Thursday, April 23, 2009

From the Archives: The search for Thomas English

Part I — Old books and basements

I had dreamed about traveling to England, Scotland and Ireland to research genealogy and capture enough ambience to write a book. The dream started to come true when my sister and her husband said, “We’re going to England.” We decided to combine itineraries and go together.
I had been to England once before. I considered myself a veteran because I had taken a tour of London on a double-decker bus. While Debbie and Eddie visited the sights, I went digging for ancestors.
There’s never enough time, as people who have been researching their families for decades can tell you. I narrowed my search to the family of Thomas English, my ninth great-grandfather who moved to Ireland in the 1600s. There I was in London, looking for Irish records.
I found them in the basement of St. Magnus the Martyr Church — English churches have creative names. I followed paper signs for the Irish Genealogical Research Society to a spiral stairway leading to the basement. I held onto the railing as I descended narrow stone steps. I ended up in a small library, where three faces looked up to register the newcomer.
The Society members were kind and helpful. As I pored through books, the lady asked me if I’d like some tea. It was rainy and chilly out, so I accepted gratefully. I expected a paper cup of warmth which I would sip quickly and then continue with my work, but she meant “Tea.”
Everyone pushed their old books and research aside when she brought out a tray complete with teapot, milk, sugar, and “biscuits” (cookies). They chatted with each other as if sitting in a living room. It was an unexpected highlight of the trip.
I found mention of Thomas English in a book that was so old I was in heaven just to handle it. I love old books wherein an “s” looks like an “f” and the language is eloquent.
Thomas Wight’s “History of the Rise and Progress of the People called Quakers in Ireland” recorded the meetings in Ireland and detailed many hardships that Quakers endured during that time.
It said that a (Quaker) meeting was started at the house of Thomas English in Moate in 1659.
I wasn’t as lucky at the British Library, since the genealogical reading room was closed. But the Library had a museum of old books and manuscripts on display. I saw old Bibles, an early collection of Shakespeare, Beowulf, original sheets from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” and Jane Austen’s childhood satire.

While the Englishes did not live in Scotland, my ancestress Mary Glendenning Hoggatt did (Mary of the Hoggatt House in High Point and the first grave at Springfield Friends).
After exploring Edinburgh Castle together, my family remained as tourists while I skipped off to be a scholar in the National Library of Scotland reading rooms.
For those who have never been in a reading room, it’s a collection of books and records so wonderful or old that no one can check them out.
I found a marriage index record for Mary’s parents, David and Margaret (1685), and a reference in the 1715 town minutes that David was to be paid 20 Scottish pounds per year to care for the town swans.
My favorite find in Scotland was in Inverness. I don’t mean the Loch Ness — although yes, it was beautiful and no, we didn’t see Nessie. I mean Leakey’s Used Books. It was filled with books and more books, plus maps and a cafe upstairs. A bibliophile’s dream.
I bought a collection about England’s social history during Thomas English’s lifetime.
Did I mention that I love books?
Next week: The Search for Thomas English, Part 2 — Stone Walls in Ireland

published in The Archdale-Trinity News, August 24, 2006.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Birth of a book

It all started in 2006, when I had just published my first genealogy book and I wasn't sure what to do next. Then I went on a dream trip, researching my ancestors in England, Scotland and Ireland. I mostly looked for the Thomas English family, Quakers that moved from England to Ireland and eventually to America. I started with information from Mildred Collier's wonderful book on Thomas' descendants. I wanted to find the primary (original) sources, look for ancestors on the female branches of the family, and learn some local history that might be useful in a future book.

I found most of what I was looking for, and more! Several of my direct ancestors died young, which didn't give me much material for stories. When I got home and looked through everything, I realized that their siblings and in-laws had more interesting lives. Some of the brothers-in-law — like John Clibborn — had done so much they even had local history books written about them!

My definitions: An amateur genealogist tries to see how far back they can go and only looks for direct ancestors. A serious genealogist is interested in siblings and related lines and writes down all her sources. An advanced genealogist is interested in the whole town or village, and writes down the sources of sources — and becomes a historian.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

My next project ... maybe

I am so excited! I don't know why I put this off for so long, but last week I finally sent an e-mail to a wonderful little library in Ireland that I visited in 2006 (has it really been that long?!), asking them about some 17th century records that I need to research for my book. Yes, that's 350-year-old records, that actually have my ancestors in them. Today I got a very encouraging reply! I'll have to wait until the folks over there get together to discuss my proposal, and how they could get copies to me. I should hear more in the next couple of weeks.

You see, good librarians don't just throw those old records on a copy machine like we do all the time, because they're so fragile. I'm really honored that they like my idea enough to consider scanning them.

What's the word for: I'm jumping up and down, waving my arms in the air—this is pivotal for my book—I can't wait!!!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Here’s to the memories

I subscribe to a great e-mail group, through In this morning’s e-mail, a lady told how she was trying to declutter, but her mother had kept everything and anything and those things were hard to part with. So she took pictures of these inherited items, found some old pictures of her mom using them, and made scrapbook pages. She made another book on her childhood. She kept a few really important things, but was able to throw out so much. She said, “Instead of 100-plus boxes for our child to go through one day, she will have four scrapbooks that she can go through anytime she wants to.”

As a history buff and genealogist, sometimes I’m tempted to keep every little checkbook - to show what a house payment cost 30 years ago, for example. But there’s only so much space. My house is, after all, a house, not a museum. When my sister and I cleaned out my mom’s house, we gave away most of the large items, which could be enjoyed by other family members. We kept things like pictures and Daddy’s negatives, which I still have to go through (he was a photographer). I also have a few heirlooms that I want to keep, but need to find better places to store them where they won’t collect dust or get ruined. I like the scrapbook idea. I’ve already taken pictures of some of my childhood art, so I could then throw it away.

Marla (aka the FlyLady) says to keep things that make you smile, and to toss the things that make you feel guilty or sad or “you might need it/fix it someday.” I love pictures - they usually make me smile.