Saturday, 28 January 2012

Using Old Newspapers


Well, it has been a while since I have made a post here after a busy Christmas and New Year period.  It's not been all work and no play but I've been itching to get back to the writing again!  So, with promise of an imminent arrival of two of our nieces to add to the general cacophony created by our own children, I thought I would quickly share a couple of my experiences of research and the information that can be found in newspapers contemporary to your area of research, therefore adding much needed "flesh to the bones".

Education...or Lack of!

The first time I came across one of my wife's ancestors in the news was my wife's g-g-grandmother, Betsy Bolt (nee Ferguson).  She had married a cavalry man of the 4th Hussars that were based in Perth barracks in 1866 after a tour in Ireland.  Thomas Bolt had been born in Clerkenwell, London and his life was hard from the start.  His father and sister died in the Poorhouse and his mother re-married to a tinsmith when he was young.  I tend to alternate between sympathy and despair at his life and the impact he had on the people around him.  I tend to think Betsy and Thomas' wedding was a bit of a shotgun affair as Betsy was obviously carrying their first son, Thomas, during their July marriage as she gave birth in October of the same year.  Thomas Snr was then done for desertion a month later and, although the records are not entirely clear, he is then discharged from Meercut Barracks in India in 1869 after serving there for two years.  No better way to get away from an unwanted family than jumping country - or was it part of his punishment, as well as losing all his pension to date?

His standing is not a good one and is described by his commanding officer as "An indifferent soldier." and is subsequently discharged as unfit for service but does not exactly state why.  However, on his return to Perth (a decision he was unsure of as firstly put his discharge destination as London before crossing it out and adding Perth!) it was not long before Betsy was pregnant again.  Here a clue can be found to why he was unfit duty as their second child dies shortly after childbirth of Congenital Syphilis.  More children followed that survived until Thomas disappears off the scene, leaving Betsy and the six surviving kids to fend for themselves;  it's at this time that Betsy makes the news as she is hauled up before the Parochial Board for not educating her children.

This discovery was made with a speculative inspection of the card index at Perth Library.  Bolt is a very rare surname in Perth so there was no doubt the entry in The Courier from the 1870's was our Betsy Bolt.  It was sad and amusing at the same time to read the article.  Sad that Betsy was in such dire straights with so little money and amusing to see how little has changed over a hundred years later.  The article showed how the Parochial board chose to paint Betsy as a work-shy parasite who had "lost her job as a cleaner due to her own careless dirtiness" and the income from her son had gone due to him "..staying away."  The message was clearly that this woman should not dare to seek funding from the parochial board to pay for her child's education when she makes no effort to fund the position herself.  Sound familiar?  The Parochial Board eventually win their case in denying funding for Betsy due to the fear of a "wave of similar applications" however they fail in their attempts to have sanctions imposed on her.  You get a sense of the defiant nature of Betsey in one quote reported from her as she asks the Parochial Board how she can be punished for not schooling her children when she cannot afford to do so.

The article was a wonderful insight into the hard lives they led and changed the way we thought of Betsy as we stood by her re-discovered, unmarked grave in Wellshill Cemetery.

My Daughter at her g-g-g-grandmothers grave

Voyage of the Emigrant Ship "Abdalla"

Another piece of interesting reading came courtesy of copies of archived Glasgow Herald newspapers.  I had been commissioned to help an Australian client to try and track down how and when their ancestor had arrived in Australia.  After finding her illegitimate birth in Redgorton, Perthshire, I eventually narrowed down the possibilities to the emigrant ship "Abdalla" which sailed to Melbourne from Glasgow in  1853.

A search for shipping records brought an unexpected discovery- one of the passengers was an ex Glasgow Councillor heading for a new life in Australia.  He had come to an agreement with the Glasgow Herald to send back reports of the journey from the ship as they made their way to the other side of the world.  From a child dying early in the voyage to being becalmed in hot temperatures and the birth of a child as they approached their destination it was a fascinating read with great descriptions of life on board an emigrant sailing ship.  The accounts describe signalling passing ships and meeting and trading with foreign crews as well as passing on letters for delivery back to Scotland.  It also gives the reactions of the passengers to strange creatures such as porpoises and flying fish (predictably, trying to catch and eat them!) and crossing into different longitudes; rather cruelly he describes how some of the "simpler" passengers are convinced they can see the longitude line pass by when the crew dangle a string over the telescope!

Scotland was a place of great upheaval with land improvement and the Industrial Revolution making once content, if not rich, farmers and weavers into paupers.  The lure of a new life in Australia, new Zealand, America and Canada must have been too good to miss out on for those that could afford passage.  Their experiences must have been mind-blowing and, even though they gave familiar names to the places they settled in,  their lives would be entirely different through necessity.  These articles certainly helped me to imagine how that transition to a strange new climate would begin long before they made landfall.

Not in Scotland!!..Can you tell?

1 comment:

  1. Old newspapers are great. I found some very interesting stories that none of the family were aware of. Like a raid on the old homestead during prohibition.
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)