Genealogy, History and Burning Questions With No Answers

March 10, 2009


I am a woman of passions.  Many passions.  I’m passionate about many things for about a minute and a half.  Then the passion cools as I get bored and move one.  Arguably, these could be coined obsessions…but we’ll leave the psychoanalysis for another day.  I’m just not feeling passionate about publicly plumbing the depths of my psyche today.  Today I’m feeling passionate about history.

Do you like history?  I never did in school.  Well, I liked American history pretty well, and ancient civilizations.   But all that European stuff was a huge snooze.  However, a few years ago I discovered  I began my family tree.  It’s been a fascinating few years and I’ve become a rather accomplished amateur family historian.   I love the mysteries, I love the puzzles.  I’ve identified aspects of my ancestors back 12 and 13 generations.  At least the British ones.  The German ones are a different story.  There are not a lot of German records available online…but the Brits have a huge amount of information available online for ancestry research purposes.  (If you think the IRS is bad, baby you ain’t seen nothing until you begin to research your British ancestry!  They’ve got records available back into the 15th century and beyond!  YOWZERS!!!)  

There are not too many family names in Great Britain and those that there are can be found in all parts of Great Britain.  This means that if you have British ancestry you probably have a pretty common last name or ancestors with pretty common last names.   Now I’ve found that as a rule these ancestors didn’t move out too far outside of their county…they’d follow the work around a bit but not get too far afoot (unless they traveled to Wales or emigrated to the US).  To make matters worse, first names were pretty unimaginative.  You don’t find Melissa and Takia and Kristin and Lara and Roxanne.  You find loads of Mary, Jane, Elizabeth, combinations of the three and a few Tryphena’s and Jemima’s and Charlotte’s thrown in every so often.  Although my maiden name is Blake and Blake is VERY common throughout the UK, my Blakes are centered in county Devon.  And even within county Devon, they are pretty much isolated to one or two villages.  So it has made them exponentially easier to trace than if they were nomadic.  So, some branches of my family are researched extensively.  Others, the Welsh branches for example, are not as clearly researched and require work.  Much work.  Seems everybody was named Evans and specifically Daniel or Elizabeth Evans.  In multiple parishes.  Multiple examples of each.  SIGH.  Who KNOWS if you pegged the right likely ancestor!  You might have just related yourself to Blackbeard the Pirate with one quick mouse click when in reality, your relative was Casper Milquetoast!  Well, that’s a story for another day. 

I started talking about history and that’s what I really wanted to talk about.  I’ve learned a lot about history that you never learned in school as a result of doing this research.  For example.  In history I did not know what “apprentice” really meant.  Did you?  Well, I’ve recently found out some facts about apprenticeships.  Children of the poor (and there was a lot of that going around in 18th and 19th century Britain) were often apprenticed out to people at 7 or 8 years old.  Apprenticed didn’t really mean they were learning a trade.  Essentially, they were being indentured to somebody for a period of time.  (Yes, there were often legal papers of same)  These children would work for a tradesperson or farmer or what have you, feeding chicken, planting, weeding, harvesting or whatever the trades person required.  In return, though these children were not paid generally, they received food and shelter.  Because their parents generally couldn’t afford them.  Some went to work in places where there was machinery…and because they were small, could clean UNDER the machinery without turning it off and losing productivity (forget that a kid or two lost an arm doing it…)  Others were sent to the mines and quarries to work there.  Sometimes these apprentices ran away, were caught, brought back and stood before the magistrate.  Sometimes they did it repeatedly.  Sometimes they ended up in the Workhouse.   I found several children in my ancestry that were apprenticed back in the early 1700’s.  I find myself wondering if they were treated kindly and hugged.  Did they ever see their parents again?  Was it like Sunday visits or something?  Or were they pretty much grown and gone at 7 or 8?  I feel compelled to research this and my heart bleeds for these babies because I don’t know what I don’t know.  Perhaps they were treated very well!  My heart could stop bleeding then….

Then there are Bastardy Bonds.  Didn’t learn about them in history either did you?  I know I surely didn’t!  There was a ton of illegitimate children in the UK is my observation.  Teenage pregnancy/unwed mothers is not something new and unique to the 20th century US let me tell you!  Neither is child support or father’s trying to dodge it.  I’ve identified a couple illegitimate children in the 18th and 19th centuries in my family tree.  Seems the young girls are in service and get themselves in trouble.  Illegitimacy had its stigma then as now, however in general, they went home to their parents and the families cared for the girls and their child.  Some could not, however, and as a result of the Poor Act (from the 1600’s I believe) it was left up to the local Parish to provide the necessary charity for the girl’s lying in care and the babies clothes and food.  Since the parish had limited resources they had a vested interest in finding papa.  When it was plain the girl was pregnant and had no means but the government dole via the Parish, she was called before the magistrate and questioned as to who was the papa.  Then, when the child was born she was called forth again for questioning.  If the magistrate decided that the fellow she said was papa was indeed papa he was called in.  Sooner or later, when all agreed, the subject in question was papa, he was ordered to pay for maintenance of the child.   I believe the posting of the Bastardy Bond was interjected there somewhere and required the reported papa to ensure he would come to court and had to have a couple relatives swear they and he would be there.  Parents of illegitimate children could be sent to the workhouse or to prison if this were a customary practice for them/repeat offenders.  I came across one bastardy bond where a woman was requesting upkeep from her 6 illegitimate childrens’ father.  He was her employer…she his housekeeper…and he had fathered all 6.  Thought he could get away with paying her 10 shillings for her work and nothing for the kiddies.  Bastardy bonds, btw, were also used in the US though I didn’t learn that in US history either.

I’ve also learned the difference between lunatic, imbecile, idiot and feeble minded and normal as it applies to the census takers determination in some census records.  Right now though, as I am getting older and my memory is not what it used to be I am too imbecilic to recall which one they used for seniors who weren’t quite normal.  SIGH.  Next time there is a US census I’m going to have to check to see if there is a column like that on our census reports.  Mine probably says normal.  Though those that know me would definitely argue that point!



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