We probably all have objects in our families that have been passed down through the generations that we treasure, but have you ever thought what they can tell you about your ancestors.
Heirlooms can take many forms from a book to a piece of furniture and everything in between.
This is my great Grandma’s perfume bottle that she kept in her handbag. It’s tiny, only a few centimetres tall and lives in a velvet box. It’s probably worth next to nothing but to the family it’s worth everything. After she died the bottle went to her only granddaughter and became a treasured connection to a much loved Grandma. It still smells vaguely of the perfume it carried and thus evokes a memory of the way she smelt. Thus it’s a tangible link to our ancestors.
We also have a bible that was given to my 3 times great Grandfather Peter Arnold Wardle who lived from 1845 to 1892. It was given to him by his grandmother Ellen Wardle nee Taylor who lived from 1797 to 1867. Now as a book again it’s worth very little and has spent all my life just sitting on various bookcases throughout the family never being looked at. In fact it was only in the last 5 or so years that I even realised the inscription was there let alone the significance of the book. But just think it’s the handwriting of my 5 times great Grandma. How cool is that to have the handwriting of someone born in the 18th century. Ellen also came from a rural area and her husband was a farmer so the fact that she could read and write is fantastic and I have to say her handwriting was so much better than mine.
We also have things which we own that we hope will become heirlooms for future generations. One of mine would be my baby rattle. I still have it and it’s even in one of the photo on my website.
So what other heirlooms may you have that can tell you a story?
Well it could be a piece of jewellery that has been passed down from mother to daughter throughout the generations. It may sit in a draw never being looked at, but it does tell a story. It could give an indication as to the wealth of your ancestors. If your ancestors were wealthy then it was probably a more ornate piece or the stones were of a better quality. It could also indicate the love the giver had for the recipient. If you come from humble stock and your ancestors saved for a long time to buy the piece it’s obvious they loved the person they gave it to deeply. This could be backed up by the fact that the piece has been handed down through the family. It’s not just jewellery though it could be a pocket watch or a wrist watch which was treasured by the men in your family. Also if the piece of jewellery was a bracelet you would get an indication as to the size of your ancestors. If they bracelet is small and will not fit you then you can guess that they were of a small delicate stature.
Your heirloom may be a bit bigger. It could be a piece of furniture that has been handed down through the generations. Maybe it’s a dresser or a chest of drawers. All of these can connect your to your past. When you put your clothes away in the chest of drawers you can imagine all the previous generations that have done the same thing. Also you can think about how different the garments you’re putting in the drawers will be different for before. In my case it would be jeans and hoodies whereas ancestors may have been putting corsets and bloomers in.
So the things we use every day like furniture and the things we have put away in a cabinet or a draw are a direct link to our ancestors and as such should be treasures for the direct link they give to use. Make sure to pass on the stories behind them or better still take a photograph of it and write the information on the back or make a book about all the heirlooms you have. Why not include a family tree in as well and some information about the original owner and in a sense make a new heirloom giving the history of your heirlooms.
I was going through my genealogy files the other day and found my grandparents marriage certificates and it got me thinking about how our ancestors met each other.
So I’ll start with the stories of my grandparents. My maternal grandparents
met in a way through my Grandpa’s work. Grandpa was a travelling excise officer. He was sent to Peterborough to the sugar and sweet factories. He took lodgings as was the norm. The daughter of his hosts was my Grandma. She was also the manageress of one of the sweet factories he was to visit. My paternal grandparents met as my Grandad was lodging with the mother in law of one of my Grandma’s uncles.
How else could our ancestors have met?
Well probably the most common way was that they grew up together, especially in more rural locations. The further back in time you go the less likely your ancestors were to move around. They probably stayed in one place all their lives unless they had to move for work. This meant they probably married one of the village girls or if they were lucky a new family may move in and they may have married a girl from an exotic place such as 5 miles away.
If your ancestors did travel to a new area for work this would have led to them meeting lots of new potential spouses. If they were the new person in town they would have been highly popular. My great, great grandfather moved to Worksop from Eckington. Here he took lodging at the pub just up the road from the Priory where he was the organist. Guess what he married the innkeepers daughter.
In the towns our ancestors may have met by going to a pub. Just imagine the films set in Victorian London such as Jack the Ripper. There is usually a pub scene. The wooden bars and tables, the piano being played in the corner and the dim lighting. The raucous laughter and singing of boardy songs. What better place than to meet the future spouse. In port towns there was the chance that you could meet a sailor from foreign climes in the pub. Maybe the daughter of a ship’s captain for the boys or the son for the girls. Maybe it led to your ancestor moving abroad or to another area of the country.
If you ancestors were from a more affluent background then maybe they met at a ball held at one of the grand homes or at the musical gatherings held at the theatres. They could have married the heir to one of the local grand houses next to theirs.
It wasn’t just the wealthier ancestors who may have met at the theatre though. There was the music hall performances held in the theatres all over the country. Here your ancestors may have met. It was a lively place and they would have had a great time. The ladies may also have been able to catch the eye of a gentleman who had ventured into the town to see the latest acts.
Dances were a prime hunting ground for finding a partner no matter what walk of life you came from. Be it the big balls of the grand houses or the village hall they would have been packed full of your people. They were available to all. Again in the port towns they were have been good places to meet those from far off lands. Over time the dances would develop and during WW2 they were great places to meet members of the armed forces from abroad. How may have a GI bride in their ancestry who went of the USA after the war with their new husband, or have a Caribbean ancestor who settled in the UK.
So no matter where your ancestors came from they will have a story as to how they met their spouse. We may never how some of them met but we need to record the stories we do know so that future generations know the stories and their lives will live on into the future.
On the 11th March 1864 the then town of Sheffield suffered from a devastating flood which brought death and destruction. But what caused it?
Well in basic terms the dam wall at the Dale Dyke dam failed sending the contents of the newly constructed reservoir crashing down the valley straight for the town.
The Dale Dyke dam wall failed whilst it was being filed for the first time. The night the wall failed Sheffield was hit by a gale which caused the water to put excess pressure on the newly finished dam wall. The dam engineer John Gunson was onsite on the night of the collapse. It’s said that he noticed the crack and opened the values to reduce the pressure on the wall in an attempt to stop a collapse. However the wall failed and approximately 3 million cubic metres of water rushed out of the reservoir and into the Loxley valley. Now if you’re like me that figure means nothing but in terms of pints of beer that’s 5,279,261,959. The water swept through the north of the town from the west to the east. The flood hit the areas of Loxley, Malins Bridge and Hillsborough first following the path of the river Loxley. Loxley at the time actually wasn’t in Sheffield as the town hadn’t grown out that far yet. It was an industrial area down in the valley being home to several trip hammers and rolling mills. One was owned by the Chapman family. When the flood hit the mill and hammer were lost and 5 members of the family died along with around 12 other people in the area.
Hillsborough was next where around 42 people died as the water took everything in its path. The water then carried on down the river valley and the turned where the Loxley joins the river Don. This took the water straight towards the industrial areas of the city. For anyone who knows the city today that where Kelham Island museum and the Wicker Archers are. This took the water through Neepsend and Shalesmoor on towards Attercliffe. This area was highly populated at the time and so the loss of life was great.
In total the disaster claimed the lives of around 240 people of all ages. The youngest recorded death shows a baby Dawson of just 2 days old. Many of the victims were never found as the water took them away. Some bodies were even found the other side of Rotherham in the areas of Kilnhurst and Swinton some 14 miles away. Also the flood destroyed and damaging around 600 homes and washing away the houses contents. There was also the loss of animals and crops and infrastructure such as the bridges over the rivers Loxley and Don.
The people of the town has raised around £42,000 (around £2.5 million in today’s terms) to help those in need. Also an act of parliament meant that the people of the town could make claims against the Sheffield Water Company who had built the reservoir for loss of property and life as well as for injuries.
As always a court case ensued and John Gunson got the blame, although the water company stood by him and kept him in the company until he died. The dam was rebuilt in in the 1870’s and is still there today. If you want to go it’s near Bradfield on Strines Moor just of the A57 not far from the reservoirs in the Derwent Valley.
This is where the flood becomes kind of personal to me. My family lived around the Hillsborough area. In November of 1864 my 3 times great Grandparents Charles Beckett and Eliza Parkin married at St Philips church in Shalesmoor. The church obviously survived, but were they affected in any way. Did the loose friends? My research doesn’t indicate they lost any family and there are no familiar names in the lists of the dead which is part of the fantastic research carried out by Karen Lightowler in conjunction with Sheffield City Council and Sheffield Hallam University. You can see the research here: https://www2.shu.ac.uk/sfca/ . It is a fantastic resource. The claims section does show that Charles Becket did make a claim for loses though. He was a quarry man and claimed £13 (around £812 today) for loses of personal possession such as tables and chairs but also the tools he used in the quarry such as his hammers and picks. He was awarded only £9. Also there were claims made by who I believe to be my 4 times great Grandfather George Parkin and by 2 members of the Elshaw family who I must be related to as we are all descended from one man.
So the flood left a trail of devastation in its wake that would change the town and wiped out entire families such as the Chapmans who lost a mother, father and 3 sons. But out of the devastation it gave us genealogists and fantastic insight into our ancestor’s lives as we can read the claims for loses and get a feel for how they lived and how the flood impacted on our lives.
Next week is world book week to promote reading especially in kids. These days we pick up our e reader and download the latest books or go to the book shop and get our hands on a proper book. We have books everywhere from the libraries to the shelves at home. We read everything from a good murder mystery to a political thriller to a good paranormal book. But what were our ancestors reading?
In 1950 one of the best selling books was Animal Farm by Orson Wells (I prefer Orson’s farm the cartoon series). The book is basically a look at what was happening in 1940’s Europe told through the eyes of animals portraying the main political figures. For the younger reader the frankly excellent The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by CS Lewis was published. This is the story of 4 evacuated children who enter another world through a wardrobe and the side of good under the command of Aslan the Lion take on the evil side of the Witch.
If we go further back to 1900 the grownups could pick up a copy of The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud and for the kids it was The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum. I’ll admit I’ve never read either but they were all the rage at the time. Maybe my Great Grandparents or Great, Great Grandparents picked up a copy.
In 1890 you could read the latest Sherlock Holmes, The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle (he wasn’t knighted until 1902) or for the kids there was English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs. This was a collection of fairy tales including some well-known ones such as Jack and the Beanstalk and less known ones such as The Fish and the Ring. If you’re interested you can read the book here: https://archive.org/details/englishfairytale00jaco
Let’s go back to 1880 where our ancestors may have settled down to read the latest Mark Twain A Tramp Abroad or for the little ones Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio.
Now in 1870 one of the most famous nursery rhymes was written in the Owl and the Pussycat. For the older reader they could read the latest by the French writer Jules Verne. They could descend under the waves on board the Nautilus and attempt to find the sea monster through Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea.
The 1860’s saw Wilkie Collins publish the novel the Woman in White which was a good old who done it. If this wasn’t our ancestor’s bag then maybe they would have reached for the new novel by George Eliot The Mill on the Floss which follows the lives of 2 siblings as they grow up.
1850 would have seen people reading for David Copperfield (the book not a person) by Charles Dickens and in 1840 Edgar Allan Poe published his Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque which was a collection of short stories.
1830 saw the publishing of the novel The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck by Mary Shelley which considered that Perkin Warbeck was actually Richard of York the second son of King Edward IV. For the children why not the Chronicles of a School Room by Anna Maria Hall.
Back in 1820 the novel of the year was Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott which is set in medieval Scotland in the 12th century. 1810 could have seen your ancestor’s reading the latest by Percy Bysshe Shelley entitled Zastrozzi which is a romance set in Germany.
Now some of these books are still loved today by some even if they just know the books by film and TV adaptations but they do still live on and can be read by us today.
I suppose what we should remember in all this is that we have access to books and we can all read them when we want. This wasn’t a luxury our ancestors may have had. They may not have been able to read and books would have been too expensive for them to buy. The central library in Sheffield didn’t open until 1934 so before then you would have to buy your books. So this world book day why not settle down with a book you’ve being bursting to read and lose yourself in the pages. Now will it be Freddy the Frog, Don’t Forget the Bacon or Eric Carle’s seminal work The Very Hungry Caterpillar!
Hello and thank you for taking the time to read my Family History Ramblings on genealogy and history in general. I hope you find it informative and hopefully funny!