Monday 20 June 2011

Mappy Monday - Panorama from the top of Snowdon

Wales is the only part of the UK in which I have no personal or family interest, so I sometimes feel that I may be neglecting it. I haven't even visited Wales since the 1960s, although I have had some terrific views of South Wales from the air - it looks wonderful in the morning sunlight at the end of an overnight flight from the USA.

So I was pleased to find that I had an interesting 'map' in one of my books. The book in question is Baedeker's Great Britain 1901, a pocket sized volume of nearly 600 pages, including a number of maps and  some plans of major cathedrals. This is the only panorama, though. I've never seen, or at least I've never notices, a mountain panorama before, although I've seen panoramic views of London and other cities. I find the view to the west particularly interesting, with views of Anglesey, the Isle of Man and Ireland.

This is what Baedeker has to say about the panorama:
The view from the top of Snowdon, though scarcely so wild and grand as some of the mountain-panoramas of Scotland, is very extensive and varied, including the greater part of North Wales, a wide expanse of sea, and upwards of twenty lakes and tarns. The view at sunrise or at sunset is particularly fine; but the summit is often swathed in mist for days at a time. The mist, however, is not always an unmixed evil, as some of the finest effects are caused by its surging or dispersal
I made as good a scan of the panorama as I could, without damaging it or the book, as the binding is fairly tight. The book is in pretty good condition, apart from a small tear to one of the fold-out maps and a slight scuff on the binding. I can't remember what I paid for it, but it wasn't a lot. Definitely one of my best bargains.



Sunday 19 June 2011

Hidden treasure - Digital microfilm update

Since my last post on the subject, several extra record series have been added to the no-frills 'Digital microfilm' section of DocumentsOnline.
You could be forgiven for not noticing this, since the introductory page for digital microfilm does not list the new records yet - because there are so many new additions, this needs to be completely re-written.

To find and download a file, you need to identify the reference for the piece that you want using the Catalogue. Then go to DocumentsOnline and type the reference in the 'Quick search' box, press 'Go' and then follow the instructions. You might want to go and make a cup of tea, walk the dog or do some laundry while the file downloads, unless you have a super-duper fast broadband connection, because the files can be very large, sometimes amounting to hundreds of pages. Worth it, though.

Here are some of the new records that have been added, that may be of interest to genealogists:

ADM 171 Navy department medal rolls

FO 611 Indexes of passport holders

HO 9 Convict hulk registers

HO 11 Convict transportation registers

HO 40 Home Office disturbances correspondence

HO 52 Home Office counties correspondence and papers

WO 116 Army out-pensioners admission books

The National Archives reference: WO 116/1

WO 117 Army length of service pension admission books



Friday 17 June 2011

How reliable is the census?

You have any amount of information about them; names, ages, occupations, birthplaces, even an exact address on or close to Census night. But despite your best efforts, you can't find your family in the census. Nowadays, your first impulse is to blame the accuracy of the transcription, and sometimes you are exactly right to do that. Then maybe you try another site, then you search by address instead of by name, and still no luck. OK, maybe the page you need has been missed from the microfilm, or from the scanned image taken from the film or from the original. Finally you check to see if that part of the census is known to be missing - there are odd parts of the census that known to have been damaged or lost - but still no reasonable explanation, and no-one to blame, so what now?

For most of the readers of this blog, this year or last year was census year (no, I don't know where you live, but I know what countries you are in), so it's quite a topical issue. When I am on holiday I like to get a flavour of the place by looking at the local newspaper, and last month an item in the Savannah Morning News caught my attention "Tybee says census count wrong". The latest census count shows that Tybee's population dropped from 3,392 in 2000 to 2,990 in 2010. But local residents, including the mayor, are adamant that the population has actually grown during that time. Local resident Linda Cox said that no census workers came to her house, and she only had a census form because she asked at the post office. The mayor, Jason Buelterman, thought the problem may have been due to the fact that most residents do not have mailboxes, and census forms are not sent to post office boxes. Other residents, one of them a city council member, also claimed that there had been no contact of any kind from census workers, and no census forms delivered.

This is a 21st century problem in one small corner of Georgia, but it is unlikely to be an isolated incident. and although the precise details will differ, it is reasonable to suppose that things did not always go smoothly in every place, in every census year. In fact we know that they did not. In the 1861 census of England and Wales, James Childs, the registrar for the sub-district of Landport, part of Portsea Island in Hampshire, was concerned at the lack of diligence on the part of one of his enumerators:

District of Portsea Island
Sub-district of Landport

I hereby certify that not being satisfied with the statement of population and houses returned by the enumerator of No 37 district or with his ability to clear up the discrepancies I with the sanction of my Superintendent took such steps as appeared to me necessary to obtain a correct census of that district. I have succeeded in doing so and the result which appears on page IV may be relied on as authentic - owing however to the enumerator having mis-numbered his houses, kept no connexion between their order and that of the schedules, and on entering the schedules counted each one as a house I have been unable to separate lodgers from householders in the details of each page, but am confident that the total of houses as well as of their particulars is correct.

James L Childs
17 May 1861

A different problem from the present-day one, and a satisfactory resolution, thanks to a conscientious registrar. But a revealing insight into the way things actually happened, and a reminder that instructions were not always followed correctly. And that's before you even get to the problem of householders who didn't understand their instructions, or who gave ambiguous or wrong information in the first place, or who hid in the cellar because they thought it was the rent man...


Saturday 11 June 2011

Shopping Saturday - Selfridges of Oxford Street

Many department stores started out as drapers' shops, then grew by acquiring neighbouring premises and widening their assortment. Not Selfridges, though. It arrived, fully-formed, at the western end of Oxford Street in 1909. It must have made quite an impact at the time.

Harry Gordon Selfridge 1864-1947 was an American who made Britain his home, although he remained an American citizen and never took British nationality. He was born in Wisconsin, but grew up in Michigan, where he worked for Marshall, Field and Co. He visited London in 1906, and was unimpressed with the standard of the established department stores there, and three years later unleashed his vision on the unsuspecting British nation. He introduced such revolutionary developments as large plate-glass windows, and the art of window display - London's shop windows had previously been crammed full of merchandise. The electric lights in Selfridge's windows were left on outside of shop hours, and the Christmas windows in particular became a tourist attraction in themselves.

Selfridge's personal life was not as successful at the business that bears his name. His mother, Lois, brought up her family unaided, and travelled with her son when he moved to England. His wife, Rosalie Buckingham, died in 1918 in the outbreak of influenza that followed the First World War, and his mother in 1924. Without the stabilising influence of these two women in his life, he neglected the business, while continuing to spend freely from the takings, even through the Depression years. He died in 1947, in very reduced circumstances.

The business went through some lean years, but recovered, and today is still one of Oxford street's major attractions. In Selfridge's day there was a plan to create a direct link to the store from Bond Street underground station - the store has at least three basement levels - but this never came to be. But the store never missed a merchandising opportunity if it could. One innovation was its own range of postcards 'The Selfridge Set' of London View Post Cards.

One of these was (surprise) a view of the store itself  'OXFORD STREET - One of London's leading shopping thoroughfares. Messrs Selfridge's magnificent premises shown in this view are a landmark for visitors to London, where this firm have made shopping a pleasure'.

Selfridge's has often turned over large amount of floor space to exhibitions, rather than cramming every square foot with merchandise. In the centenary year there was an exhibition in the basement devoted to the history of the shop and to the Selfridge family. It says everything about the Selfridge commitment to retail as showbiz that the centrepiece was a life-size model of Gordon Selfridge made entirely of jelly beans!


Monday 6 June 2011

Sentimental Sunday - Robert Collins 1927-1983

Today would have been my dad's 84th birthday. As you can see from the dates above, he didn't make it past 55 (he died in January, and his birthday was June). So I thought today would be a good day to write a post about him.

Like most other British men of his generation, he was called up for National Service. He served in the army, working as a storeman in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. When he enlisted in 1945 at the age of 18 he was just over 5ft 4in tall, with a chest measurement of 33in, and weighed only 115lbs!

All these details are in his army pass book, which I still have. Fortunately the wee girl who scribbled on it (who, me?) used a pencil, so I was able to remove the marks with a soft eraser. One of the pages in the pass book is the standard will form that soldiers were required to complete, so it contains his signature, and those of two witnesses. I wonder if C Thompson and G Cruickshank of the Seaforth Highlanders are still alive?

Dad spent much of his time at Tel-el-Kebir in Egypt, and my mother still has some pictures of him there, complete with camels, pyramids etc. Because he was in the army from 1945 to 1947, he didn't see any active service, unlike one of his younger brothers who served in Korea. He mostly had a pretty good time, and enjoyed his work. He told me about some of the perks of working in stores, such as having two sets of kit - the set you actually wore, and a second set, brushed, pressed and polished to perfection to be produced for kit inspections!

This is one of my favourite pictures of him, relaxing on his bunk and enjoying a beer. He looks equally happy in the other pictures that we have from his time in Egypt.

He sometimes wondered if he should have made a career in the army, and perhaps learned a trade. In civilian life he had no qualifications, unless you count the possession of a driving licence. He would have made a good engineer, or electrician, or something similar. He was always very practical, and good at DIY and tinkering with cars, and so on.

But I'm glad he didn't stay in the army, because then he might not have met my mother, and I wouldn't be here! He died before I started doing family history in earnest, so I never got to share any of my finds with him. I'm sure he would have been interested, and would have given me even more information. But I did ask him about his family while I was in my early teens, and some of what he told me came in very handy. I still miss him, and I think about him every day.