I spend my off moments fossicking about with my family tree. I can confidently state that I’m not related to Charlemagne, or William the Conqueror, or even God (unlike Mathew Pinsent on a recent Who Do You Think You Are).
I come from long lines of ordinary people. None of them set the world on fire. Some of them even lived in a place called Dull. They were all agricultural labourers, and fisher folk and weavers, and strong women. Strong women such as my great great grandmother Margaret Turbayne (above) who, in the late 1800s, brought up 13 kids in a two-roomed farm worker’s cottage (what they call in Scotland, a But and Ben). And then there’s my great grandmother Barbara Annan (below), who saw four sons go off to war in 1914, and only three of them come back. My grandfathers and great grandfathers might have taken ridiculously small fishing boats out on the North Sea, but it was my grandmothers and great grandmothers who waded out to the boats with their men on their backs, so that they started their voyages in dry clothes.
My favourite, though, has to be my great great great grandmother, Catherine Cruickshank, sometime linen weaver and agricultural labourer, who had two children by different fathers, who never married, and who died a pauper aged 58. I have no real idea why finding her popping up in all the censuses made me smile. Just her tenacity, I suppose. And when I found that she too was illegitimate, her mother seemingly seduced by a travelling salesman in 1802, (and that’s a bit before they invented Ford Mondeos), my liking for her rose even higher. This was in a Presbyterian community, after all, and I should think that she and hers came in for a fair bit of censure from the elders of the kirk. (Bugger them, Catherine).
It takes time to find out all this stuff, and I like doing it, which is why I’m rather disheartened by Ancestry.com’s decision to close down their publishing arm MyCanvas. I’ve put all my stuff in their lovely picture books and, if I say so myself, they look great. But they’re liquidating this service, and all the stored data, in September, and unless I get a move on all my work will be lost. Over the years I’ve researched my in-laws’ family trees, and I’ve done my mother’s. It’s involved about 1,500 photographs and certificates and census returns, not to mention laying it out and making sense of it all. And it does take years, because I am a normal person and I have a family and work, and a social life.
Now I’m climbing through my father’s tree, but it’s proving even more of a fiddly process than usual. There’s lots of things I don’t know about my dad and his family; he was on special operations in Italy in 1943, and there’s a second cousin who drowned mysteriously in the Panama Canal. It won’t all be done by the time I have to send it to press, and that annoys and disappoints me.
If Ancestry had not made this decision, I was planning, when I had finished my dad’s book, on going back to the other trees and unravelling the scandal over Jeffery Kaye’s will, and William Armstrong’s naval service during the Boxer Rebellion. Now, I don’t know what to do. I can’t download the MyCanvas data; all I can do is print out everything I’ve done. I’ll have to put it in a folder and anything new will just have to be stuck in. It won’t look anywhere near as good will just be a mess.
Ancestry say they’re making this move to concentrate on their core business, but without being able to publish what you’ve discovered, even if it is just for your family, what is the point? Or is that just me?