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19 Mar 2017

Travails of the great great greats

As a child you accept even the extraordinary as the ordinary. Stumbling on a letter from great great great Henry Lowry written in Jamaica, 1853, just felt like any other wet Sunday afternoon at the grandparents.

I was angry with H.L. as he didn't say more about all his relatives like the gospel according to Matthew. I glowered at his face as I crossed the landing to haul out my other childhood favourite, the black Imperial typewriter much favoured by lady Bond villains. Ripping the skin around your nails if you mistyped, it sure improved your typing speed. (I now have 112wpm and tough cuticles.)

Owing to the very unNewtonian way genealogy discoveries operate, where a new memory does not equally and oppositely destroy an existing memory, the learnings as an adult have only grown.

It is the generation of great great great grandparents where human memory begins to run out of road. Father Time's dark shadow wipes out a generation's loves, feelings, laughs and absurdity, leaving just one or two whose biographical detail survives intact.

In about 1960 it was the turn of my great great greats. Their grandchildren were dying and people who featured big were going to be obliterated by a long permanent shadow.

But not all... Here are a few who survived the chop, with my thoughts as to why:

1) Miriam Creed, born 1814. Last useful grandchild died 1982. Crossed the Atlantic as a young girl (source parish registers), experienced wild ocean weather (my conjecture), had a place reserved for her under the stairs at her youngest son's house in Dorset. Source here was the triple whammy of my nosiness, an older cousin's careful notes and Miriam's attentive young grandchild living to extreme old age (where she was interviewed by cousin Jimmy).

2) John and Jane Gibson, also born 1814. Last grandchild dies 1964. Looking at Jane, her life fell into two epochs, squeezed into a terrace house near the docks of South Shields with John, and after his early death, she becomes a farmer's wife with her childhood sweetheart in the heart of Northumberland at Allendale Old Town. For John we rely on a newspaper clipping from the 1840s, while for Jane we have two sources. Her great-granddaughter Cathie, who died in 1974 and remembered visiting 'Granny from Old Town', telling her daughters about it, who told their son, who told me. Secondly, the farmers at the property who knew that Jane's second husband was in actuality her true childhood sweetheart. Thirdly, this great photo: don't you think it has to be them?

3) Blanch and Elizabeth Morton, the twins born 1811. By comparing their narratives, ages at death and in the census, their parents' marriage date, the pre-existence of twins, the family bible entry and by detailing their infant children, I conclude that my great great great Blanch and her sister are themselves twins. There have been no twins since! See the blog Twin of my Valley for more.

4) The Cornish lot. My grandfather's grandparents were Cornish cousins who married in Wales, 1879. There are plenty of uncles and aunts and these were the first generation to leave Cornwall during the tin and copper slump of the 1840s. Matthew Bowden was born 1814 and his exploits in Mexico are well documented by his descendant Gwen Broad. Next brother Edward worked on the Wheel at Laxey, according to his descendant Lylie. Jabez Hunter went out to Bogota, Colombia, according to family stories while his brother John is confirmed as dying there from the probate indexes. Eliza Hunter went out to Australia TWICE, and John Shugg, the deaf carpenter, also journeyed that way.

5) Benjamin Padfield, born 1808, was said to have been much kinder towards his grandchildren than his goodly wife Susannah. She disapproved of their receiving apples from the orchard. Not surprising it is Benjamin whose photo we have, with a grandchild on his knee, and no photo at all for matriarch Susannah despite her 50 grandchildren! That's 50 youngsters who didn't get an apple, the last of whom died 1979. Source: My madcap visit to Miss Nora James in Holcombe, 1994, and the unexpected gift in 2001, shortly before the owner's death, of all the Padfield family photographs.

6) Those Francis siblings from Marloes, south west Wales. I've not been here yet, and we know frustratingly little about their forebears, but this tribe of fisherman's children had more than the usual smarts. Somewhere I saw that their father was no ordinary labourer, but I'll need to examine this evidence again. He made the move to Merthyr Tydfil as the children hit their teens and twenties, and most worked with metal in the town. The family bible records that David and Martha left for New York. It also shows that John went up to county Durham, where his skills in iron would be valued. It makes no mention of sister Mary marrying a soldier and leaving for Australia, nor of William (born 1810) my ancestor joining his brother up in Durham county. Their were two more sisters who stayed in Merthyr. Source: family bible, rare write-up of Martha's brood in Brooklyn, New York (complete with photo).

7) Francis Harris, born 1818 in Cornwall. I had no idea where he went til a lucky hunt took me to Wisconsin, home of many a Cornish miner, where a Francis Harris of the right age 'born England' was living. That's not all, the newspapers of the 1950s show his grandson talking of that time and how Francis pushed his chances by heading overland through Nicaragua to and from the gold fields of California. He made it back as far as the big lake there drowning among his friends. One friend made sure his gold made its way back to the widow, Philippi, in Wisconsin. His niece, my grandfather's grandmother, would be sleeping safely in her bed in Wales when the news of wild uncle Francis's death reached home.

14 Mar 2017

Welcome to the world, baby Boyce!

Back in ???? 1995, I had never heard of Boyce.  (I would like to give you the exact date, but owing to lack of records on my part, see previous blog, I can't.)

I was getting somewhere with my two main names in Somerset, Creed and Haine, and was investigating a lead from Miss Pat Cotton at the old Somerset record office of Obridge, Taunton.  Pat had mentioned there were two James Scotts who died within days of each other at West Pennard in 1809 at around the same age.

I would rather catch a python bare-handed than drive up the M5 from Exeter, but curiosity got the better of me.  I wanted to know if either James Scott left a will, and if one of them might be the father of my Betty Scott (later Haine) or my Martha Scott (later Creed), two forebears of mine with unknown antecedents.  Somerset record office here we come.

The beige Fiesta pulled into the parking lot and out I stepped - at least I imagine I did.  Without records confirming this, it's hard to be sure.  You know it has to be either late December 1994, or April (Easter) 1995.  December was pretty action-packed as I'll get round to telling another time.  Although I was 17 and full of bounce, I imagine I stayed close to home that Christmas, so I'm going with April.

And here's what I found:
 James Scott left a will alright and there's Betty Haine listed as a daughter, yippee yippee yippee.  But who were those other women? (oh gosh those women's descendants could fill a book)  Martha Crud.  Brain not computing.  Forty seconds later, duh!!! That's my forebear Martha, the one who became Creed, what kind of historian was I?  At least I dang hope she is as I've made that assumption for the last 22 years and it's the only proof.  Maybe I should have been following the Crud line all this time....

OK, so that just really left Sarah Boyce as the only true fresh meat, already unpicked-over by that vulture of a historian, erm, me!   What's more, she had pushed herself to the front of the queue ahead of her erstwhile sisters by Naming the Baby after the Grandfather.  Works a charm and most tired old scrotes with constant gout and ulcers can turn that frown upside-down with this tactic.

It worked - and kerching kerching, pennies came raining in on the Boyces, or were they Royces, as we had a baby's name to play with, James Scott Boyce.
Whenever I next got back to the probate registry above the Next store in Exeter's attractive high street, I would be able to find this:
I was pretty excited: these were my first London relatives.  It was still 1995.  When the chance came for us agrics to go to London on a coach in June (??), we jumped at it.  Me particularly, as I did my homework and found I would have an hour to leave the Haymarket area and get to Chancery Lane, leg it to Guildhall library find a trade directory and leg it back.  Unbelievably I came away with an address for J. S. B., which was 20 Offord Road, Islington, with occupation given as meat salesman.  (Basing his whole adult life I would find, around Smithfield Meat Market.)

Time passes: I move to Berkshire.  Pretty sure, the autumn of 1995 got me to the Public Records Office in Chancery Lane.  Armed with the two addresses for J. S. B., I consult the heavy plastic books of addresses and up comes the following entry for Boyce in Offord Road.  Hurrah!  The feeling of exhilaration at having beaten the demons of time, space, forgetfulness, paper deterioration, entropy, malign forces, gravity.... would be even better if I had my original pencil notes.  Still, here's the record which saw me go up a level in Family Historian the Ultimate Challenge.

A longhand scrawl which hides a lot of facts.  You can see chancer James Westcott Broad the plasterer doing well and up from Torquay from a fishing family, settled in a very nice street with his wife's family.  It was obvious to me even then that 'visitor' meant family.  Richard J, by the way, ends up as a fireman in Shanghai, being someone's favourite great-uncle that they never knew.  Louisa E marries in Fleet in Hampshire in her thirties to a red-headed six-foot architect from Dorset, one of the Men of Marnhull, and I'll be meeting their granddaughter later on, in 1998.  It was lovely picking my way through Victorian London and its records to step out into a brand new play area.

The Broad family went on and on.  One of the girls married a gas lamp lighter.  The ones I can remember were Nellie, Sarah, Louisa, Alice, sisters of the Chinese fireman.  And here is a lovely entry to round it all off.  It's the wedding day for Nellie's daughter Ethel, off to Australia with her soldier husband and family putting brave face on it.  The church must be St Silas, Pentonville.

The Jenkins, Connor and Manley folk belong to the other sisters.  It's now 1919.

We've seen a hundred years roll around from that chance document of 1809 to pre-modern Britain.  The Boyces (not Royces) definitely made it through and out the other side.  Welcome to the world, baby Boyce!

Why why why, Delilah!

All I wanted to do was tell a simple coherent story of how I slipped away from my college trip to London age 18 and saw a copy of an 1868 directory for London in the Guildhall Library and made it back in time to buy a tawdry fake-chamois leather jacket from somewhere in Covent Garden, before getting the coach with the boys from Devon back home.

But nothing is dated!  I am desperately searching my hard-drive for material from 1995.  There is absolutely nothing.  I found this:
which I can tell by the handwriting has got to be 1995.  I was still doing greek E's in 1995.  It is notes taken from the old record office at Obridge, Taunton, written up the same evening or the next day.  I remembered that it had to be before the basement of the old PRO in Chancery Lane closed which was 1996.  It had to be after I passed my test, and I know that in December 1994, the furthest I had driven was Clayhidon and that was scary enough.  And I moved to Mortimer, Berkshire in late August 1995, so it must have been between the two.  I have found this snippet which tells me the letters I received in late 1995, so I can sort of piece more together.

It was definitely August 1996 that I first heard from the Boyce (not Royce) descendant Celia, as I have two pieces of documentary evidence for that - later than I thought.  She sadly died about a year ago after a battle with COPD.

Brainwave - bank statements!  But I had an infuriating habit of getting out £100 cash out at a time, and never using cashpoints, mostly because there weren't any.  So this bank statement doesn't help matters.  There's also a massive gap for the whole of March when I was in the Herefordshire hills in a caravan, lambing.

I still cannot remember what us Devon agricultural students were doing in London in (?) June of 1995.  Yes, I know that I was itching to escape to the Guildhall Library for half an hour, with its very profitable results (next blog post), but we weren't looking at the Smithfield meat markets despite the near perfect syllogies if we were.  As the Boyces I was hunting lived and breathed at Smithfield as meat salesmen and the records at Guildhall are just a sniff away.  Can't remember a thing about it, can't search my hard-drive for it.  It's 1995 for goodness' sake; and I can't remember when I visited the record office at Taunton (July 1995 would make sense).

Why didn't I put the wretched date on the documents that I was filling up with long-ago dates?  Why why why, delilah!

26 Feb 2017

How an English town gave our two Welsh heroes an opportunity. Or, The Pub in Cwmneath

Oh for the opportunity of the early 1800s. According to Prof Hans Rosling, world population had just made the click into one billion. Daily wages would rise, and eventually life expectancy, children born per women would move to our current global values.

The rainmakers were our Industrial forebears. Would they seize new opportunities or die tryin'? To raise a family of hungry talent or live for Friday evenings - 500 gleaming pint glasses full of beer laid out ready for the end of the shift.

Jenkin and Jennet Price were at the apogee of industrial Welsh greatness, from its early beginnings of the homely zinc speltermen, tenders of the smokeless anthracite seam bordering the Beacons, and the canny forward-thinkers who knew it would very shortly be the time for industrial-scale coal-mining, iron smelting and associated haulage via cart, boat, canal.

Jennet's father had upskilled from humble joiner to the more valuable pattern maker at Neath Abbey's ironworks, puddlers pouring the melt into the wooden surrounds he'd made - for gates, poles, sheets, bolts, tools, and huge heaving sections.

Sleepy farming valleys were transformed with an influx of miners from north Somerset and a few from Ireland,  engineers and know-how from the Cornish.  Great structures and works would visit upon the valleys some extremely testing conditions under which the protestant workers thrived.

Jenkin Price, he of the fair hand, would not be working in the mines. Like his wife there would be a cottage or more of land, that was no longer profitable to merely farm.

So, with his wife, in 1806, his cottage opened its doors to the many passing workers as a hostelry. The Lamb and Flag at Glynneath was thus born. It was situate in the parish of Cadoxton and the area was then called Cwm-Neath or Vale of Neath, and this is where his daughters would give as their birthplace. I imagine it had some limited provision for horses, but being at the valley end, passing trade was limited.

I say his wife, not Jennet. The wife was Mary and Jennet was the youngest sister. I'm not sure what view the nascent independent chapels had, but for the Church in Wales, it allied itself firmly with Canterbury and when Mary died, in 1808, moving forward with Jennet would be impossible via the local churches.

Happily for our team, and for the goodly customers that the Lamb and Flag possessed, the Prices had a solution: a marriage, in Bristol, by Licence.

During those three days between a visit to the archdeacon and the church ceremony, a lot can happen. Enquiries could have been made in Neath, well if you can get a horse and rider away and returned in time; in Return of the Native, a young girl is ruined forever in those three days.

Now standing with the Prices on the wedding steps were in fact two Welshmen, Thomas and George Jones who I'm sure knew every little bit of the truth behind this border-skipped marriage. But they would certainly be keeping schtumm; and in any case my just have been cousins of Jennet that lived in Bristol.

We have compared the groom, Jenkin's, signature across the two marriages and even allowing for the stress of defying the English on alien soil, they're pretty identical.

It hadn't bothered me that bride was recorded under her Anglicised name of Jane Reece. Jenkin's place of residence, however, did concern me: Glynhawye, Brecknockshire. Cousins have clarified that this was probably Glyntawye, i.e. Glyntawe, in the next valley, rather than Glenhenwye all the way East into Herefordshire.

On looking at my pencil transcription, i think they're right: it is Glyntawye. My options here are two: Jenkin panicked and made a deliberate error to throw any busybody from Bristol off the scent. It looks like an innocent scribal doo-doo, but was almost guaranteed to keep his family sage. Travelers who flitted between Glynneath and Glyntawe: er, likely, zero despite apparent proximity.

The other option is our over-zealous clerk who had smugly "corrected" the name of Jennet Rees, extended himself still further by finding Glyntawe on his map, near Neath and thus concluding the ignorant couple had provided a (wrong) colloquial name for that place, which it was his humble duty to again correct.

The poor church took another battering from the same marriage laws in 1838 when some others of my relatives, goodtime money-to-spend Somerset yeomanry arrived at its steps. If we ignore the bride (who died six years later), you're left with her sister, Ann Feltham and the groom whose signatures we see. Guess which illegal couple took to the altar not long after?

The Prices, you'll be relieved to hear, settled well into the Flagged Lamb on their return and were blessed with many babies whose names honour earlier family members (and were a real help in getting this far). Jennet's skills as hostess were even recorded in the local paper, before they both move on to bigger things in 1834, with the city of Swansea calling.

I wonder if they ever looked back on their escapade up to Bristol and whether they ever drank some of its sherry as an acknowledgement of the city's helping hand in their journey through Wales's just adventurous era.

18 Feb 2017

Twin of my Valley: Decisions in Iron, 1840s Wales

Women in my family were no strangers to long journeys. In the 1790s, my ancestress Ann Morgan left Cadoxton by Neath for the large town of Newport where her husband worked on the building of ships.

In around 1830-33, perhaps after she had died, her granddaughters made the same journey all the way back. They were the 20 year-old twins Blanche and Elizabeth Morton. They were coming, with their parents and siblings, to begin a connection with Abercanaid and more importantly, its canal.

It was only while having an Italian cappuccino with my mother yesterday that some extra pieces of the puzzle tumbled into place. And only the previous week that I'd realised the women were twins...

In 1834, the stronger twin, Blanche, probably in town no more than a year was courted by William Francis an ambitious puddler living with his parents in Picton Street, Caedraw. Somehow he petitioned the Lords of Cyfarthfa Castle and was successful, that he and Blanche should marry in their church, Vaynor, up in the hills. I have been there, in 1995, as I descended into the valley towns after a spring lambing the border country.

Four years later, the weaker twin, Elizabeth, married in Merthyr parish church to James Jenkins and settled near the Cyfarthfa lords's Iron Bridge, Ynysgau, central Merthyr. James was a nailer in the iron works.

In 1841 both women are in Merthyr, age given as 25, meaning 25-29.

As the 1840s rolled around, opportunity was springing up around south Wales. Blanche and William seized the moment and in 1848 arrived in the sulphurous fog of Briton Ferry, in the navigable lower reaches of the Neath, to work again as a puddler in the iron furnaces there. They were midway through the births of their seven children.

In 1851 both women give their age as 39 and as neither could have been any older, nor would they likely to be aggrandising their years, I suspect these are true and both are born therefore in December of 1811, by comparison with William's family bible entry for Blanche.  At this point Blanche is in Briton Ferry and Elizabeth still in Ynsygau.

Elizabeth and James made their decision to leave later, after they had finished having children, and watched 7 die. Merthyr had been horrendous for them and in the late 1850s they came to the ironworks of Aberdare where their family still have connections to this day.  No more children arrived, but equally, none died.

The twins' family would not remain in Briton Ferry, nor in Aberdare. After seven years, Blanche and William move to Morriston ironworks. Their only son was 17 and they probably wanted to get him apprenticed in the tinplate works there, rather than continue in the scorching hell of the ironworks. This would fit William's ambitious nature.

In 1875 we assess the roll of the twins' dice. Because in 1875 in Morriston, the Dyffryn tinplate and steel works would open providing lifelong employment to Blanche's only son and grandson (who didn't take it). We have the desk presented to us from that works 35 years later.

But in 1875 in Aberdare, that was the year the iron works shut, having been good for Elizabeth's husband and son for a 20-year period.

As for the twins, Elizabeth had survived her only daughter dying in childbirth and died age 55 in Aberdare, 1867 two years later, while Blanche lasted another year in Morriston. Her portrait is painted in Swansea (by Chenhall) and survived. She had refused a final move from her persuasive husband, to join family up in Bishop Auckland. William finds work as a "forge agent" within the year up there taking his only daughter with him. Perhaps he finally escapes the furnaces?

Elizabeth's husband James has the misfortune to survive beyond 1875 he is nearly seventy and unable to join the rush for the Rhondda coal mines. He has no choice but to return to the hated iron works of Merthyr and their tyrannical masters where he ends his days alone, still working at 75, lodging in the town.

A word on infant mortality. Elizabeth has 8 children over a dozen years against Blanche's six, and both have a final child after a gap, Blanche having the longer gap. So perhaps Elizabeth was the stronger twin after all? Neither was as strong as their mother (who attained 70 and bore live twins twice) nor grandmother (age 101).

Blanche lost 5 children out of 7 (all age 1 or over) while Elizabeth lost 7 children out of 9 (most known to be under 1). So perhaps Blanche's milk was stronger or just the air in Merthyr worse.  Both girls used the name Margaret for daughters but not each other's names.

My mother asks why the birth of twins in the family stopped? Perhaps the way the gene worked you had to be born a twin to have twins, and the industrial era killed off infant twins either in the womb or in early life. Not sure. Blanche and Elizabeth's mother was a twin.

Many more questions to be asked about these valleys seen through the prism of the two twins.

11 Feb 2017

Clues for those who know

Back in 2015 I wrote a posting about the 1939 Wife Swap couple which blew up the internet.

I had found that identity of Richard Bowman's second wife Louisa May, who had taken the name of his first wife, the real Louisa May.

Louisa May not have been who she said she was.  In fact she certainly wasn't.  The fact that she's described as somebody called Millie on her probate record was very helpful.

Millie's three full names meant there was only one birth that fitted, a Miss Millie Moucher born Kent 1901.  But what was her story and how did the years enable her to become Louisa Bowman by the 1930s?

We needed to press pause on that enquiry until the GRO indexes of November 2016 revealed her mother's maiden name, she was the only surviving child of Mrs Mildred Moucher by her husband.  And what should the census records reveal, that Millie senior had taken on a new man, Mr Stockton, by 1911 and was living with him without benefit of clergy.

Both women disappear entirely from the records, and who knows if Mr Stockton, with the relatively senior role of Chief Stoker in the Navy, stuck around.

Except he does.  Buried in the transcription of Millie (sorry 'Louisa') and her family in the 1939 register is her step-dad, Mr Stockton, still going strong and described as a widower.

I had birth records for all Millie's children except the eldest, presumably born before her liaison with Mr Bowman, namely Dorothy P Bowman.  I find her birth as Dorothy P Stockton in the late 1920s with mother's name Stockton.  Last piece of jigsaw fitted.

7 Feb 2017

You've Got No Chance

Want to pin down Mary Francis born 1848 in Briton Ferry.  Well, good luck.
She's at home in 1851 and again in 1861, but not so's you'd know as she's down as Margaret (the name of her deceased sister).
In 1871, she's with her father up in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, but they are both listed as born Glamorganshire, making her one of 11 born in about the right period.
After she marries (1875) her age is listed wrongly in all censuses up until the end.  I only found the marriage as we had a garbled version of her married name from the family bible.  And no mention in either record of the fact she'd been married before up in Durham.

Want to find this, another one of my Grandpa's fearsome great-aunties in the records.  Sorry: you've got no chance!

3 Jan 2017

I Aberdare you to find Eleanor Jenkins

Little did I know when gathering the marriage certificate for Eleanor to my relative James Jenkins that I would shortly be conducting a wholesale enquiry into her character and history.

A fairly boring marriage in a Welsh chapel in 1866, with no real feeling that this was my cousin James Jenkins.

Eleanor has been located, thanks to online troubadours, across five censuses in Aberdare. The last of these gives a clue that something has been tricky for her along the way. A widow, she is 73 (at last giving her real age) with 3 children living out of 12 born.

By the time she is 22 her first relationship has broken down and she is described as 'married' while living with her parents and taking their name. She still has five years to go before marrying my relative, J. Jenkins.

What's not clear is who is the father of her baby Gwenllian born some months before the wedding, at the infant's wedding twenty years later we're told her was John Thomas. John appears to witness the marriage.

Eleanor was describing herself as Mrs Thomas, widow, at the time she 'linked' with Jenkins. The answer or a clue to this conundrum must lie on Gwenllian's birth certificate.  (It won't as father's name not given.)

Odd that the child born out of wedlock survives while 9 others (likely legitimate) do not.

Gwenllian's marriage was not listed as Gwenllian or as Jenkins, my expected ideas. She was listed as Gwenilian (note this is a subtle mis-reading) Thomas (due to the illegitimacy). Further, her husband T. Howells was given the wrong reference number by the freeBMD transcriber when he got married.

Eleanor's daughter Mary's marriage was much easier to find despite the common name. She married Richard Williams and they are living round the corner from Eleanor in the 1911 census.

Eleanor's only son became a miner's choir conductor at the head of the valleys and thanks to a helpful 1926 newspaper cutting I'm in touch with his family, still musical, some of whom live in Italy.

The online chatters solved why I'd missed the family in 1881. They are recorded as Thomas and Elender Jenkins with even more mangled ages than usual.

It would be interesting to know more of those nine children who died. With the GRO index, I plan to see if I can figure some of them out, born around the town in the 1870s I suspect.

It seems Eleanor lived on until the 1920s and that her family stayed close.

A good coffee shop

Keep your voice down I was told in a cwtchy coffee shop somewhere in the Principality of Wales. My correspondent proceeded to tell me plenty of gossip they'd felt unable to do in the comfort of their own home. Ok, so the names of grandkids were a little hazy, but that was ok. Who cared about them!

Two scalding cuppas wobbled on the table as the underground train rumbled through. Thank goodness the family photos were still in their orange supermarket bag waiting to be shown. Here's uncle Harry, in southern [Zimbabwe] in 1913. Wow, I said, dodging the table's wet patches as the photo was carefully placed on a dry area.

My phone camera is at the ready as I capture the photo of Granny's grandpa's uncle Thomas at the EasiNet in Edgware Road with the cousin standing by. I cannot recall the coffee but boy do I remember running through in my head the things I wouldn't do to get a snap of this photo. I'm afraid there weren't very many.

Today my old friend Excel is chomping through a million addresses, getting fed a new line of code every few minutes while I pen this blog. I have clocked up ten pounds of cash spent here, but the view is good with plenty of daylight. On a note of safety, it would be impossible for a truck or lorry to accelerate into the property.

I usually choose a hot chocolate and a doughy sticky mixture guaranteed to press pause in my bowels. I'm confident my kidneys would struggle to squeeze even a drop of moisture from the cheese toastie lately consumed. This has held back a trip to the bathroom by a good while. Chocolate too seems to contain hardly any fluid.

This particular favoured place gets very busy indeed at the counter. One can occupy a prime position on the laptop without preventing others from dining. To top up with food (which is only polite), one must look out for gaps in the queue and seize the moment.

Judiciously dropping down a coat on the way in helps to ensure you get the right seat. Be warned these establishments are known for taking unscheduled badly-spelled days off.

Kitchen be closed I am on holiday from you, customer!

Enjoy the moment while you can, as it changes from 'no laptops at weekend', 'byo alcohol licence applied for', to trendy family friendly hipster tapas carvery retro bar.

You'll need a good coffee after all of that.

The Power of Handwriting for Family History

I justifiably had my wrist slapped for submitting a handwritten family tree to an online forum recently. "We just can't read a single thing!" "How much better would your enquiry be if all the inter-connections were shown through paragraphed text rather than your naughty diagram!" So wrote the helpful chatty folk.

(Not one of whom could solve the puzzle.)

Well the lovely picture above is just a purchase today consolidating my view that handwriting is best.

I've earlier shown how handwritten letters do better on the whole than the typewritten variety when contacting new cousins.

Last week I photographed the beautiful linked trees I'd drawn some years back, which had enabled me to reflect on recent discoveries and present the data in a clear way for a new audience.

The problem was the balance between completeness and a crowding of facts. How could the tree remain readable without editing out half the people? Also, how can I include enough of the story without overwhelming the reader?

There are clever circular charts which can reduce everything you know to half a page, stripping in my opinion lots of the mystique away and rendering your research worthy of just a casual glance.

The glance that Maggie Smith's character would have given in Downton Abbey as she viewed your seize-quartiers (genealogical credentials) before passing them to a junior nephew and declaring "he fits".

How much more valuable a scruffy pen-portrait laying out the real truths of the family, incorporating insights of wise family members.

Valuable, but unreadable, so I send you this blog instead. Utterly readable but lacking any human touch whatsoever.