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!
I know it’s an unusual birthday to celebrate but in the field of genealogy/photography Henry Fox Talbot is an important man. He was born on the 11th of February 1800 in Dorset, England. He could be regarded as one of the fathers of modern photography as the practices he developed allowed for the modern processes we use today to be developed.
Now Henry did not invent photography but he did develop new methods for making more stable pictures. He discovered ways to treat the glass plate in the camera so that with the long exposure times required the image would not be lost if too much sunlight entered the camera lens. Thus hours of work were not lost. Also he developed a process which allowed a photograph to be taken in bright sunlight in just a few minutes. His greatest development was discovering a process which would allow a negative image to be printed multiple times on to paper and thus allow for mass availability of an image. So if you can make mass images from one negative you can sell pictures of important events such as the monarch seated on their throne. Also if the event was outside images could be taken quickly so an image of a disaster could be taken for future reference. For example from 1864 there are photos of the devastation caused by the Great Sheffield Flood. This could have been examined to find out why the dam wall failed and thus may have prevented another dam from collapsing.
It should be pointed out that other scientists were also making the same developments and other innovations at same time and thus who invented the processes first is debatable but Henry Fox Talbot’s work in the field cannot be ignored.
So I’ve discussed in the past how important photography is to genealogy as through old photos of our ancestors we truly get an image of the past. But one way that photography helped out ancestors and thus modern genealogists was through post mortem photographs. Now this does not mean the images taken at crime scenes or of murder victims. It was the taking of photographs of loved ones after they had died so you had a permanent memento of them.
Warning! Post mortem image
This is an image of a girl with her parents taken after she had died. Now some may not like the idea of such a photo being taken, but this could be the only way for the parents to remember their daughter. If you didn’t know you would think it was just a family photo, but in this image if you look closely you can see something is not quite right. The girls image is totally crisp and sharp where as her parents have a slight blur to them as if they didn’t remain perfectly still for the exposure of the image.
Post mortem images were very often tastefully done, especially with young children. In these images the child is usually placed in such a way as they just looked like they were having a nap either in bed or in their parent’s arms. Although there are exceptions to this. There is a picture form the 1940’s of a Syrian bishop seated on his throne at his own funeral.
So to all the men and women who had a hand in developing the camera, negative, lens and final photograph thank you. You may not have realised it at the time but you opened the world of genealogy up by letting us see the faces of our ancestors no matter what stage of their life they were in.
Many of you will have Scottish ancestry and as such you may be part of a clan. But what really are the clans and how do they work.
Well from the start let me state that I have ancestry in the Buchanan Clan. I am descended from ancestors called Dow and as such am part of the Buchanan clan. My Scottish ancestors came from Govan in Scotland but the furthest back I’ve got is to the late 1700’s in a small village called Lorn which used to be on the banks of Loch Lorne. My 5 times great grandparents were Duncan Dow and Mary McIntyre. According to their son Archibald Dow’s death certificate from 1855 Duncan was a shepherd.
So what is a clan? In basic terms a clan is a group who come together as a sort of family. Many started out as villages or regions under the control of a laird or chieftain. They usually share a common bond and have sub groups who come under their flag. They usually share a tartan to denote they are of the clan so they can be easily identified. The use of tartan is also a way of showing who your fealty to a clan chieftain.
Clans are usually headed by the most powerful family of the clan, although they may not carry the clan name surname, so just because you are chieftain of the Buchanan Clan doesn’t mean you have to be a Buchanan. The 6th chief was McBeath McCausland. Since the 8th Chief they have carried the surname Buchanan. The current chief is John Michael Baillie-Hamilton Buchanan.
The clans in some respect were like states or counties. They set their own local laws and the members would pay taxes to the chief. The Chief would hear grievances from the clan’s people and act as a sort of judge and jury. The Chief would also have soldiers who would defend the clan’s lands from attack from other clans which happened when other clans decided to use this method to expand their territory. Chief’s also used marriage to expand their lands. They would marry their children to into other clans in the hope of the marriage bringing another clan under their control.
The role of the clans changed after the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. This was when Charles Edward Stuart the Young Pretender or Bonnie Prince Charlie tried to get the throne back for his father James Edward Stuart the Old Pretender. James Stuart was the eldest son of the deposed King James II/VII (depending on if you’re using the English or Scottish regnal number although now I think we’re supposed to use the VII) of Great Britain and his second wife the catholic Mary of Modena. James was deposed due to his Catholic faith as Great Britain was a Protestant country. He was replaces as King in 1688 to be replaces by his daughter Mary II and her husband William III.
During the rebellion Bonnie Prince Charlie led his troops in battle against the British army to try to force William and Mary to give the throne back to his father. The rebellion failed but the clans came under great scrutiny for their role in the rebellion. May of the clan chiefs powers were revoked including that of passing laws. Also the wearing of tartan was banned but this was repealed later in the century.
Today the wearing tartan by those descended from the Scottish clans began in the Victorian era. It became fashionable to be descended for the clans and people wanted to show they had a Scottish heritage and all things Scottish. Whether the fact Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had just bought Balmoral had an impact on this I don’t know, but you would think it had. This even continues today. Any Scottish city you visit you’ll find a shop where you can trace you Scottish ancestry and purchase tartan, scrolls, and clan badges showing your lineage. I know I went in one as a kid and have a badge that states my clan in Buchanan.
So the Scottish clans today may not be the powerful groups they were in the past but they do still exist and you can trace you ancestry to them. They are famous throughout the world and new tartans have been developed to show the diversity of Scotland. The Sikh’s of Scotland have their own tartan. Which is the most famous of the clans, well it’s probably the McDonald’s, but not for they clan heritage, more for the burgers.
In the course of genealogy you may come across jobs that you don’t know what they are. It may be that they were not uncommon, it’s just that they no longer exist for what ever reason.
So what were some of these jobs?
Well one I’m glad doesn’t exist anymore is a knocker up. I have nothing against the people who had this occupation, it was just what they did. A knocker up was someone who you paid to wake you up in the mornings. They were a human alarm clock. In the industrial towns it was important that you got to work on time. If you didn’t you may be expected to work the entire day for no pay. This meant it was vital to get to work on time. So you paid a knocker up, probably only a penny or two a week, to wake you up. They used various methods from knocking on the house door to using a long bamboo stick to tap on your bedroom window. One lady in London even used a pea shooter to aim at the windows to wake people up.
Another job that’s gone is that of a lamp lighter. We all take for granted that when dusk comes the street lights come on automatically and then go off in the morning. In the Victorian era this wasn’t the case. People’s job was to go round lighting the gas lamps in the streets and then putting them out in the mornings. They were imaginatively named. Now they’d probably be known as illumination specialists or something. But they did a really vital job. Can you image walking the streets of Whitechapel in the 1880’s without the gas lamps, it was dangerous enough without it being dark as well.
Another job which technology got rid of was the type setter. Before the advent of typewriters if you wanted to print something you had to load the individual letters into a holder to produce the page you wanted. This was a highly skilled job as you had to put everything in the holder backwards and led to the phrase getting hold of the wrong end of the stick, as if you started from the wrong end then the text came out back to front. Also the person doing the job had to be literate. Imagine if someone wanted a book printed, you would have to place each letter by had until you had a page and then print the page and then do the next page and so on.
Going further back in time some of the jobs were just horrible and thankfully they have gone in this country.
How would you fancy being a leech collector? Doctors were using leeches to bleed their patients as they felt this would keep them healthy. So they needed leeches to use. People would go to the marshy areas where the leeches lived and catch them. They didn’t use a net. It they were canny they used an old animal. They would stand them in the marsh and take the leeches of the animal’s legs. It they couldn’t afford an animal they used themselves! They stood there and let the leeches attach to them and then pulled them off when they’d had their fill after about 20 minutes. They probably continued to bleed for several hours after so it wasn’t a particularly healthy occupation.
The final job we should all be thankful has gone was that of a gong farmer. They had the nastiest jobs ever. They dug out, buy hand, the cesspits and the toilets. They would remove the waste and take it away. That is a job no one should have had to do. But it did have some advantages. If anything went down the loo that shouldn’t have they could keep it. Also they were paid quiet well as well you would have to be to do the job.
So our ancestry is full of different jobs to those were do now, but really would you want to do some of them. Getting up early in the morning to wake people up or spending all night digging in poop. Sounds like having kids to me! But for society to function they were needed.
How many of us have an old recipe book on the bookcase. It’s probably in a worse for wear condition with the cover falling off and bits of paper sticking out from every angle. It can give you an insight into the lives of your ancestors.
By looking at the recipes it can give you an insight into what foods your ancestors could afford to make and also what they liked to eat. It could also give you an insight into their kitchen as the more complicated the recipe the more kitchen equipment they may have needed so this may indicate they were from a wealthier background. These books can also span the generations as they are passed down from mother to daughter (or father to son). There are at least 5 different handwriting's in one of my family recipe book.
I’m lucky as I have access to my Grandma’s recipe book and my great Grandma’s.
So let’s look at the recipes inside.
Well in the main meals section we find a recipe for a meat mould which is sausage meat and corn beef mixed with a tomato and an egg all mixed together. Then it is steamed for 45 mins. Then there’s a Christmas pate which involves leftover turkey and lots of butter. There is also a terrine made with bacon, veal, port, liver and chicken liver, gross, I’ll just eat the bacon thanks.
The books also packed with recipes for chutneys, soups and pickles. Then it’s my favourite the cake and puddings section - boiled fruit cake my absolute favourite. This section does give a big clue about family life. There are lots of low sugar and diabetic recipes. This indicates someone suffered from diabetes and they did. It also shows how times have changed. There are recipes for jams and curds. I know some people still make them but many do just go to the shops and buy them.
Recipe books can also show regional foods. Now this would be seriously confusing in Grandmas recipe book. She was born and raised in Northamptonshire. He mum was from Cambridgeshire and her grandma was from Lincolnshire. Add into that her dad was from Nottinghamshire and the fact that she and grandpa travelled all over the country before settling in Yorkshire. Your family recipe book may offer better clues as to where their origins lie. One example of regional foods in grandma’s recipe book is for Yorkshire parkin. For those who don’t know it’s a spiced cake made with oats, treacle and ginger. Here’s the recipe, try it’s gorgeous.
If you consider my great Grandma’s recipe book then this too will have a hodge podge of regional recipes. She was born in Sunderland but raised in London. Her mother was from Sunderland but her dad was Scottish.
You may also find some really bizarre recipes. I took to the internet to see what other recipes I could find from peoples recipe books.
How’s this for a delicious recipe, stewed sparrows anyone. This 18th century recipe calls for boiling the sparrows in ale and water. Put 3 egg yolks, verjuice (made from unripe grapes, crab-apples or other sour fruit) cinnamon and ginger and stir. Add the sparrows to the sauce. I think I’ll give that one a miss.
One which maybe you can try next Christmas, picked turkey anyone.
If you try this recipe let me know how bad it is. Picked meat sound disgusting, but I suppose it preserved the meat so it would keep longer and could be used when fresh food stocks were low. It could have kept the entire family going when there was nothing else available.
If you have an old recipe book in the family why not play make a recipe. Just open the book and if you like the ingredients in the recipe on that page, and if you can still get them, make it and see what it’s like. If your ancestors took the time to write it down then maybe it was a family favourite. Who knows maybe it will become a future family favourite to another generation of the family.
We’ve all heard in our family’s strange saying and expression but have you ever wondered what they mean? I have. Some may even give you a link to where your ancestors may have come from it the expression has been used for years in a family.
Many of you will know the expression there’s ‘nowt so queer as folk’ from the film the Full Monty (which was set in Sheffield). This is an expression I know well as my Mum’s always said it. Well it’s a colloquialism from Yorkshire/Lancashire meaning there’s nothing as strange as people. So yes a good expression for Sheffielders to use. What’s unusual is that my maternal grandparents weren’t from Sheffield so presumably native Sheffielders said it and it got into our family that way.
Another expression used by our family is black over bills mothers meaning that there a dark clouds coming. This is a midlands expression but I have absolutely no ancestral connection to the midlands, so again this must have come from another source.
What about having a gale in your tail? It’s what’s said when kids go hyper when it’s windy. This is one expression I have no idea where it comes from, but it’s true, it happens.
So what other expressions are there that we may use but have no idea what the origins or the phrase are?
Well one of my favourites has always been ‘mad as a hatter’. I always thought it related to Alice in Wonderland and the mad hatter, but it doesn’t, but it does. The actual meaning of the saying related to the fact that people who mad hats used mercury when making felt. The process gave off mercury fumes which gave the hatters mercury poisoning which lead to a form of madness. Thus you become as mad as a hatter. This expression could indicate a Cheshire/Lancashire amongst others areas ancestry as many of the hatters came from these areas.
Winning hands down. We use it to mean someone can do something easily and has to put no effort into it. This expression comes from horse racing and means the jockey doesn’t have to do anything to encourage there horse i.e. use the whip as there are winning with their hands down. Do you have a jockey in your ancestry?
Skeleton in the closet. We all use this to mean we have something to hide or we don’t want people to know about. You may even have used it in genealogy when you have an ancestor who seems to have had something to hide. It’s actually thought to have come from the body snatchers who had to hid the bodies they dug up before they got them to the medical students for illegal dissection. This expression seems to be widespread throughout the UK.
One I’ve definitely used in genealogy is barking up the wrong tree. We all know it means looking in the wrong place either for a physical object or a piece of information. But what of the origin? Well it’s believed to come from hunting when the dogs chased birds up the trees and continued to bark up the tree thinking the prey was still there when in reality it had flown off. You may have seen it in your own dogs when they’re barking at something that’s not there anymore. Does this indicate a countryside based ancestor or has it just percolated throughout the entire country now as a widespread expression.
My final saying that many may have used but not known the origin is letting ones hair down. These days we use it to mean where having a good time and enjoying ourselves. Well next time you use it think of the medieval women who if they went out had to where their hair up in the fashionable styles and elaborate up does of the day. We all know how just having a ponytail in all day can be uncomfortable so when we get home we let our hair down, as did our medieval ancestors!
So next time you use an expression or colloquialism just think as to its origins and what it says about your ancestry.
In every generation there are those members of society who have unusual jobs. They may seem strange to us when we find them in the census but in the past they were could have been more common or even usual then.
So I’ve look through my tree and found you four people who had the most usual or less common jobs I could find.
I’d like to start with one of our family’s war heroes, James Briggs who was my great, great Grandma’s second son. James was born in Thorpe St Andrew in 1892 and died in 1917 in Belgium while fighting in WW1. Now James had a very important job for the company he worked for. James made the packaging for the company. He made the tins at the Colman’s mustard factory in Norwich, Norfolk. Now in the grand scheme of things this wasn’t an important job, but you have to admit it was unusual outside of Norwich.
Also in my family my 4 times great Grandad Enoch Goodwin was a toll keeper in Bosley Cheshire. My great, great Grandad Frederick Staton was a Professor of music at Worksop Priory in Nottinghamshire and I even have a dog track owner/bookie. My great Grandma’s brother owned and ran the greyhound track in the Darnall area of Sheffield and on the 1939 census he was recorded as a commission agent i.e. a book maker.
If you go through your family tree your bound to find someone who had an unusual job. They may have worked in industries that we are familiar with and even still exist but the role they carried out many not exist anymore and thus seem strange to us. So working in a coal mine may be a common job, but how many looked after the pit ponies?
One of the grossest unusual jobs was a resurrectionist, which thankfully doesn’t exist anymore. Now many will have no idea what this is and to be honest I didn’t know what it was. Once you read about it you will probably know 2 very famous ressurrectionists, Burke and Hare.
So what is a resurrectionist? Well in laymen’s terms it’s a body snatcher. Medical students needed bodies to dissect to understand how the human body worked. Unfortunately this was illegal unless the person had been executed. So since a dead body was not classed as belonging to anyone, you could theoretically take the body from a grave as long as you didn’t take any valuables from the body. Also the medical schools didn’t like to ask too many questions as to where the bodies were coming from.
So you have ressurectionists. Burke and Hare took it a step to far though. When they couldn’t get enough bodies they decided to kill people to get the bodies. They then sold these bodies to the medical school in Edinburgh. They were doing this in the 1820’s. They were eventually arrested and imprisoned. William Hare was released from prison after turning Kings Evidence (admitting he did it and informing on his accomplice). William Burke though, well he was tried and executed. Then he was dissected and if you want to see his skeleton it’s in the anatomical museum in Edinburgh and a book bound with his skin is in the surgeon’s museum.
So there were loads of unusual and strange jobs that our ancestors could have done for a living, but is it any stranger than today? If you think about it anyone in the future who looks back at my life if going to think I had a strange job and wonder what a genealogist was.
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!