Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Mapping Wars...Or Other Events

Military service and wars, police actions, and other armed conflicts, were a big part of many of our ancestors lives. In the U.S. we ran into conflict with Native Americans several times as citizens pushed west. We rose up in revolution against Great Britain and fought them again in 1812. Fifty years later, we fought a bloody civil war. The 20th century brought the Great War, later known as World War I, World War II, the Korean Conflict, Vietnam, and the first Gulf War. Other countries have different wars but similar stories.

I spend a lot of time telling my ancestors' stories about war and military service. In my last post I shared how I researched my Scottish soldiers and wrote about their experiences. As I was researching my Jennings line from Virginia, I realized that five young Jennings men, brothers and first cousins, served with the same regiment during the Civil War. Virginia seceded from the United States two days after Union forces fired on Fort Sumter in South Carolina and President Abraham Lincoln called for volunteers to join the Union Army. Four Jennings men enlisted in the Confederate States of America's army the same day. My great grandfather, at age 19, joined them a year later on 1 March 1862. They all joined the 19th Virginia Infantry regiment.

With five ancestors in one unit, it made sense to tell the story of the regiment, highlighting along the way when something specific happened to an ancestor. I quickly discovered I needed a timeline to keep all the marches, battles, camps, disease, wounds, and so forth straight. And I needed a map so I knew where they were in order to describe terrain and weather conditions. There are some seriously well-done battle maps on Wikipedia, but none of them show how a regiment moved from place to place between battles. And those are the times a soldier got seriously foot sore!

Today, I'd like to share how I map the movements of a military unit. I'm not technical so I had to find a way that was easy yet produced nice maps and was informative. I think I have found such a method using Google Maps and any slideshow software.

At first I thought I could illustrate the entire experiences of the 19th Virginia Regiment on one map. But that quickly turned out not to be the case. Military units make many movements -- small and large -- and different scaled maps are appropriate for different situations. Here's an example of how small and large movements look together on one map:

Movements of the 19th Virginia Infantry after the Seven Days Battles to
Northern Virginia where they fought in the Second Battle of Bull Run or
Second Manassas; map created by Google Maps and PowerPoint

The above map illustrates a train ride from Richmond, Virginia, to Gordonsville and a 15-day march north to northern Virginia. Short marches and a battle are depicted by the pines labeled 1 through 3. The distance between Richmond and Pin 3 on modern roads is 95 miles. Only with a map can you quickly see the 19th Virginia Infantry traveled much further. Simply, listing the towns they marched through in text would not have conveyed the same information so quickly.

The following map illustrates a larger scale describing two battles which took place over a short period of time in the same general vicinity:

Movements of the 19th Virginia Infantry during the Seven Days Battles
illustrating two battles, the aftermath and where and when Daniel Rose and
Leroy Powhatan Jennings were wounded

To make these maps, I first research each battle thoroughly using online reference sources and offline sources such as muster rolls, unit diaries, and letters home. I wrote down each time a place and date are mentioned and, if included, the method of travel -- train, boat, or marching.

Then I go to Google Maps and click the menu icon:

Google Maps Menu Icon

Select the My Maps option from the dropdown.  A list of customized maps you have previously created will display or you can create a new map:

Creating a new map using Google Maps

Your customized maps are stored in Google Drive so you likely need a Google account.

Give your new map a title.

Titling your customized Google map

You can import text and images into your map, using the import link but I don't like that as I don't have total control of how it looks.

Now that I have my base map, I go back to the list of dates and places I created from my research. Type a place name in the text box at the top of the map and click the magnifying glass icon to the right of the text box.

Google Maps zooms you to the location. But you are plotting historical movements on a modern map, so you might need to look around to find exactly where you want to place your pin. For example, I know that the 19th Virginia Infantry was stationed in a swamp between the Warwick River and Yorktown, Virginia, on 26 April 1862. I zoom around until I find the Warwick River and look around for a suitable swamp between the river and Yorktown -- that's where I place my pin.

To add a pin, click the Pin icon and click the location on the map where you want to place your pin:

Adding a pin to identify location using Google Maps

You can edit the name of the Pin once you have placed it. I also usually delete the default location information provided by Google and add the date the regiment was at that location.

Once I have completed mapping movements during a specific period of time, I am ready to add further customization and descriptors to it in a way in which I can control the appearance. So I take a screenshot of my Google Map. How you do that depends on the type of computer you use.

Then I open Powerpoint (or another slide/presentation application) and open a new file. I reset the defaults to a blank slide and import the screenshot onto the slide. Again how to do that varies by application. All you need to know is where your computer stored your screenshot.

Once the screenshot is on the slide, you can use the features of the presentation application to add text, lines, etc. All this an be done using Google Maps but there are limits on the appearance of that information.

Once you have finished adding embellishments to your customized Google map. Click on Slideshow to get a full-screen presentation of that map. Take another screenshot. Save it. And voila! You have a map you can use to illustrate blog posts, upload to your family tree, or add to your website.

I use these maps not only for posts about military service, but also family migrations. It's totally up to you!

My latest maps are now appearing in a month-long series about the 19th Virginia Regiment on my blog, Tangled Roots and Trees.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

From the Top - Explore Archives

This week the annual Explore Your Archives campaign launched here in the UK. Remember only a tiny fraction of historical materials have been digitised and made available online, so archives still hold many treasures genealogists need.  Learning to use an archive is really important.

I am prepared to bet that most of us were taught how to use a library sometime in childhood, but we learn to use archives as adults by trial and error. Libraries organise their books and other materials and have catalogues to help you find what you want. Archives also organise and catalogue their holdings, but do so differently.

Archives are organised using a hierarchy with several levels. Cataloguing archives, in four very easy steps illustrates the four main levels with rather natty photos. The levels are:
  • Fonds or Collection
  • Series
  • File
  • Item
Genealogists often focus on the single item, and forget the context in which it was created, used and preserved. Much valuable information about an item is in the higher catalogue levels, so explore them all.

Archivists start at the top level and don't always have the resources to fully describe lower levels.  The best way of discovering what an archive holds is to look at the fonds level. The National Archives (TNA, the UK one) has over 400 fonds, which is somewhat overwhelming. According to the published guide 'Tracing your Ancestors in the National Archives' these are the fonds most commonly used by family historians:

I would like to see a summary like this one posted on every archive's website and displayed prominently in every search room.  I am sure UK researchers are familiar with some of the contents of the fonds HO, RG and WO. Have you looked at other fonds, and other series within fonds?  Take a close look at RG 101.

Sadly, online archive catalogues do not make examining fonds level entries as easy as it should be. To display all fonds in Discovery, TNA's catalogue, use the Advanced Search. A search term must be entered so I used the wildcard *, meaning everything.  Then I scrolled down the page and selected 'The National Archives' under Held by, which brought up further options. I scrolled a long way further and selected 'Department' under Catalogue Levels.  TNA confusingly uses the terms Department for Fonds and Piece for File. Once you have identified a Fond of interest, you can search using the reference.

Now it is your turn. Have fun exploring an archive!

Bevan, Amanda. 2006. Tracing your Ancestors in the National Archives. The National Archives: Richmond. pp 4-7.

Friday, 20 November 2015

A Family Story

So...This is what happens when you put all your eggs in one basket to create a blog post.  You start researching and one rabbit hole leads you down a path that you find yourself at the crossroads of the Cheshire Cat resting place. "Where do you want to go?" A thousand thoughts go through your mind and the next google search points you down another path.  Then the nurse comes in and distracts you from your direction by riling up your mother from her sleep and creating minutes of chaos.  Things quieten down and you try to collect your fractionated thoughts, but you are back a square one. The collected basket of information so far collected is examined and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that there isn't any cohesive points.  A big sigh is breathed, and the process begins again.
Finally 4 days later and many repetitious moments of the previous sentences, the Doctor releases your mother to return to her assisted living facility. All is well again. You figure, Yes! now I can concentrate.
You return home, open your computer to organize and write what you have.  Still, the information appears like a kaleidoscope of ideas.  The phone rings, and you hear..."GrandmomE, come down and play with me, please, Please, Please..." In the sweetest of of pleading voices. "Come play with me."

It is not hard to admit, one looks at the computer, then at the phone...and the sweet voice wins.
The story is not written, but the ground work is planned and the collection has begun. So, here is a preview and see if you can figure out what road we will be traveling next month.
 Normandy Invasion, June 1944
Battle of the Bulge September 1944

Right now an angel face is patiently waiting for grandmomE to put the computer down and snuggle her to sleep.
And that is how the plans of a genealogy blogger can be waylaid by present day family.  Do you identify?  See you next month with a well organized post. In the mean time snuggle and love your sweeties and make memories for them to write about. 

Monday, 16 November 2015

November, a Month of Thanksgiving and Gratefulness

Today, Man and I are sitting out a significant rain event in Pinnacle North Carolina.  Sweet newer small campground in the shadow of Pilot Mountain.  We have been traveling and working rather hard for several weeks, so this rain event/rest is more than welcomed.

In the US, we celebrate Thanksgiving in late November.  They say this year, that you will not find a “large” turkey, there has been a avian bird flu that has reduced the availability of turkeys.  For many this will be traumatic, as family traditions are so deeply rooted in our souls.  I look at this as a possibility to change or make our own family traditions. Tradition is wonderful, but, it can change. Many years ago, when we had two sons (number three was not even a twinkle in his daddies’s eye yet), we changed our Christmas meal menu.  I set out guidelines that all food had to be prepared in the days leading up to Christmas and served cold.  Sound sad??  Not one bit. We prepared smoked turkeys, deviled eggs, potato salad, cheese and bread trays, fresh vegie trays, deserts to die for, usually what we have called the “Bowen cheesecake”.  We purchased fantastic honey spiral cut ham.  There was so much food we had left overs for days.  The “cold” meal could be set out and enjoyed during the day (yes, the potato salad would be put back in the frig, food poisoning was not part of the menu).  And, enjoyed it was.  So, yes, you can change up the family traditional meals, it is after all, all about the family anyway, the meal is just the accompaniment.

Now, all of that explained, do you record these sort of family “memories” in your family history?? Maybe even a photo of the “spread” or your lovely table settings.  I would give anything to see a representation of the table of my ancestors.

November is also a month of gratefulness that is played out on social media like Facebook with a daily meme of stating what you are thankful for.  Some of the entries are truly amazing and heartwarming. It is also a challenge to come up with a post every day. I did this several years ago, and ended up reproducing the month of posts on Reflections, Thankful November.

It is fun to go back and remember.  And, again, I shall ask, have you recorded memories and thankfulness on your blog or in your family history?

Man and I have no idea where we will spend the Thanksgiving day, somewhere on the road between North Carolina and Florida.  We are taking our time and visiting a few friends along the way.  No research stops are currently planned, but, hey, Man and I live for the day and our plans are written in dust and sea mist.  The wheels roll and we try to enjoy the trip(s) for what is offered.  Visits with family and friends are highly valued.  Even short family visits may produce some wonderful foder for your research.  Maybe a digital sound recording of your visit and the story telling that always happens.  I don’t have many interviews in my family history, but the ones I do have are, simply, amazing.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, eat well, and enjoy the family times. (Then go post some of the great memories to your data base.)


Thursday, 12 November 2015

How useful have you found the 1939 Register ?

It's finally online!

Find My Past in association with The National Archives finally launched the long awaited 1939 Register on Monday 2nd November 2015. 
Probably the biggest announcement and dataset launch this year.

I am not going to explain what it is or how to use it as you can find everything you need in the links.

You can also out find how they brought the register online.

Find My Past also have a blog dedicated to the 1939 Register.

Audrey Collins of The National Archives explains more in this video.

Peter Calver of the Lost Cousins website has also put together a page with information.

So with all the information available how have the genealogy community responded.
On the launch day Chris Paton of the British GENES blog posted an initial review. With a further follow up on the following day.
Sunday saw some changes made to the search facility and another post. Yesterday he posted a link to a webpage with a tool you may find useful.

There has been much discussion about the price of accessing the scanned images and the Who Do You Think You Are Magazine website published a blog post  about this on the day of the launch.

So how have I found the register. I made a few comments on the day of the launch on Mondays with Myrt which were very much my initial reaction with barely 30 minutes of searching.

Even now I have not found those members of the family who I wanted to find. Is it poor transcription or were they missing for some other reason? I have searched with the exact date of birth but still not found them in the index.

So whilst there may be complaints about the cost I have as yet to make a purchase. I know that I will eventually decide to buy the household records for my direct family but it is not them who intrigue me, it is those who appeared as children on the 1911 census and were siblings of my ancestors. 
Those with common names can be difficult to find. I have found some WARDs in the town where I have been looking for some, without any forenames. In the same town I have found a couple who I believe to be my husband's gt grandmother and her husband but the surname was presumably unreadable as it is transcribed as ~???.

I am not sure that many individuals will be prepared to supply evidence of death to open a record as this is what Find My Past say about the proof needed "You will be required to scan and send a copy of a fully certified death certificate from General Register Office (GRO) or the equivalent Governing body if the death occurred in a country other than the UK. By certified copy, we mean the original certificate as registered and provided when the death occurred. This can be a copy as opposed to an original however it must contain the full registered details. If the criteria are not met, you may be requested to either re-submit or provide further evidence, such as a birth certificate."
How many researchers who already have a copy of a death certificate issued since 1991 are going to go to the trouble of asking for a record to be opened? 
Is it going to provide any great evidence for that individual given that they are likely to have known that person?

I'll carry on hunting for my missing relatives.
If anyone finds Ruth Ellen Gadsby born 1901 or Charles Reuben Gadsby born 1910, Please let me know. 

If you had family living in England or Wales in 1939 please give some feedback on any searches you have done.
Are you prepared to wait up to 24 years until all the entries will become available?

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Family Reunion - a reflection

Display of Memorabilia
In one of my early posts for 2015, I wrote about our plans to organise a "Family Gathering" on the long weekend in October.  In this post "Sharing and Building Memories through a Family Reunion" I outlined some of the points we would have to consider if our family reunion was going to be successful.  We were "newbies" and I really appreciated the feedback, suggestions and comments that readers gave us on organising a family tree reunion 

Our "family gathering" was born following a discussion among cousins at the wake of one of our elderly relatives.  We thought it would be great to organise a family reunion that would give our families, children and grandchildren the opportunity to meet and spend a "fun" day together. It was decided an ideal venue would be one of the pavilions at the Show Ground at Milton, a small diary town on the south coast of NSW.  Milton was our grandparents home town and they were enthusiastic supporters of the local  show.  Nanna, with her flower arrangements, jams and cooking, and Pop was quite an accomplished axeman in his younger days, competing on a national level and winning a number of Wood-chopping events at the Sydney Royal Easter Show.  In their later years they continue their involvement as members of the show committee.

It was our aim to keep the "gathering" as simple and low key as possible, providing the opportunity for anyone connected with our family to come along and share stories, photos and memorabilia.  My cousins and I set up a small working group and assigned different tasks to each member to spread the load.  We kept in touch on a regular basis and as the big day approached our emails and phone calls almost became daily events.   The organisation of the event, was a new learning experience, however, I am happy to report that from all accounts the day went well and a great time was had by all.   I thought I would share with you some of the lessons learned and ideas that helped contribute to everyone's enjoyment.

Pre-Family Gathering
One of the most important aspects of the planning was our communications plan, we approached this in a number of ways. This included:

- Set up a "Family Links" site on Facebook - we posted details of the "family gathering" along with regular updates, family photos, stories and newspaper clippings.  This page was quite successful in engaging with younger members of the family, and allowed us to link with other members of the family, including a couple from overseas.
Displays of Family Photos
- Provided regular updates by email, snail mail and telephone.  Some family members, especially some of the older relatives, are not as familiar with email and social media, so it was important to take the time to call them to give them an update on details for the day, and also to encourage them to rummage through their photos to share on the day.  I found the phone calls particularly rewarding and had a number of quite long conversations with very enthusiastic elders of our family who enjoyed the opportunity to share their stories.
Contacted local newspapers, historical societies and information centres with details of the reunion for publishing in their local notices.  The local Milton and Ulladulla Information Centre, were very supportive, posting the details of the reunion on their web page and providing us with some suggestions for external activities such as ghost tour of Milton on the Saturday night and the option of a guided tour of the local indigenous burial ground.

Day of the Gathering

 Registration: The registration desk  was set up with three desks, where we collected small entry fee that went towards covering the cost of the hall hire, and sign on sheets where family members were asked to provide their contact details and family connection.  These were later entered into a contact spreadsheet for later use.

Catering:  To keep it simple, everyone was invited to provide a plate of goodies for morning tea, and the committee organised tea, coffee and cordial.  The morning tea was set up outside the hall on tables, providing the chance for all attendees to meet, greet and catch up over a cuppa before moving into the pavilion to view the displays. Lunch was organised as a giant picnic, with everyone bringing in their eski's and picnic baskets into the pavilion where they mingled over lunch renewing acquaintances, meeting new family members and sharing family stories and memories.

Welcome:  The formal part of the day brief, with a short welcome by the oldest cousin prior to lunch.

Family Tree - displayed on wall of pavilion
Family Tree: The venue provided us with some large vacant walls, so a large family tree was set up, using name cards and photos (where available).  These were arranged on the wall, and lines connecting  the family relationships drawn in with chalk.  This worked extremely well, and meant that any family members attending who were not on the tree, could write their name on spare name cards and position themselves in the correct position on the tree.  At the end of the day, photos were taken of the family trees so that all the new additions and connections could be entered into our family tree.

Photos:  The organising committee set up a number of photo displays on freestanding notice boards, using the following themes:

  • Military - displaying pictures and short bio's on family members who had found in conflicts from the Napoleonic War, Boer War, WWI and WWII.
  • School Photos
  • Wedding Photos - This was a great way to engage the younger members of the family as they all shared their wedding pictures and were delighted to see them up on the display board with all the wedding photos of past generations.
  • Surnames - photos relating to a specific surname or branch of the family tree.  This was a good way to display the photos that family members brought on the day.  They could place their photos on the board corresponding with their branch of the family.

Display - from Aunty Glad's Suitcase
Displays of Memorabilia - Family members were invited to bring along their collection of family memorabilia.  We were lucky enough to be able to use the Show Committee's glass display cabinets for these collections.  One of the most interesting was the display of the contents of  "Treasures from Aunty Glad's suitcase" (I have written a number of blogs about the contents of this suitcase's contents). This amazing collection of postcards, maps, letters and memorabilia from WWI was one of the favorite talking points of the day.

Activities for the youngest generations - a large number of children attended the day, so in the morning a number of outdoor games were set up to cater for the different ages groups, these included mini tennis, cricket, treasure hunt, hula hoops, bubble wands, balloons and bocce.

Cousins - playing in Nanna's Dress up Box
Nanna's dress up Box. - This was a great hit!! We recalled when we were young and visited our Nanna at Christmas time, we would delight in dressing up in the box of clothes that Nanna had stored in her spare room.  It was decided to replicate this delight for the family gathering.  Word was sent out, and we collected and made a number of "olden day" costumes. Family members scoured secondhand shops and gathered hats, shoes, stoles, gloves and jewelry.These were displayed on racks in one corner of the room with the open invitation for young and old to dress up and have their photos taken.  This became a very busy corner of the hall and out photographers were kept very busy snapping shots of all generations having fun and dressing up int he different outfits of times past.

History Book Table - Everyone was invited to bring along local history and family history books. The books were displayed on a table and were a popular resource for the day, triggering many a conversation and family memories.

Post Event

Cook Book - Everyone was invited to contribute one or more family recipes that were put in a book with photos from the day with copies sent out to all families attending on the day.

Thank you letter and copy of group picture was sent out to all family members attending the Family Gathering.

Reflection:  Looking back on the day, I think the stand out lessons were to have a good communication plan, that used a variety of ways to contact family members and engaged with the different generations. Secondly, ensure that there were displays and amusements to cater for all ages, especially the younger children. Finally, follow up with family members after the "gathering" to keep the communication and family links open.

The Family Gathering

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Researching a Village's Textile Mills

I moved to the village of Earlston in the Scottish Borders three years ago and soon became involved with the local heritage group Auld Earlston,  researching and writing for its blog.

For over 200 years, textile production was an important part of the Earlston economy, but little documentary evidence appears to have survivedI was keen to find out more, but  was very reliant on secondary sources and the knowledge of local people.  

We have one of the earliest descriptions of the village  in "The First Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-1799," edited by Sir John Sinclair, where each parish minister was charged with writing a chapter on their parish.  For Earlston, the  Rev.  Lawrence Johnston wrote:
 "The principal manufacture is linen cloth.  There are between 40 and 50 weaver looms mostly employed weaving linen........ We have only one woollen manufacturer,  though no place could be better  situated for carrying out that branch of trade.   The Leader Water runs along the west and there is plenty of wool to supply 20 manufacturers."

Later, a cauld (or weir)  on the Leader Water came to provide the mill lade with the water to power both Rhymer's Mill and Mid Mill.

In the 18th century, RHYMER'S MILL was  a corn mill before being transformed by the Whale family into a textile mil,  where  the  manufacture of gingham was introduced by Thomas Whale.    

A carved inscription on the old mill building, 
with  the names C & M Whale clearly visible.

The 1891 publication "Two Centuries Of Border Church Life V2   - with Biographies Of Leading Men And Sketches Of The Social Condition Of The People On The Eastern Border",  by James Tait.  includes a paragraph  on the Whales Family.  
"Thomas Whale died on the 11th March 1814, aged 74 years; and his widow died two years afterward;  but the business was carried on with great skill and success by their daughters,  Chritian was the elder, and was a very clever woman, but she modestly gave the first place to her younger sister Marion and the designation of the firm was "Marion Whale Co,"   The gingham was manufactured of cotton and the weaving was done in private houses;  in some of which there was a factory containing twenty or thirty looms.  The colours were woven into the cloth, not printed as is now generally done;  and everything was of the best material  One of the sisters travelled to Edinburgh, along the Northumberland coast and even to London, which was very inaccessible in those days.  After a life of great activity and usefulness, Christian Whale died on the 22nd July 1872, aged 75 years, and is designated on her tombstone "late manufacturer of Earlston". 
The 1851 Census identified Christian  Whale as a 64 year old manufacturer of gingham and cotton, employing 60 workers, mainly weavers and winders of cotton. Also in the business was her sister Marion aged 56.   Ten years on in 1861 Christian, now aged 7)  and Marion 56, were both described as Gingham Manufacturers.

How usual was it in mid Victorian times for women entrepreneurs, like the Whale sisters  to head a business?  

There were  close connections  with the Clendinnin family, though I have not yet identified the exact relationship.  The 1851 census recorded that Elizabeth Clendinnen. aged 39 and a widow was a "manufacturer of plaids", and her son was named Thomas Whale Clenddinnen.   Other family members were employed in the mill with 15 year old Lancelot described as a "cotton warper".  

In Slater's 1903 Directory of Berwickshire,  Thomas Clendinnen & Sons,were named  as "gingham manufacturers, tailors and drapers".  They also had a shop on the High Street.

Rutherfurd’s 1866 Directory of the Southern Counties, published in nearby Kelso,   commented :
 Earlston produces quantities of the Earlston ginghams. There is no other place in the country where the same class of gingham is made”.
Two rare surviving examples of the Earlston Gingham  in the collection of Auld Earlston

Rhymer's Mill later became a dye works run by a firm called Sanderson and the path  alongside the Leader Water is still referred to as "The Tenters" where the dyed wool was hung out to dry.  In 1911 the premises were taken over by John Rutherford & Sons,  agricultural engineers, who operated at the mill until the business closed down in 2014.  
 A Diverse Direction 
The photograph below from  the Auld Earlston collection is captioned:   

"Thomas Gray, (1856-1910), Manufacturer of Gingham - a cotton fabric originally made in India Gray.  He  lived in Earlston and was a well-known Border fiddler"

I had often heard reference locally to the Whales sisters as gingham manufacturers, but had never come across the name of Thomas Grey before.  Here were specific dates and I fully expected it to be easy to trace more information on this Thomas.  But  I came to a brick wall.    I could not find any record  for his birth, and death on ScotlandsPeople - the key genealogical web site for Scotland.   However I came across on Ancestry an  entry (transcription only)  in the 1881 census for Earlston listing a Thomas Gray, a gingham manufacturer born in Earlston, living on his own at Kilknowe Head, but his age was given as 85, so born c.1786.  

Could this be a mis-transcription that  should have been written as 35, born 1856.  I became more and more convinced that this  was the most likely scenario.   Frustratingly the 1881 census on ScotlandsPeople is the only one which does not offer a digitized record, so it was off to my nearest archive centre (Heritage Hub, Hawick) to see their microfilm census records - and it clearly said Thomas's age was 85.  Could the caption on the photograph above be so wrong?

As you will probably gather I was becoming totally wrapped up in the  story of Thomas Gray and diverting from my main theme - one of the perils of research. Suffice to say here  that Google gave me several leads as did British Newspapers Online - and I now have some fascinating material for another blog post on a man who was known locally as "Gingham Tam"and regarded as an antiquarian.  But that is another story! 

To return to Earlston's textile mills

At MID MILL Charles Wilson & Sons  manufactured  blankets and tweeds. The 1851 census described him as a "of the firm of Charles Wilson & sons,  blankets and plaiding manufacturers employing 18 men 7 women and 19 girls".  Ten years on, the business had extended to making tweeds, and employed  "28 men and 44 women, boys and young women". 

Slater's Commercial Directory of 1882 records Roberts, Dun & Company as Tweed Manufacturers at Mid Mill.    Subsequently Simpson and Fairbairn took over the business and greatly extended its operations.  A 1903 Directory described Simpson & Fairbairn  as a tweed manufacturer and dyers at Mid Mills 

It appears that the firm later adopted the name of Rhymer's Mill, as in the photographs below.

Always at the mercy of  the dictates of fashion and economics, Border woollen manufacturers between the wars  had a hard and stressful time.  The global depression, tariff barriers and instability especially in Eastern and Central Europe made export markets difficult.  Cheaper competition from areas like Yorkshire and North America plus the reduced  purchasing power of the unemployed resulted  in idle plants and closures.  In nearby Galashiels a third of the manufacturing capacity of the town was lost in the 1930's 

 Mill Road houses, built for the workers.

However Simpson Fairbairn  weathered the storm,  although short time working was often prevalent.  During World War Two, the mill was fully employed on service and  utility clothingThe early post=war years saw s a boom time for the Borders as world wide stocks of clothes had to be replaced.   The firm was employing more than 300 workers. making it  the economic mainstay of Earlston  - where the population in 1951 was just 1,761

But by the late 1950's and early '60's, the old problems of cheaper competitors and vulnerability to changing fashions had returned.  The   firm tried  to innovate by making cellular blankets and moving into  ladies' wear. 

A faded press cutting in the Auld Earlston collection  from "The Southern Reporter" of 13th June 1961  read "Closing of Earlston mill shocks 200 workers",  with a skeleton staff retained in the  hope the mill could re-open, once orders were forthcoming. The tidal wave of workers coming up Mill Road was reduced to a trickle.   After a few months, the mill did restart with the weaving and finishing department only and in 1966 a Mr Claridge (a textile designer) took over and oversaw a brief period of expansion.  

But the decline could not be stemmed.  The mill finally closed in 1969 when a workforce of almost 100 was made redundant.  Some of the workers went to Wilson & Glenny of Hawick who like Simpson & Fairbairn were part of  Scottish Worsteds & Woolens Group.  But they in turn closed along with William Brown of Galashiels who were also part of this group.

Earlston's role in the  Borders textile industry came to an end. 

  Today a street name sign  reminds us of the village's past. 

 Two photographs taken in 1974  of the derelict Rhymers Mill

  • With Borders newspapers unindexed, I am trying to find out locally  an indication of what time of year, the Simpson & Fairbairn Mill finally closed in 1969, so I can try to trace press coverage of the impact on the village 
  • Auld Earlston is at the early stages of  a "Sharing Memories" project to interview older residents and gather their experiences in growing up in the village.  This should provide some fascinating material from former workers at the Simpson & Fairbairn Mill.
  • The population of Earlston during this period:
    1801                1478
    1841                1756
    1871                1977
    1881                1767
    1911                1749

    1921                1641

    1931                1689
    1951                1761
    2011                1779
  • Earlston census returns for the mid 19th century identified workers in the following occupations:
    Piecer in a Woollen Factory   (a 13 year old boy)
    Machine Feeder in a Woollen Factory (15 year old girl)
    Steam Loom Weaver of Wool (18 year old girl)

    Cotton Weaver, Cotton Winder, Cotton Warper, Cotton Gingham Weaver, Clerk in Gingham Warehouse. Agent for a Gingham Warehouse 

    Blanket Weaver, Power Loom Weaver, Hand Loom Weaver,  Wool Carder, Wool Picker,
    Overseer in Woollen Factory, Power Loom Tuner, Spinner in Woollen Factory 

Photographs courtesy of the Auld Earlston Collection 

Monday, 2 November 2015

Where there's a Will....

...there's a way to get to the Truth.

A new found elderly cousin related the story of  her Grandmother's will last week, she was rather bitter that her mother and siblings were only left a pittance while one brother and a man who had befriended the old lady got the bulk of the estate.

State Records NSW (our State Archives) is situated in Kingswood which is 50 kilometres to the west of Sydney CBD. While it is good that there is plenty of parking (once you get there) and lots of room for expansion but getting to the archives is a pain. It just so happened that I was going to have lunch in our Blue Mountains last Wednesday, a trip that took me along the Motorway past Kingswood.
State Records is out amongst the gum trees on the edge of Sydney

State Records NSW do a great job and, with the help of an army of volunteers, they have a number of Online Indexes to their holdings available.

State Records Online Indexes.
Remembering that they have indexed many Probate Files so I did a search for the Grandmother's file and was lucky to find that it was available. While I was at it I also found a Land Title file for the Grandmother's property. One can pay to have the files copied and sent but at $AU30 each I could think of other ways to spend my geneabudget.

The Reading Room at State Records
As I have a Reader's Ticket for State Records NSW I was able to order the files to be ready in the Reading Room when I visited. After spending time with my friends over lunch I set off for Kingswood arriving about 3:15pm. As the files were waiting for me I was able to get straight to work. It only took me around 45 minutes to read and digest their contents and to photograph the contents on both my camera and mobile phone (Back ups are important especially when Kingswood is so far away).

The File contained affadavits, receipts, a copy of the will, details of properties owned and an inventory of household goods and personal effects.

So what did the Probate Packet reveal? The one brother and the man who had befriended the old lady got a few extra bits and pieces like a piano and some furniture  and some of the grandchildren got odds and ends but the bulk of the estate was divided equally in five shares between the four living children of the grandmother with the fifth share going to the children of her fifth (deceased) child.

Since the Grandmother died in 1944 the story of her bequests to family members has become slightly twisted. The lesson here is that while elderly relatives can be great sources of information it is wise to check the facts via other available sources.

Part of the Inventory in the Probate Packet.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Take a Walk on the Wild Side!

What do you write about on Halloween, when the country you live in has no tradition on celebrating Halloween and nothing you can think of qualifies as spooky? Write about something wild and crazy! And what is better than writing about the Berlin directories! About the wild and crazy Berlin directories!

Some of you might have worked with the Berlin directories before and got a bit confused by the way of sorting. For those who haven’t, I have good news. The Berlin directories sort the names in alphabetical order. So if you know the German alphabet there should be no problem.

Should. Because while other directories sort by surname and then first name, the Berlin directory sorts by surname and then occupation and then first name. Oh, and the first name is mostly abbreviated. And before I forget, first come the gentlemen and then the ladies. No, I’d better say first come the men, then the married ladies and then the Fräuleins. Each group of women is sorted by their occupation as well. If the widow had an occupation of her own (like seamstress, midwife or sales women), she is listed by her profession. If she has no occupation, she is listed by her late husband’s profession. But what if the husband’s profession is unknown? Then she is listed by her status as a widow (Ww. (Witwe)).

This can be a rather disappointing experience when you are looking for a rather common name and don’t know the occupation. You have to go through many pages and in the end will not be any wiser. And if you need to search a period of time of 20 yearsit will leave you rather frustrated. Of course you can save a lot of time if you know the occupation and are looking for a baker (Bäcker) or a pharmacist (Apotheker). 

But sometimes it gets really tricky. We’ll just take a look at the name Krause in the directory of 1880. We have 4 pages of Krause, none of them related to me (I think). 

You are looking for Heinrich Krause, an honorable importer of good Cuban cigars? Try your luck with looking for importers (Importeur). Nope, not there. Next try – merchant (Kaufmann) maybe? Looks like you’re running out of luck! Why not check cigar, and there he is – Cigarren- und Tabak-Importeur – listed under the letter C, right where it belongs (or not).

Let’s look for Wilhelm Krause, a Schuldiener (school servant). Of course you have learned from your first experience and look at school (Schule). Wrong again! He is listed under servants (Diener).

Good thing is that from 1925 on, things are handled normally. First surnames, then first names.

Now this little story about the Berlin directories is of course nothing compared to a state of the art Halloween party, but then, it’s not too bad for a country that is known to be incredibly well organized. Except for the wild and crazy Berlin directories.