Like everyone who takes up genealogy, my goal is to gather information about my ancestors. And I have done that.
I haven’t found everyone; nor have I unearthed everything about anyone – but I’ve made a good dent. The thing is, my digging has broadened my knowledge in other ways too, in as much as it has made me aware of societal norms and practices of other times and places.
While studying a street view of my great-grandfather’s home/photography studio in Reading, England, I noticed that the houses were numbered consecutively, and so I set out to find out why. I learned that street numbering didn’t begin until the mid 1700s, and in some places, the numbering of one side was completed and then continued clockwise to the other side of the street, so that house #1 would be across the road from the highest numbered house. For instance, #10 Downing Street is next door to #11 Downing Street. In rural areas, numbering wasn’t particularly helpful, so instead, houses were generally given names such as Downton Abbey or Rose Cottage. While searching for marriage documentation for my great-great-grandparents, I was puzzled to find not one – but two records of their marriage (just a month apart) in two different parishes. That had me wondering if I was on the wrong trail, until a fellow genealogist told me that such situations weren’t unusual in 19th century England. At that time, marriage was a church matter, and the banns had to be read in the participants’ parish church three Sundays prior to the marriage. If the bride and groom hailed from different parishes, they would have their banns read 6 times. Because travel was expensive, the couple might then marry twice – once in each parish, so that friends and family of both could attend the nuptials.
Because I am writing a book based on my great-grandmother, who lived her entire life in the slums of East London, I have been reading The People of the Abyss by Jack London to get a feel for the living conditions. His undercover research indicated that child deaths in the rookeries were commonplace and not just due to poverty-related health issues. Children often slept with their parents as there was nowhere else, and it wasn’t unusual for a parent to roll on top of a child and suffocate it – apparently not always accidentally. At the same time, in a better part of England, my grandfather was a scholar. A scholar! So I’m thinking he must have been some sort of genius. Not quite. According to the censuses I’ve seen, scholar merely means he was a student. Still, his parents must have been fairly well-off and have valued education, since most schools at that time charged fees and boarded students. Since poor families needed their children to work, school wasn’t a priority. It wasn’t until attendance became mandatory in1899, that the situation changed.
None of these bits of information is earth-shattering, but all have helped me to better understand the family data I have found.
Campbell River Genealogy Society meets at the Maritime Heritage Centre. Visit www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~bccrgc/