Friday, 28 August 2020

Settling in......

A few days in now, so a bit of an update.

Yesterday morning was spent getting the living room cleared from the previous days massive sorting session.

We are now able to actually sit on our sofa.

All is well.

As I had a few things to attend to yesterday, not least booking in the dispersal of my late mothers ashes at Golders Green Crematorium in London, talking to my doctor regarding my current state of mental health and organising with my employer as to when I would be returning to work, I didn't get started on the research until the afternoon.

I spent a short amount of time just messing about on, putting names of people I have known over the years (and coming up with a few surprises!!!) just to continue getting a feel on how things work on that particular site - I like Ancestry, I have to be honest and I think that I will be taking out a subscription with them once my mothers has either ended or I close it early - probably the latter as I would like to have things in my own name now.

The day before yesterday, I was having something of a quick look through my mothers certificate folder, during the course of which I found the marriage certificate for my paternal grandparents, which in turn gave me the confirmation I wanted regarding pin-pointing the name of my great-grandfather and subsequently his wife. Yesterday, I put her name into the Ancestry search and there she was in the Births index, complete with quarter details, volume number of the registry and the page number of her birth registration. I then headed straight to the General Register Office website and ordered her birth certificate which I am hoping will be here early next week.

It's really quite an experience to start getting the first few pieces of of your puzzle together. As with a jigsaw puzzle, you have your straight bits and then the bits in the middle. I am very much on the straight bits at the moment, my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents are my straight bits and I have the four families to make the four sides.

One disappointment yesterday was the Canon scanner not arriving as expected. A snotty and very sarcastic email was sent to Ebuyer (from where I bought it). I appreciate that these are strange times, however, when you offer a service and take money for that service, you deliver it, no excuses. Anyway, today I had an email from Ebuyer telling me that the scanner will now be delivered next Tuesday and some excuse about a mix up or problem at the warehouse - I don't really care about that as I don't like excuses, I know how that sounds, but I work in a service industry and I have no room for second chances with what I do. But, it's a problem easily dealt with, I just won't use them again as this isn't the first time I've had problems with deliveries from Ebuyer. So to spite them (I'm such a child aren't I), I ordered a DigitNow! 22 megapixel film scanner from Amazon (which was delivered today as promised) so that I can scan the many negatives and slides I now have in my possession. I'm very pleased with it, it does exactly what I want it to do.

Tonight whilst sitting with my good lady as she was being very creative (she is a very talented crafter, creating all sorts of weird and wonderful hand-made journals etc), I was looking through the Internet to get an idea of prices for 120 format film scanners (the DigitNow! does 35mm, 126 and 110, but alas not 120 format) and was a little breathless at the prices for a unit that does the job. I then had a quick look at my Facebook feed and noticed a conversation between two people on a posting I had made about the DigitNow! scanner and one of my friends was explaining to the other how to capture negatives using mobile phones - I read with interest, gave it a go and I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of the images I was getting. Below are a couple of pictures of my mother and father, taken at the Forth Rail Bridge in Scotland (my mothers family were from Scotland) probably somewhere between 1961 and 1963. It's not perfect, but let's remember these photos were taken more than 55 years ago, probably on a Brownie or some such camera.

So, my new hi-tech 120 format "scanning" set up now comprises an old Hudl tablet running an app called Lightbox (for the back light of the negative), a sheet of tracing paper to put over the Hudl screen to eliminate the gridlines that appear in the photos and my Samsung Galaxy A8 2018 smartphone. I then save (automatically) to my OneDrive account whereupon I can pick the images up on my PC and tart them up a bit using Adobe Photoshop. I have to tell you that it's a fantastic little method that's more than suitable for my requirements and about as Heath-Robinson as you can get in the 21st century. A huge shout out to my friend, Stuart McPherson for making me  aware of it. Naturally, the set up will evolve as I progress with it and as I settle back into a more normal way of living once my ongoing mental health issues are fully under control.

As mentioned earlier, I contacted Golders Green Crematorium yesterday to arrange the dispersal of my late mothers ashes - she left instructions in her will that she wanted to be scattered in the same place in the Crematorium grounds as my father, which is happening (the people I have dealt with at Golders Green Crematorium have been absolutely wonderful). My son and daughter will be coming with me and once we have scattered my mothers ashes, we are going to head down the road, just a couple of miles, to Hampstead Cemetery, the resting place of my paternal grandfather, and the starting point of my genealogy adventure. COVID-19 is hitting the local council services there and a very pleasant young lady gently told me that even though I had the grave reference, they couldn't provide me with a section map of the cemetery at this time as they are having to focus their manpower on current funerals - I work as an undertaker and embalmer and I completely understand this, so I wasn't really surprised. No matter, it''s been a long held view in our family that if you can't go over or round a mountain, you take the last option - you go through it. So last night, I contacted the Friends of Hampstead Cemetery begging for help with regard a section map. As I explained to them in my email, I would never ask for them to locate the grave and tell me where it is, for one it's quite a rude thing to do and secondly, where's the fun in someone else doing your detective work for you!!! I'm looking forward to hearing back from them quite soon, which I will of course report back on.

Well, the Bank Holiday weekend is upon us, not that it's of any relevance in our household, such is the nature of our little life. Over the next couple of days, I'll be doing bits and pieces around our home to get us closer to a bit of semblance, and thinking about how I will be doing my genealogy with regards to workspace, storage and approach.


Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Influx of Info!!!

I woke up this morning and decided that it was time to go and get my late mothers family history research out of the storage unit. Five boxes and a large folder crammed full of documents, papers, notes, photographs, books, letters and a whole host of different ephemera suddenly found themselves filling our little front room. Also returning from the storage unit was a plastic set of storage drawers - very fortunate indeed!!!

There was no semblance of order to the vast amount of paper that was within the boxes and the folder, such was the need for us to get as much cleared as possible before vacating my mothers flat. The prospect of sorting this information out was, at the outset, quite daunting.

So, fuelled up with coffee, a cheese, pate (Ardennes) and Branston pickle sandwich and a very large bag of Galaxy Minstrels, I set to the task of getting things as organised as I could.

I decided that I would leave the folder alone for now. It contains numerous birth, death and marriage certificates, along with letters, official documents (military and civilian) and telegrams that my mother had gathered over the last 20 years. There was a measure of organisation within the folder and I feel that my mother would have planned to have organised these documents properly, that was her nature. The real work was with the five boxes.

Two of the boxes contained nothing more than family history magazines, some going back as far as 2008. I also knew that there were a few documents in amongst them that I had put in for convenience sake whilst clearing my mothers flat.

And that's where I started.

An hour later and I sifted through nigh on two hundred magazines, retrieved the documents I had placed in the boxes along with a few more that were placed, at some point by my mother, in the magazines. It was interesting to find a number of the magazines had been folded open to particular articles, and it was quite reassuring to see that what my mother had been reading about were things that I was currently beginning to come across as I take my first steps in the world of genealogy.

I set aside a few magazines that had articles I thought would be of interest, such as dating photographs, finding poor relatives, medical clues and search techniques. However, later in the day, as I started to have a casual glance through the chosen magazines, I realised that I was risking cluttering my head up with so many things that I could probably find on the Internet or though my various subscriptions. With my current mental health state (that sounds so much more dramatic than what it really is!!!), too much data input in to the old grey matter might prove counter-productive as I'm not retaining things too well at the moment. I made the decision to not keep the magazines after all and put them with the others so that they could be listed on Gumtree and Freegle - someone might as well have more use out of them than perhaps I might.

Once I had completed the sorting of the magazines, I turned my attention to the three boxes of papers, documents, hand-written notes, letters and other stuff.

More coffee definitely needed.

I felt that the best way to go about this was to NOT sort and organise everything in one go, it would simply take too long and would be a half job. Therefore, I decided to label the four drawers in the plastic drawer unit with the four main family names and sort individual items into the relevant drawer. I would inevitably come across overlapping papers, but I worked around this by opting for the more relevant name, and in most cases this was to do with my mother, so most of the items relating to her were put into her married name rather than her maiden name. I also used the logic that as I was going to be scanning pretty much every item in the boxes in the coming weeks, it wouldn't matter too much at this stage.

Three coffees, two cans of Coke Zero and a BIG bag of Minstrels later and this task had been completed. Four drawers with four family names, ready for me to start working on them individually. Whilst sifting through the boxes, I came across a number of family histories that my mother had done for other people. To be truthful, I have zero interest in these, quite frankly I will have enough to do with my own family let alone those of other people!!! However, there was a lot of work in these histories, so I packed them up neatly and put them to one side ready to be stored in the loft.

I found in one of the boxes a fair few books relating to the areas that my mother and father grew up in, and these will prove to be a fascinating read. One of the books was about the West Hampstead area of London where my father was born and raised, and it was quite interesting to see that he had, at some point, placed little notes throughout highlighting things that were seemingly important to him - I have made mental notes about these as they are potential clues as to the identities and/or backgrounds of the people I will be searching for. All these books will give me an idea of what life was like and, to some extent, an informed visualised picture of how the area in which these people lived would have looked.

Our little living room looks like a bomb has hit it, but much progress has been made and I am a little further forward in getting my mothers research notes properly organised and catalogued. Once the Canon portable scanner has arrived (all being well that should be tomorrow, Thursday 27th August 2020), I can then get about digitising everything and minimising the need for paper documents and photographs. I have today ordered a film scanner as there are a LOT of negatives and colour slides of different sizes that will need to be looked at. Again, getting these images properly digitised will give me greater flexibility for collating the pictures and being able to view and catalogue them more efficiently as well as identifying the people in them and getting some idea of the dates on which they were taken.

And that will do me for today. My eyes are crossing and the head is nodding so the land of Nod is on the horizon.

Looking forward to the portable scanner arriving tomorrow and I will naturally be putting a few pictures on here as well as a bit of blurb.

One should always add blurb.

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

And the adventure begins......

After upgrading my wonderful partners computer this morning, I set about clearing up our dining room (a lot of bits and pieces piled up everywhere following the clearance of my late mothers flat) so that I might get access to our gloriously dilapidated bureau. It's a sorry looking old thing with lots of bumps, scratches and dents, but it's as solid as a rock and we love it to bits. It's an ideal little laptop workstation for us both as well, perfect for this fledgling genealogist. I'm all about technology and have no problems in embracing it in all it's forms. Internet, tablets, smartphones, laptops and PCs, we've got the lot and I certainly recognise that they really are the perfect tools for the task of seeking out the family past.

I had hoped that the TreeView software was to have been delivered yesterday (Monday 24th August 2020), however, I suddenly remembered this morning that I was ordering from a "normal" retail outlet and not Amazon - ordering on a Sunday does not mean delivery on Monday!!! But that's fine, S&N Genealogy Supplies got it here damn quick all the same and I am more than very happy with that.

So, the software.

Oh my.

It's great.

I have spent the best part of this afternoon and this evening navigating my way through it. It's very intuitive, easy to use and looks good. The added extras (a book and three catalogue type things) make the bundle very worthwhile as does the 4 month Platinum Subscription to The Genealogist website where they have millions of records. Also, there was a voucher for a year's subscription to Discover Your Ancestors magazine - what's not to like!!!

It's been quite fun inputting the few bits and pieces I managed to rake up on my fathers side of the family as well as the plethora of people that my mother had discovered - we're already looking at the 1840's!!!

My mother had a huge trunk containing potentially 1000's of old photographs as well as other notes, thoughts and factoids she had gleaned over the years. These are all currently in the storage unit, but I suspect I shall be heading over there tomorrow to gather some of the boxes and bits I know to have family history stuff in.

What will be very useful in the coming weeks and months is the Canon P-208II Portable Document Scanner I ordered today. I am very much an advocate of the "paperless" way of living, so I intend to scan as much of the documentation my mother gathered as possible, along with the myriad of photographs. The Canon scanner I have bought is capable of duplex scanning, that it is to say it can scan both sides of a document, which will be very handy when scanning the photographs as often there is a fair bit of information on the back of them, not least dates and the names of the photographer, which helps with dating the images with a little more accuracy. Being portable means that I can scan documents and photographs where and when I like, so I'm not tied to a desk or table. As I have the TreeView software installed on my PC and 2 laptops (yes, 2 laptops), I will be free to work anywhere I wish.

Another exciting development today was the ordering of my first birth certificate!!!

(Jeepers, I never saw myself writing a statement like that, let alone thinking it!!!)

However, be that as it may, the first birth certificate has been ordered, and yes, I am most definitely excited about it.

It is for my paternal grandfather and the information I am expecting to be on it will give me the platform to the next generation, my great-grandparents. It will also confirm whether or not my researching skills are on point - I have a maiden name for a lady whom I believe to be my great-grandmother and nothing much else other than dates and places that sort of match up. I have a pleasant hunch that I've got this one right, but we will see in a few days time. As I mentioned earlier, I am all for the paperless society thing, so my order, placed with the General Register Office, will in the digital .pdf format that will, with any luck, be with me early next week via electronic delivery. Okay. Email.

No paper.

I'm happy already.

Monday, 24 August 2020

Just quickly......

While I think, as a quick digression, in my "about" bit I have described myself as time traveller and ghost hunter, I thought I would clarify.

Geneaolgy is about time travel.

Geneaolgy is about ghost hunting.

When walking the path of the genealogist, you're turning the clock back in time, you are effectively travelling into the past.

When seeking out the identities and lives of those whose blood you share, you're effectively hunting for the ghosts of your family past.

Okay, yes, whilst it does sound a bit dramatic (and not a little bit cool), there is a kind of undeniable truth in what I've said.

A dramatic but cool, time travelling ghost hunter.


I like that.

Sunday, 23 August 2020

Prelude to a personal quest......

Last night, I was drawing up a "plan of action" for the coming week - I have to prepare a daily list of tasks, such is the nature of my current, slightly impaired psychological status - a part of that list is to prepare our loft for the boxes of my mothers possessions currently in the rented storage unit. I knew that there was at least four boxes with my mothers genealogical research in, two of which are filled with family history magazines going back nearly 10 years. As I wrote out the list of things I felt I needed to do, I started to cast my mind back over the many conversations my mother and I had about her research into our shared bloodline (I love that expression) and I seemed to recall her saying that whilst her family put up no objection to what she was doing, indeed several of them actively helped her, my fathers family were altogether a different story and to put it mildly, were quite resistant to the idea, particularly my late father and his brother. I also remembered being told how my fathers family were quite poor and that my paternal grandfather was buried in what used to be described as a "paupers grave", now more sensitively and decently known as a common grave - this is when people have no money to bury a deceased person and they are placed in unmarked graves with several other people of the same disposition.

I sat back for a while and gave this some thought and trawled, as best I could, through my increasingly fragmented memories to assemble fractured recollections of stories told to me by my parents about my fathers early life. I seemed to remember my mother telling me that the location of my paternal grandfathers unmarked grave was unknown and I'm sure she said that no one had visited it or attempted to locate it. I knew for definite that my paternal grandfather had died quite young from tuberculosis and that he spent a great deal of time in hospital.

My father died in 2006, so much information that I might have obtained was lost, assuming that he would have been prepared to talk about it of course!!! I don't have any kind of relationship with the rest of my relations, we are simply not one of those families and I am most certainly not what you might describe as family orientated. And it is that simple seemingly dysfunctional situation that ignited the first flicker of illumination - a resolute thought that let me know that I, as an individual, am not bound by the concerns and objections of others within this part of my family and that the people of their forgotten past are also my blood relations who may have things to tell me. From that point, I started to think that it was conceivable I could discover their stories and, hopefully, gain some insight into where my children and I came from, who walked the genetic pathway that led to us, where they came from, what they did, who they did it with and where their lives and relationships took them.

And so I accessed my mothers account on the Ancestry website, looked through the notes and entries she had made over the last few years relating to her family and pieced together how to take my first tentative steps into the world of genealogy.

I can tell you it went well.

Within 2 hours, I had found entries relating to my paternal grandfather in district registers for his marriage to my grandmother, various electoral rolls and his death. These entries gave me addresses and dates which allowed me to construct a very loose and very basic timeframe of his life. Using this information, I visited the places he lived through Google Earth and most importantly to me at this time, I discovered where he was buried along with a reference number for the unmarked grave in which he lays.

When I got up this morning, I sat and drew up, with a pen and a piece of paper, a basic family tree starting with my two children (I say children, a daughter of 23 and a son of 22!!!) and extending it through three generations to my grandparents on both my mothers and my fathers side.

That was it.

I was hooked.

Therefore, I have today spent a great deal of time reading through numerous websites, magazines and genealogy forums ascertaining the best way forward in terms of practice, research, utilities and tools. The upshot of all that is the genealogy software ("Tree View") should be arriving tomorrow, a 12 month subscription to the digital version of "Family Tree" magazine has been purchased and the decision to take up the mantle of genealogical discovery has been made.

So, everything has been reset to zero and the adventure begins.


It's the year 2020.

It's late August.

I'm writing this in my dining room, just turned 55 years of age, off work slowly recovering from a minor nervous breakdown that was triggered by the very sudden and totally unexpected loss of my surviving parent and pondering the altered landscape and shifted horizons of my future on this funny old world of ours.

My own mind is awash with confusion and contradictions, focus and concentration aren't coming easily and getting myself back on track is proving something of a challenge.

But today, or really the early hours of this morning, I started to feel the pull of something that might just be the beginning of self-redirection, inspired by the simple concepts of discovery and learning, fuelled by the desire to know, to solve and to find.

My late mother was, for many years, a fervent genealogist, shedding light on the mysteries of our family past and breathing life back in to the souls of people who lived and died so long ago.

Whilst going through her home, preparing her things to be moved on or assimilated into the fabric of our home, I came across her extensive research and spent a few hours going through the notes, often scribbled on scraps of paper or the backs of envelopes. I was amazed at the depth she had gone into and just how far back she had gone. Before me was the best part of 40 years of detective work, presently resembling a paper version of an Eaton Mess dessert, lots of delicious content but a heap of chaos and disorder.

I made a decision to, at some point in my future, collate these notes and scribblings and present them in a more organised and coherent form. But I had no desire to commit to the task just yet because the information that was sitting in front of me was, as I said above, extensive and my mind was simply not in the right place to even contemplate taking on this exercise. So I boxed everything up, labelled the boxes accordingly and moved them to the storage facility I have needed to rent owing to the amount stuff she had acquired through her life, some of which is not only valuable, but extremely interesting.

That was a few weeks ago and to be perfectly honest, with everything else that I have had to be dealing with, family history didn't really get much of a second thought.

Until today.

Family Update

Further to my post on the 30th September 2020, I am now in contact with several members of my late father's family!!! Within a 24 hour p...