What lies ahead?

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‘Writing Family History’ is the course I am currently studying.  We are being encouraged to write concisely and, so far, assignments have had a maximum word count of just 250 words.  We are also learning about turning names, dates and facts from the census, birth certificates and other documents we discover in our research into flesh and blood; trying to get a feel for, and understand, the person involved.   So, for this week’s assignment, I challenged myself to do some creative writing in an attempt to capture  my husband,  John’s great grandmother as a young woman….

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The driver pulls on the reins and the horses slow to a stop outside a double storey building with an upstairs veranda. The blue paint is peeling and the building is in need of repair.

“This is it,” my mother puts her hand on my arm gently.  My stomach sinks. I had always dreamed of coming to Sydney, but not like this.

We alight from the carriage onto the street, muddy from the constant stream of horse vans and the occasional motor car.  I hold onto my mother whose face is pale. Tears sting my eyes.

“It will be fine dear.  I will be staying close-by.”

As we approach the front door, we are confronted by a sign and I drop my head in shame.  Inside a plump woman in a nurse’s uniform greets us.  My mother gives my name, in hushed tones.

“How old are you dear?” the nurse asks me.

“Seventeen,” my mother answers for me, “she was born in December 1893.”

“And how far gone is she?”

I start to cry. I can’t believe I am standing here in a Mission Home in the city, miles from our home.

“Hush now,” my mother scolds but gently.

I’m scared. I know I have to live here for the next six months.  Mother says she will raise the baby as her own.  No-one will ever know.  But I’m scared.  I don’t know how to have a baby.  I don’t know what the future holds. I’m just so scared.

My Grandpa

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This is a short assignment piece submitted for a course I am studying. The focus was on changing place.

My grandfather was 18 when the First World War broke out and he left his life as a farmhand, and his home in a little cottage in Montrose on the East Coast of Scotland, a small farming community set amongst the greenest fields.  He came from a long line of farm servants and cattlemen on his father’s side and domestic servants on his mother’s: a hard-working family that loved the land.

What followed was four years of hell as he fought with the Black Watch on the front line as a machine gunner in hot and unfamiliar places like Mesopotamia.

Grandpa returned to Scotland intact but a broken man all the same.  He rebuilt his life in the city of Glasgow where the work was, renting a house on a busy street, and finding work as an Inspector on the tram cars.  As the years rolled by he continued his work as the trams became buses.

Behind his house, Grandpa created a beautiful garden, his piece of country, his solace, where he grew magnificent roses and sweet peas. I have fond memories of my sisters and me raiding the peapods when we were sent to pick them for dinner.  Yum!  He tended his garden in the type of clothes he always wore – checked shirt, breeches with braces, a tweed jacket, tweed cap and working boots, and with his pocket watch in his waistcoat.

In his heart, Grandpa never left the country, he never left Montrose.

Giving thanks for a modern world

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Recently, when I rang my children’s grandmother to tell her the exciting news that my son and his girlfriend are expecting a baby, I was very surprised by a comment she made.   Once she had asked me the appropriate questions about when the baby is due and so on, she said “I do hope he makes an honest woman of her”.  I was momentarily speechless and confused by what she said as my brain tried to sort out what she meant.  It has been a long time since I heard that expression.   Despite her 86 years, I was shocked at this old fashioned point of view from her.

The comment stayed with me as I thought about her life and the unhappy lives of some of the women in her family.    I thought too about others I have found in my family trees: the two bigamists who made “honest women” of all the mothers of their many children; the young girls who had their children taken from them for adoption or taken by the family and raised as a sibling.  What shame and guilt marred their lives because of society’s idea about what made a woman “honest”.    (No mention, of course, about honest men).

I decided to look back through the dates of my female ancestors to see if any of them had been made into “honest women”.   No surprises there.  I lost count of the number of women who married when they were two or three months pregnant, perhaps some to men they did not want to spend the rest of their lives with.  Of course, those women who were err….. dishonest….  and went ahead with the birth without a husband, had the word “illegitimate” stamped clearly on their baby’s birth certificate for all to see – to, not only add to the mother’s shame and guilt, but also to inflict it on the innocent child.

I would never say anything to my (ex) mother-in-law but I would be very happy for this beautiful, young mother of my first grandchild to make her own choices in life. Whether she ever takes on the label of my daughter-in-law or not, our lives will be intrinsically linked by a very happy occasion.  And I am sure this will make my female ancestors smile.

The Year of the Blog

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I was shocked to find, when I logged onto this blog, that I haven’t written anything since 2013. That would give the impression that I had lost interest or didn’t want to research my family history any longer but nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact I have just recently started an online course on Writing Family History through the University of Tasmania which I am enjoying and learning from.  I have also spent time sorting out my trees online and filing hard copies of certificates and information into a better system as it was getting too big to manage.

Last year I took a trip overseas and spent a month in Scotland.  I only had a window of a few days to do family tree “stuff” but I made the most of it and walked the land of my dad’s family.  I spent time in many of the little villages where my father’s family lived in the 1700s and 1800s mostly as domestic and farm servants. I can’t imagine these villages have changed much over the years.  I could almost hear the horse and carts on the cobbled stones.

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3678The most exciting part was discovering the gravestone of my great-great-great paternal grandparents at Dunnottar Cemetery (near the Dunnottar Castle above).

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Unfortunately, when I returned home, I found, in the pocket of my case, a list of cemeteries and addresses I had planned to visit while in Scotland but I  had completely forgotten.  Perhaps I need to start saving again. There is so much more to find both on my dad and my mum’s side.

I see a few people have very recently started following this blog and this has motivated me to make sure I update it regularly.  2016 will be my year for making great progress with my family trees!  It will be my year of the blog.

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