Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Genealogy 2014 - 2015: Successes and Goals

Mary Peacock nee Hugill
Mary Peacock (nee Hugill)
After today, someone else is taking over my '31st-of-the-month' time-slot. My previous posts were about sources and strategies for family history worldwide. Today I want to reflect upon the highlights of 2014 and my goals for 2015.

In 2014, unforeseen events (ranging from a back injury to moving house) meant that there were many disruptions to my usual genealogical activities. A health scare reminded me that spending quality time with family and friends is more important than being an educator, a genealogy professional or a blogger!

Genealogical highlights of 2014:   (links open in a new window)
  1. Collaboration via CuriousFox.  I have been swapping information with a distant relative who contacted me via CuriousFox. She sent me certificates and other information for our PEACOCK and HUGILL ancestors from Yorkshire, and confirmed that my Mary PEACOCK (nee HUGILL) died 17 Feb 1900 at Stockton-on-Tees, Durham, England.

  2. New data via National Probate Calendar.  I found many relevant entries in the National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations, England and Wales 1858-1966). For some, I've already ordered copies of the wills. Others are on my wish list, but in the meantime they gave me locations, death dates, occupations and relationship details that helped with research in other sources.

  3. New data via FindMyPast.  Many record sets released on FindMyPast during 2014 revealed new information for my family history. For example:
    • 'British in India' collection has 5 pension fund documents for Mary PORTER (a widow in England) with names and exact birth dates (between 1811 and 1821) for her five children.

    • Yorkshire collection has records such as parish registers and Bishop's Transcripts for my many family lines in that county.

    • Trade Union records refer to my John William CORDUEX in registers of two different railway unions.

    • New South Wales will books 1800-1952 in which I have already found 13 records for my family (including some people who lived outside NSW). I expect to find more when I do a systematic search for all names in my family tree.

  4. Newspaper notices.  In the York Herald, Yorkshire Gazette and Sheffield Daily Telegraph (digitised and available via FindMyPast and the British Newspaper Archive) I found obituaries and other items for some of my families including HUDSON of Barton-le-Willows and BATTY of Bolton-upon-Dearne.

  5. HUDSON family at Crows Nest.  I added another generation to the family tree after finding clues in Queensland funeral records and cemetery burial registers.

My genealogy goals for 2015:

  • Change my priorities.  Spend more time on my own research and less time on answering emails from people who expect everything to be free!

  • Share my knowledge more efficiently.  (1) Write more mini-guides.  (2) Use my Twitter page more often (because it is a quick way to share genealogy tips and links).

  • Organise my records.  Before scanning or taking digital photos of all my family history material, I need to write down a 'style guide' for naming and filing the images. I will use a modification of the system described by Nancy Loe (a.k.a. 'Sassy Jane') in Cataloging Digital Family Photographs and Records and Organizing Genealogy Research Using Archival Principles. My paper filing system has always been source-based, so Louis Kessler's idea of a source-based incremental fix will suit me perfectly.

  • Use DNA for genealogy.  I need to become more familiar with various tools for analysing DNA results, and to persuade more of my distant cousins to do the FamilyTreeDNA Family Finder test for autosomal DNA and the X-chromosome.

  • Plan my genealogy cruise presentations.  Prepare my talks well in advance of Unlock the Past's 'Barrier Reef' cruise in March 2016. (You can get AUD$40 discount by quoting the code UTPC-WEB06 when you book any Unlock the Past cruise.)

  • Research the HUGILL family.  My top priority is to find parents' names for Mary HUGILL (born c.1813, Hull, Yorkshire) and confirm that George HUGILL (born Hull, later of Stockton-on-Tees) was her brother. (Perhaps the wills and probate documents that I've ordered will help.)

  • Write about my ancestors.  Many of those posts (which I will put in Jottings, Journeys and Genealogy) will be quite brief initially, but I'll update them as my research progresses. Hopefully people who read them will contact me and help fill the gaps in my knowledge.

Someone else is now taking over my '31st-of-the-month' time-slot, but watch for additions to my own blogs, which include UK / Australia GenealogyGenealogy LeftoversQueensland Genealogy;  and Jottings, Journeys and Genealogy.
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(This post first appeared on

Monday, 29 December 2014

Genealogy new year resolutions

A lot of ideas are coming through for reinvigorating our genealogy research in 2015.

Thomas MacEntee has proposed a genealogy do-over starting 2 January. There is a schedule of topics taking us up to the end of March. There is a FaceBook community with 836 members already excitedly exchanging ideas. Many experienced genealogists have come on board and it will be interesting to learn from them.

It is hard to start again but I think it is definitely an opportunity to put into practice all we have learned and apply it to our own family. All of us know more about genealogy research than when we started and do not often revisit the very core of our family tree. There is no question we will make new discoveries. We will probably also be more organised. It is a great opportunity to follow up on Pauleen Cass's post on her three Rs of Genealogy Research : Revisit, Record and Revise.

Some of the ideas that are being shared on organisation:
I have found blogging to be a great way to revisit and record my family history. A couple of prompts I use to help me find inspiration are:
This year I plan to join in the 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge by Amy Johnson Crow.

My own family history blog reached 150 posts late last month. I can't quite remember what the prompt was but I decided to print my blog. I used blog2print. It works on various platforms. There are several other providers who also print from blogs. I found blog2print very easy. There are limited options to tweak though you can choose to print only part of your blog using tags or a date range. You can vary the size of the photographs, whether you have a page break between each post ... I am really pleased to have a print copy of my blog. Some of the formatting has not translated perfectly from the screen to the printed page but overall it is a marvellous souvenir and back-up. I look forward to printing volume 2 towards the end of 2015.

Happy researching in 2015


Thursday, 25 December 2014

Christmas Tree Traditions from Around the World

Imagine my surprise when I realized my day to contribute a monthly post fell on Christmas! I knew just what to write about this month. My dear mother-in-law started giving me the Lenox "Christmas Trees from Around the World" plates in 1991 and continued each year until the day she died in 2008. I would like to share with you some of them and the tree traditions from each country where our families originated as written on the back of each plate.


Austria celebrates a month-long tradition at Christmas, from the arrival of Saint Nicholas and his companion Krampus on December 5th until Epiphany on January 6th when the Wise Men appear. The Advent wreath is the first sign of the season as a candle is lighted with great festivity on the first Sunday of Advent. In Austrian homes the Nativity creche is also an important tradition often an heirloom carved in wood centuries ago. New figures may be carved over the years to include not only the Holy Family but any number of other figures. From Austria the world has received the beautiful hymn "Silent Night," composed in 1818 by Franz Gruber, a young organist, with lyrics by Joseph Mohr. In Austria the tree is the bright jewel of the home during the Christmas season. After the Christmas Eve supper, the tree is lighted in a blaze of flory as family members gather to sing Christmas songs, and peasant or classical carols.

1995 Lenox Austria plate

The 1995 Lenox plate tree is decorated with gold and silver garlands and candles, with presents arranged beneath the tree.


Canada celebrates the Christmas season based upon culturally diverse traditions. It is a holiday that shares a mix of old and new. The French, for instance, brought their tradition or displaying the creche, while the Germans introduced the fir tree as part of the celebratory process. They are also credited with the introduction of blown glass ornaments to tree decoration. The English had an old tradition of hanging a "Kissing Ball" or setting the table with Christmas crackers. Earlier decorations were highly influenced by the native Indian crafts, including the use of feathers.

2003 Lenox Canada plate

The 2003 Lenox plate shows the rich, balsam adorned with pine cones, kissing balls and feathered jeweled ornaments. Kugels and Neapolitan-style angles are represented. The Canadian maple leaf is featured throughout the design and garlands of cranberry wrap around the tree.


According to English myth, the custom of decorating trees for Christmas began in their country with Prince Albert. After the birth of their first son in 1841, he present Queen Victoria with a candlelit tree laden with sweets of the most expensive kind. Victorians, who were given to imitate the Royal Family, quickly adopted the custom after a picture of one of the Windsor trees appeared in an 1848 edition of the Illustrated London News. Charles Dickens delighted readers with his magazine account of the glittering Christmas trees decorated with miniature dolls, fiddles, drums, and figurines that had become the new fashion for the elated season in Victorian England.

1993 Lenox England plate

The 1993 Lenox plate is festive with delectable English confections and a garland of cranberries. A gilded angel with outstretched wings crowns the candlelit tree, around which are the traditional plum pudding, toys, figurines and Christmas gifts are placed in celebration of the merriest of English holidays.


Germany is truly the land of the Christmas tree. . .in no other country is the day so fully and heartily observed. "Weihnachtsbaum" (Christmas tree) is the symbol of the German yuletide. In 1531 the first Christmas trees were sold in the Strasbourg market. The four-foot trees were set up undecorated for the holiday on small tables. The oldest known Christmas tree to be decorated as we know the tradition today, was found in Strasbourg in the early 17th century. Decorations included only apples and nuts, with the addition of flat wafers, gilded candies and many different colored paper roses following later. By the 18th century, Christmas trees were decorated with many kins of sweet confections as well as gold leaf covered apples and other gilded fruits and nuts.

1991 Lenox Germany plate; the first plate of the series

The 1991 Lenox plate displays a typical German Christmas tree of the early 1600s. Simple apples and nuts adorn the tree just as they did when the world's first Christmas tree was decorated in Germany.


Christmas arrives in Hungary not once, but twice! The first celebration takes place on December 6th, which is Saint Nicholas (also known as "Mikols") Day. Children place boots in their window hoping to be rewarded for good behavior by Saint Nicholas who ill fill them with chocolate, fruit, walnuts and other goodies. The second celebration is December 25th, which actually begins the night before. Songs and good cheer arise as friends and family come together to share fits and a traditional meal that often includes fish, lentils and a special poppy pastry known as "beigli."

The 2005 Lenox plate depicts the legend that a tree was brought by angels to surprise the children. Hence, families wait until Holy night, December 24th, to decorate their tree. A bell is rung, signaling that the angels have brought the tree and the Baby Jesus has arrived with gifts. The tree, lit with candles and sparklers, is then unveiled to the delighted children.

2005 Lenox Hungary plate

Special holiday candies called "szalon cukon," wrapped in bright red and gold foil, are also used to decorate the tree. "Matyo" felt ornaments, decorated with the colorful embroidery that Hungary for which is renowned, make unique and festive tree decorations. Hungary's rich tradition of beautiful handcrafted work and wonderful culinary delights give special meaning to the phrase "Yokarar Csony," Merry Christmas!


The Christmas celebration in Old Russia began with the appearance of the first evening star on Christmas Eve. Children eagerly awaited the wheat cakes placed for them on the window sill by St. Nicholas, the kind and generous bishop chosen as the patron saint of Russia almost one thousand years ago. At supper, the table was set with a layer of straw beneath the cloth to symbolize the bed in the manger. After a meal of fish and special cakes, family members, dressed in costumes, paraded through the neighborhood singing Christmas songs known as "Kolyada." Russian children waited in anticipation, not for Santa Claus, but for the old woman Babouschka, who brings each little child a present as she searches every house on her long journey to find the Christ Child.

1996 Lenox Russia plate

The 1996 Lenox plate is decorated with jeweled eggs, ornately detailed balls, and sparkling crystals inspired by Imperial Russia. A bear, gilded-domed palace and Russian dolls are gathered under the star-topped tree.

United States of America

Along with its own original celebrations, Christmas in America combines a unique blend of customs and traditions from around the world. All contribute to the holiday season, making Christmas in America a very special time of year. Although the Christmas tree originated in Germany, large cities to small towns throughout the United States display a "Community Tree" -- a custom which began in Pasadena, California, in 1909. Typically, trees are decorated with a variety of ornaments, old and new, that are rich in sentiments.

1998 Lenox America plate

The 1998 Lenox America tree is decorated with jolly Santa Claus figurines and old fashioned candles. The boughs are adorned with garland and strings of popcorn. Antique toys and brightly colored fruit evoke the feelings of a colonial Christmas while delicate snowflakes, icicles and baubles shimmer. A star glistens from the tree top and shines upon the colorful array of packages and toys beneath the tree.

Wishing you and yours a happy holiday season!

To learn about the Christmas tree traditions in Ireland and Poland, I hope you'll click over to my Tangled Roots and Trees Christmas post.

The surnames of my husband and my grandparents were: Adametz (Austria), Dagutis (Lithuania), Fishtahler (Hungary), Jennings (England), Klimsansluski (Lithuania), Lange (Russia), Muir (Scotland), and Schalin (Russia). The Fishtahler, Lange, and Schalin families considered themselves German, though they immigrated extensively in Europe (Hungary, Poland, Russia, and Serbia) before coming to the new world (Canada and the United States).

Monday, 22 December 2014

Telling Tales - The Shoemaker's Son and the One-legged Marquis

It is the season to tell tales. Following the tradition, here is a story that mixes a little of my family history with some well-known fairy tales. The real people featured in a post on my personal blog, The Housekeeper, the Valet and Grand Connections.

The Shoemaker's Son and the One-legged Marquis

Walter Crane [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Once upon a time there was an old shoemaker, or cordwainer, who though he was highly skilled at making very fine boots, had fallen on hard times. He lived with his wife, a wise woman, and young son, Robert, who was just old enough to be apprenticed. The old shoemaker despaired that the young lad would ever learn his trade because he did not listen.

One dark and stormy night there was a loud knock at the door.On opening it the shoemaker found a imposing man who had a wooden leg.The one-legged man, who was well dressed but wet and muddy, introduced himself as the Marquis and explained that his horse was lame having lost a shoe. The shoemaker arranged a room at the inn and stabled the horse while his wife took the Marquis' cloak to wash and dry, and young Robert cleaned the Marquis' boot. Curious about the wooden leg Robert asked why the Marquis only wore one boot. "I left the other boot with my leg on the battle field at Waterloo", said the Marquis, "And have never found another boot to fit". Even though the one boot was old and very worn, Robert had polished it until it shone. The Marquis was pleased and tossed Robert a silver shilling. Robert handed the coin to his mother for safe keeping.

Robert asked his father if he could make a new pair of boots for the Marquis. The shoemaker pondered awhile and took out the leather he had. "There is only enough for one pair of boots", he said "And if they do not fit, we will be ruined". So saying, the shoemaker went to bed.

Two elves who lived under the floorboards had heard and seen all. In those days, shoemakers learned their trade from elves who whispered instructions while apprentices slept. The elves whispered in the shoemaker's ear all night for making the Marquis' boots needed great skill. The following morning the shoemaker was inspired and set to work. When his horse had recovered from its lameness and the Marquis came to collect his cloak, the boots were ready. He was so pleased that he paid handsomely and was so impressed that Robert persuaded the shoemaker to make them that he said, "There is plenty of work in my great London house for such a thoughtful young man. Send him there if you please." Robert was very excited by the prospect as everyone knew the streets of London were paved with gold, the shoemaker thought it an excellent idea, but his wife said nothing. She had been born within the sound of Bow bells, so knew otherwise.

Late at night after everyone else had gone to bed the shoemaker's wife tapped the floor for she wished to receive council from the elves. After listening to her concerns they agreed to help in return for new clothes. They blessed the silver shilling Robert had earned and made a tiny pair of boots from the scraps of leather left over from the Marquis' pair. "He who spends a blessed shilling wisely will prosper if he keeps the boots clean", said the elves. The following morning the shoemaker's wife gave Robert the coin and miniature boots telling him to always keep them clean and to spend the shilling only if he were in dire need.

So prepared, Robert went to London. The butler of the Marquis' great house set Robert to work and all should have been well. But young Robert did not listen to the butler's instructions, so was frequently chastised for not doing his work properly. To make things worse, Robert's attic room was infested with rats and mice, so he could not sleep a wink. That made Robert sleepy and forgetful, which made his work even more sloppy. The other servants did not like such a poor worker, so when they were not telling him off, they shunned him. Poor Robert was very lonely and unhappy!

One day he resolved to run away, so packed his meagre belongings and was creeping past the kitchen when he heard a sweet voice singing. For the first time he truly listened and was enchanted. Instead of running away Robert entered the kitchen and introduced himself to the maid whose voice he had heard. The maid, Mary, had just arrived in London so was pleased to make a friend. When she heard of Robert's woes, she suggested he spend his shilling on a cat and knew that kittens had recently been born at a nearby mill.

Robert brought home a kitten that day. Some say that miller's cats are special, others say anything bought with a blessed shilling is magical. From that day on, rats and mice no longer kept Robert awake. Once he was well rested, Robert paid attention to the butler and other servants, so did his work well. Soon he worked so well and quickly that he had time to see Mary. Both Robert and Mary worked hard and learned everything about running a big house.After some years, Robert became the Marquis' personal valet and Mary became the housekeeper.

When the old Marquis died, Robert and Mary set up a luxurious hotel in Mayfair. We do not know how they raised the money, but some fanciful people say the cat dressed up in boots had something to do with it.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Ancestor Most Wanted: James Sherry aka James McSharry

Where did he come from?
Where did he go?
Ever since I started family history nearly thirty years ago, one ancestor has provided me with an “impenetrable” brick wall.
James Sherry is first identified in the “public” record in Tullamore, County Offaly (Kings County as it was then). On 21 May 1859 he married Bridget Furlong, a local girl from the townland of Shruagh, in the old Catholic Church, with witnesses John Horan and Maria SlavinTheir first two surviving sons, Peter and James Joseph, were also christened there, on the same date 29 May, in 1861 and 1865. Peter, is my direct ancestor. Their second-born son, Martin Sherry (named for Bridget’s father) was baptised in Arklow, Wicklow on 15 July 1863 with witnesses James and Margaret Halpin. Sadly he died as an infant in Arklow.

A typical Irish cottage (and cat) at Knockina, 1992.
During their years in Arklow, James was working as a ganger on the railway, presumably on the Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford line. Several children were born and baptised in Arklow before the family moved to Gorey, Wexford where they settled for about 10 years. At the baptism of each child born in Gorey, the family states their townland as Knockina, just outside Gorey township. Having researched the Griffith Valuation revision lists for the period, it seems that the Sherry family must have been living in a caretaker’s cottage owned by the railway as all other properties are accounted for. This would suggest that James had reached some level of responsibility with the railway.

The interior of St Michael's Church, Gorey, Wexford 1992. Site of Sherry baptisms and Peter's marriage.
So far, so good, you’re wondering why I have a problem….after all I have quite a bit of information on them, thanks to the baptism of all those children. But there’s one thing missing – where did James come from and what’s his ancestry?Name distributions suggest he probably came from one of Ireland’s northern counties, possibly Monaghan, Fermanagh, or Meath. Dublin is also a strong contender but surely if he was from there one of his family might have been a witness to at least one of the baptisms.
In 1882 James and Bridget Sherry emigrated to Queensland with all their children, except eldest son Peter and his family. On arrival in January 1883, the family changed their name to McSharry, supposedly with the idea that he would ride on the coat tails of another James McSharry, the partner in O’Rourke & McSharry, railway construction contractors. If this was his goal, he certainly succeeded from one point of view. From that time forward my James McSharry cannot be readily identified. Despite the family’s horrendous luck with three children dying within a few years of arrival, James does not appear as the informant on any of the death certificates. By 1892, Bridget McSharry was listed in the post office directories as a boarding house keeper in Maryborough and later in Rockhampton, where she died in 1900. Had James died so that she needed to take up this work? Had he deserted her?
No problem, surely his death certificate can be found, and this will most likely tell us his place of origin and his parents’ names? Good theory, nil outcome. Despite searching around the country, this James McSharry/Sherry appears to have disappeared off the face of Australia at least. I’ve looked for him in Police Gazettes thinking he might appear there – if he had “done a runner” and left his wife with the children, they might have chased him for maintenance. Of itself this seems strange given they’d been married over 20 years and just made the tremendous decision to emigrate, but perhaps he hadn’t coped with the death of his children. I’ve searched cemeteries, inquest indexes and hospital admissions all to no avail. Trove throws up innumerable references to the construction company and even occasional documents found at the Archives remain ambiguous.
One clue appears when his daughter marries in Rockhampton in 1903, said to be the daughter of James McSharry, late of Sydney. Does that mean “recently of Sydney” or deceased…I suspect that in this case it meant the latter.  My suspicion is that it is a red herring to infer he may be the partner in McSharry & O’Rourke who was by then in Sydney. Searches of NSW death certificates did no resolve my problem.
To confuse matters further this James’s eldest son, Peter, arriving in Queensland in early 1884 with his wife and young family, changed his name to McSherry and also joined the railway immediately. To this day, many of the leaves on this family’s branches do not know of the interconnection between the McSherry and McSharry families or indeed within some branches of either.
Did James emigrate to New Zealand or elsewhere to work on the railways? Did he return to Ireland? Did he die but never make it into the records? Was he admitted to a mental asylum somewhere? Was there some sort of scandal? Questions, questions!

My bet is that his father’s name was Peter Sherry and that he was probably born somewhere in Ireland’s northern counties. Searches at RootsIreland have been unproductive or inconclusive. Without some proof, or some clue about what happened to James, or where he went from Australia, this line is stone-walled.
If you've any clues, I'd love to hear from you. The (Mc)Sherry genes offer great longevity. Perhaps he remarried and had more children elsewhere. This little mystery is one of the reasons I have had my DNA tested. I have had some "hits" that look promising but mainly seem to tie into Peter McSherry's wife's family, the Callaghans from Courtown, Wexford. Those limited Irish Catholic records certainly pose a challenge for us. However I'll certainly be waiting for further clues when the Irish parish registers are digitised around mid-2015.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Christmas Brings to Mind...

Christmas brings the thought of aprons to my mind both for gifts and for making delectable 

homemade dishes.

Below is a well worn poem  that has found its way into many email boxes bringing smiles, 

and tears to the reader's eyes.

Grandma's Apron
by Tina Trivett
The strings were tied. It was freshly washed, and maybe even pressed.
For Grandma, it was everyday to choose one when she dressed.
The simple apron that it was, you would never think about;
the things she used it for, that made it look worn out.
She may have used it to hold some wildflowers that she'd found.
Or to hide a crying child's face, when a stranger came around. 
Imagine all the little tears that were wiped with just that cloth.
Or it became a potholder to serve some chicken broth. 
She probably carried kindling to stoke the kitchen fire.
To hold a load of laundry, or to wipe the clothesline wire.
When canning all her vegetables, it was used to wipe her brow.
You never know, she might have used it to shoo flies from the cow.
She might have carried eggs in from the chicken coop outside.
Whatever chore she used it for, she did them all with pride.
When Grandma went to heaven, God said she now could rest.
I'm sure the apron she chose, was her Sunday best.
I miss you Grandma...

I associate aprons with my grandmother who raised 13 children and 2 grandchildren. She 

became a widow when her twins, the last two children, were 2 months old.  At that time she

had 6 children in her home to raise during the depression.  I love her indomitable spirit

I wonder if she ever sat and cried into her apron, when facing such daunting odds.  She had 

Always had an apron on for cooking and doing her chores.

All these thoughts started me on a search for information about aprons.  I found that many are 

interested in aprons, in fact, there are many out in the blogosphere that have aprons as their focus. 

This is a great one on the History of Aprons.

I think that Avis Yarbrough was very mistaken when he said in "A History of 1950's Aprons" in 2007

that the apron would never reach popularity like it had in the 1950's.  I go to the fabric store and 

there are a multitude of retro and new apron patterns. One of my favorites is a Daisy Kingdom 

pattern by Simplicity. 

The above apron is reminiscent of an apron pattern in 1912.

In my search about the apron 's historical use, I found a variety of information and many opinions.

 One use, which I knew but had not come to mind, was the leather apron of the blacksmith.  This is a 

fun story from the 1830s that I found when I just put Apron in the search engine on Chronicling 


I was also fascinatedby the styles of the different eras.  The early 1900's styles were much like my 

favorite pattern above, more of a smock which covered most if not all of the dress. For this part, 

old newspapers were a great source for stories and illustrations.
The work day apron and articles from the Minneapolis Journal 1906

Modern day journalists were not the only ones to have thought the apron was gone.  In 1859, a

journalist for the Edgefield, South Carolina newspaper noted the apron was  "coming back into 

fashion".  I think it is only fashion editors that think that, the every day woman prefers to have and 

apron in the house.

My quest has been a long one. I don't know if I have enlightened anyone, but I have had fun

researching such a nostalgic subject for me.  I was amazed to find out that the bib overall of today, 

was a full fitting bib apron that men wore while working in a shop in the 1700 - 1800's.  

I am in the middle of making aprons for Christmas for the grandchildren for learning to cook.

Thank you for dropping by. Leave a comment about your feelings about aprons if you feel so inclined. 

Merry Christmas! and a Happy New Year!  See you in 2015!

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Christmas Truce 1914

This year is the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.  It is also the centenary of a remarkable sequences of events which occurred in small pockets all along the Western Front over several days, now known to history as the Christmas Day Truce of 1914.

During recent weeks, in Britain, there has been heated debates across social media about a 2014 Christmas advert which is a reenactment of this famous truce.  The general consensus appears to be that the advert itself has been well acted and well staged.  However, it is of great discomfort to many people (myself included) because the reenactment is an advert.  And an advert for one of Britain's largest grocery shops, and so is distasteful because of its blatant commercialisation of a tragic event.  With the advert playing virtually every day in Britain since mid-November, it prompted me to do my own research on the Christmas Day Truce to determine what had actually happened.  Thus was the background to my post today - to discover the truth behind the Christmas Day Truce.

My primary sources are the many local and national British newspapers digitally preserved and kept by the excellent archive, British Newspaper Archive.  Rather then retell the story in my words, I thought it best if you read the newspapers of the time to see what had actually occurred throughout December 1914.  As there are so many newspaper cuttings in my post, I haven't transcribed them.  The quality of some of the print is poor, but I do recommend that you persevere with reading them, as this is a remarkable story.  Use your computer's controls to zoom into each article.

So that you can make up your own mind about the events, I have only written a brief commentary on the newspaper articles.  Whilst you read each article, remember that these were contemporary reports written at the very height of the "war to end all wars" so you have to use your own intellect to determine the unwitting testimony, hidden meanings, and motivation behind each newspaper's report.

Pope Benedict XV tries to secure 12-hour Christmas truce
In early December 1914, Pope Benedict XV tried to secure a 12-hour Christmas truce on all sides. Throughout the length and breadth of Britain, newspapers reported his attempts - below are two of the many reports - one from Scotland, and the other from England.

Pope's attempt to secure 1914 Christmas Truce
Aberdeen Journal - Wednesday 09 December 1914
Pope tries to secure Christmas day truce 1914
Western Mail - Wednesday 09 December 1914

By the 11th December, newspapers were reporting that Germany was willing to have a truce. America, at that stage not at war with anyone, tried to introduce a resolution into the Senate that the truce should be 20 days (I wonder how on earth Senator Kenyon could possibly think that a truce could last 20 days!!).  The reports of a Christmas truce during the Franco-Prussian War of the 1870s was also reported.

Birmingham Daily Mail - Friday 11 December 1914

Birmingham Daily Mail - Friday 11 December 1914

Failure of the Pope's truce
However, by the 12th, the Pope's attempt had failed.

Birmingham Daily Post - Saturday 12 December 1914

Sunday Post - Sunday 13 December 1914

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette - Monday 14 December 1914

Of the many newspaper reports I read from these few days in December, none directly confronted Russia for opposing the truce. But only one newspaper mentioned (the glaringly obvious) reason why Russia had declined - and even then, that report wasn't printed until days after the original articles about a potential truce.  The absence of the reason for Russia's refusal in the majority reports shows unwitting testimony that the allies didn't always see eye-to-eye on matters of the war.  Also notable is the fact that I could not find a single newspaper report which stated Britain's view on the Pope's truce. From looking at just newspaper reports alone, it is very hard to determine Britain's stance - maybe the British government did have a firm view, but the newspapers were ordered not to print it.  Or maybe, the government (once again) refused to declare one way or another - a repeat of their failure to commit in June/July 1914 following the assassination in Sarajevo.

Birmingham Gazette - Monday 21 December 1914

Christmas Day reports from the trenches
The Pope's attempts to hold a truce proved to be a failure and the war rolled on.  Christmas Day 1914 was on a Friday - despite the bank holidays on Christmas Day and Boxing Day being on a Saturday, newspapers still continued to be printed and rolled off their presses to be read by an eager nation.

The newspapers on Christmas Day and Boxing Day all reported... Well, nothing.  Apart from the duplicity of the Germans.

Western Gazette - Friday 25 December 1914
At this early stage, news of any truce in the trenches had not filtered back to Britain. Instead, even on 26th December, newspapers were still lamenting the failure of the Pope's attempt to secure a truce after he addressed his Cardinals in Rome on Christmas Eve.  On Monday 28th December, newspapers were reporting that there had been a hard frost and a winter's mist on Christmas morning but hostilities continued.  Many of these early reports of Christmas Day in the trenches read much the same as below's report:

Nottingham Evening Post - Monday 28 December 1914

The first reports of the truce filter through
However, by Wednesday 30th December, soldiers' letters had started to be received at home by their loved ones.  Many of these letters were sent to the soldier's local newspapers and then filtered through to other local and national newspapers.  The story of the Christmas Day Truce had finally reached Britain.

Hull Daily Mail - Wednesday 30 December 1914

Birmingham Daily Mail - Thursday 31 December 1914

Birmingham Daily Mail - Thursday 31 December 1914

Birmingham Gazette - Thursday 31 December 1914
Birmingham Gazette - Thursday 31 December 1914

Derby Daily Telegraph - Thursday 31 December 1914

Southern Reporter - Thursday 31 December 1914

Liverpool Daily Post - Thursday 31 December 1914

Aberdeen Journal - Friday 01 January 1915

Nottingham Evening Post - Saturday 02 January 1915

Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette - Saturday 02 January 1915
Yorkshire Evening Post - Saturday 02 January 1915

Gloucester Journal - Saturday 02 January 1915

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Monday 04 January 1915
Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Monday 04 January 1915-Part 1
Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Monday 04 January 1915-Part 2

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Monday 04 January 1915-Part 3
Daily Record - Tuesday 05 January 1915

Western Front Casualties Christmas 1914
The Christmas Truce was a remarkable event of the First World.  Even though the Pope was not successful in arranging a formal truce, the soldiers themselves achieved what generals, politicians and religious leaders could not. The varying stories in different newspapers shows that this was not a uniform truce with a set beginning and a set end.  Rather, each sector of the Western Front had their own version of the truce - some only allowing the burial of the dead on Christmas morning before hostilities recommenced, whilst other sectors held their truce throughout the entire festive period.

But did the Christmas Truce work?  Did it stop some of the carnage on the Western Front?

There is one way that the success of the Christmas Truce can be quantified with hard data - the number of casualties on the Western Front during Christmas 1914. Using the excellent Commonwealth War Grave Commission's website, I interrogated the number of United Kingdom casualties each day for Belgium and France during the later part of December 1914 and early January 1915.  The graph below clearly shows a dip in casualties over the Christmas period.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission data makes no distinction between whether a man was killed in action, or if he had died of his wounds days after injury.  Therefore it cannot be determined how many of the 50 deaths in France and 22 in Belgium on Christmas Day happened because of direct actions on that day, or if the men had died of wounds received days earlier.  Local newspapers in Britain did report news of deaths on Christmas day - such as the report below.

Gloucester Journal - Saturday 09 January 1915

The peak of casualties before Christmas can be attributed to the Battle of Givenchy which had raged between 18-22 December. This accounts for the massive number of dead in the pre-Christmas period. Indeed, some Great War commentators have remarked that the Christmas Truce had to happen so that the dead from this battle could be buried, as many of the men had died in no-man's-land and water-filled craters.  Their bodies, by that stage, decaying in a terrible state in between the front lines.

Aftermath - Christmas 1915
Throughout the beginning part of January 1915, British newspapers recounted many tales from soldiers who had taken part in the Christmas truce.  By mid January, the newspapers were terming it "the unofficial truce" and by late January "the famous Christmas truce".  As the war rolled on, the Christmas Truce passed into legend and little mention was made of it in newspapers from late February onwards.  By 29th November 1915, the newspapers started to report that Pope Benedict XV was, once again, trying to arrange Christmas Truce.  But this time, he had narrowed his scope, and the truce was to be between "Catholic orthodox countries". The Pope's previous year's attempt at world peace between all the various religions of the combatant nations had obviously proved to be insurmountable. However, this too failed and newspapers seem to have simply stopped reporting the Pope's truce by early December 1915.

A few days before Christmas 1915, some newspapers started to question if there would be another truce for that Christmas.  But the mood of Britain had changed: 1915 had brought the sinking of the passenger ship the Lusitania, killing 1,195 passengers - many of whom were women and children; along with the execution of nurse Edith Cavell.  The newspaper report below sums up the mood:

Edinburgh Evening News - Tuesday 21 December 1915
Other newspapers were more explicit in stating that there would be no truce

Dundee Courier - Thursday 23 December 1915

Derby Daily Telegraph - Friday 24 December 1915
In 1915, there was no Christmas truce and the war rolled on to the bitter end with no further truces...

Or did it?

Christmas Truce 1916
In my research for writing this post, it occurred to be that a couple of years ago I had purchased from that well known internet auction site a Christmas postcard from 1916.  When I bought it, I was intrigued by its message as it implied that something strange had happened in the trenches in 1916. Was there a truce in 1916?  I could not find anything in the British Newspaper Archive which states that there was one. But maybe there was one.

France 25 December 1916:
The flag we are willing to sacrifice our lives for in order that they may continue to float over free peoples.  What a tale I will have to tell you all of later of a Xmas day in the trenches.


I wonder what remarkable tale of Christmas 1916 in the trenches Fred had to tell when he got home? Was it as remarkable as the Christmas Truce of 1914?

German soldiers of the 134th Saxon Regiment and British soldiers of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, 26 December 1914

British and German troops meeting in no man's land, Christmas 1914

Christmas 1914 - burying the dead from both sides

Daily Mirror - Friday 08 January 1915

British and German officers in no-man's land - Christmas 1914

Soldiers fraternising in Belguim on Christmas Day 1914

You may be interested in
Imperial War Museum podcast: Christmas Truce
Imperial War Museum podcast: Christmas during the Great War
BBC Radio 4 broadcast: Voices of the Great War - The Christmas Truce
(the above include some incredible oral recordings from soldiers who took part in the truce)

First World War Centenary Partnership
(the above links to a site which details several events going on throughout the Christmas period in Britain, to celebrate the centenary of the Christmas Truce)


My Christmas Advent Calendar 2014
Throughout December 2014, I have been running a daily Christmas Advent Calendar with a door to open which reveals a website of historical interest. Please do take a peek at my calendar. 

To all readers of this blog, happy Christmas


I look forward to sharing with you more of my discoveries over the coming months - see you next time on this blog on 18th January 2015. In the meantime, you can catch me on my blog Essex Voices Past or on twitter @EssexVoicesPast

You may also be interested in my previous posts on this blog
November 2014: Men (and women) of courage
October 2014: Writing local history
September 2014: Hidden from history - the scandalous Redit women of Suffolk
April 2014: Happy Easter 1916?
March 2014: Who do you think they were?
February 2014: Family History Show and Tell
January 2014: Family history is like a box of chocolates - you never know what you're gonna get

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