8 Sep 2009

Touching the past

Author: will | Filed under: 2009, change, changes, identity theft, personal information

When my grandmother died the family decided to sell her house. At the back of a wardrobe they found an old photograph slowly fading away. The photo was scanned and restored and copies, both electronic and physical were handed around the family. That photo was a family portrait taken in 1910. Thanks to the release of the 1911 census data I am currently looking at the signature of my great-grandmother and the rest of the family in that shot.

1910 photograph

By the way, we have no record as to who took the photo almost 100 years ago.
Well almost. My great-grandfather died between the taking of the photo and the census, however it is my great-grandmother who is the head of the household and not her brother-in-law who is also in the house.

Staring at her signature suddenly made that photo come to life. You see, with the exception of the baby on her knee (my grandfather) I never met the people in the photo, however I can see element of her in my aunts and cousins. Seeing how the family changed. How they lived after that photo made this old image come to life.

A similar reaction happened when I tracked down the other side of the family. Something my father must have done, and some day I’ll figure out where he put his archives of the Knott family back to the 12th Century. Seeing proof of life of my own bloodline means I’m seeing elements of my history I never thought of.

Having said that, while the documents make my past more real, I know my history. I knew that my mum’s side were blacksmiths (the long disused forge was later converted to a kitchen, and I used to play with the inbuilt bellows) and I knew that dad’s side were farmers. However both houses have changed in the course of my lifetime. One renovated (twice, the forge is now the living room of the new owners home) and one destroyed. For the next generation, this will be the main record of the family past.

The families were very different. One one side was a widow shortly after 11 years of marriage, working as a seamstress raising the three surviving children of the seven who survived childbirth (no record of those stillborn) while the Knott’s raised nine of nine born alive and after 33 years of marriage were in the house with two adult sons (interestingly listed as being “domestics”, a category presumed for females). Yet despite their differences, the cursive style of writing are amazingly similar. That and the fact that every over the age of four was listed as being able to read and write.

You know the swooping style of the Coca-Cola logo or the Arthur Guinness signature? Well those swoops are there for every capital letter. The expansive swirls of the lead in and lead out “W” of Will and widow. The two families were many miles apart, but the learned writing style is nearly the same throughout the country. Redmum has reproduced her ancestor’s census form and you can see the writing style there. I’m not reproducing mine. I’m keeping some
secrets. After all a census search for “William Knott” shows quite a few results spread through the country. But even checking out the neighbours show fingerprints of a writing style which died out a long time ago here.

I would put money on the guess that I’m related, somehow, to all of them.

Something else of interest is that neither side admitted to being able to speak Irish. Was it a political thing then?

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3 Responses to “Touching the past”

  1. Stephen O'Callaghan Says:

    that photo must be worth a few bob.
    1901? God what was i doing back then…:)

  2. will Says:

    The financial value of the photograph is nil. Its badly water damaged, torn, bits missing and faded.

    For the family however… priceless.

  3. bingo Says:

    wow! a picture can tell a story–especially if it was taken a hundred years back! that’s incredible. i wish i have something in my family that lasts that long :)

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