Flickr: photo Big Grey Mare, Icky Pic
A light-hearted post this month. I’ve been reading an article about ‘mirror years’ on the History Today website. "To put your lifespan into historical perspective," it says, "start with the year you were born, then subtract your age. The result is your 'mirror year'." Or just double your age and take it away from 2014, if you like.
For instance, if you’re 40 years old now, your mirror year is 1934. That means the start of your life – 1974 – is as close to the middle of the 30s as it is to today. Your birth is as near to the US dust bowl drought, the shooting of Bonnie and Clyde, Hitler declaring himself Fuhrer, the Flying Scotsman reaching a record-breaking 100 miles an hour, the first-ever photo of Nessie and Donald Duck’s first film as it is to what you had for breakfast today. Eek. As the article says, your date of birth is "often closer to events that seem in the distant past than to the present day."
|Baby's behaving herself today|
What’s this got to do with genealogy? Well, for me, one of the pleasures of researching my ancestors is finding out how they lived – family social history, if you like. And looking though my own rear-view mirror makes me think how much life has changed since I first gave my parents a sleepless night.
Not everyone had a telephone (and I mean a round-dialled, wall-connected one, kids, not a smartphone). You could park in the centre of town. Washing was done by hand or sent to a laundry. The only pasta dish most people knew was macaroni cheese. TVs were black and white. And playing on the street was normal, not dangerous, for us children. How much more would be different in my mirror year?
And of course the older we get the further back our mirror year stretches. If you’re 50 this year, it’s 1914, the start of the First World War. 60? Welcome to 1894, when The Jungle Book was published, the Manchester Ship Canal opened, Coca-Cola was sold in bottles, Nicholas II became Tsar of Russia, women in South Australia gained the vote and Coxey's Army, the first significant US protest march, arrived in Washington, DC.
|A (very) small part of the spreadsheet...|
If I could go back through time the other way, to my mirror year, I’d love to meet my ancestors and ask them a few questions. Well, I’d like to ask a lot of questions, but I’m thinking about battering at those brick walls. I’d like to ask my paternal great-grandfather just exactly which of the 13 or so Griffith Owens born on Anglesey around 1847 was him. Then I could delete the spreadsheet I’m using to try and track him down. (Argh!)
I’d like to sit down with my maternal great-grandmother Mary Maude and tease out of her everything she knew about her father, Thomas Robert Sandon Wilson. We don’t know when or where he was born, or died, or even where he disappeared to when she was a girl.
Then I’d like to move on to the social history. Ask another paternal grandfather, Rhys Lloyd, what life was like as a saddler in rural Wales. Find out how Minnie Richards and Thomas Winter, who lived in the Rocks, a notorious area of Sydney, got by and what it was like to be so poor they sent their daughter, my gran, to live with another family. Get Griffith to tell me yarns about his life as a mariner. Those questions might be answered by research, but... how much better it would be to hear their stories in their own words.
If you could go back to your mirror year, who would you like to meet? What would you ask them?