Monday, 24 September 2012

# 112 Roots

I have always been very enthusiastic about my genealogy. We're one of those families who hoarded everything - photos, letters, war memorabilia. Anything with a personal history to it. As a consequence, there's a lot of paraphernalia in my family going back 170 years or so.

Most of the family stories and rumours that hadn't been fully researched back in the day have now been verified and are true. And every so often an as yet undiscovered distant relative pops up on my email having seen some query I left on a Rootsweb message board 10 years ago.

Some of my family history is so interesting that I'm publishing a book about it, but that's another story for another time.  Recently and quite by accident (as is often the case), I've come across some new information. Someone in my family was at the inquest into the 1865 railway disaster at Staplehurst in Kent that Charles Dickens was involved in.

And now it turns out my family on all sides has been historically living under assumed names. My family name of Oliver was actually Gallagher and they came from Ireland in the 1810s having apparently fled due to some trouble there, settling in England and America under assumed names.

On the other side of my Dad's family (the interesting and famous bit) my family name should have been something completely different. And my mother's whole family has completely changed. But that's another story.

What I particularly love about family history is finding out that they weren't really so different to their modern day descendants. Children out of wedlock were very common. Marriages because of these unexpected children were also very common. Women not getting married was not unusual. Bigamy, criminals, war heroes and suicides are also all there. 

Whilst historically we expect these events to be scandalous, the rate at which they were happening suggests it wasn't so unusual across the general population. Most of my family came from the working classes although some of them did rub shoulders with the aristocracy. Life happened and although the technology was different, the moral standards don't seem to have altered that much.

I'm unsure how my great-great-aunt who had four children out of wedlock in the 1850s by the time she was 20 was received in the tiny village in Cumberland where she lived but certainly they seem to have stayed, her children grew up to have jobs and families of their own and she wasn't flogged half to death and forced to live in the gutter. In fact, she seems to have done fairly well for herself all things considered. 

My grandfather's family

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