A Norfolk Diary

In my last blog I drew on the writings of The Revd Benjamin Armstrong, one time Vicar of East Dereham in Norfolk.  Having discovered the publications of his diary excerpts I can’t put them down!

I now find there are three volumes:    ‘A Norfolk Diary – Passages from the Diary of The Rev Benjamin John Armstrong, Vicar of East Dereham 1850 – 88’, published in 1949, edited by his grandson Herbert Armstrong; ‘Armstrong’s Norfolk Diary, further passages from the diary of the Reverend Benjamin John Armstrong’, published in 1963, edited by Herbert Armstrong ; and  ‘Under the Parson’s Nose’, published in 2012, edited by his great grandson Christopher Armstrong.  There are some entries which are common to more than one book, but one may give more detail of the entry than another.

As I said last time, there are many names mentioned in these publications.  They would be particularly worth reading if you have nineteenth century ancestors in Norfolk who were clergy or landowners, since there are descriptions of many social engagements.  But even if, like me, your ancestors were humble ag labs, the books give some valuable background information which would have had an impact on those ancestors, mentioning for example periods of drought and extreme cold, town festivities and tragedies and national and international events which our ancestors would undoubtedly have been aware of, such as the Crimean War, the death of Prince Albert and various rail disasters and shipwrecks.  The number of deaths from smallpox in 1872, for example, must have been a worrying time.

I have been trying, since last time, to do some background research on some of the more ‘ordinary’ people mentioned, using the parish registers and sometimes the British Newspaper Archive to see what light they can shed.

Could John Flowers be one of your ancestors?  25th January 1854 “old John Flowers…is a pious and, in person, a beautiful old man, who, notwithstanding he lives 3 miles from the Parish Church, sits regularly every Sunday  on the pulpit steps, in devout attention and occasionally in the sermon murmurs approbation”.  14th July 1856 “likely to die from mortification in his foot”.  I found his burial entry on 7th September 1856, aged 83.

Another long-lived parishioner was Benjamin Tollady of Hoe, who was buried on 17th April 1859:  “one of those righteous peasant patriarchs…the last of his days were spent in saying the Creed and The Lord’s Prayer…he could not read and had worked hard all through life until he lost an arm, amputation being necessary from a thorn prick from which mortification ensued”.  The burial register gives his age as 97.

Other diary entries comment on unusual names.  1st April 1864 (not, as it turns out, an April Fool):  “a poor woman whose child is about to be baptized will call her Withburga, after our local saint”.  I found the baptism entry on 6th April – parents Robert and Perey Peake.  St Withburga’s well was a notable feature in the churchyard, which Rev Armstrong took pains to have tidied up in the early years of his ministry in East Dereham.

The baptism of Withburga Peake

On 25th December 1866 the Revd Armstrong conducted the wedding of one Mahershallalashbaz Tuck. “He accounted for the possession of so extraordinary a name thus:  his father wished to call him by the shortest name in the Bible and for that purpose selected ‘Uz’, but the clergyman making some demur, the father said in pique, if he can’t have the shortest name, he shall have the longest.”  It turns out from the marriage register that the bridegroom was an innkeeper – I should think pronouncing his name was a challenge for his customers when they’d had a merry evening!

The marriage of Mahershallalashbaz Tuck

On other occasions the Revd Armstrong comments on the disparity of ages in marriage couples.  On 9th January 1877 he married his organist, John Upchurch Martin, to Eliza Smith.  He was 66 and a widower and she was 28.  On 19th September 1861 he married James Elvin, a widower aged 70, to Maria Moore aged 45.  James was a coachmaker, and a bit of detective work in the censuses indicates that he did quite well for himself since in 1851 he was employing 21 men in his business.

The Revd Armstrong was certainly not afraid to say what he thought of someone, and his disapprobation of ‘dissenters’ is a regular feature.  On 10th October 1871 he mentions the Andrews family whom he was pleased to have “rescued from dissent”.  He was obviously encouraged when on 15th February 1878 Mr Tyas, the town’s Congregational Minister, came to see him about “leaving dissent and asking to be put in the way of becoming a clergyman of the Church of England”.  On Easter Day in 1862 he conducted the wedding of two parishioners who I think had been cohabiting, this following a conversation he had had with the man in question only the month before when he expressed the opinion that he was “fast going to ruin in spiritual and temporal matters”.  There was only one wedding recorded in the register on that day – that of David Gudlestone/Girdlestone, a hairdresser, and Elizabeth Spurrell.

Despite his apparently  forthright manner, his pastoral care was, however, obviously appreciated by many.  On 3rd November 1853 we read “was surprised to see a Chelsea Pensioner in the garden, in all the glories of cocked hat and scarlet coat.  It turned out to be old Nicholas Peake, late a parishioner of Hoe.  He had left the Hospital for a holiday and had brought me some flower roots as a present in acknowledgment of former kindness”.    Ancestry has a reference to a Private Nicholas Peake, birth date about 1780 in Hoe, who enlisted in the 63rd Regiment of Infantry in 1808 and was discharged in 1825.

The Revd Armstrong suffered his own personal trials and tragedies over the years.  His diary entries record the death of a baby daughter, his concerns over what he saw as the unwise marriage of another daughter, worries about a son in the army, a nephew in a mental hospital, the deaths of his parents and sister in quick succession.  But through the years you also get a strong sense of the integrity and honesty of a man with a strong sense of vocation and a love of the people he served in East Dereham for over 30 years.

 

 

 

Don’t just book it….

“Mr Cook of Leicester having planned an excursion to North Wales and Ireland, and undertaking to take any individual from Dereham to Dublin and back, first class, for 42s, I thought it a chance not be thrown away.”  So reads the entry for 17 September 1855 in the diary excerpts of The Revd Benjamin Armstrong, one time Vicar of East Dereham in Norfolk.

It was while browsing the Norfolk shelves at the Society of Genealogists that I chanced upon this publication:  ‘A Norfolk Diary – Passages from the Diary of The Rev Benjamin John Armstrong, Vicar of East Dereham 1850 – 88’.  Flicking through the pages I could see at once that it would be fascinating reading, but it was near closing time and there was no name index, so reluctantly I put it back on the shelf whilst taking note of the title.  This volume was published in 1949, edited by his grandson Herbert Armstrong.

Happily I was able to find a copy of the book through Amazon and have enjoyed reading it immensely.  I also found that there was a second book of excerpts published in 2012 with the title ‘Under the Parson’s Nose’, this one edited by his great grandson Christopher Armstrong.  For anyone with an interest in East Dereham in particular but also an interest in the social history of mid nineteenth century Norfolk, these books are invaluable and I would really commend them.

The character and views of the Revd Benjamin Armstrong really come through – his integrity, his concern for the poor, his enjoyment of travel, his love of his family, but also his firmly-held High Church position and abhorrence of poor preaching.

These are name-rich books, particularly worth reading if you have clergy ancestors in Norfolk or ones who moved in the higher echelons of society.  There are descriptions of frequent dinner parties, garden parties, concerts etc as well as meetings of local clergy.  There are plenty of descriptions of pastoral visits to the poor and needy, but frustratingly those indviduals are usually not named.  What I would like to do is try to match some of the specific references to burials etc with entries in the parish registers to see what light they can shed.

It was, however, greatly ironic that I should read the 17 September 1855 entry on the very day that we heard the news that the Thomas Cook travel company had collapsed.  I believe that the company had already been going for about 14 years when Revd Benjamin Armstrong and his father ventured to Dublin via Holyhead, visiting Bangor and Snowden on the way back.  He is fairly scathing of what he saw in Dublin, despite declaring it to be a ‘fine city’.

Three years later Revd Benjamin Armstrong chose to join another Cook’s excursion, this time to Scotland, and was again accompanied by his father.  They visited Edinburgh and Glasgow in September 1858 and greatly enjoyed the scenery on the drive from Callendar to Trossachs:  “One feels, on such occasions, the desire to keep silence in order to enjoy the great luxury of contemplating the wonderful works of God”.  Unfortunately the combination of a talkative driver and an annoying fellow passenger made silent contemplation impossible!  Such are the risks of group tours, I guess, but risks which thousands have taken in order to enjoy organised travel around the world with Thomas Cook over the last 178 years.

The Revd Benjamin Armstrong certainly found travel informative:  “One is better able to judge of people and things by coming in personal contact with them, than by all the descriptions in the world”.

Have you visited us before?

“Have you visited us before?” asked the receptionist at the Society of Genealogists in London.  I paused and said, “well, yes, but it was about 30 years ago!”.  The receptionist recorded that as a ‘no’.  My memories of that one visit are very vague, but the handwritten notes in my family history files are testament to the fact that I found some useful information on that occasion, in the days long before online access to data.

My investigation of sources relevant to my newly-found Mormon ancestors has continued apace since my last couple of blogs.   Last time I wrote of finding on Family Search that LDS membership records existed for East Dereham in Norfolk for the period 1848 – 1871.  I phoned the Portsmouth LDS Family History Centre to enquire, only to learn that they did not hold any microfilms.  The person I spoke to didn’t seem to know how I might find this record, which was very disappointing.  However, fellow family historians are wonderfully helpful, and shortly after posting my question on a family history society facebook page, I learnt that it was to the Society of Genealogists in London that I needed to direct my enquiry.  Apparently it stopped being possible to order microfilms at local LDS Family History Centres a couple of years ago, and all those held by the London Centre are now housed at the Society of Genealogists. http://www.sog.org.uk/ 

I had a very positive response to my phone call to the latter:  the person I spoke to went off to investigate and phoned me back with the good news that yes, they had film number 86996.  I couldn’t wait for an opportunity to get to London to view it!

The journey was not helped by the fact that no trains were running on the Circle Line, but finally I was there, loading the microfilm and scrolling through to find the documents.  “A record of births and baptisms of the Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ East Dereham Norwich Conference of Latter Day Saints.  Organised 24th Day of March 1849 on 18 Members at Conference in Norwich.”

The pages recorded the LDS baptisms of members:  for most it also gives the individual’s birth date, and says who baptized them and confirmed them.  Further columns sometimes indicate if an individual emigrated, died or was ‘cut off’.

I quickly spotted both James and Bartha Lina George, both baptized on 10 June 1849 by John Lickerish.  The entry for James includes the information that he was ordained both Deacon and Priest in October that same year.  Scanning through the records shows that James himself baptized members from around 1852 onwards, so it looks as though he became a significant leader in that local Mormon branch.  In fact, he subsequently baptized three of his own children:  Martha and James in 1860 and Ann in 1862.  John was baptized in 1866 and Alice in 1870.  I had read previously that the Mormon church did not (and I believe still does not) baptise children under the age of 8 years old:  Martha was 10, James was 8, Ann was 8, John was 10 and Alice was 12.

James’ wife Bartha Lina died in 1865 – before the baptisms of the last two children.  I was interested to see the baptism recorded of James’ second wife Frances Gathercole in December 1866 – about 6 months before they married.  A Mary Gathercole had already joined the church in 1852 and Harriet Gathercole would be baptized there in 1869.  The latter turns out to be Frances’ daughter by her first husband John.

So, apart from learning the baptism dates of James’ family, what else have I learnt from this particular document?  Well I had wondered whether many wider members of the family had also converted to the Mormon church even if they did not subsequently emigrate.  I think the answer to this is not really.  I did find three other George baptisms:  a Mary in 1851, born in Gressenhall in 1811, an Elizabeth in 1863 (unfortunately her date of is not birth given) and another Mary in 1864 (again no date of birth given). Now I think that the first Mary could be the wife of James’ oldest brother David.  Her maiden name was Burrell and there is also an entry for a Susana Burrell, born in Gressenhall, who could well be related.  Mary’s entry says that she was ‘cut off’ in June 1853, which I take to mean that she was excommunicated in some way.  Without dates of birth it is hard to work out who the other two women are, unfortunately.

In case you have any East Dereham ancestors yourself, some of the other family names which occur in this document are:  Johnson, Jones, Baker, Wright, Butter, Baker, Everett, Pooley, Savage, Thompson, Smith, Moore, Roberson, Taylor, Bowman, Gunn, Hill, Carr, Rawlins, Reynolds and Hayhoe.

The document entries cease in 1871, but James George is recorded as baptising people during that last year.  I do wonder whether the numbers in the church had dwindled by that time, with a number having emigrated to America including most of James’ children.  The same surnames crop up in the document again and again, so it looks like perhaps a relatively small number of families comprised the Branch.  This is speculation, but it could be another contributory factor to James’ decision to emigrate to Utah himself in 1878.

A book which I found on the open shelves at the Society of Genealogists is ‘A Norfolk Diary – passages from the diary of Rev Benjamin John Armstrong’.  He was vicar of East Dereham from 1850 – 1888.  Time did not permit a longer perusal, but it looked fascinating.  I subsequently found reference to it on the Hoe and Worthing Archive site http://www.hoeandworthingarchive.org.uk/church.html describing the vicar’s visit to parishioners in Hoe where he found “two families who are Mormonites”.  One of those families was that of Jeremiah Jones, whose name occurs frequently in the East Dereham document, frequently baptising people.  He was the same age as James and apparently Jeremiah and his family emigrated in 1862.

My visit to the Society of Genealogists was not quite a first, but my visit to a LDS Family History Centre a few days earlier certainly was.  I may not have been able to view microfilms, but I was able to view a document only available online at a LDS Centre as well as taking the opportunity to use Ancestry Worldwide.  My learning continues!

 

The Hudson report

I’m not quite sure why I had not realised it, but I had never got round to getting a copy of David George’s death certificate – not until last month, that is.  It was Mark, an AGRA member, who pointed out this omission.

I had taken the opportunity to sign up for a free 20 minute consultation at Family Tree Live to discuss my George ‘brickwall’.  Mark made a number of helpful suggestions as well as providing reassurance that my methods thus far were sound.  I believe that David George was born around 1786 in East Dereham, Norfolk, but so far I have been unable to find a baptism record for him in order to determine his parents or any other document which would give this proof.  And so I am stuck and have been for some time.

Mark suggested that one thing I might do would be to get David’s death certificate to see if that gave any further information.  Did he, for example, die in the workhouse, which could lead to Settlement papers?  I duly ordered a pdf straight away.

I had already found the burial entry for David on 30 April 1851 at East Dereham church, so I suppose it hadn’t occurred to me that I needed a death certificate too.

The death certificate revealed that no, David George did not die in the workhouse.  It indicates that he died on 26 April 1851 at North Hall Green, East Dereham (in other words, at home, since that was the address given in the 1851 census taken earlier that month).

The cause of death is given as “Peritonitis from perforation of the intestinal canal, 12 hours certified”.  The informant was George Walden “in attendance” of White Lion Yard, East Dereham, and the death was registered on 29 April.

My research into this cause of death indicates that the perforation could have been the result of an injury or the result of cancer or an ulcer.  The onset of pain is likely to have been sudden and the peritonitis (inflammation as intestinal contents seeped into the abdomen) is likely to have resulted in blood poisoning.  Today this would be treated with surgery and antibiotics.  Poor Great Great Great Grandfather David – it sounds awful.  It also sounds as though he didn’t suffer for long, and indeed the newspaper entry published a few days later says “very suddenly”.  What a shock to his family.

Norfolk News Sat 3 May 1851   Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

So who was George Walden and why did he register the death rather than one of David’s many children?

George was present when David died, so could he have been his best mate?  It wasn’t that George was literate (he made his mark).  But maybe George had registered a death before and knew what to do, offering to perform this service for the family while they all came to terms with David’s sudden demise.

George is most likely to be the one at Green Yard on census night 1851.  Green Yard was off Church St, and the White Lion pub was on the left of Church St as you look towards the Church.  No doubt the yard went up to one side of the pub.  Maybe they were actually one and the same place.  George was also 65 and a sawyer.

I then wondered what else I could find out about George.  I discovered that his wife Frances (Hudson) came from Yaxham as did David’s wife Elizabeth.  Perhaps the two women were great friends?  Frances and George married on 9 Feb 1812 in East Dereham.  Frances was born 28 Nov 1786, the daughter of Edmund Hudson and Mary Shilling, who, according to the Norfolk Online Record Search available through Norfolk Family History Society, had 6 other children, all born in Yaxham. https://www.norfolkfhs.org.uk/nors/about/ 

Now the name Hudson rang a bell.  I remembered that David’s son James married a Bartholina Hudson in 1845.  I looked her up and found she was baptised on 11 Jan 1818 in Costesey, father Edmund Hudson, mother Bertolina. One of Edmund and Mary’s children was an Edmund, baptised in 1792.  Annoyingly I have been unable to find a marriage for Edmund and Bertolina, but I think it quite likely that this Edmund (and therefore the father of Bartholina who married James George) is the brother of Frances who married George Walden.  So Bartholina could well have been Frances’ niece, therefore forming a connection between these two families which went beyond David and Elizabeth, George and Frances being good friends.

So yes, it was definitely worth getting that death certificate.  I learnt where David died, who was with him when he died and what caused his death.  More unexpectedly, I found the name of someone hitherto unknown to me which has given me a glimpse into the social interaction of the family.  Though some of this is a little speculative, it helps to create the picture of a real, living family.  I find it a little surprising that a humble ag lab family went to the trouble or could even afford to put a death notice in the paper.  But perhaps that indicates the extent to which David was indeed “much beloved and respected by all who knew him” as the notice says.

So what is next in my efforts to knock down that brickwall?  Well, manorial records look worth pursuing, but whether I wait some time for a possible visit to Norfolk or whether I pay a researcher I’m not sure.

Talking to the Family Search people at Family Tree Live confirmed my suspicion that the information on the Millenium File which indicates that David was the son of John George and Ann Gallant should be treated with caution since no source is given.

However, Mark did encourage me to take a look at other Ancestry trees which might include David (though of course proceeding warily).  I’ll let you know how I get on with that particular line of enquiry.  That vital clue may yet be out there somewhere!

 

 

 

Happy Anniversary!

Well today is the third anniversary of my family history blog!  I can’t quite believe that I’ve been doing it for so long, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to look back over the subjects I have written about during that time.

My computer records tell me that this is my 88th blog post.  From the outset I wanted to write about thoughts that occurred to me both while making progress with my family history research and in just normal everyday life, since the topic of family history is never far from my mind. So what subjects have I tackled over these three years?

I’ve written, unsurprisingly, of trips I’ve undertaken with primary research very much in mind.  I started out three years ago writing about our trip to Norfolk to research both the George family of East Dereham and the Muskett family of various locations in that county.  I talked about visiting Norfolk Record Office and the Norfolk Family History Society’s research base at Kirby Hall as well as our tour round a number of villagesI’ve subsequently written about visits to West Sussex Record Office, researching the Mitchell family and The Keep in Brighton, looking at Combridges and Bryants.

There have been other opportunities to undertake what you might call ‘family history tourism’:  visiting West Grinstead in Spring 2017, Staffordshire in May 2017 and Chalvey in the summer of 2017.  More recently there has been our memorable trip to France and Belgium this Spring, marking the centenary of William Wakefield’s death.

I have written about types of resources often used in family history:  wills, newspaper archives and inquests, for example.  Then there have been artefacts which have proved a trigger for a train of thought:  buttons, a doll’s house, Christmas toys, old photos, memorable trees as well as the ‘mystery object’ of early 2017.

A couple of authors, namely Jane Austen and Flora Thompson, have been the inspiration for blogs and I have dipped into a couple of antiquarian books on Sussex, too.

Whilst ancestral occupations is an area that I think I could explore more fully in the future, I have frequently written about other family activities such as gardening, marmalade making and picking winterpicks.

Overall I’m pleased with the eclectic mix and I hope that you, too, have enjoyed the variety and will continue to post your comments.

Now, what shall I write about next….?

Back to Norfolk

Is there some unwritten law that says that you are bound to make your most interesting discovery at any archival repository in the last few minutes before closing time?  Is that your experience too?

We do like Norfolk, and this year’s summer holiday there was a chilled mixture of family history and touristy things.  Staying just outside Norwich made accessing the city centre easy, but was also a great base from which to travel to the North Norfolk coast.  And on the one day when it was properly hot I did indeed swim in the sea.

Early in the holiday we spent a day at Kirby Hall, the research base of the Norfolk Family History Society.  This time I systematically looked at monumental inscriptions (MIs) and graveyard plans for some of the villages surrounding East Dereham:  Yaxham, Scarning, East Bilney, Gressenhall, Wendling, Swaffham, Ovington, Watton, Carbrooke and Shipdham.

For most of these there was no one with the surname George at all, but I was pleased to find an MI for Eliza George, the wife of Francis, at Gressenhall, who died in 1898, though it was strange that there was no mention of Francis himself, nor of his older sister Mary.  There were a few Georges at Wendling, who turn out to have hailed from Great Massingham, so they’re not mine.  I was surprised to find none at Ovington, but the name did crop up in Watton and Carbrooke.

Looking at a number of Parish Register transcripts enabled me to see that there were loads of George baptisms, marriages and burials at Watton.  I was particularly interested to find the marriage of David George and Ann Tennant (of West Bradenham) on 9 March 1717.  This is a David George I’ve not come across before and as the Christian name David does not seem that common, it’s an entry I will endeavour to follow up.

The Carbrooke parish register transcript is not indexed, but it contains masses of entries for George.  I ran out of time, so I just hope they are on NORS!

You never know who you will meet at these places, and a fellow researcher at Kirby Hall, on enquiring of my line of research,  told me that a Douggie George used to keep the Duke of Wellington pub in Dereham.  I’ll file that bit of information away for future reference!

Following our visit to Kirby Hall we were able to do a village tour to take photos and look for graves.  We were lucky at Carbrooke that cleaning was taking place, so we were able to see inside the lovely church.  Others were all shut up with no clue as to when they might be open or how to obtain a key (Ovington, Watton and  Wendling).  At Gressenhall there was a notice to say the key could be obtained from the shop in the village. Scarning Church is open on Fridays, so we timed that just right.  Eliza George’s grave at Gressenhall was interesting as the headstone quite clearly showed the name of Francis’ sister Mary as well, who died in 1897, so I’m not sure how that had been missed in the transcription.

Grave of Eliza George at Gressenhall Church

The staff at Norfolk Record Office were pleasant and helpful, as they had been two years previously.  I have been well and truly stuck at the top of my George tree for some years now, since I have failed to find a baptism for David George, who was probably born around 1786 in East Dereham.  That being the case, I wanted to broaden the type of documents I looked at, in an attempt to find other mention of the surname.  The Vestry Minutes 1778 – 1806 and 1837 – 1863 were not particularly name-rich.  The Alphabetical Account of Proprietors and tenements 1765 for East Dereham did not yield any Georges, and neither did the East Dereham Apprenticehsip papers 1705 – 1851; unfortunately the records of Scarning School were predominantly of a much later date.  The East Dereham Rate Books were more fruitful than the title had suggested:  In July 1856 James, David, Widow, Ann and Frederick George were all mentioned, with the owner of the property, its location and the rate payment collected.  This appears to be an Assessment for the Relief of the Poor.  In 1822 David, John senior and John George were all mentioned and two John Georges in 1819.  None of this was massively helpful, but at this stage of the research anything is worth a try!  My George research is fast becoming a bit of a mid Norfolk One Name Study.

So why is it, I wonder, that there appears to be some law that you make your most interesting discovery in the last few minutes before closing time?  In this instance I stumbled upon the Archdeacon’s copies of the East Dereham parish records.  Are these the same as Bishop’s Trancripts?  I’m not sure, to be honest.  But what was interesting was that there seems to be a gap in the recorded baptisms between 1777 and 1789.  Is this the same in the original set? If so, it could well explain the missing baptism of David George.  But, alas, I was out of time to check this out.

Which can only mean one thing.  We’ll just have to go back to Norfolk.  It’s a tough life.

Inside Scarning Church

 

 

Defining Moments

 

At a recent church service we were asked as members of the congregation to think about national and international  ‘defining moments’.  I suppose for me I tend to think about where I was when particular events occurred:  the release of Nelson Mandela, the knocking down of the Berlin Wall, the destruction of the twin towers on 9/11, the death of Princess Diana and now, of course, Brexit.  We’ve seen plenty of defining moments during the Olympics this summer, too:  Usain Bolt’s ‘triple triple’; Laura Trott’s four gold medals,  Nick Skelton’s gold medal at the age of 58, the first British olympic gold for gymnastics, and perhaps the biggest surprise of all – Britain actually coming second in the medal table!

Have you ever wondered what the defining moments were for our ancestors?  I have been appreciating the series of centre pull-outs over the last few months in Family Tree www.family-tree.co.uk, a magazine I have subscribed to since 1990 and which I avidly read from cover to cover.  This month the pull-out is a family history timeline, which is a great way of seeing what national and international events our ancestors might have been aware of or been affected by.  Nowadays, of course, we can be aware of international events almost instantly thanks to social media.  Those ancestors at the top of my various trees in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries may not have known about events thousands of miles away until some days after the event, and then perhaps only because someone down at the pub had a newspaper and read excerpts aloud.

Looking at my Norfolk George tree, David George at the top of the tree was 20 before Britain decided to ban involvement in the slave trade.  His second son John, my great great grandfather, was born a month before Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo and married just three years after civil registration began. His first son James was a few months old when the 1841 census was taken (the first one of real use to family historians), and compulsory elementary education was still in its infancy when my own grandfather was born in 1878.  This summer’s commemorations of the start of the Battle of the Somme remind us of the huge impact of the First World War on our more recent ancestors’ lives.  Quite apart from the huge loss of life, it meant that many of our female ancestors struggled to find husbands, at a time when that was a really important thing to do.  My grandmother was almost 36 by the time of her marriage, but astoundingly was 40 before she was able to vote!  The Second World War had a big impact on the lives of my parents:  evacuation and disrupted education.  I see that the World Wide Web was created in the same year that I was married, although I’m sure I wasn’t aware of it until many years after that!

We’ve had a number of personal ‘defining moments’ this summer within the family:  a 21st birthday, a graduation, an engagement and two new jobs as well as the less happy diagnosis of a serious medical condition.  My George ancestors will have experienced all of these, too, with the exception of the graduation (since the early males were ag labs almost without exception!).  It helps to feel connected to know that they experienced similar joys and sorrows and were affected to a greater or lesser extent by national and international events.

The 26th August 2015 was a defining moment for me personally as it was when I published my first ever family history blog post!  I am pleased with my achievement of having published a regular blog for a whole year, first weekly and now fortnightly since the spring’s added pressures of elderly parent care.  I have found that I very much enjoy the process and creativity of writing, and I hope that you, my readers, have enjoyed with me the journey so far.   Thank you for reading  and please do continue to post your comments!

John George born 1815
John George, born a month before the Battle of Waterloo