Thursday, March 26, 2020

Farm and family in early nineteenth-century Fife : the diary of Thomas Graham Bonar of Greigston

Farm and family in early nineteenth-century Fife : the diary of Thomas Graham Bonar of Greigston:
The Greigston diary was written by Thomas Graham Bonar between 1824 and 1833. It is mainly a record of happenings on the small family estate of Greigston in east Fife, which comprised two farms and subsidiary holdings for much of the diary period. Besides farming matters, it records visits and visitors, and a note was kept twice-daily about the weather, including a temperature reading for part of the period. This electronic book comprises an introduction to the diary in four chapters, the transcript of the diary itself (274 pages), and a postscript.
A Margaret Graham-Bonar (1794-1852) married Henry Cowan (1797-1830) and their son Robert Leslie Cowan (1829-1863) married Caroline Green (1836-1863). They both died in a cholera epidemic in Shanghai, China. Robert Leslie Cowan was a ship's captain and tavelled the world. Caroline Green was a daughter or William Goodall Green, who went from Canada to the Cape Colony in the 1840s, and several of Caroline's brothers made names for themselves in Southern Africa.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Notes from a small island

Notes from a Small IslandNotes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For years I've been living under a totally mistaken impression of Bill Bryson. Seeing his books in bookshops I had the idea that he was a neo-Victorian polymath, with doctorates in fields like astrophysics, geology, botany, zoology and history. Anyone who could could write A short history of nearly everything must know everything that's worth knowing about anything, right?

So I grabbed this book from the library because nothing else had taken my fancy, and thought I could always bring it back if I found it too erudite. And it turns out that it's a rather idiosyncratic and funny travel book about his own wanderings around Great Britain, with observations on the weird customs of the natives (Bryson is American, and a journalist).

So his book was a much lighter read than I had been expecting, and some of his experiences rang bells for me too -- such as working on a small-town newspaper with hot-metal press, and writing about the exciting doings of the local Women's Institute.And his observations on the differences between the South and the North of England also resonated.

Durham Cathedral, described by Bill Bryson
The things I liked about this book were the familiar things, where he described places I had visited or lived in, like Durham, where I was a student for a couple of years, and Blaenau Festiniog, where he spent a wet Sunday waiting for a train, and we spent a wet Saturday afternoon driving up and down the main (and apparently only) street looking for an Orthodox Church that we were sure was there but couldn't find, and couldn't ask the priest because he was in Turkey that weekend.

And there were some not-so-familiar things I really appreciated too, such as his description of Morecambe. It's one of the places I haven't been to, and he described its meteoric rise and abrupt fall as a seaside resort in the space of about 100 years. I had become interested in it because of family history. One branch of my family, the Cottams, had farmed at Heaton-with-Oxcliffe, somewhere between Morecambe and Lancaster, and I'd only discovered most of them after our last visit to England in 2005, so was unfamiliar with that bit. But when they lived there, Morecambe did not exist as a town, it was just the bay. Several members of the family, perhaps those who couldn't fit in Oxcliffe Hall, spread out to the surrounding villages, including the three that later became Morecambe -- Poulton (le-Sands, not le-Fylde). Bare and Torrisholme. So I thank Bill Bryson for giving me a picture of it.

The book is full of all the personal touches of things that delighted and disgusted and bored Bill Bryson, which could be amusing or confusing. It was definitely the work of a journalist and not a polymath. I could imagine it being bashed out on flimsy copy paper on a worn-out old manual typewriter with uneven keys in a busy newsroom with a couple of dozen other typewriters clacking away in the background with the guy at the neighbouring desk interviewing a fashion model and the bloke on the other side swearing as he rummages through his wastepaper basket looking for page 4 of his six-page story. How else could Bill Bryson write about travelling to Glasgow on Saturday, which was followed by a Friday night, and the next day was Sunday?

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Sunday, March 01, 2020

Society of Genealogists and FamilySearch announce partnership to digitize family histories - Society of Genealogists

Society of Genealogists and FamilySearch announce partnership to digitize family histories - Society of Genealogists:
The Society of Genealogists and FamilySearch are about to start work on a programme of digitization of some 9000 family history books and over 5000 genealogy pamphlets, offprints and unpublished tracts from the Society of Genealogists’ extensive genealogy library. Since its foundation in 1911 the Society of Genealogists has collected the largest assembly of narrative family histories and biographies in the United Kingdom. Some of its collection are unique materials deposited in in the Society’s library for the use of genealogists. This digitization programme not only ensures the preservation of the library’s books, bound monographs and multi-volume histories, but also enables the Society to make them available to a wider audience.