Wednesday, 6 July 2011

History girl lesson no.1

(which actually occurred last Friday during an unbelievably frustrating day at The National Archives, Kew)

What I knew before I started poking around on census websites: that my grandfather, John Hartland, had been born in 1900 or 1901. And the names of a few of his siblings. And, of course, the area in which the family lived.

What did a couple of hours poking around and a few £ spent gain me: a .pdf of the census return filled in for my great-grandfather, surprise, surprise another John Hartland in 1911. This was not the most efficient piece of research ever, it has to be said, and to rectify this, history girl will be attending a talk on using one of these websitey-dooburry genealogy things at the local library in a couple of weeks. She has limited time, and she is a rank amateur.

The census return did nothing to dispel her sense of guilt at being lower-middle, rather than working, class (a feeling she has always had - although her father worked hard to make that the case, giving due credit to the 1944 Butler Education Act and subsequent legislation as well, of course).

The contrast between great-grandfather and great-granddaughter seems stark. Both live in rented accommodation, granted. But history girl has more than one bedroom for her family of three. Whereas the 1911 Hartland forbears had 8 or 9 in the one bedroom (the uncertainty stems from the death of one of the children and when it occurred). Great-grandfather was a labourer (presumably preferable to the 'Night soil man' he was recorded as in 1901), rather than a wannabe academic. History girl claims to be generally able to spell (the curse of spell check notwithstanding); whereas great-grandfather misspelt his name, and clearly was unaccustomed to writing.

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