Sunday, 23 August 2009

A Very Useful Obituary

I was browsing through some family documents on my computer this week when I came across a newspaper clipping and was once again struck by the great amount of information contained in these few paragraphs.

Like most of the newspaper clippings I’ve inherited there is no indication of which paper it came from or the date of publication. However, I suspect it came from the Colne Valley Guardian (a title which went through a number of name changes) and based on other documents I have must have been published on 13th February 1925.

The gentleman concerned, Edmund Wilkinson (1853-1925), was the brother of my great-great-grandfather.



The death occurred on Monday of Mr. Edmund Wilkinson, at the home of his brother, Mr. David Wilkinson, Hill Crest, Scar Lane, Golcar, at the advanced age of 71 years. He had been suffering from a disease of the heart for a considerable period, and for the last three months had been confined to his bed.

Mr. Wilkinson, who was a bachelor, was very well known in the district, having occupied the position of general manager of the Slaithwaite Equitable Industrial Society for 22 years, and previous to that was 20 years manager at the No. 2 Branch, Bolster Moor, Golcar. He retired from the position in July, 1917. In 1919 Mr. Wilkinson was elected to serve on the County Council, and he represented the Golcar district for three years. The previous member was Mr. William Lockwood.

The deceased gentleman was born at Bank Top, Slaithwaite, and for many years lived at Hill Top. Upon retiring he took up residence at Bethel Villa, Clough, Golcar. In politics he was a Liberal, and was a member of the Slaithwaite Liberal Club. Mr. Wilkinson was a regular attender at Sunny Bank Baptist Chapel as long as his health would permit.

By his oft-expressed wish he was cremated at Manchester on Tuesday, and the funeral took place at Pole Moor Baptist Chapel yesterday. The last rites were performed by the Rev. D. W. Young, pastor at Sunny Bank, and a large number of relatives and friends were present.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Warning: Genealogy may affect your emotional health

This week’s Who Do You Think You Are – the BBC programme in which celebrities trace their family history – was a particularly emotional one. Kim Cattrall set out to discover what had happened to her grandfather who had abandoned his young family some 70 years earlier.

Seeing a celebrity reduced to tears is pretty familiar WDYTYA territory. In fact I’ve long suspected that the amount of emotion to be wrung from a family story is a major factor in deciding which make it to the final series and which are assigned to the cutting room floor.

To the outsider genealogy must seem like a cosy little hobby. The collection of names, dates and dry historic facts may not immediately strike one as something to get the pulse racing and yet the emotional impact of uncovering the past can be very real.

We may not all have a story like Kim’s in our family history but there were certainly elements I could connect to my own family.

I’m someone that believes that you shouldn’t be afraid to ask a question just because you might not like the answer. However, I wonder if before undertaking a journey of ancestral discovery we should all take a moment to consider whether we are prepared not only for what we might find but also for the effect it will have.

So my question this week: Should genealogy carry a health warning?

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Do clans have anything to do with researching Scottish genealogy?

A week ago, along with 47,000 others, I attended The Gathering a two-day ‘celebration of the culture and history of Scotland’ and the signature event of Homecoming Scotland 2009, a year-long government initiative aimed at encouraging those with a passion or connection with Scotland to ‘come home’.

As a tourism initiative and a boost to the local economy it appears to have been a success and I have personal evidence of this, as my Scottish-born Mum (now resident in England) was one of those who made a special trip to Scotland to attend. However, those of us who live in Edinburgh, where it seems whatever your surname or however tenuous your connection to Scotland someone will be happy to flog you ‘your tartan’, may have been left wondering what the point of it all was.

Interestingly, The Gathering website acknowledges ‘the near extinction of clan activity’ in Scotland and describes the event as ‘an opportunity to thank the clan associations and Scottish societies from around the world for their role in keeping these traditions alive’, so I guess it’s fair to say this wasn’t really one designed for the locals!

As a genealogist working in Scotland it’s not surprising that I sometimes get asked ‘Which clan do I belong to?’ or ‘What’s my tartan?’. Unfortunately though, these are questions I struggle to answer. I realise that Scotland’s strong cultural identity is one of the reasons why people are so keen to learn about their Scottish ancestors, but the subject of clans seems to have very little to do with the genealogical research I carry out.

However, in honour of The Gathering I thought it was time I looked a bit more deeply into the issue and so today, armed with seven different books on tracing Scottish ancestry, I have sat down to see what I can discover.

The first thing I notice is a certain similarity. Most of the books seem to have a chapter whose title includes the word clan somewhere near the end of the book, but the relevant section is rather short. Some suggest that a book on genealogy is not the place to discuss clans, others give a brief definition but do not indicate how this relates to tracing one’s ancestry as described in the foregoing chapters. Cameron Taylor, ‘consultant to Scotland’s national AncestralScotland initiative’ and author of Rooted in Scotland refers the researcher to the clan search facilities on the website of the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs and on (neither of these facilities seemed to be working when I tried today). Alan Stewart in Gathering the Clans (a book with only a brief mention of clans) cites instances of families changing their surname to that of a clan chief whose protection they wanted, whilst Bruce Durie is bold enough to declare that ‘Not every Scotsman has a clan’ as well as giving some reasons why not everyone who had a ‘clan surname’ was related to the clan chief or to each other.

Whilst this has pretty much confirmed what I already knew it hasn’t really given me an answer to the tricky clan question. It seems no one feels they can quite ignore the subject of clans but, in a book on tracing Scottish ancestors at least, they don’t have much to say about it.

So do clans have anything to do with researching Scottish genealogy? Not really but maybe, maybe? At least with the setting up of I now have somewhere to refer those who ask about finding their tartan!