What I’ve been up to over the past 14 months

Things were more than just ‘somewhat quiet’ on this blog in 2016, so here’s an update on what I’ve been doing.

War Memorials
What readers of this blog may have worked out, is that since 2012, much of my time has been spent on military research, particularly on the people commemorated on four local war memorials.  I blog about them and you can find the fruits of this research on those blogs.  If you scroll down the right hand sidebar, you will see a blog roll for three of these war memorial blogs.  I also collaborate with other war memorial researchers, give talks to groups, young and old, with an interest in the war memorials and also in local history—the younger ones being school parties and Scouts.  I have also been doing some training of groups researching war memorials in Surrey.

Among those servicemen I researched last year, at the request of their relatives, were two WW2 fighter pilots in the RAF.  I continue, where I’ve been able to trace relatives of the men and women on the war memorial, to share their stories, including, sometimes, some indiscretions that I have n’t upload for public view.

One of my personal projects has been researching the South African Military Hospital in Richmond Park.  I shared my research at the time with the Hearsum Trust, and I subsequently contributed the information that appeared for that hospital in the Richmond at War exhibition in the Museum of Richmond.  I even managed to sneak in a photo of my grandfather in his hospital blues. When I think of the slightly baffled looks when I mentioned this hospital not much more than five years ago, I’m pretty chuffed that these days hardly anyone—at least locally—blinks to hear of its existence. I see from What’s On, The National Archives’ guide to forthcoming events, that, among other WW1 related topics, there’s going to be a talk on the hospital at the National Archives in September, organised by the National Archives and the Richmond Local Studies Library and Archive.  You can read about the South African Memorial in Richmond Cemetery on in several posts on my South Africa Remembers blog.  [http://southafricaremembers.wordpress.com]

Teaching and Learning
I attended the Final Conference for The Fleming Project held at the University of St Andrews last June.  In December I completed a module, Understanding Latin in Documents and Archives, offered on its M.Litt pathway by the University of Dundee.  I absolutely relished that, and also the Ecclesiastical Archives course I had taken immediately prior to it.  The Lambeth Palace Library is a haven for a researcher, and I hope for reasons to revisit it, as also the Church of England Record Centre in Bermondsey and Dr Williams’ Library.  And at the National Records of Scotland, the church records for the parish of Lethendy and Kinloch provided insight into the compassion and values of its Minister, my relative, Andrew Kessen.

In courses and events that provided some of my Continuing Professional Development, a Study Day at the fascinating Freemasons’ Museum stood out. I have sought advice from the librarian and archivist in the past, but even during this Study Day, as I listened to the speakers, I began to feel that I was developing a ‘nose’ for freemasons—and went home to run a check on a family of shipbuilders, ancestors of one of my younger relatives, finding not only  a lodge named after him but also an East End school, one of eleven which he founded.  In my research for clients, a man’s following certain professions, or turning out to have associates or mentors who were freemasons, has often provided the nudge to follow up in Freemasons’ records.

Come January this year, I was preparing for a module in Palaeography & Diplomatic, so that month I did my usual ‘stunt’ of including my current enthusiasms in the Dundee syllabus for the U3A family history groups I lead.  While I was engaged in all manner of Latin in archives, they had had a fast-track guide to making sense of Memorial Inscriptions—and it’s not a one way flow of knowledge in the U3A. A member of another group of experienced researchers offered a suggestion that provided a clue to solving an enigma in one of a group of Latin memorial inscriptions which I was translating in All Saints’ in Kingston.   (Thank you, Alistair Brechin.)

Unfortunately, thanks to careless (and thoughtless?) builders renovating a local shop, a piece of grit tore my cornea, the worst such tear I’ve ever had.  Never have I appreciated the value of the zoom function, which allowed me to continue to develop skills in Palaeography, but the tear took several weeks to heal. In the final week, I went to the National Archives to look for a drawing in the State Papers.  I became quite emotional when I found I was able to follow every word of the supporting document with ease—thanks to our brilliant tutor.

Researching
Because of these research and educational commitments, I’ve not marketed my own family history practice this past year, beyond responding to fresh research requests from some of my regulars. Amongst those r eturning for more over the past year have been my own relatives, returning clients and three scientists from two academic institutions. And of course, members of my U3A groups who bring to our meetings their research hurdles and challenges.

Within 24 hours of submitting my Final Assignment for the Oral History module last week, there was an intriguing request in my Inbox.   So, as I have loose ends to tie up—war memorial posts, mainly, but also long-term projects that were on ‘pause’ and intriguing research requests—I’m delaying starting my dissertation until next year.  This family and local historian is officially back in business.

 

 

 

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