Favourite Book(s) #30 – The Button Box Lifting the Lid on Women’s Lives by Lynn Knight

The Button BoxI inherited a pile of buttons from my Grandmother and late Mum. I also had a pile of buttons that came as extra’s with clothes bought over the years. They had gathered in my sewing box and filled all the sections in a completely unorganised manner. I realised that I now had three generations of buttons and that I should put them all together in an attempt to be reasonably organised and of course, they may actually come in handy.

I decided to have them as a visual decoration. I had a small clear vase that I had purchased years ago and used that. IMG_0135The vase, filled with buttons from three generations of my maternal family sits on my bookcase and every now and again I sort through them and see if I can recall what item of clothes they came from. In many cases the item of clothes is no more, but the buttons remain as a tribute to the past.

Whilst sitting in a hospital bed this book caught my eye and purchased it. I asked my husband if he could collect it and bring it in when he next visited and could he bring me a bookmark from home. He arrived one afternoon clutching the book, a bookmark and a fresh pile of washing for me. He handed over the book and said how long would it last me? I had no idea, but started the book that day. I had my iPad with me and plenty of books on there, but sometimes there are books that simply have to be read, in your hand as opposed to via a device – why this book was one of those I have no idea, perhaps it was the link to family memories or something else, but in the two years since I have had this book I have read it about four times; yes it is one of those books!

Lynn Knight has selected buttons from her family stash and has then explored the general lives of women during the period the button would have featured on an item of clothing. It reveals a fascinating insight to social history, the role women played and what they could and could not do.

As I was reading a few things occurred to me one of which was that when my maternal Grandmother was born (in 1912) there was no vote for women, my Grandmother lived as a small child through the First World War and yet I never, not once asked her if she remembered anything of that time. I always knew when my Grandmother was born, her parents, siblings, where she lived and the job her father did and later her brothers, but I had never, made the obvious connection as I have described here and that is infuriating.

My Grandmother and I were very close and we talked about many things which gave me insight into her and her family life and yet I never made this connection until I read this book about the First World War. I could have created a timeline for her as I have with other ancestors, one of whom I will show as an example in a future post here, that ancestor lived between 1720-1787 and yet someone who was so very much an important part of my life has never featured in a timeline…until now.

For me the sign of a good book is one that encourages in an non obvious way the link between what we are reading and perhaps our own life or that of earlier generations as this book did. One of the reasons I have read the book so many times is that I went through each chapter and established which of my maternal female ancestors were living in the time periods inspired by the author’s buttons. I then went back and explored their lives in more depth and created their timelines which explores what they were doing at specific times, during a Census for example, when they had their children, where they were living, any occupation outside the home and when they died.

Mary Elizabeth Elstone aged approx 18

Mary Elizabeth Matthews nee Elstone (1880-1937) – personal collection of Julie Goucher

I then aligned that personal timeline to historical events and identified if they were personally impacted by those historical events – I will never know if my Grandmother saw the effect of women gaining the vote on her mother, my Great Grandmother for example whose picture is here when she was just 18. The photograph is just as it was when I inherited it and was dreadfully creased and had been taped up at some point. I never knew this Great Grandmother (I did my other maternal Great Grandmother) but I do own her grave which she shares with her husband, John Matthews (1875-1931).




About Julie Goucher

Genealogist, Author, Presenter, native Guildfordian, avid note taker and journal writer. Lover of Books, Stationery & History; Surnames, Butcher & Orlando One-Name Studies. Pharos Tutor for all One-Name Studies/surname courses as well as Researching Ancestors from Continental Europe.
This entry was posted in Books, Favourite Book(s), Genealogy, Matthews. Bookmark the permalink.

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