Thursday, 21 May 2015

Sepia Saturday - A Dance Floor Meeting

Sepia Saturday give bloggers an opportunity to share their family history and memories  through photographs


I know exactly how my parents first met - at the Winter Gardens Ballroom in Blackpool.  My father often recalled the occasion and wrote it down in his "Early Memories".

Blackpool Tower from the North Pier

Mum in the 1930's
My mother (Kathleen Danon) was born in Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire, a few miles from the north west seaside resort of Blackpool.

At the age of 14, she was apprenticed to be a tailoress and was still making her own clothes in her 80's. For her going  into a fabric shop was like going into a jeweller's.   If she sat down at home, she was rarely without a needle in her hand  She set up her own dress-making business from home, working in the spare bedroom which was icy cold in winter and hot and stuffy in summer. 

Mum  and her sister, Edith,  often went dancing in the Winter Gardens Ballroom and in Blackpool Tower Ballroom.
Mum - modelling one her dresses

Dad (John Weston)   moved to Blackpool in 1936 with his work as a commercial traveller  and here is his story as told in his "Early Memories".

Dad served in the RAf during the Second World War
"One Saturday night I was in the Winter Gardens when I saw a young lady sitting on a settee. She got up and we said "Hello". I tried to find her again in the evening without success, even going to the exit door to watch people leave."  
The Winter Gardens was a major entertainment complex, with theatre, ballroom,  bars etc.  The Empress Ballroom was built in 1896 and with  a floor area of 12,500 square feet (1,160 sq. metres),was one of the largest in the world.  


Dad's account continued:  
"Two weeks later I was at the Tower Ballroom and who should come along but two ladies - and you have guessed that was your Mum and Aunt. Mum stopped to say "Hello" and we started talking and had a good chat. I asked if she would come to the cinema the next night and offered to come for her and take her home. She agreed. I thought it was rather brave of her to come with me when we had only just met to talk together.   The date was 13th October 1936 and we married 18th April 1938." 

The Blackpool Tower Ballroom
The Tower Ballroom, famed for its sprung floor and Wurlitzer organ.

My parents John Weston and Kathleen (Kay) Danson, 
on their wedding day 18th April 1938

Mum  and Dad on their Diamond Wedding Anniversary -18th April  1998
with the telegram from the Queen.  


Click HERE to find out other blogger tales of dances, dressing up and romantic meetings.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Sepia Saturday - Danger At Work

Sepia Saturday give bloggers an opportunity to share their family history and memories  through photographs.

My first reaction to this prompt was "I have nothing I can write about here".  

Then thinking again about "safety, danger and industry" made me look back at my ancestors' occupations and the dangers they must have faced without any recourse to the legislation that is now in place.  The consequences of an accident at work  were catastrophic for a family facing disability,  loss of income  and minimal health care.

My Danson ancestors  were Farmers, Carters and Ag. Labs. 

 Photograph courtesy of the Auld Earlston Group, my local historical society 

In the Poor Law Records of Roxburghshire I came across the story  of Janet Scott.  A single mother with  two children and a baby, and working as an agricultural  labourer, she  was "wholly disabled by a cart falling on her".  She was on parish relief for three years.  However she also demonstrated her resilience, as  in the 1881 census she was back earning a living, as an Ag. Lab, along with her two eldest daughters. 

My husband's Armitage and Hibbert family were  miners working in conditions which were cramped, poorly ventilated and highly dangerous,with women  and children undertaking heavy manual tasks, and all facing   the darkness, dampness, the fear and ever present danger of pit falls. 
Children in Mines
Image courtesy of National Museum of Wales.

When I was researching the Spowart family of Fife, the website provided detailed  information on working conditions. 

An early insight into life in mining areas was given by Robert Franks in his report to the Children's Employment Commission in 1842 where he commented  "The domestic condition of the collier population presents a deplorable picture of filth and poverty" .   

He conducted interviews with children,  including 15 year old Helen Spowart who  was described as  a “putter”, with the task of propelling   a loaded coal-hutch from the coal-face to the pit-bottom by means of a series of shoves or pushes.

The report noted "Began to work in mines when nine years old and has done ever since. Helen added  "It is very coarse, heavy, cloughty work, and I get enough of it, as am never able to do muckle after hours from the fatigue".

The Donaldson, White and Moffet families were Mariners, sailing from South Shields on the north east coast of England and I was delighted to discover at Tyne and Wear Archives  details of the ships that  Robert Donaldson (1801-1876), a master mariner sailed on.   The entries make fascinating reading, with all six ships on which Robert Donaldson sailed, having an eventful history and  coming to a sad end (though not under his charge).

  • The Thetis became a wreck after sinking off the Yorkshire coast in 1869.
  • The John was stranded in 1861 and became a wreck during a severe easterly gale.  Twenty-eight other Tyne ships went ashore in the same area during the same gale.
  • The Emerald, in  December 1855, when on passage from the Tyne to London, foundered in five fathoms on the Dough Sand (Long Sand) Thames estuary.   Three survivors were brought ashore by two smacks.  Eleven others were unaccounted for, including some of the crew of the rescuing smack who were in a small boat, which disappeared. 
  • The Hebe was wrecked in Robin Hood’s Bay, along with other vessels on 27 January 1861.
  • The  Ann & Elizabeth  disappeared after leaving the Tyne in November 1863, with her captain leaving a widow and six children.
  • The  William Mecalfe was Robert Donaldson's largest ship.     On her maiden voyage, it transported 240 male convicts from Portsmouth to Hobart, Australia on a passage that took 102 days.  In January 1855 eight of her crew were sent to goal for three months each by the North Shields magistrates for refusing duty.  In October 1858 her master and one man were washed overboard.  Nine days later, the ship was abandoned, with the crew taken off.
These incidents were by no means unusual  and bring home the hazards our mariner ancestors faced in their daily lives. 

Ancestor  Master Mariner John Moffet  (c.1814-1881)

In the 1861  census, John was master on board the brig "Brotherly Love" off Flamborough Head.  The crew of eight included three young apprentices, four seamen, and a mate
 Below is a painting in South Shields Museum & Art Gallery of of the ship "Brotherly Love". 

The Brig 'Brotherly Love' and Tug 'William'

Click HERE to discover more tales of safety, danger, and industry 
from  other Sepia Saturday bloggers. 

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Society Saturday - Auld Earlston in the Scottish Borders.

Valuing the History of our Village for Future Generations
Copyright © A R Edwards and Son,  Selkirk.    (Cathy Chick Collection). 
All Rights Reserved
The postcard view can be dated prior to 1920, as it depicts  a horse and cart at the village pump well on the right.  The well, with a trough for horses and cattle to drink from,  was demolished to became the site of the village's War Memorial, unveiled in 1921, 
AULD EARLSTON is a small community heritage group in the Berwickshire village of Earlston in the rural Scottish Borders.  Set up in 2012 by an enthusiastic group of volunteers, it aims to preserve the history of our community for future generations by  collecting documents and sharing memories and photographs.

Two members of the group were initially asked to give a talk to primary school pupils on what life was like growing up in the  village in the 1950's.  Their talk seemed to be a success and they were asked to speak to other organizations.  Many memories were rekindled and it proved there was a great interest in preserving the heritage of our community.

The project was broadened, local historians consulted  and the group was formed. It was fortunate to  be donated  the rich historical and pictorial information gathered by local historians John and Mary Weatherly,  who had a wealth of documents,  photographs, press cuttings and memorabilia about Earlston.

An appeal to the local community resulted in the Group being inundated with  postcards, photographs and other information which has been  collated, scanned and indexed, with currently over 1400 items in this collection alone.

The Group is always  open to accepting other material with photographs scanned, and where requested,   returned to their owner

Current activities include:
  • An annual slide show.
  • Displays on particular themes at local events e.g. Earlston Civic Week and Earlston Community Day.
  • A Sharing Memories project, talking to older residents and recording  their experiences on growing  up in the village.
  • An ongoing project to collect  press cuttings  on Earlston from local newspapers.
  • An associated Facebook page Lost Earlston, featuring old photographs and allowing its followers to share, discuss and learn from Earlston's past. 
  • Our latest venture is the launching of a blog with short articles and photographs on the Group;s activities and on aspects of Earlston's past.
The long-term vision of Auld Earlston is to open a Heritage Room where visitors can come to view the material held. 

For more information go to the Auld Earlston blog HERE 


Society Saturday is just one of many daily blog prompts from Geneabloggers encouraging us to write on aspects of our family and local history.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Reflections on A-Z Challenge 2015

I have just completed this year's mammoth A-Z Challenge,  writing 26 posts throughout  April.  How did I find the experience?

The first issue was choosing my challenge theme.  Well, that had been in my mind for months - Favourite Verse, featuring poems from my childhood and beyond plus those recalled  by my father,  who in his 80's could still recite poems he learned at school. 

Plans were well ahead with poems identified for each letter, when I came to a stumbling block.   Browsing through anthologies I came across long lists of acknowledgements - how did I stand regarding copyright in  featuring poems on the web?  I did not have time to research this in any depth or contact publishers for permission -  so sadly this idea was abandoned. 

I reverted to my standard theme of family and local history and came up with "Family History - Sources and Stories",  which reflects very much the emphasis in my blog.   Topics for each letter quickly fell into place and I found I managed the pace for this month's challenge much better than in previous years - mainly  because I was so familiar with the material and did not have to spend time researching or finding and scanning photographs. 

As usual I found it difficult to keep to the recommended length of 300-500 words per post - I just could not  restrict myself to one topic per letter preferring to range from the serious to the quirky. 

I did set out this year to be far more focused on reading other blogs in the Challenge, beyond my familiar family history ones. Somehow it emerged that these were primarily with a literary or creative writing theme.

I liked the idea of a formal revealing of our themes a few weeks prior to April 1st, but I would have liked these  themes to be listed online  by the organisers, or at least grouped by subject categories. 

What worked well for me, was to do a  Google search of the A-Z Themes Revealed   to identify  blogs that might interest me and I then bookmarked them, ahead of April 1st.  

Blogs I followed for the most part  throughout the month, though not always making comments,  were:
  • Tossing it Out - with "Elements  of Blogging", focusing on topics to blog about. 
  • Life Under Microscope - featuring an A-Z English idiom phrase A as part of a romantic story, set in India, and written in  26 short episodes.  To my mind this  was impressive creative writing that kept me hooked all month,
  • Curiosity Quills Press  -  theme The Literary World with   marketing, writing, and publishing tips.
  • Journalling Woman - with First and Last Lines from Literature.
  • Bewitched by Words - another creative writing blog.
  • Beautiful Libraries - with stunning photographs.
I was amazed at the scale of comments  that some of these blogs  received - far beyond anything I have come across before. 
I also followed four family history blogs that I was already familiar with.  I was surprised this year that there were not more.
I was very grateful for all comments I received - some from bloggers new to me  - and I  did have a few new followers signing up.  

So thank you to everyone who showed interest and took time to read and comment.

I enjoyed the experience and already have an idea  for A-Z  Challenge 2016    

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Z for Zetland and Zeppelina

A-Z of Family History Sources & Stories 
Join me on this A-Z journey to explore the fascinating records

that can  enhance your family history research and writing.

We have reached the end of this year's A-Z Challenge and here is where my  inspiration ends too, as I  am struggling with the Z letter and am repeating two stories using the Z theme.

ZETLAND  - is  the old name for the Shetland Isles, the northern most isles of Scotland, situated 110 miles from the mainland and closer  to Bergen in Norway than to Edinburgh.  Early Shetland was was occupied by Pictish peoples. They left no written history but ancient  towers called brochs, carved stones and beautiful silver objects. From about 800 AD, however, the Pictish peoples were either displaced by - or absorbed into - waves of immigration from Scandinavia as the Vikings expanded westwards.
Shetland remained under Norwegian control for around 600 years. Their rule ended as the result of a marriage treaty in 1468  when King Christian I of Norway mortgaged Shetland to the Scottish crown to raise part of the dowry for the marriage of his daughter Margaret to King James III of Scotland.  James went on to annex Shetland to the Scottish crown in 1472, though the Nordic influence has remained strong on the islands.

This  tragic island tale below  came from my cousin Stuart who was researching his Smith ancestors.  "On Unst, Shetland, Peter Smith and his wife Mary had five children - three boys and two girls. The elder two boys, William aged 14 and Francis 10 years old, both died on the same day - 14th March 1919."

On researching  further, it was found that both boys  had drowned whilst they were trying to rescue their pet dog from a lochan, near their house.  

ZEPPELINA  I have no Zebediah, Zadok  or Zaccariah, Zara, Zena, Zelda,  Zipporah or Zandra in my family.  However I did come across the name of ZeppilinA in  "The Sunday Chronicle"  for  26th September 1937.

This quirky item bore  the intriguing headline    "Zeppelin was Her Stork" and told how Zeppelina, celebrating her 21st birthday, was named after a German Zeppelin which crashed near her her home in Essex on the day she was born in 1916


This A-Z challenge has been a very stimulating  blog prompt to follow and great fun.  It has been amazing to read how different bloggers have interpreted each letter.  

Thank you to everyone who has  taken time to comment amidst their own busy schedule.

One thing is certain - we have all approached the challenge with Zeal, and Zest to reach this Zenith!  


A-Z Challenge 2015 - Theme Revealed:  Family History Sources & Stories

A for Adventure, Archives, Ancestry and Anecdotes 
B for Bibles, Business, Blogging and Black Sheep
C for Certificates, Censuses and Church Records 
D for Deaths, Directories, Dictionaries and Diaries 
E for Epitaphs, Emigration, Electoral Rolls and Ephemera   
F for Funerals, Feisty Females and Farming   
G for Gazetteers, Glossaries, Genuki and Geneabloggers 

H for Honour, Humour and Heirlooms
I for Illegitimacy and Irregular Marriages
J for Jobs and Jewellery
K for Kirk Session Records
L for Letters, Leisure and Local  
M for Mortcloths, Militias, & Much More

N for Newspapers and Names
O for Occupation Records
P for Poor Law Rcords
Q for Questions, Questions

R for Reconnecting and Research 
S for Scottish Records  
T for Tributes, Timelines and Travel
U for Unusual, Unforgettable, Unlucky - and Uniforms

V for Verses and Vicissitudes
W for Wars, Wills and Weddings
X for Experiences 
Y for Youthful Memories
Z for Zetland and Zeppelina 

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

A-Z Challenge - Y is for Youthful Memories

A-Z of Family History Sources & Stories 
Join me on this A-Z journey to explore the fascinating records
that can  enhance your family history research and writing.

Youthful Memories I did not regard as part of my family history until I joined the network site Geneabloggers.  

I started to follow various prompts encouraging us to write about our childhood and beyond, as a record for future generations - and I heartily recommend it. It was an enjoyable and nostalgic task to do and an opportunity to bring together family photographs. 

Here are some suggested themes:
  • First Childhood Memories
  • Family Homes
  • Grandparents 
  • Pets

  • Favourite Toys and Games
  • Favourite Books
  • Hobbies and Crafts
  • Musical Moments
  • Fads and Fashions
  • Changing Hair Styles
  • Radio and TV
  • Movie Moments
  • School Days - Teachers - Favourite Subjects
  • Mealtimes - Food Fads - School Dinners - Eating Out
  • Sporting Days 
  • Birthdays, Holidays & Gala Days
  • Special  Treats
  • Travel and Transport
  • Halloween
  • Winter
  • Christmas Traditions
  • The Weather
  • When I grow up I want to be............
  • First Job
  • Wedding Bells
  • Brushes with Technology
  • Major events with an Impact e.g. Queen's Coronation, Assassination of JFK.

 We were a typical 1950's family - below  we were on our way to our summer holiday destination and stopped for a picnic lunch, with my aunt taking the photograph.  What strikes me now is how formally we were dressed - my father in a jacket, collar & tie, my mother with her dress & necklace, whilst I am wearing my school blazer, a dress and of course my white socks and Clark's sandals.  Only my brother would pass muster today!

On to Z for   Zetland and Zeppelina 


Copyright © 2015 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved