Wednesday, 27 May 2015

If April Showers Bring May Flowers....

Lady Banks Roses on trellis in Helen's garden

If April showers bring May flowers, then what do May flowers bring?  Pilgrims!

My daughter told me this joke recently, and of course, it is the perfect genealogy joke! Hope you enjoy! Since we are still in the month of May as I write this, I thought it a good time to live out this joke and explore my Mayflower ancestors! As a girl from the Southern United States, it never dawned on me that I might have had ancestors who arrived in America on the Mayflower, but I did! (Jamestown being Southern, was more likely and also true.) Today we are talking about the Pilgrims, my Pilgrims, and maybe my May flowers as well, since I am a gardener. In fact, gardening and genealogy are two of my greatest passions.

I don’t know about you but in my opinion, passion and flowers create romance. Moonlight, with gardenias, moon flowers, and roses-- set the mood. Maybe that’s exactly the scene poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was thinking of when he wrote the poem The Courtship of Myles Standish.

Painting of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, 1907

The poem tells the love story of Priscilla Mullins and John Alden of the Mayflower. Priscilla’s parents, William and Alice Mullins and only brother Joseph all died during that first severe winter in Plymouth. Orphaned, young Priscilla caught the eye of newly widowed Captain Myles Standish, who asked his friend John Alden to propose marriage to her on his behalf!  Priscilla responded with that famous line, “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?”  John Alden and Priscilla Mullins, real people, did indeed marry, and became my tenth great grandparents! It is so amazing to me, so incredulous to learn that this poem was based on fact to begin with, and that these pilgrims were actually my grandparents! The relationship chart goes like this:

John Alden (1599 - 1687) and Priscilla Mullins
are your 10th great grandparents
daughter of John Alden
daughter of Elizabeth Alden
daughter of Elizabeth Pabodie
daughter of Ann Rogers
son of Sarah Witt
son of Abner Harbour
daughter of Moses Harbour
daughter of Joyce Harbour
son of Nancy J Houchins
daughter of Walter Houchins
daughter of Katherine Steptoe Houchins
You are the daughter of Margaret Steptoe Kerse

Can't you just visualize John and Priscilla strolling through the garden, the nighttime air filled with the romantic scent of roses, moonlight dappling their path...aaaahhhh...genealogy, gardening, moonlight and romance...can it get any better than this!

 Flower pictures are from my own garden.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Memorial Day Traditions

My husband and I are commemorating Memorial Day, which is today in the United States, by taking a road trip with my brother and his wife to explore a slice of our family history in West Virginia. In 2010 my youngest brother emailed and asked if we'd be interested in taking a trip together over Memorial Day weekend. He and he wife wanted to go to Asheville, North Carolina, and thought it would be an equi-distant location for both of us as they live in northern Alabama and we live in northern Virginia. My husband and I thought it would be fun as it had been years since either of us had been to Asheville.

Since I spent a great deal of my working life as a project manager and am used to thinking of my very accomplished baby brother, who is 10 years younger than me, as a child, I began planning our trip. We stayed in a lovely cabin about 30 minutes north of Asheville in the mountains. The driveway was dirt road to an old mica mine and the place was sure hard to find. There was a donkey in a field at the end of the paved road. We knew exactly how many times my brother had driven by the turn in the dark because the rascally donkey brayed every time a car went by. No cell phone reception made it very entertaining.

Our cabin north of Asheville, North Carolina; photograph taken by me

Burglar alarm (on the right); photograph taken by me

My brother and his wife at a restaurant in the Grove Arcade area of
downtown Asheville; photograph taken by me

2010 Asheville, North Carolina photo album

Over Thanksgiving that year, we all gathered at Mom and Dad's and were sitting around the kitchen table discussing the states we'd visited. I started keeping a list. None of us had seen much of New England (and I'd lived in Massachusetts for six months!) so our next Memorial Day trip was hatched. I called it the Great New England Driving Vacation because we hit Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont over the holiday weekend. My husband was the designated driver and logged almost 2,000 miles. My brother and his wife flew up and off we went. Our nephew, who is in the Coast Guard, was stationed at Point Judith, Rhode Island, so we stopped where they lived first, got to meet our new grand nephew, and later met them in Portsmouth, New Hampshire at their camping ground. He was wonderful to make that trip to visit with us.

My sister-in-law, brother and husband in Newport,
Rhode Island; photograph taken by me

Cornish-Windsor bridge; photograph taken by me

Point Judith lighthouse; photograph taken by me

2011 Great New England Driving Vacation

After two trips a tradition was born, right? Well, I thought so. We planned our 2012 trip, destination Halifax, Nova Scotia. We wanted to see the Bay of Fundy and those amazing tidal changes and all things World War II related.

But 2012 was a year of sadness. Dad had a cerebral hemorrhage in 2002 months before turning 71. 75% percent of cerebral hemorrhages are fatal. Dad beat those odds and bounced back in ways one could never imagine. He was not paralyzed but had aphasia -- the inability to process language and in some case even speak. After months of speech therapy and working with Mom every morning after breakfast with flashcards, Dad got back to almost normal. It was hard to remember what had happened to him. Only a misused word or when he got quiet when there was a lot of background noise because he could no longer understand the conversation made you remember. The other bad statistic about cerebral hemorrhages, or strokes for that matter, is most people suffer another within 5 years. We got ten.

Dad began have small bleeds in early May of 2012. His mental decline was so gradual that he really didn't think anything was wrong. Yet, there was. Things got tense between he and Mom as she would try to talk about the issues and he would fuss at her for making a mountain out of a mole hill. He resented the appointment with his neurological doctor and rejected his assessment. My husband and I elected not to go to Halifax and visited Mom and Dad instead. We began driving to North Carolina more frequently every time Mom called for help; she was distraught many times. The week after Thanksgiving Dad had a massive cerebral hemorrhage which took his ability to speak, understand others, and paralyzed his right side. After several months of grueling speech, occupational and physical therapy, Dad had improved but needed constant care. After his rehabilitation had plateaued, Mom decided it was time to move to an assisted living facility where they could be together.

Mom and Dad at our condo in Indian Beach, North
Carolina five months before Mom died; photograph by me

No Memorial Day trip was planned that year. We were all in New Bern, North Carolina, spending time with Mom and Dad.

A tradition dies after being ignored for two years, right? Not so. In 2014 my husband and I drove south and joined my brother and his wife for a trip to Warm Springs, Georgia, to visit Franklin Roosevelt's southern White House and learn the history of the polio work that was done there. We even met a lovely elderly gentlemen who worked at Warm Springs and knew the president. We saw him interviewed in the Roosevelt mini-series later on television. We also toured the Infantry Museum at Fort Benning and enjoyed the river walk in Columbus, Georgia.

Franklin Roosevelt's Southern White House; photograph taken by me

Portion of the Medal of Honor Exhibit at the Fort Benning Infantry Museum;
photograph taken by me

Factory tour where my brother works as the head of
product development and quality; photograph taken by me

2014 Southwest Georgia Tour Album

We just got back from our 2015 trip to southern West Virginia. So I believe our tradition is on solid ground now. We toured the Cold War-era bunker at the Greenbrier Hotel, an underground coal mine in Beckley, drove parts the Coal Heritage Trail, and photographed my great grandfather's headstone, which is located at Iaeger Memorial Cemetery in McDowell County, West Virginia.

What's on tap for next year?...we're talking about a Kentucky/Tennessee Bourbon distillery tour. We take in all the hotspots!

Mom's most deeply held wish was that my brothers and me would remain close after she and Dad were gone. I know that is Dad's wish, too, though he cannot verbalize it now. I think our nascent tradition is part of the glue that makes those wishes a reality. And my middle brother, who I call Saint Ted, well, he's a story for a different day.

These are probably non-traditional Memorial Day commemorations, but oh so special. I believe our country's soldiers, sailors and air men and women allow us opportunities to make these special memories with our loved ones because they maintain our way of life when it is threatened, especially those who gave their lives. Making memories is my family's way to honor them -- and by giving back to our military community. I recently retired and am looking forward to the start of my volunteer work with Fisher House Foundation.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Book Breaking and Digitisation

An article in the New Yorker, Scattered Leaves describes how a medieval scholar discovered how a book of hours, a type of personal prayer book, dating from the 1460s with gold illuminations, came to be broken up.  It survived intact until 2010 when it was catalogued as "APPARENTLY COMPLETE" at a Christie's auction.  By late 2013, the book had been dismantled and leaves sold separately, particularly on EBay, to make a bigger profit. The scholar acquired the cover and 7 remaining leaves out of the original 234.  The original number of leaves is known because the book had previously been catalogued and described.

Digitisation, the process of creating digital copies by scanning or photographing original documents, typically results in a collection of digital images.  In a sense, the copying process resembles book breaking, but without destroying the original.  The resulting collection then needs to be organised and presented in a way that faithfully represents the original as far as possible.

Even without deliberate dispersal, as in the case of the book of hours, the original may not be complete at the time of digitisation.  Unless it has been described in sufficient detail to note the missing parts, users may make erroneous conclusions.

Have you tried to scan or photograph your own genealogy artifacts or records in an archive?  It is easy to skip a page, or make duplicates, isn't it?  My luck dictates that the missing page contains the record of my ancestor!

Institutions like archives and libraries do take great care to ensure the quality of digitised copies of documents.  The standards published by the State Library of Queensland are an example. Notable in these standards is the requirement for structural metadata in addition to  descriptive, administrative and technical metadata  (p.4 item 7).  The structural metadata describes the relationships between digital files such as the sequence of pages.

Commercial genealogy vendors do not always take the same care as public institutions.  Although the following examples refer to a particular company, I regularly hear reports of poor curation of digital records by other companies.  In a recently reported scandal, an employee, contracted to digitise records at St Louis repository of  the USA National Archives and Records Administration, disposed of military draft-cards when under pressure to perform efficiently.  In Ancestry's 1871 census collection for Enumeration District 9,  Hitcham, Suffolk, England, pages 3, 6, 9, 13, 16, and 19 are missing.  The entry for my great grandmother, Susannah Stiff, on page 3, reveals her real relationship to Abraham Stiff (grand-daughter, not daughter).  What did I say about my luck?

So, next time you use digital resources ask yourself: Is the collection complete?
Digital copies enable access that would not otherwise be possible, help researchers find resources and use the materials in new ways.  They are not a complete substitute for originals, and only assist with the preservation of the originals by reducing direct use.  Original materials that are worth photographing or scanning are worth keeping carefully. Once digital copies have been made, their preservation presents its own set of challenges.  Digital files require constant care with regular copying to new media and new formats. The JISC digital media Guide to Digital Preservation notes:
"due to technological obsolescence and media fragility, many consider it possible that future generations will have less information about Gulf War conflicts (recorded on digital media) than the First World War (recorded on analogue media)"

An excellent example of how digitisation enabled scholarly research is The Great Parchment Book project.  This manuscript containing surveys and estate records from Derry, part of the Ulster plantation, was compiled in the 1630s.  It was so badly damaged by fire in 1786 that is has been unreadable until the restoration and digitisation project.  The website presents digital images before and after manipulation, transcriptions and background information.

High quality digitisation combined with careful and accurate presentation is what I want to see from all providers of research materials relevant to genealogy.   That will best support my personal scholarship, and yours.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Original Records Are Always the Best

I finally came to the place in my tree while cleaning up, that made me acknowledged that for years I had let stand another person's research that was based on an abstracted record.  It was time to search for the records that the other person had abstracted.  This was not new to me.  I had done this with my Hero's line and discovered an abstracted record in respected published book had left out a child entirely.
The search in the probate records on FamilySearch was a bust.  The records did not go back far enough.  I then turned to the FamilySearch Wiki , search for my county and state, which helped me find there was a searchable database for the county. Had I gone there first, I might not have found it as it is not intuitive to discover... The area of records is under holdings... I did find the probate indices and searched. They were there, the two men who died within months of each other and the focus of my research.  They had come to Madison County, Mississippi Territory as Squatters apparently as one shows up in the 1809 Mississippi Territory Squatter's Census.  The hash marks with him indicate the other man and his family in the household.
I ordered the files, and lo and behold, the previous abstracts did have some relationships incorrect. Yep, the original is ALWAYS best!  My problem now is to try and figure out the relationships.  On the 1809 Squatter's Census the dates are not helpful as to if it would brother or father and son relationship as, it just lists 21 and up.  They died in late 1814 and early 1815.  I always love it when more information flows in, but wish some could have been definitive.
What I did learn was some of the life style and crops they must have grown.  They did not have slaves, so they must have done most of their work as a family.  Which is pretty much the way the Mississippi Territory Squatters were described.There was a Flax Spinning Wheel for sale, and cloth. I gather they grew the flax, spun it into cloth.
One of the women in the file had made a coat. It apparently was for the burial of the one who is thought to be the older of the two men. So they must have also made clothing for others. There were also, sheep, wool, and cotton mentioned. They purchased a 5 gal jug of whisky for use as  the property was being sold.
They apparently were not teetotalers and knew how to loosen people up, ;-)  or all were friends and it was a type of social.  Maybe someone has a better understanding of the people of that time.  I love reading Judy Russell's, The Legal Genealogist, blog posting.  They have broadened my look as I search through the files.  If you haven't subscribed to her posts, it is not too late.
I am now digging into Mississippi Territory and Georgia Territory records in the hopes to discover something to clarify the relationships.  Another researcher has found a family they think could be this one in South Carolina.  Deed Records, here I come.
This post has really served as a thinking ground for me as I am trying to sort out what I have found.  Maybe you have suggestions or it will help you in your journey too.
See you next month!

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Reflections Returns to Home Base, Tidbits From My World


Man and I have returned to our home base, aka, the stick built.  We have been here almost two weeks.  The map above shows our 6 months away. I cannot say we stayed away from snow and cold this year, because we visited places that had mucho snow, sometimes 3 to 4 feet, and one of our last stops in Glenwood Springs Colorado was a bit longer than we envisioned as, well, we got snowed in. Not much snow at the campground, but, we could not get over the 11,000 foot pass to Denver for several days due to snow and ice.  We towed Tana about 5200 miles over the six months.  We put 9600 on the truck, Jolly.

Since our return, we have cut the acreage twice and felled two dead trees.  There are enough weeds to keep me, mmm, "entertained" for a while.  We have not finished moving out of Tana and back into the stick built.

I know I have been chattering all spring about "stepping" away from the computer.  I hear other bloggers/genealogists mentioning that as well.  Seems there are a number of us that are feeling "burnout".  For me, I am doing my best to walk away for several hours, here, there, but, every day, just walking away.  Of course, I usually have my iToys in tow.  I know, I know.  One device at a time.  First the computer, then, the iPad, next the iPhone.

And, I have been chattering about doing some serious catching up on input and organization.  To that effect, I have been tossing stuff in trash cans daily.  You know, stuff, like old shoes, old clothes, old stuff.  No, I cannot face doing this all in one massive tossing marathon, but, I can toss something every day.  I will admit, I am looking for the largest stuff possible to toss first, making a few holes.  Seeing that "holes" are the goal, tossing the large stuff first makes me feel like I have done something wonderful and urges me on to find more big stuff to toss.  (Why is it I hear Man's doubting snorts in the background?)

I am attempting to catch up on my travel blog posts over at Reflections From the Fence.  I am almost 2 years behind.  Isn't that sad?  As I blog I delete bad photos, and move the photos reviewed to a archival area on the hard drive.  Keeping up the daily backups and twice monthly backups to my external hard drives is paramount and something I do keep up to date. Organization, with a dose of madness tossed in to keep it real.

In between moving, tossing, organizing, blogging, and stepping away from the computer, I have managed to find two new cousins, we all descend from 2 lines in early Pennsylvania and Virginia. We have been sharing.  While sharing, I discovered some, ok, a number more than just some, of missing files on my computer.  (Refer to last sentence of the paragraph above, "Organization, with a dose of madness tossed in to keep it real.")  Books I had scanned about 2 years ago, MIA.  No where to be found.  After some quiet wailing and whining to myself, I checked one of the backup external hard drives and there they all were.  See, backups saved me a serious and painful do-over.  Did you hear my sighs of relief??  They were long and loud sighs.

Above:  just one small corner of the office.  If I can manage to clean up this corner, before fall, I will be dancing joyfully.  In that pile I see genealogy, and taxes and filing and "cleanup in aisle 4 please".  I can guarantee that this is just the tip of the iceberg.  Approaching like the "tossing stuff" project, do a little every day, or twice a day, or something.  Anything is better than nothing. (Again, I hear Man's snorting in the background.  Hmmmph.)

Last summer I spent considerable time arranging for markers to be placed on 3 graves of Man's ancestors.  I hope to personally visit two of these grave sites in the next month or so and obtain photos.  Descendants of two are so pleased that there are now new beautiful markers on their ancestor's graves.  Received a warm and loving thank you note from one of the descendants the other day.  She is thrilled.  Another descendant wrote when she saw mock-up photos that she was crying with joy.  Yes, all that work was worth it.  The money spent was worth it.  I feel closure, my heart is at peace.

What are your plans for the upcoming summer?  Research, organizing, tossing stuff, or just stepping away from the computer?  Whatever you plan, don't forget to include lots of visits and hugs with family, they are after all the basis of our research, why we do what we love so much. And, oh, take lots of photos!


Tuesday, 12 May 2015

A Comparison of Genealogy Conferences

Rootstech FGS 2015 and 

Who Do You Think You Are Live 

The comments in this post are from my own experience and others may have different perspective on the events.

There have been several posts on this blog discussing the big genealogy events this year. I was fortunate that I could attend the joint Rootstech and FGS conference in Salt Lake City in February and then last month I went to Who Do You Think You Are Live event on the last day at their new venue the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. 
Rather than post another review I will do a comparison of the 2 events.

Who Do You Think You Are Live is undoubtedly the largest genealogy event in the UK and since it started has always been held in London, this year it moved north to Birmingham and this new venue changed the layout of the exhibit hall. The previous venue in Olympia was smaller and spread across 2 floors this time it was all on one floor. This being said I am certain that the whole of this event would have fitted into the vendor hall at the Rootstech and FGS conference.

The british event had a mixture of the big genealogy companies, smaller vendors and some of the family history societies and other specialist groups.

The WDYTYA Live event always has a session each day when there is an interview with a celebrity who has appeared on the show, this year it was Reggie Yates who explored his Ghanaian roots, Alistair McGowan who discovered more about his father's Anglo - Indian heritage and the one I attended had Tamzin Outhwaite whose Italian immigrant ancestors had been interred in Palace Camp on the Isle of Man during WW2. These give the viewers more insight into how the celebrities felt when they uncovered the story of their family. 
This is part of the event that you do not get with the US conference which is very much run by the professionals and the LDS church. The celebrities at Rootstech gave talks to everyone whilst at WDYTYA it was only a proportion of the attendees who were there each day. 

Had I only attended the Rootstech part of the US conference I would have struggled to find enough presentations, of interest to me, to fill my day and would have spent more time at the Family History Library, that said there were times when I had to choose what session I wanted to attend. I decided to miss any that were being recorded as I could catch them later at home.

Three of the talks I attended at WDYTYA Live were included in the price of my VIP ticket and I had decided these before I booked.
I could have paid less for a ticket but would then have had to book any of the SOG (Society of Genealogists) talks once I arrived on the day. If you can get there early and are not fussed about attending any specific talks or attend more than one day this could be an option. I am considering attending all 3 days next year and doing more browsing, attending the free talks on some of the stands and possibly helping as a volunteer on one of the stands.

I would certainly say to anyone considering coming to the UK for the WDYTYA Live event to do their homework and come with questions for the experts. The ask the expert section at the show can be a godsend if you have a particular problem you are stuck with. I did not use this in Birmingham as I am in an organization phase at the moment rather than research, I used it in London previously and the person I spoke to offered a few new avenues for my research.

Ultimately with any of these events you get out of them what you are prepared to put in. I met up with many individuals I knew online in the US but not so in the UK. Does this reflect the type of event or the different way they collaborate?

Maybe we need to embrace the US badge, ribbon and business card culture in the UK.
Here are a few of the photos I took at these events.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Keeping Family History Stories Alive through Fiction - Part H

Keeping Family History Stories Alive through Fiction
Part H
"Dr. Bill" Smith

Do you recognize the Abigail Adams quote, “Remember the Ladies”?

Abigail Adams, from a painting by Gilbert Stuart

As her husband, John Adams, one of the Founding Fathers of the USA, was heading off to meet with the Continental Congress, Abigail Adams famously admonished him, “Remember the Ladies.” The men who served as Founding Fathers, and many of their male counterparts since, had made a habit of ignoring the ladies, as many of you will attest, I’m sure. I mention this for two reasons.

First, in doing our family history research, from our first days of getting serious about it, in the mid-1990s, my wife and I each pledged to ourselves and each other that we would faithfully research the female lines of ancestor couples as thoroughly, or more thoroughly, than the male surname line. At that time, many of the male lines had historically been done already in much more detail. It was harder to research the ladies’ side, by far, because marriage information was not always readily available. Often, only the given name of the female marriage partner was know, if that. Regardless, we were well rewarded for our efforts. Many a brick-wall on the male line, as perceived by others, was overcome by carefully examining the maternal line. Mothers, Grandmothers, and Aunts are crucial to family history research. How is that for stating the obvious!! ;-)

Second, when writing fiction to keep family history stories alive, not surprisingly, telling the ‘ladies’ stories’ is critical to being complete… as well as very interesting. So much so that many, if not most, of the stories I now write focus on the point of view of the women in the family saga, historical fiction series that is my creation.

My first novel, that began the family saga, “Back to the Homeplace,” was based on the concerns of a woman, a widow, of keeping her Century Farm, intact and in the family, on her passing. Her family had originally settled the land in 1833 while the story was taking place in 1987. She had strong feelings for her family and her land. She wanted to be sure her four children carried those same feelings forward to future generations as well. Her unorthodox ‘video will’ set that plan in motion. She was a strong-willed woman at the core of the story.

You may recall that last time, when we were talking about theme, I said the following:
In my “The Homeplace Saga” series of family saga, historical fiction stories, the theme is: “it is critically important to retain the family farm, in one piece, in the family.” It was the theme of the original novel, and that theme runs through all four novels, two other books, and hundreds of short stories that have been written in the series of stories (see: <>).

As the family saga has developed, as I’ve mentioned previously, I went back and reconstructed (created, actually, of course) that 1833 to 1987 time period for the saga. The first part of that period, 1833 to 1876, including the Civil War period, was told in a series of short stories. These were collected into book form as: “The American Centennial at the Homeplace: The Founding (1833-1876).” From the original settlers to the reconstruction of the town and surrounding rural community following the war, the women played key roles as told in the stories collected there. These roles reflect the research my wife and I have discovered as we have done our family history research. The women served not only as mothers and wives, but took on just about every role that men had, but perhaps not as often then as many do now. These are reflected in my family saga stories. You can do the same with your family stories, to keep them alive.

[Each book mentioned is available at]

During the second half of the 1800s, in the stories, it first appeared that a man, William McDonald, the grandfather of the widow in 1987, was primarily responsible for gathering additional lands around the original homestead to create the Century Farm of 1987. However, on closer examination, the story really was that he was strongly influenced by, even guided by, his mother in the entire process. In fact, she had been ‘planning’ this from the time of his birth, along with her husband. But, she was the guiding force. How she did it, and why, represents the core theme of the current set of short stores being created for “The Homeplace Saga” as it is now continuing to develop.

[These short stories are available, at no charge, at:]

What will your family saga look like to keep alive your family history research?

See you next month! I love to read comments, so please leave one or more, including questions. 

Dr. Bill


"Dr. Bill" (Wm. L.) Smith can be found regularly at his genealogy blog, "Dr. Bill Tells Ancestor Stories" <> or his family saga blog, "The Homeplace Saga," <>. He is an original contributor, as The Heritage Tourist, to the "In-DepthGenealogy" blog with a monthly column in the "Going In-Depth" digi-mag. He also writes a monthly post for the Worldwide Genealogy Blog.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Mother's Day - A celebration

Firstly I have to apologise for being a little tardy with my scheduled post! We are at present driving home, after spending the weekend with family, and celebrating Mother's Day with my mother. This morning, we braved a very chilly morning to take Mum out for Mothers's Day brunch. As she is quite elderly now it is a wonderful to have some time with her and see her delight when the huge plate of apple and cinnamon pancakes was popped in front of her. 

This morning's celebration got me thinking! remembering past mother days and wondering how long we had been celebrating Mother's Day in Australia.  

It you go back in history there are numerous references of different festivals that celebrated Mothers.  Many historians proposed that the first Mother's Day celebrations were the ancient spring festivals dedicated to mother goddesses. In Rome, around 250 BC there was the celebration to Cybele, or  Magna Mater (Great Mother). This festival was celebrated for three days in March and was called Hilaria.  The Greek's had a similar celebration in spring in which they honoured Rhea the mother of gods and goddesses. 
Anna Jarvis

A similar celebration, called Mothering Sunday, has been practiced in England since the 1600's. This celebration is also called Mid-Lent Sunday. However, the celebration of the modern Mothers day is accredited to Anna Jarvis. In 1908 Anna sought to honour her mother by holding a memorial church service in Grafton, West Virginia. It was her desire to have a day put aside especially to remember and pay respect to mothers. Following this service Anna and her fellow supporters lobbied officials throughout America to have Mother's Day endorsed as an official holiday.

I hope and pray that someone, sometime will found a memorial mothers day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life.  She is entitled to it.  
- Ann Reeves Jarvis.

By 1911 Mother's Day was celebrated widely throughout the United States, and in 1914 the second Sunday in May was officially declared as "Mother's Day".  Her wishes were realised.  Interestingly, in later years, after the commercialisation of "Mother's Day" by florists, chocolate manufacturers, and greeting card companies, Anna regretted the move away from the true meaning of Mother's Day.

It seems Australia followed quickly in the steps of the United States and "Mother's Day" is reported to be celebrated in 1909, only a year after Anna's celebrated memorial service in West Virgina.

A number of reports can be found in TROVE, outlining the celebration of the new "Mother's Day" holiday.  The report here from 10 May 1909 points out that "the second Sunday in May is now generally set apart in the United States as a period for extolling of the virtues of mothers" it goes on to point out "The mothers of Australia are no less deserving of praise and gratitude than are those of the great Republic".

How did you celebrate mothers day, has your celebration changed over time?  I remember as a small child my sisters and I making cards and saving up for a small gift for Mum. Often this gift would be some talc and soap or a new cup, saucer and plate set for her tea set collection.  Mothers Day would start with four sisters bouncing on Mum and Dad's bed, bringing in our gifts and settling in for a cuddle and wrestle.

As we grew older, we took on the task of preparing a special Sunday lunch to celebrate mother's day.  The kitchen would be turned into something a little short of a war zone, as we put together a three course lunch and our Dad would be assigned to the kitchen sink, up to his elbows in soapy suds, washing the piles of discarded saucepans and pots. My mother must have observed these operations with great amusement and possibly a little trepidation. 

A few years passed and it became my turn to be the recipient of Mother's Day attention.  I recall a number of occasions, lying in bed, and listening to my eldest son, in our kitchen giving directions as my two boys prepared my Mother's Day breakfast.  After a short while, two smiling teenage boys would appear at our bedroom door, one bearing a cup of steaming hot tea and the other balancing a large tray of breakfast goodies.  The tray would be laden with an enormous bowl of rice bubbles, milk lapping the rim of the bowl and a large orange on a side dish.  My husband would smile, wink and whisper,  "Make sure you eat all that cereal".  

Today we celebrate Mothers Day with family gatherings, special lunches, flowers, cards and gifts. Yes, it has become highly commercialised, however it has also become a special time for family to reconnect and pay respects to mothers, grandmothers and aunts. 

I would like to dedicate this Mother's Day post to my special Mum and my grandmothers as these wonderful women have had such an incredible influence on who I am today. 
My Nannas - Happy Mother's Day

Thursday, 7 May 2015

A Suffragette Intervention, 1908

Local history features in my post of this month.  As Britain wakes up to the results of yesterday's  General Election, it seemed appropriate to look back to 1908 and  a visit  by Liberal Prime Minister Herbert Asquith to the village of Earlston in the  Scottish Borders.    The visit  features on several postcards in the  collection of "Auld Earlston", my local  heritage group,  with past  newspapers, held  at the Heritage Hub in Hawick,  giving  a colourful account of the event.   

This is not boring politics! So do read on - the description of the suffragette incident is particularly entertaining, not least for the journalistic style. 

"The Jedburgh Advertiser" of October 3rd described the plans  for the visit.  These included  the erection of a tent, measuring 220 feet by 60 feet  with seating accommodation for about 4000 people - this when the population  of Earlston in the 1911 census was only 1677!   How many political meetings in the Borders attract that kind of number today?  

Special trains were laid on from Jedburgh, Kelso and Edinburgh;  a large number of Members of Parliament  had intimated  their intentions to be present, and it was noted that presiding over the event would be Mr H. J. Tennant, M.P. for Berwickshire.   

 Bunting out on Earlston High Street for the Prime Minister's visit. 

The visit  proved to be a notable  occasion,  disrupted by the late arrival of reporters and M.Ps on a delayed Edinburgh train which took three hours to cover the 35 miles to  Earlston; crowds spilling out of from the congested,  hot marquee, the intervention of a woman suffragette,  and noise from the "shunt, snort and whistles" of a railway engine threatening  to drown out the speakers.  

The newspaper report gave a vivid picture of the crowds and the conditions in the marquee:
 "The special train that had started at Jedburgh Railway Station seemed to provide more than ample accommodation for the passengers, but so many persons joined it at Jedfoot, Nisbet, Kirkbank and Roxburgh, it was evident miscalculations had been made.   All the passengers from Kelso joined it at Roxburgh and when it had received additions at other stations where it stopped, the carriages were full. 
The marquee could not contain all who wished to be present.  The side canvas was raised and hundreds of people had to be content with standing room beyond the lines of the tent........Many who were in places distant from the platform did not hear the speeches distinctly.   Lighted lamps were suspended from lines and were affected by pressure on the canvas and cords were bobbing most of the time and presented a somewhat fantastic appearance that was slightly distracting.  The heat was very great and the people were so densely crowded that there was some discomfort".    

The arrival of the official party at Earlston Station
Leaving the station for the marquee

"The Jedburgh Advertiser" of October 9th noted that "When the Prime Minister appeared there was nothing of the enthusiasm that was displayed when Mr Gladstone entered a great meeting....... The reception given to the chairman cannot be described as cordial and it was apparent that the rupture between Mr Tennant, MP for Berwickshire. and his constituents had not been altogether healed".   

When Mr Asquith stood to speak "He got  a warm greeting.  Mary of the people rose to their feet and waved hats and handkerchiefs and cheered with great cordiality".  

However he had only said a few words when,  at the remark  "My primary purpose in coming here this afternoon is...., a woman startled her neighbours by exclaiming " Give votes to women!".  The interrupter was a young woman of graceful figure and pleasant features.  Stewards made their way to the fair  suffragette  and quickly bore the woman out,  calm and unresisting but with her sailor hat somewhat awry". 

By his description, the newspaper reporter clearly found this incident far more interesting than Mr Asquith's speech which he described as "Unimpassioned with no striking phrases.    The Scottish Small Landholders Bill was his main theme.  He had great command of language  and discussed  the subject with much detail". 

The vote  of thanks was given by Sir John Jardine, M.P. for Roxburghshire.    "His speech was " a striking contrast to that of Mr Asquith.  He spoke with great fluency  to stir the majority of his hearers.".

The Lord Advocate Mr Shaw brought the meeting  to a close commenting "There are four great institutions in this little land of ours - public houses, the school, the workhouse and the land.  We are in favour of fewer people in the public house and more people in the school;  fewer people in the workhouse and more on the land".  This of course was very loudly cheered".     


But what had prompted this meeting to be held in a small Berwickshire village in the rural Scottish Borders?   Mr Asquith was M.P. for East Fife and had Border connections.  His second wife was socialite Margot  Tennant, daughter of the prominent Tennant family  of the Glen, Innerleithen, whilst his brother-in-law  Mr H. J. Tennant was the local Berwickshire Member of Parliament.

No general election was looming.  For Mr Asquith had assumed office  only a few months before, on the resignation of Mr Campbell Bannerman due to illness.  A turbulent political situation faced him, with issues of House of Lords reform,  home rule for Ireland, industrial strife, an increasingly militant women suffragette movement and worsening international relations with Germany, culminating in the First World War.  

But on a brief Saturday afternoon in October, Earlston was on the national stage politically.

Official photograph taken by Walter Swanston, an Earlston-born photographer
 who set up a studio on Leith Walk, Edinburgh.