That family tree of mine

My goodness.  What a can of worms I opened when I decided to research a  bit of family history.  Originally, I simply planned to gather together all the stories, legends, bits of fact and fiction that all families accrue around themselves and record them in my new blog ‘Notes on a family’.  But then, you can get a free trial period of a fortnight on Ancestry UK, so why not take things a little further?

I think the site may have sucked me in, just as it wanted to.  Sleuthing around, tracking my family through the generations has been quite a lot of (frustrating) fun.  But all  that’s for the other blog.  Here’s where I wanted to tell you about some of the incidental  stuff I’ve found.

Did you know, for instance, that the census recorders used to have to note anybody they found who could be described as:

  1. Deaf and dumb
  2. Blind.
  3. Lunatic
  4. Imbecile, feeble minded.

I remember that my mother told me that when she was a child, the use of such terms as ‘moron’, ‘imbecile’ and ‘idiot’ was quite normal and not necessarily offensive, while my father, never known for his political correctness, had no problem in winding down his car window to yell ‘cretin’ at any passing jay-walker.

One of the shocks is just how large my ‘family’ is, potentially.  My grandfather was one of ten, his father one of nine.  Add in their spouses, their children, and their children’s spouses and children, and sudenly you’re wondering if the person you hold a door open for at the library might be your seventh cousin, five times removed.

And then all those wonderful occupations.  My grandmother’s family came from the textile districts of Yorkshire and Lancashire, so whole streets full of people worked at the busy mills.  But nothing as dull as ‘Mill worker‘ will do as a job description.  Try these: *‘worsted spinner’; ‘overlooker, stuff factory’; ‘stuff weaver’; ‘scribbling overlooker’ (what?), ‘woollen piecer’.  An entire road’s worth of houses were inhabited by people had jobs such as these.  Just occasionally, someone else got thrown into the mix. ‘Lamplighter’; ‘washerwoman’; ‘Roman Catholic priest’, as well as the odd ‘domestic servant‘, a young girl of 15 to 20, usually.

I couldn’t think how to illustrate this piece.  Then I remembered a couple of old family albums, full of photos I have no possible means of identifying.  Let’s give them their last outing.


  • These are for you, Kerry.

20 thoughts on “That family tree of mine”

  1. Yippee–worsted spinners! Woollen piecers! They sound like my people! What a fascinating journey you’re having, Margaret! I have been very tempted to go the route and have a look around . . . but I have so many other projects and I’m afraid it would totally suck me in. It KILLS me that those photos are going to go forever unnamed. They are so wonderful. I have many, too–I can’t say who they are but I can’t just assign them to the trash either . . . .

    Liked by 1 person

  2. No, it seems far too unkind. I suppose in putting my long-gone and now unknown relatives out there on the www I had the extremely faint hope that someone would recognise them. Some hopes eh?


  3. I look forward to hearing more of your experiences on the ancestor tracking website – have always been nervous to start since as you say, the exponential growth of any given family is enormous😳. Good for you for giving the old photos their last run – we all have them. How intriguing the one with the two young people in hats is…


    1. I know. And in those photos everyone looks so finely dressed. But nobody in the family was at all wealthy. At the moment, I plan to keep the definition of ‘family’quite narrow. But you never know…..


  4. The Ancestry worksite does suck you in – equally I’ve got back in touch with long-lost relatives scattered here, there and everywhere. It’s fascinating stuff. I wonder what a scribbling overlooker was? Maybe we should rename sub-editors …


      1. I just had a quick look and what I found was a bit vague: a scribbler was ’employed in a scribbling mill where the wool was roughly carded before spinning’ so presumably the overlooker was either a foreman or did quality control. See what you’ve made me do?


  5. i’ve also found it really interesting (and sad) to see some of the terminology that was used to describe individuals with disabilities in years past. I think that you are probably right that the meaning of some of the words has changed over the years, but some still seem unkind and hurtful.

    Liked by 1 person

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