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Beautifully illustrated family history books with a difference by a frequent contributor to the UK family history press. I write for Family Tree Magazine UK; Discover Your Ancestors Online Periodical and Bookazine; Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine. The publishers of my family history books are Pen and Sword Books and The History Press. I tweet (and retweet) thought-provoking content designed to help you tweak your approach to (your family) history at @RuthaSymes . Do follow me.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Guide to Online Newspaper Archives - My piece in Family Tree Magazine UK

Family Tree Magazine  UK Jan 2017  OUT NOW


Guide to Newspaper Archives Online 
by Ruth A. Symes




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Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Competition Winner Announced! Tracing Ancestors Through Letters and Personal Writings

And the winner of the TELEGRAM FROM YOUR ANCESTOR COMPETITION is: 



M. Diane Rogers (President at the Vancouver Postcard Club)


for her entry:


 'Lift my old trunk's lining [Stop] Love Great-Grandma [Stop]'

Well done Diane!


A copy of my book Tracing Ancestors Through Letters and Personal Writings will be on its way to you tomorrow!

Thanks to all the other entrants. Follow this blog (by entering your email address in the right-hand column) for more competitions and genealogy news!


Winner Of Competition To Be Announced Later Today - Tracing Ancestors Through Letters And Personal Writings

Winner Of Competition To Be Announced Later Today


Competition Time! - Win a Copy of Tracing Ancestors Through Letters and Personal Writing

Win a copy of my new book:

Tracing Ancestors Through Letters and Personal Writings (Pen and Sword, 2016)

Write a telegram from your ancestor to you (8 words max).

Send via the comments box on this blog or message me through twitter @RuthASymes or Facebook: Searchmyancestry.


Example: 'Ignore birth certificate [Stop] Check DNA [Stop] Great-grandfather'
Winner drawn 21 December




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Monday, 19 December 2016

Daily Ideas From Your Ancestors For Christmas - 25 - Remember The Departed With A Christmas Rose!


An Echo of Christmases Past

‘The Christmas Rose

We bid thee welcome, sweet Christmas rose,
Come from the land where our loved reposed,
Glittering with rime
In a wintry clime
 You bring hope to our hearts at Christmastime

We bid thee welcome, though saddened hearts
Think on a time in the cherished past
When the heart's best rhyme
Would scarcely keep time
 With the festive joys of Christmastime. 

We bid thee welcome, for in turning o'er
A page in the book of memory store
 A garland so fine, with roses of thine
 Did honour our dead at Christmastime.

We bid thee welcome, dear lonely flower,
Blooming so sweet in your snow-clad bower
From the wind’s low whine
You re-echo the time
That brought peace to our hearts at Christmas times.’
 M.G.N.

 The Alloa Advertiser 01 January 1910


By Nellie Benson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons [1901]
                                        
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Daily Ideas from Your Ancestors For Christmas - 24 - Send Plenty of Greetings!


Indulge in the Custom of Cards !


‘CHRISTMAS CARDS – Judging from the displays in the stationers’ windows, there does not appear to be the slightest falling off in the demand for Christmas cards, and they are there an endless variety. The interchange of friendly greetings through the medium of the prettily-designed cards is a custom that will not readily fall into disuse, at least not so long as it is encouraged by the production of cards of real artistic excellence at a nominal figure.’


Aberdeen Evening Express 13 December 1894 

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9a/Victorian_Christmas_Card_-_11222208036.jpg

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Saturday, 17 December 2016

Daily Ideas For Christmas From Your Ancestors - 23 - Hang Swags of Flowers!

Festoon Your Rooms!

On the decoration of Barton Regis workhouse:

‘The entrance hall was ornamented with pictures and floral devices, and from festoons stretched across the lobby depended baskets of flowers.’ 

Bristol Mercury, Gloucestershire 26th December 1885. 


Wikimedia Commons

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Friday, 16 December 2016

Daily Ideas for Christmas from Your Ancestors -22 - Burn A Yule Log With The Family!

Create a 'Circle of Glee'!


While the Christmas Log is Burning!

Hail to the night when we gather once more
All the forms we love to meet;
When we've many a guest that's dear to our breast:
And the household dog at out feet.
Who would not be in the circle of glee; 
When heart to heart is yearning -
When joy breathes out in the laughing about
While the Christmas log is burning!

Eliza Cook

County Express; Brierley Hill, Stourbridge, Kidderminster, and Dudley News, 25th December, 1869


WISEMAN, James Foster Turner from James Harris,  Logs for the Christmas Fire. A selection of tales ... in prose and verse, riddles, charades, ... jokes, etc, (1876) https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36539251

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Thursday, 15 December 2016

Search My Ancestry: Search My Ancestry: Competition Time - Win a Copy ...

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Daily Ideas from Your Ancestors For Christmas - 21 - Sit And Watch The Snow


Rhapsodise About A White Christmas!


‘It is a picturesque sight to lounge in a sybaritic arm-chair, in a warm sitting room and watch the fine feathery flakes as they float fantastically down and beautify the brutal bricks and mortar, to see the gaunt and grimy chimney-stacks grow fairy-like and spectral, and the bare boughs of black trees clothed under a foliage of dazzling white.’


Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald, 5th January 1878


By Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK (Robin in the snow 1  Uploaded by Magnus Manske) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


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Wednesday, 14 December 2016

JUST OUT

Tracing Ancestors Through Letters and Personal Writing (Pen and Sword, 2016)

http://bit.ly/2gIgnz8

Could your ancestors write their own names or did they mark official documents with a cross? Why did great-grandfather write so cryptically on a postcard home during the First World War? Why did great-grandmother copy all the letters she wrote into letter-books? How unusual was it that great-uncle sat down and wrote a poem, or a memoir? Researching Family History Through Ancestors' Personal Writings looks at the kinds of (mainly unpublished) writing that could turn up amongst family papers from the Victorian period onwards - a time during which writing became crucial for holding families together and managing their collective affairs. With industrialisation, improved education, and far more geographical mobility, British people of all classes were writing for new purposes, with new implements, in new styles, using new modes of expression and new methods of communication (e.g. telegrams and postcards). Our ancestors had an itch for scribbling from the most basic marks (initials, signatures and graffiti on objects as varied as trees, rafters and window ledges), through more emotionally-charged kinds of writing such as letters and diaries, to more creative works such as poetry and even fiction. This book shows family historians how to get the most out of documents written by their ancestors and, therefore, how better to understand the people behind the words.


http://bit.ly/2gIgnz8


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Daily Ideas for Christmas From Your Ancestors - 20 - Please Put a Penny in the Old Man's Hat

Give A Little To Charity


'CHRISTMAS CHARITIES AT BELFORD:  Mrs Clark, of Belford Hall, has kindly distributed, through the Vicar, 20 beef tickets to the poor people of the town; while a lady of the church, according to her usual custom, has ordered a number of blankets and flannel petticoats to be disposed of in the same way. The Vicar and Churchwardens are also given 20 tons of coals to the deserving poor of the town and neighbourhood.

Morpeth Herald,  27th December 1890'





Halfpenny Dinners For Poor Children In The East End: Wikimedia Commons
CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)]


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Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Daily Ideas From Your Ancestors For Christmas - 19 - Write Mottoes On Your Walls!


Pay Your Compliments To The Season!

‘The following are some well-seasoned Christmas mottoes: “Right happy may your Christmas be.” “Of Christmas joys be thine an ample part.”  “Christmas mirth and Christmas fare, and friends by dozen both to share.” “A happy Christmas-tide.” “Mirth and music, songs and glees, in your home this Christmas be.” “May Christmas-tide its joys afford, bright glasses sparkle on your board.”’

 Yorkshire Gazette 27 Dec 1890


Victorian Christmas Postcard - Wikimedia Commons
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Monday, 12 December 2016

Search My Ancestry: Competition Time - Win a Copy of Tracing Ancestors...

Search My Ancestry: Competition Time - Win a Copy of Tracing Ancestors...: Competition Time! - Win a Copy of Tracing Ancestors Through Letters and Personal Writing Win a copy of my new book: Tracing Ancestor...

Daily Ideas from Your Ancestors For Christmas - 18 - Consider The Effects of Gaslight!


Various Chaste Shades of Grey!

‘Christmas Decoration should be prepared with a view to being effective by gaslight. Hence, elaborate colouring is less needful than broad and bold effects. Half-tints, as  a rule, are quite washy by gaslight, though some neutrals, such as lilac, dove-colour, and fawn, are valuable, as they afford by gaslight various chaste shades of grey, and are more pleasing than white. These colours will generally be preferable to red, or any of the primary colours, for ribbons to tie garlands, and in artificial flares to brighten the effects of the stronger colours. The two predominating colours in Christmas Decorations should be red and green. Any and every shade of the two colours can be used to advantage, but depth and richness are needed to be consistent with the season.’  
                                               Birmingham Daily Post 27th December 1866

Gas Light By Thomas's Pics, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31971469






Colin Smith- Wikimedia Commons




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Sunday, 11 December 2016

DaiIy Ideas From Your Ancestors - 17 - The Right Time To Eat Mince Pies

One A Day For Happiness !

'The really legitimate time for eating mince pies dates from Christmas Day to Twelfth Day. There is a legend that if you take one per day during that mystic period you will ensure 12 months’ following felicity. I hope my readers do not fail to perceive in what an easy, pleasant manner orthodoxy and a happy life may be secured.' 

Preston Herald, 08 December 1883. 


                                                                    Mince Pies
By Kevin Spencer - originally posted to Flickr as Going Halfway, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10381764                                  Click here for more on books by Ruth A. Symes (UK)

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Saturday, 10 December 2016

Daily Ideas for Christmas From Your Ancestors - 16 - Bake Your Christmas Cake Early

Ornament It With Icing !

It is s great mistake to leave things to the last minute – they certainly then become a worry. If you have not already made your Christmas cake, do so – that is, if it is a fairly rich one.

Plain ones should be made nearer Christmas. Make the cake and ice it plainly, then, put it away in a tin, having first wrapped it in greaseproof paper. Then a week or so before Christmas ornament it with icing, candied fruit, or preserved violets, whichever you prefer.’

Dundee Evening Post 12th December 1900




                                                                      Christmas Cake
By James Petts from London, England (Christmas cake) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


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Friday, 9 December 2016

It Spiced Up Their Lives : Christmas Pudding and Our Ancestors - article

Stodgy or Fruity? : The Stirring Tale of the Christmas Pud 

Plum pudding was very likely to be found on the Christmas table of most of our families throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. With its stodge and fruit, it represented the warmth and wholesomeness of   British culinary tradition. But, the secret of its huge appeal probably lay in three of its more unusual elements: its spices  (a nod to the exoticism of the British Empire), the likelihood that it contained alcohol (rum or brandy were popular additions in non-teetotal households), and the silver coins or charms that might have been stirred into the mixture (guaranteed to provide a happy diversion on Christmas Day). 



Victorian Christmas Card: Wikimedia Commons

Puddings for all Classes

Even if times were hard, it seems, our ancestors rarely missed out on their   pudding at Christmas time. Families scrimped and saved for ingredients with one mid-Victorian newspaper commenting that a poor woman might be seen on Christmas Eve, ‘standing outside a pawnbroker’s shop, with three flat irons, an ancient engraving figurative of a harvest-home, and her husband’s Sunday waistcoat, - all of which goods and chattels she is prepared to make over to the usurer by way of mortgage, that she may obtain the needful purchase money for the ingredients of her Christmas pudding.’ The Falkirk Herald, December 29th, 1853 (Quoting The Times newspaper of the same week).
Pudding even turned up on the Christmas table of otherwise cheerless State-run institutions in the nineteenth century provoking the same journalist to quip that, ‘we shut a man and his wife up in the workhouse, carefully separating them for twelve months, but on Christmas Day, we give to each of them a large wedge of plum pudding, as a set off against the discomfort of the year.’

Meanwhile, in private business and on large estates, plum pudding, was the gift of choice by many employers to their workforces. The Nottingham Review and General Advertiser of December 30th 1831, was typical in its commendation of a local businessman: ‘William Brodhurst Esq of Newark…[who]. on Monday, regaled the whole of his workmen and their wives with plenty of roast beef and plum pudding.’ And this benevolent distribution of pudding was exemplified by Queen Victoria who always handed out pudding to the tenants of her estate at Osborne house on Christmas Eve:
‘The names of the children were read out, each child receiving a present, and there was great fun as they bowed and curtseyed very funnily, the schoolmaster keeping each one back to see they did it properly. They came by three times, first for their presents, then for the pieces of plum pudding and lastly for the ornaments cut off the tree. Then a few of the men and women off the estate came by for plum pudding.Tuesday 24th December, 1867 Queen Victoria’s Journals Online


Victorian Postcard by Charles Green - Wikimedia Commons


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So popular was the Christmas pudding that by the end of the nineteenth century the total amount of ingredients used nationwide were humorously calculated as follows:

‘We think that we are well within the mark when we state that in this country alone, 4,000,000 puddings are prepared for Christmas Day, each of which will average 4 ¼ lbs in weight. The national plum pudding, therefore, weighs just about 7,589 tons; to compose it you must take 2628 tons of raisins, 892 tons of currants and the same quantity of mixed peel, of breadcrumbs and suet 1339 tons each, some 500,000 pints of brandy and 32,000000 eggs.’ Edinburgh Evening News 14th December 1898. 

Puddings for the Empire

By the last decade of the nineteenth century, even if  your ancestors worked or served overseas, they might still have enjoyed a traditional Christmas pudding. As the epitome of Britishness – and because they had a long shelf-life – thousands of tins of pudding were sent out to the colonies of the Empire, particularly India and Australia, by relatives and friends.

In the late 1920s, there was another twist to the idea of Imperial Pudding. At a food exhibition at Olympia in 1926, Princess Marie-Louise came up with the idea of making an imperial pudding using ingredients from around the empire. The first suggested recipe included Canadian flour, Australian or South African raisins, Australian sultanas, Australian currants, English or Scottish beef suet, Indian pudding spice and Jamaican rum. So far so good, but, in fact, the recipe sparked fury from those countries, such as New Zealand, which had either not been represented at all or which had, like India, been underrepresented in terms of ingredients. To rectify this, a new recipe, devised at short notice by the Empire Marketing Board, included minced apple from Canada, Demerara sugar from the West Indies, eggs from the Irish Free State, cinnamon from Ceylon, cloves from Zanzibar, brandy from Cyprus and rum from Jamaica!

Puddings for the Military and the Navy

In 1853, The Times reported that ‘the soldiers and sailors of Queen Victoria eat their Christmas pudding to a man; it is the necessary condition of our national safety.’ And pudding – reassuring, patriotic and sustaining - continued to be associated with the military throughout the whole of the following century. .

In the First World War, Christmas pudding was an important constituent in Christmas parcels sent to the troops since its associations with home were considered to boost morale. Up and down the country, local newspapers organised campaigns to send tinned pudding to troops that had been recruited from their area. In some cases, these wartime plum puddings might provide an unusual way back into finding your ancestors. This is because when individual soldiers wrote in thanks for their puddings, their letters sometimes appeared in local newspapers. A letter to The Burton Daily Mail of 21st February 1917 from GR Ford, Shoeing Smith, Royal Field Artillery of 93 Waterloo Street, Burton, for example, sums up the delight with which this gifts were received. ‘I now take the pleasure of acknowledging receipt of your most welcome Christmas pudding, which I was so pleased to receive. I and my friends enjoyed the pudding so much.’  

The stirring of the Christmas pudding continued to be a much celebrated ritual on all HMS Ships and at Naval establishments long after the end of both World Wars. In 1952, with rationing still uppermost in the minds of many, the ‘mammoth’ puddings made at HMS Condor, at Arbroath in Scotland attracted particular attention in the press. Weighing in at 40lb in total and using 130 eggs, these puddings also included 160 specially sterilised silver three-penny bits, rather than coins made from cupro-nickel (which when mixed with fruit were deemed to produce an unpleasant taste). Sailors who served at the station  received an 8 oz portion of pudding, and the names of those few chosen to stir the enormous barrels of mixture with ‘carley raft paddles’, appeared in the local press.


Wikimedia Commons

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A Recipe in Flux

It’s fun to imagine that  - on some sensory and emotional level - you will in some way  be ‘connecting’ with your ancestors when you taste your pudding this Christmas. But recipes for plum puddings have suffered some variation over the decades and have certainly not tasted (nor indeed looked) the same for each generation of our ancestors.
The common adulteration of flour in the 1860s, for example, meant that some mid-Victorian puddings were pretty tasteless  And there were other intermittent historical factors that affected the composition of puddings. In 1922, a disaster abroad caused the following startling headline to appear in many British newspapers: CHRISTMAS PUDDING MAY HAVE TO BE MADE WITHOUT RAISINS! The source of the problem was a huge fire which had devastated the commercial centre of the port town of Smyrna (located in present day Turkey) ruining the entire 80-100.000 tonnes of raisins for export. Mr McVittie, Honorary Secretary of the British Chamber of Commerce in the town, commented,  ‘English Christmas puddings will have to be made without raisins this year, unless people can afford to pay fabulous prices for them. A result of the fire was a rise today in the price of currants from Greece.’  The Portsmouth Evening News, 16th September 1922.

In the years of the Second World War, few Christmas puddings were made at home because of rationing. Keen to keep up the tradition and for it not to become a treat only for the very rich, The Ministry of Food, with the voluntary agreement of food manufacturers, introduced standardisation of sizes and prices for Christmas puddings within and without basins. In 1943, the prices of these standardised puddings ranged from 1 shilling 71/2d  for 2lb puddings without basins to 7 shillings for 4lb puddings in basins. (reported in The Gloucester Citizen 15th December 1942)

The making of the annual Christmas pudding might have tested the ingenuity and stretched the resources of our ancestors over the years but it was a part of the festivities that they would rarely have done without, for after all, as the Times put it in 1853,  ‘This savoury compound… is the very foundation of Anglo-Saxon civilization.’ December 29th, 1853.


Ready to eat: Wikimedia Commons

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Further Reading and useful websites

Connelly, Mark, Christmas: A Social History,  I. B. Tauris, Rpt, 2012.

Hopley, Claire, The History of Christmas Food and Feast. Remember When, 2009

Lewis, E. G. All Things Christmas: The History and Traditions of Advent and Christmas CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012.

Miles, Clement A. Christmas Customs and Traditions: Their History and Significance. Dover Publications, 1976.

Kaori O’Connor, “The King’s Christmas Pudding: Globalization, Recipes, and the Commodities of Empire” (Journal of Global History, Vol. 4, 2009, pp. 127–155). 

This article first appeared in Family Tree Magazine UK 2015




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