What Makes a Life?

I love newspaper archives. I have waded enthusiastically in when one of my youngsters had had a project on the Industrial Revolution. When I had studied this turmultuous period at school, I had found it dull, dry and uninteresting. Wading into The British Newspaper Archives had taught me just how wrong I was. Perhaps having children descended from the starving weavers who had marched in an attempt to save their own lives and livelihoods, had helped to bring it to life. I now view the word” weaver”(Links to actual footage of workers leaving the mills in 1901).with excitement.

I never expected to find this amazing footage of millworkers leaving a factory-On a personal note I had a relative who had worked briefly in the Lancashire Woollen mills in the 1920s. She had often told me how she had been the only other woman wearing a hat, coat and shoes(being from the south of England) instead of a shawl and clogs (as see in this film). This had led to her being gently teased.


The trouble with me and newspaper archives, is that I get really caught up, as if I am reading some great novel.  I often skip straight to the end to find out the conclusion, before I can bear to read the painful bits in the middle.

It comforts me when I learn that an individual lived to a reasonable age and did not end up dying destitute in a workhouse. I was shocked to discover at least one family member who had died in the dreaded workhouse in the relatively recent past of the twentieth century. I love it when a story with an unpromising beginning, seems to end in a quiet, relatively comfortable old age-or as in the case of one individual I studied, they turn from a life of crime, to the more sedate pastime of prospecting. I guess I still seek the “Happily Ever After”. I love to read the glowing tributes to individuals who have struggled their whole life but who seem to have inspired love in friends and family. I remember a particularly touching episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where Ray decided to write his father’s obituary, while he was still alive. A sentimental story of Frank’s softer side emerges, when it is revealed how he had quietly showed affection to the children’s pet rabbit.


I have come across a few such deeply personal, touching obituaries and to me they are worth more than gold…

Alan Sachs

Death is more universal than life. Everyone dies but not everyone lives.

There is no greater legacy than learning that somebody has inspired genuine love and affection in those they have left behind.

Documentary about the historical films of Mitchell & Kenyon, who produced the film showing the mill workers.


Documentary about voices in Edwardian England.








End of Life Care

I had never thought I would find a hospice a beautiful place. I heard the phrase today, “End of Life Care” and it had reminded me of watching my friend’s final bravely-fought battle. The brightest light in the whole experience for me was the hospice. So much was going on in my life at the time and yet whenever I had walked down to the hospice to visit my friend I had found peace.

It sounds odd to say I miss visiting the hospice but I do. It was a beautiful place. Not a place of sadness and death but a place of peace and even occasionally laughter. My friend was made to feel like the most precious, important person on the planet. I never saw one person treat her with anything other than kindness, dignity and respect.

At the time I had determined I wanted to write biographies for some of the patients. I did contact the authorities but that was as far as it had gone before the general “busy-ness”  of life had taken over. Fortunately I had already put together the  story of my friend’s family over the years- a deeply touching powerful tale. A story of Irish survivors of the terrible famine which had engulfed that country and had taken a million lives. They  fortunately were also  a family who had had the foresight to record at least in part, of the story themselves(written by somebody who had escaped The Irish Potato Famine as a child).

He described children as “mere animated skeletons”looking for food and men and women dying on the roadside and in the fields. He witnessed many harrowing scenes as Irish families were evicted from their homes, which were then burned. He had recounted these stories to his children and grandchildren, here in Australia.


The Famine

This is believed to be the oldest known photo of a survivor of the Potato Famine.Here

Description  of The Famine(from The Colonial Times, Hobart) 23rd October,1849.

An extract from a letter sent to the editor of The Dublin Evening Packet:

Her children got nettles.Showed me a bag about the size of a small pillow-case, full of nettles This took two children all the day to get so full. The poor people left few nettles about, and the children now often had to fight others for these! The way they cooked them was to boil them in an old broken crock ; and Whelan gave a small tinful of his meal,about one half-pint,to shake over the nettles.Her children and herself and her husband had no other food..

 One story of how Irish came to Australia: Irish emigrants come to Australia

Assembling an intimate account of the family’s life in Australia had been relatively simple. Thanks to the wonderful free resource of Trove,(Please note Trove may still be a useful  free resource, even if your ancestry is not Australian.) I had learned of their lives in their  newly-adopted country in great detail. My friend had been able to present to her mother, whilst she, (her mother) had still been alive, those reports, some of which had touchingly named her  mother, grandfather and great grandfather personally. I have had many moments of self-doubt devoting myself to genealogy but one of my rare moments of truly recognising the value of such research, had occured, learning of the memories, which had been jogged and the closeness which had been fostered, at least in part due to the sharing of a few newspaper articles.

Painting classes did not go well for me, I  had actually managed to blow up an overhead projector among other  things (needless to say I do not think I will become the next Rembrandt) but the one thing I did take away from the whole  experience, was the discovery that my instructor, had also worked at a hospice. Up until that point I had had no idea that people might be given artistic opportunities in a hospice. I  had never expected to find myself by visiting a hospice but I think in many ways I did. If anybody is trying to put together the story of somebody who is approaching the “end of their life”please feel free to contact me, I will attempt to help if I possibly can. I also cannot stress enough to record people recounting their story themselves(I found this example on Youtube). You will be leaving a great gift to future generations.

Hello Cousin!

COUSINSIt had all started with my Grandmother. She died a long while before I was born.

I had simply wanted to know a little more about her and had not intended to set out on an almost thirty year quest into my roots. My previous belief that families were either great or ordinary(or possibly even criminal) has been blown apart. The first and possibly biggest shock was that my Great Great Grandmother(who was listed merely as a servant in the censuses) had extraordinary forebears and that through her I was connected to a whole gamut of extraordinary people. The next discovery was,(of course )a convict cousin who had been deported to Australia. and a sad story of a mother who had given birth and died in gaol, having being imprisoned for what would nowadays probably not even be considered a misdemeanour.

I recalled the wise words of a dear friend, who cautioned me, that our ancestry is likely to be littered with all manner of individuals, both famous and infamous. Eventually I have begun to realise the interconnectedness of us all.

I had planned a family reunion, but as my tree has grown and grown, this has become a daunting prospect. Just where do I draw the line?

I really admire A.J. Jacobs but am unsure whether I am ready for a family reunion on such a grand scale.

A.J.Jacobs Family Reunion

Here he tells Conan a little more about his project and its objectives:


A.J. Jacobs on Conan


Article on World’s Biggest Family Reunion




Genes &Stress/Trauma


It is interesting to investigate further the possibility that our lives may actually be being affected by events of which we have little or no conscious knowledge.

Perhaps investigating our family’s past may help our understanding of the present. Currently  we are only beginning to investigate and to understand this concept. and the science appears to be in its infancy.  Yet  it is yielding some interesting results. Investigating family history may tell us more about our own reactions to life with its inevitable challenges and perhaps help us both to better comprehend and to deal with  the difficulties we might face.

Some are more sceptical of these theories. An article by Professor Ewan Birney.

You are truly far more than your genes – your DNA is not your destiny.





Family Patterns

Inherited Trauma

Some are more sceptical of these theories. An article by Professor Ewan Birney.

You are truly far more than your genes – your DNA is not your destiny.


There is nothing new under the sun.

I have found this phrase to contain a great deal of truth and wisdom, once one begins to investigate family history. Family patterns both positive and negative can go back an awfully long way. I have also learned about something called inherited trauma.

An amazing talk about the effects of intergenerational trauma by Dr Judith Landau:


Some are more sceptical of these theories. An article by Professor Ewan Birney.

You are truly far more than your genes – your DNA is not your destiny.


I have heard many disparaging comments about the study of history and yet it seems to me that were we all truly students of history, both our own and family history we would avoid many pitfalls. I have never forgotten the history teacher who taught me that learning about the past may help us to understand possible outcomes in the future. I have come to realise all too often families constantly repeat negative  and  often destructive patterns. Breaking family patterns is extremely hard but the first step is to see the patterns. Had I understood and questioned destructive family patterns earlier, I believe my own life would have benefitted, but they are at least now there  for my children to see, although their own interpretation may be quite different.

I have developed a measure of respect for the plucky go-getters, who are practical and just deal with the situation at hand. I have tended to divided people into doers and thinkers. I have always respected the doers, despite being inclined towards being a thinker/dreamer myself. I was a little surprised to discover a deep and poignant poem written by somebody, whose profession seemed to indicate, he was very much a practical person. Nonetheless I do believe that some branches of the family appear more inclined towards introspection and creativity than others. It can be interesting to look at family patterns and beliefs and to try to discern their origin.

The more I study  family history the more I have  begun to question, many of my inherited beliefs.

I have often repeated a story I once heard about a woman who continually cut the ends off her joints of meat before placing them in the oven. One day her daughter asked her why she did this. She had simply responded that she did not know but her Mother had always done it. The woman had then asked her mother, why she had always chopped the ends off her joints of meat, to which the mother also responded she did not really know but her mother had always done so. Finally the Grandmother was asked why she had always chopped the ends off her joints of meat. The Grandmother in a matter-of -fact tone explained that her oven had been too small and she had simply removed the ends of the joint to fit it in the oven.

I wonder how often we continue with family patterns and beliefs long after they have ceased to serve us?


An interesting article on the research into inherited trauma and its effects: