It’s feast or famine round these parts – nothing for 3 weeks, then 3 posts in 5 days, and then silent again for 2 weeks. Lack of energy/sleep is a big part of it, as is organising birthday celebrations for Gem, but there is another culprit: the 1911 Scottish census was opened up to the public a week and a half ago, and I’ve been catching up on what my ancestors were up to 100 years ago. Which, I have to say, has been even more interesting than I expected.
I’ve been peering back into the family tree for almost three years now, more or less since we found out we were expecting Heather. Round about the same time, Gem’s grandma died, and I guess it’s those two events which made me start to wonder how I ended up being me. That and the BBC’s rather excellent Who Do You Think You Are?, of course.
Since I started, I’ve discovered over 200 ancestors I never knew about, tracing most of my lines back to the 18th century – amazingly that’s only 6 generations back! Living in Scotland, and coming from various long lines of Scots has made this… not easy, but certainly easier than it would be in other parts of the British Isles. All of our official birth, death and marriage records, stretching back to 1855, are available to search online, in addition to census data going back to 1841. There are also old parish registers stretching back to the 16th century, although they’re by no means complete.
What I find fascinating, though, isn’t the names, places and dates: it’s trying to piece together the stories that surround them. What brought my great-great-grandma to Glasgow from Oban? Why did my great-great-great-grandfather change jobs, and a few years later start his own business that was then passed down through the generations, and lasted almost a century? (I’ve found out a lot about this man, and have bored Gem to tears talking about him, but have no idea why he made that crucial change)
Trying to answer those questions means looking at what else was happening in the world, and on that front I’ve learned a ton of stuff too – who knew, for example, that the American Civil War had a big impact on the British textile industry? And in 2011, who has heard of the 1919 Battle of George Square, when tanks were deployed on the streets of Glasgow?
Of course, there will always be more questions than answers. Which is good, because it means I’ll always have something to keep me occupied.
Oh, and the interesting facts from 1911? How about the miner who’s had to give up his job due to disablity, aged just 17? Or the family of 9 living in a tenement flat with just 3 windowed rooms? Contrast that with another family of 9 living in a villa (which I think they had built) with 8 windowed rooms. And a servant!
My family history project is something that will never go away, but it’s something I only seem to work on in fits and starts. Prior to the 1911 census being released, it was months since I’d really done any work on it, and coming back with fresh eyes, I realise I need to do a much better job of organising and collating what I’ve found, as well as taking better notes of my sources. Which is what I’m going to do next.
I might even write a few short biographies of the people I know most about. Who knows, they might even make it onto this blog – why should it just be Gem who I bore to tears?