Newspapers have taken me on some fantastic adventures. I have walked in the shoes of Irish immigrants fleeing famine(they happened to have a relatively uncommon surname and live in a uniquely named Australian town, where their daily activities, down to the death of their cow) were covered in great detail by the newspaper. I have witnessed the downfall of my GGG Grandfather’s family. My GG Grandmother went in a relatively short space of time,( following the tragic early death of her headmaster father) from living in relative affluence in a house with a pianoforte and lush carpets, to working as a servant. It broke my heart to read my GGG Grandmother’s pleas to people to help keep the school going(describing herself as a widow with children to support) then to see the later advertisements for the sale of all their possessions, including some obviously much prized feather beds. I had also learned her grandfather had died at around the same time, having lain injured undiscovered in a field for a week. The tragedies had just kept coming.
I would not known any of this. were it not for The British Newspaper Archive. (this is not a free resource, although there is a free trial).
It had also conclusively shown the origins of my children’s ancestors prior to their arrival in Australia. All it had taken was one marriage announcement to prove this.It had also given a fairly detailed account of their lives prior to their arrival.
I start off with a plastic folder for each surname. As I accumulate more material, it becomes an exercise in cutting and pasting for me. No doubt there are those who do not require the comfort of hard copies but I need documents in my hands. We have come a long way since I used to trek to St Catherine’s house and fight for space to place the huge record books. Much as I love my internet research, there is something special about touching original documents. Please refer to my previous post about the book Possession by A.S.Byatt
I made an amazing discovery this way(cutting and pasting), realising that one set of my GGG Grandparents had both got into trouble with the law for separate incidents, on the same day in 1845. For some reason they had clearly been desperate for money that day although I doubt I will ever know why
Perhaps most poignant of all for me was the discovery of an advertisement for a housekeeper for my Grandfather. My father had been seventeen at the time and had barely known his mother, as she had been extremely sick for many years. The advertisement had described her as an invalid. She had finally succumbed to cancer the following year.
As much as I have learned this way, there is still so much to discover and experience has taught me, all it may take, is the discovery of one marriage announcement or unexpected article, to turn everything on its head.