did not think much of Scottish food when I lived in Scotland.  Too much porridge there, probably.  And Scottish oatcakes are not at all like the Staffordshire ones.

I am quite keen on Welsh food.  That may have something to do with my childhood family holidays in north Wales.  It may also have something to do with the fact that many of my mother's Shropshire ancestors had Welsh surnames.

Do you know much about Medieval cuisine?  I am not sure whether dietary habits in the 21st century are going backwards or forwards.  In Medieval times, apparently, it was considered immoral to have breakfast too early.  Parents and teachers should take note.

What really is traditional British food?  Is there such a thing?  How far back do the traditions of English food actually go, and where did they originate?

My great grandmother in London worked as a nippy in a tearoom in Edwardian times with her sister.  I am not sure if they served breakfasts there as well as other meals.

Nor am I sure what my husband's Italian forebears may have had for breakfast.  Are you familiar with Italian cooking at all?

In the Veneto, they are likely to have had polenta porridge.  Are you familiar with the foods of the Veneto?

In Lombardy, they may have had polenta porridge, too.  Are you familiar with the foods of Lombardy?

In Basilicata they may have had horseradish omelette.  Many cultures have omelettes of one sort or another.

How do you locate traditional knowledge?

Do you enjoy hearty traditional peasant foods?

When he was young, my husband had a semolina porridge for breakfast.  His father would always have nothing but black coffee and brandy for breakfast.  He lasted to the age of 90 on that!

My husband's maternal grandmother, his nonna, would have an egg flip, made of raw egg whipped with sugar and brandy or grappa. She also lived to her 90s.

Although I am certainly not a food blogger (it would make me feel far too hungry to write about food very often) I do like to search for trustworthy information and safe, nutritious food.  Who already knows what you have had for breakfast?


Today's pictures:


Girl eating porridge

Poor man's breakfast

Apples, grapes and flowers

Woman eating porridge

Renaissance waffles

Victorian porridge

Baroque porridge

Medieval porridge

Venetian polenta

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.