Digging Up the Past

This is not so much a Blog post as an alternative to an overly long Facebook update in order to inform any of my readers, who may be wondering, that YES I am alive and well. Hubbie and I are currently in England.

I must say, this long-distance flying lark is not getting any easier. More than nine hours Sydney – Hong Kong, heading north and over the Cape York Peninsula, instead of north-west across country. Why? The captain said there were military exercises taking place in the middle of the country  – a.k.a. “The Outback”. This was not general knowledge, so I suppose the exercises were classified Top Secret – unless of course, you happened to be an air traveller. Then a six hour layover in Hong Kong airport, then a connection to London of around twelve and a half hours.  Add another two hours for baggage, immigration, car hire collection, and then another two to drive to destination. In the past we have hit the ground running, but this time we needed two days to recover. On top of which, we came down with the sniffles, which is not surprising given we had been breathing recirculated air all that time.

We had an interesting chat with the guy on UK immigration. They always make it sound as if they are just passing the time of day with you, when really they are pumping you for information and waiting for you to slip up. Like getting Austria and Australia mixed up – that sort of thing. Anyway, we passed the test, although I am not sure he appreciated me asking whether we were better off on the M2 or the M20 to our destination 🙂 . . . Trying to sound as if I knew which way was up. I am guessing he wasn’t deluded, and just thought I was a smart-ass.

Anyway, he let us into the country, so all’s well that ends well. On top of which, our English “almost” daughter gave birth to her first child on the same day as we arrived. And “S” – if you are reading this – as you have yet another sleepless night, once again we send you both our big congratulations, and suggest you just keep repeating, “it will get easier“, “it will get easier“. If you sing it, baby might even mistake that for a lullaby.

Now we are in Beautiful Bradford. Okay, that is an oxymoron in some circles, but seriously, this city has some impressive buildings, and a long, fascinating history that can be said to epitomise the Industrial Revolution. I am on the trail of my great-grandmother who left here around 1880, to travel alone to Australia. I still can’t work out how or why, so if anyone can enlighten me on Female Middle Class Emigration, (as opposed to poor Irish Famine girls) please speak up now. And while I am on the subject, if you happen to be a WHITLEY of West Yorkshire: Allerton, Thornton, Shipley or Bradford (UK) I would love to hear from you.

I have had an interesting couple of days stuck in the archives office readings accounts of voyages to Australia, and letters home to the relatives left behind, dating from around 1840-1880. At least three months in a leaky boat and lots of stories of those who died en route. Looking up old newspapers turned out to be more tedious than I imagined, so thank goodness for digitisation, which I fell back on after trying to do it the “old-fashioned” way. Amongst other things, I came across a gem in which my g.g.grandfather – a bootmaker – had ‘a’ boot stolen from his shop. The chappie who did it got ten years’ transportation. So let’s hope that, at least, he stole a pair of boots for his trouble.

I have seen where he had his shop, and I was taken to one of the houses where the ancestors had lived, and we ended up banging on the front door and introducing ourselves. You can get away with that sort of thing when they will never meet you again. It turns out that one of the young ladies of the house was also into history. So another piece of the puzzle fell into place. Later in the day we traipsed around a cemetery which has become very overgrown. Thank goodness that a Bradford local had sent me a photograph of the headstone more than twenty years ago. Now it is somewhere under several feet of brambles and privet bushes.

Tomorrow I am off to a present day Grammar School, which, in the 1870s and onwards, was a school for orphans.

So much to do . . . so little time . . .

Poor old Liz Thurlow has had to take a back seat while all this is going on – but I do promise to get back to her as soon as time permits! In the meantime, we can leave her having it off with Tony Babic and living in dreamland – until – ?

I have just read this post before hitting the publish button, and it is not the most coherent piece I have ever written. I hope you will all cut me some slack: I am tired, brain-dead, over-stimulated, out of my depth, and in need of a calming wine . . .


22 thoughts on “Digging Up the Past

  1. Bradford!!! That’s only an hour away from me! It sounds like a very exciting trip, I’m glad you found time to go the the museum of film and photography, I spent a lot of time there when I was doing my degree. I hope you enjoyed the rest of your trip.


    • Ah, what a pity I did not know. No doubt we could have called in for a cuppa’. A visit from a random mad Aussie might have given you some dinner table conversation for the next six months 🙂 I have been following your posts but not commenting. You certainly have been in the wars, and I hope things take a turn for the better soon. BTW the whole Bradford trip was stimulating – new learnings every day. I thought the museums and parks were outstanding. Don’t get enough good press. Also got out to the Crossley Heath School at Halifax. Are you familiar with that? I got to put on the white gloves and have a rummage through a scrapbook of its Victorian era as a school for orphans.


      • You surely could have called in for a cuppa, I’d have loved that. Oh well, next time.

        I don’t know Halifax at all, we only ever go ‘over the border’ into Yorkshire when we go to the photography museum at Bradford or sneak in a visit to York.

        Your trip sounds fascinating, I look forward to reading all about it in due course. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Everything you write sounds exciting to me, regardless of brain-dead, tired or in need of wine. You’re very lucky to be getting some results in your history search. Glad you’re appreciating digitization of any sort of old papers/photos/documents 😉


    • You’re too kind! You would have loved my last visit today. I went to the Bradford Film and Photography Museum. There was an expert in the research centre who dated some photographs for me. He says one of them is an albumin print (eggwhite finish). He said that was not used after 1890. It was a cabinet card with the photographer’s name and business address on the reverse, and he could tell me the photographer was at that address from 1887-1898. So that narrows that particular photo to 1887-1890. Amazing huh? By the way, have you ever restored albumin prints? This one is yellowing.


      • I have not come across an albumin print, other than reading about them. Remember that I don’t restorate old photos as a curator would do, mine are digital restorations which means creating a copy of your original which gets fixed up digitally.


        • I must show you the albumin print when we next catch up. In fact, I should discuss preserving all of the photographs with your digital expertise. As well as the albumin (c1888) I have two others (c1900) and a postcard (c1920). The postcard has a personal photograph embedded in it. Then I should also search out someone to restore the originals. It would be a pity to lose them.


  3. I’m glad your digging is leading somewhere. I love the idea of you the two of you knocking on a strangers door to gather more info.
    Good luck, and keep us posted.


    • I have to say Blanche, I wouldn’t have done it if there wasn’t a chap with me showing me around. Turns out that the house was occupied by a former work colleague of his, although he didn’t know that when we knocked. But it was invaluable in getting an insight into how the ancestors were living. And today I managed to catch an expert in the research centre of the Bradford Photographic museum and he dated some photographs for me, and could also comment on the social status. Amazing!


    • Hi Sandra, I am honoured that you chose me for this award. However, I will decline on this occasion. Not enough hours in the day while I am on this particular trip – as you can probably note from the delay in getting back to you. Thanks so much for the recognition.


  4. Sound as if you’re well into your search for roots – look forward to hearing more. And I too dread air travel – a long time ago is was a special experience but not now… Although better than the marine travel our ancestors endured! Good luck with your hunt.


    • Coming to the end of our allocated time in Bradford now. Found out heaps of stuff, but nothing on what scheme would have enabled my g.grandmother to come to Australia as a lone female. More to do into when I get home. I do however, have several accounts of the voyage out, around 100 days in the period I am looking at. One quite matter-of-factly refers to the eighteen deaths on the voyage, and several discuss the manner in which the bodies were consigned to the deep. Can you imagine. As you say, it makes a mockery of our journeys, although I agree, the gloss has certainly dimmed, I’m not looking forward to the return journey.


  5. Congratulations on being an “almost” grandmother – LOL, yes that “it gets easier” doesn’t really work at this stage. I love wandering around cemeteries – I got a lot of family history in graveyards and churches in Guernsey. Churches generally kept really good records and the ones I went to had big registries that were a wealth of information. (It’s only a 7 hour flight if you want to pop over to DC 🙂 )


    • Yes, it’s hard to imagine your life will ever return to normal in those first few months of motherhood. Let’s see how she is when we catch up again week after next. I got a DVD on the Undercliffe Cemetery which gives all sorts of useful information, and just for fun we walked around the cemetery at Haworth, beside the Bronte Parsonage yesterday. Moving on tomorrow, my research here is coming to an end. Now to sort out all this “stuff” I have accumulated.


  6. Good blog Gwen! How you did it after ALL that travelling is beyond me! Hasn’t made us feel any better about Monday when we’ll be on the trail to the UK – the weather is FAB. here – why are we leaving?! Love JoJo


    • Wow JoJo! According to my laptop it is sparrow’s fart back in OZ, so well done you for being on the ball so early in the morning. We are thinking you for your big trip about to come. If it is any consolation, the weather here is pretty good. I am in my warm clothes, but it is not really cold AND it is mostly sunny – ish. Well, it’s not raining anyway. And you are coming for a good cause and the memory of your visit will last.


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