Thursday, 29 January 2015

Sepia Saturday - A Bird's Eye View Over Sea and Mountains.

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

This week's prompt features an aerial  view of river and boats.   I have an ideal match, with views on high from England's east and west coasts - with a diversion across  mountains.

Here is an aerial view taken as we were coming into land at Newcastle Airport, with a clear picture of the River Tyne, its north and south piers. and on the left South Shields, the home of my husband's ancestors.  The first purpose-built lifeboat in the world was built in South Shields in 1789.  

River Tyne, with Norwegian ships in the background. 

Donaldson, White and Moffet ancestors were master mariners, sailing out of South Shields.  Extended family members were in related occupations as a caulker, seaman, river policemen, shipwright, roper, ship's carpenter and marine engine fitter.
Tyne & Wear Archives were invaluable to providing further information on the families' working lives, with added details traced in the mariner records held at the National Archives at Kew.   I discovered the ships that GGGG grandfather Robert Donaldson and GG grandfather Matthew White
sailed on around Europe - many of which came to a sad end - though not under their captaincy.  I also became acquainted with the names of different sailing vessels - barque or barc, brig, sloop, smack and snow   - an illustration of the diverse routes that family history can take you. 
This painting (below)  of the  brig ""Brotherly Love" hangs in South Shields Museum. and a better quality image can be found HERE,   
In the 1861 Census, GGG grandfather John Moffet was listed as master pf "The Brotherly Love" sailing off Flamborurgh Head in the North Sea.     The crew of eight included three young apprentices, four seamen, and a mate, with most born in South Shields. 

Great great great  grandfather John Moffet in a Napoleonic pose - one of the few old photographs of the family that have survived. 

 A  long-held family story recollected a photograph (sadly lost) of a White ancestor in a top hat in the uniform of the River Tyne police.   A silver uniform button  (left) is  still held by the family.

The Nominal Roll of the Tyne River Police (held at Tyne & Wear Archives)  provided some answers, finding that two  sons of Matthew (senior),   had been  members of the river police force – but both with rather a chequered history.

Henry White  joined 9th January 1882 and brother Matthew June 1896.  The Police Defaulters Book recorded on 11th June 1889.their  misconduct in the same incident -  "for assaulting a seaman A. W. Hanson and other irregularities, whilst off duty".   Henry was fined 2/6 and transferred to Walker Division at his own expense.  The Nominal Roll of 1904 noted his age as 42 and that he had 22 years of service, with a wage of 29/6. Matthew was fined 2/6 and transferred to the Newcastle Division at his own expense.  However he resigned a few months later.

A journey from England's north east coast across to the north west and more scary heights and scary views over the sea from the high point in my home town - Blackpool Tower.
Blackpool Tower from the North Pier
 I am a Blackpudlian.  The  Tower, built in 1894, was modelled on the Eiffel Tower in Paris and rises to 520 feet - facts drummed into us at school.   

Until the 19th century, Blackpool was just a small hamlet.  It rose to prominence with the building of the railway linking  it to the mill towns of industrial Lancashire and Yorkshire and soon became England's  most popular  seaside holiday  destination. The unique Blackpool Illuminations were first switched on in 1879 to extend  the season well into late autumn. 

You can get a cranky lift to the top of the Tower and stand on a scary glass floor to view the town below. I never did this as a child. 
View over the North Pier

Many  seaside towns have one pier - but Blackpool goes two better with the North, Central and South Piers. A visit to Blackpool would not be complete without buying  an ice-cream cone  and walking  to the end of the pier  - an often very breezy experience. 

Looking towards the North Shore and North Promenade

North Shore  was regarded as the more "select" bit of Blackpool, whereas the  South Shore had the attractions of the Golden Mile with its  amusement arcades,  fortune tellers,  food  and souvenir stalls, and the major attraction of the Pleasure Beach. 

The view down onto the Winter Gardens - the white building with the arched roof.  

Opened in 1878, the Winter Gardens is a large entertainment complex including  a theatre,   ballroom and meeting facilities, once the regular venue for the annual party political conferences.   This is where my parents first met in 1936. 

Fast forward the decades and below are memories of us  flying over the Alps into Innsbruck Airport for a holiday in the Austrian Tyrol.  

This is not for the faint-hearted air traveller.  You feel that if you could put your hands out of the plane window,  you could touch the peaks. 

Below is the Europa Bridge on the main route from Austria into Italy. 

 To discover more scary heights from Sepia Saturday bloggers, click HERE

Copyright © 2015 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved

Note - with apologies - this post has drive me scatty, as no matter what I do, the font and size is coming out wonky. despite a standard setting and looking fine in Blogger draft form!  

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Sepia Saturday: A Carriage Drive with Chocolates & Whisky!!

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

I featured Carriages and Carts in a recent Sepia Saturday post.  As a result I heard from my cousin with a photograph (new to me) of his grandfather, John William Oldham.  

Here he is below on one of the horse drawn vehicles owned by  the family business of carters which I have featured before on my blog.   The adverts on the  wall are promoting McDougall's Flour  and a performance of Mendelssohn's  oratorio "Elijah" on the North Pier, Blackpool


The  Oldham family were carters and coal merchants for three generations - Joseph Prince Oldham (1855-1921), his son John William Oldham (1880-1939) and his granddaughter Elsie Smith, nee Oldham (1906-1989)

The business was founded around 1890, steadily became prosperous and in 1905 moved to near North Station, Blackpool, Lancashire  in a house with a large yard, hay loft, tack room. and stabling for around 7 horses.

In the 1901 census Joseph  was described as a self-employed carter and coal merchant with his son John a coal wagon driver. An accident at the coal sidings in the railway station resulted in Joseph being blinded and he died in 1921, with his will, signed with his "mark".  

Beamish Open Air Museum, near Newcastle  is one of our favourite family outings. In 300 acres of countryside it recreates and explores the everyday life of people in North East England from around 1880 to 1950. with a  High Street of houses, shops &  trades, vintage trams and buses, a  colliery with a pit village,  farm, manor house and railway station.   Here is the stable yard, with advertising billboards.  

To  service the "inner man" (or woman) on a carriage drive, here are some billboards and adverts:

Back to a family connection,but still in North East England. My father-in-law John Robert Donaldson came from South Shields, County Durham (near Beamish).  He was a sign-writer and painter and here are two examples of his work in South Shields, with,  standing alongside,  his son Ian  who followed  in the family business.

Dating from just after the Second World War, it was painted directly onto the board, because of a shortage of paper.  Nowadays, amidst anti-smoking campaigns, this  advert for cigars  would be banned.  

The story here went that the railway company who owned the wall  eventually tried to paint over the advert, but the original paint kept showing through.

Having a well earned rest!  


Saturday, 17 January 2015

Sympathy Saturday - Two Melancholy Deaths

A Rootsweb contact on the Fylde, Lancashire message board supplied these sad reports from a  local newspaper:  .

The Lancaster Gazette –  Saturday 14 September 1844

"Blackpool Churchyard  contains two inscriptions possessing melancholy interest. 

The first is on a tablet recording the death of Major Sparkes and Miss Leach, who were drowned while leaving a vessel that had brought them from Canada, in Oct last.  It was said that they had become attached to each other during the voyage, and contemplated being married on reaching England.  Alas! By what frail tenure are our brightest hopes held: Just as they were about to consummate their wishes, they were suddenly deprived of their existence; and now silently repose together in the same grave!

"The next memento in  this burying-place, is that recording the death of Betty Butcher, who died in the year 1829.  Betty was a neatly-dressing, good looking girl of 21; and had won the affections of Walter Cragg, the son of a neighbouring farmer.  Betty was only a fisherman's daughter, and her union with Walter Cragg was not approved of by his friends.  Walter, however, sincerely loved Betty; and she warmly reciprocated the feeling.  Going to the well one day to fetch her a pitcher of water, he unfortunately fell therein, and was suffocated before he could be rescued from his perilous situation.  This untoward event weighed heavily upon Betty's mind, and she pined and died a few months afterwards".

Both the surnames Butcher and Cragg appear in my Danson family history, and I have ancestors buried in Blackpool Cemetery. However I have not identified any direct connection with the tragic deaths here  of Betty Butcher and Walter Cragg. 


Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Onto 2015 - Let's Get Serious with Strategy and Goals.

An invigorating  air is whirling around the geneabloggers community with the recent New Year posts, as we consider our goals for 2015 - not least by following Thomas MacEntee's Genealogy Do Over project, which has stimulated so much online  discussion.

When I first read about the project, my immediate  reaction was "Yes - count me In", as I am always ready to improve my research skills and genealogy knowledge.  However on consideration, I have decided it is not for me in terms of the scale of work and time involved in going over 30 years of research. 

Instead I am adopting as my theme the Three R's of Genealogy" - Revisit, Record, Revise” as set out by Cassmob (Pauleen) in her graphic below.  Thank you, Pauleen.  for giving me permission to feature it.
This approach  prompted me to look afresh  at my research  on  my great, great, great grandmother  Elizabeth Danson, nee Brown,  who was little more than a name to me,   as the wife of Henry Danson, yeoman farmer. 

 I had never written a profile on Elizabeth as an individual, so I set out to see how I could bring her more to the fore of my family history  by  revisiting  the records. I found it a very worthwhile exercise and the result  on the WorldWide  Genealogy Collaboration site was my post   Bringing Betty Out of the Shadows" . 

So how am I using this strategy in 2015 ? 
  1. To complete the final part of my Danson family history narrative.

  2. To complete the final part of the  narrative on my husband's Donaldosn family.
  3. To spend more time researching my father's Weston family, where I have little beyond names and dates.

    (These top three goals have been on my "to do" list a ridiculous length of time).
  4. To revisit in some depth all the information I have on my grandmother Alice English - my major brick wall where I have been unable to trace an 1884 birth certifcate and find out the name of her mother.

  5. To get up to date with my data on Legacy - I am way behind here.
  6. To come to grips with Google+ - although I have signed up I am slow making the best use of it.
  7. To continue adding to  “I Remember When….”  a journal of my personal memories from my childhood and beyond.   
  8. To continue with my participation in the WorldWide  Genealogy Collaboration website.
  9. This involves improving my time management at the computer  - I so easily get bogged down in the small tasks of reading, replying, deleting e-mails, reading and commenting on other blog posts, that the time passes and I have not progressed my major goals as regards research and writing.  
    Does anyone else have this problem? 

And all that is more than enough to keep me busy!  Having  set down these goals online, I hope I will be more motivated to follow them through.  Watch this space! 

Friday, 2 January 2015

Accentuate the Positive Geneameme 2014

Jill at GeniAus has asked us to review our activities in 2014 by asking  various questions with the emphasis on  "Accentuating the Positive." 

I will get the negative out of the way first of all, as when I look back, my first thought is the lack of progress on completing the final part of my Danson family narrative, the final part  of my husband's Donaldson Family narrative and the failure to look in greater  depth at my Weston family research which is all rather basic -  names and dates and little else.   These topics  appear regularly on my "to do" list, which makes me wonder  about my time management skills!   

Onto the Positive:
An elusive ancestor I found was - not quite elusive,  as I knew the name and dates of my great great great grandmother Elizabeth Danson, nee Brown, but that is all I knew.   Cassmob (Pauleen's) post Three Rs of Genealogy Research (Revisit, Record, Revise)  prompted me to look back at my sources  to see how I could bring her more to the fore of my family history.   I chose to write this by looking at her roles through life - as a daughter, wife, mother, widow and friend. It was a very satisfactory post to research and write and did indeed "Bring Betty Out of the Shadows" - also a lesson to undertake similar exercises with other ancestral research.
A precious family photo I found was...nothing new here unfortunately - I just wish there was.  However my local historical society Auld Earlston has allowed me to feature photographs/postcards from its large collection on my blog - notably in my Sepia Saturday posts  - a great boost as I was rapidly exhausting my own family photographs   

A geneasurprise I received was - being asked  by Wendy of Jollett etc.  to contribute an article for  the Geneabloggers series  "My I Introduce to you .. .... , published on 1st December.  I was honoured to be singled out and given this kind of profile.  

My 2014 blog post that I was particularly proud of was... For Remembrance Sunday - Deep Peace.  This was a post that I wrote  quickly that weekend featuring the Gaelic Blessing "Deep Peace", illustrated with photographs from my personal collection.  I received two comments, one online and one in a personal e-mail,  but the writers expressed themselves so beautifully at the impact they felt in reading the post, I could not help being moved too.  

My 2014 blog post that received a large number of hits or comments - my posts in Sepia Saturday series regularly come out high in pageviews and comments from the very supportive network of contributors.  Top was A Wartime Traveller's Tale  recounting my father's far east journey in 1945. 

 A social media tool I enjoyed using for genealogy - the positive note is I signed up to Google+, though I must admit I need to spend much more time making effective use of it. I have compiled scrapbooks from my childhood, so an obvious move from collecting postcards and pictures was to join Pinterest, with my boards reflecting my interests in history, travel, books, antiques and the arts.  It is a very relaxing activity - and  quite addictive!

I am proud of the presentation I gave  - I took part in a local Hobbies Show, with my theme "First Steps in Family History" and as a result was  asked to give a talk to a local organization on "First World War Memorabilia" using much of the material that has featured on my blog.  I enjoy preparing material for such events, creating a display that is appealing,  and interacting with the audience.   

I taught a friend how to...Because of my mother's Lancashire Danson family  I am a member of the Lancashire Family History and Heraldry  Society  and also its Mentoring Group and have advised a fellow member at the early stages of her Lancashire research.  Locally I have advised friends on tracing a family of blacksmiths, and on research into World War One casualties. 

A great repository/archive/library I visited was...The new Borders Family History Society facility in Galashiels.  It is nigh a   two hour bus journey to visit an  archive centre, but the BFHS is much closer and I have found the voluntary staff enthusiastic and helpful on any queries with regard to Borders research.
A new genealogy/history book I enjoyed was..."How to be a Victorian" by Ruth Goodman, published by the Penguin Group in 2013 -  very readable and informative with an original approach.  Material has been gathered from contemporary accounts,  letters, diaries, newspapers and magazines to follow a typical routine  day in all its detail  for both men and women of ordinary backgrounds in both towns and country. A fascinating insight into how our Victorian ancestors really lived.

Other positives I would like to share: 
  • At the start of 2014,  I became one of 31 bloggers to sign up  for the new website Worldwide Genealogy Collaboration, where I post on the 8th of the month.  Set up by Julia of Anglers Rest,   it is a stimulating, thought-provoking site with contributions from Britain, Europe, North America and Australia.  and posts which often cover topics in some depth.

  • Completing the  A-Z April Challenge with 26 posts in a month - a demanding  task but very rewarding, with my theme "My Scottish Borders" focusing on Border history and Border ballads.  It has not put me off, and I am already planning what to do April 2015.

  • Much of my activity in 2014 has taken a new direction - by  researching and writing posts on behalf of friends/contacts who have supplied me with background information and photographs, whilst I undertook additional research  -  hence profiles of Donald Farmer, a Boer War VC and A Transatlantic Collaboration on a Yosemite Traveller - John Kinsey Smedley,  a Civil War naval surgeon, who wrote a journal of his travels in Yosemite Valley in 1874.  A side benefit was the increase in my own knowledge of relevant resources and events.

  • I was delighted to participate in Alex Daw's initiative to " add a bit of spit and polish to an old blog" by inviting us to open our blog to comments and criticism.   The advice from fellow bloggers resulted  in a brighter look to my own blog. 
Finally family history blogging continues to enhance my life - the prompts, the research, the writing plus  the posts, comments and support from online enthusiasts.  I value all this very much.  

 So I wish everyone a  fulfilling year for 2015! 

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

A Very Merry Christmas to all my Blog Readers.
Thank you for all your support and comments 
throughout the year.  



Friday, 12 December 2014

Travel Tuesday: Stagecoaches - Romance v. Reality

When we look at the Images of stagecoaches on Christmas cards,   they look colourful, dashing and rather romantic, but what was the reality like for our ancestors traveling 170 years ago?

Stagecoaches were public service vehicles designed specifically for passengers and running to a published schedule.  Eight passengers could be packed inside, with others sitting at the back of the coach and the poorest passengers atop along with the luggage. A newspaper report  of 1846 (below) refers to a heavy coach of 18 to 20 passengers.  

The coaches ran in stages, usually from 10-15 miles depending on the journey, the type of countryside travelled and the availability of inns and staging posts en route. 

The  driver was often the sole crew member responsible for the coach, the passengers, timekeeping and dealing with minor incidents.  Coaching inns acted as stopping points for travellers and  were where  the ostlers changed and fed  the teams of horses   On the Edinburgh  to London journey there were twenty eight changes of a team of four horses.  In 1819 in the Scottish Borders  the published time for a journey from Edinburgh to Hawick was just under six  hours for the 54 miles distance - a twisting route over rolling hills -  and  could involve three changes of horses.
For Mail Coaches the primary concern was the delivery of mail  although passengers were also taken.   In 1786 the first mail coach arrived in the Scottish capital from London. welcomed by the ringing of church bells,  and guns fired from the castle ramparts - even though on its inaugural run it was twelve hours late!  

The hey day of stage coach travel was the early 19th century, with  improvement in road building techniques, the development of the turnpike system (where tolls financed  road consgtruction),  and  increased comfort of the coaches themselves.  

The romantic picture  of stagecoach travel has been   perpetuated by many writers including Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer.  American author  Washington Irving (1783-1859)  described his experiences in England  in his "Old Christmas" sketches, 

"I rode a long distance in one of the public coaches on the day preceding Christmas   The coach was crowded both inside and out with passengers who by their talk seemed principally bound for the mansions of  relatives or friends to eat their Christmas dinner.  The coach was loaded with hampers  of game and baskets and boxes pf delicacies....

A stage coach carries animation along with it and puts the world in motion as it whirls along.  The horn sounds at the entrance to a village  and produces a general battle.    As we drew into the great gateway of an inn, I saw on the  one side the light of a roaring fire kitchen fire, beaming through a window.  I entered and admired the picture of convenience, neatness and broad honest enjoyment  - the kitchen of an English inn,  it was of spacious dimensions hung around with copper and tin vessels, highly polished and decorated here and there with Christmas green".
Charles Dickens in "David Copperfield" published in 1850 painted a rather different picture of the reality of a winter stagecoach journey. 
"How well I recollect the wintry ride! The frozen particles of ice brushed from the blades of grass by the wind and borne across the face; the hard clatter of the horses' hoofs beating a tune upon the ground;  the stiff-tilted soil,   the snowdrifts, lightly eddying in the chalk pit as the  breeze ruffled it;  the smoking team stopping to breathe on the hill top and shaking their bells musically,..........

Less poetically local newspapers are full of items on stagecoach travel:

"The Border Watch" - 19 November 1846: 

“A SLOW COACH. – The Edinburgh and Hawick coach, which left Princes Street, Edinburgh on Saturday afternoon at 4pm  did not reach the Bridge Inn, Galashiels, until about 10pm; thus accomplishing the distance of thirty-two miles in the astonishing period of six hours!   

The pace was such that an ordinary pedestrian would have found little difficulty in keeping up with the coach. The road was by no means heavy, although in some places newly laid with metal. The coachman did his duty well with whip and voice, constantly urging forward his jaded steeds, and employing the box seat passenger to assist him with a spare thong.
But it was all of no avail. The animals would not move one foot faster than another. Up hill or down hill there was little perceptible difference, and several times the vehicle came to a dead halt, almost on a level.

The coach was full from Edinburgh, but a passenger having been let down on the road, another person was taken up. In spite of the loud remonstrances of the passengers, a second was buckled on behind, and a third was allowed standing room beside him. It appears there is now no restriction as to the number a stage coach may carry, and consequently three poor miserable horses were forced to drag, throughout a weary stage of fifteen miles, a heavy coach loaded with eighteen or twenty persons.

If there is any law against cruelty to animals, surely it must apply to a case like this. Whatever grievances attend railway traveling, it will be something, at least, to get rid of this wholesome horse murder.”
Reports on accidents,  present a graphic picture of the perils facing passengers and  (and pedestrian) alike.

"The Kelso Chronicle": - 16 June 1837: 

"ACCIDENT. – On Tuesday evening when the coach from Kelso had passed Ord, the reins broke, and the driver left his seat, and went along the pole to recover them. His foot slipped, and he fell between the pole and the horses to the ground. Fortunately, the wheels passed on both sides of him, and he escaped with no other injury than a slight blow to the head.The horses set off at rapid pace, and ran through Tweedmouth. The passengers kept their seats, and the horses while running furiously along the bridge, were stopped by a young man named Robert Robertson, who, with great personal risk, seized the horses’ head.Had they not been stopped, in all probability, from the speed with which they were proceeding, the coach would have been upset at the turn of Bridge Street.  The conduct of the young man deserves great praise.”
"The Kelso Chronicle" -  4 October 1844:
“WONDERFUL ESCAPE. – As the Defiance Coach was leaving the town on Friday last, a girl, about 10 years of age, daughter of Mr. Ferguson, tailor, who was hastily crossing the High Street, and not perceiving the coach, ran in betwixt the fore and hind horses, by which she was struck down, when the horses and coach went over her, to the horror of the spectators, who could do nothing to save her. The wheels on the one side passed over one of her legs, bruising it most severely in two places, while the opposite wheels went over the top of her bonnet, close to the head, but without doing any injury. The poor girl’s thigh was also much bruised, apparently by one of the horses’ feet. We are glad to state that she is recovering from the effects of her injuries.”.

But the iconic image remains of a mode of travel that still captures our imagination. especially at Christmas time.  

Border Highways by John James Mackay, 1998
Local newspapers of the Scottish Borders 

“The Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories (ACCM) allows you to share your family’s holiday history twenty-four different ways during December! Learn more at" 

Adapted from a posting that originally appeared