Today we live more in a throwaway society and if something is damaged or broken it goes but this is a luxury many of our ancestors would have loved to have had.
I’m sure we’ve all done it. We get a garment that gets a hole in it and so it goes. Bur what would our ancestors have done. Well this would have depended on the damage. So for clothes they would have mended them if they could. Socks would be darned and holes would be stitched up.
How many of us would have thrown these jeans away? Our ancestors would never have done this. They would have carefully stitched over the area until the mend would nearly have been invisible. If the damage was too great then the garment would probably have be reused in another way. In the case of a pair of trousers that were damaged on the bottom they could be shortened and given to a younger member of the family. If this wasn’t possible then the garment could be turned into something else. So for example if a pair of curtains was ripped on the top and couldn’t be mended then the fabric could be recycled into clothes for someone.
But if the fabric was beyond use for being turned into new clothes then it still had a use. Cleaning in the home was a very time consuming chore for the lady of the house. Everything had to be done by hand. So having rags was essential. Old clothes could be used for washing floors and dusting and even for use as washing cloths and towels for the family. They could even be used to make a rag rug by attaching rags to a hessian sack to keep the cold from their feet.
But what when the rags were beyond use for that. Well they could be used in the garden. They could be strung over the garden to keep the births off the crops. If they weren’t even fit for this they would be sold to a rag and bone man who would then sell the rags to shoddy makers. These were factories that recycled the rags into yarn to make new cloth.
But what else did our ancestors make do and mend. Well obviously scraps of material could be used to make toys for children such as balls and rag dolls. Also old furniture could be reused after its functional life was over. So if a chair had a broken leg then the leg could possibly be mended by a new piece of wood being attached but if all the legs were damaged by rot at the foot then the legs could just be cut down to make a child’s chair. Or if the whole set of chairs and the table had rot then the whole lot could be shortened.
Pieces of wood could be collected and used in a variety of ways. In rural areas wood could be used to mend fencing and mend holes in buildings and even to build new items such as storage boxes to pack vegetables and flowers to send them to market. In the towns wood could also be used for covering windows instead of curtains or even making pallet beds to sleep on.
Today there is a mass market for selling crafting products and we can make so many different things from our own clothes to our own furniture. We make our own Christmas decorations and gift for one another, but in reality our ancestors had been doing this for as long as time can remember with the bits and pieces they had in their homes as nothing was wasted, everything was used until it couldn’t be used anymore or made into something else and then they would perhaps have been able to get a few penny’s for them
It’s a question many ask about genealogy. Will I be able to find all my ancestors and how far back can I go? Some seems to think you can go back to time immemorial, but can you?
Well unfortunately the answer is no you can’t. The records only go back so far. But don’t be downhearted as you can get a long way back.
Up until 1538 it was more than likely that only people born into the aristocracy who would have had their baptism, marriage or burial registered by the family. In 1538 Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII right hand man decreed that in the new Church of England all baptism, marriages and burials would be recorded by the parish priest at the local church with copies being made and sent to the bishop every three months. Thus the parish records came into being. This system continued until 1837 when the present system of receiving birth, marriage and death certificates was introduced when Queen Victoria ascended to the throne. Baptisms, marriages and burial were still recorded by the church when the events took place, but the official registration was still required.
So if you’re really lucky you may be able to get back to 1538. But a note of caution is needed. A lot of the records this far back are really difficult to read and they may be in Latin! This means that not only with you have to translate the date but also the names. For example it’s not too bad with my name Sarah as in Latin it’s Sara but some other names are really different. Walter in Latin is Ualterius and Louisa is Ludovica. Also the condition of the records may be so bad that when they are viewed they can have unreadable areas.
If we consider Dronfield in Derbyshire the records began in 1560 but the church itself was built in the 12th century. So we see there is a large discrepancy between when the church was built and the records began. This means you will miss out on so many ancestors, probably approximately 13 generations at 30 years per generation. Don’t be upset though as if you think about it up to the present day you can probably go back approximately 15 generations and 15 is better than nothing as it’s still over 4.5 centuries.
You also have to take into account what information is given in the parish records. There was no set format for the records, it was what the vicar or his clerk decided to include. This means it will vary, sometimes greatly, between the parishes.
For baptisms in most cases you will get the child’s given name, his parents given names and his father’s surname, so for example the basic information you may get is:
John son of John and Mary Smith baptised 1 January 1600
You may get lucky and find that the mother’s maiden surname is included. In the later records you got information such as where the family lived and the father’s occupation.
Marriage records are the ones that can be most annoying. It is not uncommon to just find that John Smith married Mary in the parish on a certain date. This gives so little information. Again the later the records the better as the woman’s maiden surname was included and perhaps the abodes or even father’s names and occupations for the couples.
Burial records in general were just the person’s name and when they were buried, but in some cases the place of death was recorded and even their age at death. I have even come across some records which stated what the person died from.
So all this means that just because the records are available doesn’t necessarily mean they are of any help and so you may not be able back to the 15 generations. With so little information in the records if your ancestors moved about you would have difficulty finding them.
But don’t give up hope, half the fun is the search. The old adage search and ye shall find is the mantra most genealogists adhere to. You never know what you will find until you look, so look and you may be pleasantly surprised as to what is available.
I was considering the other day what questions I would ask any ancestor I could meet and so I decided to write a fictitious interview with one of my ancestors.
Allow me to introduce my guest today Percy Staton.
Hello Great Grandpa and thank for doing this.
Can you tell me when and where you were born?
I was born on the 19th March 1878 in Worksop, Nottinghamshire and I was baptised at Worksop Priory on the 1st of May 1878.
Tell me about your parents and siblings
My dad was Frederick Staton and he was from Eckington Derbyshire. I don’t remember him as he died when I was only a year old. He was the organist at Worksop Priory. My mum was Anne Taylor who was from Holbeck Woodhouse in Nottinghamshire. She left Worksop to find work after dad died and I lived with her Mum and my Aunt and Uncle in Worksop. I was mum and dad’s forth child. I have a sister named Edith born in 1872, a brother called Harry (Henry) born in 1874 and a sister named Arabella born in 1876.
What was your occupation?
I moved from Worksop to Peterborough in the late 1890’s to become a dental assistant. I went to Peterborough as my elder brother Henry Hamilton Staton was a Dental surgeon there. He had trained under our uncle Richard Payling who was the husband of our Mum’s sister Sarah. I spent my entire working life in Peterborough where I was a dentist and a maker of false teeth.
Where did you live?
In 1881 I was living with my Mum and sister Arabella on Potter Street in Worksop, Nottinghamshire. By 1891 I was living with my Grandma on Cheapside in Worksop and I was at school. In 1901 I was now living in Peterborough, Northamptonshire on Russell Street where I was lodging while working as a dental assistant. In 1911 I was living on Eastfield Road in Peterborough with my family and I was a dental mechanic and maker of false teeth. In 1939 I was living on Broadway in Peterborough with my family and I was still a dentist.
Tell me about your family
I married Eva Dent the daughter of William Thomas Dent and Louisa Payling on the 12th August 1902 at St Peter’s church, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire. We were both 24 years old.
We met in Peterborough where Eva was a milliner. Just as a side note Eva was distantly related to my brothers mentor Richard Payling as Richards Cousin was Eve’s mother Louisa. Small world isn’t it. Together we had 2 children. Our first child was born in 1905 and was a son named Frederick after my father. We had our second child in 1912 a girl named Margaret. Sadly my wife Eva died in 1918 from an appendicitis. I remarried the following year. Her name was Evelyn Butler and she was 20 years younger than me. Later that year we had a daughter named Edith (Betty). My son Frederick was a quantity survey, my daughter Margaret was the manageress at a sugar factory and Betty was a hairdresser. All of my children married with Frederick and Betty staying in Peterborough, but Margaret moved around the country with her husband until settling in Sheffield.
When did you die?
I died on the 23rd November 1944 at my home in Peterborough. I was 66 years old. My cause of death was Paget’s disease. This is where my bones don’t renew themselves and become brittle and misshapen. I wish I could have lived a bit longer at least so I saw the end of WW2 and have lived to see my grandchildren.
This is a great way to remember you ancestors and can be a great way to get children interested in their ancestry. They could do a similar interview with their grandparents.
It’s something I’ve wondered about over the course of my research. How would the development of new technologies have impacted on our ancestors?
Technology comes in all shapes and sizes. We mostly think of developments in electronics but there are so many more.
In the earl 1800’s the Jacquard loom was developed. This used a punched card to control the loom and made making more intricate designs in fabric possible. This would have been revolutionary to our ancestors as they could have patterned clothes rather than the boring plain ones. This would have made life much brighter as they could have had more decorative homes.
In the 1820/30’s a major development happened when Michael Faraday started to develop the electric generator. Just think what this would mean for our ancestors. Eventually they would be able to use electric lights. Just think what a difference this would make. Until electric lights they had to use reed lights, candles or oil lamps. All of these came with their own problems. Reed lights smelt and all produced smoke and caused rooms to get dirty quicker. Once they could have electric lights all these problems would be solved.
What about photograph which was developed in the first part of the 19th century. Just imagine being able to have a photo of your loved ones to have as a keepsake. People could have photos of their children and some even had a photograph taken of their children if they died young, really, they posed the dead child and had it photographed. I love old photos of my ancestors they just look so funny. I know they had to stay perfectly still for up to 30 seconds but the facial expressions are just funny.
If you look at these two photos you can see that you could look normal like my great, great grandad but his wife decided to go for the Queen Victoria look or she was constipated!
In the 1870’s the telephone was invented by alexander Graham Bell. Now admittedly it would have taken a long time to filter through the country, but how cool would it have been for our ancestors to pick up the phone and call a friend or family member who lived away from them. Before you would have had to write a letter and wait for a reply whereas now they would be able to phone them up and get a reply to any questions straight away. It would also mean they could have phone for help. If your ancestor was a farmer they would have been able to phone the vet to come and help them and the vet would have been able to drive out to the farm and help (admittedly the car would be much later but still the vet could come by horse).
Later the same decade Thomas Edison made the phonograph. Now if you were lucky enough to be able to afford one you could play music in your home. No more would you have to go to the concert hall to hear music. You could listen to what your wanted not what was being played. Mind you there were probably still arguments among families over what they wanted to listen to. Dad wants Beethoven and the kids want Brahms.
The 1890’s saw the first screening of moving images. Can you imagine being able to watch a film for the first time. It must have been revolutionary for our ancestors to see.
The 1900’s brought the start of household appliances. The dishwasher had been invented in the 1890’s but the vacuum came about in 1901. No more sweeping, now your could do electric sweeping. Admittedly you’d have to pump the machines bellows while pushing it about but it was still progress. The washing machine came along later the same decade.
Think of the advances in medicine which came along in our ancestor’s life time. Some major developments came about. Small pox vaccinations, pasteurisation, anaesthetics for surgery and penicillin. How many of our ancestors survived because of these. I know my great Grandma would have survived if penicillin had been around in 1918. She died from an appendicitis and peritonitis. If she could have had penicillin she may have survived.
So we think of technological advances being modern but it isn’t. Technology has been developing since man first began to change things and will continue on into the future.
So Easter is upon us again and you can celebrate with religious festivals or eating far too much chocolate. But what things did your ancestors get up to? Well you may be pleases to hear that the UK has a proud tradition of doing some really weird things over Easter.
Well if your ancestors were from Yorkshire they may have taken part in the World Coal Carrying Championship. In this event held in the Yorkshire town of Ossett a sack of coal weighing 1 hundredweight or 50 kg for men and 20 kg for women has to be carried from the Royal Oak pub to the maypole in Gawsworth, a distance of just over 1000 meters, as fast as possible. This event has been held since 1963.
Your Leicestershire ancestors may have taken part in the ancient art of bottle kicking. The first mention of this event is in the 1770’s. In the event the villages of Hallaton and Medbourne fight over three barrels of beer. Each side has to try and get the barrels to their village in a rule free contest that usually end up in blood and pain for the contestants after several hours, but it’s OK as the villages share the beer!
What about in Lancashire well you ancestors may have taken place in Nutters Dance. This is similar to Morris Dancing but the men where black and white costumes and have dirty faces. So any ancestors from the town of Baccup may have done this on Easter Saturday. In fact any ancestors from a more rural community may have taken part in Morris Dancing throughout the country. These dances have been taking place since the 1400’s and involve a group of usually me dancing to music fiddle music accompanied by a drum. The men where white with brightly coloured ribbons tied to them and bells on their legs. They carry hankie or clubs. Some believe the dances are fertility dances to encourage the crops to grow. These days the dances are usually done outside pubs and involve drinking much beer in rural villages in England but there are now sides (the name for a group of morris men) throughout the world.
Ancestors who lived near Smithfield in London may have taken part in the practice of the widow’s charity. It was in effect a form of helping the poor. People would place 21 sixpences (a sixpence was about 2.5 pence so in total is about 50p) on to the tombs in the grave yard. This money was then distributed to 21 poor widows of the parish. Your ancestors could have been the givers or the receivers.
My personal favourite is the ancient art of egg rolling. In this people stand at the top of a hill and roll their eggs down a hill. The first to the bottom wins. This is done throughout the UK but in particular in Preston, Lancashire. In the Bedfordshire town of Dunstable they use oranges instead of eggs. I suppose an orange would survive better than an egg.
Each town or village probably had some sort of tradition they carried out. Some may have distributed relief to the poor, others may have had festivals and plays. In reality Easter, aside from the religious significance meant that winter had lost its grip on the land and new life began to spring up. Easter became a time for celebration as the days got longer and warmer. The harsh conditions were over, food was going to become more plentiful and the people had a reason to look forward to the summer to come.
So however you spend Easter, be it with an egg hunt, a bonnet competition, religious practices or just eating far too much chocolate until you feel sick have fun!
Anyone who’s ever looked at genealogy records will probably have come across several spellings for the same name. Sometimes a name can be spelt several ways but not always so why does this happen? Well it could be for many reasons but in general I think it comes down to one thing. Accents.
We all have one no matter what we think. You only have to watch TV or listen to those around you to realise this. Sometimes when you’re watch something you wonder what they’ve said as people’s accents can be really thick and if it’s not an accent you’re used to it can be confusing. So it’s logical to think that people’s accents have had an impact on records relating to our ancestors.
Accents change throughout all countries by regions and so how people pronounce their name will appear different. It is not uncommon for people from the south east of England to pronounce words with extra letters in them so they say carstle and barth instead of the correct way of castle and bath. So if those writing down the records spell names as they hear them they may have got it wrong. Take my surname Dobby as an example. I pronounce it Dob bie but one teacher I had at school always said it as Doe bie no matter how many times I corrected her as that was the way she read it. So if someone had heard her say my name and written it down it would have been wrong. In Scotland the more common form of spelling is Dobbie so there’s no common ground in spellings.
Also many of our ancestors couldn’t read or write so they spelt their names as they heard them and an accent could make this sound much different to how it should have been spelt. Take for example the surname Beckett. I’ve come across it spelt Becket, Bickett, Backett. If you consider them with a Yorkshire accent then they are all possible. So if you’re searching for an ancestor and you can’t find them then you need to consider where they lived and attempt to put an accent to the name to find other possible spellings.
But this doesn’t always follow. If your ancestors moved from where they lived then an accent local to the address they lived at may not have helped. Take my double great grandfather for example. He was Scottish coming from near Govan so he possibly had a thick Glasgow accent. He moved to Sunderland where it was a soft Geordie accent and then to the east end of London. All I can say is that it was a good job he was using the surname Smith by the time he got to London.
It’s not only accents though that may make life difficult for researchers. Throughout the country their will have been regional name variations which mean the same names were spelt differently. Take the surname Smith. In some places it is spelt Smyth. So although it is the same name it might not come up in the search results. This means you have to be creative in your thinking.
So if you take all of this into account then finding people may become easier, or harder as you may get so confused it’s unbelievable. Just because you spell your name one way now doesn’t mean your ancestors spelt it like that. They may have gone with the spelling the registrar used on a birth or marriage certificate, but as levels of literacy improved their decedents changed the spelling again. It in effect could have ended up like Chinese whispers where one name went in and another came out.
This week marks an anniversary in the history of King Henry VIII. On the 7th March 1530 King Henry VIII declared himself head of the Church of England and not the Pope. This signalled the beginning of the end of the Catholic Church being the religion of England.
So how did this all start? Quite simply, Henry VIII was besotted with Anne Bolyen and she wouldn’t become his mistress, only his wife. The only problem was he was already married to Queen Katherine of Aragon. So obviously Henry decided to divorce Katherine and marry Anne, simple. Except the Pope Clement VII decided he would not allow the divorce no matter how hard Henry tried. Henry used many arguments but the main 2 were that Katherine was his widowed sister in law and that they were related. Both were true, but he’d ignored them in the past.
On the 14 November 1501 Infanta Katherine of Aragon married Arthur, Prince of Wales at St Pauls Cathedral in London. The marriage was short lived as Arthur died in Ludlow on the 2nd April 1502. Katherine remained a widow until after the death of her father in law King Henry VII in April 1509. Days after his accession to the throne Henry VIII made it known of his intention to marry the dowager Princess of Wales and pair married on the 11 June 1509 at the Church of the Observant Friars near Greenwich Palace.
Henry initially began to think that his marriage to Katherine was wrong in the eyes of God as earlier as 1525. Henry stated that the bible forbade the marrying of your brother’s widow as this was incest so the marriage was not legal. Something he would later ignore. He also argued that he and Katherine were related so was illegal on the ground of consanguinity as both of them were descended from King Edward III of England’s son John of Guant.
Katherine was descended from John’s second wife Constance of Castille and Henry was descended for John’s third wife Katherine Swynford (although John and Katherine weren’t married when the Beaufort line was born, they were later legitimised by King Richard II). This made Katherine and Henry 4th cousins once removed. So by the same token Katherine and Arthurs marriage was illegal on the same grounds. The law of the Catholic Church though was 4 degrees which was the kinship bond of the couples. Unfortunately for Henry the Pope didn’t agree and refused to annul the marriage on either ground. This could possibly be because Katherine’s nephew was the Holy Roman Emperor and he had a great amount of power over the Pope.
After this failed Henry took matters into his own hands and declared England would separate from the Catholic Church and thus he could divorce Katherine in May 1533 and marry Anne Bolyen (in January 1533, cart before horse).
There were believed to be other reasons for the Henry to suddenly want a divorce from Katherine. The main one being Henry’s want of a son. Katherine had given birth to 3 sons. Henry Duke of Cornwall was born in January 1511, but he died in February of the same year. In 1513 and 1514 Katherine delivered stillborn sons. So maybe Henry thought a new wife would deliver him a healthy son, after all he had 1 acknowledged illegitimate son in Henry Fitzroy and possibly another son in Henry Carey they son of Mary Bolyen (although there is little evidence for this as Henry never acknowledged him).
It could also have been Katherine’s staunch religious views that lead to the divorce. Katherine was a strong believer of the Catholic faith whereas Henry was moving towards Protestantism.
In reality the split was probably a strong combination of Henry wanting a complete authority over the religious views of his country, a son and a divorce so he could marry Anne Bolyen. But he had used the argument about marrying his brother widow being classes as incest. He had had a relationship with Mary Bolyen and this could mean that a relationship with Anne was incest!
But did any of this change history? Well yes in that the Church of England as we know it today was born and the influence of Rome and the Pope removed. Anne Bolyen didn’t produce the male heir Henry so desperately wanted (she miscarried 2 sons) and she lost her head. Henry did get his longed for son Edward from his third wife Jane Seymour but it cost her her life and the Tudor dynasty Henry fought so hard for died out with his children.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the game where you have to name things you’ve never done. Well it got me thinking what our ancestors had done that we haven’t. So I decided to put some thought into it.
If you think about it there must be hundreds of things our ancestors did that we haven’t.
Well for starters let’s look at all the different occupations our ancestors had. On my paternal grandmothers side I am descended from a long line of farmers. I’ve never been on a proper working farm. I have absolutely no idea what it takes to run or work a farm. I know they were arable farmers and I’m sure they probably had a few animals for their own needs but I’ve no idea how to harvest a crop or milk a cow. If I was deposited on a farm and told to run it I’d name all the animals and tuck them up in individual beds with blankets and probably put hats on them and I wouldn’t have the heart to dig up the crops as I wouldn’t want to hurt them (I hate pruning in the garden for this reason).
On the same front I am descended from several dressmakers and milliners. Now I could make an attempt at making clothes and them being wearable as long as the pattern was easy, but the ladies who made really fancy dresses I bow down to as I wouldn’t know where to start. And as for hats I wouldn’t have a clue.
The same is true of my ancestors who were farriers, harness makers, coal miner, publicans, dentists, organists, knife blade makers and so on. I’m sure I could learn to do these things but then are the skills of some of these dying out.
Now consider your ancestors who set off in to the wild blue yonder to make a new life for themselves. Can you imagine the courage that took to leave all your family behind and start afresh elsewhere? It would be one thing if it was in the same country, but if it was abroad. They would have known little about where they were going and what to expect. We Google everything just to go on holiday so there are no surprises. They couldn’t. They just took a leap of faith and left everyone and everything behind. I’ve lived in 2 houses my entire life and they were only 4 miles apart.
Where your ancestors shop keepers? Yes I know people run shops today but with the Tinternet (Yorkshire of Internet) it must be easier. A Victorian shop keeper would probably have had a much more difficult time, especially in poorer areas as they would have had to wait to be paid for purchases and what they did have to sell would not have been much or of good quality. They shops were probably like Arkwight’s in Open all Hours. They could only sell what they had locally so if it wasn’t available you couldn’t sell it.
But it could be much more basic things your ancestors did that you never have. Did they got to tea dances, know how to work a range stove, bath in a tub in front of the fire and family, own an animal, go to the music halls, hear the first radio broadcast, witness and survive a war or own a grand house in the country and host garden parties? All of these experiences your ancestors had that you haven’t show us how life has changed and add history to your genealogy. They are not aside information they are a vital as a birth certificate or a census record as they give us a true feel as to who are ancestors were.
I’m sure you can probably think of many more things your ancestors did that you haven’t. Why not have a think and see what you can come up with.
And just so you know, I have seen the original Star Wars many times as it was on ever Christmas and my family always watched it. I preferred the Return of the Jedi as the Ewoks were cute!
Having members of your family, whether now or ancestors in the past with a disability is no different from having a family member with no issues at all but unfortunately society didn’t always agree.
To start with, what is disability? In basic terms is it any condition which affects a person’s ability to function on a day to day basis and is usually physical, mental or sensory in nature. Some definitions will be much greater in length but this is what I went with in my Postgraduate dissertation. How a person deals with a disability varies from person to person and is unique to them. Some embrace it and don’t let it stop them, others find it more limiting.
Throughout history many people with disability were not treated with the care and cutesy they deserved. Some people, especially those with mental health people were often put into the asylum or workhouse just to get rid of them and it wasn’t just the working class that did that.
How many of you have heard of Prince John, the youngest son of King George V and Queen Mary? Probably not many of you. Prince John was born in 1905 and had epilepsy. As a result he was hidden away at the family’s Sandringham home where he had a governess and played with the local children. Although up until the age of 11 he was seen with the rest of the family. John died aged 13 in 1919 from a seizure. There is evidence though that the family felt they were doing what was best for Prince John. Fresh air and less stress could all aid him and attempt to reduce the number of seizures he had. This isn’t the only case of a member of the upper classes being hidden away. Anyone who wasn’t classed as perfect was shielded from public view. Must keep up appearances and all that.
Against this though is King Richard III. He had a well-known spinal deformity but he managed to rule the country for 2 years. No matter what you think of him and how he ruled he was still the most powerful man in the country.
If you consider what was happening in the lower classes and thus with our ancestors then things were different. The census returns can shed some interesting light on what was happening. If you look at the census the end column you may have noticed words like blind, deaf, dumb, imbecile, idiot and lunatic. Obviously the first 3 relate to known sensory conditions, but the others. Well they could include physical or mental conditions, birth defects or even what we would call learning difficulties. What to do with such people? The census is probably the only way you would ever know if there was any disability in your ancestry unless family stories mention those with disability.
Well some people suffering from these conditions were cared for at home by their family. They were able to live as normal a life as they could and hopefully were happy. There were such things as peg legs and hooks for arms and there were wheelchairs. Those with mental condition may even have as normal a life as possible with jobs and families of their own. But this wasn’t always the case.
Unfortunately many with physical and mental conditions ended up in the asylum (mental conditions) or the workhouse (both types of condition). As you can imagine life wasn’t great for them. Treated like second class citizens and demeaned, they probably would have felt life couldn’t get any worse. For those with physical difficulties they would probably spent most of their life in a bed unless they were able to do manual tasks and them they would have been put to work.
It’s those with mental conditions who suffered most. In the Victorian times in the asylum all sorts of hateful, cruel things were done to them. They would electrocute them with high voltages without sedation or pain medication. I know they used electric shock therapy now but it’s done under safe conditions and with care. Life was probably not worth living. They may have had severe conditions such as schizophrenia, but they may just have had depression or even grief.
Let’s consider the grief aspect. Queen Victoria was well known for having mental health issues. She probably suffered from grief and depression from the day her husband Prince Albert died until the day she died. No one tried to put her in an asylum but there were probably people in these institutions who were suffering the same way she was.
There are so many ways a disabled person can have a full life. Wheelchairs, assistant dogs, friends, family and support structures through treatment and therapy (hopefully). Service personnel now are treated for their PTSD not classed as insane and lock away as they were in the past. Charities such as Guide Dogs (I sponsor a black lab called Hattie) and the fantastic organisation Warrior Canine Connections who raise dogs to help service personnel in the USA with PTSD (look at https://explore.org/livecams/warrior-canine-connection/service-puppy-cam-3 to watch the future service dogs growing up).
No matter what a person’s disability is treat them the same as you want to be treated with respect and care. They are human and don’t ignore them, they are not invisible and remember if you are descended form a disabled ancestor they were a strong person who overcame what life threw at them and managed to have a family and thus you are alive today.
There has been a lot of information in the press this week as it is the 100th anniversary of women over the age of 30 getting the vote. I want to consider how this affected our ancestors.
The Women’s social and political union was established in 1903 by Emmerline Pankhurst, nee Goulden(1858 – 1928) and her daughters Christabel (1880 – 1958) and Sylvia (really name Estelle, 1882 – 1960).
The group started out peacefully campaigning for votes for women but by 1905 women were being arrested for public order offences and not paying fines they had been given for minor offences. One of the first to be arrested was Christabel for interrupting a meeting of the Liberal Party. She refused to pay her fine so she went to prison. After 1905 things started to escalate as women began to chain themselves to railings and broke windows. The acts got worse as they began to set fire to post boxes and even used small bombs. This led to more women being imprisoned and some began to refuse food through a hunger strike. These women were forced fed using brutal techniques. In 1913 Emily Davison died when she fell under a horse owned by the King at the Derby. It’s thought she was trying to stop the race to promote the cause. The cause continued the use of criminal acts until the outbreak of World War 1 when the women focused on the war effort. In February 1918 the vote was granted to all women over the age of 30 who owned property and all men over the age of 21. This meant 8.4 million people got the vote in the UK. This lead to Christabel standing for parliament in December 1918, although she didn’t gain the seat.
So how can you tell if you had a suffragette in your family? Well unless they went to jail or we high up in the organisation it is unlikely you can know for sure but you can find clues.
The first clue is if your female ancestors were not on the 1911 census. Many of the women felt this was a good way to voice their protest. They refused to answer the questions on the census as they felt if they were not allowed to vote then why should they take part in the census. A note of caution though as this wasn’t always the case as some women may simply have not been at home.
A second method is to look at the ages of your ancestors. This will help you narrow down as to whether there was a chance they were involved. For example my great grandmother on my maternal line were both born in 1878 so would have been 25 when the union was formed, but my great grandmothers on my paternal line would only have been 7 and 3 so they would not have been involved. So with that line maybe their mother’s and aunts were as well as much older sisters?
Suffragette artefacts may also hold answers. We all have a box somewhere in the family which holds all the small items passed down through the generation and the key may be within it. You may find the holy grail and have letters or diaries belonging to you suffragette ancestors which shows you what they did for the cause. Jewellery can be a great indicator of involvement or support to the women. The movement used the colours green, purple and white. So if you have a broach or pendent say which has these colours on it there is a chance it is a suffragette piece. This doesn’t automatically mean they original owners were suffragettes, they may have purchased it later without knowing the significance. You may also find other items which were sold to raise money for the cause. On an antique programme I saw a pair of salt and pepper shakers in the style of a woman carrying a sandwich board encouraging “Vote for Women”.
So we many never truly know if our ancestors were part of the Suffragette movement but we can see which of them could potentially have been. And in the end not matter what in 1928 all women over the age of 21 got the vote in line with men.
Hello and thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings on genealogy and history in general. I hope you find it informative and hopefully funny!