Why Waste Time and Money Researching Your Family History?

It’s been an all-consuming interest for the past goodness knows how many years. I’ve spent countless hours on research. And don’t mention the small fortune shelled out on subscription sites, books, certificates, data storage, courses, archives visits, family-related antiques, postcards and ancestral tourism. I’ve amassed files full of records and reports. I’ve endured the frustration of dealing with the fog-plaiting myriad of online records. My living room floor frequently takes on the role of a temporary filing cabinet. I’ve risked eye-strain and headache trying to read scratchy, barely legible writing and faded documents, both original and on microfilm and microfiche. I spend hour upon hour caught up in suffering, harsh lives, misery and death. Some days I’ve nothing to show for it other than the elimination of yet another source.

Is it really worth it? Should I have been living in the present and making memories rather than digging up the past? What really is the point of knowing my 6x great grandfather’s name let alone how many children he had and what happened to them all? And when I’m gone will all my research follow me into the ground or go up in smoke?

But then there’s that Eureka moment when I’ve found out something. The intellectual challenge of cracking what appears to be an insoluble family history puzzle, as well as the broader learning about aspects of history never taught at school: ones that are really interesting because I can relate them to my flesh and blood. There’s the thrill of actually reading that document or handling some centuries old piece of paper and feeling that connectedness with history. There’s the sense of belonging through finding my family, ones that are long-forgotten. It’s like bringing them back to life in a way. There’s the sense of community too, with those pursuing the same obsession. There’s the brick wall that nags at me night and day. I’m never finished. Loose ends abound. There’s always more to discover. So day after day, week after week I’m drawn back.

Let this serve as a warning to anyone starting out on family history. Are you really prepared for the expensive, frustrating, 24×7 obsession you’re about to unleash into your life?

And if the answer is yes, you won’t regret it!

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Forever England, Forever Yorkshire. One Small CWGC Cemetery in Belgium

To paraphrase Rupert Brooke’s immortal words, “there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever” …….. the Colne Valley. Or more precisely Colne Valley Cemetery. I stumbled upon this small cemetery in Belgium on my March 2018 visit to the Ypres Salient.

When visiting the Great War Battlefields I prioritise walking over driving, and my latest visit was no exception. I clocked up in excess of 120 miles on foot. It’s by far the best way to see the battlefields and get a real feel for the lie of the land, the high ground, the open expanses over which the troops attacked, their vulnerability and visibility to defending forces, and the distances involved. I tend to mix and match walks from various books. I also use a Linesman, with its GPS and trench map overlays, to plot exactly where I am in relation to the trenches and front lines of a century ago. For more details about the Linesman, please read my earlier post.

One of the books I used on my latest visit, Paul Reed’s ‘Walking the Salient’, included an Yser Canal walk in Chapter 3 which referenced the intriguingly named Colne Valley Cemetery. The walk actually stopped short of it, but I pushed on.

Colne Valley Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

The cemetery is located near the village of Boezinghe (or Boesinghe as it was known during the War). For most of the War, the east side of the village directly faced the German front line. Holding the British line here was dangerous, with regular casualties from German artillery and sniper fire. The cemetery, just south of the protruding German trench known as Caesar’s Nose, was started by men of the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment) in July 1915. Territorial battalions of this regiment formed part of the 49th (West Riding) Division. In a nod to their Yorkshire home, Colne Valley, Skipton Road and Huddersfield Road were names given to nearby 49th Division trenches. The cemetery was in use until February 1916. Of the 47 First World War burials here, 30 of the graves are of officers and men of the West Riding Regiment.

Colne Valley both

Trench Maps of area from July 1915 (L) and July 1917 overlaid against modern map (R) showing location of Yorkshire named trenches in 1915 and Colne Valley Cemetery (green highlight)

Looking at the burials, three of the men were from the Huddersfield area, all serving with the 1/7th (Colne Valley) Battalion of the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment). Two of these, Pte Fred Clough (service number 7/1913), and Pte Ernest Butterworth (service number 7/2165), were the first men to be buried in the cemetery, which fittingly bears the Colne Valley name by which their Territorial Battalion was commonly known. Perhaps the fact these first two burials were of Colne Valley Battalion men played a part in the naming of the cemetery, as much as the nearby trench name?

Official records note their deaths as taking place on Monday 12 July 1915. However, the confusion of record keeping in war can be gauged from other sources. The Battalion’s Unit War Diary, a daily record of their overseas activities, names other ranks as well as officers who were killed in action in these early days. The majority of Unit War Diaries (but by no means all) only name officers who died. It indicates both Fred and Ernest’s deaths took place on 11 July 1915, the Sunday. Newspaper reports add another twist, referring to Pte Clough’s death as taking place on the Sunday (‘Huddersfield Daily Examiner’ 16 July 1915, ‘Yorkshire Post & Leeds Intelligencer’ and ‘Sheffield Daily Telegraph’, 17 July 1915 editions), and Pte Butterworth’s on the Monday (‘Huddersfield Daily Examiner’ 15 July 1915 edition).

Fred Clough was born in the Quarmby area of Huddersfield on 12 September 1890, and baptised the following month at St Stephen’s, Lindley. His parents were woollen weaver Harry Clough and his wife Sarah Jane (née Marsden). The couple’s other children included Lily (born 1888), Minnie (1892), Florence (born 1895, but died the following year), Herbert (born 1898, died 1912) and Marian (1905).

By 1911 the family were living at East Street, Lindley, with Fred now working as a small wire drawer. This occupation involved drawing metal through a series of dies or templates to produce wire. At the time of signing his 7th West Riding Regiment Territorial Force attestation papers at Milnsbridge on 3 September 1914, Fred was employed by Messrs. Joseph Sykes Bros., a wire card clothing manufacturer, in their Acre Mills at Lindley.

Territorial Forces were usually exempt from serving overseas but days later, as part of his enlistment, he agreed to serve outside the U.K. if a national emergency so required. After home training, he and the rest of the Battalion left Doncaster on 14 April 1915 bound for Folkestone. They set sail for Boulogne on board the ‘Manchester Importer’, arriving at 4.30 a.m. the following day.

Their early weeks were spent in France, before they moved to Belgium arriving at St-Jan-ter-Biezen on 30 June 1915. They, along with the rest of the 49th Division, were to take over trenches in the area north of Ypres around Boesinghe, along the Yser Canal.

The diary for July 1915 records active enemy trench mortar and regular shelling including, on 10 July, a gas shell hitting a dugout which affected 29 men from ‘C’ Company. Fortunately none of the gas-affected men were classed as ‘very bad’. These days of noted enemy activity were interspersed by others recorded as ‘quiet’, or having ‘no incident’.

Fred was killed in action on a day described in the Unit War Diary as ‘fairly quiet’. In addition to Fred, it was the day Pte Butterworth lost his life, and an officer plus two or three other ranks were wounded. The officer, 2nd Lieutenant Beckwith from Huddersfield and of the local firm Messrs. Beckwith and Co., suffered a broken leg as a result of a shrapnel injury. Fred died instantly after being shot through the head and, according to the newspapers, he was buried on Monday (12 July 1915). As mentioned earlier, Monday is the day of his death according to official records. He was 24-years-old.

At the end of July, a Memorial Service was held at the Lindley Zion United Methodist Church, which was attended by many of his former work colleagues.

Fred Clough’s Headstone at Colne Valley Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

Ernest Butterworth was the son of Holmfirth woollen manufacturer Alfred Henry Butterworth and his wife Alice Annie (née Hobson). He was born on 10 May 1889 and baptised the following month at the Holmfirth Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, which he remained associated with for the rest of his life. Alfred and Annie’s eldest child, Robert, was born in 1887, but he died in 1892. Their other children were Annie (born 1890), Norman (1892), Frank (1894), Marion (1897) and Herbert (1900).

In the 1911 census the family address was Park Riding, Holmfirth. Ernest followed his father into the family business of Messrs. H.S. Butterworth, at Lower Mills. He was also an active member of Holmfirth Liberal Club. Described as ‘of a homely and genial disposition’ he enlisted with the local Territorials a few days after Fred Clough, on 7 September 1914. He then followed the same path as Fred, arriving in France on 15 April 1915 and being killed in action in identical circumstances on the same day – dying instantaneously after being shot through the head. Corporal J.R. Bower and his Commanding Officer wrote to his family with details. The family also received his personal effects, which included his disc, belt, letters, pipe, photo, diary and pouch.

The Butterworth family suffered a further blow in 1917, when another son, Norman, lost his life whilst serving King and country. 2nd Lieutenant Butterworth, of the Royal Flying Corps, was killed in action on 9 May 1917 during a dogfight with German aircraft.

Headstone of Ernest Butterworth at Colne Valley Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

The third Huddersfield and District burial in Colne Valley Cemetery is that of Pte Herbert Lionel (Bertie) Broadbent, (7/2240), killed in action on 30 July 1915.

The ‘Huddersfield Daily Examiner’ of 3 August 1915 reported his death. It included a letter to his parents at their Woodfield Terrace, Bankfield Road home, from Captain C.H. Lockwood. He was the officer commanding Bertie’s ‘C’ Company of the 7th Battalion Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment), the Company affected by the 10 July gas shelling incident. The letter read:

“Dear Mr. and Mrs. Broadbent, It is with the greatest regret that I have to inform you of the death of your son, who was killed early this morning whilst on duty. He was shot through the head by a sniper and death was instantaneous. I wish to convey to you on behalf of the officers, N.C.O.s, and men of this company our deepest sympathy in your great loss. Your son was an excellent and an efficient bomber; he was one who will not be easily replaced. It will be some consolation to you when you remember that your son died doing his duty for King and country. He is to be buried tonight by the side of some of his comrades. Lieutenant Netherwood, our bombing officer, wishes me to convey his sympathy to you.”

Bertie was just 16 years old.

He was born in Huddersfield on 5 January 1899 and baptised the following month at Christ Church, Moldgreen. His father, Arthur, was a police Detective Officer, who by the time of Bertie’s death had risen to the rank of Superintendent, and Deputy Chief Constable of Huddersfield. His mother was Sarah Ann Broadbent (née Lodge). Their seven other children were Marion Drusilla (born 1891), Harry Arlom (circa 1893), Nellie Evelyn (1894), Charles Hartley (1896), Norah Kathleen (1901) and Richard Norman (1904) and John Arthur (1906).

Bertie enlisted on 14 September 1914, with an apparent age of 19 years and three months. His 6’1″ height abetted the blind eye of the recruiting officer to sign up as many men (and boys) as possible. He was 15. What struck me was the 1911 census for the Broadbent family. It showed 12-year-old Bertie still at school. Yet a little over three years later he was a soldier.

By the time of his attestation he’d been working for around 18 months in the Lindley-based Acres Mills wire drawing department of Messrs. Joseph Sykes Bros., Ltd. This was the same firm which employed Fred Clough. He was one of a number of youths apprenticed with the firm who enlisted at the same time. Like Fred and Ernest, Bertie signed the Territorial Force forms committing him to four years U.K. service, then signed the waiver form allowing overseas posting.

After training, initially in the Colne Valley, then Riby in Lincolnshire, and finally Doncaster, on 14 April 1915 he left for France with the rest of his Company.

Again the Unit War Diary described the day on which Bertie died as ‘quiet’. In addition to his death, 30 July 1915 saw only one other rank wounded.

Herbert Lionel (Bertie) Broadbent’s Headstone at Colne Valley Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

Colne Valley cemetery is full of headstones with poignant inscriptions. I wish I had time to research all the men buried there. For instance one man is 38-year-old Sedbergh-born John Middleton Morphet of the 1/6th Battalion Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment). The Lance Corporal was killed in action on 22 August 1915. In civilian life he had a multi-faceted sporting career. The school attendance officer, who latterly lived in Settle, included playing cricket for Hawes and Settle, and football for Burnley, Lincoln City and Aston Villa amongst his sporting achievements.

Headstone of Lance Corporal John Middleton Morphet, Colne Valley Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

I am so glad I found this cemetery. It is off the beaten track and the surroundings are slightly off-putting. It is near an industrial estate. The sound of bird scaring shots cracked thorough the air at regular intervals. It also appears to be located next to a composting area, with mounds of steaming, stinking compost clearly visible on the first day we visited. These are seen in the photograph below. I returned the following day, and the aroma was not quite so pungent. And perhaps in summer the tree foliage will blot out the view of these mini mountains.

Colne Valley Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

But it is a cemetery which the CWGC, supported by Province of West Flanders, spent a great deal of money, time and effort restoring in 2014. The industrialisation of the surrounding area resulted in the cemetery being the lowest point in the area and consequently affected by serious, regular flooding. The restoration work included raising the ground level by some 1.2 metres and installing pumping. Thankfully, it seems to have worked. And, as the headstone of Corporal G.W. Lloyd of The Rifle Brigade indicates, in another take on Rupert Brooke’s poem “This Spot is Forever England’s

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Headstone of Corporal G.W. Lloyd, The Rifle Brigade, at Colne Valley Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

UPATE
Thanks to David for sending me some photographs of Colne Valley Cemetery taken in June 2018. The tree cover has indeed worked wonders and it looks absolutely beautiful.

Sources:

  • Walking Ypres’ – Paul Reed
  • Trench Map 1:10000 28NW2 – NoEd – 210715 – St Julien – S
  • Trench Map 1:10000 28NW2 – Edn 6A – Pub July 1917 – Trenches corrected to 30 June 1917
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission Website – https://www.cwgc.org/
  • 1891-1911 Censuses – various for each family, via Ancestry and FindMyPast websites
  • GRO Indexes for birth registration of various children, via GRO website
  • Soldiers’ Documents, Fist World War Burnt Documents for Fred Clough, Ernest Butterworth and Herbert Lionel Broadbent – The National Archives, TNA Ref WO 363, via FindMyPast
  • Baptism Register for Lindley St Stephen’s – Fred Clough’s baptism,via Ancestry’s West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910. Origianals at West Yorkshire Archives Ref WDP 129/1/1/1
  • Baptism Register for the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Holmfirth Circuit for Ernest Butterworth’s baptism, via Ancestry’s West Yorkshire Non-Conformist Records, 1646-1985. Originals at West Yorkshire Archives Ref C73/11/1
  • Baptism Register for Christ Church Moldgreen – Herbert Lionel Broadbent’s baptism, via Ancestry’s West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910. Originals at West Yorkshire Archives Ref WDP 206/1/1/1
  • ‘Huddersfield’s Roll of Honour 1914-1922’ – J Margaret Stansfield, Edited by Reverend Paul Wilcock BEM
  • Unit War Diary for the 1/7th Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment) – The National Archives, TNA Ref WO 95/2802/1 – via Ancestry
  • Huddersfield Daily Examiner’ – 15 July 1915, 16 July 1915, 28 July 1915 and 3 August 1915, via FindMyPast
  • Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer’ – 17 July 1915 and 4 August 1915, via FindMyPast
  • Leeds Mercury’ – 4 August 1915, via FindMyPast
  • Sheffield Daily Telegraph’ – 17 July 1915, via FindMyPast
  • Craven’s Part in the Great War Website – John Middleton Morphet, http://www.cpgw.org.uk/soldier-records/john-middleton-morphet/
  • Family Marks the Centenary of the Death of one of Craven’ Greatest Sportsmen’ by Lindsey Moore, 27 August 2015 – Craven Herald Website Article http://www.cravenherald.co.uk/NEWS/13630003.Family_marks_the_centenary_of_the_death_of_one_of_Craven_s_greatest_sportsmen/

Z Day Minus 6 Months: Book Update

This is the latest update about progress on my Great War Rugby League book. And it is positive. The admin logjam of January has been broken. There are still issues, but not on last month’s scale.

As January drew to a close, I called a temporary halt on player research. Instead, as planned, during February I once more concentrated on a mixture of family history research for others and Pharos Advanced Certificate coursework. I still have about 15 men left to research for the book. This work is now scheduled for late March/early April.

That’s not to say my book work was shelved entirely. February included three notable book-related pieces of work.

The major event was a mid-month visit to London, which included time at The National Archives. As you can see from the picture, on my days there I didn’t leave until late. But even here, my visit was a combination of book research, coursework and research for others. Chris accompanied me, and he focused on the officers’ records. I chipped in as and when required. And yes, the list was drawn up in advance and the appropriate files pre-ordered.

I was also keen to look at the records associated with the HMS Osmanieh, torpedoed off Alexandria on 31 December 1917, with in the loss of almost 200 troops, sailors and nurses. One of those to loose his life was a player we are researching.

I’ve also been busy helping source photographs. I’ve had a lovely response from families linked with the men. I’ve also had fantastic help from those with no personal connection, but who are simply keen to ensure those men whose lives were cut so tragically short a century ago are still remembered today.

The final notable event was a talk at the Huddersfield RL Heritage Group to gauge what people felt about the direction we were taking. The response was extremely positive and confirmed we were doing the right thing in embarking on this project.

The Changing Landscape of Family History

I’m feeling a little lost. This is the time of year when my thoughts would be turning towards planning my ‘Who Do You Think You Are? Live’ adventure. But, as was announced last year, this is a show that won’t go on. Yes, the writing may have been on the wall with the massed ranks of so-called chuggers, aka charity muggers, in evidence last year. Stand space was expensive making it difficult for genuine family history organisations to have a presence. Even The National Archives gave it a miss. Is this a sign the popular interest in family history research has plateaued and is perhaps on the decline?

And, dare I say it, maybe the TV show ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ has struggled occasionally with who it thinks it is in recent series. Yes, there are some gems of episodes. But it doesn’t seem to hold the same thrall of its early days. The BBC have also seemed happy to tinker with scheduling, to the detriment of viewing continuity, possibly an indication of where it now stands in their pecking order. No longer a flagship viewing offering? But is that in part because the format needs a shake-up?

Also has the series encouraged the belief family history is quick and easy? The big Internet and associated ‘it’s all a mouse-click away.com’ con, which in turn fostered the ‘fast-food family historian’ in us all to some extent. That attitude led to some of the more informative talks at last year’s ‘Live’ show, such as ones about genealogical proof, being a step too far for some of the audience. It’s too much like hard work, all this checking, corroborating and building a body of evidence.

I personally feel the absence of a national show has left a huge void in the British family history calendar of events. But maybe that’s because I’m a tad family history research obsessed. I’m going to miss its social aspect, the chance to see what’s out there beyond my own family history interests, the informative talks to improve my skill set, not to mention the opportunity to grab a book bargain or subscription discount. I’m seeking out alternatives, from the ‘Secret Lives’ conference to local and regional events and talks. One source to find out what’s on is GENEVA, an online calendar of GENealogical EVents and Activities.

On the same era-ending theme, earlier this month the final edition of ‘Your Family History’ magazine plopped on my doormat. Or should I say I dashed to the newsagent to buy my final copy, as my subscription expired the previous month and no reminder to renew was sent? For 15 years, initially under the title of ‘Your Family Tree’, it has provided information, advice and tips for the family history community from beginner to the more advanced. But time has been called on the publication. Reasons cited for its demise included rising costs and competition from the Internet. This competition presumably extends to digital media, blogs, podcasts and the like. But again I’m left wondering if the appetite for family history research has levelled out.

The family history landscape is changing. In reality it has always been a constant evolution. But the Internet is the real game-changer in recent years, considerably speeding up the process.

I started my family history journey probably just after the launch of ‘Your Family Tree’ (as it was called then). Back then it was old fashioned painstaking research methods. None of this ‘everything only a mouse click away’ belief, too often implicitly peddled by T.V. programmes and family history subscription sites now. Online subscription-based genealogy database services were in their infancy. IGI and FreeBMD were my high-tech, online ports of call. Microfiche and microfilm readers, Family History Societies and visits to local libraries and archives provided my gateway.

I well remember the days of going to my local library and scrolling through the census. Ditto for parish registers. I’d even plan holidays to visit archives in family associated locations in order to fit in a few hours research. This for basic record sets like the census or parish registers, things we take so much for granted today. Hard to imagine, but it wasn’t online and neither did it come automatically with a helpful searchable index. If you were lucky the local Family History Society might have compiled an index booklet. Or maybe an antiquarian publication had reproduced them. But, as the Family History Society exhorted, you still needed to check the original document.

But in the main you were ‘indexless’, and it was the long job of scrolling through filmed copies of the census, or going through the parish register microfiche by microfiche noting down all occurrences of family surnames. And maybe repeating the process, as research turned up a new surname to track in the same parish….several times over. But that way, you did get to familiarise yourself with the records, the community in which your ancestors lived and the writing!

It’s hard to imagine that this was how we did family history only a few years ago. Today, subscription genealogy services are in constant competition to get the next big dataset online. This is today’s gateway to family history. Yes, it is brilliant there is so much out there to tempt people into the wonderful world of family history. It’s making family history more accessible. And it can save masses of time in travelling up and down the country on archives visits. But in the race to get it all online, clear source referencing along with precise coverage dates, seems to have been dismissed. For instance the unwary may assume Ancestry’s West Yorkshire Parish Register collection includes all parishes. It doesn’t. But finding out what is there, and the years covered, is not an easy task. And transcribing errors may in turn lead to false negative results.

In a way it’s become too big, too unwieldy and the race to ‘chuck stuff online’ has meant it’s been too organisationally chaotic. For many there’s that initial flurry of interest, but it all tails off. And make no wonder people give up. It can be like plaiting fog. Especially when you don’t fully understand what’s there in the first place. I’ve heard people admit to it. They start off enthused but then they soon find it all too overwhelming and lose track (and interest) in what they’re doing.

In a way, the Internet may have curiously decreased knowledge too. There doesn’t seem to be the same willingness to trawl through a parish register, the Quarter Sessions or a Borough Court register to check for yourself. It’s too much like hard work. Yet there are times when this is necessary. For many it now needs to be the quick click, instant gratification of an online search and move on without evaluating whether it’s right or wrong. And hey presto I’ve got a tree going back to 1066!

A corollary is because so few are prepared to put in this painstaking work, the amount of time it takes is not appreciated. For so many there’s no interest in finding out about the variety of records, what they can and can’t do, what pitfalls there are, and what alternative sources exist to plug gaps. Which is why the demise of knowledge-bringing magazines such as ‘Your Family History’ is such a loss.

I’m forever seeking out information and knowledge to develop my family history skills: be it reading, both online and traditional books and magazines, as well as attending talks, webinars, podcasts and formal learning courses. I’m currently signed up to a series of Guild of One Name Studies monthly webinar. There are so many sources of learning out there if you look. And by doing them and improving your knowledge, you’ll be amazed how much you learn which in turn will lead to more accurate family trees, and hopefully breakthroughs. But that’s the point: you have to know the limitations of online sources and actively seek out knowledge beyond the confines of your computer. And by seeking out this wider knowledge you become more acutely aware of the computer pros and cons.

And yet there still seems to be only a passing realisation that not everything is on the internet. There is so much more in archives waiting to be explored. Much of it will never make it onto these online providers such as Ancestry, FindMyPast or The Genealogist because it is not commercially viable. Who for instance would be interested in churchwarden accounts, Vestry minutes, charity records, manorial documents and the like for some obscure location? But often these documents may help prove a link.

Bottom line, these companies are only interested in what makes money. After the 1921 census, what will they use to generate income and fresh interest? Perhaps this goes some way to explaining why price structures are amended; why Ancestry is putting its more recently acquired UK military datasets not on Ancestry.co.uk but on sister-company Fold3, in order to get another subscription stream; and why there is such a push on DNA testing as an alternative cash-cow. I’m not against DNA testing per se. It has a place. It is another tool. But there is perception peddled that it’s a quick root to a fully formed family tree, with no research required.

By the same token cash-strapped Councils, looking to make savings, are cutting back archives opening hours, or even closing them, because so much is online. Read the same for local libraries. It’s an easy excuse for them to use in order to reduce costs. And so it’s all online becomes a self-perpetuating myth.

Which is why I think David Olusoga’s recent BBC2 series ‘A House Through Time’ was such a refreshing change. Not only was it interesting, engaging and informative, it was a new way to introduce people to family history. It didn’t propagate the ‘it’s all online’ impression. And it wasn’t afraid to admit some people were difficult to trace and the trail went cold. Hopefully it has reached out to, and inspired, a new set of family historians, those seekers and keepers of documented, accurate ancestral truth, memories and knowledge.

Z Day Minus 7 Months: Book Update

Our Rugby League Great War book is due to be published in the summer. So each month, until publication, I’m doing a brief update. This is the January review.

First off: I’ve learned my working style is a total contrast to that of my co-author and husband. One year on and my inner civil servant is still alive and kicking. Administration, organisation, project planning, milestones. Red/amber/green traffic lights. A need for proper, documented information so anyone picking the work up knows exactly what’s been done and what needs doing.

Then there’s Chris. Laid back to permanently snoring sums it up. As long as he’s writing and chatting he’s happy.

I’d blocked January off for book research, based on the numbers of remaining men he’d given me. Only for him to reveal early in the month that he’d underestimated. Significantly. The number remaining was almost double what he’d told me before Christmas. To him, this was but a minor issue, of absolutely no consequence. For me January proved a period of mild panic.

And as January drew to a close, with over 30 men completed in the month, I find I’ve still 16 more men to research. The panic ratchets up a further notch. Hence the dearth of blog posts. In fact a lack of anything else, including social life and leisure time. Meanwhile my co-author feels it’s all going swimmingly.

I’m doing the research. Chris is doing the administration, co-ordination and writing. Except, ever the journalist, he’s focussed on writing. Anything else doesn’t matter.

If only I could step back from research, I’d take over all but the writing. As it is, I simply don’t have time….because of the numbers miscalculation.

Every week I go over the same “to-do” list with him, which consists of:

  • a list of officers which we need for our visit to The National Archives (based on my research);
  • a list of newspapers to consult at the British Library, again based on and extracted from my documented research;
  • a list of photographs to take on our next battlefield visit, or player-related ones left to source. Once more it’s all in my notes, which he has and needs to pull together; and
  • playing career start and end dates to aid my research.

Every week he tells me he’s done it. Then I realise he hasn’t done it. Then he says he meant to do it, but got distracted. Then I say it needs doing. And so it continues in ever decreasing circles.

The upside: he’s a fantastic writer and his love, enthusiasm and knowledge of the subject shines through. Today though is his admin day, or so he’s promising. The photo below is the evidence.Do Not Disturb - Chris at Work.

Maybe it’s a false dawn though and I can save myself a blog post, as my end of February update will be the same.

Permission to scream requested and granted.

The Accidental Blogger – My 2017 Review

My 2017 blogging year didn’t go quite as planned. Two posts a month was what I promised. And with 33 for the year I ever so slightly overachieved. So unplanned in a positive way. This number was down significantly on my 2016 total of 60+ posts, but deliberately so. I continue to enjoy researching and writing. I also find the process helps me to focus on, and review, my personal family history research. But keeping volume up, alongside quality and interest, is a tricky balance. Hopefully I achieved that balance in 2017.

I accidentally stumbled into this blogging lark. My blog started in April 2015. In those first nine months it had a tad over 2,900 views. In 2016 it grew to 12,163. So how does 2017 compare?

The Headlines: Despite the reduced output my blog did not suffer. It had 20,649 views. I feel slightly giddy and ever so grateful that folk actually looked at my random stories and thoughts about family and local history. In 2015 I averaged roughly about 322 views per month. In 2016 this grew to over 1,000 per month. Roll forward to 2017, and it achieved over 1,700 per month.

My Best Day: 28 July 2017 had an amazing 662 views. For hard-core bloggers that’s not many, but I feel hugely privileged so many people took the time out to engage. Sunday is now my most popular day, with 22% of views. And, once more, the golden hour is 8pm.

How Did They Find You? Facebook was the primary referrer with over 5,000 clicks leading to my site. Search Engines accounted for almost 4,000.

Where Did They Come From? The global reach of WordPress continues to astonish, with views from around 80 countries. Unsurprisingly, as I’m based in England, over 13,000 were from the UK. Almost 4,000 reached me from the USA. But I had views as far afield as Rwanda, Fiji, Venezuela, Albania and Lebanon (one from each of those countries). So if you’re reading this a huge thank you!

I also loved reading the comments I’ve received indirectly via Facebook and Twitter, or directly on my blog site. Some of these have resulted in new direct family history connections with distant cousins. Others have been from descendants of those named in my research. Again, thank you for getting in touch.

Top Five Posts of 2017: Other than general home page/archives and my ‘about‘ page, these were:

  • Access to Archives – What Price and at What Cost? This was my reaction to the news that Northamptonshire Archives proposed introducing charges to visit, alongside a reduced number of free access hours. The fact this post received over 1,500 views is testimony to the concern felt throughout the academic and family history communities about this development. The proposal was thankfully shelved. But it shows the ongoing issues we face with access to archives at a time when Councils are facing difficult choices about their priorities in a climate of tight funding.
  • Buried Alive: A Yorkshire Cemetery Sensation had almost 1,000 views, with its multiple stories of people ‘rising from the dead’. It included a particularly macabre tale from Leeds, with a gravedigger seemingly ignoring knocking from a coffin. It goes to show that the Victorian fear and obsession with premature internment still holds a fascination today.
  • General Register Office (GRO) Index – New & Free was actually posted in 2016. But in 2017 it had a resurgence, with its close to 800 views more than doubling its 2016 tally. This post was about a new free source for searching the GRO birth and death indexes (note not marriages) for certain years, one which gives additional search options. It also covered the initial £6 PDF certificate trials. There is currently an extended pilot running for these £6 PDFs, which I blogged about here.
  • Living DNA: I’m Not Who I Thought I Was dealt with my latest shocking DNA results. I’m 100% from Great Britain and Ireland. No drama there. But imagine the horror this Yorkshire lass felt to discover she has genetic material from the dark side of the Pennines. I did try to kid myself that it couldn’t possibly be Lancashire blood. But a discovery last month via traditional family history research seems to confirm the accuracy of LivingDNA’s results. It points to a 5x great grandmother from Colne. How could my mum inflict this on me?
  • A Dirty Tale from a Yorkshire Town had just shy of 600 views. The 1852 inquiry into sanitation in Batley proved to be a fascinating peek into the lives of our ancestors, their struggles to obtain drinking water, the issues of sanitation in an increasingly urbanised area, the problems with disposing of the dead and the knock on health effects, with frequent epidemics. All illustrated with examples from the town. Despite the grim and dry(?) subject, the post clearly whet the appetite for this type of local context to family history.

So a real mix of posts ranging from topical family history issues, to DNA and general history and local history tales. This snapshot really sums up what my blog is about. A bit of my family history, interspersed with general genealogical topical updates, and a smattering of local history posts about the lives and times of my ancestors and the communities in which they lived.

The Ones that Got Away: These are a few of my favourite posts which didn’t make the top five:

  • Death by Dentition looked at teething as a cause of infant death in the 19th century. This research was promoted by the discovery of my 3x great grandmother’s youngest daughter’s death in 1870.
  • Batman – My Family History Super Hero uncovered the extraordinary persistence of my aged Irish great grandad in trying, and lying, to enlist to serve in the Great War not once, not twice but three times. I discovered his final attempt in 1918 was to join the newly formed RAF. So he, not his grandson (my dad) was the first to serve in that branch of the military.
  • In my commitment to the role of libraries in the community, I shared my thoughts on their importance in A Library is Not a Luxury but One of the Necessities of Life.
  • I also wrote about a couple of murders with local connections. One remains unsolved. Cold Case: The Huddersfield Tub Murder involved a woman of ‘ill-repute‘ whose tragic life and abusive relationships ultimately resulted in her death. The other, Mother-in-Law Murderer, was a tale of poisoning which resulted in the hanging of a Batley woman in 1794.
  • Finally, if you want to discover a claim to Brontë fame, check out Finding Your Brontë links.

What Does 2018 Promise? Well, as in 2017, I aim to do two posts a month. I’ve lots of ideas for these, including some in-depth research pieces. In this centenary year of the Armistice, some will definitely have a Great War theme. Others will have a more general family or local history context. And, of course, there will be the occasional topical offering when something big hits the genealogy news. Hopefully these topics remain relevant and interesting, but any other suggestions would be welcome.

The big question, as ever for me, is time. 2018 promises to be a busy year personally and professionally. This may impact on my blogging output, as I do need to focus on my family history client research work, the final year of my assessed genealogy course and my book. I’ll have to see how it pans out.

But whatever my blogging year holds, thank you for reading, engaging and supporting.

Wishing you a happy, peaceful 2018 filled with family history fun!

2018 Family History New Year’s Resolutions (Otherwise Known as Rewarding Challenges)

Well it’s that time of year again. In my penultimate post of last year I assessed how my 2017 New Year’s Resolutions went. In my final post of the year I set out some general family history related suggestions for 2018 for those seeking ideas. So now to look forward and set my own goals for the New Year.

I’m sticking to just five ‘challenges‘ once more. They are a balance of personal, professional and wider family history objectives. And they do, in part, link to some of the suggestions I posted yesterday.

Work on my Aveyard One-Name Study (ONS): Yes, that hardy perennial which had very stunted growth in 2017. I will spend more time on it in 2018, says I through gritted teeth. It’s not that I don’t like doing the work, it’s just I never get time. And because it’s a relaxed, gentle-paced kind of hobby, it’s the one which is easier to knock on the head when other areas of life and work pick up speed. So in an effort to kick-start it, I may in part combine it in part with Resolution Number Two.

Complete my Pharos Tutors Family History Skills and Strategies (Advanced) Course: I’m now into Year Two of the eight module course. This year I have my final three modules and assignments. I also must undertake a pre-19th century Project. I’m currently finalising my research proposal, and I’m hoping to frame it in such a way to fulfil some personal family history research, or link it to my ONS. Either way the course will provide me with an excuse to do some of my own research for a change, whilst at the same time being part of my Continuing Professional Development.

Finish my Book Research: This was a ‘bolt from the blue‘ piece of work which hit me in 2017. Alongside my husband I have wandered into a publishing contract. The book is due out later in 2018 and my research is well underway. I aim to complete the bulk of the remaining research by early March. I’ve already set aside January to focus on it, in between my Pharos Medieval Genealogy module. After that, it’s just dotting ‘i’s’ and crossing ‘t’s’ for me. Luckily for me the writing part is down to the other half.

Personal Research: Some ancestors are sent to test us. One of my trials is my 4x great grandfather Abraham Marshall. He’s an hiding-in-plain view type of chap. One of those ancestors I put aside as I couldn’t find an obvious family for him. In theory he should be straightforward. I just need to put in some effort, something I’ve never found time to do. It may involve an element of family reconstitution and lateral thinking. So 2018 is the year in which I will put in that effort and marshal my Marshalls, so to speak. We’ll see how it goes.

Attend a mixture of Conferences, Lectures, Family and Local History Fairs and Talks: The demise of ‘Who Do You Think You Are? Live’ leaves a major gap in the genealogy calendar. But there is so much more out there. It is an opportunity to connect with other events, including those organised by that backbone of grassroots genealogy, the Family History Society. I’m going to commit to attending a minimum of six events over the course of 2018. I’ve already signed up for a major genealogy event, the Secret Lives conference. Organised by the Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA), The Guild of One Name Studies, the Halsted Trust and the Society of Genealogists, it runs over three days in late summer. But I will also mix it up with smaller scale local events and talks. Family history can so often be a solitary interest, where you find yourself either tucked away in a local archive or at home behind the computer screen. Often, in pursuing our family history goals, we overlook the value of connecting with others who share our passion. And in doing so we overlook the value of our local Family History Societies. So I’m making 2018 my year of championing the work of local history groups and Family History Societies. Starting with the Huddersfield and District Family History Society January sale: Parish Register index booklets for £1, CDs at £5 and census CDs £5 too, plus p&p. That’s my kind of sale!

So just five New Year’s Resolutions for 2018. But I’m pretty relaxed about them as, from the experiences of this year, life can throw the unexpected at you. What you want to achieve evolves and changes as the year progresses. Some new opportunity may mean a shift in priorities. And family history is meant to be fun, not some rigid tick-box exercise.

Whatever your family history aims and hopes are for 2018, I wish you have a rewarding and interesting New Year. But above all I’m wishing you peace, health and happiness, because that’s what really counts.

Word Tree by Jane Roberts using http://www.wordclouds.com

My Top 12 Family History Suggestions for the New Year

As the year closes, here are 12 Family History suggestions for you to consider in 2018. 12 as in one per month. Or maybe because I simply couldn’t whittle them down to 10. You can judge!img_4905

  1. Review your research. Often research is ‘completed‘ and then shelved for years or possibly for ever, even if there are gaps. It does pay though to periodically revisit your research. What might have seemed a dead-end 12 months ago, may no longer be the case. A new record set, an additional piece of information gleaned through researching another family member, or even your own improved research techniques – all these can mean a brick wall is ready to come crashing down.
  2. Join a Family History Society. These organisations are the bedrock of family history up and down the country. They offer a wealth of help, advice and local knowledge. They also provide opportunities to meet with others sharing the same passion for, what can be, a solitary pursuit.
  3. Visit an archive. Contrary to what may appear to be the case, not everything is online. Far from it. And even what is there is not perfect. The indexing may leave something to be desired. Or the source citation may be so unclear as to mislead. One of the simple pleasures of family history research for me is physically connecting with original source material. To hold a document from a bygone era, possibly centuries old, and realise you’re touching something created by people long since gone. All the more special if, within that document you discover your ancestor’s name.
  4. On the same lines, check out your local library. They may have lots of free resources to help you with your family history research. From local newspapers on microfilm, to electoral registers, donated research, council minutes, medical officer of health annual reports, school yearbooks and magazines. The may have censuses, and microfilm or microfiche copies of parish registers. Many have free computer access to Ancestry or FindMyPast. So get down to your local library. You may be pleasantly surprised what’s there.
  5. Talk to relatives. They are living connections with the past, often too easily ignored whilst you pursue your paper trail. My dad died this year. Even though I did quiz him about the past, it’s only now he’s gone that I realise there’s so much more I wished I’d asked him. A few years ago I gave dad a book to fill in about his life. He never did it. So talk to your relatives whilst you have the chance.
  6. Do a family history course or webinar. Anything really to improve your skills. It doesn’t need to cost much. There are lots of free tutorials. Check out The National Archives events – they do some really good free online webinars. FindMyPast also do them. Your local Family History Society may run courses too. But ultimately your research techniques, and results, will benefit from it.
  7. If you do a DNA test, and if you are able to, please Please PLEASE include a tree. Even if it’s only a skeleton tree with a few direct line ancestors. There are so many treeless DNA testers, and it’s so frustrating trying to work out what the connection is between you and them. Yes there are ways and techniques to try to work round this. But it’s so long-winded and speculative. It’s far easier if at the outset there are some family names to work with. So if you received a DNA test this Christmas, besides the initial excitement of spitting or swabbing, do take a bit of time to upload a tree. By doing so you may get more potential DNA matches contacting you too.
  8. Check out #AncestryHour on Twitter. Tuesday’s at 7pm-8pm (GMT). Lots of fast-paced, fun, friendly family history chat, tips and plenty of opportunity to ask questions. More details are here. Starts again on 9 January 2018.
  9. If you do have a public tree on Ancestry, review it to make sure it’s accurate. And if you’re new to family history and looking at these public trees don’t take them as gospel. Do your own research and checking. So many of these things are blindly copied perpetuating the myth that 95 year old 3x great auntie Ann gave birth to twins!
  10. A bit long term, and on a less cheery note: what will happen to all your painstakingly researched family history once you’re gone? Will it end up in the bin? Start thinking now about how it will be preserved. Is there someone in the family to pass the baton on to? If not, is there another option?
  11. Photographs. A dying art in this digital age. I can’t remember the last time I put a family photo in an album, never mind label the names. They’re all on my phone, FaceBook, or when I get round to it, on my computer. So perhaps devote some time to putting a few key family photos (with names) in an album for future generations. Perhaps I’m showing my age and technophobe side here?
  12. Make 2018 the year when you better organise your family history research. Note sources in full. Note negative searches. Note dates searches were conducted. Write up research, and file it, at the time you do the work – not six months later when you’ve not a clue what paper is where, let alone what your scribbled note says and anyway it’s now all too overwhelming to sort out.montage

Whatever you do with your family history quest in 2018, enjoy it! I’ll publish my own New Year’s Resolutions tomorrow.

My 2017 Family History Review – Life Got in the Way

It was a year which didn’t quite go as planned. It was a year full of heartache, but punctuated with moments of real joy and achievement. All of this impacted on my New Year’s Resolutions for 2017.

I had set myself five goals, but personal issues meant a major switch of focus. Mid-year both my husband and father had significant health problems resulting in lengthy hospitalisation for both. Then followed an even lengthier period of recuperation for my husband. Dad however lost his long battle with cancer. Genealogy took a back seat.

Going Forward but Looking Back: Snowflake and me – Photo by Chris Roberts

Given what happened I’m really satisfied with how I fared with my New Year’s Resolutions. My assessment of these are below.

Aveyard One-Name Study: Data collection is still ongoing in fits and starts. I did say I would be doing it at a relaxed pace, fitting it in and around. As things turned out it was more relaxed than anticipated. It was one of the non-essential pieces of work and, as a result, was one thing which ground to a halt when real life kicked in. I’m still working through the censuses.

Healey War Memorial Project: Names were quickly collected but again, because this was non-essential in the grander scheme of things as the year progressed, it has taken a back seat. And then my husband hi-jacked me for a different Great War project which has taken priority. More of that in my 2018 Resolutions.

Blog Posts: Through it all I’ve kept on blogging, averaging at just over two posts a month. So target met. I’ll do my annual blogging review shortly.

Palaeography Practice: Again another Resolution I’m happy with. The fact I signed up to a palaeography course with Pharos helped. I now enjoy transcribing. It’s my take on code-cracking. I need to keep practicing though. My archives visits certainly help.

Personal research into my brush maker ancestor, an asylum inmate, an army officer and two wills: I intended setting aside July to do this. For obvious reasons it never happened. However, I did manage to do a fair amount of the work later in the year by fitting it into an assessed genealogy assignment. I have a couple of loose ends to tie up, one of which involves a visit to the Borthwick Institute. But for all intents and purposes the work is done, and more besides. Although, as with much in family history, one brick wall broken leads to several more to crack.

Given the circumstances of the year, three out of five isn’t bad.

In other news, I am a civil servant no more. This has given me more time to devote to family history. I passed Year One of my Pharos Family History Skills and Strategies (Advanced) course. I have taken on a volunteering role as a committee member of Batley History Group. But the big news was in September I did something totally unplanned. I went to the Society of Genealogists to attend an interview and written test to become an Associate of the professional Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA). I was thrilled to pass and see my profile on their website, especially given this was the period between dad’s death and his funeral. My pleasure was tinged with sadness: this was the first thing of major importance I couldn’t share with him.

So now I’m a professional genealogist,  taking on client work and loving it. I take as much pleasure in researching for others as I do in undertaking my own family history journey of discovery.

In my next post I’ll set out my 2018 Resolutions.

Mock Duck, Potato Pastry and Carrot Plum Pudding: Christmas 1917 in Batley and Beyond

The frenzy of Christmas shopping is reaching its peak. The shops are packed with all manner of tempting delights – from food and drink to decorations, clothing, perfume, toys and the latest must-have gadgets. What a contrast to Christmas one hundred years ago in 1917 when my grandparents were children. In fact, there was a huge difference between a Batley Christmas in 1915, which I wrote about in a series of posts the other year, and the ‘festivities’ two years later. The 1915 Batley Christmas posts are as follows:

Christmas 1917, over three years into the Great War, was noticeable for the lack of consumerism. It was a time of hardship. The war had taken its toll. Even Santa was facing problems, or so the children were warned. This advert featured in the ‘Batley News‘ in the run up to Christmas, an advert which perhaps my grandparents read:

Dewsbury
Pioneers’ Industrial Society.
Furnishing Department.

British Toy Factory,
Fairy Land.

Dear Boys and Girls

It is nearly twelve months since I wrote you last. I was hoping the War would be over by this Christmas, so that you could all have had a right good time. I have been very busy since last Christmas. You know I have closed up all my German Factories. “British Boys and Girls don’t want German Toys,” and what with so many men and so much wood and metal being wanted in this great War, I have not been able to make near so many Toys as usual. However, when you see my Show at the Co-operative Furnishing Department in Halifax Road, Dewsbury, I think you will say I have done very well indeed. There will not be much in the windows, but you should see inside. There will by Toys made by Wounded Soldiers. Don’t you think it was a good idea of mine to get these brave men to make some of my Toys? They are made at the Lord Roberts’ Memorial Works, and there are some really smart things among them. Again, I am not forgetting you Boys and Girls who are getting rather too big for Toys. Many of you would rather have a nice Story Book or a Box of Paints, or a Box of Plastercine [sic] or a Meccano, What I would advise you to do is to get Mother to take you, and if you are fortunate enough to have Daddy at home, take him as well to see the largest Toy Show in Dewsbury. Then, after you have seen what you would like to have, write me a letter and post it up the chimney, so that I will know just what to bring you at Christmas. Now don’t forget where I am having my Special Show, the Co-operative Furnishing Department. Wishing you all a Happy Christmas

Your Dear Old

SANTA CLAUS

Toy Sale Commenced Saturday Dec 1st, 1917

The letter from Santa perfectly summed up the state of affairs. A scarcity of raw materials; a reduction in overseas trade; and fathers absent, wounded or dead;

Before the conflict, Britain imported around 60% of its food. The war syphoned men and horses away from farm work, resulting in decreased agricultural output at home. The potential problem of decreased home production and reduced imports was recognised as early as August 1914, leading to the formation of a Cabinet Committee on Food Supplies. Objectives included fixing maximum prices for commodities, and discouraging hoarding. But by December 1916 around 300,000 tonnes of British-bound shipping was being sunk monthly, resulting in the establishment of the Ministry of Food, headed by a Food Controller. It promoted voluntary rationing, with citizens encouraged to restrict weekly consumption of bread to 4½lbs, meat to 2½lbs and sugar to ½lb. Vegetable growing was pushed. Even feeding stray dogs was discouraged, in an effort to conserve supplies. But still the situation deteriorated.

February 1917 saw the introduction of unrestricted U-boat warfare by the Germans, and in March 507,001 tonnes of Allied merchant shipping was lost. By April 1917 it had risen to an astronomical 834,549 tonnes. Although rationing was not introduced until 1918, the supply of food was significantly affected: sugar for instance, or wheat for bread and flour; as well as Christmas staples of currants, raisins and candied peel. All essentials for the traditional fare of Christmas puddings and mince pies.

Wartime recipes by 1917 included ones for sugarless plum pudding, made from grated carrots and potatoes, dried eggs, suet, golden syrup and minimal quantities of bread crumbs, flour, oatmeal, chopped oats, nutmeg, dates and raisins. Pastry was made using mashed potatoes, baking powder, salt and margarine or lard. The newspapers were full of these helpful instructions – I don’t think I’ll be giving them a try. But in case you do, here they are:

Plum Pudding
¼ lb grated carrots, ¼ lb grated potatoes, ¼ lb suet, 3oz dates, 4oz stoned raisins, 4oz bread crumbs, 2oz fine oatmeal, 1oz chopped nuts, ¼ teaspooonful of nutmeg, 2 tablespoonfuls of dried egg in solution, 1 tablespoonful of golden syrup and ½ teaspoonful of carbonate soda dissolved in ½ tablespoonful of milk.

Mix the dry ingredients, add the egg and treacle (the latter should have been warmed), and lastly, the soda dissolved in milk. Turn into a greased mould, and steam for four hours.

Pastry
6oz flour, 2oz mashed potatoes, ¼ teaspoonful of baking powder, ¼ teaspoonful of salt and 3oz of margarine or lard.

The dry ingredients should be first mixed, and the shortening rubbed in. It should then be mixed into a stiff paste with water after which it is ready for use.

The ‘Yorkshire Evening Post’ published a table of comparative Christmas food prices for 1913, 1916 and 1917, which illustrates the difficulties. It shows the minimum and maximum price range for a selection of festive food in each of these years. Turkeys, for example had more than doubled in price, from 11d to 1s a pound in 1913, to 2s 6d a pound in 1917. Jaffa oranges were no longer available. Even a humble rabbit for the pot was 3s. The paper claimed the 1917 price of dates was akin to ‘eating brass’, the Yorkshire word for money.

Price Comparison

Fish prices, not included in the table, were said to be ‘fairly stiff’ with sprats as plentiful as anything at 4d a pound. Not ideal Christmas dinner fare, and a far cry from pre-war Christmases.

Here’s another 1917 wartime Christmas recipe for the adventurous.

Mock Duck
1lb lentils (mashed), 1oz dripping, sage and onion stuffing.

Melt the fat, put in the lentils. Add water and cook gently until soft (lentils fairly dry). Season well. Form into exact shape of duck with stuffing inside. Bake in a hot oven until brown. Serve with apple sauce.

The down-beat Christmas is mirrored by the changes in the festive newspaper adverts, or rather lack of them. Batley was a prime example. In 1915, the weekly ‘Batley News’ was crammed full of adverts from a whole range of shops in town, in the run up to Christmas. This included a full feature about where to shop in the final pre-Christmas edition. Yes, there was a nod to the war in terms of military themed toys and presents for those serving King and Country. However, in contrast, 1917 was extremely low key. In fact, the first page of the 22 December edition led with the following headlines:

  • A Weekly Meatless Day;
  • Batley’s Food Problems; and
  • Dewsbury Food Queues

Adverts from Batley businesses were fewer, and often very discretely tucked away. Who wants to see Rolls of Honour, In Memoriam columns and the latest casualty lists sandwiched between adverts for tinsel and toys? Many Batley shops advertising in 1915 did not feature at all two years later. Some stalwarts remained, such as Gerald Brooke’s jewellers, and Thomas Hull, Miss Kendall and Miss Hazzlewood’s clothing shops. Montage 1

Sam Wilson still proudly announced his seasonal cigars. Cigars

Beaumont’s music shop remained. Reflecting the music of the day their records included the Black Diamonds Band’s ‘Cheer up, Little Soldier Man’ and Herbert Payne’s ‘When the bells of Peace are ringing’. But on the whole adverts from Batley traders were not as bold and plentiful as previously.

Maybe some businesses had changed hands, ceased trading or downsized due to conscription and supply shortages. But established Batley firms, like J.C. Ridsdale’s food specialities, Jessop’s clothing, Western’s toyshop and Thomas Wood’s famed Red Cross Hospital window display of Christmas novelties, were notably missing.

Food shops were particularly hard hit. No big, brash Batley establishment adverts for pork pies and the array of butcher’s Christmas cuts on the scale of years gone by. Only the odd, modest, advert discretely hidden in the classifieds, like the one from J.W. Fox.

Fox

No Batley confectioners or purveyors of alcoholic drinks either; no Batley flowers advertised; nothing even for the horses from Henry Rhodes, the corn merchant of 1915. Instead adverts for War Bonds abounded in a bid to raise money to finance the war. bonds

Another theme was for firms to proclaim their British manufacturing credentials – no foreign-made goods here. The appropriately-named, and perhaps longed-for, Arthur Peace was a prime example of the British staff policy.

Peace

The other noticeable trend was how most of the adverts, the biggest and boldest, related to shops in neighbouring Dewsbury, described as a ‘noted shopping centre’, or even further afield. This a total contrast to Christmas 1915, and knowing the rivalry between the two towns, perhaps a dint to local pride.

Other Towns

Advertising for Shops in other Towns, including the only adverts for Plum Puddings, Xmas Cakes and Festive Greenery

As indicated in the opening advert, Christmas is about children. Despite the events worldwide, every effort was made to make it a special time of year for their sake. Batley toy shops did their best, but with a notable absence of the militaristic toys of 1915. And note, once more, the emphasis on British-made in the Beaumont advert.

Toys

But ultimately, Christmas 1917 did not have the same shine. Feasting was seen as disloyal. The paper shortage meant Christmas card sending was on the wane. Christmas trees, although still available, were less popular than in previous years – their German origins did not help. Some chose to announce they were not giving, and did not wish to receive, presents as they felt uncomfortable with the concept of wasting money on luxuries in wartime. Above all, with so many dead, maimed or away from home facing danger, Christmas was no longer the time of family reunion that it once had been. It was a time of anxiety for those with family members serving overseas. A time when permanent absence of loved ones would be felt more acutely. And by 1917, for many families up and down the land, Christmas would never be the same again.

I’ll end with that letter from Santa to the children of Batley and beyond.

Santa