I know, we amateur genealogists are a weird bunch and our obsession can seem more than a little odd to people not so afflicted. But I have to share that over the past few days I had a minor genealogical triumph.
Up until last week, I hadn’t had any success at all tracing my grandfather Taylor’s family tree (my maternal grandfather, that is) beyond his father and mother. But this past week I remembered the name of his sister, and by correlating the names on an Ancestry.co.uk search engine I was able to discover his family of origin on census records. I have now traced the Taylors back to 1831, when William Taylor (my grandfather’s grandfather) was born in Earl Shilton, Leicestershire. He was a farm labourer, but his son George eventually moved into the city and became a ‘road paviour’ as well as working on the railways.
I am now reasonably sure that no one on any side of our family got a university degree before my generation. We were all working class, blue collar people. My great-great-great grandfather on my mother’s side, Charles Reynolds, born in Lutterworth in 1836, started as a stocking maker and then became a framework knitter, but when the bottom fell out of that industry he and his family moved to Leicester where the children found work in shoe factories and Charles worked as a gardener. He ended his days as a pauper in the Leicester workhouse, where he died in 1904. His son Herbert Henry Reynolds married a woman named Rose Walker; her father also ended up in the Leicester Workhouse where I found him in the 1911 census records.
I also find it amazing that the vast majority of our family lived within twenty miles of Leicester for hundreds of years, but are now spread all over the world (all over England, plus eastern and Western Canada and South Africa). Noah was born in Edmonton, a city in western Canada four hours’ drive from the Rocky Mountains; I, his grandfather, was born on a street exactly like Coronation Street in inner-city Leicester, with my grandparents Arthur and Doris Taylor across the street and my great-grandfather Sam Reynolds six doors further up! It was a cobbled street and hardly anyone could afford a car (nowadays that street is full of cars, and most of the houses have satellite dishes!). When I was a little boy my brother and I thought we had died and gone to heaven when our parents gave us small plastic airliners on wheels as Christmas presents; nowadays we practically need to hire a truck to carry the presents the grandkids get!
The world is a different place now, there’s no getting around it. And that’s one reason I want to carry on doing this genealogical work; I want my children and grandchildren to know where they came from, and to be proud of their hard-working ancestors who did what they had to do to stay alive and raise their families in a world before medicare and social assistance and satellite communications. I don’t romanticize the world they lived in; I know it was a rough world and many of them were ‘rough people’, as my Mum says. But I want to know about them, so that we (my children and grandchildren and I) don’t forget what life was like for them in a world where they had very little of what we now call ‘the necessities of life’. And yet I suspect that the ratio of happy to unhappy people was about the same then as it is now. Human nature hasn’t changed that much, even if almost everything else has.