Penshaw Monument – #50Before50

Penshaw Monument

Penshaw Monument – © Julie Goucher October 2018

This is Penshaw Monument and is located in County Durham. It is a rather formidable structure, built overlooking an area which, in times past was heavily involved with the mining industry. The monument, as wonderful as it is was build to commemorate one man, when thousands in his local community were living hand to mouth in brutal and poverty stricken conditions.

This hit my #50Before50 list because it was built in 1844 and the construction of it would have been witnessed by my husband’s mining ancestors, the Redhead and Dinsdale families from Houghton Le Spring.

50Before50The walk to the top is a steep one and well worth it. The view is lovely and it looks truly lovely at night, when it is lit up. You can read some of the history HERE.

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Introducing #50Before50


In this busy world we live in, it is hard to imagine that actually 50 was once considered old. Life was hard and to die at 50 was likely a release from a life of challenges, poverty and hardship.

In 2016, I had routine surgery and by just bad luck barely made it out of theatre. Before I went into theatre, I sent my husband a photo, of my surgical stockings and said, “see you on the other side” and never for one moment did I think that it could be the last thing I said to him. My two hour surgery became seven hours. I spent time in the hospital afterwards and came away from that entire experience a different person and every 1st July, I give thanks to the surgeon who used his skill, experience and judgement to keep me here.

Sometime ago, likely around October of last year, I mentioned that I was going to attempt to achieve 50 things before I am 50 which happens towards the end of the year.

There is nothing particularly special about the list, it is simply a list of 50 things that I would like to achieve before I hit being half a century old. The list has been created randomly and covers an assortment of things, and to be honest these are typically things that I might want to do anyway. There is no parachuting, dying my hair green, abseiling or any such  other un-Julie like activity!

Each post will have the #50Before50 header and they will appear in a category with the same name. They might not be posted here in the month they are undertaken, just when I get round to it, so let’s get going!

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Oral History – Hints & Tips

Oral History SeriesContinuing with my Oral History Series. Today I am going to look at hints and tips.

This is a tip that I think is useful for any research. Review your data and evidence. Note on your research log when you reviewed it, and did you notice anything different?

My Great Aunt told me, back in 1988, that my Great Great Grandmother, Caroline Harris (nee Ellis) was alive when the old age pension was introduced and she and my Great Great Grandfather, Henry were given a pension of around 10 shillings a week.

My immediate thoughts was

  1. When was this pension introduced?
  2. How did they qualify?
  3. Are there any documents, relating to this that have survived?

Essentially these questions are setting the scene for expanding and examining the information that was passed to me. A very quick Google search provided this information. An oral history snippet can be substantiated and therefore in this case, adds credence to the history of my family.

Of course, the bigger question is what did Caroline Harris and her family do before this pension was introduced? I know the answer to that question, but this shows that Caroline’s life was tough and she was provided for, by her children and in particular my Great Grandmother, just as she in turn was provided for by my Great Aunt with assistance from her siblings. In this modern world we have lost the sense of family and the value of extended family.

It is as this point that we can focus on the How, Why, When, With, Who, What and Where of the existence of our ancestors lives, and flesh them out beyond just their names and dates. Indeed, it enables us to see the other disciplines that entwine with our family history and that can be said also with individuals that appear within our One-Name Studies.

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Oral History –Verifying Oral History

Oral History SeriesContinuing with my Oral History Series. Today we are going to look at how we can verify the truth of Oral History and what happens if we cannot substantiate it.

Whilst we may trust those that have shared snippets and information with us, we do need to verify them. I have been fairly lucky 99% of all the information that my Aunts passed to me has been fairly accurate. Whereas, material that came from my Grandmother has probably been 60% accurate. There of course, was no deliberate attempt to scupper my research plans, but purely a lack of information relating to my Grandmothers family, or the information was limited. Whilst my Aunts on my Grandfathers side were fairly accurate.


I tend to write down all that was shared with me, with a different bit of scrap paper for each person. Here you can see the rough notes relating to my maternal Great Grandfather, Charles Butcher (1869-1943) and his father, also a Charles Butcher (born 1823). The file is not up to date, but you can read about the family HERE. Charles Butcher senior went on to have children into his 70’s and those children, went to the same school as my Great Aunt. Those children also intermarried with two other families in particular and I have had quite a job building their timelines up. I will talk about that part of the family later on, likely through the summer.

By the time I have finished I have built up a portfolio on each person. I then type those notes up and make sure I record who said what to me and when. When I am more organised the word document containing those notes will be turned into a PDF document and uploaded to my TNG site, linked to the family members concerned, assuming they are deceased. For those members who are still living they will be linked, but withheld because my sites do not show information to those that are living.

I also have some information of a sensitive nature. Again, I have recorded the details and the person who provided the information and the date. It will also be uploaded to the website as a PDF document, but linked to me, because as I am still alive the document will be withheld. As the sensitive data relates to at least one or two generations before me, by the time I die these individuals will not have living descendants and therefore the document can be made available.

Having written out the information I then go through the details, writing a to do list for these oral history elements so that I can verify the details. In some cases there is no way I can verify the information. For example, I have an ancestor who was called Mary Harris. My Aunt said she was known as Polly. On all official documents she is recorded as Mary. The reference to Polly is therefore added to the record in the notes section of Roots Magic with the note attributable to my Great Aunt.

It was only as I went through those notes books in order to write this series did I realise just how much had been shared with me over the years and how much I still had to verify. Even though the material from those note books will be typed up, the notebooks will be retained with my genealogical documents. The frustrating thing is, that some of this information and the details was within living history and I had family members who could have provided other information to aid with the verifying, but I am now too late.

If you walk away from reading this post with one snippet, let that snippet be, do not leave verifying information with living relatives too long. None of us know what is around the corner and on occasions those living relatives leave us too early.

Citations for oral history should include the name of the person who provided the information and their dates such as (1900-1994) as a way of identifying the exact individual. It should also include the date the information was shared and the date the verification took place.

I shall be back tomorrow with a few more hints and tips for Oral History.

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Oral History – A Pinch of Salt or a Grain of Truth? (Part Two)

Oral History SeriesA few weeks ago I mentioned that I had been an attendee at the Yorkshire Guild of One-Name Studies ( regional meeting – you can read that post here

In that post I mentioned that there was a link to my Oral History Series and over the last week I have been doing some tentative research and reading over all my old notes, so that I could gather those thoughts together and write this post. The second Sue to talk at the event focused on researching those who were of Romany, Traveller or Gypsy descent.

My maternal Grandmother had very dark tanned forearms, the sort of colouring if you have been sitting out in the sun for long periods of time. My Grandfather always used to say to her

Lil, it’s the Gypsy in you!

I never gave it a second thought at the time, after all, our elders are full of expressions and sayings which might not necessarily make sense or have reasons behind them. If there was any truth in the saying, I very much doubt my Grandmother knew. She knew very little about her father’s family other than he came from Rubgy in Warwickshire and he and my Great Grandmother would return there every year, presumably to see family.

When I started researching my Grandmother’s ancestry and, in particular her paternal side, the Matthews family (which is also a Guild registered surname) I eventually found my way back to a family called the Drakely and Drakeley family. The Drakeley’s were from Nuneaton in Warwickshire, England; they were a family well known for working on the fairgrounds and canals, indeed, my own Drakeley’s were on the canals.When I first came across the canal element, I assumed that it was simply an occupation for shifting coal from the Midlands of the Country to other areas. I certainly never gave it more than a glancing thought.

I pondered off and on over the years and wondered if there was a grain of truth in the saying or whether I should take the story with a pinch of salt. When I spoke with the Guild member who runs the Matthews Study I asked him if he had come across the surname Drakeley and was told yes. Interesting I thought and wrote myself a note to dig into it further. One other snippet from the session was the reference to the first name of Bethesda. My several times great Grandmother was Bethsheba Drakley who married William Matthews – are these two first names linked? Bethsheba is from the Old Testament.

Almost two weeks on, I don’t have any particular information more than I had then, except the background to the travelling families, their origins and lifestyle was most certainly expanded. Before Christmas there was a BBC programme, “A Very British History” and the first episode of the four was in fact on the Romany families. As luck would have it, it was still available to download and I was able to watch it, making a few notes as I went.

My parting comment today is, if you have loose ends like these, do revisit them and make every effort to explore and understand if there is truth in the story or it is just a whimsical statement. Whether there is truth to this story or not, does not bother me, it is most certainly fascinating and interesting to understand the culture and history.

If, of course the Drakeley’s were Gypsy or travellers then these folk were my people and I should make every attempt to understand them, their lifestyle and hurdles they needed to overcome.


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Six Degrees of Separation from The Arsonist to…..

The #6Degrees meme occurs on the 1st of the month over at the blog, Books are my Favourite and Best which is written by Kate.

The Arsonist by Chloe HooperThis month’s starting point is the Arsonist by Chloe Hooper and is a book I have not read, though based on true events.

Their Darkest DayThat leads me to my first book, also based upon true events. Their Darkest Day by Matthew Cox & Tom Foster. The tragic events of Pan Am 103. The flight left Heathrow airport on it’s way to the US when it exploded over the Scottish town of Lockerbie on 21 Dec 1988.

There is a number of memorials in Lockerbie and the neighbouring hamlet of Tundergarth, where part of the plane came down. There is a main memorial at the cemetery at the edge of Lockerbie complete with a former groundsman lodge which has been converted to a historical room commemorating the events. There is also a memorial room at the church at Tundergarth. In both places there are memorials on tree’s and seats. There is also a memorial in Lockerbie itself, where there were a row of houses that were demolished when the plane came down and a number of locals perished.

I have over the years visited the sites many times, not because anyone I know died in the tragic event, but because my husband grew up in Lockerbie and lost several friends that fateful night. It was while I was visiting the memorial in the cemetery at Lockerbie that I spotted the next book.

41QK0YE3R2L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_In this book, The Boy who Fell out of the Sky by Ken Dornstein, the author writes a beautiful tribute and memorial to his brother David, who died as a result of the event. David was an author and left behind a plethora of writings and notes. Ken sought to understand the death of his brother and therefore this is the outcome of an emotional journey.

downloadKeeping on with the theme of folk writing about their families or family members is this book, Flesh and Blood: A History of my Family in Seven Sicknesses by Stephen McGann. Although a British author and a member of the McGann family who are very much an acting family, members across the globe will likely recognise the author as Dr Turner from Call the Midwife. This is an interesting book and one that was on my radar for a while. It is a novel approach of looking at the illnesses that affect a family. Such a good idea, I wish I had thought of it!

61yQLfpg8VL._AC_UL436_Next up is The Smallest Things by Nick Duerden. I recently reviewed this for Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine (April 2019 issue) and it was a pleasure to do so on a number of levels. The book is a reflection of what many of us do and that is to look back on the small idiosyncrasies of our own families, mindful that with death comes the loss not only of a person but also the trivial snippets of their life – did they take sugar in their tea? how did they cook that wonderful cake? All those things that are lost through the inevitable unless it is written down.

This for me was not just another genealogist writing about their folk. It is the stories of a journalist whose family was Italian. Who was left feeling lost that his Grandmother had entered a care facility which she hated. They were separate by land, language a generation, but they were too linked by blood and the love that you share with a family member. Since I reviewed the book I have read it twice more. It is a beautiful book and I don’t know if that is what the author intended or if he simply sat and poured his heart and soul into the pages as his fingers whipped across a keyboard but he has written a beautiful book as a way of capturing the past and family he once had.

91Ek-J2djZL._AC_UL436_Following on and in some cases with similarities to the earlier books is this book, The Life of Stuff by Susannah Walker. I found a deep sense of understanding with this book. Written by the author about her mother and what she left behind. The feelings of loss and guilt as the weeks following a death are navigated and the decisions that are necessary to be made.

The author’s mother was a hoarder and therefore there was much to attend to and there was the guilt of “allowing” that to happen. The book resinated with me, not because my mother was a particular hoarder but just the guilt, the lack of knowledge, information hidden and so forth.

81+Dd8YnjTL._AC_UL436_Lastly, my selection this month is, The Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson. In this book the author takes on board an almost impersonal approach to the art of ridding yourself of your belongings before the inevitable occurs.

I have to admit, this is the second such book that I have, both acquired after I almost died as a result of day surgery and the realisation that someone at some point will have to deal with my “stuff” once I am gone. I have no plans to leave just yet, but none of us know what is around the corner and as I leave no children, the task will fall to some unlucky others.

Well, that is it for another month. I look forward to taking part in April although I will strive to get the post up before the middle of the month!

Posted in #6Degrees Meme, Books, Genealogy | 6 Comments

Guild of One-Name Studies – Regional Meeting.

CaptureOn Saturday I had the opportunity to attend one of the Guild of One-Name Studies regional meetings in Yorkshire. Members step forward to present to other members therefore enabling attendees to explore and discover elements which might assist their One-Name studies or genealogical pursuits.

First up was Sue, a regional rep who spoke about the resources available to those researching convicts. Next up was another Sue whose talk I especially found interesting, for reasons which will become apparent in a forthcoming post in my Oral History Series. Then another Sue talked about Welsh Patronymic surnames and finally Jackie, not Sue! facilitated a session, “How I do a One Name Study”.

These sessions are not recorded. They are organised by the Regional Reps for Yorkshire and encourage interaction and networking with other Guild members, although non-members are welcome to attend and there were a few present, as well as a few others who reside in neighbouring Counties.

The image shown here was created by me, using a word-cloud website and very much expresses the fundamentals of the Guild.


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Family Tree Magazine 2019 – Surname Research Series

wgp-cdn.coIn the April 2019 issue, the surname series continues with us looking at types of Surnames and how they vary across different Country origins.

You can read more by looking through the posts I have previously written HERE, or by taking the Pharos introduction course.

Family Tree Magazine (UK) is available as both a paper and electronic version from 12th March via the website

Surname Research Guide FTM Cover

This issue is accompanied by an Surname Research guide, which has been written to celebrate the Guild of One-Name Studies 40th (Ruby!) anniversary.



Posted in Family Tree Magazine (UK) Surname Series (2019), Genealogy, One-Name Studies, Pharos - Introduction to One-Name Studies course | Leave a comment

Oral History – A Pinch of Salt or a Grain of Truth?

Oral History SeriesContinuing the oral history series and the post from yesterday

A few years ago whilst at the funeral of another family member I mentioned the story to my late Mum’s first cousin. I asked if he knew of the story? He replied I must have it wrong because the land in fact was on Wonersh Common. I asked are you sure? and received one of those looks that Mum would give me, you know the stare that says you are foolish to question me!

I explained what I had been told by no less than three of his Aunts, yet he remained adamant, it was Wonersh as that was where the Butcher family hailed from. He and I both looked at his older brother, who miraculously and typically said he had never heard the story previously and suggested that I follow it up.

A year ago I called the daughter of my Great Aunt, she told me that she knew there was land in Wonersh, but not this exact issue and sent me some documents. When they arrived they were the same I already had and did represent research from the Butcher family and not the land on Wanborough Common or Wonersh Common.

As I said yesterday, I am no further forward now, than I was thirty years ago when I first heard the details of Wanborough Common, let alone Wonersh Common (Wonersh is in Surrey too).

Is this a case of a pinch of salt or a grain of truth? Or is it that two stories have become merged over time. I can certainly confirm that the family did indeed have links to land in Wonersh and surrounding areas, I have copies of the various documents to prove it. Meanwhile, Laverty’s notebook also reveals something worth following up on and I hope that it doesn’t take me another thirty years to do so!

Posted in Butcher One-Name Study, Genealogy, Harris, Headley Hampshire & Frensham Surrey, One-Name Studies, Oral History Series, Places | 1 Comment

Oral History – The Importance & Pitfalls

Oral History SeriesOral history can give us a clue of where to look, but should not be added to genealogical databases unless you can verify the accuracy of the research or you have identified that an individual has been added on the basis of oral history.

In my own case, as I have shown before, I often record family trees in my notebook as a way of clarifying what I know and can confirm. If I am unsure, and I am working on a hypothesis I insert an “H” into the tree and this is my working tree, effectively the stage before I inserted the material into Roots Magic.

The same Great Aunt that I have already talked about in this series shared numerous facts with me over the years. One of those facts, from as far back as 1989 was that

“Grandpa Harris has been diddled out of some land on Wanborough Common by his niece Jane”.

For clarity, this Wanborough is in Surrey (the other Wanborough is in Hampshire). This branch of the Harris family were originally from the area of Frensham, Surrey and Headley, Hampshire, but I knew that Wanborough, Hampshire bore no relevance to this piece of oral history.

I was able to pin point the niece Jane too and did, in the early 1990’s meet her descendants, who have not kept in touch! I also asked the sister’s of my Great Aunt, and they too recalled the information being well known within the family.

A few years later after my Aunt told me this, I revisited the subject with her again. This time there was more details……

“Grandpa Harris had gone to London and sought legal advice, but there was no way to proceed”.

Interesting, and the plot thickened. Without this oral history the details would have been confined to the past and I would never have likely known.

I came across the notebooks of the vicar, Rev Laverty of Headley, Hampshire.  In those notebooks there is a reference to the estate of a Daniel and David Harris. The notebook reveals this:

p.281 Letter:
4 Field Court, Gray’s Inn, W.C.,
Telephone 2525
Telegraphic Address: “HUNTSMOOR, LONDON”
20 April 1888
Dear Sir
You may have heard from Mr WRIGHT that we have been obliged after all to abandon the claim by Daniel HARRIS to the fund in the Court of Chancery.
We find that Letters of Administration were taken out to the missing Legatee’s Estate many years ago by Henry HARRIS who described himself as the cousin of the missing legatee. If this were correct that is to say, if the missing legatee’s father was legitimate, David HARRIS’ share would be a few pounds only and to prove that it is incorrect requires an action in the Probate Court which would exhaust the whole of the fund.
We beg to thank you for the assistance you have so kindly given us in the matter.
We are, Dear Sir,
Yours faithfully,
R S Sayle & Son & Humphreys
To: The Rev W H Laverty
Headley Rectory

The entry in the notebook actually provides more questions than answers. Is this the same estate my Aunt referred to or different? The connection to the family is tenuous, not because these Harris’ were not related to Henry, but because there is also connections between the Harris and Bridger families in the same area. (My Grandmother descended from the Bridger’s as did my Grandfather). There was a great deal of intermarrying in the broad context of my maternal family because when people live in rural settings then the marriage pool is small and people tended to connect with others through the extended family. No Facebook or the internet in those days!

My Aunts would not have known of the existence of the notebooks and likely of the Rev Laverty. Why did the information make it into the notebooks of a vicar of another parish?

Well, Headley is not that far from Wanborough, Surrey. No more than 20 miles or so. The Harris family were from Headley originally and many remained in the village.

Thirty years on and I still have no idea of the absolute accuracy of the claim from my Great Aunt. There was clearly something going on and it might be quite nice to see what I can establish to prove or disprove the oral history. More on this as research continues.


From the personal collection of Julie Goucher

Grandpa Harris was named Henry and born in September 1844, christened on 4th October the same year.

He was one of triplets, of which two were boys and the third a girl. The other boy died in 1844 and the a girl, died in 1881. (There was also a set of twins born in 1837, but that is a story for a different day!).

The Harris’ were agricultural folk. They were labourers and not wealthy. Their life would have been hard. Therefore the actions that Henry took would have likely yielded the interest of others in the village even though Henry had moved away.

The photograph shown above is of Caroline nee Ellis and Henry Harris on their 60th Wedding Anniversary in 1924. Caroline and Henry were my great, great Grandparents and I was delighted when my Grandfather’s first cousin gave this to me. We were at the home of my Great Aunt and I said that I wondered who took the photo to which my Aunt replied she had.

That is so special and is exactly why oral history is so important.

Posted in Genealogy, Harris, Headley Hampshire & Frensham Surrey, Oral History Series, Puttenham & Wanborough | 1 Comment