Seldom Said

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Valentine quest

In view of the date, it seems only appropriate to mention my recent foray into the realm of genealogy. Appropriate, I should explain, because my dabblings at historical research revolved around a chap by the name of Thomas Valentine Dunbabin, who had the dubious distinction of being my great-great-grandfather.

I've been vaguely interested in researching my family tree for several years now, but until now I've only ever dipped my toe in the water. I signed up for Genes Connected (an offshoot of the phenomenally successful Friends Reunited) a little more than a year ago, but only managed to enter a small proportion of the relatives that I already knew about. Luckily, someone else spotted a connection and gave me access to his impressive tree, which told me more than I'd ever hoped to find about the Whitlocks, my maternal grandmother's antecedents.

Then I forgot all about it again. I continued to receive the occasional email from Genes Connected, but mostly ignored them. Last week, however, I stumped up the cash for another year's subscription and started to explore the Whitlock tree again. I found it frustrating at first, because there's no way to import the information from somebody else's tree, which meant that I had to go through it entry by entry. In retrospect, however, I think that this process really made the material come alive for me. Before long I was adding in the Dunbabins, my maternal grandfather's side of the family, courtesy of a wonderful hand-drawn tree that I was given by my uncle.

This tree stopped at Thomas Valentine and the details of his children, with the exception of my great-grandfather, were sketchy. A few exotic names piqued my interest - Zilpha, Ophla, Zena. Two adopted children - but whose were they originally? Could I discover any more about them? I soon found someone else with a Thomas Valentine Dunbabin in their tree and sent them a message, but I couldn't wait for a reply. It was time to start doing my own research - after all, I do have a degree in history!

The obvious place to start was the 1901 census. And what a wonderful place it is! Granted, they do make you stump up for the privilege, but it seemed a small price to pay when I gathered together the results. There was my grandmother, aged about 18 months, and all of the other Whitlocks. More importantly, there were the Dunbabins, including our friend Thomas V. Now we can start to work out when some of these people were born... and what they did for a living! Thomas V was a smith at a "Ry Carr Wks" - railway carriage works, perhaps? Two of his sons were working there too.

Now I'm hooked. Next stop: FreeBMD (that's "Births Marriages and Deaths", don't you know), which helps me to pin down TV's date of birth (March 1846) and reveals a whole host of new Dunbabins. And I've found more entries in the 1881 Census, which you can also access online through Before you know it, I'll be heading for the paper archives...

The best bit? I have literally (while writing this post) just found this photograph of Thomas Valentine Dunbabin, taken on the 30th January 1901 at the wedding of his son (and my great-grandfather) Thomas Charles Dunbabin. Thomas V is the chap with the big beard on the right and the full photo (click to see it) even features Auntie Zilpha (at the back on the left). Thanks to my cousin Barry, who compiled the CD-ROM of old family photos that contained this gem a couple of years ago. I'm not sure what else awaits me on this voyage into the past, but this photograph will certainly take some beating...

1901 wedding

Sunday, February 12, 2006

In praise of winter walks

Winter scene

We had another deliciously cold walk in the Peak District yesterday, this time along Baslow and Curbar Edges. The weather forecast was somewhat dubious, but we were determined to get a dose of fresh air after too much enforced idleness. We were rewarded with an invigorating and thoroughly enjoyable walk, with only brief flurry of snow to make us doubt our decision.

Once again, it was dull and overcast for most of the day, but the hazy views from the edge and the contorted, wind-sculpted millstone grit were wonderful to behold in person, if disappointing to photograph. I had taken Alice's dad on the same walk in the ice and snow, which was brilliant, but a bit treacherous underfoot. This time we only had a little bit of mud to contend with and most of that was frozen solid. As ever, nothing could daunt the rock-climbers who were out in force and busily hauling themselves up the sheer rock faces.

Beginning our return leg from the end of the edge, we walked beside a river and were entranced by the mirror-clear reflections in the placid waters. A half-submerged branch appeared to be floating in mid-air! The sun started to stream through occasional breaks in the cloud at this point, illuminating the misty horizon with faint beams of light. Walking back to our starting point in Baslow, we passed through farmland, following a devious path along stone walls and hedgerows. We encountered several fields in which the principal crop seemed to be boulders, but very little livestock; we later discovered a herd of sheep sheltering in a barn.

Much as I enjoy the vibrant colours of spring and autumn, I always think that there's something magical about the landscape in winter, especially on crisp, icy days like yesterday. Bare trees silhouetted against the sky always draw my admiring eye and I love the way that mist softens the edges of the distant hills and filters the dazzling sunlight into soft pastel colours. It's a joy to walk in these conditions too - provided you're wrapped up nice and warm. Time to resist that hibernation instinct and make the most of it while it lasts!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Fiction frenzy

Inspired (or at least goaded) by a challenge from the bloke behind this, I have taken my first faltering steps into the big bad world of short fiction. You can read the result over here.

Inconsequential thoughts rarely worth muttering out loud